Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Things and Stuff

Nothing much has happened lately. My IM football team (Stimulus Package) won its first game, I spent most of the weekend talking smack about fantasy football with a friend who was in town (I lost 109-110, thank you very much Santonio Holmes), I went to a reading by Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and for the first time in what seems like way too long, I got a really good run in today. It only lasted 2:20, but I did some stuff up in Tilden I hadn't done in a while and was absolutely bombing down the hills on the way back with a gorgeous sunset and 4 bridges in view and Tarkio's cover of Squeeze's Goodbye Girl on the iPod.

I also finished listening to Erik Larsen's Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. It's separately about both the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and a serial murderer who was operating in Chicago at the same time. It was recommended to me by a buddy of mine who lives in Chicago when I was visiting him in Chicago during a family reunion in Chicago this past summer. Chicago. I think I should have said Chicago a couple more times in the past few sentences. ANYWAY, the book was great. Larsen made the fair extremely suspenseful (Will Chicago be chosen as the sight? Will it get built on time? Will they build something cooler than the Eiffel Tower? Will it be a success?) and also turned it into a beautiful and inspirational mass civic action, like the civil rights movement or something. And he contrasts that to one of the first serial murderers in US history. It's an unusual combo, but it seems to work for the most part.

It's certainly possible this is an exaggeration of the importance of the fair in history, but Larsen does a great job of showing how many famous people were involved in the fair, how many inventions came from it, and how Chicago was growing rapidly during the gilded age. Finally, having somewhat recently had the unfortunate experience of listening to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, it was interesting to learn about the Chicago architects that were involved with the fair (Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright) on which her book was clearly based.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Not nearly as disgusting as you might expect

I spent the weekend at the ALDHA-West (American Long Distance Hiking Association) Gathering at the Lake Wenatchee, WA YMCA camp. It's pretty close to the PCT, and it just so happens that when I was hiking the PCT in '04 this retired Microsoft m(b?)illionaire and his wife picked me up when I was hitching back to the trail from Skykomish and gave me one of the best trail-magic hookups I've ever gotten, letting me stay at their private resort that is on the same lake, but I digress. ALDHA-West is the keeper of the Triple Crown award, so I had a pretty awesome time hanging out with several other CDT '07 hikers who were also receiving their awards. Also there were some cool presentations by Erin McKittrick and Bretwood Higman, who spent a year hiking/skiing/packrafting from Seattle to the beginning of the Aleutian Islands, and photos from Eric Ryback's '69, '70, and '71 hikes of the AT, PCT, and CDT, in what might have been the first triple crown. Also, I learned that clam juice, tomato juice, and beer is not quite as disgusting a concoction as you might imagine. But thankfully now that I actually know what "clamato" is, I can decline all future offers of a chelada on account of being vegetarian.

The back row, triple crowners receiving awards this year, L to R: Nimblewill Nomad, Wildcat, Lint, Nitro, me, Wildflower, Li, and Eric Ryback.

Nitro, mocking the sacred institution that is the Triple Crown/paying homage to the golden age of hiking

Lake Wenatchee

Mad Monty and a tiny portion of his collection of stoves

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Look at me, I'm doing research!

Somebody should start a pool on how long it will take me to start hating research. I'd say the over-under is about 6 days. But I'm loving it for now. I mean, I try and waste time on the interwebs like usual, but all the lies about "we had 23,000 people at our rally," "thanks, but no thanks," and "Saddam Hussein and his family had a personal relationship with al Qaeda and he's about to miniaturize nuclear weapons" (start about 2:30 in) make me too angry. Also, I discovered that I didn't have to learn Perl, re-invent the wheel, or pay an undergrad EECS major to re-invent the wheel for me--every baseball stat you could ever want is available in a free download at Sean Lehman's Baseball Archive.

So, for starters, using all the MLB MVP's from 1911-2006 (excluding AL pitchers), players batted an average of .285 before winning their first MVP award and only .271 after, and 74% of the MVP winners had a lower career average after winning than before. That, of course, proves nothing. But now I'm going to use propensity score matching based on MVP votes received (and whatever else I determine makes you win the MVP award) to compare the actual winner to the almost-winners, and then maybe I'll be able to say whether winning the MVP award makes you famous, gets you a date with Jessica Simpson, and then makes you ignorant/less good at baseball by association.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Years Old and Miles and a Master's Degree

As of 3:17 this afternoon, I'm 29 years old. I played (touch) football with my IM team on Saturday, and when I woke up ridiculously sore on Sunday I decided to run 29 miles today to prove that I'm not old. Sort of as prep for the 24-hour race I'll be doing in a couple months, I decided to do the miles around the dirt track at school. I got a late start and I forgot my running hat so my bald head was getting sunburned, so I only ran 100 laps (rather than 116) before I had to go to school. Oh well. When I got to school I checked my mailbox and found the results from last month's Law & Economics field exam. On an excellent-good-pass-fail scale, I needed a pass in order to fulfill the requirements for the Master's degree/coursework portion of my program. I got a good. So I'm all done with courses, I've got a master's degree, and I'll just be doing my own original research/taking time off to hike long distances from now on. Sweet!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Dems Make Econ Grow Faster AKA me pretending to do resarch

I recently read/saw two econs saying that Democrat presidents make the economy grow faster (Alan Blinder in the NYT, and Laura D'Andrea Tyson on The Colbert Report). I was bored, so here's a little regression of 1948-2007 annual real US GSP growth on the number of Democratic senators, reps, and presidents to entertain you (chained is the BEA's real gdp growth using chained 2000 dollars, dsen is the number of Dem Senators, dhouse is Dem House member, and dwh is a Dem prez. Please ignore autocorrelation, endogeneity, omitted variables, and the whole host of other problems.) Of course, spacing is retarded since HTML doesn't recognize multiple consecutive spaces.

reg chained dsen dhouse dwh, robust

Linear regression Number of obs = 60
F( 3, 56) = 2.55
Prob > F = 0.0645
R-squared = 0.1259
Root MSE = 2.2329

| Robust
chained | Coef. Std. Err. t P>|t| [95% Conf. Interval]
dsen | -.0335854 .0690005 -0.49 0.628 -.17181 .1046391
dhouse | .0194278 .0156595 1.24 0.220 -.011942 .0507976
dwh | 1.466665 .627477 2.34 0.023 .2096777 2.723653
_cons | -.1978744 2.13128 -0.09 0.926 -4.46734 4.071592

Interpreted, that means there's nothing statistically significant going on with the house or senate, but a democratic president has been associated with 1.47 percentage points higher annual GDP growth, and there's only a 2.3% chance that that's just statistical noise.

If anyone wants to teach me Perl or Python so that I can automate the process of getting the vote totals from every single AL and NL MLB MVP award since 1911 (including 1991, my favorite example) and the career stats for every player that ever received votes, I'm all ears.

If anybody has any ideas about what question I could answer using forest fires as a natural experiment, I'm all ears.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Tree Sit

The appeals court decided that, although they're going to hear the case, they're not going to keep the injunction going, so the trees are starting to come down. There are still four dudes in the tall redwood shown below, but the university gave them an ultimatum that ended exactly one minute ago. I'm at home, so I guessing I'm missing the show.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Running Stuff

1. Fellow backpacker Andrew Skurka recently finished second in the Leadville 100, which he entered "on a whim," which makes me (a)totally jealous, and (b)think that, although I have a pretty small sample size, it seems to be an easier transition for backpackers to get into ultra-running than it is for ultra-runners to get into long-distance backpacking. I'm not sure if that's actually true, or why it would be true physiologically or mentally, but it's interesting.

2. I recently noticed a Reebok billboard in Oakland with a picture of a collapsed runner and the words "Congratulations, you can't stand up. Go run easy." Or something to that effect. That sort of motivation might make a lot of sense in Oakland, especially given its lower-income residents that are more likely to be overweight and thus could use motivation to simply get out the door rather than motivation to do something hard-core.

3. It's interesting to compare that to Dean Karnazes, who was recently on KQED's Forum promoting his second book 50/50: Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 Days -- and How You Too Can Achieve Super Endurance. He's also been on 60 Minutes (where one segment says it's believed that Karnazes has run more miles than any other living human being. I'm not sure I believe that. He may do a lot of miles in a week, but David Horton has been doing it way longer, and then there's the rest of the world to consider), and run for 24 hours on a treadmill suspended above Times Square among other things. I think there's definitely a place for both approaches, but the economist in me wonders which method is more effective at motivating people to live healthier lives. Maybe the data fairy could hook me up and I could write a dissertation.

Good Googely-Moogely It's Hot

I rode my bike 10 miles to the start of the Redwood Park 50K today. I timed it well and got there right before the start. I ran the 50K in 7:41 or something like that, which isn't very fast, but given that my watch thermometer had the highest reading (105.5 degrees!) I have ever seen outside of that time I dunked it in a hot spring, I'm happy with it. It was so hot that a lady in front of me sat down due to a cramp, and then while I was digging an electrolyte pill out of my pack for her, she said "I'm going to faint," at which point she fell back, her eyes rolled back, she convulsed a little, and had these horribly raspy breaths, so I held her head up and sprayed some water on her. She came to pretty quick and her friends came along, so they took care of her and I kept going. After finishing I was planning on riding home, but there was all sorts of chafing going on in the nether-regions, so I hung out till the race was all over and got a ride home. Good times.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

3 Book Reviews

On my recent runs I finished three books on tape: Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean, Your Government Failed You by Richard Clarke, and The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby.

Young Men and Fire is Maclean's (of A River Runs Through It fame) book about the 1949 Mann Gulch Fire outside Helena, Montana in which 13 smokejumper firefighters died. There was some controversy over the fire because the crew leader started an escape fire (start a fire where you are so that when the big fire gets to you there's no fuel left and you'll be OK) which was unheard of at the time, so his crew didn't understand what was going on and ran right by the escape fire and were killed; some felt the escape fire was actually what killed the men (unlikely). The books drags on a bit at the end, but it's a good read, especially if you like mountains/the west/the outdoors, etc.

Your Government Failed You is Richard Clarke's (the terrorism czar that kept on trying to get everyone in government to take Al Qaeda seriously before 9/11) new book about how the government hasn't gotten any smarter in the years since 9/11. Although the book on tape was abridged, it was read by Clarke himself, so I assume he thought it was a decent abridgment. It's easy to accuse him of being a Monday morning quarterback, and I noticed a time or two that he contradicted himself (ragging on the Army generals for a last-minute scrapping of the long-held Centcom plan for invading Iraq with three or four hundred thousand troops for a lengthy post-invasion presence that he thought would've worked, but then later mentioning a conversation with Condi Rice where he said of the new quick plan: "at least it'll be quick.") What I really liked about this book were the specifics. This is not pie-in-the-sky stuff, it's specific intelligence programs that don't work and specific laws we could pass to fix them. There is a very apolitical tone throughout, and one of his major contentions is that we should limit the number of political appointees (the Department of Homeland Security (which is a mismanaged behemoth and should be unmade) has a higher percentage of appointees than any other executive department) and replace them with career civil servants. Perhaps the only vague wishful thinking part was that in order to do this, we need to make public service noble again, but Clarke was inspiring enough that I believe that might be possible.

Finally, Jacoby's Age of American Unreason is a history of anti-rationalism and anti-intellectualism in America. Fundamentalist religion, TV, the Internet, Baby Einstein videos, video games, the death of reading, letter-writing, classical music, and poetry, communism, anti-communism, junk science (intelligent design, social Darwinism, thinking vaccines cause autism) and many other things are all making Americans stupid. I think this book said some really important things, but I can't imagine anyone liking the entire thing--at some point, regardless of your political stance, you're going to think Jacoby is arrogant and pompous. If anybody's read it, I'd love to chat about it, but my thoughts are well-formed enough to put in writing now. Plus, Jacoby hates book reviews on blogs.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Drill Baby Drill

Just to be clear, the thing Huckabee said that I guessed was false the second I heard it is in fact false.

And I'm happy I'll be voting for the party in which the governor (Schweitzer) of a state (Montana) whose economy depends a good deal on the extractive industries said "the most important barrel of oil is the one that you don't use" instead of the one that chants "drill baby drill" and mocks someone for being a community organizer (ha ha, spending time trying to help disadvantaged people on the south side of Chicago when you could've gone to Wall Street? Sucker!)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

What Now?

I studied, I took my test, I squeezed in a couple trips, and school has started. So what am I doing to fill the time from now until December 19th when I can get a month of freedom and ski the JMT?

I'm TA-ing Poli Sci 135/Econ 110--Game Theory in the Social Sciences

I'm helping to teach a DeCal (Democratic Education at Cal, i.e. cool student-facilitated courses) called Global Poverty & Impact Evaluation: Learning What Works for the World's Poor [link to syllabus]. It's sponsored by Berkeley's new Center of Evaluation for Global Action (CEGA), an organization sort of similar to MIT's Poverty Action Lab. Basically, the idea is that although well-intentioned, it's not clear that some poverty alleviation projects actually do any good. So you should measure the impact of your project, and then, since money for such projects is scarce, you should focus your resources on those projects with the greatest benefit and not just your favorite pet cause. We'll cover (in a very applied way, at a level appropriate for advanced undergrads with a basic stats background or public policy/public health/education grad students, or basically anybody that's interested) the methods economists use to do this sort of stuff: randomized evaluations, regression discontinuity, diff n' diff, and matching.

And I'm doing the usual: 7 ultras, a hiker gathering, a wedding, my HS 10th reunion, some volunteer stuff, maybe an intramural team, and maybe, just maybe, starting to work on a dissertation.

Hey there Delilah

I decided I looked less bald bald than with hair.

The Man Burned

I went to Burning Man. Walking around the desert in a complete sandstorm white-out looking at participatory installation art while getting passed by roving double-decker buses decked out like pirate ships with blasting techno dance parties aboard is pretty awesome.

The Man

The Bummer

The Temple

A Real Live Thunder Dome

Fire Dancing