Running the Lilac 5K

It's been a while since I mentioned running, but this morning I ran the Lilac 5K. I do it each year to get an idea of my average pace and how it changes year-to-year. Since I haven't been running nearly as much as I did in past years by this time, I knew I'd be a bit slower. (And yeah, still running in bare feet.)

The results were posted earlier today and I was #355 of 1148 runners overall with a net time of 28:25 for a pace of 9:09/mile. I finished #205 of 486 men, and 19th of 47 male runners in my age group. Last year I was a little faster.

Zenith SM3287BT: June 3, 1995 to October 18, 2012

On June 3, 1995, I walked out of Rosa and Sullivan $875 poorer and one Zenith 32" television heavier. I moved it from my apartment on Burkhard to my house now, and it's been around for everything from MST3K nights to screenings of Battleship Potemkin. I bought it a digital TV tuner in 2009 so it could still display off-air TV, although I haven't watched in a while. It's been at least a couple years since the red gun would come on when I turned it on — these days I have to let it warm up and cycle the power before I can watch movies in anything but dingy cyan.

But tonight, 17 years, 4 months, and 15 days later, I turned it on for the last time. Zenith Model SM3287BT, Serial Number 581-35141883, you will be missed.

I was going to watch Paris, Texas so I turned on the power strip and hit the on-off button. The degaussing coil kicked on, and then it made a hideous — quite loud — electrical crackling noise. I stepped back in surprise and the crackling continued. I inched forward and shut off the power strip. I gave it a tenuous second try but it would do nothing.

Needless to say, I found this to be the funniest thing that has happened all week. Finally: television surprised me.

I think my cat thinks I'm crazy.

I Have a Dog Now

Last month I saw an ad for a dog to a good home. I replied and got the new dog, Lucy (Ali's and my dog), and Pumpkin Pie (my gray American short-hair cat, named by a crazy cat lady) all together and they seemed to get along acceptably — I know things would be rough, but the behavior of the new dog was key.

So last Monday the 23rd I got "Tieson" (the etymology of which I still haven't inquired about). He's a Jack Russell terrier who's 9-year-old (as of today, actually).

The first day I had him his behavior was better than I could have expected. Pumpkin was very patient and only a few skirmishes broke out. His previous owner said he had bladder issues when home alone, and I presumed it was due to separation anxiety. In fact, when I went to Genesee Bakery (1677 Mount Hope Ave.) for all of 10 minutes, he soaked a pillow pretty good. He only had one such "accident" so far.

That night, I let him sleep in my bed. During the night, I noticed he started to intensely regard the vacuum cleaner. After an hour or so, he decided that it was, indeed, an infernal machine and must be barked at. I turned on the light and he was startled to see me, transferring his agression to me. Before I could get him out of the bedroom, he managed to bite me pretty hard on the hand. Being kind of aggressive, I have learned this particular Jack Russell is happiest if he's kept in his place (e.g. lower than eye-contact with people.)

The next day went well as well. I learned some things he didn't like and mostly avoided them. However, when returning from a walk, I expected him to get bite-y when I toweled off his wet belly so I put on leather gloves and, when he inevitably did snap at me, I pinned him down firmly to show that I was "alpha". I didn't like doing it, but it didn't hurt him, and I had to do it again later when he snapped at me on my bed. I gather it's not harmful, per se, especially if used sparingly, but I don't want him to have an "alpha dog" relationship with me. It should help that I signed him up for obedience class at Dogs At Play (75 Howell St.)

By Thursday we were running together in the morning. Jack Russells are known for their speed and endurance: he kept up for all 4 miles or so. During the day, cat-dog relations had a setback when I picked up Pumpkin to pet him and Tieson, apparently jealous, seemed curious to see what I was doing and then he decided it was a good idea to bite Pumpkin's tail. I ended up with a couple scratches on my face and on my hands from the ensuing body launch.

Today he was thrilled to "go for a ride" and was even thrilled to visit the vet at Penfield Veterinary Hospital (1672 Penfield Rd.) for all his shots and more. Now he's all set for his dog license, so he gets to be a real little dog.

Truck Versus Man

I was walking out to go to The Bug JarMySpace link (219 Monroe Ave.) When I got to the end of my street, I saw a man walking in East Henrietta Rd. I thought nothing of it — after all, the sidewalks are covered in snow and ice, so depending on his physical condition and footwear, it's understandable that he would walk in the perfectly clear road. (I'm fortunate enough to have boots, balance, and strength, so I just get a tremendous workout in my gluteus maximus.) As I arrived at the intersection, I noticed the light was in my favor (even if the inconveniently-placed crosswalk doesn't reflect that) so I was making my way across, parallel to the light traffic. As the light started changing and the last vehicle passed, I heard a thud, as if the pick-up truck had run over a log in the road.

I knew it was trouble before I turned around, and as I had expected, the man was lying in the road.

I was calling 911 (although I almost called 9111 in my panic) before the driver even got out of the truck. I think my initial assumption was incorrect — the man wasn't run over, but run into. Thankfully the driver was going relatively slowly, but he didn't see the man and didn't react, so the truck hit with full force. A firetruck, ambulance, and two police cars arrived within a couple minutes. They got the man on a backboard and into the ambulance — he didn't appear to have a broken back or other severe injury, so I hope the worst he could suffer would be a broken bone or two.

I always wonder how most people think this is okay — as if it's just a fact of life that these kinds of car accidents happen. It was certainly preventable. Why aren't cars equipped with brakes that engage automatically when they detect something? For that matter, why aren't the sidewalks cleared to the same standard as the street? I could blame the driver, but humans are wholly unequipped to drive the same route without incident and be expected to handle a random, unusual circumstance, proven again and again by psychology and anthropology.

It's really too bad we can't use science to guide our collective decision-making.

Seeing Red Desert at the Dryden

I was feeling a bit depressed but I wanted to see Il deserto rosso (Red Desert) anyway so I walked out to George Eastman House (900 East Ave.)

The movie was extremely impressive. From the introduction, I gathered it was not intended so much as a condemnation of industrialized society, but rather a portrait of its beauty. It does so, however, by showing industrialization as boldly and plainly as possible. The protagonist — the wife of a high-level manager at a chemical plant — is set against this landscape as a way to demonstrate it. Her world is shifting beneath her, but the hard gray of industrialization stands sturdily.

I think most people naturally gravitate to her plight, and as such, see it as a rather bleak movie. Given my mood at the outset, I was ready to let it all wash over me in that way. But I also understand that the industrialized facets were just as central — and if you can believe that the man-made structures are the protagonist, the whole thing seems pretty uplifting.

When I left, I decided to just walk straight home. I was still in a funk, but was also affected by the film. I kept looking at the world in odd ways — looking at things that I would ordinarily ignore.

My mood got particularly bleak when I (walking home alone once again … as usual) decided that this was all there was; that my best years were behind me and solitude and ever-weighing loneliness was all I had to look forward to. From here on out, there would be no surprises and I'd just trudge through day-by-day, step-by-step.

All of a sudden, a cat raced past me, startling me. It ran ahead of me and plopped on the ground begging to be petted. I declined its advances, but it reminded me things aren't always the same.

Another Usual Crazy Night

I decided to go out and visit Ali at Genesee Valley Park (Hawthorn Dr.) at her kickball game with The Kickball League of Rochester. The game is relatively simple and goes by fast, so I only caught a couple innings. Ali went home but I decided to go with the team to the bar. Their pick: J. D. Oxford's Pub (636 Monroe Ave.) I haven't been there in years. It wasn't bad — $4 pitchers of uninteresting domestics was a good deal — and I got to chat with some cool people on the team. Plus the team's pizza arrived really late so I decided to take Ali's share (I suspected she was very hungry.)

Afterward I was going to head to Lux but I thought I'd check out 140 Alex Bar and Grill (140 Alexander St., formerly Nasty D's) as they changed names. There were only a few people outside so I was going to skip it, but I had to stop for the intersection and ended up talking about my tall bike with them a little. One of them mentioned I should go inside because Felipe RoseMySpace link (the Native American in The Village People) was signing autographs. Well, as serendipity would have it, I had literally just listened (as in hours earlier) to a podcast of Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me! from April 10, 2010 which featured Rose as a guest. I went in and got to say hi and tell him about it. He was busy promoting a show at The Erie County Fair (5600 McKinley Pkwy., Hamburg) and was a little distracted, but thought it was kind of funny.

Then I went to Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) I was hanging out by the pool table for a bit when this guy comes in with one of the other new tall bikes around town! His name is Matt and he and some of his friends are working on custom bikes. Finally! It's not just me!

Visiting Adam in Arlington, Virginia

I got back today off the Amtrak (320 Central Ave.) after visiting with my brother Adam in Arlington, VA. For the most part, our visit was more to see where he lives — in fact, he sent me a link to a humorous video about Arlington. We visited only one landmark: The Pentagon Memorial which is very tasteful and pleasant.

We stopped at a number of restaurants and bars. I particularly liked the salami/Gorgonzola pizza at Piola Restaurant (1550 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA); their drinks and desserts were also excellent. We also visited Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA) which is a really cool bar — much like Lux LoungeMySpace link (666 South Ave.) in its casual atmosphere, outdoor patio, interesting clientele, and absence of advertising and televisions (well, except for one).

On both sides of the trip, the train stops in Manhattan and it's an hour and a half before the Rochester train leaves, so I had a chance to get lunch. I stopped at New Pizza Town II (360 7th Ave., New York) which was pretty good — nothing like a slice of ziti-topped pizza with big glops of ricotta. On the way home, I learned that Amtrak's Business Class is not worth much: the seats are a little bigger with curtains on the windows, free soft drinks, and most importantly, the car is located at one end of the train so foot traffic is minimal.

Soft Star Shoes Kinda Suck

Soft Star Shoes custom "Ramblers" designed by me.

The unique and comfortable Soft Star Ramblers I designed

Back in February of this year, I found out about Soft Star Shoes (521 Southwest 2nd St., Corvallis, OR) from the The Running Barefoot Yahoo! Group. I was impressed that they were minimal shoes to begin with, but more that they could be day-to-day shoes that could be worn comfortably. I actually ordered off-the-shelf to start with in two sizes which they shipped out and allowed me to return before designing custom Ramblers. They were even nice enough to send a swatch book of leather so I could really get a feel for the colors. I picked chocolate brown and purple. I had a minor problem after just a short time with them: one the split uppers was more split on one side than the other. They happily took the return and made a minor fix that corrected the problem.

Well, after just about 1 month, I had worn a hole clear through one of the soles. I don't think I was being unusually hard on them — I probably walked no more than 50 miles. I had also made a point of mentioning that I was looking for a long-wearing sole, as they had several options available. They suggested their thin rubber sole which they said is "durable and will last a long time". Maybe we just disagree on what's meant by a "long time", but I am very disappointed. As such, I decided to make sure "Soft Star Shoes" and "Suck" appear in the title, as that's how I assess new products with a simple Google search.

Car tires cut as shoe soles.

Bridgestone Potenza RE-92 soles are H-rated for 149 miles per hour

However, since I liked the style, I decided to have car tires cut to match the soles and stitch the uppers to that. I had made tire sandals before using a reciprocating saw with a metal blade, but the edges weren't well defined and I wanted holes to stitch through. I decided to go with Nifty-Bar, Inc. (450 Whitney Rd., Penfield) who I use for work for their water-jet cutting services. I provided an outline and asked that small holes be laid out along the edge about 1/4" apart. The water-jet machine made nice cuts through the rubber and various steel belts in the tire.

I took apart the Ramblers and reassembled them successfully with tire soles. I don't think I'll have to worry about wearing them out anymore.

Dropping Plans for the "Mileage Maximizer"

I think I started thinking of a way to improve gas mileage about 5 years ago.  I have been tinkering with it on-and-off since then. One of the features of the Buick RoadMaster that Ali and I bought was the throttle-body fuel injection because I thought it would be easier to modify than the direct injection of newer engines. Despite learning lots about how I would tackle the problem, I don't think I'm going to worry about ever actually implementing it; instead, I'll focus more of my energy on human-powered vehicles like custom bicycles and such.

I read an article that included a graph of engine efficiency for a Volkswagen (I think) that plotted efficiency (horsepower per gallon of fuel) as a color against throttle position and engine RPM. In this particular engine, efficiency varied between about 5% and about 30%. One way to think of it is that for any given engine speed (i.e. 2500 RPM), the efficiency the engine converts fuel to mechanical power varies with throttle position. A rudimentary observation is that the engine is more efficient at 50% throttle than at either 5% or 95%. Also, there is a "sweet spot" — a throttle position that is the most efficient (or a range that's pretty close) — for any given engine speed.

Automotive designers have not done much with this information as far as I can tell. They try to make the "sweet spot" bigger for efficient cars, they try to set the top gear in the transmission so average highway speeds are in the sweet spot, and in a few cars, they switch off half the cylinders sometimes to try and change the sweet spot.

My idea is to change the fuel system more radically. First, switch to "throttle by wire" — make the accelerator pedal more akin to a "torque selector" than a "gas pedal". The actual engine throttle would be computer-controlled to try and maintain the most efficient engine output for its current output RPM. To control the amount of power the engine actually produces, the computer would disable fuel to suppress firing of certain cylinders at a ratio that approximates the desired power output requested at the accelerator pedal.

For example, if you're driving up a grade on the highway and need the engine to deliver 40 horsepower, the car might be running at 1800 RPM and you'd have the throttle at 40%. Let's say this gets you an engine efficiency of 12%, but at 1800 RPM, the "sweet spot" 60% throttle you can get 20% efficiency. At 60% throttle, though, the engine delivers 80 horsepower and you'd be accelerating. So the computer would turn off the cylinders half the time so the effective engine output would be 40 horsepower, but the engine efficiency would nearly double — and so would your gas mileage.

The trouble is, it's quite a time-consuming, complicated project. The first step is to measure the engine data — and that starts with building sensors and recording equipment to get a good set of efficiency and power output data for a spectrum of both throttle positions and RPM. Then it's a matter of analyzing that data to get the target throttle positions and ratio calculations to match the existing performance of the accelerator pedal. But then it gets complicated: you need a throttle actuator, an electronic accelerator pedal, and a way to send the engine computer corrected data from the exhaust oxygen sensor (i.e. turning off half the cylinders increases exhaust oxygen a lot) — probably more sensors too, and a computer to process all that information real-time. Of course you need to make it safe, and be able to record data so you can present it truthfully.

And if everything goes perfectly, it's a gamble as to how much improvement you'd actually get. The thing that kept me interested in the project was the prospect of doubling the mileage — going from 20 MPG to 40MPG. I think it's more realistic to consider a 10%-20% improvement. But without the big step of collecting data, I don't even know at all.

I promised myself this year that I'd put forth extra effort and really try to make it work. I made this promise for 3 years now, and I still have no system. So I'm relieving myself of pretending to get it done. At the end of March, I was supposed to have a working Controller Area Network (CAN) to reliably communicate data between the various microcontrollers in my system. It's now the middle of May and I have no such system. So it's time to zip up the body bag and pack this one away. I learned a lot in doing research, and I'm glad I did, but I just don't think I'm going to bother finishing it.

My Neighbor Passed Away

I got word from her daughter that my neighbor and friend Virginia O'Connor passed away today. I spoke with her last week — she was in Hospice Care at her daughter's house. She was quite certain that would be our last chat, and I understood although I deliberately stayed naïvely upbeat for some reason. According to the paper, she was 92 (and I also learned that my former RIT chemistry professor, Earl Krakower passed two days later). It also said she was a school teacher — I don't know if we ever talked about that; then again, I suspect she didn't even know I had a blog. Although her health was failing, she did manage to go out for a walk almost every day, at least until the last week or so. She died with her family at her side in peace. I'll miss her nonetheless.