Friday, October 13, 2017

Mountain Lions More Social Than Previously Thought

Among other observations: "Choosing individuals to share meals with was not random or reserved for family members. The pumas seemed to recall who shared food with them in the past—and were 7.7 times more likely to share with those individuals. This is usually only documented with social animals." What we all really want to know, ever since there was a photo taken of FIVE OF THEM EATING TOGETHER NEAR PALO ALTO: DO THEY HUNT TOGETHER? You can see more here, which has mountain lion pictures that remind you, they're actually kind of cute when they're not eating your face.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Land of Dead Trees: Why Won't California Protect Its Forests?

[I wrote this a week and a half before the Napa-Sonoma wildfires. That's not national forest, but I don't know why we think the same thing won't be happening to the rest of California's forests in the near future.]

The excellent and sad map below is from a great article about where the dead trees are in the Sierras, and the associated fire risk. Assuming that dead tree counting has been consistent for the past 4 years, this article also has data showing that the trees lasted the first 3-4 years of the drought, and all the winter of 2016-17 did was erode the soil around dead trees, and grow grass for fire fuel, and fuel fires it did. Pretty soon the southern Sierras will look like the Grapevine. Even for people who aren't outdoorsy, did you notice the air quality this summer? A lot of the country was affected by smoke from western fires. Much wetter New Zealand outright forbids fires in its national parks. What's wrong with us in California that we aren't serious about preserving our remaining forests?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

How to Ruin Your Time in the Mountains

I whined before about how outdoorsy types can turn being outdoorsy into a status game, but this is even worse:
"Right now, it has been exactly three years since my 2014 ascent of Mount Everest," she wrote. The status was accompanied by a photo of Wang half-squatting at the peak of the world's highest mountain, while two Sherpas help her unfurl the Chinese flag. In the background, the sun is setting behind the endless snowcapped summits of the Himalayas.

However, Wang's Everest ascent continues to stir up considerable controversy in mountaineering circles. The Sichuan-born entrepreneur didn't make the whole climb on foot; instead, she flew by helicopter from base camp, situated at 5,364 meters above sea level, to the second camp at 6,400 meters before actually beginning to climb.
I find myself feeling sorry for these people. More on how Chinese businesspeople are missing the point of mountaineering here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Predicting Steelers Games

(If you're a math-minded sports fan much of this may seem like a Neanderthal re-discovering fire - if so, please don't hesitate to comment and point me to resources or critique errors in my thinking.)

This isn't really a team sports blog but occasionally there's some fun with statistics - for example, showing how the BCS Bowl System seeds high-earning teams into its bowls through its bullsh*t preseason rankings, or seeing if there's bias in predicting March Madness games among fans vs. impartial predictors. Now I have a new and exciting project: betting with my mom on Pittsburgh Steelers games.

I don't know that much about football and I certainly don't have loyalty to any team, but I like the statistics of it. And I really like taking money and pride away from the wonderful woman who brought me into this world. But I also want to see how the spread we settle on for our bets, differs from the Vegas line, and whether it does so systematically. (The only way I can swindle her is if she doesn't have the same information I do, i.e. doesn't know the Vegas line. I got her a smartphone with my own money, and if she would use the damn thing she could look it up herself. So unless my take is more than the price of the smartphone I'm not a bad son.)

Statistically, the point spread is the handicap needed for a 50:50 outcome. I've always been interested in the effect of team loyalty on predictions - so in other words, does my mom's loyalty to the Steelers make her think they are more favored than they really are? And of course, in a zero sum game, you want the other person to be irrational in deciding where the 50:50 cut off is. So far, our spreads have been 1.3 points more in the Steelers' favor than Vegas, and I'm 2-1, and it's a dollar a game so she owes me 3.5 zloty. (I only accept Polish currency.)

What I'll be looking for as the season progresses:
  • Do the Vegas spreads converge on actual scores as the season progresses, i.e. as there's more information available about the teams? So far this season, they've been way off. Taking the spread and betting on the underdogs, this week you'd have made good money.
  • What is the relationship between Elo rating and spread? 538 says it's about one game point per 25 Elo points.
  • Finally, what's closer to the actual score, the Vegas line or the K10 bet - in terms of both average difference, and standard deviation? Most importantly, how were the bet outcomes for each spread?


When I looked up the score for the game (why sit there and watch the game when you can just get the score at the end! Waste of time!) I ended up reading about this week's opponent, the Cleveland Browns. It's easy to develop a morbid fascination with bad, bad teams. The Browns are certainly that, and the franchise has been drowning in toilet water for a decade. Cleveland almost became a 0-16 team last year. I really can't say more about how bad the Browns are, and how much any affiliation with them will cause you to suffer (much like a sports fan's version of the puzzle box from Hellraiser) than this Deadspin article. But my favorite part of their last season is as follows. Trying to salvage some humor from the Browns' suckitude and passive-aggressively punish them, their fans had gone so far as to start raising money for an oh-and-16 parade. And guess what? After fourteen long, stupid, torturous games, on Christmas Eve 2016 the Browns narrowly defeated the San Diego Chargers. THAT is when they finally decided to get their act together, when it would ruin their fans' plans, and after it could not possibly matter anymore in terms of the playoffs, and (my favorite part) against a team that technically would no longer exist after the end of the season (the Chargers moved to LA after that season.) So not only was the win completely pointless, it robbed the fans of their one moment of levity. It was worse than worthless. I really like that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Tahoe Rim Trail: Desolation Wilderness Part 1

Yesterday, in my quest to circumnavigate the lake on the Tahoe Rim Trail, I did a piece of it from Echo Lake, past Lake Aloha to not-quite-Gilmore, turning off and heading down to Glen Alpine and Fallen Leaf Lake. This piece of the TRT is also the PCT. To do the full piece as the TRT defines it (from Echo Lake to Barker Pass) requires quite a commitment of almost 33 miles which I didn't feel like making yesterday. (By the way, TRT website maps section is recently re-tooled - looks great guys.) I chose to do this one now because this segment is the coldest, if not the highest, and will be one of the first to be made inaccessible due to snow. I might get one or two more in before the snows come but I definitely won't finish the project in 2017. As usual, the best wife in the world made my A-to-B hike possible with her unparalleled shuttle service as well as supplying tacos and Mountain Dew.

While the trail surface is quite rugged and at times irritating, this is hands-down my favorite piece of the TRT so far. Lake Aloha is always breath-taking, and there's still some snow on the mountains and even on the trail, even in late August. Along with the austere post-glacial beauty of the upper parts of Desolation Wilderness, the waterfalls and the wildflowers, this one's a keeper. Plus, next time: Dick's Lake and Dick's Peak! Tee hee

Carl Eytel, German-American Artist, 1862-1925

If you've been to Palm Springs, then I probably don't have to tell you these were done around Palm Springs. I don't even like Palm Springs but he might have just converted me. Carl Eytel died in poverty, but he left us with some great representations that boiled Palm Springs down to the core. Thanks Carl!

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Longest Routes Ever Walked

Reader Ollie made an awesome graphic of the longest walks ever taken - around the world - and was kind enough to email me the link. These people proved that everywhere really is within walking distance if you have time. There are specific images for each journey but the overall one is below. Awesome Ollie, thanks!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

New Projects: 1) Circumnavigate the Tahoe Rim Trail 2) Climb Shastina

Last year I finished running across California. As part of~ that project, I completed the northern ~quarter of the Tahoe Rim Trail. Of course I can't just leave that alone. So yesterday I started the rest of it, just going from Tunnel Creek Cafe up to Rose Summit on this segment. I will definitely not finish it before the arrival of snow and baby

This run at altitude was part of my effort to get back into mountain climbing shape for my attempt on Shastina, the subsidiary cone of Shasta. At about 12,000', on its own it would be the third biggest Cascade, but it's mostly a walk-up, with optional glacier travel. Years ago I climbed the main summit and was always curious about Shastina and the lakes visible in the crater. I'm aiming for September, and at this time of year it's going to be a nasty scree slog. It looks like most people start at Bunny Flat, go up to Horse Camp, then turn leftish and head over the bottom end of Casaval Ridge, crossing through Hidden Valley and then heading up the saddle. I've read good things about Diller Canyon just in terms of scenery and I'm trying to find out from the few people online who seem to know it why that isn't a preferred route. Either way it'll be a nasty scree slog this late in the season.

San Diego County More Humid Over Time?

Back around 2009 a friend in San Diego told me that he thought he'd noticed it getting more humid in San Diego County since he moved there in the early 90s, and he attributed this to human activity; specifically, people using water for landscaping. I didn't necessarily buy this, partly because like me, he'd moved from back East, and humans acclimatize very quickly to the Mediterranean climate. You get more sensitive to any mild discomfort, and what previously seemed to the climate-beaten Northeasterner like paradise might soon become noticeable humidity.

Or, was he right?

I looked at the Weather Underground historical data for average humidity on August 1 (single day, only because there are no annual or monthly averages, and August 1 because it's warm and it's after June gloom is over so presumably more sensitive.)  First I looked at KSAN, the San Diego airport. For the period 1950 through 2016, there is no change in humidity. But there might not be - the ocean is going to control the climate. What about an inland suburb which experienced growth (and more lawns) in that period? So I looked at Poway. Humidity data is missing for the period 1969 through 1998 inclusive, which is a bit frustrating because if I want to put together a scatter plot showing the relationship to population, that's exactly the period when Poway was growing fastest (from about 7,000 to about 47,000.)

However, the periods 1950-1968 and 1999-2016 are still interesting to look at.

A quick t-test shows that it's a statistical difference, with averages of 51 and 68% humidity respectively. You might actually be able to tell the difference between those two. So is this because of people watering their lawns? Because of some other broader climate change? Or (my bet actually) because of different instrumentation when they started collecting humidity data again? The thing to do would be to look at another inland city that grew over this period (Vista? Escondido?) with complete data, and see if they show the same effect - and then at a town that started small and stayed small. Assuming that there's a 1:1 correlation between population and human-produced moisture in the air from lawns etc., then if you see a difference in trend between the two, OR if neither of them change, then it's not humans watering their lawns. If you do, it supports the argument.

I won't waste much more of your time because here's the data for nearby (also fast-growing) Santee from Weather Underground:

I mean come on. Lots of missing data, but more importantly, this pattern has "different or incorrectly used instrument" written all over it. And I think the people in Santee would have noticed if their humidity suddenly dropped dramatically, and then increased again. So until I can find a reliable source of historical humidity data, the answer won't be forthcoming. (As always, if you know of such a source, please comment.)

Running Cross Country; or Rather, Around Country

This fellow ran a lap around the entire country of Nauru, a tiny single-island country in the Pacific. The post is half travelog, half an account of his run, but I found it interesting. Travel in the developing world often sounds adventurous and horizon-expanding, but then you smack head-first into the reality of health risks and incompetent hospitality industry employees and you wonder why you're doing it. All captured here. I ran across a good chunk of Andorra years ago and it was much more pleasant than this!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Best Photos: Eastern Europe July 2017

Want the background on some of these?  You'll have to read the full post ozzweepay.