Sunday, February 26, 2012

Six Cents Quarante Deux Jours a Sceaux (642 Days in Sceaux)

This week was both productive and full of events. It was productive at work, as there was time to focus on a variety of tasks needing my attention, and there was almost no interruption from seemingly random places. It was full of events, I actually entertained guests twice this week, which is more than I normally do in a quarter or even half a year.

As I alluded to last week, my oldest daughter turned 30 on Tuesday. I really feel too young to have a daughter of that age. At the same time, I find it hard to believe that so many years have passed with her. The day she came into the world is as fresh to me as yesterday. That little girl who would cry each day as I went to work now has her own little boy and little girl for whom to care. I am proud of the woman she has become, and glad that she is both happy and content in her life. Happy birthday, Michelle.

When I got to work Wednesday morning, I saw a most unusual e-mail message from one of our vice presidents: "would it be okay if we had a jam session at your house tonight?" Normally, one might consider it short notice to have someone invite themselves to one's house on the day of. But the truth be known, I have no real social schedules, except to come home, fix something to eat, watch a little TV or play guitar, and then go to bed. There are three of us in this guitar band, a term that is used very loosely. We would like a bass player and a drummer, but not having them give us time to focus on the guitar work. The boys came over, I plenty of French cheese and bread which they like, I heated up a frozen paella, and we play guitar for three or four hours. Our set list includes Like a Rolling Stone, Mustang Sally, Bang a Gong, Sweet Virginia, and a couple other songs that we throw in for fun.

The director of our research center in Russia visited the office on Thursday and Friday. We had some business to discuss, and we get along pretty well. He came to Chez Mark on Friday night. We had a very traditional, yet simple French meal: a baguette, five kinds of cheeses, and dried sausage. We talked for a few hours as we ate, and then he left to catch up with his parents live in France, just outside of Paris. I have several projects with which I am involved concerning his group, and I will be making multiple trips to Moscow this year.

My running moved to a new level this week, although it was not a faster level. I've mentioned earlier about the Maffetone method, the idea of running at a very low heart rate, on the low side of the aerobic zone as normally calculated. It is difficult to do, because you must run slowly, and maintain good running form. The idea is to build up the aerobic capacity of your muscles. He calls this building an aerobic base. It drives me crazy to run as slow as I must run in order to stay in the heart rate zone. I took this craziness to a new level this weekend. I ran to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. Depending on which GPS and mapping system I use, I ran either 13.22 miles or 13.86 miles. Especially for the last couple of miles, it was very hard to keep the heart rate in the zone. I did this in preparation for the Paris half marathon next Sunday. Though I have been working to build my aerobic base for only two weeks, I hope to see some benefit from this effort during the run next weekend. And yes, the distance I ran yesterday is the furthest I've ever run in my life (although it would be hard for me to call what I was doing the last three or 4 miles actually "running"). Nonetheless, all of this is good for me, and it would be hard to have a more picturesque urban environment in which to run.

My beloved Kentucky Wildcats played Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday, which would be 6 PM my time. I was excited, as usually the games are not available here until 3 AM. Murphy's Law being what it is, I began have Internet problems and was unable to watch the game. I had to follow the game over my cell phone via Johns Clay's twitter account. Thank you John, it was nice to go to bed knowing the Cats had prevailed. When I got up this morning, I still had Internet issues, although the box indicated that the Internet was fine. None of my devices could access the Internet, however. I turned off the box for several minutes, or until I cooked an omelette and ate it, however long that was. I turned the box back on, and the Internet was working, and what should be on ESPN America? The Kentucky Wildcats playing the Vanderbilt Commodores. It was the last 10 minutes of the game, and although I already knew the outcome, I enjoyed watching every second of that remained.

I still haven't decided to where I should go to take a long weekend, but I am trying to couple it with the running clinic. I think my form needs more work, and I need an experienced instructor and coach to observe and help me correct my flaws. I need to check out visiting a running clinic in Ireland again, at least there were not be much of a language barrier, unless they begin to speak Gaelic…

Thanks for coming along, a bientot.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Six Cents Trente Cinq Jours a Sceaux (635 Days in Sceaux)

This week was not quite chaotic, not helter-skelter, but topsy-turvy in its own right.

It seems that the consulate of India really wants to make it difficult for people to visit their country. As I was preparing for my trip to India, China, and Japan, I knew the visa for India would take 10 business days. It was that way when I went last year. But now, rules have changed. They no longer accept the internationally accepted dimensions for the passport photo. I had to go to the consulate to get the photo taken. We were then informed that after my visa had been granted, before its final release to me, I had to go for an interview. The interview would then be evaluated and I should expect my visa to be finally approved within 48 hours of the interview. We're no longer talking 10 business days, but something more like 15 business days to get a visa to India. As a result of these machinations, I had to cancel my trip. Well, I missed the chance to go to China, but I also miss the opportunity for two weeks of jet lag followed by two weeks of recovery…

Today is a brilliantly sunny day in Sceaux. The temperatures are just above freezing, but this is February, and February is a winter month. While we have had very cold weather this winter, we've also had much more sunshine than we did last year. Somehow, the cold is easier to bear when you can see the sun. Looking at our extended forecast, it looks like we will dip below freezing next week, and then begin the slow climb to early springtime temperatures. I am looking forward to spring.

With the cancellation of my trip to Asia, it looks like my first half marathon run is now on. I have a lot of road work to do between now and then. I'm trying to build up my muscular aerobic base, and this requires special technique in training, as I have described earlier. I am hopeful that even these two weeks of training will benefit my performance in the half marathon. I'm not a fast runner, and I have no delusions of great speed, I just want to feel good after the run.

My oldest daughter turns 30 next week. It is incredible to me. My memories of the day she was brought into the world are so close to me I could touch them. I'm very proud of the woman she has become. I am blessed.

We have travel restrictions at the office now, which means I will likely be here in France for at least the next six weeks. I do have guests coming at the end of March, but between now and then, I think I need to plan a little trip of my own. Morocco is always nice; I have lots of friends in Romania; I could participate in a running clinic in Ireland (I've never been to Ireland); maybe Italy or Spain?

Thanks for coming along, a bientot,


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Six Cents Vingt Sept Jours a Sceaux (627 Days in Sceaux)

This has been a wild week. That is not to say it has been a good week, just a wild one…

Monday started the week as Monday's often do, with its fair share of being Monday. The biggest thing for me was the final preparations for a global webcast I was to give my team the next day. Getting all the data correct, building up the PowerPoint presentation so that it flows well, making sure the message is concise and clear and accurate, and at the same time meeting the fires that erupted throughout the day. I arrived at the office early on Tuesday, having decided to make a few tweaks to the presentation I'd labored over the day before (as everyone else does). And I delivered the first webcast to Europe, Africa, and Asia that morning. The rest of the day went normally until 4 PM, when it was time to do the webcast for the Americas. Again, everything went well, message delivered, the troops exhorted, and it was time to go home.

As you may know, and if you did not realize, I am here without a car. I'm close enough to the office to either walk or take a bus, which I have been doing since I moved into the apartment in May of 2010. It has been a cold winter here, especially the last couple of weeks, and for the foreseeable couple of weeks. They tell me it has been the coldest winter since 1985. Temperatures range from the mid teens Fahrenheit to the upper 20s Fahrenheit. For those of you more familiar with the Celsius scale, -10 C to -2C. I felt very cold going to the bus that afternoon, and never warmed up while on the bus. The coldness persisted for the 8 min. walk back to the apartment, and I was developing a bit of post nasal drip. Things only got worse from there. I went through about a half a box of Kleenex that night, so very tired and weaker as I went to work in the morning. I did not make it until noon. I went home, feeling tired, head completely pressured up, and cold to my bones. When I got home, I put on the long underwear I put on the long T-shirt, I put on the heavy socks, and got into bed with all the covers on top. I shivered and shaked for the next 2 to 3 hours. The body could not get warm, or feel warm. After that episode, I fell asleep. When I woke up, I knew I needed to hydrate and eat something. I do pretty good job of keeping track of my hydration, and soup was the only thing that I could think about eating. Now please keep in mind, I am all but a feral male, so when I say the word "soup", we are talking about a packet of stuff in boiling water. I know, not really the high nutrition of the real stuff, but it is what I had. I was able to go back to sleep until the fever came. Ironically, the body still felt very cold.

I will not bore you with further details, except to say that the next day I was getting better. I forced myself to stay awake through the afternoon until my normal bedtime, but then I found it impossible to fall asleep for the whole night, leaving me completely exhausted for Friday. I needed another day of rest and recuperation. It has been years since I've missed more than two days of work in a row due to illness. And I really hate being caged up by being sick. I'm not into medicines, I've seen the adverse toll they have taken on family members. I believe we are fearfully and wonderfully made by an omniscient creator God. I believe he has given our bodies the tools that it needs to survive these common maladies. If anything, we simply need to facilitate the body to let it do what it was designed to do. Rest is an underrated ally in our fight against illnesses.

Today is Saturday, the rest is paying off. The head is still a bit stuffy, but it is on the mend. Tomorrow, I will try to run. The very cold weather and my upcoming travel will cut into my training time substantially, and I do not think I will be ready for the Paris half marathon in early March. I'm disappointed, but I have greater training goals in mind, and will run it next year, the Lord willing.

Thanks for coming along, I will share more later…


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Six Cents Vingt et Un Jours a Sceaux, B (621 Days in Sceaux, B)

OK, I know this has been a "machine gun" delivery of blog updates, but it seems I just have stuff to share...

I ran today, at -8C (18F), the coldest temperature at which I have every run.  Obviously, I did not have a heart attack, and nothing is frost-bitten.  I tried something new today, something to which I was introduced by a colleague at work.  It is known as "The Maffetone Method", a method of training, and very successful training as evidenced by champion triathletes, which says controlling the heart rate during training is the key to endurance development.  I am reading his book "The Big Book of Endurance Training", and you can find out more about him at  

He starts with a well-researched formula for assigning one's aerobic heart rate: 180 - Age.  It is that simple.  There are a few caveats, four to be exact, and with that my target is 125-130 bpm maximum.  That, my friends, is low.  I normally run a 10:00 to 10:30 per mile, and have several miles logged at 9:20 or better.  I had to slow to 14-15 minutes per mile (yes, you read that correctly) to stay in the aerobic window.  Maffetone says that by training at this heart rate, I will gradually run faster and further at the same heart rate (which would be dead-lock-cinch easy way to run).  By running at the aerobic level, the muscles are developing more efficient means of processing oxygen, and therefor speed is a by product of muscle stamina, and not heart rate capacity.  Or something like that.  Got to admit, I did not breath hard at all, and I went super slow, I kept my heartbeat below 130.  I ran a total of 8km (5 miles).  I will keep doing this, as this guy is the guru of endurance training.  I will see if I can run faster with the same heart effort.  I do have a half marathon in four weeks....

As you know, I am a minimalist/barefoot runner, though not barefoot at all this time of year.  I have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers ( that I use for temperatures below freezing.  The model is called Flow, and has a slightly thicker sole and neoprene uppers, and they worked well enough today.  The feet are still a bit cold, but not freezing and numb, as I ran in snow the whole way today.

(I supplied the links above for your convenience; I am not compensated in any way)

Today is Super Sunday, the game comes on at midnight CET here.  The NY Giants have too many connections to the South and my beloved SEC to not pull for them to win.

A bientot (again),


Six Cents Vingt et Un Jours a Sceaux (621 Days in Sceaux)

Woke up today to snow, our first of the year.  The temperature was -9C/16F/264K/475R (I want you to understand the temperature in your preferred scale).  The snow gently and quiet falls here; the Ile-de-France is not known for violent weather (it is not known for great weather, either).  The coffee tastes extra good this morning, and the fresh snow offers a change of pace.  The sun is supposed to peek through tomorrow, but until then, I will sit back and enjoy the winter blanket...

A bientot,


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Six Cents Dix Huit Jours a Sceaux (618 days in Sceaux)

OK, I am breaking the pattern of waiting at least a week between posts...

Remember what I wrote yesterday?  You know, "live, learn, engineer"?  OK, a little more on that.  I noticed a couple of weeks ago how nasty my electric kettle had become.  You may not know it, but the water in Paris is VERY calcitic.  I mean it is HARD.  You do not know if you are being showered or sand blasted!

My electric kettle, a key component in the crafting of my morning coffee -- yes, I used the word "crafted", as Pam will tell you, and Shelby will affirm, it is more than simply "made" -- was looking pretty crusty.  I hand grind my coffee beans fresh each morning, because I have found that electric grinders, no matter what style, either grind the coffee unevenly and.or burn the beans too much by the mere friction of the process.  Besides, my grandson helps me hand grind, which is a worthwhile by-product of going "old school" on the coffee preparation.  

Well, I told you before I went "old school" on the toilet using bleach, and after a few scrubbing encounters on my kettle, which heats water to a boil faster than you can name the capital of your state, I went old school on cleaning again.  I went to good old Monoprix and found some white vinegar.  I have used this miracle cleaner before, but now it was really going to be tested.  The stainless steel of the kettle, and even its black plastic components were almost completely white -- OK, maybe just a strong shade of gray -- with calcite.  I mixed a 50-50 blend of the white vinegar and water -- all the kettle could possibly hold -- and let it stand for 45 minutes.  I poured it out.  The kettle looked completely new.  The cheap white vinegar had done what the expensive cleaners (like AJAX) could not even begin to address.  "Old school" is seldom a bad way to go, IMHO.

All that calcite experience prompted me to buy one of those "new school" Brita water pitchers, and I can finally drink a glass of water here without cringing or adding G2.  The coffee is better, too...

a bientot,