Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Harvard Physics Professor shatters Women's speed record running across America

Screen shot of the Outside Magazine article published Nov. 21, 2023.

Jenny Hoffman is an over-achiever.  She's both a record setting ultra-marathon runner and an award-winning PhD professor of Physics at Harvard.  She just completed a certified Fastest Known Time transit of the US via the same route that Pete Kostelnick ran in 2016.  Here's a link to the Outside Magazine article covering Pete's record, written by the same author as above (Martin Fritz Huber).

Jenny has unwittingly managed to combine two of my core interests—quantum physics and traveling continuous long distances on foot, and this post is as much about her accomplishment as it is about her reaction to it vis-a-vis her Physics career.  In an online Physics Today article covering the achievement, she offers the following quote:

“Running is a good balance for physics,” says Hoffman, who got into running in seventh grade and into ultrarunning—covering distances longer than marathons—when she was a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. In physics, she explains, luck plays a large role in success and failure: “Does your cryostat leak?” for example. In running, she says, “there is more correlation between hard work and success. The numbers are what they are. You finish in a certain time. And there is no anonymous peer reviewer who will undermine that. It’s good for my mental health to have a pursuit that is more clearly merit based and fact based.”

This floored me, and it bears repeating: Traveling on foot is more Merit-based and Fact-based than the study of Physics.

The scientific process that establishes 'facts' is indeed a pretty tortuous one.  I know this first-hand from my own 25-year career at NASA writing and publishing peer-reviewed papers for scientific journals.  Traveling on foot is just simple, pure, raw, and easy to prove.  The FKT certification of Jenny's run required her to provide a GPS track, some photos and other documentation, but the GPS track is by far the most important.  Anything can be faked, but, as Jenny says in the Outside Magazine article:

FKT.com just asks for the specific GPX files and, frankly, I think that’s the strongest evidence you can have. Guinness imposes these additional requirements, like written witness statements. I got them all, but that would be really easy to fake. Just make up some names. Guinness also requires ten minutes of video every day. Again, that’s easy to fake: I could video myself leaving the RV, get ten minutes of video, and then sleep in the RV all day. So I don’t think that those additional requirements actually add anything to the evidence.”

GPS tracks can be faked, too.  But it's a helluva lot of work to fake GPS-tagged photos if they are regularly taken and also contain visual cues about the location, and personal daily accounts posted in real time.  I have my own certified FKT record for my double thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, which combined GPS tracks and tagged photos with daily posts on this blog.  Jenny went the extra mile and also carried a live tracking device and is jumping through all those hoops that are required to establish her feat as a Guinness World Record.  

Peer review in the world of Science goes far beyond what Guinness requires for a world record.  Yes, the system can be flawed, and fake science results sometimes get published.  But over the long term, such frauds are almost always caught.  The review process is the best method humanity has come up with to establish what we call 'facts' or 'truth'.  ***And yet ... 

Here on this blog, I have been discussing Physics topics at great length, many in the same field (the bizarre world of quantum mechanics) that Jenny works in, and I try to take pains to identify what I believe can be tested through experiment and ultimately peer reviewed and published.  ***But ... the amazing thing about Quantum Physics and the frontiers of modern science and mathematics these days is that there is a fundamental blur at the end of the scientific and logical process.  Facts and Truth, it turns out, do not stand on a firm foundation that we can call 'Reality'.  Rather, our own experience plays a critical role.  Even Einstein, late in his life (in an article he wrote for the April 1950 issue of Scientific American [Vol. 182, no. 4, page 17]) has confirmed this:

Experience alone can decide on truth.

This utterly fascinates me, and I've spent a lot of time exploring this.  I do not go those further steps to do the proposed experiments or to submit papers for peer review.  I'm simply having fun in my retirement years with the Philosophy of the origins of or universe and of reality in general.

So ... I'm posting this remarkable news about Jenny breaking the women's record by more than a week over the previous record-holder's time as much because I dream of achieving such epic feats myself, but because her life resonates with me in a much bigger-picture sense.  I wonder if she ever dabbles in Genealogy.  She has three children, and obviously a remarkable genome.  What I can attempt to prove (the free WikiTree web site is especially good for this) is whether there is a provable connection between Jenny and me, and if so, how many degrees of separation.  I bet there is.  We are, in the end, all related.

Genealogy requires no specialized degree or peer review, but there's plenty of rigorous research, even science, at the root of good quality Genealogical work.  Because of its intrinsic factual basis, yet also because it touches on the origins of reality itself (the origin of life), Genealogy is the third of my recent trifecta (or Triathlon) of active interests.

Ultimately this post is to serve notice that nearly all blog posts coming from me from now on are likely to focus on one of these three topics:  The philosophy-science interface, Family roots and the origin of life, and long-distance travel on foot.  All three are worthwhile journeys and I envision each of them as a heroic quest.  I hope you'll follow along.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Fall 2023 in pictures and videos


The most bizarre sunrise of my life, complete with sunspot (look in the upper part of the haze band, right of center).

My 75th birthday has come and gone.  2023 has been an eventful year.  As I've posted, I published my long-delayed AT memoir in April, and then my long-standing mega-novel in August.  Between those two projects I traveled to New England, where I spent a month and a half hiking, including touching base with the New England National Scenic Trail and extending my personal continuous footpath to the state of Rhode Island (connecting my 27th of the 50 US continental 'states' [counting DC]).

I also had the distinct privilege of helping the Dartmouth Outing Club maintainers repaint the summit sign on top of Mount Moosilauke.

I even got a stripe of orange paint on my hiking stick as a 'souvenir'.  Here's the video I posted at the time:

Since July, I've mostly been sticking close to home enjoying the sunrises and fall color.  The bizarre sunrise shown in the headline photo ought to be made into a video.  I took a couple dozen photos as it evolved.  It happened on November 8th, and not only provided an amazing distortion, caused by multiple stable layers in the atmosphere, but it was also the first time I've 'seen' a sunspot (with the aid of my 40x Canon Power Shot point and shoot camera).  Here's a look at a later image, with the sunspot very apparent, having moved above the haze layer:

The sunspot was a big one, at least twice the size of our whole planet Earth. When I noticed the spot on the images, I went to the internet to check.  Real time sunspot data comes from NASA's SOHO (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) satellite.  At that site, you can customize a video of this huge sunspot moving left to right - at least until the Nov 8-9, 2023 data are taken off the site and archived.  Here's the procedure:

  1. Go to the SOHO Movie Theater link.
  2. In the 'Image' menu box, select "hmiigr"
  3. 'Resolution' 512 or 1024, take your pick.
  4. Click on 'Dates' and a drop-down calendar appears.  Click first on November 8, 2023, then click again on November 9, 2023.  That fills the form with the start and end dates.
  5. Click 'Generate' and the first of the images in the sequence appears.
  6. Beneath the image click the 'Play' button and the animation scrolls repeatedly.  Customize as you wish.

The 'authorities' give each sunspot a number.   This one was number 3477, and here's SpaceWeatherLive.com's image with each sunspot annotated with its number.  I've rotated the image to appear as the sun appeared in my photos taken at about 40 degrees north latitude (i.e., with the north pole at the 10:20 o'clock position.)

The venue where I witnessed this exotic sunrise is the same one where, on the exact date of my birthday, I was treated to this spectacular display--one of the most outstanding sunrises of my life:

It truly was a special day.  Here are the two videos I took this day, no editing, just raw:

And as reported in the second video, I had just learned a few days earlier that I was going to be a grandpa for the first time (assuming I live until June 2024.)

At my age, I make no such assumptions.  Just look at this:

Falling (tripping, stumbling, losing my balance, etc.) has become an increasing part of my 'repertoire'.  This recent fall with face-plant on the ground gave me the honor of the first full black eye I've ever had.  It looks a lot worse than it feels.  But I've always said, with the miles of hiking I do on rugged rocky trails, and especially this time of year with the new-fallen leaves obscuring treacherous 'holes' and obstacles, that the way I will eventually die is by falling and cracking my head open on a rock.

The new Social Security Actuarial Life Tables tell the story.  We 75-year-old men are a dying breed.  And it is getting worse.  Covid has accelerated the process.  I thought I'd compose a little 'doomsday' message to myself, compiled from the stats on that site, just for fun:

But on a happier note, speaking of the new-fallen leaves.  The display here on the Blue Ridge of Virginia did not disappoint, as can be seen in the videos.  Color is all but gone now, as of the date of this post (which is the first day of firearms deer-hunting season).  Yesterday I went out and cherry-picked some of the last of the best:

Still life with purple wood aster and acorn shell on red maple leaf

And finally, I did do one walk that didn't feature autumn leaves or rocky trail.  It was a walk on water; and I've done it once before.  

Love that Chesapeake Bay Bridge 10K run.  It's the one day of the year when the American Discovery Trail can be walked between Annapolis, MD and Maryland's Eastern Shore.  In my new 75-79 age group, I finished 20th.  And there were 15,503 finishers (in all age groups combined).  It was a chilly day, and the hassle of waiting in line for transportation to the start and from the finish diminishes the experience.  But I will probably come back next year and try to beat my time.  Or maybe I'll be walking it with my new grandchild.  Never too soon to start the hiking life!