Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Taking the Exam

My gym is in a basement. After walking through the door, you walked down 12 steps at a 45º angle to get to the gym floor.

A few months ago I saw a guy jogging up and down these steps with a weight vest on. The vest contained I think 40 pounds of iron rods. Later, we would hold additional weight in his hands. I knew instantly what he was training for.

The firefighter's physical exam requires the applicant to run up 10 steps at a 45º angle, cross a small platform, and descend 10 steps. You then turn around and do it a total of ten times. To be clear, once up, across the platform, and once down is one repetition.

You're wearing and holding 100 pounds of gear during the exam.

I saw this guy again today and asked him how the exam went.

"Not too good. I had an injury two weeks before the exam."

"Oh man. So what happened?"

"I tore my plantar fascia," he tells me. "Took 14 seconds off my time."

The plantar fascia is the tendon that supports the arch of your foot. You need only consider the engineering of the foot for a moment to get an idea of how severe an injury that is.

Fourteen seconds doesn't sound like much, but it meant everything to him:

"The average for applicants in the State of New Jersey is 3:25. My fastest time was 2:51, but I only pulled a 3:05 on the exam."

His mood when describing this fairly amazing feat (sorry) was discouraged. He didn't say it, but he wanted to beat his personal best of 2:51 at that exam.

I replied, "I think it's important to keep some context here. Fourteen seconds is not a half a minute. You still beat the average."

You're probably wondering if this is a pass/fail exam or if a better time on the exam is meaningful. It doesn't matter. The exam, at that moment he took it, was meaningless. He purposely built this pressure on himself over the course of months so when it came to a head, he could perform his absolute best. And he didn't get a chance to do that.

I've no doubt that he'll become a firefighter in September, even if he says that's when he "finds out." And he'll probably have a great career. He never said it, but he's looking forward to the next time he has to take that exam, whether it's in a classroom or not.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

"Having is not so pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but often true."

When I was 15, my Dad and I bought a 1985 Jeep CJ-7. It ran, but couldn't move.

We spent the next few years returning it to road-going condition. It was never perfect, but I sure learned a lot.

Two of the things I learned:
1. The styling of older Jeeps is iconic and magnetic, and,
2. It used relatively primitive engineering to hold it together and make it go.

The 1952 Willys Jeep I encountered over the Memorial Day weekend reinforced both these lessons.

From down here, it looks almost heroic.

I'd kill to drive a car with a gas can on the fender.

Notice how much more the brake was used than the clutch.

Also: circular pedals are awesome.

I think found four speeds with this unmarked shift knob but I expected only three. Although it seems to lead into the transfer case, I don't know what the lever in the middle does.

This alone might be worth the $1,100 asking price (to my mind).

It's appropriate that the speedometer uses the smallest values to measure MPH. Even if you're going 50, you're still going pretty slowly.

If I thought I could get it into my apartment to work on it, I would have bought it.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Welcome to Skyrocket Penguin

I've got this crazy idea that everything we imagine actually happens. I can't explain this and even if I could, you probably wouldn't want to read through the explanation.

An example: I believe that penguins can fly. I think they're fooling us, and further, I think they enjoy having fun at our expense.

I have no empirical evidence whatsoever to support this belief. It's absurd.

For a long time, the laws of physics could not explain how hummingbirds fly. They are exceptional creatures; heart rates of 1,200 beats per minute, twisting their wings 180 degrees and flapping them 70 times per second. These are achievements of engineering and physics without peer. Nothing else works and flies like a hummingbird.

So while it is outside of the scope of reason that penguins can fly, it is just barely within the scope of reason that hummingbirds can.

I'm willing to go that extra distance, just for the fun of believing that these evolutionary ridiculous, swimming birds can skyrocket beyond our beliefs.