Monday, March 30, 2009

OK, so it's not really even a yak.

Spring Break: I went to Napa Valley for the first time with a couple of high school buddies, got free tastings with somebody else's fancy-pants membership card, and hiked around Bothe-Napa Valley state park. Thursday night I rode the train to Portland. I woke up at 7:00 Friday morning with Mt. Shasta and Black Butte right out the window. Ideally I would've woken up a few minutes earlier and seen Castle Crags in the first light of day, but oh well. I had a great weekend at the PCTA's TrailFest. I enjoyed it a lot more than last year's in Sacto because a whole bunch of hikers live in or close to Portland, so I did Portland-y things like dumpster diving and riding with the North Freak bicycle gang (I was impressed with a triple-decker tall-bike with a barbecue grill welded to it.) I had a great time hanging out with Lint, Chigger, Werewolf, Remy, Anish, L-Rod, Squatch, and a talking yak.
Who's the awesomest person ever? Ramsey says you are.

Iris near the top of Coyote Peak.

Lint & Chigger after the Trailfest Shenanigans Hoedown

The talking yak that grants you eternal life if you can answer its riddle

The only problem with hiker gatherings like Trailfest is that it forces me into vivid confrontation with my grad-school hatred. Is the hiker-trash lifestyle as dreamy as I imagine it to be? Or is a constant overbearing feeling of depression, work following you home every single minute of every day, and constant guilt about not working hard enough a good price to pay for health insurance and technically really only having to show up for work Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12-2 for eight months of the year? Regardless, four weeks till ADZPCTKO.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More National Scenic Trails I'll Get to Hike

Awesome. The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act of 2009 (HR 146) has finally passed the House. I wrote about this when it was S22, but couldn't find much about it when it stalled in the House.

Read about it from the Environmental News Service. [thanks, Postholer]
Read about it on Congress Matters.
Read the full text on Thomas.

Also, on a completely unrelated note, Idris Elba is British, and normally has an obvious accent. Did you know that? His role as Stringer Bell is probably the best accented acting work since Meryl Streep in Sophie's Choice. Amazing. Clearly I'm in a good mood thanks to the bill passing. It's almost enough to make me forget that I spent the day reading about LA taking the Owens Valley's water.

Another List

Yahoo! made a list of 100 films to see before you die. I've seen 76 of them.

Monday, March 23, 2009


I set a new 50K PR at Pirate's Cove/Rodeo Beach on Saturday, taking 11 minutes off December's time on the same course, finishing in 5:21 this time. I biked the 9.5 miles from my house to BART and BART to Rodeo Beach, ran the course, and was going to ride home in the cold rain across the cold bridge, but after a mile or so I realized I forgot my water bottle and when I went back for it I gladly accepted a ride from somebody with a truck heading through the East Bay.

I've been trying to think of what it is I'm doing differently that's making me faster lately. I think it's some combination of (a)living three-tenths of a mile from an awesome trailhead and steep hill, (b)racing more than I ever have before (8 events last year, basically one a month lately) and (c)having hiker-trash friends that are getting into ultras and thinking that I better not get beat by them since I'm the supposed expert. It can't be all (a) because I only moved in January, so it's probably (b) and a lot of (c). Either way I'm happy it's working.

I saw Coraline in 3D yesterday, and I now have a new appreciation for Pixar's ability to make movies that both adults and kids like.

Headed to Portland on Thursday for TrailFest.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I will do this research, and I will like it!

I hate my baseball idea. I mean, have you watched a baseball game before? Football is much better. Regardless, instead of sitting around and hating myself all spring break, I'm going to read this stack of 9 papers that I just printed out, along with Cadillac Desert, and when I am done, no one will have thought of this before me, and I will have a f---ing brilliant idea of how to test Demsetz's law with water rights in the American West. Don't ask me to explain what the hell that means--too busy. Woo! Yeh! I can do this! I am totally going to kick research's ass! (In case it's not obvious, this is me psyching myself up.)

I Sure Hope Not

To kick off the spring break vacation that I totally don't deserve, I went and saw the movie Examined Life last night. It's 88 minutes of walking around outside with philosophers, listening to them ramble on one at a time (Cornel West, Peter Singer, Slavoj Zizek, Judith Butler, Avital Ronell, Michael Hardt, Kwame Anthony Appiah and Martha Nussbaum).

I was only familiar with the first two, but Zizek is apparently pretty popular these days. His bit is filmed inside a garbage dump, where he claims that ecology is the new ideology, i.e., the new false idea everybody clings to without any proof, and we need to start getting used to a dirty environment and alienating technology, because that's what the future holds. When we love a person we accept their flaws and don't try and change them, so if we say we love nature or love the world, we should accept it, solid waste, pollution, and all. I disagree, but he expresses the idea pretty well.

I really liked a few themes than ran through a couple of the bits--does life have meaning (no, not really), can you be ethical without God (yes, possibly even more so)--but they talked about a lot of things: culture, gender, disability, revolution, justice. Anyway, very interesting movie. On a technical note I thought the camerawork was distractingly bad in a few segments--unnecessarily shaky or disturbingly close close-ups.

Here's the trailer--watch it for Peter Singer's great ethical question

Here's the official website.

For the rest of Spring Break I'm running 50K, hanging out with a couple high school friends who're in town, doing my usual volunteer gigs, and deciding whether to go to Portland for TrailFest. I should've bought a plane ticket last week when it was $49, but now they're three times that so I'm not sure it's worth it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Facebook Bullies

Watch my friend's video and vote it funny on Also, loosely related, the new fb layout sucks.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Mushrooms n' Poop

Dear Graham Greene,
Dude, you're Catholic. I get it already.

Just finished Graham Greene's The Quiet American. I read The Heart of the Matter a while ago and really liked it. A friend was surprised that I didn't find the element of Catholic guilt overbearing, and he insisted I'd feel that way if I read more of Greene's stuff. I guess that friend was right. No offense intended (this is a critique of Greene's writing, not Catholicism itself) but if Heart of the Matter was the "Catholics can't commit suicide" book, The Quiet American is the "Catholics can't get divorced" book. It's about an American and an Englishman both in love with the same Vietnamese woman, set during the French colonial collapse. There was one great part where the characters think they're going to die and have a conversation about everything important: love, sex, death, God, and imperialism. Other than that, I wasn't enthralled. Things came together in an interesting way at the end that said things about both love and colonialism, but it wasn't enough to make up for the rest.

On a lighter note, certain comic strips are way past their prime, but mocking them can still provide laughs.
Joe Mathlete explains today's Marmaduke, and Garfield minus Garfield. [Thanks, JS]

Did a great 4-hour run yesterday. Also finally started working on Thursday and Friday, writing up one of my (bad) research ideas. Not being lazy makes me hate life a whole lot less, so that's awesome.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Book Review: The Plot Against America

Rarely do I enjoy a book on tape so much that I sit around the house listening to it for hours, but I loved Philip Roth's The Plot Against America, so I did just that. Yes, I do know how to read the old-fashioned way, but it's Sunday so it's a little hard to make a print copy materialize and I wanted to finish it. Anyway, amazing book on many levels. Interesting to me as a former sci-fi geek (why has that been the theme of half my latest entries?) to see alternate history done by an actually good writer. As opposed to the "In the year 2020 the robots took over, this is what the robots looked like" of sci-fi, this was more along the lines of "In the year 2020 the robots took over, this is how it affected my relationship with my brothers." (Of course the book is not about robots but about fascist anti-Semite isolationist Charles Lindbergh beating FDR in the 1940 election.) Interesting as a liberal Bush-hater opposed to the Iraq war from the beginning. When is war justified? How do you know whether you're paranoid or whether democracy really is on the brink? What if the alarmist people are the thing preventing democracy from going over the edge?

I was moved to tears several times hearing descriptions of people caring for each other in trying circumstances--as young Philip wanted to help his newly disabled brother recover from his war wounds or as Philip's mom tries to comfort the former neighborhood kid who lost his parents but won't shut up about Fig Newtons. There were hints throughout that the current reality wasn't much different than the future of the alternate universe, so you were reasonably sure something would set things right (or how else could the book ever end?). A friend said the last quarter of the book wasn't as good as the first, and I agree in that I wasn't overwhelmed by the twist that righted history (which I won't spoil) but the great thing about this novel is again not that the T-1000 could walk through walls, but that Sarah Connor formed a lasting bond with her son John, and Philip's family (mostly) hung together through it all.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Flextrek 37 Trillion

A couple hiking friends have shared this great clip with me.

Brings back awesome childhood monster truck TV commercial memories.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Midnight Geekdom

I saw Watchmen at 12:01 Thursday night, which I guess was technically Friday. Why? Because that's when you see people dressed up like this.
It's getting pretty bad reviews, except for this one. I really liked it, but I first read the graphic novel 15-20 years ago and a couple more times since then. I thought the movie was way too gory, which is especially disappointing since Zack Snyder can direct very good straight-up kung-fu fight scenes when he wants. It's probably a little long and slow for the average action-movie fan that doesn't know the story, but it's great if you're already a geek, already know the story, and think that deconstructing the superhero myth (Why do we normally assume people who put on a mask and fight crime would be wonderful people? Wouldn't they be just as messed up as the rest of us, if not worse? And if a Superman did exist, why would he care about the rest of us?) is a worthwhile endeavor.

A good statistics comic from xkcd. [via GGW]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Oral Arguments

Maybe someday I'll be doing oral arguments in front of four unimpressed professors on my committee, but for now I went to the city to watch the Prop 8 oral arguments in front of the California Supreme Court. I went with my roommates, and P. was interviewed by two Spanish-language media outlets, so that was pretty cool. It was interesting in that the judges were all sorts of interrupt-y with the lawyers, and it was pretty darn clear from the get-go what opinions the judges held. Especially Associate Justice Joyce Kennard. I'm not a fan. There were some very interesting points brought up--one justice asking whether the problem isn't just that it's far too easy to amend the constitution (agreed) and another asking whether the state ought to get out of the marriage business altogether, let anybody that wants become legal partners, and let churches decide to discriminate or not without any legal effect (sounds like a plan to me). Unfortunately, great ideas though these may be, the court obviously can't implement them by fiat, and they weren't the issue before the court today. Today's issue was amendment v. revision, and that line of argument basically went like this:

Judge: The court previously held that re-instating the death penalty was not a constitutional revision, but a mere amendment. Isn't the right to live more important than the right to marry? And if so, how is eliminating the right to marry a revision?

Lawyer: Yes, the right to live is more important, but the death penalty is applied equally across all the population. Removing rights from only a suspect class is a fundamental revision to the constitution, since Article 1 Section 7 of the state constitution guarantees equal protection. If the death penalty only applied to one specific minority group, it would be a revision.

I had to teach section at noon, so I didn't get to stick around to boo Ken Starr.

I will remain hopeful, but I'd have to say that unfortunately it doesn't look good for equality this go-round. If I'm right, I guess we'll just have to grant equal rights by vote (and get rid of the 2/3 budget majority requirement while we're at it) in 2010, then make it harder to amend the constitution in 2012.

Here are a couple pics (this is actually city hall, not the courthouse, but they're in the same plaza).

Monday, March 02, 2009

One Complaint, One Link

I hate the fact that my laptop is the source of both my productivity and my wasted time. If I could just lock the Internet in the cupboard and run regressions with pencil and paper I might actually get a PhD some day.

Wondering how far you can get by public transit from any location in a given amount of time? Figure it out with this Transit Shed. [SF Streetsblog]

Sunday, March 01, 2009

I like lists

In addition to just plain wanting to see it, I wanted to see Frost/Nixon because it was nominated for best picture Oscar. Using this list of best picture Oscar-nominated films, I've seen every one since 2000 except for The Pianist and generally about half of them since the 60's and one a year before that. My movie list watching began in 1998 when the AFI released their original top 100 films list. I've seen all those and am now working on their updated 10-year anniversary list (which unfortunately means I might have to finally watch Titanic.) I still need to see 8 of the 23 additions to the original list.

I'm also working on this list of the top 50 cult films from Entertainment Weekly. I've seen 15 so far, some are among my favorites (Harold and Maude), some are bizarre documentaries about Karen Carpenter shot only with Barbie dolls, others are about Jackie O's crazy cat-lady relatives that screech show-tunes and feed raccoons whole loaves of wonder bread.

Other lists I keep track of are best books. The Modern Library released a list of top books after AFI did the movie thing. The reader's list, conducted by Internet voting, was unfortunately swamped by objectivists and scientologists, but the lists by the board of the organization are actually interesting. I think the non-fiction list is especially humbling; I've read a whopping two of them. I think my best is the Radcliffe version of the novels list, where I've read 32 or 33.


I saw Frost/Nixon last night. As a film it was highly entertaining and surprisingly very funny, but I walked away from it thinking wistfully about the real-life issues of (1) "That could've been Mike Wallace doing the interview and nailing the guy to the wall!?" (the movie says Wallace was attempting to land an interview at the same time Frost was, but Frost offered to pay more) and (2) remembering that in interviews I've heard about the movie/actual interviews, people not associated with the making of film or the interviews seem to think Frost never really quite "got" Nixon. For example, here's the real video of Nixon with his "There was no cover-up" bulls---. Clearly, he looks flustered and, well, not very believable, but was he called on this?

Here's the Fresh Air about the interviews, and here's David Frost on The Daily Show.

I guess I'll have to watch the actual interviews myself. As far as the movie goes, watch it for wonderful entertainment, not necessarily for redemptive history.


I ran the Sequoia 50K yesterday in 6:20, which ranks 3 of 8 in terms of my 50K times. I'm pretty pleased with that, especially since it was after the 10-mile warm-up run from my house to the park and followed by my 10-mile cool-down run home from the park. I lucked out and the weather was nice--I'm glad my IM football game this afternoon will be in the rain instead of the other way around. My knees hurt a tiny bit, enough that I iced them afterward. That hasn't happened in a while; I blame last week's using a pair of old shoes for too long. I listened to some of Philip Roth's The Plot Against America on the iPod, so far it's amazing. I'm running another 50K in three weeks, and Diablo a month after that. That's as far as I've got planned right now, and Diablo's definitely what I'm focusing on. I've done fairly well in 50K's lately, plus every single training run now involves a ridiculously steep climb thanks to my new apartment, so I definitely think I can improve on last year's 13:32, and I'm dreaming that I could do it in under 12:00.