Quote me on that

As an inferior writer, I enjoy collecting passages from writers that I admire. Often they say what I feel, but in a more eloquent, interesting, humorous — just pick a complimentary adjective out of a hat — way. Or, even better, they say things my brain is too small to have even considered.

I like to collect these quotes. It started by writing them here and there in notebooks and scraps of paper. Those were lost somewhere in the clutter. Then I began capturing them at kittell.tumblr.com. That was an acceptable solution.

Then I got fancy and starting collecting them here on my site: kirkkittell.com/quotes. There is a feed for it as well: feeds.feedburner.com/kirkkittell/quotes. It is an ugly, unstyled feed, but I’ve heard no complaints from my zero subscribers so far. Besides, I’m publishing the quotes for me, and if you like it, well, hooray for collateral benefits.

Also, meet my pet peeve: I loathe incorrectly transcribed or improperly cited quotes. Don’t ever do that in front of me. I will crush you.

One for the personal record books

Last year, when I set an arbitrary goal to train run a sub-19 minute 5 km race, I wondered about beating my old personal record of 18:26 that I set on 15 October 2000. That record wasn’t a huge weight on my shoulders, but I hate to see past me being more capable than current me.

I have a habit when I race at 5 km. I like to start near the back, let the other runners go crazy for the first one or two kilometers, then reel them in. The good runners are still good runners. They start fast and finish fast. But the masses start fast and finish in a haze of regret. I like the psychological boost of passing them. It’s the best.

In today’s Good Times Series Run, I started near the front line. Completely different. I avoided the clogging that occurs at the beginning. I started faster than usual, but it was not outside of my capabilities. Starting slow so I could pass was always an excuse — fear of burning out and slowing down like the rest of the crowd.

This time, at the 2.15 km mark, I was sitting in tenth place instead of my usual twentieth. I clicked my watch to get my split at this point. This is the high elevation mark of the race, followed by a slight downhill for 300 meters, then a slight uphill to the Oullette Bridge — slight only to the unfatigued mind.

The inflection between the downhill and uphill is where the crowd pulls up. It’s the third quarter of the race. It’s time for the questions (“Why am I doing this?”) and the self-diagnostics (“I think I’m more out of breath than usual.”) and the self-destruction (“I can’t do this.”)

This is my favorite part of the race.

Here I slipped from no man’s land to the group runners ahead of me. (Later one of these guys referred to me at the bar as, “That guy that always passes me at the two mile mark.”)

After the Oullette Bridge, it was me and two other guys making the 270-degree turn onto the riverwalk. This section of the course is a 1 km “straightaway” — it’s mostly straight, but it has some some curves and kinks in the sidewalk that keep it from being an all out bombing run to the finish. You have to slow down for the kinks unless you want to eat the guard rails. On one hand, this messes with your brain because you can’t see the finish line until the last 200 meters. On the other hand, if you know the course, you can slice the last 1 km into sections with their own personalities. If you get to know the personalities the course becomes your friend and you have an advantage.

The start of the riverwalk at Lawrence Mills is constricted, so it’s difficult to pass. That’s fine. When the sidewalk expanded, I dropped the guillotine on the trailing runner. I burst past him, tried to make him doubt himself that he would fall off the pace, tried to cut the race down to me and the other runner. I was doubting myself, so I needed that burst, too. On that straightaway the mind has a convincing way of asking the body to take it easy, enjoy the finish, don’t exert too much, etc. You have to tie yourself to the mast and ignore it.

The remaining runner didn’t give up any ground. Damn. We passed the remaining kinks in the riverwalk. 300 meters to go. And something rare happened, the moment you wait for in sports, where your mind and body gracefully, quietly do their jobs. No more translating information from lungs and legs to see what they could handle. No more convincing the conscious brain to go, go go, ignore everything, and go. Like floating. There is exertion and pain, but it is somewhere else, far away.

After the race, the guy I chased said he could hear me breathing behind me, and that he didn’t know if I was going to get him. I didn’t know either. I dropped it into low gear and passed him on the right. I didn’t think I was going to fend him off for the whole 300 meters. Then the finish line clock came into view, and it was still showing 17:xx. It’s deceptive. You’re still 20 or 30 seconds away from it. You have to avoid letting up, feeling satisfied with the time you see but haven’t accomplished yet.

No matter. 18:19.8, 7th overall. That’s no incredible time, but I’ll take it.

I’d like to be done with these 5 km races, but I know that time is the frontier. Pushing to and past the frontier is uncomfortable, to say the least. Maybe one more time to beat 18 minutes…

We don’t need to know that

I am going to offer you advice about how to run an online community for an alumni association: simplify. Complexity is intoxicating, but simplicity is useful.

I set up an alumni association website, isu-usa.org, to have ISU alumni share their contact info with each other. Our mother institution, ISU, had set up a site in 2007 to do this, but… let’s say… that… it is not the most useful… thing. (See that? Restraint. /twitch)

My initial take on setting up isu-usa.org profiles was to request the same data that the ISU site requested. Add to that a request from an alumna to also share our educational backgrounds, and ISU*USA profiles collected data from 42 fields. (Fields such as first name, last name, email address, etc.)

What a waste. Who cares? On Friday I overhauled the profiles. Goodbye, useless data. I didn’t tell anyone. They didn’t care. Who is “they?” Alumni weren’t using the site. It was like a personal site, but sadder since it was meant to be used by others.

First I decided which fields were being transferred to the new profiles. Friends, let me tell you: 42 is the answer to everything except keeping alumni connected. Now the magic number is 14 fields. This accomplishes all of the professional and social networking that is needed.

Then came manually transferring the information to the new profile database. This can be done automatically, but I wanted to verify that the transfer happened correctly, that fields which alumni requested to be private would remain private — or in this case, deleted, since there is no such thing as private contact info anymore. Either a phone number is posted for all alumni to see, or it isn’t posted.

Next up is inviting the alumni back. I think they will appreciate the new simplicity — not that they’ll appreciate it outright, but it will be less distracting.

The lesson here is that unnecessary complexity is unnecessary. Decide what you need to know. Stop there.

That site still has 99 problems, but at least profiles ain’t one.

Exploring the museum in my backyard

I like living in Lowell. I really do. But I’m accustomed to living here now and I rarely look around. The buildings are less… exotic. I mean, they’re not strange or different anymore, or otherwise worthy of notice. Each building, each street, each canal is now just an unnoticed landmark on my way to and from work or the grocery store or the train station. What a shame.

I suffer from a disease known as localitis.

This disease is not terminal. If the person who has contracted the disease can not cure himself simply by concentrating more, then external remedies are required. Specifically, entertaining a visitor often does the trick.

My cousin David stopped by today. Hooray. So I showed him around a little, walked up and down the canals, went to the museums. Most of the remaining textile mills are in good shape. The rest had already burned down, fell down, or were knocked down years ago. There are a few along the Hamilton Canal that look like scenes from a post-apocalyptic movie.

I live at Boott Mills, which is the center of Lowell National Historical Park. (Hooray for the National Park Service.) That is, I basically live in a museum. I look out my window, boom, there’s a museum. But I had never visited the museum itself. Without standing up from the couch, I can see the museum out of my window. Is that laziness? Not exactly. I like having something nearby that I haven’t explored yet — something to look forward to.

I visited the museum today. Inside the Boott Cotton Mills museum they have one floor of working looms. It’s an interesting touch — not just static machines on display behind a sheet of glass, but the real machines still being driven by water power, still spinning cotton thread into textiles. Below are a few pictures and a video of the action on the first floor.

Loom at Boott Cotton Mills from Kirk Kittell on Vimeo.

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