Running with the night

April 24, 2013

asics1I finally bought new running shoes! I’ve decided to try to run a few road races (5k) this summer and since I haven’t run since the Achille’s tear I thought it might be a good idea to retire my venerable Asics in an effort to protect my feet. I remembered writing about them before and found this post from my old blog. Amusingly I mention that “they’re so old I don’t remember when I bought them.” And that post was from 2005! So I guess I was more than overdue for a new pair.

I found these new Asics on 6pm.com, which I discovered through dealnews.com. Buying shoes online may seem risky but these days it’s not hard to find reviews that inform whether a certain shoe runs to size or not. And they do fit perfectly, so I have no complaints about my shoes. My body, however, is not reacting well to the resumption of running. I seem to have underestimated the amount of work it will take to get in even half-way respectable running shape. Today I planned to run two miles and after a half a mile I switched to walking for a bit. I was huffing and puffing and since the bike path was infested with gnats I also ate quite a few bugs by accident. I thought my wind wouldn’t be a problem since I’ve been able to play some light basketball and soccer without tiring too much, but I guess I was getting way more rest during those games.

I did complete the two miles through a mixture of running, walking, running backwards, and running sideways. These last two I mixed in because I figured I need to strengthen all the muscles in my legs and wanted to hit the calves a bit extra. At this point I just want to achieve balance and good form. I’ll worry about speed later if all goes well.

 

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My annual F1 Post

March 13, 2013

mp4-28F1 returns this weekend! As usual the season starts down under which means that the first race will be shown live on NBC Sports Network here in the US at 2:00 a.m. early Sunday morning. It promises to be another exciting, closely fought season since the rules haven’t changed much since last year. This tends to let the slower cars catch up a bit since they can make bigger gains than the already better optimized cars. Fortunately, the ugly duckling look to the cars has been banished by a rule allowing a vanity panel to smooth out the nose. Next year there are big rule changes including a new engine (1.6L Turbo V6 with ERS). The biggest change this year is on the driver front – Lewis Hamilton has moved from McLaren to MercedesGP, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Mexican Sergio Perez has slotted into the plum McLaren seat vacated by Hamilton and alongside my favorite driver, Jenson Button (shown above).

I’ve been thinking recently about why I love F1 so much when my interest in other professional sports has waned to the point where I hardly watch football or basketball on TV at all. The spectacle is certainly there – the start of an F1 race is a 22-car drag race to the first corner, where they usually (and miraculously) find a way to funnel into formation without crashing. Exciting stuff. But it’s way more than that. F1 isn’t really a driving competition, it’s an engineering competition. All 11 teams (two cars each) design and build a new car every year, and update that car throughout the season (new front and rear wings, bodywork, and more). It’s a relentless battle of minds that is manifested in an auto race every two weeks. Between those races teams are working flat out using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) systems, wind tunnels, simulators (similar to this one), and hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s a pure meritocracy that would make even Ayn Rand smile.

I will, of course, be watching the race live in the middle of the night. Any F1 fans  (or “normal” insomniacs) who are reading this are free to join me.

Perplexing Ping Pong

July 30, 2012

This summer I’ve been playing competitive table tennis at the Rhode Island Table Tennis Association (RITTA). It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve been strengthening my rating in a fairly linear fashion (you take points off a player you beat based on your respective ratings). But lately I’m reached a bit of a stumbling block… my equipment. I’m using a $5 paddle I bought at some discount store. It’s what is called a “hardbat” paddle, which is to say the kind of paddle that comes with a table and has its pips (the little embossed rubber circles on the face) out.

Now that I’ve climbed to the upper half of the B division my opponents are using heavy rubber and foam and expensive “blades” (some guys have spent up to $200). These paddles generate a ton of spin without too much effort. While I’m still competitive with these players I’m not going to be able to beat them regularly without upgrading. As a humble (and therefore poor) teacher, I can’t afford to pay that kind of money on a summer hobby, but I’ve been trying to research the most economical way for me to get on more equal footing. Unfortunately, the complexity is mind-boggling. Blades have different speeds and weights, and the rubber parts (you apply them to your blade) come with an even greater range of properties (spin, speed, control). Then there are over 30 manufacturers of these products. So far I haven’t made a decision, so this Tuesday my $5 special will once again be in action.

The ugly ducklings

February 7, 2012

F1 is back! Today is the start of winter testing in Spain, and many of the brand new F1 cars (each team designs and builds a brand new model each year to suit the current regulations) are actually running on track as I write this. It’s an exciting time that follows the launch events of the cars (media events where the car is first shown – though Ferrari’s event was cancelled due to snow of all things). As excited as I am about the start of the new season, there is some bad news – F1 cars are ugly this year.

If you look at the “nose” of the car you will notice an odd and dramatic bump that lowers the height of the nosecone. Sadly, this is due to a change in the regulations that requires a lower nose for safety reasons, but allows the bulkhead (the part where the driver’s feet go) to remain at the same height as before. Each team’s aerodynamicist has crunched the numbers and determined that this ugly bump is the best way to go (it allows more to flow under the nose, which is then directed around the car and to the rear downforce-generating diffusor). I have nothing against a nose with a little character, but I’m having trouble getting used to these abominations.

There is some good news, however. For 2013, the bulkhead maximum height has been lowered too, so this will only be a single season affliction. And the even better news is that I happen to be rooting for the one team that has gone a different direction and has produced a truly beautiful car. Behold the McLaren MP4-27 driven by Jenson Button…

 

A great love returns to me

January 29, 2012

Recently the A.T. Cross Company purchased some ping pong tables for its employees. Among those employees is one of my friends that lives here in the building. He quickly caught the table tennis bug and then proposed an idea to me and another of our friends here… we should pool some money and buy a table tennis top for the pool table in the common area. And just like that, a great love was back in my life.

I learned to play as a kid. We had a table in the front porch. It barely fit (no room on the sides) but it was still fun. One summer I remember organizing the M.P.P.L. (Moosup Ping Pong League) which had 10 or so competitors but was basically a way for me to win a championship of my own making (which I did). As much as I liked the sport at that point, it was in college that I really started to play a lot (foolishly instead of going to class sometimes). I got to play a lot of good players and became highly skilled (my Accounting teacher was very good – we’d get an audience when we played). For a long time after I dropped out I didn’t play at all, but then I bought a table when I moved into the house in Sterling. I set up a system of lights above the table in the basement. It was a very good setup, and my brother Adam and I would battle it out there (he also improved greatly in college). When I moved to Cranston I believe I brought the table with me, but I don’t recall ever playing there.

Since then I’ve only played a couple of times. I made one trip to the RITTA (Rhode Island Table Tennis Association) when I was in my first year of teaching and fared well against the B-division players but at that point didn’t have the time to regularly play (the first year of teaching is ridiculous – you’re either at school or preparing for school). I plan on heading back soon to see how far up the ladder I can climb in the A-division.

So I guess I should stop talking about myself for a minute and talk about the sport’s history. It originated in Britain in the 1880s and was played with a golf ball and stacks of books as a net. It was called “wiff-waff” and later “ping-pong” because of the sounds the ball made. It moved closer to the game we know now when James Gibb discovered novelty celluloid balls on a trip to the U.S. and decided they would be perfect for the game. In the 1950s foam rubber paddles changed the game by adding much more spin (I learned to play with hard paddles so I prefer not to use heavy foam/rubber). In 2000, the size of the ball was increased from 38mm to 40mm to slow down the game slightly and make it easier for Olympic games television viewers to follow the action. The NFL is surely worried… maybe it just needs “fantasy table tennis” to make the national championship a rival to the Super Bowl someday.

Blindsided Bucks

September 4, 2011

Last night I watched The Blind Side. The movie is about Michael Oher, a black teenager who is taken in by a white family and ends up a star football player. It’s a semi-true story (they changed it up a bit to make it nicer – in real life Michael is already playing football when he moves in with the family). The film is based on the book of the same name by Michael Lewis, though a focus of the book that didn’t play much of a part in the movie is the evolution of professional football. The book posits that the dominance of Lawrence Taylor as a defensive player in the 1980s (I watched most of his games – no doubt it’s true) resulted in the emergence of the left tackle as a position of great importance. Today, the left tackle, who protects the quarterback’s “blind side” is the second-highest paid position on the field. Lewis also wrote “Moneyball”, which was highly influential on professional baseball. That book is being released as a movie starring Brad Pitt, no doubt because of the success of the football film (and which earned Sandra Bullock an Oscar).

Parlez vous?

July 20, 2011

The German Grand Prix takes place this weekend at the Nurburgring in western Germany, not far from Luxembourg and Belgium. Both of those two smaller countries are primarily French speaking, but I knew that from a 6th grade geography project I did. What I did learn today during my usual amount of time on Autosport.com is that the words “Grand Prix” is really just French for “Grand Prize.” It makes perfect sense, but I never saw it until it was pointed out by an article. Oddly enough, there is currently no French Grand Prix.

A glorious day

June 16, 2011

I picked a great year to get into hockey! For some reason I started watching the Bruins starting with the first playoff series against Montreal, and just kept with it since playoff hockey is amazing to watch. It also fills the void left by my disdain for the NBA these days, a big change from my younger days when I loved the NBA more than anything and would watch my Sixers play the Celtics on a static-riddled 10-inch black and white television. Also, the Stanley Cup is the coolest trophy ever. The original cup was created in 1892, and as you can see it’s had different looks over the years. And it will continue to grow in the future, adding rings to the bottom until it’s too big for even hockey players to lift.