Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Series of Tubes

I am looking for a good "Series of tubes" joke about Senator Stevens' indictment. I will be forever grateful to anyone who posts a good one in the comments section.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Reviews & Links

1. The judge ruled in favor of Cal and its new athletic facility in the tree-sitting case.

2. A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against Fish and Wildlife's de-listing of wolves. Good.

3. I listened to James Donovan's A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn. First of all, I must admit that when I got this from the library I only saw the "Bighorn" in the title and thought "Oh cool, the story of Chief Joseph [and the Nez Perce]" but alas, I am retarded. ANYWAY, the book, as the title clearly implies, is a reappraisal of George Armstrong Custer's life and career, the battle with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse of the Sioux at the Battle of the Little Bighorn where ~270 men from the 7th Cavalry, including Custer himself, were killed, and the aftermath. The author's take is that Custer, although sometimes a flamboyant and cocky SOB, was actually not all that bad (he led the first Union cavalry to hold the field against Confederate Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg), and in the battle that took his life, was not outrageously more incompetent than any other officer that day, but it's pretty easy to blame the dead guy, so he ended up with the bum rap. Having only read one book about the incident, I don't hold a strong opinion on the matter, but I'd say the book was well written and seemed to be well researched, so I enjoyed it. But really, the book was only interesting from the standpoint of military strategy. Military blunders that the Nazis made (Dunkirk, bombing London instead of RAF fields, invading Russia) and Russia's mistake of invading Afghanistan are interesting strategically, but they're not interesting emotionally because we're all glad those losses happened. Similarly, I couldn't get excited about efforts to clear Custer's name as a military man, because regardless of whose fault the defeat was, the US Army was deliberately starting a war with Indians that had been peaceful of late so that the Army would have an excuse to open up parts of the Black Hills reservation to settlers because gold had been found nearby, and if the 7th deserved any sympathy, they lost all hope for it with the massacre at Wounded Knee.

Regardless, let's all hope I never have any children, because Crazy Horse had an aunt named They Are Afraid Of Her, and, well, I think that's pretty cool.

4. What's it going to be then, eh? I just read Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, which I loved. I saw the movie a while ago when I watched the entire AFI top 100 list, and I loved that too. It has interesting things to say about violence, free will, and youth--especially if you read a post-1986 printing that has the final chapter that was left out of earlier US editions and the film. I also found that the invented slang was actually rather enjoyable. (Normally I think the invented slang in movies like Heathers or Juno totally doesn't work, but I loved Clockwork's slang from the very first "malenky bit poogly.") For some reason I read a small part of the book with a concordance nearby, and I'd recommend against that; it's a much better experience to let if flow and just pick things up from context.

(HP, as a linguist and big reader, I'm interested if you have anything to say about making up slang like this.)

5. This isn't anything you haven't already heard, but The Dark Knight? Amazing. The only reason I didn't like it is because, well, I have no idea how you top it, so if they do a sequel it will most probably disappoint. The only way to top it would be to have Frank Miller bring his The Dark Knight Returns to the screen. (In case you were unaware, Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore's Watchmen are the two best graphic novels ever. If you have some irrational anti-superhero bias, then try Craig Thompson's Blankets.) A great little unexpected bonus was the premier of the Watchmen trailer, below.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bonus Miles

In February when Pacific Coast Trail Runs held their Sequoia 50K trail run in nearby Redwood Regional Park, I decided to run to the start line. This time I ran to and from the race. Total elapsed time was 16 hours: 1/2 hour of biking to get to the hills, 3 hours to get to the start line, 8 hours to run the course, 4 hours to run back to my bike, and 1/2 hour to bike home. My guess is 53 or 54 miles of running and 7 on the bike. Here's the g-map of my route to the start from the last time I did this.

Last time, I wasn't quite sure how to get to the start line since the start is in Joaquin Miller city park, and I only had maps for the neighboring Redwood Regional. This time I was prepared, but I didn't give myself quite enough time. I got to the start about 8 minutes late, which wasn't a big deal. But PCTR holds races in these parks three times a year, and I assumed this course was the exact same as last time. But after 3/4 of a mile I realized that the beginning of the course is done in the opposite direction, so I turned around and started for real 25 minutes late. The late start and all the bonus miles meant that I didn't catch up to very many people, but I did listen to almost an entire book on tape. Good times.

In September when PCTR does their next race in Redwood Regional, the start is on the far side of the park, so I think I'll just bike there.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Two Reasons to Like S.F., Other Stuff

1. Sewage treatment plant to be renamed after President Bush.

2. SF is "most walkable" city in America. (Chronicle article. Website that does the ranking, where you can enter any US address and get a score, walkscore.com.)

Northern Virginia house I grew up in: 20 (out of 100)
SoCal place my folks live now: 42
Average place as undergrad: 71
Average of bay-area places: 85

3. I like Al Gore.

4. There was a judge that economists really like in the early to mid 1900's named Learned Hand. Is there any more literally meaningful name than that? The only other one I can think of is Ethiopian marathoner Dire Tune, but that doesn't necessarily have a straightforward connection to distance running. Anybody got any better ones?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Well, Fudge.

My trip to take kids from Oakland backpacking with Big City Mountaineers just got canceled because the partnering youth organization was restructuring and couldn't find kids that wanted to go. This is a huge bummer. The only possible upside is that perhaps I can parlay this newfound study time into enough time to run the Headlands Hundred, which I'd pretty much consigned myself to not doing thanks to it being 8 days before my test. Probably still not the wisest idea in the world, but we'll see how I feel this Saturday when I do a big run.

This also solidifies depressing thoughts I've been having lately about how non-profits sometimes aren't run that well. I used to have this instantaneous built-in network of friends wherever I lived thanks to church, but since I don't do that anymore, I've been trying to find some sort of replacement sense of community by volunteering and through outdoorsy groups, and it's been a bit disappointing. I mean, I applied to Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and they wrote me back and basically said "We received your application, but we're low on staff, so we don't have time to review it. Maybe someday." I don't mean this as a slight against any of the organizations or people I've volunteered with, in fact, I've been very impressed with the motivation and effort of almost every Forest Service/One Brick/Oakland Public Library/High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew/Big City Mountaineers person I've encountered, it's just that it makes me sad that money must really make the world go round. If anything, I hope I can use this as motivation to donate more money/time/energy to causes I support.


1. The new sport of chess-boxing.

2. Transparent toaster. (from MoLT)

Review: The Last Season

Just finished reading Eric Blehm's The Last Season. It's about the disappearance of Randy Morgenson, a 28-year veteran seasonal backcountry Kings Canyon National Park ranger who died on the job in 1996. He was in the process of a divorce and wasn't in a good state of mind when he disappeared, so people weren't certain whether he'd left the mountains on his own, committed suicide, or died an accidental death in the mountains (which ended up being what happened, confirmed when his remains were found five years later). I highly recommend the book to anybody that loves the Sierras or just suffers from wanderlust. Not that it will cure wanderlust--it won't it, it will instead make you think seriously about ways to get the EMT/WFR/law-enforcement credentials you need to become a ranger, but it's a good book.

One thing I found interesting was the many original nature writings of Morgenson himself. Morgenson was friends with Ansel Adams and Wallace Stegner, and early on in life tried unsuccessfully to get his wilderness writings published. Stegner gave him some helpful criticism, saying that when writing about nature, you need to talk about a very specific occurrence rather than mountains or sunsets or beauty in general, and that John Muir got away with it because he was an "exclamatory genius." I've found that to be true--when recalling my own hikes or reading Muir, Abbey, or Morgenson, it's specific encounters with friendly people, big animals, or other definite specific things that seem to be far more interesting than why people like mountains in general.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Several Things

1. I listened to Sean Wilsey's memoir Oh the Glory of it All. You remember how Bill Clinton's autobiography was really bad because he was convinced we all wanted to know the name of everyone he had ever met in his entire life, down to the son of the owner of the Ford dealership in the town he grew up in (Mack McLarty)? And how no one had the balls to tell him that it's ridiculous for even a two-term president to write a 957-page book about themselves? Well, Sean Wilsey had the same problem. The book's only about half that long, but the details are still way too numerous.

Sean is the son of two ridiculously wealthy San Franciscans, Pat Montandon and Al Wilsey. His dad left his mom for Dede when Sean was nine (he was also sleeping with Danielle Steele at the time). Dede becomes a horrible witch of a step-mother, Al becomes distant, and Pat becomes manic-depressive and alternates between seriously contemplating suicide and getting short-listed for the Nobel Peace Prize for leading children around the globe to lobby government leaders for peace. Sean, understandably, turns out royally screwed up. He goes to a succession of boarding schools, gets straightened out, hilarity generally ensues.

The entire thing had the un-funny details of large blocks of quoted newspaper articles, psychological evaluations, and song lyrics, but the first third bugged me the most. I'm kind of horrible and a jerk when it comes to sympathizing with weaker kids (when I watch About A Boy I just get angry and think "FIGHT BACK, YOU LOSER!" every time the kid comes on screen) so when Sean is getting picked on at school and by his stepmother, I got annoyed. Then Sean started getting a little bit cooler and complained about being teased less, but then right before he got sent to his final boarding school, it becomes obvious that regardless of whether his parents loved him or not, he seriously was a scooter-stealing drug-abusing criminal, so I lost some of my sympathy for him.

I guess one good aspect of the excessive detail of every intimate detail of Sean's life is that I realized that hey, by comparison, I'm totally normal. My weird fantasies are totally tame compared to Sean's, I didn't get kicked out of four private schools (although I did repeat kindergarten), no one in my family ever had an affair with Danielle Steele, and I've never gotten arrested for stealing multiple mopeds (although I did take those pallets from behind Food-4-Less that one time), so I must be OK.

2. I hosted some random dude off of couchsurfing.com this weekend.

3. I watched Lake of Fire. It's a documentary about abortion that's been in the works for 16 years. (Full disclosure: I'm a safe, legal, and rare kind of guy.) Every critic seems to think that it's very good and very even-handed. I'd agree with that, but I didn't really think it did anything for me. I (and assume pretty much everyone else in the world) already knows the basic two sides of the argument, so I would've liked to see more nuanced discussion, more mention of what you might be able to get reasonable people to agree on (increased funding for sex education and adoption and mandating that health insurance cover the pill), or at least arguments from people who hold an opinion that you couldn't just guess based on stereotyping. (They did talk to Nat Hentoff, an atheist civil libertarian who's opposed to abortion, so that was at least interesting.)
NYT Review here.

4. I spent the last few weeks reading just three chapters (200 pages) of the Handbook of Law and Economics, and all I have to say is, "I very much dislike the Handbooks in Economics." To me, they're just really long literature reviews that don't help you prepare for your exam in a month and two days and instead tell you that any imaginable economic model can be constructed to give you any desired result. Seriously. Imagine two vectors. The first is full of every possible value of every variable you can control, and the second is full of every possible outcome. Take the outer product of these two vectors. Now write a lit review on every element of the resulting matrix. Actually, it's worse than that. Take your first vector and use it to make a new vector containing all possible combinations, no, permutations of the original elements. Then make the outer product of this vector and the original second vector, and write a lit review on that matrix. Want X be the most efficient way for courts to deal with a problem? Make this assumption. Want Y to be the most efficient solution? Make that assumption. You can get any answer you want. It's magic!

I'm much happier now that I'm reading Cooter & Ulen's Law & Economics, where I get to learn neat little things like the fact that the only the little R in a circle (and not "TM") has any legal meaning when it comes to trademarks. Or how before most people could read, in order to create a system of land registration, whenever anybody bought any land, they'd severely beat a witnessing child so that he'd remember the sale for the rest of his life. I don't know if (a) either of these are actually true, or (b) either of these will help me pass my test.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Article Up

The feature article about me and Francis Tapon from the June issue of Backpacker magazine is now available online.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Runner's High

A friend and I went to a neighborhood organization's outdoor screening of the movie Runner's High, about a local non-profit called Students Run Oakland that helps at-risk Oakland kids train for a marathon. It was a good movie, if a little long (but maybe I just thought that because I watched it sitting on the concrete sidewalk) and it seems like a great organization.

He's Not A Normal Boy

Remember how I used to love Milton Friedman? This episode of Family Ties is pretty awesome. You'll know what I mean after about two minutes.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Outside Mag

My friend Zack Grossman is on the cover of this month's Outside magazine. It's on newsstands west of the Mississippi only (Harry Connick Jr. gets the Easterners, neither are online yet), the relevant article's about cool cities to live in, and Oakland gets a tiny blurb (never mind that the photo was actually taken in Berkeley). It's the same Corey Rich photo that appeared in Trail Runner magazine in the article about the East Bay a couple years ago, which also doesn't seem to be online.

Anyway, there's also a good article (not online yet, but will be on outsideonline.com in a month or so) about the Great Divide Bicycle Race, which I stumbled upon last year on my CDT hike. The article is about last year's race, although I'm not sure I remember any of the people it mentions. This year's race has been won, but there are still a few days before the 25-day limit comes to an end. Yes, I will definitely try and ride this someday.


I should probably just ignore this article about murder on the Appalachian Trail since I dislike it so much, but I guess I'm posting the link mostly out of anger. It's not that the story itself isn't newsworthy, (I'm aware of the fact that I've ardently defended other publications about similar subjects to some of you) it's just the manner in which the story is written, with all these phrases like "But a murderer was in these woods, too. And he brought darkness to the light," and "But sometimes, man feasts here as well. And the killer was hungry," which sound more like the guy doing the voice-overs in a horror movie trailer (and a bad one at that) rather than reporting from the newspaper that brought down a sitting US President. Arg.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Silver Pass Trail Crew

I just got back from a week of volunteer trail work in the High Sierra. I took the train to Fresno and worked with the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, and I ended up working on a section of trail about 3 miles south of Silver Pass on the JMT/PCT, doing mostly rock work. I originally signed up for a log-out project on a completely different but nearby section of trail, but was informed at the last minute that trip had been drastically altered in the direction of "LAME," so I just joined the simultaneous Silver Pass project. There were 2 or 3 Forest Service employees with us and 9 volunteers.

We hiked in on Saturday, a pack string brought in our tools and food, and we got to work on Sunday. The trail looked like this before.

We dug big holes, dropped in big anchor rocks on either side of the trail, put a rock between them as a step, then filled behind with crushed rocked and covered it up with dirt so it looked like this.

All of the work was extremely labor intensive, and a lot of it required a bunch of people to work together, doing a lot of standing around waiting for the right moment to use whichever tool you happened to be holding (shovel/pulaski/pry-bar/sledge-hammer).

And since we all know that I suck at cooperating, I preferred to just hit rocks with a hammer by myself all day, which was cool because we needed a lot of crushed rock to fill in the trail.

We took Wednesday off and I ran ~35 miles from camp to Selden Pass and back. On the way, I ran into the Forest Service crew from my original project. They'd completed their job (building this completely weenie bridge) in just two days, so it was good I hadn't gone with them.

The route between Silver and Selden Passes goes over Bear Ridge, with 59 switchbacks on the north side. Bombing down those at full speed on the way back and screaming out the switchback number was a pretty awesome feeling. This is me on the bridge over Mono Creek after said switchbacks.

I signed up for this trip a couple months ago after getting jazzed about trail work at the PCTA's TrailFest, and I thought only of where I'd be going, not who I might run into while there. But, in a rather awesome turn of events, my good friends Scott and Joe, who are currently attempting to break the unsupported PCT speed record (which Joe broke solo last year), hiked through while I was there. It was terribly hot in SoCal (116 degrees in Mission Creek), so hot they got big heat blisters on their feet and considered putting aluminum foil below their shoe insoles. Yikes. It's still pretty hot even in the Sierras, but they're doing well, a day ahead of schedule, and it was awesome to see them.

I also hung out with thru-hikers at VVR, ran into Squatch (maker of fine PCT documentaries), Razor (who I met on the PCT in '04), and met Slo-Ride and Shake n' Bake, who offered me a ride to the trailhead if I ever do the Arizona Trail.

Finally, on the last day of work, I got to cut out a blowdown. The rock work we'd been doing all week is important, because it prevents erosion and makes trail footing a lot more stable, but as a hiker the things that bother me most with trails are (1) not being able to find the trail because there's not clear tread or markings, (2) trees fallen across the trail, and (3)overgrown brush or trees, so it was really nice to be able to do some work that I think my fellow thru-hikers will appreciate.

Overall, I had a wonderful time. I don't think I could objectively say that the trip was well organized, since there were cooking and personnel snafus and the trip I'd signed up for didn't even happen, but the fact that someone was cooking for me seemed ridiculously luxuriant compared to my usual Snickers, Pop-Tarts and bagels, the scenery was gorgeous, I got to do a big run on the JMT, I had most of the afternoon every day free to explore, climb up random ridges, jump in cold lakes, and attempt to grab trout with my bare hands, I learned a lot about trail work from the more experienced volunteers and the very cool head FS guy who seemed to possess every imaginable practical building skill, and I got to shoot the bull around a campfire with cool people all week, so I'm certainly not complaining.

Trail work takes a ridiculous amount of man-hours, and it's not like the Forest Service or other park-type organizations are well funded, so I'd encourage you all to look into the possibility of volunteering. The PCTA has a list of organizations and projects here, the CDTA (which is seriously hard-up for some maintenance) has a list of projects here, I've started looking for projects on the Bay Area Ridge Trail, East Bay Regional Parks lists projects here, and they have several ongoing habitat restoration projects (that means pulling French Broom) listed here. Finally, there's an area group called East Bay Trail Dogs that has projects listed here. If anybody else knows of any others around here, I'm all ears.

I posted many more photos of the beautiful trip scenery on my Picasa page.
Also, I made a panorama of Selden Pass, and one near Silver Pass Lake.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Yet Another Reason I Won't Be Voting for McCain

Because I like trains. Not just because I dream of becoming a freight-hopping hobo someday, but because they're more comfortable than the bus and have a smaller carbon footprint than planes. And thanks to funding from the state of California, the train, or rather, Amtrak bus & train combos, can actually get you cool places like Yosemite.

(Article link from Schnapp)

Trail Links

This is pretty old news now, but it appears that heat and fires have claimed multiple adventure victims this year: Western States was canceled thanks to California burning to a crisp, and David Horton decided to end his CDT record attempt due to life-threatening desert conditions on the trail in New Mexico.

I just got back from a week in the High Sierra (more on that next post) and there was very little snow left. But I heard from a bunch of PCT hikers that Washington is still completely covered in snow, and according to this NYT article, so is Montana. Not a good year to go southbound.

A great article about trail-legend Billy Goat was in the LA Times a week or so ago. Also, here are some older articles from local papers about my friends Nitro and Wildflower.

This Post Is a Waste of Time

I must admit to being slightly interested in famous people with the last name Christensen. Christiansons can go jump off a bridge for all I care, but Christensens, now those are interesting people. So I went on a miniature little quest to try and find a movie in which "actor" Hayden Christensen does not suck horribly. And by miniature quest I mean that I watched Jumper on my flight home from Chicago (why is it so much easier to watch horrible movies when they're in-flight, on a horrible 4-inch screen?) and then I got Shattered Glass from the library. Surprisingly, Glass, based on the true story of Stephen Glass, a journalist for The New Republic who turned out to be a big fat liar, was actually a pretty good movie. Not because Christensen did a good acting job, but because he did the same thing he's done in every other movie he's been in, which is act like a big baby. Only that's what he was supposed to do, so it actually turned out OK.

The other Christensen I know of is Erika Christensen, who is interesting in that she is (a) cute, and (b) went from the Oscar-winning Traffic to the teenage stalker flick Swimfan.

Shopping, Or Not

After reading Whale Warriors and a SF Chronicle article about this Berkeley dude with so many solar panels on his house that PG&E owes him something like $700 a year (they don't actually pay him, they just reset his balance to zero at the end of the year) I was thinking of ways I could become even more of a radical. I discovered that thanks to rennet cheese isn't vegetarian, so I thought about becoming vegan instead of just vegetarian. But I'm a really big fan of wool and down. Currently I'm working on some sort of convoluted argument about how wearing petrolium-based polyester is worse for the environment and ends up causing more suffering than wool directly so that I regain some sense of internal consistency. Plus polyester gets smelly quickly.

I also discussed the possibility of doing some sort of stop-shopping deal with a few friends of mine. I didn't expect anyone to be down for it, but I think some of them may actually be more excited about it than I am. Basically, there's a bunch of people that call themselves members of The Compact that try not to buy anything new except food and toiletries and stuff that would be super-gross used like pillow cases and underwear. Articles here, here, and here.) Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I feel like other than gear, the only things I ever buy are books and CD's. The gear thing would be tough though. It would certainly be a shame to let all my pro-deals from work go to waste.