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Week of 3 September 2007

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Monday, 3 September 2007
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00:00 - 


Tuesday, 4 September 2007
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09:11 - The Blue Planet Run finishes at noon eastern time today at the UN Building in New York City. It's been an eventful 95 days. Here's Paul's latest update, and presumably one of the last ones.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Robert Bruce Thompson
Date: Yesterday 16:22:24
  Re: update

Mary has completed her last run of a full shift. She and Team Silver are headed to the Helmsley (42nd St.) as I type. The runs went okay for city runs (Mary hates them, Shiri loves them). Mary had to be driven around a raised drawbridge, though her team said that a girl on powerdrinks should be able to leap the chasm.

They are on their way to the Helmsley despite Ignition's best efforts (read, effort of a distracted two year old - no offense to two year olds who may be reading). Team Silver, alone of all the teams, was given hotel reservations 40 miles east of Queens on Long Island. Never mind that they run in Queens tomorrow and would have to get to their start point amidst the morning commute from Long Island. Never mind that there are two teams who will, tonight, actually run on Long Island. When informed of the error, Ignition staff responded that they had misread which shift Team Silver was running but that the solution was that Team Silver needed to suck it up. If there is one thing Ignition staff knows, it is that. Will devised a scheme that puts them in the main hotel where everyone else is tonight and where they'll be tomorrow. It seems to involve using rooms that are vacated by teams that are running (and, I think, my room - anyway, I hear that Will wants to cuddle). The runners have finally banded together and are devising hotel plans and running schemes behind Ignition's back. I suspect any one of us with an Excel spreadsheet and a tenth of our available IQ could do a better job than Ignition has done with the eastern US logistics. And that was a marked improvement over the rest of the trip (geez, I just reread all that and I sound irritated). I was disappointed that Will worked out a solution because I had planned to spend the evening in the hotel bar (where the crack Ignition staff will most surely be) throwing insults and wasabi peas (the Helmsley has great supply) at the staff.

Speaking of, I'm off. More tomorrow on the finale. Tomorrow at noon EDT, Mary will carry the baton across and imaginary finish line (hopefully with many teammates running with her) and the Blue Planet Run will be over.


Paul arrived home Sunday on a flying visit. Well, actually, he drove home, but "driving visit" doesn't sound right. At any rate, he took care of some things at home, including cleaning out the freezer, which had lost power and allowed all the food in it to rot, and then took off Monday morning to fly back to New York for the finale.

Meanwhile, with Paul gone since mid-July, there was apparently a problem with Duke Power thinking Paul and Mary hadn't paid their electric bill. Paul wasn't there to get the warning notices, and apparently Duke Power is/was supposed to turn off their power today. Paul thinks he got the problem resolved, but asked me to drive over there today to see if they still have power.

Barbara and I took a long weekend off. I didn't even download my mail. Yesterday, we went over to Barbara's sister's house for a Labor Day cookout. Just after 11:00 last night, we got a call from Al, Frances's husband. He and Frances were on their way to Barbara's parents' house. Apparently, Barbara's dad's car caught fire late yesterday evening and pretty much burned to the ground. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and there was only minor property damage other than to the car.

Barbara was getting ready to head over to her parents' house, but Al said they had things under control. It must have been a real circus. In addition to fire trucks, there were ambulances and two police cars, which somehow collided with each other at the scene.

Frances and Al finally convinced Barbara's parents to come home with them. Frances works not far from where we live, so she brought their parents along with her to work this morning. Barbara picked up her parents there, and will do whatever running around is needed to rent a car and so on.

I'm very curious about what caused the fire. The car had been parked for several hours before it caught fire, so even if the fuel line broke and leaked gasoline all over the place, I can't figure out what sparked the fire. Investigators from the fire department and insurance company will be examining what's left of the car, so presumably they'll figure out what happened.

14:54 - The Blue Planet Run is complete. As Barbara says, now I'll need a new hobby.

As it turns out, there was a miscommunication. It wasn't Duke Power that was about to shut off Paul and Mary's electricity. It was the Winston-Salem Utilities Commission, which was about to turn off their water. I just got back from their house. The water (as well as the other utilities) was still working. I called Paul to let him know, and mentioned the thought that crossed my mind as I drove over to their house to check. Given what Mary has been doing for the last three months, it would have been an incredible irony for her to return home and find she had no water.

Here's Paul's penultimate report.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 14:24:12
  Re: finish

The Blue Planet Run has concluded.  They crossed the finish line, Mary carrying the baton (film at 11), promptly at noon.  A somewhat drawn out ceremony followed and they're all now off for a photoshoot for Runner's World.  I'll have more details in a bit, right now I have some errands to run, and I'll include either photos or video of Mary's part in the event.

For now, some data:

22 runners ran official legs
22 runners ran across the finish line - a few limped across and a few ran for the first time in weeks, but they did all make it back to NY
160 miles per day for 95 days - 15,200 miles total, an average of just at 750 miles per runner
16 countries
3 continents
89 hotel rooms (for Mary)

She is happy to be done.  My last report will follow this evening or tomorrow.  Cheers, Paul

Oh, yeah. Brian and Marcia Bilbrey should be arriving home in Bowie, Maryland right about now. They spent the weekend with us, and we all enjoyed ourselves immensely. It's nice to have some down time.

16:21 - I've been a bit slow getting started this week. One of my readers pointed out that I'd been posting as though it were Monday. Duh.

17:10 - Update from Paul.

From: Paul Jones
  To: Paul Jones
  CC: <many recipients>
Date: Today 16:10:41
  Re: concluding remarks

I couldn't attach the video of Mary speaking. Each runner was allowed given a trophy and wreath and a few moments to make some comments. Mary and Richard Johnson were selected to make somewhat longer speeches. They went according to personality, the jazz musician speaking off the cuff and the scientist preparing remarks and editing for a few days. Both went really well, I thought. Anyway, I have attached, instead, a transcript of Mary's remarks. I'll see what can be done about getting the video up on the net.

Mary is beautifying herself in preparation for a reception and dinner tonight (business casual includes tevas, right?). I doubt there will be much to report from there, so this is probably me signing off. Look for the final videos and whatnot at blueplanetrun.org over the next few weeks (yes, it'll probably be weeks). And I'll let you know when and if that video is on my site.

Thanks for reading and supporting Mary. -Paul

Here's the transcript of Mary's remarks:

We've been on foot and on the move for 95 days. We've been talking to people about the worldwide water crisis. I think, at this point, we all agree on the purpose of the run. We have, however, put our own spin on how we talk about it. A few examples:

If you were talking to Lansing Brewer, he might say: “Water is life. But you know what would taste really good right now? A Diet Coke from McDonald's with lots of ice.”

Shiri Leventhal: “Water is life. Could I have that water with some mixed field greens? And could you add extra tomatoes? No cheese. And could you sprinkle some nuts on top?”

Paul Rogan: “Beer is life. Hands off – that one's mine!”

Me: “Water is life. What day is it? Has anyone seen my shorts? Are we in France? No? Why not?”

This team left New York City on the morning of June 1st. We were hoping for the picturesque, expecting misery, braced for the appalling. We got our share of all three.

I've run across a Dutch plain dotted with windmills, through a cool, green Russian forest, into an empty Mongolian desert at dawn, over a Colorado mountain pass in the middle of a meteor shower.

I've run through blinding rain storms, through clouds of stinging insects, through terrifying traffic, through sticky mud and horrible, dust-filled air.

I've run while...well, anyone who's read my Russia blog knows about the appalling part of my trip. I won't bore you with the details.

I am pretty ordinary. I am not the youngest or the oldest on this team. I'm not the fastest runner, nor the strongest, nor the most elegant. I don't have the best hair. I'm not the most cheerful. I'm not the most eloquent, the most persuasive, the best informed. I'm not the smartest...well, wait. I just might be the smartest.

I am, however, the most grateful.

The members of this team have been my coaches, my counselors, my confidantes. Each one of them, at one time or another, has cheered me when I finished a run, encouraged me when I was down, taken care of me when I was ill, lent clothes, shared snacks, found water. The members of this team are my heroes. And to them I say: I am glad you are with me, here at the end of all things.

Of you, I have one request. Remember. Remember what we have tried to accomplish with this run. Remember that we chose to spread our message step by step, individual by individual, instead of using a glossy advertising campaign. Remember our sorrows, our successes, our stories. Remember the point of all this running. Remember us.

Water is life. Pass it on.


Wednesday, 5 September 2007
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08:27 - Paul and Mary are flying back from New York City today. It'll be the first time Mary has seen home since she left in May. I'm sure Mary will be delighted to sleep in her own bed after about 100 days on the road. I hope Paul remembered to bring in the guys in moon suits to sterilize the house before Mary sees it.

After several days off, it's back to work on the home chem lab book for me. Barbara is having dinner out with some friends tonight, so it's cold left-over pizza for me and the dogs.


Thursday, 6 September 2007
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08:42 - It looks like I was right about the iPhone. I said that Apple's goal of selling 10 million of the things by 2008 was ridiculously optimistic. And so it has turned out. Apple announced that they've sold only a million of them so far, or soon will, but that refers to shipments to stores rather than sales to actual retail buyers. (I knew they were in big trouble when I learned that a few days after the iPhone became available every store had lots of them still in stock.)

As it turns out, iSupply estimates that actual sales for the entire month of July, the first full month, were only about 220,000 units. For Apple to meet its goal of selling 10 million units in the first six months, they'd have had to average about 1.7 million units per month for the final six months of 2007. And, because sales of such new products are always heavily skewed toward very high volume early in the cycle, they'd have had to sell more like 3.5 to 4 million units in July to have any hope of having 10 million total sales during 2007. If the iSupply estimate is correct, which seems likely, Apple is actually selling iPhones at about 6% of the projected rate. Even adding in the initial rush of sales at the end of June leaves them at around 10% of expected sales.

So Apple did what any company would do when sales are catastrophically bad. They took a meat-ax to the price, chopping it from $600 to $400, and in the process screwing the early adopters. This price cut will probably have some effect on sales, but I suspect it'll be a lot smaller than Apple hopes. The fundamental problem is that the real cost of the iPhone is something like $3,000 because of the required service contract with AT&T, and there simply aren't 10 million people who are willing to buy a $3,000 cell phone.

Paul and Mary were to arrive home yesterday on a 5:00 p.m. flight. I haven't heard from them, and don't expect to for a while. Mary probably needs at least a few days to decompress and get used to being in her own home again. I would imagine that when she woke up in her own bed this morning she probably leapt up expecting to grab the baton and start running.

The Netflix fairy finally granted my wish yesterday. I'd had Rome Season 2 in my queue since before it was actually available. It was always listed as "Very Long Wait". Yesterday, Netflix sent email to let me know that Rome Season 2 Disc 1 was shipping and would arrive today.

I don't mind waiting. I'm a very heavy Netflix user, and it's not unreasonable for them to give preferential treatment to light users. Since I rejoined Netflix back in late May, they've engaged in only minor throttling. For the month of August, for example, they sent me 26 discs, which is probably an all-time monthly world record for the three-at-a-time plan.

Back to work for me.


Friday, 7 September 2007
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08:15 - I had an unusual experience yesterday. I was burning a Taiyo-Yuden DVD+R, with K3b minimized as I worked on a chapter in OpenOffice.org Writer. I happened to glance at the minimized icon and saw that it was at 80% complete, which was where it had been several minutes earlier. Uh-oh.

Sure enough, I maximized K3b, and found it had died part way through the verify pass, showing a verify error. I was surprised. That's the first coaster I've made in at least 500 discs, and probably 1,000. And on a T-Y blank, yet.

I thought I'd better do some detailed surface scans on some other discs I'd made recently, so I fired up qpxtool, an open-source clone of Plextor's Plextools. Unfortunately, qpxtool won't do detailed surface scans with my Plextor PX-740, which is actually a BenQ drive rather than a Plextor. No surprise there, as Nero CD-DVD Speed also won't do detailed surface scans with that drive.

There are several drive options with qpxtool, including generic, Plextor, Pioneer, NEC, BenQ, and BenQ ROM. I tried all of those, and all but one simply refused to do a scan. One of them, I think NEC or Pioneer, actually did a scan, but it was worthless, showing an error in every sector it scanned.

Oh, well. I'm not going to worry about it. I always do a verify pass, which is sufficient to catch really bad discs. I suspect the one that failed yesterday had a physical flaw. I've done enough detailed scans of Verbatim and Taiyo-Yuden discs that I trust them to be nearly perfect. Except when they're not.


Saturday, 8 September 2007
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09:03 - Blue Planet Run has posted a 15-minute roll-up video of the run from start to finish. It contains a lot of footage that had already been posted in earlier videos, but there's also a lot of new footage. Mary appears prominently in this video.

Barbara just left to help her dad pick out a replacement for his car, which caught fire and burned down on Monday night. They decided to look at used cars. Her dad is 85 years old, and doesn't drive much any more other than running errands around town, but they do need to have a car available. I told Barbara last night that I was a bit concerned about her dad driving at all, given his age, but mine seems to be a minority view. Barbara, her sister Frances, and Frances's husband Al don't seem too concerned about her dad continuing to drive.

They're going to the credit-union used car lot, which was news to me. Apparently, it's common nowadays for credit unions to maintain their own used-car lots. Barbara said it'd be a low-stress way for her dad to pick out a used car. There's no haggling over price. They have the prices posted, and from what Barbara said the prices are fair. She and her dad will test-drive any of the cars that interest him. If they decide on one, they just park it in the "bought" part of the lot, where it remains until they get the paperwork done.

Dutch is a WWII veteran who served with the USMC in the Pacific in WWII. Until now, he's always bought American cars. Like many WWII veterans, including my dad, Dutch hasn't forgiven what the Japanese and Germans did during the war, and for decades he refused to buy anything made by them. I guess he's mellowed, as my dad eventually did. (I was surprised when my dad bought a German-made car in 1975.) Dutch mentioned to Barbara the other day that he'd consider buying a Japanese car, so I suspect Barbara will be nudging him towards Toyotas and Hondas.

09:55 - Miles Teg over on the message board includes a link to this image, with the note "My kind of girl."


Sunday, 9 September 2007
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09:10 - Dinner last night with Paul and Mary. Mary looks tired but happy to be home. I think Paul is just relieved that it's over and Mary is back.

Mary took a few days off from work to recover, but plans to go back to work on Tuesday. As she said, her first task will be to take on the Augean Stable that is her email inbox. After being gone for 100 days, she'll have thousands of new messages. I suggested that she hold down Shift-Del, say "oops", and then send an email to her entire address book to tell them that she accidentally deleted all her email and if they'd sent her something important in the last 3.5 months they should resend it.

I'm very proud to know Mary. As I told her yesterday, she's done things I'll never do, been places I'll never be, seen things I'll never see, and had diseases I'll never have. She and the other runners have completed a relay run around the world, 24 hour a day, seven days a week. That's something that's never been done before and, I suspect, something that will never be done again.

I told Mary that throughout the run I kept thinking of a line that I originally thought was from Kipling. It's not, but I can't find the source. But it remains apropos. "The cowards never started, and the weaklings died along the way." There were obviously no cowards or weaklings in that group.


Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 by Robert Bruce Thompson. All Rights Reserved.