Uncanny

As I huffed and puffed in the gym a while ago, watching the close-captioned MSNBC news on the TV in front of me and half-listening to the music on the speakers, I hit a freaky little juxtaposition. Just as the news switched to a “story” on the carnage on Wall Street, the opening lines of Bruce Springsteen’s “Cover Me” came on: “The times are tough now, just getting tougher/This old world is rough, its just getting rougher.” The talking heads yapped at each other for a few seconds, and then the Boss sang, “Well I’m looking for a lover who will come on in and cover me” over a picture of Sarah Palin and the GOP’s economic plans. Blah blah blah, and then, as the images switched to the damage of Hurricane Ike, Springsteen again: “Outsides the rain, the driving snow/I can hear the wild wind blowing.”

I’ll have to listen to the rest of Born in the USA to see what else the Boss can tell us about Decision 2008.

Palin’s Day

An excerpt from “Sarah Palin’s schedule,” as imagined on the mysterious Northfield blog, The Occasional Blog of Sunbeam & Lack of Sleep:

8:30 – 11:30 a.m. Pro-life rally. Life begins at conception! Embryos are children!
Noon
Lunch. Veal and foie gras. Spilled gravy on my purse made from fetal calfskin. 🙁
1 – 2 p.m.
Gave a speech promoting abstinence-only sex education. Whole family was there, except Gristle, who said she had other plans.

Priceless.

Chromey

I’ve been using the new Google Chrome browser for the past few days – alas, only at work, since Google hasn’t yet released a version for Mac OS X. So far, I’m impressed. First and foremost for a Google fanboy like me, it’s ridiculously well integrated with the Google apps that I use the most: Gmail, Docs, Calendar, Reader, and of course search. Being able to type any random thing into the main bar at the top of the browser window and automagically have it become a Google search is fantastic. And so far, the browser is much faster than even Firefox – which, admittedly, I usually run with 50 tabs open. And there’s a sick amount of screen real-estate, too. Thanks to the trimmed-back toolbars and just plain wasted space at the top of the window, you can see an awful lot more of the actual site you’re visiting. Not a bad idea at all.

On top of all that good stuff, the edges of the user experience are pretty smooth, too. Check out these two screens from the setup and crash-restore processes.

Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Setup Window
Google Chrome Crash Window
Google Chrome Crash Window

Granted, this is not world-shattering stuff, but the sense of humor is appreciated.

Start Me Up

Today’s the day the freshmen arrive at Carleton and “New Student Week” begins in earnest. I remember my arrival at college very, very clearly – right down to picking my roommate out of the crowd based on his NY Yankees cap.

What better day to read the first page of Don DeLillo’s White Noise, a brilliant novel which starts with the arrival of students to a liberal-arts college? (Click through for a good annotation of this all-important first page…)

White Noise, p. 1
White Noise, p. 1

Legging It Out

I was pleased with my race this morning, even though it didn’t go quite as planned. I finished in 20:12 (just off my goal time of twenty minutes, but 1:56 faster than last year), good for fourteenth place in the 140-man field and first in my 14-man age group. Still, I could have run a smarter, better, and faster race if I had handled a couple errors better.

The first big error was the race organizers’ – they didn’t tell those of us at the 5k starting line (a couple blocks away from the starting line for the 15k race) when to expect the gun, so we were just milling around when there was a bang and a puff of smoke down the block. Here was the second error, mine: I went off way too fast, leading the race for the first 500 meters. The only good that came of this was being in front of all the tweens and teenagers who run like oxen, clogging up the road over the first mile. Anyhow, I led through the first corner, and then started giving up places as the real racers caught up to me and the front of the 5k field hit the back of the 15k field.

From there, I was pretty much in survival mode, with my heart rate averaging about 179 (something like 95% of my maximum – which I nearly reached in the last sprint) and my legs feeling increasingly cooked. One by one, other men passed me, with the last one – an old guy! with gray hair! and colossal thighs! – going by just before the two-mile mark. I tried to latch on to each one, but each time, my legs said, “WTF, dude! No way.” I just couldn’t overcome the lactate built up during my stupid all-out start.

Thankfully, the course rescued me. The last third is flat and then gradually downhill to the finish line, helping me hold my position to the finishing chute and even look sorta fast there at the end. (Shannon took this shot just about when I heard Julia cheering for me.)

Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k
Finishing the Defeat of Jesse James Days 5k

Playing the Race Card

Just about twelve hours from now, I’m going to hit the pavement in the 5k road race that’s part of Northfield’s gigantic annual “Defeat of Jesse James Days Celebration.” I ran last year’s race in 22:08, finishing 16th among 122 men and first of five in my age group. The race was surprisingly fun – my first running race since 1995.

This year, I trained all spring and summer to run the sibling race, a 15k over a pretty hilly course, but my training regimen was blown up by illness last month, so I stepped down to the 5,000 meter race. This is not only hella shorter, but the course includes just one climb worth mentioning (300 meter run, 10 meter rise). Hoping that my distance-oriented training will translate to this shorter event, my race goal is to run under 20 minutes. Depending on the size and quality of the field, this time might get me into the top 10. In keeping with my goal for tomorrow morning, my goal for tonight is to avoid partaking of the chocolate ice cream in the freezer.

Ark de Triumphe

I’ve been working for the past couple weeks with a prof at Carleton who is engaged in a big project on a film called Russian Ark, an unabashed “art film” which is well known, in cinephile circles, for having been made in one continuous 90-minute shot that moves through much of the world-famous Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia.

That achievement – possible only thanks to current “film” (really, digital video) technology – has brought considerable acclaim to the film’s director, Alexander Sokurov, and though I’m not an expert in any aspect of film history, much less filmmaking, I was duly impressed by the way this unbroken-shot technique created a swirling, first-person perspective that was, after just a few scenes, impossible for me to distinguish from my own perspective. More than once, I found myself shifting in my seat or craning my neck to try and see around someone in front of me on the screen – as if I was standing there along the edge of, say, a colossal royal ball, not just watching a meticulous reconstruction of one.

Even more than the incredible feat of a single sustained feature film-length shot, though, I loved the movie’s arc. As some pissy reviewers have noted, Russian Ark has no true plot and very few guides that the viewer can use to decipher the action. But you don’t need much knowledge of Russian history to enjoy the spectacle of the scenes (any of the royal balls, or the incredible sequence in which an aging Catherine the Great insists on venturing into the frigid courtyard), to get wrapped up in the testy but partial conversation between the one main character and the unseen narrator, or – best of all – to enjoy trying to solve the puzzle of exactly what, if anything, is going on. (Try to track Pushkin and his wife through the movie, for instance, or to figure out why there are only one or two scenes set in communist-era Russia and none [as far as I could tell] after 1989.) If, ultimately, that “what” turns out to be “nothing and everything all at once,” then I think the movie has only succeeded in summarizing Russia’s – and everyone’s – history.

Extra: ten minutes of the film, including a few of the amazing strolls through incredible Hermitage corridors…