Friday, November 30, 2007

Smug, Thy Name Is Apple

Why is it that two-thirds of the employees at the Apple store in Emeryville are please-kick-the-snot-out-of me snarky and smug? Is it just the Emeryville store, or are all others the same? I'm sure that my own arrogance doesn't really help the situation, and maybe I should just take this as a lesson that I should be a little nicer myself, because if talking to me is anywhere near as annoying as talking to any of the "geniuses" at the Apple store (excluding Tony, who was plenty nice), then it's amazing I have any friends at all.

To add to my own culpability, despite the Apple techs having found nothing wrong with my computer at all, it apparently works just fine now. Now I just have to live down the shame of the fact that I accidentally got the black MacBook, which costs $125 more than the white one. (There's actually a $200 price difference, but I thought that was because of the 40 gig bigger hard drive. But you can just pay $75 to bump up the size of the white one.) One day I better be dying in the desert and be able to use the black case to build a solar still or something.

Enough of that. I'm going out to a vegan restaurant. Then I am not going to the opera with my friends afterward.

12/08 Update: It's not worth its own post, so I'll just tack a link to this mildly interesting Washington Post article about Apple stores and the love/hate relationship we have for them on here.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

One Month of Doneness

I finished yo-yoing the CDT a month ago. It took me 10 days or so to get "home" to Emeryville, and since then, I've finished one book (Stegner's Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs), seen 7 movies (The Bourne Ultimatum, The Queen, 3:10 to Yuma, The Passenger, Cars, Pan's Labyrinth, The English Patient), inquired about/applied for 6 jobs (of which I seem to have landed an indeterminate number between 0 and 3, inclusive), gone running a handful of times, decided that I should volunteer at the Oakland Public Library or the People's Grocery community garden that's across the street but not actually done much about it, started eating vegetables on a regular basis, got a new computer (thanks Dad!), discovered that it annoyingly doesn't work with the wireless network in my house (but does work with other wireless networks), I've been on hold with Apple for the last 15 minutes, and I can't tell whether the robot voice is telling me the wait time is 15 or 50 minutes.

OK, apparently it was 15 minutes. I took the computer in to the Apple store, and they're taking a look at it, but I'm guessing they won't find anything wrong with it and will blame it on my router (despite the fact that the computer I'm on presently finds the network just fine.) I had to wait in line forever before a "genius" could talk to me, but I did manage to get the one non-smug employee in the store, and I did enjoy the Spongebob Squarepants kids typing game I played to pass the time. Anyway, that's probably more than you care to know about my computer woes.

It's really kind of weird for me to be having computer woes at all. I spent all day yesterday alone in my house with four different computers booting and re-booting and trying to get the network to function and dealing with tech support and bla bla bla. When computers would hang or fail to find the network, I screamed unrepeatables at the top of my lungs and got just as frustrated as when I was postholing (breaking through the not-sufficiently crusty top layer of snow and sinking to your hips) in the San Juans, but when I was in Colorado, I never once thought, "I wish I was indoors in front of a nice warm Windows blue screen right now," but yesterday I would've gladly gone for a hike in some waist deep snow if I could've.

So yeh, I'm messing with computers, and I don't have a job yet. I thought it was going to work out at Wilderness Exchange, but I haven't heard from them in a while. Now I'm pretty sure I've got a job at Any Mountain, but it's more of a winter sporting goods store than a gear shop and mostly just reminds me how much I hate the fact that America's economy is fueled by credit card debt and sprawling suburban McMansions. So hopefully I'll hear from Marmot Mountain Works, which actually has real gear. I didn't look into them for a long time because I assumed because they're a real shop they'd have more permanent employees and wouldn't need people for short-term, but I might've been wrong.

I do have a job lined up for next semester (I'm a TA for Econ 1) so all is well. Everyone that doesn't like teaching tells me this will be a horrible experience because the teacher really cares about teaching and that makes a lot of work for the TA's, but since I actually like teaching, hopefully this will work out. Since I've never TA'd at Cal before, it's also kind of the only position I can get in the department, but after having TA'd and becoming familiar with the class I'll be able to confidently and easily make some extra money by tutoring.

I'm still enjoying the Law & Economics classes I'm sitting in on, but they end soon, so hopefully something to occupy my time will come up soon. Otherwise I may just board a train, travel around the country, and rack up some credit card debt of my own.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Great Apple Tasting Experiment of 2007

Do you find yourself overcome by crippling doubt every time you go grocery shopping? Specifically, do you just buy Fuji apples because that's what you're used to, but wonder to yourself whether there isn't some sort of uber-apple out there that's better in every way and could improve the quality of your life immeasurably by instantly throwing a party in your mouth to which all sorts of good flavors were invited? Well, welcome to my world. Only now I've taken measures to solve this problem. It started when I challenged the food-snob status of my roommate Marcus. I asked him what types of apples he liked, and he could only name a couple. So he went out right then and bought one of every type they had at Pak-n-Save. The next day we invited three friends over for dinner, sliced up the fourteen apples, and had everyone rank each apple according to four characteristics: sweetness, juiciness, tartness, and crispness. We used a numeric scale from 0 to 10. 0 was way too little, 5 was just right, and 10 was way too much. Since one-fifth of fourteen apples makes for a lot of apples we had a spit-bucket, just like at a wine tasting.

Here are the types of apples we tasted:

  1. Ambrosia
  2. Braeburn
  3. Fuji
  4. Gala
  5. Golden Delicious
  6. Granny Smith
  7. Jazz
  8. Jonagold
  9. McIntosh
  10. Pippin
  11. Red Delicious
  12. Rome
  13. Southern Rose
  14. Winter Banana

You may notice the absence of Honeycrisp or some other sort of apple you like. We just used everything they had at Pak-n-Save (Marcus' bike got a flat tire on the way to Berkeley Bowl, so he just walked to Pak-n-Save.)

And which apple won? Don't be silly. Jazz, of course. To compute overall scores I subtracted five from each individual score, took the absolute value, and summed. That makes zero the best possible score, and 100 the worst. Jazz scored a 15.5, and McIntosh came in last with 59. I'd like to emphasize the fact that Winter Banana also sucked.

Here are the 14 types, in order of overall best to worst, the names are followed by their overall score and their sweetness, juicitude, tartaliciousness, and crisposity scores. Remember, low scores are good. My buddy copied and pasted this into a HTML table for me. (Can you just save an Excel file as HTML? Hmm, I should probably figure that out, because I've often wanted to put already-made spreadsheets on my website and couldn't find an easy way to do it just using Office and the old Mozilla page composer I use...) Anyway, just scroll way the heck down the page, and remember that Jazz is really good, Jonagold is so mushy it's the preferred apple of toothless octogenarians everywhere, and Pippin and Braeburn are really tart.

Red Delicious3210.52910.5
Southern Rose35117134
Granny Smith461571311
Golden Delicious5213111315
Winter Banana564161620

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

What Now, What Next, and The Meaning of Life

You might be wondering what my plans are now that I have completed the hike and have been "home" for a week. Succinctly, I have no idea what I'm doing for the next two months, I'm giving grad school another shot next year, and I'm probably not doing anything cool again until 2009.

While I was on the trail with all that time to think, I definitely made plans for the future. I planned to come home and immediately start attending classes until the end of the semester in December. I'd get a new computer and make DVD's of my trip, put all my photos on my website, and do a huge brain-dump with all my notes that I wrote on the trail maps for the benefit of future hikers, then I'd take off on a big bus/train tour of nearly every place where I have some friends: Truckee, Salt Lake, Iowa, Chicago, Buffalo, Boston, NYC, Philly, Baltimore, DC, North Carolina, then hitch across the country with a big sign saying "Mom's house" to San Diego, then stop in LA on my way back to Emeryville. I'd hoped to do gear shop slideshows all along the way to help inform people about the CDT and maybe get my name out there in the backpacking community so that I'll have a better chance of being sponsored the next time I decide to give society the finger and live in the woods.

But on my roadtrip home, I realized that traveling like that is actually more vacation than adventure, and I don't think I deserve (or want) a vacation right now. So I thought I'd try and get a crap job at a gearshop or bookstore to help pass the time until January. My preferred option REI has already hired their extra xmas season people, so that's no good. And yes, I tried the whole talking to the manager thing, because I went and talked to the woman that runs all the slideshows for the 10 bay area stores. (Regarding that, they prefer to do thru-hiking type shows in spring when people are planning hikes, Francis arranged to do shows before he even started the trail, and you need transportation to get to lots of stores to make it worth it to them, so I'm guessing I won't be doing any until Spring '09.) But there are several more gearshops and bookstores around town, some of which are actively looking for people, so hopefully something will work out.

I started going to classes yesterday. There are two Law and Economics classes this semester, and one Labor Economics class. The law classes are so far very interesting, but the labor class was way over my head and was a pleasant reminder of why I failed the labor exam in the first place. That gives me something to do from 8-9:30 Monday through Thursday mornings, at least. What else am I doing? Well, I'm trying to eat fruits and vegetables (interesting because I feel like a total neophyte idiot in the produce section), I'm buying some CD's, I'm remarking on the girth of the neighborhood raccoons, I'm disappointed with The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, I'm trying to buy a decent road bike, I'm nearly vomiting from the worst headache I've ever had in my entire life, I'm listening to Eddie Vedder's Into the Wild soundtrack on repeat, I'm gradually re-accumulating all the stuff I threw away when I packed up in April like bedsheets, toothpaste, and a phone, and me and my friends completed an apple-eating survey to find the best type of apple (more on that later). If I had a TV, I'd basically be sitting in front of it all day, but I don't, so all is well.

That answers "What now?" as well as I can. As for "What next?" I set several goals for 2008 while on the trail. I hope to run the Diablo 50-miler in April in under 14 hours, pass the Law & Economics field exam in August, run the St. George Marathon in under 2:50 in October, and have a date set for my oral exam by the end of the year. So basically, I'm giving grad school another shot. I can't be certain that it'll work out; I'm still really far from my PhD, but I'm going to give it another try and I'm hell-bent on at least getting my master's out of it. (Four years for a master's, I rock.) One of the law classes next semester is called Constitutional Law and Economic Development, and I'm really looking forward to that. As a grad student I have to be enrolled full-time, so including my being a GSI (TA), I have to take three courses. There are two law classes offered, so the question is what will be the third. I was planning on re-taking the labor course, but my experience in the current labor class yesterday convinced me I definitely won't be retaking the labor field exam, so I don't know why I'd bother with the classes. Maybe I'll take Spanish 1 instead. Shhhhhh, don't tell the department.

As for my next adventure, I'm running the California International Marathon in Sacto on Dec. 2. (It's a goal of mine to run a 26.2 mile marathon every year until I die, and this is my last chance for this year. No, running a 50-miler and walking 6,000 miles don't count.) That doesn't really seem like adventure to me, so the next real adventure will likely be biking across the country with Marcus in 2009. (Again, shhhhhh, don't tell the department.) Every time I've done a long distance hike, I've thought it would be cool to do triathlons and/or bike across the country. Then I remember that I like neither cars nor people and scratch it off the list. But this time I mentioned it to Marcus, and he loves biking and flakes out on camping plans less than one third as much as the regular person, so assuming that we're still friends, that he graduates in May '09 and that I've passed orals by then, we'll bike from SF to DC via his old stomping grounds in Utah and mine in Virginia, hopefully in under thirty days, with at least a century every day.

Am I going to keep doing these type of things my entire life? I sure hope so. I still haven't done the Arizona Trail, the Hayduke Trail, the Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, the Florida Trail, the Trans-Canada Trail, the Te Araroa, the Grand Enchantment Trail, the Via Alpina, or the Pacific Northwest Trail, and I haven't even been to Nepal or New Zealand, let alone Kyrgyzstan or Mongolia. I have a lot of friends from the trails that have never really settled down for a real career and just do whatever winter work they can get to pay for summer play. I don't really want to do that, because I want my job to be just as challenging and meaningful as all the outdoor adventures I do. I don't believe that I can actually make a big difference in the world, but it's fun to try every once in a while. So I guess the hope is to get my PhD and get a job at a slightly heterodox liberal arts college where I'm not really doing a lot of research and am instead just teaching undergrads that care about the world, where I can occasionally lead students on study abroad programs to East Africa, and where I can have summers and frequently whole semesters off to go live outdoors and be happy.

Here's a picture of me with Marcus, my good college buddy Nielsen and his daughter Scarlet at Red Rock Canyon outside Vegas.

And to illustrate how horrible I am with children, here are pictures of what happens when I get near one. You can click on them to see a larger picture and see that she's enjoying it even less than I am.
And finally as for "What NEXT?" or the meaning of life, well, I don't really think about that stuff very much while hiking. Mostly I think about food. Like that rustler burger I had in East Glacier with bleu cheese dressing and an onion ring? Holy s--- that was good. But here are two quotes that illustrate what I did learn.

1) Montani Semper Liberi.

2) There once was a young pirate named Gates,
who went around town on roller skates,
till he slipped on his cutlass,
rendering himself nutless,
and practically useless on dates

The first is the West Virginia state motto. It means "mountaineers are always free." I love mountains. They make me happy. I already knew this, but I needed to remind myself.

The second is a dirty limerick I found on the inside of a latrine in Glacier National Park. I am of the opinion that life may very well be fundamentally meaningless, so you may as well do what makes you happy. I wouldn't interpret that too selfishly though, because usually making other people happy is the best way to make yourself happy.

That's enough deep thoughts for now.
the Onion

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Emeryville, CA

I spent most of the day yesterday at LAX with my sister gossiping about the rest of our family, and now I'm "home" in Emeryville. (For the sake of 300-something dollars a month rent, I'm splitting a room with Marcus until I go insane and we try and kill each other and then never speak to each other again.) I've now watched all the episodes of The Office that are available online, and now I have no idea what to do with the rest of my day/life.

Monday, November 05, 2007

San Diego, CA

We spent a day in Vegas hiking around Red Rock Canyon and eating a ridiculous amount at Hash House, then drove to Indio and crashed at Marcus' cousin's house. Sunday we hiked around Joshua Tree NP--visited an oasis, camped in the backcountry, and climbed around on some big rocks (the latter is what Joshua Tree is famous for). Now I'm in San Diego to visit friends and the folks, or rather, to finally get myself a second set of clothing.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Las Vegas, NV

Thursday we drove through Sedona, nearly vomited after eating a Burger King sandwich with "warm buttery-tasting bread," and hiked the popular trail up the west fork of Oak Creek Canyon. The leaves were changing and the canyon was spectacular. We drove into Flagstaff and saw Into the Wild. I was very happy that Sean Penn didn't ruin it, and of course, I absolutely loved it; I totally identified with everything in it, including all the on-location scenery. Yesterday we visited Petrified Forest NP and Walnut Canyon NM and gave a sort of crazy hitch-hiker a ride to Vegas, where we're crashing at my buddy Nielsen's house. I say sort of crazy because when he told Marcus he just got back from 10 years as a marine in Iraq, Marcus asked him if he'd been to Kabul, Iraq or Islamabad, Iraq, and he said he'd been to both. I think his stories about ranching might've been at least partly true though. Probably headed to Joshua Tree next.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Mesa, AZ

Apparently Marcus believes in flying-by-the-seat-of-his-pants to the point of not reading car rental contracts before signing them, so we weren't allowed to take the car back to New Mexico. That meant no pie in Pie Town and no visiting the VLA (the Very Large Array, those big radio-telescopes) but no big deal, we just stayed in Arizona and did part of a canyon hike I heard of through Andrew Skurka--the Safford-Morenci trail. It's part of the Grand Enchantment Trail ( that connects Phoenix and Albuquerque. We may or may not have actually found the right trail, but whatever canyon we walked up was cool enough, so we kept going. Then we tried to camp at Saguaro National Park in order to check it out tomorrow, but they lock the gate at sundown, so we just kept on going north to Phoenix/Mesa, and are crashing at a friend's house. I'm enjoying returning to semi-normalcy in that I just watched "Stranger Than Fiction" and finished reading "House" by Tracy Kidder, but my thoughts on those are probably significantly less interesting than stories about rattlers and bears, so I'll be done now.