Tracking The Dream

The most annoying thing about the saying, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is that it's usually true.

At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, Boyd Gittins attacked the hurdles with a long-legged ferocity that took him into the semifinals of the 440-yard intermediate hurdles. But the muscle-stiffening effects of pre-trip vaccinations led to a pulled thigh muscle, ending the Washington State University star's chances for a medal.

Gittins tried out for the 1972 team (Munich), but blew an Achilles' tendon. The same problem ended his chances for the '76 team (Montreal).

He doesn't kick himself over the bad biomechanical breaks, though. That would be dangerous - he's a fifth-degree black belt in karate.

Now teaching physical-education courses at Seattle Central Community College, Gittins took up karate at WSU 27 years ago. (His wife, Carol, is also a teacher and black belt.)

Meanwhile, a new Olympic flame is growing in the Gittins' Edmonds household. Five-year-old Renee "is tall (almost 4 feet) like her dad," said Carol, "but muscular like me. Boyd made her run her first quarter-mile for time when she was 4." (The time was 2 minutes 36 seconds.) Watch for her in 2008.

The things we do for money

Competition for food forced animals to specialize, say scientists. Just look at giraffes, anteaters and court reporters.

If you want to be a court reporter, you have to transcribe verbatim at least 200 words per minute of two-voice testimony for 5 consecutive minutes.

Maybe podiatry sounds more fun. Your license exam will include lots of pictures of diseased feet, so study up on your mycoses and spirochetoses (fungal and bacterial diseases).

Or how about midwifery? You'll need to attend at least 100 births as part of your training.

At the other end of the life cycle, apprentice embalmers have to embalm "at least 50 human bodies under the supervision of a licensed embalmer."

Well, it's ONE of those C words "We appreciate your dedication and contempt ... er, commitment." - Seattle high-school student, thanking workshop advisers at closing banquet.

The next user interface? Your face

We all want our computers to be like us, only smarter and more stable. They do try to be our friends - they smile and applaud when we do good, look sad when we goof and point the way with chubby cartoon fingers.

Researchers at the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington are taking interspecies friendship to another level. The HIT Lab's goal is for the computer to read your troubled expressions and do something to reduce your "cognitive load."

Project leaders William J. King and Suzanne Weghorst are hoping to base this interface on a system that tracks eye movement and pupil size.

So maybe some day, when your eyes are darting across the screen in terror, a little hand will pat yours and purr, "SOMEbody needs a hug."

You can read about the project on the World Wide Web:

Steve Wainwright is newsroom systems manager for The Seattle Times. E-mail story ideas, tips or comments to us at pacific@seatimes-com or call our machine at 464-3337. Research assistant: Betsy Aoki.