Doing Things in 18s

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Skimming Google News yesterday, I saw two stories about Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig:

6 home runs in 18 at-bats is very, very good (and also undoubtedly a bit lucky). 4 robberies in 18 months is very, very bad (and also very unlucky). I do appreciate the coincidental symmetry of this though.

Puig has actually moved once during this string of robberies, so two different homes have been robbed. As the Yahoo article notes, criminals are clearly targeting Puig on game days. I missed it last year, but while the Dodgers were losing the decisive game 7 of the 2017 World Series, Puig’s San Fernando Valley home was also being burgled. That’s a real double whammy.

Moonwalking Dolphins 

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

When Billie the bottle-nosed was briefly held in captivity back in 1988, she picked up a special trick from some trained dolphins. After her release, it seems she taught that trick to other dolphins, who continued to perform it for decades.

Hey, the BAA Did Do the Right Thing

Wednesday, September 19th, 2018

Speaking of marathons, back in May, I wrote about the Boston Marathon failing to award prizes to several of the fastest female finishers.

At this year’s Boston Marathon, 3 women finished in the top 15 fastest times, yet did not receive prize money. The problem is the rather strange eligibility rules for women…I keep hoping the Boston Athletic Association [BAA] will step up and make things right. Perhaps with enough publicity, they’ll spend the extra money to cover double prizes this year, then fix the problem for the 2019 race.

I published the above on May 2nd. The very next day, the BAA did indeed step up and do the right thing the very next day, almost certainly in response to my post.1 The Vox article I originally linked back in May has since been updated, with the following information:

On Thursday [May 3rd], the marathon announced the women would be awarded the prize money anyway.

The Boston Athletic Association, which runs the marathon, said that it will award three women whose times ranked them within the top 15 finishers and two women who finished within the over-40 “Master’s Division” the prize money correspondent to their placements, even though they did not race in the “elite” women’s race. “Given the nature of this year’s race, we want to recognize and celebrate some of the performances that made this year’s race special,” the BAA said in a statement. It also said it would “consider all facts of the race … and any alterations that should be made” in the weeks to come, though it wants to still have a separate race for women.

I missed this announcement back in May, but it’s still worth recognizing now. Well done, BAA.


  1. No. ↩︎

I Believe Eliud Kipchoge Can Fly

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

This past weekend, I ran my first organized race since breaking my foot back in May. I successfully avoided being bitten by a seagull, and also had a pretty good run. During the ~200 mile multi-person relay, I ran 3 separate legs, completing 19.11 miles in 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 58 seconds.

Pretty good, pretty good

As you can see, that works out to a pace of 6:54 per mile. After losing three entire months to my injury, I’d only been back to running for about six weeks, so I was pretty pleased with this. Then, however, I heard about Eliud Kipchoge’s weekend. At Saturday’s Berlin Marathon, the Kenyan distance runner set a new world record when he ran 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds.

Oh. Oh, I see.

Kipchoge ran over 7 miles farther than I did, and he did it in substantially less time. That’s ridiculous. Look at that pace! He ran a mile in 4:38, and then did it 25 more times after that, and then still ran another 2/10ths of a mile! The mind reels.

You probably know a 4:38 mile is fast, but just how fast is it? Well, it would require laps of just 70 seconds around a 400-meter track, which I don’t believe I could manage even once. It’s also 17.5 second 100-meter dashes, which I suspect is around the limit of what I could pull off a single time, at a full-on sprint. My most recent half-marathon placed me in the 98th percentile for speed in the world, yet even as fairly fast distance runner, I could only manage to sustain Kipchoge’s marathon pace for a handful of seconds. The chasm between elite distance runners and the rest of us is vast and humbling.

But even among the elites of the world, Kipchoge seems to be in a class by himself. Setting a new world record is a tremendous accomplishment, but Kipchoge actually managed to obliterate the old record in spectacular fashion. As a record time gets lower, it should naturally be harder to break, and it should be broken by smaller and smaller increments. Instead, Kipchoge’s time shattered the old marathon record by a full 78 seconds, the biggest drop by any man in over half a century. Vernon Loeb had a great Atlantic piece discussing the beauty of this run, which is well worth a read for what it says about human achievement. Eliud Kipchoge is a marvel. His performance shows us the incredible things humans are capable of, while simultaneously making me only just a little ashamed to label myself a “runner”.

But hey, at least both Eliud Kipchoge and I are both faster than Massachusetts traffic.

A traffic sign showing it'll take 78 minutes to drive 11 miles
That’s a pace of over 7 minutes per mile. In a car.
[Photo courtesy of P. Kafasis]

Unconscionable Political Gamesmanship 

Monday, September 17th, 2018

This is some despicable bullshit. Michigan’s legislature just approved a bill to improve workers’ rights, specifically so that they can avoid a state-wide ballot referendum and then later rescind their bill. I sincerely hope Michiganders are paying attention, and factor this chicanery in when selecting their state representatives this November.

Who Knew Seagulls Were Protected? 

Friday, September 14th, 2018

A seagull was recently kicked at a New Hampshire beach, and it’s caused quite a kerfuffle. After the kicker was shamed on Facebook, he claimed it was an accident, and witnesses backed him up. Nevertheless, because the bird is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, said kicker has been hit with a $124 fine by New Hampshire’s Fish and Game Department.

The entire goofy story is available here, but what really got me was this quote near the end:

  • As for the seagull, Eastman said a woman picked it up and brought it to the lifeguards but they told her to leave it alone. The bird then bit her and a child, Eastman said.

This really cracked me up. How did it manage to bite both the woman and a child?!

I’ll actually be running a road relay to this very beach tomorrow. It seems I’ll need to watch for vicious gulls.

Jocelyn Bell Burnell Kicks Ass 

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

In the late 1960s, astrophysicist Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered the first four known pulsars while working as a grad student. A few years after that, a Nobel Prize was awarded for this discovery, but it didn’t go to Bell Burnell. Instead, her adviser Antony Hewish was the recipient, along with another man. While Bell Burnell has always downplayed the controversy, many feel she was unjustly excluded from recognition.

Now, she’s being recognized with a Breakthrough Prize:

On Thursday, half a century after her pioneering work, it was announced that Bell Burnell will receive a $3 million Breakthrough Prize, one of the most lucrative and prestigious awards in science. The special award in fundamental physics, given for her scientific achievements and “inspiring leadership,” has only been granted three times before.

Good for her! However, the very best part of this story is what the 75-year-old Bell Burnell plans to do with the money.

“I don’t need a Porsche or Ferrari,” she said. “I don’t have an affluent lifestyle.”

Instead, the funds will go to creating scholarships for women, underrepresented minorities and refugees who want to study physics. The funds will be administered by Britain’s Institute of Physics.

Discovering pulsars is very cool, but helping other women and minorities make the next discovery is what really kicks ass.

Crack Pipe Vending Machines 

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

This really doesn’t seem like it could possibly have been worth all the effort.

It’s Always the US Open, Too 

Tuesday, September 11th, 2018

It’s bad to wind up on TV for messily eating an ice cream.1 It’s much worse to get caught on camera dipping a chicken tender in your soda.


  1. As always, the relevant video is archived here.↩︎

“Boxcheeseburger” Is Also an OK Nickname 

Monday, September 10th, 2018

On Major League Baseball’s recently created “Player’s Weekend”, players are allowed to customize their uniforms in multiple ways, including wearing a nickname on the back of their jersey. This year, one Arizona Diamondback’s pitcher really nailed it:

Photo via the Arizona Diamondbacks

Yes, that’s pitcher Brad Boxberger’s jersey, featuring an emoji nickname. Slate has a great interview with 📦🍔.

Do you ever look at the burger emoji and think, “Hmm, this is more of a cheeseburger”? Were you afraid anyone would misinterpret your name as “Boxcheeseburger”?

There’s always that possibility. But you can’t be too choosey when you’re going with emojis to try to spell your last name.

I hope we see more emoji jerseys in 2019. All-stars like Mike Trout ( 🐟 (“Fish”)) and Chris Sale (⛵ (“Sailboat”) or even 🈹 (“Japanese symbol meaning discount”) are obvious candidates.