Monthly Archives: October 2011

I Run

A month or two after our third child was born on August 1, 2010, I was depressed that I had been unable to sustain an exercise regime for nearly four years (since our first child was born in September, 2006). I decided that I wanted to set a goal that was imminently attainable and sustainable. At the time, running once a week seemed to fit the bill. I could still run three miles, although it was a slog, so I decided that running 100 miles before the end of 2011 would be my goal. It wasn’t ambitious, but that was the point. I started immediately, running 2.84 miles in 31:28 on November 23, 2010.

I kept up those weekly runs for months, only missing two due to an unfortunate sequence of events that caused me to miss two different runs in May 2010.1 By that point, though, it was clear that I was going to shatter my original goal, especially when I started running twice a week sometimes during the summer.

So, at some point this summer I came up with a new goal: Each calendar month, I’d run further than I had in the previous month. The goal was inspired by RunKeeper, where I’d been tracking my runs, which notifies you when you set a new monthly distance record. To keep from blasting myself a new unattainable goal though, I’ve sought to increase my record by only one mile each month. In October, I ran 26.3 miles2, and in November, I’ll strive for 27. I’m enjoying it, and I wanted to make a few notes on running.

  • On my strategy for hitting my monthly goal: At the beginning of each month, I schedule my runs. I count how many I’ve scheduled, subtract one, and compute how far I need to run each outing. I subtract one so that I always have a backup run. My idea was that if I missed a run, I’d know that I already had an extra scheduled. In practice, the result has often been a day off at the end of the month.

  • On weather: I hate the cold. So, I mostly stuck to the treadmill last winter, although I figured out at some point that I was comfortable down to 50℉ in my usual garb. I’ve already determined this fall that with a long sleeve shirt and a fleece headband, I can push it down to 40℉ with no problems. I think that’s as far as I’ll take it this year, but it should still get me outside more often, especially in the Fall and early Spring.

  • On racing: I intended to run one or two 5k races this summer, but never got around to it. Oh well. When I first moved to Blacksburg in 2003, I was training for a marathon. I made it pretty far in my training—I think my long run was about 16 miles—when a combination of work, lack of an indoor training facility (non-treadmill), and minor injuries caused me to decide to quit. I’m not sure that I have the marathon bug any more, but I’m already starting to look out 2–3 years into the future and think about a half marathon. I think I’ll be easily up to a 10k next summer, if I can find a good one.

  • On speed: While I was on the treadmill last year, I was turning in sub-10-minute miles, and I was pretty proud of myself. When I got outside last Spring, though, I found that I was much slower, with a pace of nearly 11-minutes-per-mile.3 As recently as late September, that was still my pace. But suddenly this month my pace has improved dramatically. My last run was 3.39 miles at 8:55 per mile. I have absolutely no idea how or why I have suddenly gotten so much faster. It’s pretty nice, though!4

  1. Both misses were connected to finding my shoes unexpectedly locked in the campus gym around the end of the school year. 

  2. Hey! My first marathon-length month! I didn’t notice that until writing this post. 

  3. I have since heard that you should really turn the treadmill up to a 1–2% incline if you want a realistic outdoor effort. I don’t know how I never heard that before, except that I didn’t really run on treadmills when I was training before. I will try it this winter. 

  4. In graduate school, my usual 5k pace was around 8-minutes-per-mile. So, 8:55 is pretty far off a personal record. But after running 11 minute miles for months, it feels pretty great! 

My Imitation K & R

In more sad news for the computing community, it was revealed that Dennis Ritchie has died. As Steve Bogart notes, the tendency (of journalists?) to now try to compare the accomplishments of Steve Jobs with those of Ritchie is most unseemly. Is life a contest? Can they not each be great? Ritchie’s fingerprints are all over modern computing devices, alongside those of Jobs.

I never met Ritchie, but I knew of him. I particularly knew of his book The C Programming Language. He coauthored the book with Brian Kernighan, and the book was widely known as “K & R.”

I first learned the C programming language in high school. I can’t remember whether I learned it at the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Sciences and Engineering or at the Saturday Academy for Computing and Mathematics (SACAM) at Oak Ridge National Lab. Wherever I learned it, though, I learned it from a book by Harbison and Steele. That link takes you to the third edition, which is the one that I had.

At the time, I hadn’t heard of K & R, but a couple of years after I took the course, someone asked me what book I had used when I learned C. I said that I was unsure, but that it was a thin, white paperback. The person said, “With a big, blue C on the cover?,” and I said yes. They proceeded to tell me that my book was called “K & R” and that it was a classic. I didn’t have occasion to reference the book again for many years. When I revisited C as an undergraduate, I had other texts, and my thin, white book of C was left behind in my childhood bedroom.

Thus, for many years I proudly believed that I owned a copy of K & R, the classic book on programming in C. At some point, though, the thin, white book of C caught up with me and came to my faculty office, where, when preparing to teach a programming course in C++ last Spring, I realized that it was merely an imitator of the classic.

For what it’s worth, the Harbison and Steele book is now in its fifth edition, and its cover no longer bears any resemblance to K & R. Since it’s in the fifth edition, it must be useful to someone; I even use my copy for occasional reference, though I don’t write much C these days. I don’t really blame the authors for the confusion. I know that authors often have little or no say over their book covers. It’s even possible that the similarity was completely accidental, if the cover was designed by someone that was not knowledgeable about the field. However, both books were published by Prentice Hall, making it difficult to believe that no one even noticed the similarity.1 Still, I think it’s a funny story.

  1. I can even imagine plausible stories about a textbook publisher trying to juice revenue by replacing K & R, of which the second and (presumably) final edition was released in 1988, in the catalog with the new third edition of the more-frequently-updated H & S, which was released in 1991. But that would be unseemly. 


It’s getting late for an man who gets up at 5 a.m., and I haven’t really finished the work I had hoped to finish tonight, but I just remembered that today’s the day. Today, this blog turns ten years old.

I was looking back at my very first post a few days ago. And I thought: “Wow. They’ve been married for ten years. They sure are old… Oh crap. I attended that wedding with my wife. We’re old.”

I initially thought this would be a something of a photo blog. I’d post a photo and write something about it. But that didn’t last long. In fact, this blog has been pretty indescribable over the years. It continues to be about whatever I feel like posting about, with only minimal discernible themes. It has gone on long hiatuses. I didn’t make a single post in 2006, and the only post before August in 2007 was an email that I decided to post later about the April 16, 2007 tragedy.

I posted semi-frequently this summer, with six posts each in July and August. But then managed to miss another month in September. And this month has been just as intense, if not moreso, than last, though I did manage to slip in a quick post the other night.

Like Steve, I’d like to see my weblog become more active. Unlike Steve, though, I’m not sure I’m prepared for to make a public declaration of specific intent. In any case, I hope you’ll stick around and see where we wind up.

A Day…

Things that happened today:

  • Assisted puking daughter at 6:30a.

  • Received a text alert at 6:45a about an armed robbery in the wee hours. Original reported location was near my house. This would have been a good time to give up and go back to bed.

  • Took both sons to childcare preschool/parents’ morning out, starting my work day an hour later than usual.

  • Had a long, difficult talk with a graduate student.

  • Had a talk with another graduate student, who may need to take a leave of absence.

  • Cleaned up puke covered bed and daughter, shortly after children’s bedtime.

  • Tucked daughter back into bed, turned out the light, and, literally before I closed the door, had to turn light back on. Cleaned up daughter and bed again. (Parenthood: Not for wusses.)

  • Learned that Steve Jobs had died.

I think I’m just going to try again tomorrow.