Week of 9 July 2007
Update: Thursday, 12 July 2007 09:17 -0400
- Hiatus week. I have a dental appointment, but other than
that it'll be heads-down writing all week.
Dodged another bullet. I made it to the dentist at noon yesterday to
have my fangs cleaned, and escaped intact by 1300. I have the same
dental hygienist each visit. She's used to my antics by now. As I sat
down and she swung the arm of the iron maiden into place, the
first thing she said was "No, you can't leave yet." She did let me
The Blue Planet Run continues. It's now Day 40 of 95, and they've
completed about 6,400 miles of the 15,200 mile total. On average, each
of the 20 runners has now run 320 miles, or about 12 full
Chervenak has a new blog post up.
Russia is big
Russia is big. Really big. I mean really, really big. Distressingly,
ridiculously, impossibly big. We've been running across Russia for a
week and we've barely made a dent in the distance we need to cover. You
can take the United States, drop it into the middle of Russia, and
still have room on all sides to squeeze in a few more states (the
western ones). It's big.
Russia in ten-mile bites seems manageable, but it's a slow way to cross
a large country. Russia on foot, particularly at seven miles an hour,
probably wouldn't have been my first choice, but it does give you a
chance to look at things: to really see where you are, consider where
you've been, and contemplate where you're going. I've been seeing,
considering, and contemplating potato fields (or possibly the same
potato field) for several days now. Did I mention that Russia is big?
Some things in Russia seem much larger. The road to Perm is lined with
a plant that looks like Queen Anne's Lace, except the flower head is
the size of a turkey platter instead of a saucer. The horse flies,
which are numerous, angry, and appear to have an agenda, are the size
of actual horses. As we run east, the country seems rougher, the road
less forgiving, the horizon further away. Russia is larger and longer
and harsher than most places I usually run.
Some things in Russia seem much smaller. The angst-ridden flies and
haven't-had-blood-for-weeks mosquitoes have driven us into the relative
safety of the van, shrinking our world to the size of a single
passenger seat. One afternoon, the flies were so thick, we passed the
baton to Orange Team by poking it through a side window in the van,
slamming the window shut, and speeding away. The only words exchanged
were “aughpulbgh” (the noise you make when you've
a fly is in your mouth and you're frantically trying to spit it out)
and “die, die, die” (the noise you make when you're
desperately trying to eliminate the rogue flies that have flown into
Some things in Russia are entirely new. The alphabet has been troubling
me; I hate not being able to read even the simplest signs. I decided to
demystify Cyrillic spelling by matching Cyrillic letters to English
letters. I felt a bit James Bond-y as I prepared to break the code of
the wacky Cyrillic alphabet (Why had no one thought of this before? I
must be a genius.). Of course, all the words I converted, except for
“McDonalds,” were still in Russian (ah, so that's
I didn't make much progress in the demystification department.
Some things in Russia are extremely old. I've been passed by trucks
from the turn of the last century and farm equipment from the century
before that which are still very much in use, if not in repair. Russia
is a country on a budget; things don't have to be new, or match, or
look all that nice, or even work all that well, just as long as they're
I've reached a challenging stage of the trip. Travel fatigue has set
in. Anything white in my suitcase has long since turned gray; gray
things have turned sort of tea-colored. I'm tired of the clothes I
brought to wear on my days off. Most of my socks no longer match. The
M7 demolished my new shoes. My toes hurt and my stride still has some
serious wonk. Russia, however, has given me a new outlook; I've decided
to embrace the country-on-a-budget philosophy. I'm not new, I don't
match, and I don't look all that nice, but I'm still running! Woohoo!
Fortunately, I checked the DHL tracking page yesterday to see what
progress the package I'd shipped to Mary on behalf of Paul was making.
To my surprise, the package was already in Irkutsk, but the status said
"Delivery attempted. Address information needed. Contact DHL customer
service." So I called DHL customer service and eventually ended up
connected to Barry, an international specialist.
I gave Barry all the address information I had, some of which
apparently hadn't made it onto the package or had somehow been lost or
overwritten during the progress of the package from here to Russia.
Barry informed me that hotels in Russia do not accept delivery of
packages for hotel guests unless that guest is actually present. Oops.
Mary isn't due in Irkutsk until the 17th or 18th. Barry told me he'd
convey that information to the DHL office in Irkutsk and that they
would hold the package until Mary actually arrived. I also made sure he
had the addressee as "Guest Mary Chervenak or any Blue Planet Run team
So it's beginning to look as though Mary might actually get the
package. DHL has already done better than UPS or FedEx. Paul says the
original package he sent to Russia got as far as Moscow, bounced around
like a ping-pong ball for a while and then kind of disappeared.
As it turns out, I probably could have sent the package to the first
address that Paul gave me, which was for the hotel where Mary is going
to be tonight or tomorrow night. But DHL told me when I shipped the
package that it would not arrive until at least the day after Mary was
due at that hotel, so, much as I didn't want Mary to have to wait
another week, I decided it was better she get it a week later than not
Mary will get the package just as they're about to finish the Russian
part of their run. Still, I'm sure she'll be happy to get it, because
at that point they'll be getting ready to run across Mongolia and the
Gobi Desert. Jeez.
Still writing. I sent in a complete sample lab chapter to my editor
yesterday. He and the rest of the Make staff are so covered up at the
moment that he said he wouldn't have time to get to it immediately. In
particular, the layout/design folks are completely occupied right now
doing new books and the magazine itself, so it'll be some time before
they can do a dummy layout of the home chem lab book. That's fine with
me. I'd rather they get to it when they have time to focus on it rather
than do a rushed job.
For those who are keeping tabs on Mary Chervenak, she reports that she fell for the first time the other day. She's probably surprised that it took that long.
I'm pleased to report that the rumors that Mary had been pounced on and
carried off by horse flies after her fall are greatly exaggerated.
Well, somewhat exaggerated.
We took Barbara's Trooper to the mechanic yesterday afternoon. She was
hearing a noise from the left front of the vehicle that Tim suspects
may be a brake problem. If it's finished today, I'll get Kim to give me
a ride out to pick it up so that Barbara won't have to leave work early.
- Morons. The DEA, in its infinitesimal wisdom, has moved iodine to List I. Iodine!
The threshold amount has been changed from 0.4 kilograms to 0.0
kilograms. Of course, meth lab operators can still go out and buy
literally a ton of potassium iodide, no questions asked, but apparently
the DEA thinks meth lab operators are too stupid to figure out how to
produce free iodine from potassium iodide.
Well, Barbara's Trooper was supposed to be finished yesterday. Kim gave
me a ride out to pick it up, but when we got there they told it
wouldn't be finished until noon today. Oh, well. We've been taking our
vehicles to this place for 20 years, and this is the first time
anything like this has happened. Kim offered to give me a ride out
I was struck by the juxtaposition of two articles in the newspaper. The first was about the execution of a Chinese minister who was convicted of accepting bribes. The second was about the sentencing of former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black to five years in prison. For accepting bribes.
Frankly, I'd rather the Chinese guy had been sentenced to five years
and Black had been executed. It seems to me that there are few worse
crimes than a politician accepting bribes. If it had been me making the
decision, I'd have stood Black up against a wall and shot him.
Still, the article about the Chinese execution again raises the
question. Why have we not banned all imports from China? China cannot
be trusted. If I were in charge, I'd immediately ban the direct or
indirect import of all agricultural and pharmaceutical products made in
China, and announce a six-month grace period after which all imports of
Chinese products would be banned, period. That would give US
manufacturers a chance to find new sources for materials and products
that they currently source from China. Of course that would put
Wal*Mart out of business, but in the opinion of many people that would
be no bad thing.
If China cleans up its act, we could again permit imports from China,
on the understanding that China must buy at least as much from the US
as it sells to the US. And the same yardstick should apply to
other countries that want access to US markets. I'm all in favor
of free trade, as long as it's truly free. What's not acceptable is for
other countries to benefit from free access to US markets while
simultaneously maintaining barriers against the entry of US products
into their domestic markets.
1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce