Tuesday, January 31, 2006

World Cup Skiing

With the Torino games just ten days away, a brief lull in the cross-country skiing action allows for a short recap of the other more-or-less nordic disciplines.

In biathlon, Germany has shown itself to have the best overall men's and women's teams. The German women are particularly strong, having dominated the last pre-Olympic events a week ago at Antholz, Austria. Kati Wilhelm stands as a favorite for multiple medals at Torino, and she could easily be joined by Uschi Disl, Andrea Henkel, or other German women. Russians Svetlana Ishmouratova and Ablina Akhatova are also likely medalists, as are perennially strong racers like Liv Grete Poiree (Norway) and Sandrine Bailly (France). Though the German men haven't enjoyed quite the same level of success as their female counterparts, Alexander Wolf and especially Ricco Gross seem poised for a good Games. Back from a long illness, Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway is also of course likely to win several medals - and if his current form is an indication, they'll be golds. He'll be contending with Raphael Poiree (France), as usual, but unless the Russian men round into form rapidly, they're unlikely to do well. The high altitude of the Olympic venue at Cesana-San Sicario will be an important factor in all ten of the biathlon events. (Eurosport coverage - BiathlonWorld coverage)

In ski jumping, Jakub Janda (Czech Republic) has lost a bit of his early-season form just as Finns Janne Ahonen and Matti Hautamaki have started to show up. Though far down the overall standings, Hautamaki won both events last weekend at Zakopane, Poland - peaking at exactly the right time. Norwegians RoarLjoekelsoey and Bjoern Einar Romoeren, having split the previous competition in Japan, also may contend for medals on the Olympic hills at Pragelato. (Eurosport coverage)

Finally, in nordic combined, the United States stands a very good chance of winning its first-ever medals, thanks to Todd Lodwick. The American finished second and third in the two events at Seefeld, Austria, just behind the Finn Hannu Manninen, who has already clinched the overall title and stands as the overwhelming favorite to win both individual NC events and anchor Finland's likely-winning relay team. But Manninen is notoriously spotty at the big competitions, so Lodwick may well be able to jump his way into a lead which he can then maintain on the ski trails at Pragelato.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Circular Logic

Used to be, I spent hours every day running in figurative circles - the kind induced by a meaningless job with plenty of meetings. Today, like many days, I spent much of an hour having real circles run around me, courtesy of Julia, a decidedly non-lonely long-distance runner. As in so many domains of her toddlerhood, she has a reliable procedure worked out:
  1. She says, "Dada, yit. Yit down." and tugs my arms.
  2. I sit down, cross-legged with my arms pulled in. Today I also had to hold her three-foot tall organutan doll, Mike.
  3. With a shout of "Wun! Wun!" she starts running laps around me, usually clockwise.
  4. Though usually she makes no sound but heavy breathing as she goes round and round, every so often, just to keep me informed, she mixes in an announcement - "Wunning! Wunning!" - or maybe an impromptu game - "Boo!" as she pops out of the blind spot behind me.
  5. If I relax and stick out my legs, she says strictly, "Moof!" and makes me move them back in. If I start idly whistling, she halts right in front of me and shakes her head, "No, no, no," waving her tiny hands at me. Either way, she starts jogging again as soon as I correct my deviant behavior.
  6. After a certain amount of time, she stops, panting softly, and says, "Wizzy," her eyes visibly swimming from having run those tight circles. Usually this is momentary, until her head clears and she can start up again.
It's only sitting still, but it's one of the funniest and most fun things I've ever done.

Word Cloud

Neat! A semi-graphical representation of this blog's content:

More here and here.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Ouroboros, Anyone?

From a history textbook I read this evening:
This was not an era of great political reform or statesmanship. Mainstream political life was characterized more by the evasion than the solution of problems, by corruption rather than idealism, by electoral battles contested more for patronage than for principles.
The authors are talking about America between 1870 annd the mid-1890s. Kinda.

(Pauline Maier, Merritt Roe Smith, Alexander Keyssar, and Daniel J. Kevles, Inventing America: A History of the United States [New York: WW Norton, 2003], 628.)

Friday, January 27, 2006

History of the Mouse

In the course of a post about computer mice at Relevant History, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a historian and futurist, links to an excellent article he wrote a while ago on the history of the computer mouse - specifically, Apple's. Well worth your time if you're interested in computer technologies, have a thing for industrial design, or have ever used a mouse.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Oldies but Goodies

Shortly after starting my last job - I'ma say September or October 2002 - I bought a bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies from a vending machine in my old offices. I never quite got around to either eating them or throwing them out, so they've traveled with me from desk to desk, office to office, and now job to job. I felt a bit peckish just now, so I ate them. For four-year old cookies, they weren't half bad.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

I Try Not to

Take it personally, but it seems that every time I use the men's bathroom in my office building, and no matter the *ahem* purpose or length of my visit, the air freshener hisses and sprays a little vanilla scent. Was it something I said?

Seventeen Days to the Olympics

The World Cup cross-country ski tour returned this weekend to the site of the excellent 2005 World Championships: Oberstdorf, Germany. With individual sprints on tap for Sunday, the racing started on Saturday with the challenging pursuit events, which demand that racers swap equipment and change technique halfway through the race, much as in a triathlon. (The pursuit is concisely described here.)

In the women's 2x7.5k event, a five-woman lead pack entered the equipment-exchange "pit" area together. Beckie Scott (Canada) barely made the sharp turn into the pits and nearly fell; she and Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic) then both stumbled in their exchange lanes when their wax caught. Claudia Kuenzel (Germany) lead the group into the second half of the race, but Scott reasserted herself on the long climb at the end of the fourth lap, leading Kuenzel , Neumannova, and Katerina Shevchenko (Ukraine). Surprisingly, Shevchenko retook the lead on the same hill on the penultimate lap, and seemed poised to challenge Scott for the win. No sprint ever materialized, however. After Scott moved ahead again, Neumannova tried to take advantage of a long flat straightaway to position herself for the final climb. Sneaking past Kuenzel, the Czech bumped her ski, spun, and fell. Kuenzel stayed up, but Shevchenko, unable to get past, went down as well. Instantly Scott and Kuenzel had a decisive gap, and then on the last climb Scott pulled away as if the German had been standing still. With the win, Scott took her third win in five WC races this season. Neumannova skied in for an abashed third, with Shevchenko in fourth. Though two Italians and four Germans made the the top ten, Scott themerged from the race as the clear favorite for the Olympic pursuit - the very first event of the cross-country program, on February 12. The Eurosport commentators even speculated that she could win three golds.

The men's 2x15k pursuit was equally exciting, if more conventional. A large group at the end of the classic phase was quickly whittled down by Tobias Angerer (Germany), who dropped everyone but Anders Soedergren (Sweden) by the 25k mark; behind them Rene Sommerfeldt and Jens Fillbrich (Germany) and Martin Tauber (Austria) futilely to close a gap of about twenty seconds. At the top of the last climb, with about 1500 meters to go, Soedergren accelerated, mindful of the German's long-range sprinting skills. But Angerer responded expertly, riding Soedergren's slipstream into the stadium, then surging past for the win. Angerer's win makes him the favorite for the Olympic race. Soedergren's podium finish vaults him into consideration, as well, along with Sommerfeldt and fifth-placed Giorgio di Centa (Italy), who has had a number of excellent results over the last month. Americans Carl Swenson and Kris Freeman next to last in the rankings, perhaps suffering from jet lag.

In the classic style sprints the next day, though, America enjoyed very different results, thanks to two racers who have been abroad since before Christmas. Torin Koos finished 11th overall, and Andy Newell finished an amazing fourth - a centimeter behind third-placed Vassili Rotchev (Russia). Newell had done well in all his heats, and controlled the first half of the final 1.3k sprint. (Only in cross-country skiing is 1300 meters a "sprint.") Eventual winner Odd-Bjorn Hjelmeset and second-placing Johan Kjoelstad (both Norwegians) passed Newell on the last uphill with about 200 meters to run, and then Rotchev - the world sprint champion in 2005 - snuck past at the line in a photo finish, keeping Newell off America's first podium in years. With lots of good racing behind them, Newell and Koos look to be on form for the individual Olympic sprints on February 22 - and maybe even for the team sprint event on Valentine's Day. (Full coverage on Eurosport and Fasterskier.com.)

More Spam than Austin, Minnesota

I just created a junk-mail address at my home domain - feel free to send anything you don't want me to read to junk@tassava.com - and in so doing discovered about 500 spam messages which my email filter has diverted from my main address. In deleting them, I found some hilarious made-up names such as
Fathomless H. Umbraging
Bayoneting H. Kangarooing
Rink S. Mayonnaise
Quackery R. Chicano
Exhalations S. Chucked
Gomez P. Internment
Amputate S. Enhanced
Farrow E. Tenuous
Survival S. Bowels
Militancy R. Goading
After about five minutes, these funny names, like peanut M&Ms, became so commonplace that I started ignoring some good ones, including
Outlaying J. Potluck
Steinmetz Q. Scapegoat
Ulcers C. Demon
Lipid T. Broadening
And my personal favorite,
Bengal E. Deafness
Bengali Deafness would be a good name for a band - loud, fast sitar music.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Way! Way!

A vignette:

After Julia's Sunday night bath, she was visiting with her mom, being - as usual - excited to be out of the bath, to show off her "wut" hair, and above all to do something besides go straight to bed. As she was telling Mom about her bath, she noticed that I was standing in the door, listening amusedly. She waved her hands at me, saying (as sharply as a pudgy 19-month old can), "Way! Way!" She followed that up by marching over, pushing against my legs to get me out of the room, and then closing the door. "Subtle, isn't she?" asked her mom, laughing almost as hard as I was.

Friday, January 20, 2006

World Cup - Val di Fiemme

The World Cup races at Val di Fiemme, Italy, turned out to be cracking races with important implications for the upcoming Olympics. On Saturday, men and women competed in long-distance mass-start skate races whose structure and results paralleled the distance classic mass-starts in Canada. In the women's 15k event, a large leading pack cohered around Katerina Neumannova (Czerch Republic) and Julija Tchepalova (Russia). With about 1500 meters left to ski, Neumannova accelerated on one of Val di Fiemme's classic uphills, shattering the pack and pulling away for her third skating win of the season. Tchepalova finished second, 13 seconds back, and Marit Bjorgen wound up third, 22 seconds down. With Bjorgen still off her best form, Neumannova and Tchepalova have to be considered likely winners of the 30k mass-start and pursuit races at Torino - events which demand their skating acumen.

The men's individual race, a 30k test, was far tighter than the women's event. A sizable group hung together for much of the race, until, with about 2000 meters remaining, Tobi Angerer - who else? - broke out of the pack. Seven racers - not including Vincent Vittoz, who survived several falls - tried to go with him, but Angerer's attack was decisive. Pietro Piller Cottrer (Italy) looked to have second sewn up, but Evgeny Dementiev (Russia) snuck past at the line to finish 0.3 behind Angerer and relegate Cottrer to third. The top 15 racers all finished within 9.5 seconds of Angerer. Surprisingly, three Frenchmen and six Italians finished in the top 20 - excellent showings for those nations.

On Sunday, attention turned to the last relay before the Olympics. The Finnish women's team easily won its race. Finland's second-leg skier, Virpi Kuitunen, turned a fourteen-second deficit at her exchange into an eighteen-second lead that her third and fourth legs extended for a 19-second win over Russia in second and 1:17 over Norway in third. Germany finished fourth. With the win, Finland's women's team has emerged as a contender with the those other three teams for the relay at Torino.

The men's relay developed - as these events so often do - into a mad anchor-leg rush. On the last leg, Tobias Angerer (Germany) was clearly the man to beat, sharing a small lead group with Tor Ruud Hofstad (Norway), Cristian Zorzi (Italy), and a surprising Milan Sperl (Czech Republic). With about a kilometer to go, Angerer mounted his characteristic long-distance burst, which had sealed the first relay of the season at Beitostolen and two individual races, including the preceding day's 30k. But this time, Angerer didn't pull away; rather, Zorzi countered, leading the group down the rollers and into the final straight, where his superior sprinting skills held off Angerer (2/10ths of a second back) and Hofstad (1/2 of a second back). Italy's relay win was its first in a long while, and - as with the Finnish women - a strong suggestion that the Italian quartet will contend for gold at Torino. If this relay is any indication, the men's event will be one for the ages.

This weekend, the racing goes north to Oberstdorf im Allgau, Germany, the site of the 2005 World Championships, for pursuit and classic sprint races. The Canadian and American teams are rejoining the tour in full force as ready themselves for Torino. Picks for the men's pursuit:
  1. Vincent Vittoz (France)
  2. Tobi Angerer (Germany)
  3. Axel Teichmann (Germany)

The women's:
  1. Beckie Scott (Canada)
  2. Julija Tchepalova (Russia)
  3. Katerina Neumannova (Czech Republic)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Ski Crashing

I love ski crashes - not the dully out-of-control alpine kind, but the "ohhhhhh, sh#t" ski-jumping kind and especially the relatively slo-mo but far messier cross-country kind like the one I posed a while back or this one from the start of the 22k Seeley Hills Classic race in Minnesota. For the event in its full glory, click through all 22 shots at Skinnyski's current-race coverage. (If necessary, page down to the January 14 entry for the Seeley Hills Classic.)

Friday, January 13, 2006

World Cup - Back in Europe

With less than thirty days to the start of the Torino Olympic Games, the World Cup cross-
country ski races are taking on more importance as coaches try to select their best racers and
individual racers either try to get back on form or stay on form. After a great series of races in Canada, the cross-country circuit went back to Europe with four pairs of races in Nove Mesto, Czech Republic, and Otepaa, Estonia.

The time-trial races on the rolling Nove Mesto courses, run in the freestyle or skating technique, are always occasions for Czech skiers to vie for wins, and this year was no different. On the women's side, Katerina Neumannova used phenomenal turnover to handily win the women's 10k race by about thirty seconds into Julija Tchepalova (Russia) and Valentina Shevchenko (Ukraine). Norwegian Kristin Steira and Estonian Kristina Smigun finished fourth and fifth, showing promising form for the upcoming Olympics. World Cup leader Marit Bjorgen (Norway), who sat out both the sprint and distance races, surrendered big chunks of her leads in the sprint, distance, and overall competitions, with Tchepalova inching closer in the distance and overall categories.

In the men's 15k race, France's Vincent Vittoz won for the second straight year, edging Czech Lukas Bauer by 8.5 seconds. Austrian Christian Hoffmann, in a rare World Cup competition, showed he's in good shape for the Olympics, finishing third. World Cup leader Tobias Angerer of Germany should have made like Bjorgen and stayed home, but instead he ran an exceptionally poor race, finishing out of the points and losing ground to Vittoz. The individual sprints went to specialists: Bjorn Lind (Sweden) won the men's and Anna Sidko (Russia) won the women's, ahead of other sprinters.

The next weekend, racing shifted to frigid Otepaa, where the contests are always run in the classic technique and where the athletes meet the best crowds on the circuit. The best German men did not even make the trip, perhaps indicating another new year's slump on their parts, with Tobi Angerer reprising Axel Teichmann's 2004-05 role - worrisome with the Olympics just five weeks off. Vassili Rotchev of Russia took full advantage, running a perfectly paced time trial to conquer the jagged Otepaa hills and win by a half second over Lukas Bauer, who couldn't quite push hard enough over the closing 50 meters to erase Rotchev's splits. Another Russian, Serguei Novikov, finished third, ahead of classic specialists Frode Estil (Norway) and Jaak Mae (Estonia). All five men must be considered strong contenders to win the 15k classic race at the Olympics - while Angerer's absence must lengthen his odds in that and other races.

The women's 10k classic race at Otepaa was a magnificent victory by one of the sport's great servants, 41-year old Hilde Pedersen of Norway, who had never before won a World Cup race. Pedersen won by just two-tenths of a second over Estonian Kristina Smigun. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, back from an abbreviated doping suspension, finished a surprising third, ahead of Marit Bjorgen. The Otepaa sprints closely resembled the preceding events at Nove Mesto. Bjorn Lind won again, but this time good distance racers made it onto the men's podium - namely Vassili Rotchev in third and Tor Arne Hetland (Norway) in second. Hetland, now back in second in the overall, may be getting back into form. Swede Lina Andersson won the women's sprint; Marit Bjorgen betrayed continuing struggles by finishing fifth and can no longer be considered the favorite for the Olymnpic individual and team sprints.

American racers were scarce at Nove Mesto (where two sprinters did race) and Otepaa, largely because of the U.S. Nationals at Soldier Hollow, Utah, on the 2002 Olympic courses. Ironically, the best skier at was Ivan Babikov, a Russian who now skis in Canada and who won several races. Sensibly, only Americans can win US national championships, however, so the titles went to Andrew Johnson (30k freestyle mass start - an epic race), Kris Freeman (15k classic and 30k pursuit), and James Southam (10k freestyle). On the women's side, Kikkan Randall won three races (the sprint, 10k classic, and 5k freestyle), Wendy Kay Wagner won one (the 20k pursuit), and Rebecca Dussault (15k freestle mass start). All of the winners, and some others who placed consistently, will probably make the US Olympic team, which will be announced on January 17. Incidentally, both the US Nationals and the Olympics will take place at high altitude, which may give some of the racers an edge in Italy.

As racers continue to tune up for th Olympics, the next round of World Cup races occurs this weekend on the sweeping courses Val di Fiemme, Italy: with freestyle mass start events (15k for women, 30k for men) and relays. The Italian team will want to do well: the individual races are in their favorite technique, they'll want to win on home snow, and Torino is drawing near. Predictions: Pietro Piller Cottrer in the 30k, Katerina Neumannova in the 15k; France, Russia, Norway in the men's relay, Germany, Russia, Norway in the women's.

More coverage: FasterSkier.com - Eurosport

Sights Seen

While walking to the union for a bottle of Coke:
  • Two women walking side-by-side, one wearing a pea-green peacoat, the other wearing pea-green pants. One might say they were looking quite poddish.
  • A would-be hipster trying and failing for a full minute to light his cigarette. Carleton must have one of the lowest rates of smoking of any college.
  • Innumerable North Face jackets. Are these things ever going to go out of style?
  • More oversized, fur-lined boots than the Golden Horde.
  • Lots of hair-color experimentation, particularly in blue. "I'll show those parents of mine!"
  • Plaid pants.
  • A kid wearing mountaineering goggles as sunglasses. We're neither at altitude nor in danger of snowblindness, bud.
Sadly, I saw no unicyclists today. Though there was a unicycle parked in the foyer of my building all day yesterday.


Anyone can subscribe, via postal mail or email, to Stanford's project of reissuing four Sherlock Holmes works in weekly installments, enabling you to read Doyle in serial form, just like his original readers did. It's brilliant and free, so if you like Holmes or 19th century literature, go and subscribe.

Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler

I'm typing this with numbed fingers after completing my first-ever bike commute this morning. According to Weather Underground, it was 21 °F when I made the trip, 8 °F with the windchill, or -6 °C air and -13 °C windchilled. No matter the temperature scale, it only took nine minutes to bike the 1.946 miles (3.13 kilometers!) from garage door to bike rack. Not bad. And CO2 neutral, more or less. (I did exhale.) Now I just hope nobody steals my bike...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

19-month old Humor

Julia's favorite two jokes at present:

1. Respond affirmatively to a ridiculous question, then take it back. E.g.,
Q: "Julia, is kitty wearing a hat?"
A: "Uh-huh!" Sly smile, glance at cat, tilt head adorably: "Noooooooooo."

2. Do the "pata" thing. A few days ago, Mom was using the pasta scoop to put a few rotini on Julia's highchair tray, and Julia leaned in, mouth open wide, to pretend to take in the whole giant scoop. We all thought that was as funny and clever as anything on the Daily Show, and so now Julia will, especially but not only at the table, say, "Pata!" and then open her mouth as wide as possible, giggling.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Ceci n'est-ce pas un posting

My aural life is presently dominated by children's music, or as Julia calls it, "ya ya." This morning, she got NPR off the stereo by calling out, in an almost obscenely cute way, "Wobbie! Wobbie!" - her name for Justin Roberts, who sings her favorite song, "Yellow Bus." The few albums we have, like Roberts' Yellow Bus and Way Out, are in pretty heavy rotation, but they're also all pretty listenable and god knows the kid loves them. And they have an odd side effect: surrealizing my life. Having half-sensical children's music lyrics runing through your head all day makes the quotidian much more strange and interesting. Why, just a minute ago I was walking up the steps in my old office building and I heard "Wobbie" sing in my mind, "Once I was a whale/And I walked on the water/And I tried to be wough and I tried to be tough," lines from his song about a whale that moves to "Weno, Nevada." How can that not be good?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Roll with It

A coupla Carleton students just went past my window with one of those big wooden electrical-cable spools. Well, not with it so much as on it - they were taking turns log-rolling the thing down the sidewalk. One of them was pretty good: he could stay up there, feet going madly, for a minute or so each time. Man, the day before a new term starts is a great day to be in college.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Moving and Shaking

Well, the big move from Minneapolis to Northfield is now over, and oh the tales to tell (like the one about the buyers threatening to postpone the closing 16 hours before it was scheduled to happen, or the one about how, on calling to see why our phone hasn't been hooked up yet, the Qwest "customer care" rep told me not to use Qwest.com to transact business like them). Anyhow, a better one as an appetizer:

Poor Julia is entering the strange-fears phase of toddlerhood. Yesterday morning, after looking at a new book which includes a picture of a tiger, we pretended to be tigers - crawling on all fours around the living room, growling softly ("like the kitty does"), and curling up on the couch (again, "like kitty") to pretend to take a nap. Cute, fun, and fifteen minutes well spent. Then, last night before bed, Julia suddenly got very worried about tigers outside, a worry she kept up this morning. She barely has a concept of "tigers," yet she points apprehensively at the windows, eyes wide, and says, "Deega? Deega?"