20 March 2017

NYRR NYC HALF-MARATHON 2017

Wishful thinking, it is part of human nature, right?  There I was last night, laying awake wishing I will pull off a miracle and finish the half-marathon in 2:13, which was my best time for a half, back in 2012.  But I no longer run everyday any more.  Back in 2012, fresh off from a job that dragged on for 12 mostly painful years, well, there were some good ones, but near the end it was exhausting, I had much time to prepare for the half-marathon in Staten Island.  Yes, I ran my best 5K back in August last year, by having a good friend pace me and I also used better breathing techniques.  But it was a 5K, or 3.1 miles long, versus a half-marathon, glorious 13.1 miles.  The cheering crowd in Times Square and elsewhere supposedly can give runners a good boost, but it won't make up that much to cover lack of training.  Yet I dreamt a little.  Then I decided I would just be socially unfriendly and not spend time on queue for porta-potty.

It was my first time running the NYRR NYC Half-Marathon.  The high cost, $120+ I think, was a main factor for me to avoid it.  There are so many other races to spend my hard-earned money on.  Sure you don't get to run through Times Square but is that alone worthwhile the big fee?  But last year I was supposed to be a guide for an Achilles runner who decided at the last minute to run with some friend of his, so I ended up at the cheer zone for my track club instead.  It was nice to be out there, seeing all the energy.  I volunteered at a water station for the NYC Half some years ago, but being at the cheer zone was different.  I decided then that I would actually run it.  It helped that I did all five races for the five boroughs of NYC to gain automatic entry into the NYC Half.  I know, the NYC Half is so highly sought after you don't just register for them.  You either earn a guaranteed entry or try your luck with lottery, or some other means.

There was a big snowstorm on the Tuesday before the Sunday race.  Then the weather report said there would be more storm or lousy weather on the weekend.  Ay yay yay, just my luck, another messy run like the Staten Island Half 2016.  Luckily, it turned out there was no precipitation whatsoever.  Just so very cold!  I try to make the races as simple as possible so I went without bag check.  First time ever I had a disposable layer on, both the top and the bottom parts of the body.  I hate the idea of throwing away clothes that are still wearable but I have too many pieces of clothes anyway.  Besides, NYRR does a good job of collecting the throwaway clothes for Good Will.  I placed my pieces neatly on a rail, near other people's stuff, I am sure they will find a new good home.  I just had the scary feeling that I left something valuables in those clothes, but I made sure there was nothing.

I was in Wave 3, Corral D.  At NYRR races, a slowpoke like me is usually in Corral K, but because the NYC Half had three different Waves, it appeared like I moved up several Corrals but I know better.  It was nice to bump into track club members: Jackie, who was a volunteer team leader; and Murray, who was assigned to the same Corral and Wave with me.  Murray planned to run at a certain pace but we started out together and he periodically said we were too fast than his planned pace.  Around Harlem Hill I went ahead with my pace, which was not that much faster, but I wanted to at least beat my 2:30 from last year's Brooklyn Half.  I ran a few more Half-Marys since Brooklyn but I was sort of a pacer so my finish time was 2:45 or 3:00.  I ran slower going uphill then tried to make higher leaps as I came down the hills.  I walked twice to wolf down the Gu's that I brought with me, and maybe again shortly afterward to grab water or Gatorade to wash the stuff down.  I think I stopped one more time at Mile 12 to get another drink, last one for the long stretch home.

I did stick to my plan of not stopping for anything other than walk breaks.  I acknowledged when called but did not stop for photos.  That's the extent of my being unsocial.  It was good to see Jackie again around the 72nd Street Transverse in Central Park as she tried to get out of Central Park to get to the finish line.  I loved how Joe at 42nd Street cupped his hand to better holler at me.  I don't run with headphone and keeps my eyes open so I usually catch everything.  Actually, I probably saw Joe with his cupped hands before I heard him.  Also on 42nd Street I spotted Linda from the back and asked for confirmation while she was re-fueling, nom nom nom.  I knew Joyce would be at Mile 9's fluid station, with the Back On My Feet group.  She perched high on something so it was easy to spot her and we exchanged greetings so it was good.  Another wishful thinking, I thought there might be a chance my club's cheer zone would still be around when I got there.  But it was a cold day and for us Wave 3 people that would mean the cheerleaders have to be there for like three hours.  I had a PPTC hoodie on so occasionally other people would call the club name and I would respond with a fist pump or such.  All the words of encouragement really made a difference, even if it didn't make me finish faster, it sure kept me going.

Strava app messed up and didn't record the tunnel portion of the race.  Instead, it said I went quickly uptown to Chambers Street then zoomed back at the tunnel exit.  It also went bonker in Times Square.  Altogether, per Strava app, I ran over 22 miles at 6 or so minutes per mile.  Of course I didn't.  It still said I did 2:30, but since I stopped Strava after a few steps past the finish line, it turned out I made sub-2:30, or 2:29:43 to be exact.  Sigh, such is the life of a slow runner, had to forgo toilet visits, sacrifice most social interaction, i.e. no stopping for photos, just to squeak by some goal.  Some fast runners would have stomach cramps, wait on long lines for the toilets, then still P.R. by 15 minutes.  But with this sports, it's usually just the runners against their younger self so I'm good.

16 March 2017

PROSPECT PARK SESQUICENTENNIAL - ROUTE INSTRUCTION

At 9 A.M. Sunday April 2, I will help lead a run with the Prospect Park Track Club to celebrate The Park's 150-year anniversary.  The route will spell out... drum rolls... "150"!  I already posted what the route looks like but while it is obvious to me how it should be run, it may not be so to others.  Follows is the step-by-step instruction, as shown in the accompany picture:


  1. Start near the corner of 10th Street and Seventh Avenue, on the side of the street closer to 11th Street.  Note that we won't start at the corner but rather slightly away from the corner, toward the park.
  2. Start the watch/app (which from now on I'll just call "watch"), walk across the street then pause the watch.
  3. Run around the corner to 9th Street and Seventh Avenue then un-pause the watch.  Wait a little bit for the straight line from 10th Street to be drawn.
  4. Run toward the park then turn right toward 10th Street and make a U-turn to head toward 8th Street.
  5. Follow arrow directions, be sure to make the kick-up at the lower left of the "5".  I want to make sure "150" does not look like "ISO", so these little extra lines here and there are actually very important.
  6. At the corner of 7th Street and Eighth Avenue, the back corner of New York Methodist Hospital, pause watch again.
  7. Run around the block to the corner of 6th Street and Seventh Avenue and un-pause the watch.  You should be at the entrance to Barnes & Noble Bookstore.  Again, linger at the corner a few seconds to make sure the straight line from 7th Street and Eighth Avenue is drawn before continuing on.
  8. The rest is straightforward, IMHO.  Run toward 1st Street and Seventh Avenue then loop back toward 2nd Street, run counter-clockwise as shown to make the zero.
  9. Stop when you get back to 1st and Seventh.  The run is less than 3 miles, if you want to have more mileage, but without messing up the "0", draw the "0" again but this time at Carroll Street and Prospect Park West instead of turning into Carroll, continue on toward Grand Army Plaza. Of course, if you already stopped your watch when you first got back to 1st and Seventh you can run anywhere without marring your work of art.
Hope you find the instruction useful.  Sign up for the run at 




14 March 2017

PROSPECT PARK SESQUICENTENNIAL

Prospect Park in Brooklyn opened to the public in 1867.  It is turning 150 years old this year.  The Prospect Park Alliance is hosting many events starting Saturday April 1.  On April 2, my running club, the Prospect Park Track Club, will host a run in cooperation with the Alliance.  I designed a route that spells out "150".  Faster runners will lead the group from the front while slowpokes like me will lead from the back.  The run starts at 9 A.M. and will be slightly less than 3 miles.

PPTC runs normally start from Grand Army Plaza but this run is different and will meet at 10th Street and Seventh Avenue, which is the top of the "1" in "150".  Actually, it will be slightly away from that corner, toward the park.  Usually when runners spell words and numbers they make very blocky and straight characters.  I go through great length to make sure the characters are curvy, that corners are rounded and not at ninety degrees.  It is easy to mistakenly spell "ISO" instead of "150" so I want to avoid that.  More details will be provided on how that's done.

Register at https://goo.gl/UknXdS

For more information about anniversary events hosted by the Prospect Park Alliance, visit

https://www.prospectpark.org/news-events/events/2017/4/2#opening-weekend-2017

28 January 2017

CALL FOR BACKUP

We love our iPhones and use them for everything.  We take them everywhere and take photographs of everything, whether they move or not.  Some of us even record movies with our phones.  Unfortunately, shit happens and sometimes the beloved phone is lost and there goes everything with it.

I've tried a few different methods to backup my iPhone and was unhappy with them.  In no particular order, they were Apple iTunes, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and Mophie Space Pack.

Apple iTunes costs nothing to use, mostly.  Some people may have only a smartphone as their only communication device, but most people also own a computer.  They would then need to download iTunes, hook the iPhone to the computer and everything just gets backed up to the computer.  Technically speaking I can go back to this method now, since these days I have regular access to my MacBook Pro.  Until a few months ago, my son hogged the computer most of the time and I didn't use it that much.  Logging onto the computer, connect the cable, wait for the backup to occur, etc seems like too much hassle.

Google Drive worked fine for a while but before I know it, 5 GB was almost gone.  The trouble with Google Drive is it holds not just photos you uploaded but also your Gmail stuff etc from other apps in the Google universe.  Sure I can buy more space but I hate the whole idea of renting if I can help it.  Again, I probably should re-visit Google Drive, that is, get the app and set it to sync my phone's content automatically and regularly when WiFi signal is found.  I recently ran some tool on Google Drive to convert photos to other format and free up a ton of space.

I have no space issue with Microsoft OneDrive.  15 GB is plenty for my photos and the few videos I occasionally take.  However, I cannot recommend OneDrive because new users only get 5 GB.  I almost missed the opt-in to retain the 15 GB.  5 GB nowadays is not too much.

Lastly, a big disappointment, is Mophie Space Pack.  A rugged phone case, 32 GB of space to store, and a batter pack, what is there not to love?  The case works great as long as you don't drop the phone face down, which ultimately happened to me.  The battery pack, perhaps like all batteries, dies slowly over time.  To get to the 32 GB of space, you have to go through a free app provided by Mophie.  It wouldn't be so bad if it actually works.  For me, it rarely did.  In the end, perhaps through some Apple updates, whatever I managed to put into the 32 GB somehow just disappeared.  By then I was too tired of the Mophie to bother troubleshooting it.

Finally, I think I have the solution in the Hootoo Flash Drive with Extended Lightning Connector, aka PlugMate.  The particular model I have is the HT-IM003, with 64 GB of space and made of aluminum alloy.  Like the Mophie Space Pack, to get to that big, empty space you need an app, in this case, iPlugmate.  Unlike the Mophie app, iPlugmate actually works, all the time!  Plug it in, iPlugmate asks for permission, and if you already configured the app to automatically backup photos and videos, that's what it will do.  You can also backup the address book.  It would be nice if settings for other apps can also be backed up, but just photos and videos is fine for me for now.  I manually backed up all my music files just now.

For peace of mind, this is all you need to do with the PlugMate.

Select the Setting symbol in the upper right (the gear).


Select Backup

Touch the toggle by Auto Backup to make it green.

That's all there is.  Now at least once a day, connect the Hootoo Plugmate to the iPhone and you'll be rewarded with a message so many photos were backed up.  You would be told if any files failed during backup, it hasn't happened to me yet, but your mileage may vary.

13 January 2017

THE UPS AND DOWN OF LIFE

Not long after landing in JFK, my family moved into our own apartment, way up in the Bronx, nearest subway station being the Fordham Road station on the #4 line. My father got a dishwashing job, I think at Club 21, while my eldest sister went to work and also attended school. All my working life I learned a few things on my own but they were just an extra hour here and there after work or on the weekend, never anything formal. It was really difficult to go to work full-time then go to school afterward. Good job there, sis!
Us kids had it somewhat easier just to concentrate on school. Some days after moving to the Bronx, one day my mother, my other sister, and I set out to find the school where we were supposed to register for. It was John Peter Tetard JHS, although I only know that years later when I return to the area after moving to Queens. In the movies, most of the time when someone asks for direction, it works like a charm. Not for the three of us on that day. Perhaps it was because of our broken English, we got pointed that direction then some other way. We went downhill at some point then made a right only to climb up a series of steps, like that shown below. The view in the photo is from just outside the school looking down. For the next few days or weeks that was how we got to school. Go downhill, make a right, then climb up the steps. We were just so unsure of what was where we stuck to that one routine.
At some point we learned we could ride a city bus to school. The school gave us some discount pass but we thought it was completely free. We would just show the pass and went to find a seat. I think because there were not that many immigrants back then, people’s tolerance of our ignorance was higher. We got free rides for a few weeks before one bus driver somehow explained that we had to pay a nickel for the ride. Or maybe it was a quarter. Eventually, we discovered that school was not really that far away. We ended up walking to and from school using the shortest route, which did not involve any hill repeats.

10 January 2017

YOU HAVE ARRIVED

Just like that, 37 years went by. It was a cold night in New York City, just like tonight. Maybe colder since my family just came from tropical Singapore. Sure, we had a stop-over in Belgium but we stayed inside the airport the whole time so we didn’t know what the outside temperature was. An uncle on my mother side, a first cousin of hers on her father’s side, was the sponsor. He met us at JFK Airport with winter jackets for all of us. Uncle lived near the intersection of Neptune Avenue and Brighton First Street in the Sheepshead Bay area of Brooklyn. We were to stay with him for a short period of time so technically our first home in the U.S. was in Brooklyn. Uncle probably drove us home along the Belt Parkway West but I don’t remember anything from the car ride. Except that I threw up at the end of the trip. Unlike other family members, I don’t easily experience motion sickness, whether on airplane or on boat, but for some reason the car trip from JFK did it.
We stayed with Uncle perhaps for a week before the refugee agency found us an apartment in the Fordham Road section of the Bronx. Again I have few fragments of memory of the stay. I do recall being introduced to cheese pizza and most likely Sprite or 7-Up. It was sweet, bubbly, and white, that much I’m sure. I also remember being a bad guest by taking too long a bath. It was the first time I bathed in a tub, the tub filled with water and bubbles, and there was my younger cousin’s toy aircraft carrier, perhaps other toys too. So I got carried away. Auntie had to gently knock on the door to tell me to finish up.
We arrived on a Thursday so perhaps on Monday someone, perhaps Uncle and his son, accompanied me to some school perhaps to register. Maybe the plan at the time was for us to stay there a few months so Uncle thought I should be enrolled in school. I took one year of English before leaving Viet Nam but had no actual experience of using the language. Maybe my Uncle walked his son to school and thought it would be nice for me to come along to see the school. I am sure I went to some school shortly after arriving in the U.S. but for what reason I am not sure now.
I vaguely recall my late father saying that he made sure Uncle understood that he would like us to have our own place. That he didn’t want to burden Uncle any more than necessary. Of course it all depended on how quick the refugee agency can find us a place. Perhaps the refugee agency already prepared things ahead, or it was 1980 and apartments were plentiful in the Bronx, we had our own place shortly. Maybe by then the effect of jet lag wore off or I already gotten used to the new environment, I do have more clearer memories of the place. We did stay there for almost half a year. Next time, I’ll try to dig up some memories from that time.

07 January 2017

COMING TO AMERICA

Around January 7, 1980, I made the following preparation for my plane trip to America from Singapore:
  • made sure I brought along a pair of running shoe, as I love exploring the new area on foot
  • Googled local running clubs, maybe I’ll have time to join them for a run
  • also Googled local races, also a great way to see the new neighborhood
  • charged my cell phone and laptop, brought all chargers and extra batteries
Huh? Yeah, other than the fact that yes around that time I did take a plane trip from Singapore to the U.S., indirectly, none of those so-called preparation happened. Not because the technology etc was not yet available, but because I was a mere teen who literally came to the U.S. with nothing but the clothes on his body. Plus a pair of sneakers unworthy of New York City winter. OK, maybe I did have a few other sets of clothes, perhaps some life essentials like toothbrush, but none of these other creature comfort things.
After a few months spent on different islands in Indonesia, we spent two (?) weeks in Singapore to catch a plane to the U.S. The “home” we stayed at was just a shaded parking spot. Wide open on four sides, perhaps with a tarp and some sheets as “floor”, all our meager possession in one neat pile. By the time we arrived, the nearby buildings were allocated to other refugees so our group had to stay on the outside. I suppose we used the lavatory inside the buildings but I cannot recall how we prepared food. We probably just ate right there in the little spot.
It’s been almost 37 years so I cannot remember much but two events are still clear in my mind. In the first event, I recall going to my father’s workplace, a construction site, the new airport, I think, to let him know we had a visitor. Back in Viet Nam, we had a neighbor who had a relative living in Singapore. Somehow we notified the relative about our arrival in Singapore so she came to visit, with her husband, bringing much needed supplies. I don’t remember if someone asked me to go notify my father but off I went. I think I even ran. It started to rain, not heavily, but just enough to make it uncomfortable, poorer vision and being wet. Somehow I asked a man on motorcycle for help in locating my father and he gave me a ride. I don’t know how I expressed myself, I know I knew some Cantonese back then, but isn’t Mandarin the main language in Singapore? Maybe I was lucky to bump into a Cantonese-speaking person who happened to know my father, because he did bring me to my father. Of course my father was working and couldn’t just leave. I still remember he told me later to be careful not to get my toes caught in the motorcycle’s spokes. Singapore is a warm-climate country and we wore flip-flop everywhere, open toes and all.
The other memory is a just a hand away. While I don’t recall what I did in Singapore for two weeks, I know I played a lot of chess. Chinese chess, that is, with the elephants, the guards, the kings who cannot face each other directly, etc. The chessboard may have been a real one, printed on foldable plastic sheet, or handmade on cardboard. The pieces were somehow bought, usually made out of plastic or wood. (Some other time I’ll tell you about how I participated in making pieces for a set of Chinese chess.) Whatever flimsy cardboard box that came with the chess set usually break down over time so we usually keep the pieces in tin cans, re-purposed after we finished with our rationed food. One day during a game of chess I had my hand on the can, fingers inside the ragged, metal edge, while my opponent had his hand around the can. I think we jokingly fought over the can, for whatever reason, and he yanked it hard. The index finger on my left hand was cut and blood splashed. I bled a lot and I still remember one of the adults say I should eat more vegetable so that my blood wouldn’t flow so easily. Maybe I was bandaged or maybe the blood clotted after a while, but I still have the white scar to look at years later. I also know that my chess opponent was a nice kid, someone I got along well, so it was just a silly accident.