Pittsburgh Great Race 2014: Balloon Fight
(05 Oct 2014 at 11:03)
Last weekend was my 35th (!) birthday. Does it make you feel weird that there's been more than 14 years of Tom 7 Radar and that I used to be young? Of course not, since you know that people get older and haven't actually been reading my dumb blog for that long. Makes me feel weird though. Weird and kinda old. Anyway, one thing that happened to my adult self is I bought a house last month, and I promise a nice internet writeup of that experience and some photos soon, but I have a limited mental energy budget for house things which is consistently exhausted. But I had some old friends stay on my birthday weekend and we had a fun party and also ran the Great Race, which five years ago I ran on my birthday carrying a cake. Unknown to me until a humorous low-coffee series of escalating realizations, my friends ran the race in costume; that costume was me in 2009:
Michelle, Bronwen, Tom, Cortney
I'm the least dressed like myself on account of not wearing the huge plastic frames, and I wasn't carrying a cupcake either! I can confirm that all three cupcakes made it safely and more-or-less cleanly to the end, because I dutifully ate them there.
Does it look like I'm doing a bad job of hiding something in that picture? It's true. I still have a little tendinitis from the last bad idea so I decided to not do something foot-hurty. Going with the birthday theme, I instead spent the whole race inflating balloons and tying them to myself. I bought this super expensive race photo to illustrate:
This was my easiest costume ever, not on purpose. I thought it would be an interesting challenge to occupy my breath with the balloon blowing, but the balloons only take two seconds to inflate, and I spent the entire rest of the time just trying to tie them to myself. I had picked up some fishing line (I know, I know) right before the race and cut it into 3 foot segments and tied a bunch of them to a piece of string that was my belt, very fancily. Sitting still with dry hands, tying fishing line is not too bad. But on the move, especially trying to keep a reasonable pace, with sweat-fingers, it took like a minute of frustrating concentration per balloon. Plus the fishing lines would get all tangled with each other and pull off my belt and send balloons flying, off to the races. Terrible choice. So really it was an exercise in multitasking and not very athletic. I managed to inflate 44 balloons, which was more than the par of 35 (obvious rule: you must inflate the number of balloons commensurate with your age), and tie each one onto my belt at least momentarily with two half-hitches (actually I carried three across the finish-line in hand). More than half of them were subsequently lost. I finished in 58m35s, not fast for me, but I was in the throng the whole time and mostly looking down at my hands and couldn't open the throttle much. I don't really care about the time; the big disappointment was not being covered in balloons so you could barely see my body and being challengingly out of breath. I feel that I may need to come back to this one.
This is a song celebrating Arena League Football, the highest level of professional indoor American football in the United States. I have never been to an AFL game, but this is an earnest tribute to what we believe the sport must be like: Real serious athletes with day jobs, struggling on the brink of relevance and solvency but with an austere commitment. In other words, the Sick Ridiculous way of life. Here is the MP3 in glorious extreme stereo.
A couple more of these recordings coming, but they are like those time-release pills with lots of little pills inside!
San Francisco Marathon 2014: Spa Day!
(29 Jul 2014 at 23:58)
News flash: I like doing stupid things in road races, especially marathons. So let's talk about that again. This weekend's was the San Francisco Marathon. I bet there are some people out there that get super comfortable after running a marathon, like just lying in a soapy warm bubble bath with some champagne and getting a pedicure, but I thought, why pamper yourself after the marathon when you could pamper yourself during the marathon?
Here I am at the beginning of the race taking a weird selfie
Actually, this costume was conceived on the basis of softness, because I needed to be able to get it on the airplane. My first thought was 3 oz or less of liquid or gel in a transparent baggie, but those high-concept costumes make racers alarmed and friends worry about me, and anyway how would you even wear that? So instead some soft stuff that absolutely cannot be confiscated by TSA: Plush bathrobe, loofa with a handle, hair wrap, and memory foam flip-flop spa slippers. (Yes, as many racers wondered: I was indeed wearing something under the robe, just a pair of boxers.)
I stayed with my friend called Spoons in SF and the marathon starts before public transit, so I walked to the start, about 5 miles at 4am. I don't know the city all that well. At some point I was being directioned under some highway overpasses that became increasingly sketchy fenced-up trespass shanty towns, which was one of a few moments during the day where it occurred to me I might be making bad life choices. But, I could tell by the subtle, tentative body language of others that I was the danger. I made it to the start just on time and took the photo above.
Let's talk about proper athletic footwear. These slippers aren't. The walk down there was not terrible, definitely slower than regular walking, but you've worn slippers before so you know what it's like. Immediately when I started running there were two serious problems: My shins started burning, and the slippers kept nearly falling off my feet. This was worrisome, because I'm used to getting 8–10 miles in before it starts feeling intolerable. Fortunately, I stuck with it and pinched the flip flop string in-between my toes and things started to come together. I found that a shuffle where the flippers barely left the ground was much better for keeping them on, and even pretty fast. At that point I was doing about 9 minute miles. The shins burned but it became clear that it was just my legs trying to warn me about my bad life choices and once we had a nice adult discussion about talking back, that went away. Here is a video of me kind of figuring out how to shuffle:
There was just one persistent problem, which was that every once in a while the front of the slipper would catch on something, and fold down under my foot, and my toes would go straight down on the pavement. Not painful or anything but it seemed like the potential for acute disaster was there.
Then we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is a real nice part of the race. They close down two car lanes of it, one for runners to go out, and one for them to come back. It can get a bit crowded—a car lane is not that wide—and that was a problem for me because my left slipper totally flew off. Basically it was folding more and more often, because with each fold it became more downward-pointing, and more catch-on-stuff-y, and so I kicked it forward and picked it up without slowing down too much to get in the way of the people behind me. I don't mind being psychologically disruptive, but actually obstructing real runners with my shenanigans is bad sportsmanship and not OK. But there was nowhere to pull over and get the slipper back on, so I ran the second half of the bridge on a bare left foot. The good news is that the bridge is quite windswept and didn't have almost any tiny pointed gravel caltrops on it. Not so bad. Probably about one mile. Basically a pedicure. At the end I finally found a side-of-the-road place to do field upgrades. At this point the slippers looked like this:
Actually holding up pretty well, except for the downward-pointing thing. Spoons had lent me some packing tape, the super flimsy brown stuff that was invented by people that feel regular packing tape is too expensive and luxurious. Treat yoself! I used that to update the left shoe to address the toe-pointing. It solved that problem and added a few new small ones, like now my toes didn't really fit all the way through, and tape sticking to the skin, and small rocks and sand getting trapped in there with my foot. After a few more miles the right slipper started failing the same way, so that one got supercharged, too.
Dr. Spoons captured this around mile 20, which is where marathons get sad for everyone:
You can see I am having a blast, though. That plush robe and hair wrap kept me super warm and comfy. I tried (not very hard) to keep the robe overlappingly covering my body, but it would open up as seen in picture, which made that aspect a bit cooler and safer. It stayed tied on the whole time (except when I retied it to try to wrap up again, or make the knot more aesthetically loopy), as did the hair wrap. I got lucky that it was a fairly mild day until the last third or so, because in the sun they were both very uncomfortably moisture-absorbing and hot.
Sometimes I asked the medical stations if they had exfoliating facial cream or cucumber slices for my eyes, but they did not. As usual for this kind of costume, people first noticed the bathrobe and thought ha-ha, and then saw the slippers and were like (!!). It's kind of weird how close people will talk about you, seemingly as though you can't hear them. Almost everybody understood this one without explanation, though, except for someone who thought it was like a king's robe (?) and some people who were absolutely sure that they were some kind of special athletic slippers. And weren't they? Nearing about mile 23 my right foot was hurting pretty bad, and I was worried I might have given myself a stress fracture, so I walked gingerly until the last stretch. I think it was actually just some weird deep-insides cramp or something less serious, like my foot guts trying to warn me about bad life choices, because running the ending gauntlet felt okay, and walking around with sneakers on now is pretty much OK. Here's what they looked like at the end of the race (plus BART ride, plus walk):
F-- would not buy again
I thought it'd be good to write a review of these slippers for Bed Bath & Beyond ("more like Bed Bath & Be Conned!!") but these particular ones are not online. But I bled a lot less than the ice skates, which were allegedly designed for sports, so that's worth at least a rating of ★☆☆☆☆.
At the beginning of the month I published ARST ARSW, which is Star Wars sorted alphabetically. It "went viral" (I think it was actually bacterial. Gram stain was positive) almost immediately, due to some lucky press, which is fine by me. If you haven't seen it, clicky-clicky:
Literally, every word spoken in the movie is assembled in alphabetical order along with the corresponding video clip (and ties of course broken chronologically). The description contains some "fun" facts, like that "lightsaber" only appears once in the movie!
At 43 minutes, it's a bit hard to watch the whole thing in a sitting, although many have declared success. I've only been able to finish it with a break or two, in all honesty. Maybe on the elliptical machine. If you do watch, please get to at least Alderaan (link skips directly) to see how it can create unintentional humor, as each character pronounces this fictitious planet's name differently (Luke kinda goes with whatever the person he's talking to says). Some other parts I like: Two words appear adjacent in ARST ARSW that are also adjacent in the movie, such that it goes an an an an ... an analysis. All the words that appear in Leia's hologram message are interesting, like Kenobi. See how much time people spend looking for Luke in this movie, and here you can see one of my three mistakes (one of the "Luke"s is out of order because it had an invisible tab character after it in my transcript). Catch 'em all! And I think Han Solo's scene that contains almost all the uhs in the movie is pretty hilarious. There are lots more favorites highlighted in the comments, along with the ubiquitous internet abuse. (Mom, who felt protective at my Ph.D. defense: Never read the comments.)
It took a while to make, but people routinely waste entire weekends just binge-watching Netflix or worse. Not only was this basically relaxing (not to mention that it absorbed that nervous energy that you probably know I'm aflame with) but I got some practice making software for video editing. The source code is here. It's a pair of multithreaded C++11 apps. Basically the process was like this: I loaded all the frames up into memory, along with the audio, and had keyboard commands for marking a section of the video (actually the audio—you need much better resolution than 24fps to chop up words) and refining its borders while listening to it in a loop. I'd find a phrase in the audio, then type "if this is a consular ship where is the ambassador" and it'd just split up that loop into 10 mini-loops of the same length, one for each word. Obviously "if" is much shorter than "ambassador", so then I'd go and adjust the edges of those loops with the keyboard. I made tweaks to the program as I went, to make it efficient and fun-ish, and eventually got pretty fast at it. Here's what the UI looks like:
I also learned some things from making this video and the reaction to it. First: Star Wars is a really well-made film. I've probably only seen it four times or so—I'm no superfan—but watching the movie this closely, frame by frame, was a master course in filmmaking. At the micro level, I was very surprised how densely packed the dialogue is, with almost no pauses in between lines. (And yet it doesn't sound weird? People obviously don't talk like that.) It was neat how sound effects like laser blasts were carefully placed between words of dialogue during messy scenes, so that you'd still be able to hear the characters. I was also surprised with how little actual sound you need in order to perceive words like "a" or "it"; I often had trouble even isolating what part of the audio even corresponded to the word, despite it being clear that the character was saying that word when I listened to the whole line. It was notable how much of the story is propelled by the two droids, and I entertained an alternate theory that C3PO was Keyser Söze-ing the whole plot by "interpreting" R2D2's nonsense bleeps, which is pretty plausible.
I also learned that people have done this kind of thing before. For example, someone alphabetized one of George W. Bush's speeches as Qaeda Quality Question Quickly Quickly Quiet. There's also AARRSSTW, which I was terrified to see because I thought it might have been literally the same thing, but it is in fact Star Wars reordered by the length of the shot. In general, this kind of exhaustive analysis of the words in some work is called a Concordance, which is usually done entirely earnestly for books like the bible by people who are even more extremely boring than me.
Lots of people have asked to do other stuff with the timecoded words, especially, something where you type in a phrase and it outputs a video of clips from the movie speaking your phrase. (Or more cleverly, take the movie itself and replace each word with a clip of a different character saying that word.) There are lots of good ideas, but I decided that it would detract from the art of this one to do anything that might be perceived as "useful" or "interesting" with it. The point is the movie and that it has no point.
Moreover, although I'm always happy with attention for my projects, this one is now probably my most famous (!), at least if measured by Youtube views, which are now nearly 1 million. (Though people have watched more than twice as many actual minutes of my previous virus.) I don't want to be known as the Star Wars guy or something, so we are now done with this project and it's on to the next! Expect the next post to contain an unexpectedly resumed classic.