Monday, August 30, 2010

Western Express Bicycle Map Comments (Wonkish)

I finally typed up my comments on the Western Express Adventure Cycling Maps for the AC cartographer who encouraged me to do so. I thought I'd post them here for the benefit of anyone who might google across them, as they're too long to just post in the comments of my original bike trip entry.

Here they are.

Map 2:
Is Pinto Summit 7,376 or 7,351 feet?
Is Pancake 6,521 or 6,517 feet?
Is Robinson 7,588 or 7,607 feet?
[I don't think these minor differences matter in terms of physical effort to get you to the top, but it's just nice to be consistent between sides of the map.]

Map 1:
The directions for map 6 in Placerville are wrong (and illegal for cyclists).

On the detailed map, the red line stops, but the black line appears to direct cyclists onto Route 50 briefly starting at Canal St. (Westbound). The written directions just say "Placerville. See Detail... Merge onto US 50. Matchline." However, at the intersection of Canal St. and Hwy 50, although there is a 4-way stop light, there's a sign on the shoulder of Hwy 50 saying no pedestrians or cyclists allowed. The legal was it to continue west on Main Street, which becomes Forni Rd, which has a marked bicycle lane and signs directing bicycles this direction. Forni parallels Hwy 50 for one more exit to Ray Lawyer Drive, where you go over Hwy 50. I mapped it here: http://www.gmap-pedometer.com/?r=4001541
This also alters the directions on Map 5, because you don't actually get on Placerville Dr., you just cross it to get on Green Valley.

Also--is there a reason not to take Bucks Bar Rd. and Cedar Ravine into Placerville from Somerset? It's confusing while cycling because the road signs direct you to take Bucks Bar, your map clearly shows that they go to Placerville, and it's 4.4 miles shorter to go that way. In general this is the type of information that would make me buy more AC maps--I can see what road goes where with any old AAA road map--AC's comparative advantage lies in telling me elevation changes and cool stuff along the way. (I'd add operating hours of stores, "cyclist-friendly" hotels/diners, etc.)

On Map 5 there's another turn missing in Folsom. Westbound, after turning right onto E. Natoma, you have to turn left after 1.1 miles to stay on E. Natoma. Going straight takes you on Folsom Lake Crossing. Maybe it's AC map policy that unless specifically stated you make whatever turns necessary to stay on the street with the current name,
but that's not standard with google/mapquest directions, which I think a lot of people are used to.

Finally, the whole idea of taking a ferry from San Francisco to Vallejo is anathema to me. Bicycles are allowed on the I-680 Benicia-Martinez Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge, so cyclists can legally and safely ride from Vallejo to Benicia, then Martinez to Berkeley and Oakland and take BART or the ferry from Jack London Square to San Francisco, or they could ride through Napa and Sonoma then over the GG bridge, and not have to do any ferrying. Both of these routes would be scenic and safe, as they are commonly used by tourist and recreational cyclists, and they'd entail less "cheating"
than a ferry to Vallejo.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"I am Supertramp, and you are Super Apple."

I just watched The Call of the Wild, a documentary about Chris McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp. I also re-watched Into the Wild for comparison. The latter I assume you've all seen and don't need to hear anything about; I liked it just as much the third time as the first. Pretty much the only thing I don't like is the font of the opening titles. Thanks for not blowing it, Spicoli.

The Call of the Wild on the other hand is a low-budget independent documentary by film-maker Ron Lamothe who re-traced McCandless' steps. Lamothe was born in 1968, the same year as McCandless, and was obsessed with the story even before Krakauer made it huge. For the movie he went to Emory during graduation, Lake Mead, Slab City, hitch-hiked to Carthage, South Dakota, drove up to Alaska, and hiked to the Magic Bus, getting swept downstream by the Teklanika River and temporarily ruining his camera. There's a fair amount of thoughtful introspection--he interviewed random Emory grads, all of whom were headed to grad school or Wall Street and none of whom seemed to be questioning like McCandless. Lamothe asked whether Generation X was really different from the current one, and he contrasted his own post-college wanderings in Africa with the life of a college friend of his who is a happy suburban LA lawyer who never questioned anything.

After watching Into the Wild I sort of expected Call to be a documentary of interviews with Chris' family, and the real-life versions of the Catherine Keener (Jan Burres), Kristen Stewart (not real), Hal Holbrook (Ronald Franz) and Vince Vaughn (Wayne Westerberg) characters. Lamothe did interview one of Chris' college roommates, neighbors from his street in Annandale, his high school track coach, and a few people who met him in Carthage, and this actually served to paint a slightly darker or more angry/upset/lonely picture of McCandless than I'd had in my mind. Lamothe interviewed neither his family, Franz, nor Westerberg, however. Franz (not his real name?) passed away, so that explains that, but Westerberg was apparently serving as a consultant for Sean Penn, who was shooting on location at the same time as Lamothe, and there were some issues with people in Carthage, SD not talking to Lamothe because they signed away the rights to their story. So Penn and co. may have prevented some interesting interviews from taking place, which makes it all the more disappointing that even though the Into the Wild DVD is a 2-DVD set, not a single one of the DVD extras contains one iota of information about the real people--they're just slightly annoying Sean Penn and Emil Hirsch talking head videos.

So Call ended up being half personal adventure of Lamothe (who Lamothe met hitch-hiking while making the movie) and half McCandless' life and adventure (minor characters McCandless met). Some aspects of the movie seem slightly conspiratorial or accusatory of either Sean Penn or John Krakauer for mis-telling the story (Lamothe thinks McCandless just starved to death instead of being poisoned). That aside, the moments of discussing the questions of why people like McCandless, Lamothe, me, Krakauer, etc., want to go explore and have adventures like this are fairly thoughtful and well done. Overall I'd give Call a B and Sean Penn's version an A. I bought Call off Lamothe's website, I don't know if Netflix has it, but it's apparently been on PBS, so maybe.

On a related topic--how great is the ItW soundtrack? If you, like me, deeply regret not seeing Eddie Vedder when he came through Berkeley on his solo tour playing many of the songs, you can find a bootleg here. The links at the top don't work, but the FLACs lower down appear to. Also, "Hard Sun" is a cover of a song by the band Indio off their album Big Harvest. They basically sound like Vedder with a slight accent. [YouTube link]

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Internet Is Making You Stupid

Fine, the Internet is useful. It's also a huge waste of time and is making you stupid, so I dare you to read this whole post. In other words, I just read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr is sometimes credited with starting this discussion with his article "Is Google Making You Stupid?" in The Atlantic a few years ago. The book goes into detail about how the brain is plastic (adaptable) into adulthood, and how using the Internet re-wires your neurons so that you're better at skimming than concentrating or thinking deeply. (When was the last time you made it through an entire NYT Sunday Magazine article online?) Carr cites numerous scientific studies showing that the distracting nature of hypertext and multimedia lead to lower retention and comprehension. These parts of the book are very interesting, just like any Malcom Gladwell-esque collection of interesting scientific findings.

The book is also part intellectual history, which was far less interesting to me. From Plato to Nietzsche and from the invention of paper to moveable type, all these thinkers had ideas about how technology affected man, and all these new inventions changed the way the brain works. It so obvious I can't even call it ironic, but I found myself skimming some of these chapters (thankfully, only chapters 3 and 4). A very interesting chapter covered Google, and Carr quotes writer Richard Komen regarding Google's book-scanning projects as saying Google "has become a true believer in its own goodness, a belief which justifies its own set of rules regarding corporate ethics, anti-competition, customer service, and its place in society." I was on board for Google Book Search, but since they recently sold out net-neutrality and left Al Franken and netroots the only things between Verizon and prioritized wireless Internet traffic, I'm reconsidering. One large company's ethics isn't necessarily a harbinger of doom, but it is evidence that flashy blinking lights are indeed coming to dumb down more and more aspects of your life.

My major beef with this book is that there is absolutely nothing in terms of solutions. Other than a three-page digression of a chapter about Carr's own terminating his twitter account while writing the book (but then buying a Blu-Ray with built-in wifi), there is literally nothing on practical measures one could take to avoid checking your e-mail every minute and a half. While reading the book, the scientific studies cited often have control groups who are not allowed to bring laptops into lectures, or who have to walk in a park while treatment groups use laptops and walk in crowded cities. So obviously, one realizes through reading the book that one will probably learn more if one doesn't bring one's laptop to class, even though one won't be able to read relevant wikipedia articles, because one will be concentrating better. But that's it--there's nothing on practical tips or suggestions, which I would have found very useful. (Do any of you have practical suggestions?)

Still, I'd recommend the book. You could also read a recent series on nytimes.com called "Your Brain on Computers". I won't link to it because you'd be distracted and retain less of what I was trying to say. I'd also recommend another older book I read in college, Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neal Postman. It's another one of those quotes-Marshall-McCluhan-a-lot-and-says-technology-is-making-us-dumb type of books, only it's about TV. (Seriously, who watches TV anymore? More importantly, who watches TV without surfing the Internet at the same time?)

Anyway, that's it. I'll probably rant more about the Internet and simplicity and stuff again next week, because I'm now I'm going to read Shop Class as Soulcraft.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Dirtbag Drop-Outs on Film

I just watched 180° South. Basically, some dudes take a trip to Patagonia, surf, climb mountains, and talk about conservation, and the meaning of life with Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins (the founders of Patagonia and North Face, respectively). It's sort of a re-creation of a trip Chouinard and Tompkins took in 1968 in which they drove south from California to climb Fitz Roy, then made a movie about it called Mountain of Storms (which now I guess I'll have to track down and see). 180° South was good, but I wouldn't say amazing. The surfing and climbing shots are of course beautiful. The soundtrack is very good, but a little too heavy on the Jack Johnson for my tastes. The discussion of dropping out/the meaning of life is fairly simplistic when it's from the point of view of the main narrator, but I think that Chouinard and Tompkins, given their impressive experience as both businessmen, dirtbags, and philanthropic conservationists, had more interesting and nuanced things to say. It should go without saying that the movie strengthened my wanderlust.

Trailer for 180° South
Trailer for Mountain of Storms

Friday, August 20, 2010

Things

You know what I'm tired of hearing about? I won't even mention it because it's the only thing in the news for the last forever and I am so pissed that there's even a question about whether they should (be allowed to) build it. Of course they should.

Other than that:
Good runs. A little barefooting (by that I mean VFF), 10 miles in Briones Regional Park (to a part I've never been to), two trips to the EBMUD land near Upper San Leandro Reservoir (again to parts I've never visited before), new bushwhacking and super-secret-singletrack on campus property (following the Lab fence from the High-C, and a track that crosses the creek at the Firetrail parking lot then goes up the hill close to the Connector where you can bomb down to the pool parking lot), a run with Nano down the ridge-trail to Sibley, and 10 miles along the Charles River in Boston from Mass Gen to Harvard and back.

So by that I mean I went to Boston and Nano visited (twice). A+A got married and had a very cool outdoor wedding with a fun mix of Jewish and Catholic cultural but not religious traditions. Their wedding band was amazing, which is not really a thing you hear, but it was true. The lead singer had pipes. I'm sure it didn't hurt that she was gorgeous.

Nano passed through on his way to and from the Wonderland trail, a 93-mile loop around Mt. Rainier. We talked about future adventures and he gave me a great idea--forget Tierra del Fuego to the Bering Strait for a mid-life crisis hike, I'm going North Pole to South Pole. That must never have been done before, right? Skis to/from the North Pole, walk to TdF, then sail to the edge of Antarctica, then ski to the South Pole. Easy peasy.

I was an instructor to first-time quantitative social sciences GSI's at their training conference today. I'm going to (at least) Avett Brothers, K'naan, Mumford & Sons, Sufjan Stevens, and Arcade Fire concerts in October, and I signed up to present at the Labor Lunch October 8. Now to just do the research so I don't make a fool of myself.

Movies:
Comedian: Informative documentary. Jerry Seinfeld is not funny. My childhood was a fraud.
Baader-Meinhof Complex: Very interesting tale about, basically, the German version of the Weather Underground or the SLA. Bruno Ganz is a brilliant actor.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Stuff

Good NYT article about getting rid of your crap and living simply. Except it seems like it's saying that instead of buying fancy stuff you should buy stuff that helps you have cool experiences (preferably social ones). I'd say that's a fuzzy line to draw, and I'd advocate instead for buying pretty much nothing. But part of me does like the claim that buying "equipment like golf clubs and fishing poles" makes you happier as this obviously helps me justify the four Rubbermaid tubs in the corner of the room as well as the 40-pound box of maps. Applied to today's situation, would buying the special tool I need to remove a bike's rear cassette (and eventually a bike stand and a wheel truing stand) and doing the work at home make me happier, or would I be happier riding down to the community workshop and fixing my three broken spokes there? My guess is the latter, since I get to interact with the shop guys, who're pretty remarkable in that they have no bike shop 'tude.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

New Suit

Alright Mr. Hope-to-go-on-the-job-market-this-fall, you can make me buy a stupid suit, but you can't make me like it. And you can't make me pay more than $15 for it.


And no, unfortunately I'm not running the Headlands Hundred right now. My friend couldn't get off work to pace me and it would have prevented me from accomplishing anything for the better part of four days and possibly weakened to the point where I caught a cold. So instead I got the cold before the race and am spending the better part of four days sick on the couch watching movies:

Breathless: sharp, but that's all it's got going for it.
Infernal Affairs: I'll take Marty's version with Marky Mark in hospital booties over the original.
My Dinner with Andre: One of the better two-hour long conversations about new-agey bulls--t that I've seen.
The Straight Story: Heartwarming and beautifully shot (Iowa cornfields). Sometimes the main character either had poor line delivery or acted like he did. I'm upset because now I have to add "ride a lawnmower across the country" to my adventure to-do list.
Insomnia: Definitely not heartwarming, but definitely beautifully shot (Alaska). Is anyone out there a close friend with Robin Williams and can tell him he's not funny but can actually act quite well?

Oh, and reading books: Quitter, by Harvey Pekar. Autobiographical account of his childhood and early years. Perhaps my favorite Pekar work.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

A Good Run Is Easy to Find (wonkish)

This one's for the running nerds.

My route: I went over to Marin county today and did a nice 6 hour run on the north side of Mt. Tam on Marin Municipal Water District land. I've hiked and run on Mt. Tam a few times before, but always on the southern/western/Pantoll side. I generally don't like to drive to start a run, but I knew I'd be out long enough today to make it worth it. Traffic through Richmond and over the bridge is generally not that bad, and parking was easy and free, so that's points for Tam over Diablo or anything in the South Bay or on the peninsula. I started at Natalie Greene park above Ross Commons, up Tucker and Indian Rd., down a ridge to Lake Lagunitas, up to Collier springs, on Upper North Side and Benstein to Rock Spring, down the Cataract trail to Alpine Lake, Helen Markt, Kent, Bon Tempe Shadyside, and Fish Gulch back to Phoenix Lake and back to where I started.

I liked the area. Not giant trees like in Muir Woods or even the French Trail in Redwood Regional, but generally a good amount of shade, and a good ratio of singletrack to fire-roads. (Definitely a better ratio than Diablo). There are hundreds of trails in this area, so as a newby I carried a map and had to pull it out every ten minutes to see which junction I was at. That's annoying but it's my fault, not the park's. I liked bombing down the Cataract trail a lot. It maybe wasn't Bald Ridge Trail on Diablo, but it's good, lots of steps and roots and rocks to jump off of. The Lagunitas Fire Trail ridge I went down earlier had too many sections that were fields of unstable rocks about the size of my foot for my taste--bigger and you don't set them in motion, smaller and you run right over them, but the middle size makes me slow down a bit. Helen Markt, Kent, and Bon Tempe Shadyside were all good too. They're just lakeside rolling contouring, but there aren't unnecessary ups and there's good shade--much better than the route around Briones reservoir.

My gear:
I don't usually think much about running gear, because I don't run enough as it is, so I just need to shut up and go do it, but I did a little thinking about it this time. I read Tony Krupicka's blog, and most of the time I think "Dude, would you put on a shirt already?" but sometimes I think "does that guy wear socks?" When I ran on Wednesday, I wore a pair of WrightSock cool-mesh lo-quarter socks and loved them. I was surprised, because I normally wear full quarter socks and have found no-show or low-cut socks to slip down and then my Achilles rubs painfully. (Do you build up resistance to this? Based on how raw this area can get on long hikes with full socks, I'm just imagining it getting progressively worse.) Anyway, these lo-quarters were fantastic. The extra inch or two of breathing room made my feet feel great, and they were just high enough that there was no rubbing. So I bought another couple pairs and wore one today. They slipped all the way off my heel and up to my toes and I was constantly having to pull them up, meanwhile they were soaking up blood from my raw Achilles. Wrightsocks always feel extra slick when I wear them before washing, so I'll give these one more try before I try and find another low or no-show sock with a tab that's big enough and will stay up.

Headphones. It seems that most companies have moved away from earbuds towards what I'll call "earplug" type headphones. I just got a new pair since my previous ones started cutting out in one ear, which is inevitable. I totally meant to keep the receipt since they often don't last their waranteed year, but I failed to do that. Anyway, I don't like them. They stay in my ear less well than the old bud kind (but they do have different sized plug attachments, so I need to experiment with that) and they act like ear plugs, so you can't hear what's going on outside, and your pulse and chewing food are now crazy loud. Are these better for my long-term hearing somehow? I think loud concerts are screwing me on that account anyway, so I just want something that doesn't bounce out, and I don't like the behind the ear do-dads because they're like grappling hooks and get caught on stuff when they're in my pocket/backpack.

My pictures:

Rock Spring

I took a pretty sweet header off a steep edge. Grassy landing, so no prob.

F--k It, I'm Going Vegan

I just read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. At times I found Foer's writing extremely pretentious (e.g., five pages of "Influence/Speechlessness" repeated over and over, consisting of 21,000 letters, which is how many entire animals the average American eats in a lifetime.) But in general I thought it was well written and enjoyable. I think Foer assumes to some degree that the reader agrees with (or at least doesn't virulently oppose) three ideas: factory meat farming is (1) inefficient (it takes from 6 to 26 plant calories to make 1 meat calorie), (2) environmentally horrible ("All told, farmed animals in the United States produce 130 times as much waste as the human population--roughly 87,000 pounds of shit per second. The polluting strength of this shit is 160 times greater than raw municipal sewage.") and (3) extremely cruel (cages are so small animals can't turn around. Watch Meet Your Meat if you need convincing).

A few chapters of the book are aimed at beating these points home, but most of the book seems aimed at the Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser-inspired "friendly meat" eaters--those who would try to eat mostly sustainably raised and ethically slaughtered animals--and looks at whether that makes any sense, or whether vegetarianism is the only way to go. (As an aside, I can't rule out the fact that the book does indeed spend a lot of time on the initial three ideas and I just found the more nuanced friendly meat/no meat discussion more interesting.) I found this discussion thoughtful and enlightening. I myself became vegetarian after reading a Michael Pollan NYT article (and having cows constantly poop in my water on the CDT). Even though Pollan doesn't advocate for vegetarianism, vegetarianism seemed a lot more logically consistent, and I knew if I was a grass-fed/family-farmed only guy, I'd still end up eating meat whenever I felt like it and contributing to factory farming practices. I think that's pretty much how Foer feels. Farms like those of Niman Ranch and Frank Reese (practically the only turkey farmer whose turkeys can actually reproduce on their own) are way better than those of Smithfield, but vegetarianism is even better. I've often said that if I move to Montana and my neighbor shoots his cow with a high-powered rifle after letting it live to a ripe old age after walking freely and eating natural grass on his land where it would be very inefficient to grow crops and then offered me 20 pounds to put in my freezer, I wouldn't find anything wrong with that. I still think that's basically reasonable, but I'm not looking forward to it.

I've been veg for about two and a half years, and I think it's about time I gave veganism a try. I never buy cow's milk or eggs for my own groceries, but I'm often OK with them if they get served to me or sometimes at restaurants, and I still buy butter and parmesan cheese. What would it take to change?
Eggs: no problem.
Milk: growing up without coffee I find it now makes me agitated and unable to concentrate, so fine, I can live without cream in my coffee, or coffee at all, or milk. Oh crap, milk chocolate. Suck!
Butter: bummer, this clearly tastes better than any substitute, but they make veg-oil spreads without any hydrogenated oils, so I'll have to try it. I'll miss it in baking, but I've seen shortening without hydrogenation, hopefully it works reasonably well.
Cheese: no problem.
Honey: buying honey probably increases demand for bees, which help other plants grow, so I'm still eating this.
Leather: After reading The World Without Us, I'm of the opinion that I don't like plastics and anything nuclear, because they essentially never go away. So I'm not convinced that a little animal use is worse than the polyester/petroleum alternative. I have no stats to back that up, but that's how I feel. Obviously, go with the plant-based alternative if one is available.
Down: See above.
Wool: See above. I wish cotton insulated when wet, but it doesn't. You can't win 'em all.(Any thoughts/tips?)

Two final minor things about the book. Foer discusses chicken and pig farming in detail (tiny cages, tons of shit, abuse, causing disease through overuse of antibiotics), but glosses over beef. He claims that the cattle industry is by far the least horrible type of factory meat farming, but he also couldn't get inside a slaughter house to witness anything for himself. His claim might very well be true, but if so, why is that the case? And it was still a little disappointing to read the less-detailed coverage.

I will end with a Foer's aside on fish, but first, aside-aside: Anyone read Paul Greenberg's Four Fish? It's on my list.

After describing how farmed fish are cruelly raised and how both farmed and wild fish are cruelly killed:
"Although one can reasonably expect that at least some percentage of cows and pigs are slaughtered with speed and care, no fish gets a good death. Not a single one. You never have to wonder if the fish on your plate had to suffer. It did.

Whether we're talking about fish species, pigs, or some other eaten animal, is such suffering the most important thing in the world? Obviously not. But that's not the question. Is it more important than sushi, bacon, or chicken nuggets? That's the question."

Toshiro Mifune makes for a badass samurai.

One of my favorite memories from college was watching Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven projected on our living room wall and remarking how similar Toshiro Mifune's samurai character was to my buddy Nielsen, just by the goofy look on his face and how he strutted around and was always scratching himself and laughing, but occasionally morphing into alpha male badass when necessary. Tonight and a week ago I watched Yojimbo and Sanjuro, which are absolutely brilliant. Mifune doesn't play the same character--less goofy, more grumpy, but still badass--but the resemblance is still there, and the movies are absolutely must-see.

In case you're wondering, I've seen 10.5 Kurosawa films this summer:
  • Rashomon--brilliant
  • Drunken Angel--slow but good
  • Throne of Blood--very good, and the final scene is fantastic, but I didn't quite like it as much as many people do
  • I Live in Fear--slow
  • The Lower Depths--unwatchable (and yet I watched it?) I'm sorry, but I require a plot.
  • Ikiru--brilliant. My favorite existential film since Bergman's Winter Light
  • The Hidden Fortress--So annoyingly not funny that Jar Jar Binks makes this look good.
  • Seven Samurai--Brilliant. I've been meaning for 7 years to make t-shirts with the flag on them.
  • Yojimbo--See above.
  • Sanjuro--Funnier than Yojimbo, just as amazing.
  • Scandal--Seemed like a morality tale that was all hyperbole and no nuance; I left halfway.