Monday, December 27, 2010

Sign Up for Friends of the Children's Pool Email

I was down by the beach in La Jolla a couple weekends ago and signed up for their mailing list, partly because I believe in what they're doing (keeping public property and open space accessible for everyone), partly in retaliation for the seal vigilante who was also standing there and gave me a pretty smug comment when I decided not to sign up on his list. (As it turns out, given the attitude they project, "seal vigilante" is to be a pretty apt description. I've been a Sierra Club member in the past but I don't support or even really understanding what the vigilantes are doing.)

Bottom line, harbor seals are not even close to endangered, they're not even truly native to San Diego and the Children's Pool was set aside specifically...for children! My cousin is a San Diego native and learned to swim there, and now he can't do the same for his own sons. To preserve it for families now and for future generations, visit Friends of the Childrens Pool and sign up for their email list.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

What Copperheads Look Like

They're purty, but they can't rattle to tell you they're there. This is a post for the PA folks, since we don't have them in California - this one is on the trail to Chickies Rock along the Susquehanna in Lancaster. There's supposedly a monster that lives around Chickies Rock (the Albatwitch) but copperheads are known to exist and are therefore more worth looking out for:

Clip from pahogger.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Carlsbad Cavern and Chaco Canyon

Notable events and destinations in order:

- I didn't stop in California or Arizona except for gas. If I have an excuse one day I'll stop and look at the Cochise monument.

- El Paso: this was my second time there and I remain underwhelmed. For a city its size I would expect more going on. Maybe they saw a Californian coming and hid all the cool stuff. In 2006 I went over to Juarez and didn't get killed and actually had fun listening to an Iron Maiden cover band but I wouldn't go over there now, even during the day.

- Hueco Ranch: There was what looked like a small village of tank-style houses at El Hueco Ranch Road east of El Paso. Looking it up online, it looks like there are cool petroglyphs around there, but honestly after about 1 day in the Southwest you get petroglyphed out. Hey Pennsylvania readers, don't judge now - you have some right there in the lower Susquehanna that nobody ever goes to see.

- Carlsbad Caverns: it's big. As in, miles' worth of cave hiking (actual hiking). You should go. Pictures don't do it justice and mine sucked but look at some anyway. The NPS missed an opportunity to make a funny in their website. Their URL formula:, where aa and bb are the first two letters of each of the first two words in the park name (hence, Lassen Volcanic is Therefore, Carlsbad Caverns should be but some prude changed it just to cave. Boo hiss!

[Added later: it turns out that this part of New Mexico, i.e. the southeast, is in the Southern accent dialect zone of North American English. If you're a linguistics nerd roadtrips on the East Coast are more interesting because you're guaranteed to get into a different dialect zone on one tank of gas. Took me a day and a half from San Diego. Don't believe me that some New Mexicans sound Southern? Check out the cops in this video, one of whom could be Kerry King's twin brother.]

- Guadalupe Mountains NP underwhelmed me. Glad it's preserved; nothing unique about it though, especially to someone who considers abundant chlorophyll a must for a good hike or run (hence my bitching about SoCal, although after the last year it seems to be turning into NorCal's climate. NICE.) Guadalupe contains the tallest peak in Texas. As is usual, the highest point of every Frontier Strip state is near the western border.

- Avoid Roswell. If you think it's a conspiracy, why do even the lampposts have alien eyes painted on them? And how does the CIA let the credit union have a UFO right in their logo? (More mocking of conspiracy theories here.) Do yourself a favor and skip this town unless you're stopping for steak and green chilies.

- Albuquerque: hadn't been here for years, since a friend who went to grad school there left (Icehouse, anyone? I had an experience there which proves it for the dive it is which if anyone with experience in Alb. wants I will gladly post publicly.) What I did do was eat at Frontier. Mm-mm! Nothing like eating burritos with green chilies and reading J.G. Ballard (TGP, it's the full short-story collection.) I decided not to go to any wineries.

- Bernalillo: right outside Alb. is where Coronado camped on his way to find the cities of gold, and where the Tiwa got sick of him and tricked him into leaving. The Rio Grande is right next to it, which as the pun holds, is in fact not so Grande, especially way up in the middle of NM.

- Chaco Canyon: been wanting to see it for years, finally got to, pics here; I'm fascinated with the masonry. The rain made it real fun to get to because the approach is on unpaved roads for 20-odd miles in all directions, and that Colorado Plateau clay just turns to crap when it's wet. I guessed at why they keep the roads unpaved and as expected, a ranger explained that this is partly intentional; it keeps the yahoos out, and they don't have to limit viewing to guided-tour-only as in Mesa Verde.

From Chaco Canyon

Chaco surprises, at least for me: the trade links from their later period. Later construction on Chetro Ketl showed Meso-America style colonnades in one case, unheard of on the Colorado Plateau. There were macaw skeletons found in Pueblo del Arroyo, which can only have been obtained via trade links with central Mexico or beyond. Oddest for me was the absence of ball courts, which you can find not too far away, throughout southern Arizona and at least as far north as Wupatki above Flagstaff (official site here.)

- Zuni Pueblo: easily the most unique rez "capital" I've been to. Lots of dense, turn-of-the-century to 1920s type stone construction rather than the prefab homes you get used to on other Southwest reservations. It almost reminded me of small towns in Pennsylvania. My interest in Zuni is linguistic (the language is an isolate relative to other Native American languages, like Basque in Europe) and their blood type is odd too - largely B, which has spawned all kinds of weird theories, for example that they're Japanese pilgrims who got blown off course. From there I decided to go back up to I-40 because it was dark anyway and the Very Large Array will just have to wait for another time.

- Avoid Flagstaff in inclement winter weather. Last night was literally the worst blizzard driving of my life, and it snuck up on me, transitioning from rain to snow in literally one mile. Fortunately I-17 gives back altitude fast as you head south and soon it was just rain again, although oddly there was lightning off and on all the way down to Phoenix.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Know what's better than trails? More trails.

The Appalachian Trail is being symbolically extended to Europe (whether it's meaningfully an extension of the AT is debatable, but it's definitely a real trail.) This is great. Thanks to the Europeans for doing it and I can't wait to see it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Help Save San Bruno Mountain

Bay Area types: San Bruno Mountain is that big mountain right south of the City, just west of 101. It's a state park, but of course in California that's unfortunately less than a guarantee for its future. If you want to not only preserve open space but some of the rare species that live there (like the Mission Blue butterfly) learn more here or here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Next Time You're Out On Trail

...thank the park officers and law enforcement personnel and volunteers that keep these places safe. A Utah State Park Ranger is in critical condition after having been shot near Moab, and they're now looking for the shooter. In fact, this event is newsworthy precisely because of the efforts of park rangers and law enforcement. In most of the world you can't go out into the woods or the wilds without taking your life in your hands.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sea-to-Sea Trail, Done Through Sycamore Canyon

Sycamore Canyon. Imagine credit San Diego County.

Recently I was thinking that I should put some actual, you know, running stuff on here sometimes, so it doesn't seem like some kind of a leftist hippie blog. So, just for you, today I went for a nice run in the nicer-than-I-expected Sycamore Canyon. I'm not exactly burning up the miles on this project but hey! I'm busy! So sue me!

Thanks to the Sea to Sea Trail people for their continued work to make the trail a reality. I haven't been 100% religious about sticking to the (as yet not-fully-finished) trail as indicated on the maps they've kindly put together, mostly because bush-whacking-running in the desert is a good way to get bitten by various members of genus Crotalus, a healthy but irritable 2.5' long member of which I met just a few hours ago, stretched out and sunning itself near the Sycamore Canyon Road trailhead. It wouldn't rattle at me but it hissed a lot. It was a southern Pacific, based on this photo (credit Gary Valle):

What's funny is I just did an image search for southern Pacific rattlesnake, and the best image on the first page was from Gary Valle's awesome blog, which I already have in the links at the right. See, those are high quality links I put over there. And who do I do it all for? You, that's who. Now you kids run along or I'll tell your father what you've been up to.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Noyo River Redwoods Will Be Cut Down April 1st

...unless you do something to help stop it. See what the Save the Redwoods League is doing at their website, and save places like this.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Come Down to the W on Saturday Night

This Saturday night the 13th, come down to the W - have a few drinks and support a good cause.

50% of the proceeds go to the Free Clinic that UCSD Med School runs, and the other 50% go to Pencils of Promise. Only *$10* online! Get your tickets here. Doors at 9.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Interested in Tutoring? Young Athletes Need You!

Any Body Can Youth Foundation takes at-risk kids from south San Diego and teaches them confidence and discipline through boxing. Recognize the name Archie Moore, the legendary boxer? He started this organization and his son is continuing it. They need tutors! They also need donations. If you can help with your time or dollars (no matter how modest) you would make a big difference.

Here's their website. Find on Facebook here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Grand Tetons Land Use Agreement

I have a soft spot for the Grand Tetons (as I'm sure many people do) so I'm glad that more land is being preserved.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Round-up: Runs and Votes

- There's a neat little back trail where you can drop down into Tecolote Canyon directly from USD. Many trail types probably already know this, but it took me over a year to figure it out. Started off a fun little run back up to UTC in the canyon there.

- My progress on the Pacific-to-Salton Sea trail has been stalled out. Hopefully I can knock two decent chunks off this weekend once we're out of this Santa Ana B.S.

- Prop 21 didn't pass - no support for state parks. Response from the parks and summary at Northern California Hiking Trails. Nature is a big reason people like living in California so it's disappointing that when there's an opportunity to protect that, people don't spring for it.

- SANDAG has recommended allocating real money, $2.6 billion, to improving bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Now the city governments have to agree. Call your mayors and representatives! More information (including their contact info) here.

- Dry winter more certain. By late summer some of the weather models were already predicting a La Niña pattern, meaning a dry winter, especially in the second half. Want to go see waterfalls? Do it by Christmas.

- Has anyone noticed that the local coyotes have been hanging out in Rose Canyon a lot more the past couple weeks?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Bleg for Locals: Is There ANY Way Up the East Side of Mt. Soledad?

View Larger Map

You see there? That little side road (Gilman Court) just barely west of I-5 that splits off just north of the Gilman/La Jolla Colony on-ramp? I just noticed it tonight on the satellite images on Google Maps so after I voted I ran over there and up onto the hill I went. I was happy to have found it because I thought it would give me the "Northwest Passage" from Rose Canyon up the east side of Soledad which I have long sought, with pluck and dash like explorers in days of yore. It's a nice little traily-trail to know about, but the La Jolla Northwest Passage it ain't.

So is there a way up that doesn't involve:

a) running across I-5 (non-starter), or

b) doing a 16 mile loop down to PB and back up to UCSD (fair enough if you have the time), or

c) running across La Jolla Parkway, if that's even possible (which is what stopped me tonight)

The reason I won't let this go is that people have told me there is a way. In particular the taciturn aboriginals of La Jolla have repeatedly hinted that there is indeed such a passage, but I have found only scant evidence - a glance over a campfire, pregnant with meaning; or, tantalizing clues on fragments of wizened pages from dark tomes filled with the incoherent scrawlings of madmen in languages long dead. Or the rantings of oracles, eyes wide and gripped with fevered dreams.

Why yes, I did vote for Prop 19. Why do you ask?

Sorry, I used to play Dungeons and Dragons. But I really do want to know if anyone knows a good way up the east side of Soledad from Rose Canyon. Thanks in advance. Now I have to go polish my +5 Sword of Reckoning.

One of the aforementioned wizened pages, putative translation "Yea, forthwith there be a Subway at La Jolla Shores and Torrey Pines, but find ye the true path to Soledad in the heart of oneness." Okay really it's Tocharian, an extinct Indo-European language of Western China. Image from Salon. Kind of funny how ancient languages always translate into archaic English. I guess that's how you know they're ancient. What's wrong with me that I'm putting this here.

Yes on Prop 21

So I'm a little late to the party on this one. I was studying the propositions and candidates prior to heading to the polls and ran across Prop 21. For $18 a year, you can support the state's constantly cash-strapped park system AND (most importantly) park for free! Got that? No more $10 for Torrey Pines beach! No more parking a mile from the trailhead and walking along a busy road because you don't want to pay! For most of the people who read outdoors blogs that's a no-brainer because it pays for itself in a single year.

For what it's worth, I'm a registered Republican, and this is the ONLY time on this ballot or in memory for that matter that I'm voting for a tax or fee increase.

YES on PROP 21

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Pony Express Has Been Run

Outside reports on Karl Meltzer's accomplishment. I and some other under-medicated individuals had done the last leg of the route, from Martinez to Oakland, twice a few years back. And Karl didn't do that part...what do you say Karl? Meet you at the train station in Martinez? :)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Did You Participate in the Great Shakeout?

I posted about it before, and then I completely forgot about it until today. It was last Thursday. Information here (about how it went, and more importantly earthquake safety.)

Sounds of the Intermontane West

I have some sound files from my roadtrip this summer I'm only now posting. These are from Glacier National Park in Montana, and one from Cedar Breaks in Utah. My iPhone can't capture video but recorded soundfiles of water and wind and footsteps. There's something that I actually like more about having sound and discrete stills; somehow it captures my memory of the experience more closely.

Meltwater Creeks in Glacier National Park, 1 of 2

Meltwater Creeks in Glacier National Park, 2 of 2

On Trail in Glacier National Park

Wind and Glaciers at the Top of the Trail, Glacier National Park

Wind Through Pines in Cedar Breaks, Utah

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Thanks for Blogs Like

Kudos to Thomas at for following up on an important story. Most of us outdoors bloggers are opinion jockeys bragging to the world about how awesome our runs or rides are, whereas Thomas is very actively pursuing a story of a cyclist who was struck and killed by a police car at the intersection of Governor and Genesee, a story which neither the SDPD nor the local press seem to find interesting enough to follow up. To do this takes time and cojones.

He and his blog are a real asset to the outdoors community in San Diego, and I just wanted to take a minute to publicly say "thanks".

Connecting Mission Bay With Northern San Diego With Trails and Canyons

This is great news. The San Diego County Bicycle Coalition got a grant from the California Coastal Conservancy to study a trail connection (see the possibilities here). This will further protect the canyons and open spaces. Full article here.

With the rain, it's fascinating to run along these creeks, full of crawdads and frequented by bobcats and coyotes (which I now know firsthand!) and think that just 3 miles south at the Grand Avenue bridge, you can watch stingrays searching the shallows for food underneath the careless webbed feet of ducks.

Get involved:

Rose Creek Watershed Alliance
Friends of Rose Canyon
Marian Bear Natural Park Recreation Council
San Diego County Bicycle Coalition

Snowy San Gorgonio

Pics of a wintry San Gorgonio can be found on the always-excellent Nobody Hikes in LA blog:

I was trying to figure out if they were taken recently, which means that San Gorgonio got snow already in October since I was up there. With this rain and beautiful cool weather, probably not surprising.

Felis Concolor Coveting His Neighbor's Food

We had lol cat, shocked cat and ceiling cat, and now we have...hungry glaring cat.

Forgive in advance my silly animal voice, which (you'll have to trust me on this) is much more entertaining in person than in print, but: I wonder what iss guy sinkin. He sinkin, "Hmmm. At elk taste good wiffout seasoning. At hunter guy might need some pepper. Aw."

Perhaps a better caption: "You gonna eat that? You gonna eat that? I'll eat that. And YOU." Get it? Because the mountain lion is going to eat the dude! Ha!

My humor is both subtle and nuanced.

More Evidence of Paleolithic Grain Consumption

In PNAS. The data is becoming abundant enough now that I'm going to stop posting it (I discussed this previously, here here and here).

Alcohol and Intelligence

If this is true then I am Einstein.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Are College Football Rankings Path-Dependent?

This is a question with a definite number-based answer, to be computed by someone with more time and who cares more about college football rankings. (As always if you run across this post and someone has already done this, let me know -

By this I mean: take team X and team Y. They start out ranked adjacent; they play a schedule of equal difficulty. Team X loses their first two games in a row and wins the rest. Team Y wins everything except loses the last two games. For both teams, they lose to teams of similar rankings; it's not like Team X gets upset by losers by Team Y loses to damn good teams. The only thing different about the two is when the losses happen.

I predict that Team Y will end up with a substantially higher ranking, even with all other variables equal, including their final record. The press and coaches will write off Team X after the first two losses, and even though they improve and fight their way through games for the rest of the year, they can't recover. Team Y has established their reputation and, since that's really what the coaches' and AP polls are about, they can coast for the last two games.

I don't have to convince too many people that the college football rankings system is stupid and dysfunctional, but this would be a nice quantitative proof of one aspect of that.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Trail Maintenance in Tecolote Canyon Nature Center, 10 October

More information here. Use the canyon a lot? Why not get out and exercise some different muscles, meet some people, and do San Diego some good?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

We're No Longer Hunter-Gatherers

Humans are strange things, or at least some of us are. Sitting in my office or these days at my desk studying, I've often thought that paradise would be cruising around North America, camping wherever the mood strikes me, seeing national parks and forests and swimming in rivers and running trails and climbing mountains. If I won the lottery, I used to think, I'd buy some property, put the rest away, and take off into the wilderness with no set return date, like some best-of-both-worlds modern synthesis of post-industrial man and hunter-gatherers. In fact I'm lucky, and I've had the chance to do exactly that, several times, often with absolutely no financial constraints. That last part isn't as true now that I'm in school as it used to be during my past life, between consulting gigs.

And you know what happened? Each and every time? I got bored. Within a week and a half. It happened again this summer, although by now I kind of expect it. Not that I started actively disliking the sweeping, soul-expanding spaces I was trying to memorize and ingest and inhale - but there's always something that just didn't sit right about the structurelessness of my time. A coworker told me that before she met her husband, he was a contract programmer, who would drive around to parks in the U.S. and Canada and only stay in motels or campgrounds that had WiFi, and he could work out of his tent. He did this for over a year. I would love to do that, or so I think as I sit at my desk while I'm supposed to be studying. On top of it, now that I'm old, some switch seems to have been tripped and I no longer get a kick out of beating myself up with pointless endurance exercises and generally making myself uncomfortable in nature. Yes, a lot of my time in nature as a younger man was to prove a point, and I realize this isn't universal. But just this weekend when I hiked up San Gorgonio, by the time I got back down, I was glad I was going back to civilization. And to think I once considered doing the Pacific Crest Trail. Are you kidding me?

While I'm reflecting in public, I should add that traveling in the developing world is no longer so thrilling for me either. The most practical consequence is that in most places, you won't have a smartphone that tells you where you are (or indeed locals who know directions more than five miles away); you might not even have roads, period. More importantly, it's often not safe. Here in North America, we take for granted that we can wander out into a canyon fifty miles from nowhere and not get robbed or kidnapped. Still not true in half the world. I was most acutely aware of this two years ago when I would have loved to go running on the volcanoes around San Salvador. But I generally like to keep my body habitus intact, so at the strong urging of locals, I didn't.

I used to feel guilty about not wanting "adventure" anymore, but in a way it's a relief. Ironically, now I can just head out to a park for a day and do what I feel like.

Diamox Doesn't Work?

" these fast ascent rates, there was no evidence of a protective effect of acetazolamide or a single rest day." That's from Jackson et al in High Altitude Medicine and Biology, studying climbers on Kili. I've only taken acetazolamide during a climb once (on Orizaba), and I got double-vision and the weird taste but also a headache. Then again I'd never been to that altitude before, or since.

Here's What a Rattlesnake Sounds Like

The Running Fat Guy posted a video of his "friend". This is valuable because there are plenty of people out there who haven't ever met such a friend and might not be sure what a rattlesnake sounds like, laying off to the side of the trail where you can't see what's making the noise. Now you know. (First rattle at 10 seconds.)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

San Gorgonio Done

I'd had this mountain on my to-do list for awhile and finally got to it today, via the Vivian Creek trailhead. My Peakware entry will be on this list of summit logs for Gorgonio (not approved at time of this blog posting). Advice:

1) Get your permit way ahead of time, and get them to send it to you so you have it in your hand. I tried all week to get hold of them and they were either closed or wouldn't answer their phones. I finally talked to someone and they told me to send in my application, which I did, only to find it still not available Sunday morning. Fortunately they had a late-arrival permit available.

2) There's a temporary re-route of the main trail, going up the wash for the first half mile or so. If you pass the ribbons, you've gone too far, even if you still see footprints in the sand (that's from people heading up to see the falls). Most importantly, as you're heading up the wash, it's a **left** turn to head up the side of the canyon, unlike what many online resources say.

3) it's colder at the top than you might think. I went up just wearing shorts and T-shirt (with fleece in my pack), laughing at the SoCal wussies coming down from the summit with hoods up and gloves and long pants. It took about five minutes at the summit before I had that fleece on.

All that said, pine trees! Lush grasses along the high creeks! Clouds and cool wind! That's what I went up there for. Apologies for the picture quality below (here's the whole album). From the summit you can see the Salton Sea. To the west there was smog and some clouds coming in. San Jacinto is right across due south and Big Bear Lake is quite clear to the northwest, and the wind turbines along I-10 north of Palm Springs are right below you. Of course none of these came out well on my dirty iPhone.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mountain Lion Confirmed in Indiana

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has confirmed a mountain lion, southwest of Bloomington. I'm not familiar with the area but the warning was issued for a region adjacent to Hoosier National Forest, which would make sense.

At this point the safe bet is that within the next ten years the whole East Coast should be considered mountain lion habitat again.

Why Do We Have Airshows in Populated Areas?

I'm going to say what everyone else around my neighborhood is saying. Why do we allow airshows in populated areas?

1) Main complaint - noise. Not everyone in northern San Diego wants to see or hear the airshow. Solution: have it out in unpopulated areas near the Salton Sea or El Centro. (Similar solution for other airshows at least in the American West.) Families that want to go can make a desert field trip of it. Parking is no problem.

2) Important but neglected complaint - safety. Is the government's PR effort really that much more important than the safety of individual Americans? Accidents do happen at airshows, and a plane crashed into a house less than 2 years ago, less than a mile from where I'm sitting - and they weren't even doing stunts at the time.

To make this point:

Shout Out to Tap Hunter

Just a quick shout-out to say I met Flash from Tap Hunter last night, and it was truly an honor. Of course I can't name the venue because it was very exclusive and the unwashed masses aren't allowed. Fortunately for me unwashed medical students are allowed.

Friday, October 1, 2010

More Paleolithic Carb Consumption

In New Guinea, 43,000 years ago. Summary by John Hawks here. No, it's not grain, like the sorghum tools found in East Africa 100,000 years ago, but it's still paleolithic carb usage. Whether we'll ever have a clear idea of whether this was typical of diets in these areas or for humans in general I don't know.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Be an Optimist: Use the Heat

The SoCal heat wave is almost over. I hate heat, and anything over 65 F qualifies as heat. In fact I spent most of last year fearing the return of the San Diego summer, and I have to admit I quite liked the nice mild summer that we ended up having. But I still really hated the last few days, and knew that my runs would be miserable no matter what I did or where I went. BUT I'm an optimist! So I did runs that would be miserable anyway - sprints! And it turns out my 400 meter times were exactly the same as what they are when the weather is more reasonable. Any other stories out there? (Not just training, but anything?)

Also, when I have a cold and can't taste anything, I eat all the vegetables I can't stand but are good for me.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Claimed Herbal Treatment for Poison Oak

In the article on mugwort: "Many hikers and outdoor enthusiasts claim that rubbing this plant on skin exposed to poison oak prevents or lessens an outbreak or reaction to the poison oak, but this does not seem to be founded on any published data." I volunteer to do a sample size N=1 study next time I get poison oak, which is never far off. To be honest, I don't have high hopes, but the best proof is the proof that a skeptic can't ignore.

Earthquake Drill Tomorrow 24 September

Run by SDSU - more information on Facebook. This is really an experiment in social media and emergency response.

Meanwhile, the California-state-wide earthquake drill is still on for 21 October. I used to be jealous that Japan could and did get its s**t together for valuable earthquake exercises like this, but we never could in the U.S. That's about to change.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Would You Eat GMO Fish?

Poll here. My vote: yes. Chances are you already eat GMO stuff every day.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Childhood Obesity Caused by a Virus?

It looks that way. Some obesity anyway (most people probably can't blame the extra pounds on mom's lack of cleanliness). Nonetheless, a really startling and important piece of the puzzle. Need I point out that this was UCSD School of Medicine research?

[Added later: the indefatigable ERV, a virologist, addresses the finding in her characteristic idiom: (Title: "We are exposed to more viruses as we age. In other words, A VIRUS IS MAKIN MAH BABBY FAT!" Funny title, serious scientific critique.)]

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hummingbirds Are Awesome

I may have said this before but it bears repeating.

If you're still not convinced that they're awesome:

1) Remember that (like all birds) these critters evolved from dinosaurs. Descendants of giant reptiles (whose niches are now filled by mammalian megafauna) have taken over some of the niches of insects. Absurd! Amazing! What a planet!

2) Owing to their outlandish metabolism, hummingbirds can starve in a few hours. Their metabolism and speed appears to be constrained from going to further extremes by the fundamental upper limit of kidney filtration. It's a wonder their glomeruli don't put out sparks.

3) In Black Diamond Regional Park in the Bay Area, I once saw a blooming eucalyptus in winter, in the middle of grassy hills, not unlike the one in the photo a few posts down. It must have been the only flowering plant for miles, because it was swarming with hummingbirds. The tree sounded like it was made of electricity.

4) Aztecs thought that hummingbirds and butterflies were the souls of warriors who had fallen on the battlefield; ancestors as Valkyries.

5) They got purty shiny feathers.

If you're still not convinced they're awesome then what's wrong with you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Afghan Olympic Sprinter Stands for Elections

If you watched the Olympics, you saw Robina Jalali coming in last, sprinting in a veil and track pants.

I should start a list of world political figures who are outdoors and running types. Here's another one: Prince Naruhito (next in line to the throne in Japan) is an avid hiker and mountaineer.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Aeorbic Fitness and IQ

Exercise is correlated with intelligence, according to several studies discussed in the NYT by Gretchen Reynolds.

This Shore Is Purty

Image credit

East County Stalkings of Women Joggers

Article here. Several cases, with a map, mostly near Steele Canyon, one near Lake Louise, involving men in a white van.

Friday, September 17, 2010

"Exercise Freaks Are Putting Stress on the Healthcare System"

Get this! Someone finally figured out why healthcare is expensive! And the answer is:


If you go to the gym a lot, or you put in a lot of mileage running or on your bike, if you do a lot of yoga or Crossfit or rock climbing - YOU are the reason the healthcare system is stressed. Not obesity causing diabetes and heart disease. Not smoking, not drinking too much. It's people who exercise. Problem solved!

It's funny that the guy who's making this claim is the eminently healthy, not at all overweight Rush Limbaugh. By "not at all overweight" I mean "a fatty-fatty-boombalatty with enough cholesterol in his left pinky to plug a feral swine's aorta, plus he's always getting caught with heavy-duty pain killers, and how many wives have you had by now?". As you can see in med school, students learn to be sensitive to the needs of overweight patients like the big fat disgusting about-to-collapse-under-his-own-gravity-into-a-black-hole-of-adipose-and-sweaty-yeasty-stomach-wrinkles Rush Limbaugh, that is, if he doesn't have a HUGE heart attack or die from diabetes first from being a big fat porker. Thus stressing the healthcare system.

[Added later: the brilliant advice continues. "Eat all the twinkies you want!" You'll "sweat it out"! (Note: zero medical evidence for "sweating things out"; note the rejection even of his personal physician's advice here.]

Below: Rush Limbaugh.

More Evidence That Glucosamine is B.S.

Long story short, a meta-analysis of 10 placebo-controlled studies of glucosamine and chondroitin (together or separate) showed no benefit in osteoarthritis. (H/T Neurologica Blog.) I posted about glucosamine before, based on earlier data consistent with this result.

Granted, "it doesn't help arthritis" isn't the same as saying "it doesn't help runners' sore and stiff joints."

But if you had to make a bet, and take this new information into account, which way would it sway you? And how confident are you that these two supplements can help you?

The kicker is, you are making a bet with your hard-earned money, every time you buy glucosamine or chondroitin. The supplement business is a huge, multi-billion dollar a year industry, and they're not interested in letting you know when their products have been shown to be snake oil. So remember this study, and save your money for better gear. Eventually there probably will be a study directly on either joint function or pain in otherwise healthy athletes. Want to make a bet on what it'll show?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Shocker! Med Students Experience Burn-out

That's the stunning conclusion of a Mayo Clinic study of several major medical schools, among them UCSD Med School. It was actually over half (definition of burn out? I don't know, go read it yourself, I'm too exhausted to read another paper.) So really this post is fishing for sympathy. ("Let's have a pity party, 1, 2, 3...(crickets)") But seriously, if you're an occasional reader and you get annoyed by my kvetching, that's my excuse. Have a heart m'kay? Cause you're my therapist.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Does Your Commute Stack Up Against Mine?

Put in your zip code, see where people are commuting out to, or where they're coming from. Interesting to know. I used to work in South San Francisco and commute from Berkeley and would've guessed there were a lot like me; if this data is accurate, I was less than 1 in 200.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stretching Bad!

...Or actually, just neutral, with respect to injury. Here's the USATF page linking to the study and here's the NYT article discussing the results.

I hate stretching and I'm very inflexible, so I like these kinds of results (which is why I gleefully posted similar findings before). But note a) the endpoint is injury, not performance: did the stretching runners go faster and/or longer? And b) If you're more flexible, do you perform better or get injured less? Which is what I think we care about; really stretching for a certain number of weeks is just a proxy endpoint assumed to correlate with flexibility.

I would like nothing better than for stretching and for that matter flexibility to have nothing to do with performance, but so far as I know these are still open questions. There may be studies that an exercise physiologist or related specialist could tell us. Hey, my Wyoming geography request got answered quick-like so why not ask about this too?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pacific Northwest and Canadian Rockies

Notes on my trip, with links to photos:

- The Central Cascades. Cascades are awesome, enough said. Thanks to Matt and Lauren for the lodging and green eggs and ham; next time I hope I can impose for longer. Next time I go through Portland I'll have to time it for when the B-K Double can fit me in to his busy social schedule.

- Kurt Cobain originally got depressed under this bridge. There were all kinds of attempts at cleverness in the inevitable grafitti underneath, and for once I actually wanted to add something: "Kurt had textbook depression and he would have been just as great and productive an artist if he'd gotten therapy and/or meds, plus he'd still be alive." Med school has (thankfully) succeeded in eroding what patience I had for romantics who insist that madness and art must coincide. The farthest away grafitti-signature I saw was from Belarus.

- Olympic Peninsula and National Park: beach, Hoh Rainforest (tee hee) and Sol Duc trail. Maybe the only place in the Lower 48 where beach camping doesn't keep you from getting harassed by bears.

Some observations on Olympic NP:

a) Much like 134 F doesn't really feel that much hotter than 114 F, and the flora isn't markedly different to an amateur naturalist, 143" of rain a year in the West-facing Olympics doesn't seem to produce a markedly different biota than 43" in Seattle. Green to be sure, but greener?

b) The potential for fourth-grade humor in placenames on this peninsula is unparalleled. As if the Hoh Rainforest weren't enough, there's Humptulips, Sequim (which has a major throughway called Kitchen-Dicks road), and the town of Sappho is only a few miles from Beaver. Really. Combine this with other nearby toponyms which seem to have resulted from a linguist's experiment in creating dirty-sounding nonsense words: Chuckanut, Nooksack, Skookumchuck, and Dosewallips. Come on now. (And this is from someone who took the GRE because I was thinking of going back to school for linguistics.)

c) The last day I was there all I wanted was some salmon. Not unreasonable in coastal Washington State I think! In Neah Bay on the Makah reservation, there was a cool inter-tribal canoe race going on, but their famous salmon place was closed. In fact EVERY salmon place was closed, until I got to Port Angeles. So I had regular packaged salmon.

- Vancouver, as always, was fun. Even if you have to stay with M'alice. You know, my nemesis. The Vancouver Hash is a great bunch and as always set a fun trail that ended on Rec Beach, the scars from which are only now healing. The only bump was the unexpected grilling I got by the Canadian border guard, who seemed to deliberately be imitating Christopher Walken. I also got to ride in Steve's restored early 60s jeep, which is only about half as old as its owner. ZING!

- It rained hard when I drove up to Jasper from Vancouver, which was fine. The rest of the time I was in the Pac NW the sky had been crystal blue and had it not rained at least once while I was up there I would've sued somebody. I drove through Kamloops on the way, a BC interior town that resembles the northern U.S. Great Basin in its aridity; i.e., not what I was in BC for. BC is known for its wine but that's more in Kelowna and Penticton - Kamloops is a working town. So when I asked for local wine in Kamloops, they looked at me like I was nuts (which I may well be but not for that reason.) I ended up with a Jackson Triggs shiraz, which has a rubber cork. It served, perhaps only because my campaign to destroy my taste in wine has succeeded (elaborated here).

- I liked Jasper National Park better than Banff, I think mainly because it's higher up and further north, so the trails are above tree-line more often. Consequently the glaciers and glacier-views are more extensive. Being above tree-line is also nice in grizzly country, because you can't sneak up on each other then. I was quite nervous about this actually; I don't use bear bells, but I do sing a lot on trail, especially where there's no sign of other hikers, and there IS sign of bear, i.e. scat and tracks, which I did see. Note the classic overthrust formations you see all over Jasper. I think these were the best pictures I took during the trip. But look at Jasper; how could they not be?

Please note that iPhone cameras have bad fisheye, so all this stuff in these landscape shots is actually much more looming and imposing than it seems, and also that digital cameras in general don't capture profound color quite as well, so the glacier-milk blue-green of the lakes and rivers was much more stunning than what you're seeing here. That might be my favorite color now.

I should add that my opinion of Banff National Park was not helped by the miserable Parks Canada employees I had the misfortune of meeting in a bar in Lake Louise Village. (Dear Parks Canada: you run a great park system up there, and I certainly don't expect your employees to always be "on", but I also don't expect them to, on their off hours, try to trick tourists into fights or make hiking/kayaking suggestions that may lead to injury or death. It wasn't just one person either, it was a whole bunch of tag-team passive-aggressive as**oles. Apparently two of them had just been fired that day; that's a start.) Fortunately I met an cool guy from Boulder (hi Chris) and had easily the most interesting conversation of the trip.

- I went to see the Burgess Shale but a) it's expensive ($55 Canadian) and an all-day affair, because it's protected and a guide is mandatory. This would've been nice to know when I was planning my itinerary, so I added it to the relevant Wikipedia and Wikitravel articles. So, I just went to the visitor center in Fields, which is a pretty town all in its own, about 30 minutes from Lake Louise.

One thing that's cool: when the Canucks were building the rail line over the Rockies between BC and Alberta, owing to the severity of the relief, they had to do some pretty interesting engineering. The Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, Pennsylvania is interesting, but the Spiral Tunnel just uphill from the Burgess Shale is a marvel.

- I have no pictures, but Calgary is a much cooler town that I expected it to be. The dining scene in particular is nice. Although a friend recently did me the favor of finally introducing me to North Park, I think Calgary might actually have San Diego beat in terms of a large but walkable dinner and entertainment district. A nice index of a dining scene is how many non-gimmicky fusion restaurants a place has per capita, in which category Calgary kicks ass (for dinner I had an excellent BBQ pork sandwich at a Thai sandwich and satay shop). It also has an excellent metal scene.

- Not all border crossings are open 24 hours, especially not from remote Alberta into remote Montana/Blackfoot Nation land. Chief Mountain (another classic overthrust) is in the background there:

- I can't believe I actually had to debate whether to go back to Glacier National Park. Whatever that trail is called that starts above Going to the Sun Road, it's every bit as surreal as you think it would be. If you haven't been to Glacier, go. If you don't want to go, that's okay. It just means you are a bad person. Oddly, at the summit overlooking the glacier there were dragonflies swarming. I've seen a similar effect with an apparent mass-migration of butterflies over the upper slopes of Mt. Lassen in the past, but not dragonflies.

- I took pictures of the landscape as I drove south on I-15 just to document the change in vegetation and land forms. The last pines I saw immediately on the side of 15 were just north of Butte.

- In Butte, Montana, the Berkeley Pit is adjacent to a still-operating pit, and the company that owns it tries to charge $2 to see it. If you're content with seeing just the size of it and don't want to see the water, you can climb up to the fence for free. (They've actually pushed dirt up around the edge so you can
only see the water if you pay. But if you climb up, you might find a dollar blowing around like I did and come out a buck richer. Net $3! Woo-hoo!)

- The Uintas are nice, and I was amazed at how many lakes are right near the crest in Wasatch National Forest. Easily the greenest place I've ever seen in Utah. I was probably happy because I'd just hit Arctic Circle right before and got me some fry sauce. It was also fun overhearing families on the lakes listening to the BYU or Wyoming games.

- When you're in South Utah, don't skip Cedar Breaks National Monument. It's north of Zion (you can actually see south into the top of the canyon). It's not quite Roadrunner country like Zion or Bryce or Capitol Reef, but it's nice and green and purty at the top (10,000'+) with some nice red outcrops dropping off to the south.

Although class has started again, I feel great! I was actually tired of traveling (the best attitude to have at the end of a trip); plus, time at altitude does a body good,as I could tell in my runs since I came home. Now that I'm back I don't mind running in Miriam Bear where there are no grizzlies.

What is This Thing in Wyoming


View Larger Map

It's east of Eden, Wyoming. It's about 20 miles north of I-80, in the Great Divide Basin, the area where the Rockies become two sets of rounded off hills between the Wind River Range to the north and the northern edge of the Southern Rockies to the south. Whoever tells me gets ONE MILLION DOLLARS.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

New Painting - Redwoods

Cross-posted at my social science blog.

This time I actually spent some time mixing paint to get the right hue for redwood. It's a complex color! The second picture of the pair is an attempt to emphasize the three dimensionality of the thick paint in the middle of the trees; I tried to recreate the actual texture of redwoods with my brushwork. This is also the first time I did pre-work of any kind (on my computer) to decide how I would what paint when, and to be sure that I could represent distance using tree size.

Award-Winning Ironic Sign

Near Rancho Penasquitos, the most un-self-aware ironic sign that ever was:

I wasn't aware Nature was so discriminating about who could live there.

And while I'm at it, I saw this at Geisel Library (UCSD). There were some quiet guys in that area, but I don't think any of them were quite up to the level suggested by the sign:

Flies and Newts in Point Reyes

In July I was up in San Francisco for a few weeks and only now am I getting around to posting a few photos. The stand-out memory was these flies. They weren't particularly pretty, but they were on a tree stump and they were all facing the same direction. I would estimate it was high 50s/low 60s, damp and foggy a few hundred feet higher on the hill, with a very slight breeze (~5-10 mph) coming from the direction the flies were facing). Are there any entomologists who can enlighten me about this behavior? It's quite striking, but I can't even speculate as to why they would do this.

Also check out these pictures of a very cooperative California newt. It was practically making love to the camera with its eyes.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hunting in Parks: Experiments in Land Use

Canada is establishing a new park in the Mealy Mountains in Labrador. The big deal is that they're allowing locals (mostly indigenous folks) to continue hunting on the land, as they have for millennia. Understandably, this proposal is not without controversy.

My take on this: it's actually not that radical of an experiment. In the U.S., we have national forests, which can be used not just for traditional park-type recreation but for hunting and lumber. Canada has parks, but no equivalent to national forests. (In fact I just had this conversation with a Parks Canada worker in Alberta last week.) So what Canada is really doing is replicating an experiment that has gone well in the U.S. The main reason people anywhere resist new parks' being established is that they're concerned that large tracts of land are being made unavailable for hunting or forestry. That's completely reasonable, especially if the people in question actually rely for nutrition on hunting and trapping. If managed, these activities can be made low-impact, and you can get the support of locals, which makes it much, much easier to preserve natural open space.

Even though we already have national forests, the interests that established them have since drifted apart. So think about this for a second: if the NRA and the Sierra Club lined up together to preserve the great outdoors, no one would stand a chance against them.

Mountain Lion Shot in Downtown Berkeley

In the Gourmet Ghetto no less. This is actually further from Tilden Park than I lived. The officers have wisely not ruled out that it could be an escaped pet, but a similar situation occurred in Palo Alto a few years ago when a young wild lion was found miles into "urban" Palo Alto, closer to the 101 than to the hills.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

If I Were a Pot Farmer

...I would be waiting until after the election to do any work. The market in California is extremely uncertain right now. Your investment's value might suddenly plummet if the black market turns white overnight. That apparently hadn't occurred to whoever had planted on the Santa Ysabel Reservation. $100,000,000 worth. Really. At what point can pot be considered an invasive? That might be the best thing if Prop 19 passes! (Actually, best will be decreased illicit traffic on backcountry trails near the border.)

Now if I were a pot farmer in northern California, I would be preparing to establish a formal appellation - you know, like Napa or Sonoma. If you bottle wine and call it a Napa wine when it's really not, they can sue you. Similarly, Humboldt and Mendocino have to think about protecting their brand. That's one way that they're already anticipating the economic shock.

I'm curious as to whether people will still experience paranoia from marijuana use once it's legal. Because so what if everyone knows you're high?

Monday, August 23, 2010

Mountain Lion Tracking Maps

You might wonder how an animal the size of a mountain lion can sustain itself in the "wild" these days with the degree of development in California's coastal counties. The answer I used to think was true is that there are a lot of rabbits out there, but I never really believed that myself. The real answer is: mountain lions move. A lot.

In radio tagging studies you can see the incredible amounts of territory they
cover, stopping occasionally in clusters (presumably to eat a big kill). This one in particular came down from almost Mission Viejo to East County near the border. The amazing thing is the amount of mileage the lion covered during 9 days, from April 19th to 28th.

If you click on it you'll see a much bigger version that you can read better, but here you can still see the little tyke in the lower left, still with his kitten-spots. I'm shamelessly fascinated by camera traps and tracking studies like this, for any large animal. Same for sharks and sea turtles and anything else you can put a tag on. There's something almost wizard-like about knowing the secret lives of animals this way but at the same time it's amazing how little we still know.

You can read more about these cases here, here and here. Unfortunately the "tragic" lion that the stories focus on had killed multiple domestic animals (sheep). Ranchers have to make a living and people have to be safe, and lions can legally be killed when they become a nuisance to life and property.

It's still a damn shame that co-existence has become so difficult. Part of our heritage as Americans is the self-reliance and independence that comes from spending time out in the back country where these kinds of critters thrive, even if it's for just an afternoon - in a place where your own life and health and enjoyment are for the moment solely your concern and responsibility. I think we lose a lot of we don't preserve that for ourselves and our kids.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What You Have in Common with Amazonian Indians

Americans have been led into this narrative that goes like this: setting aside land for parks and preserves and open space in general is bad, because it gives the government power and runs counter to the principle of private property. The problem is that property values adjacent to open-space set-asides go up. (Do you own land near one of San Diego's canyons? What do you think would happen to your property values if suddenly that canyon were filled with apartments?) So the question is, who's pushing this narrative? If open space benefits property owners, and the general public, and wildlife, who does it hurt? Developers, who want to make an extra dollar, that's who. So where might this narrative be coming from, we might ask?

Having said that - the following article about the last surviving (and very isolated) un-contacted Indian in part of the Amazon rainforest may not seem directly relevant but it's way interesting, and this sentence jumps out:

The question of who'd benefit from clearing the land versus preserving it boils down to two people: the individual developer and the lone Indian.

Do you own property near open hills or canyons? Or do you enjoy parks and canyons and open space? Then you're the Indian.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I am an Alpha-Actinin 3 Knock-Out Homozygote

I just found this out today when I reviewed my DNA test results. To learn why that's significant for distance runners, go here.

Toasty in Eurasia

Boy am I glad I'm going to Africa instead of Central Asia. And the California coast was even cooler than usual, which is a phenomenon known in meteorology awesome.

Original file here; from 2010 summer heat wave article on Wikipedia.

Remember all those guys who were running around last winter proclaiming "We're having a cold winter in one part of the world, i.e. the U.S. East Coast! Sample size one! That means global warming is a crock!" Well you would expect all those same guys, now that we're having a hot summer, to be running around proclaiming (sample size one!) that global warming is proven. So where is everybody now? Almost as if...

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Pennsylvania Anthem

You know how your mom sends you all those emails with THIS IS SO CUTE1!1!!!! blinking in 40-point purple font, and it's either something you've seen a dozen times since it first circulated in 1997, or it's a baby with sunglasses or something? But every now and then, one of them is good for a laugh and it's actually worth opening. Well this isn't one of those but watch it anyway.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

What the Farallons Look Like Up Close

Didn't see any sharks though. The red triangle disappointed me!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Cascade Rock Samples

From left: Sutter Buttes, Lassen, Shasta, Hood, Thielsen.

As I mentioned before, I went through a phase where I wanted to convince people that the Sutter Buttes were actually the southernmost Cascade. I even went so far as to talk to a geologist about it (who didn't share my conclusion) but the USGS now does; go figure. Anyway, I got into climbing the things to take samples of the lava at or near the summit where they were exposed of the snow (on the snowy or glaciated ones), naively thinking that volcanoes work like those diagrams you see in middle school where there is a big lava reservoir underneath feeding multiple volcanoes. The aforementioned geologist told me that the basalt composition will reflect the overlying crust; you can't necessarily tell it's from volcanic range XYZ because of the composition.

But I got some cool-looking rocks out of the deal.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Driving Through a Wildfire

If you haven't seen images of the Russian forest fires, go here. If you have and you want to see first-person video of someone almost getting caught, go here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

National Public Lands Day - 25 September

Have you found a place to volunteer yet? Have a park or forest you like and want to help keep it in good shape for the community and the next generation? Sign up at the National Public Lands Day website. I haven't decided yet where I'm volunteering, but there are 12 within 100 miles of San Diego.

San Diego County Watershed Wiki

I just ran across this website and wanted to plug it. A lot of these watersheds are also open space and recreation areas, like Rancho Penasquitos - check out the article for that one specifically. There are multimedia links (including a great documentary by Jim Karnik) and links to other resources.

Image of Rancho Penasquitos Creek from

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great Narrative For Western States

Read Mike Palmer's account here.

City Government Stifles Dissent to Develop Land

A Bay Area city government (San Ramon) is disallowing rebuttals on their ballot measure and moving their council meetings around to avoid having to face up to property owners. Read more here.

Of course we can't vote on the ballot measure in November, but the general lesson is still very relevant to us down here in San Diego. There's this myth that protecting open space somehow threatens existing property owners. Nothing is further from the truth. Protecting open space is good for property owners, because it increases the value of their property. The people who stand to benefit from opening more land to development (and who are happy to spread the myth) are usually the city governments - because more homes = more tax base = more $ for them, and of course for their friends the developers.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

There Is an Army of Searchers: A Small, Very Well-Trained Army.

As with many things in life, more does not equal better. I had been wondering about whether us distance runners could put our proclivities to productive uses by offering ourselves as a standing army of searchers when there's a missing person case. The person I just spoke to at the Sheriff's office explained that while it's nice that the public wants to get involved (as in the Chelsea King and Amber Dubois searches), just having a lot of untrained people stamping around a potential emergency or crime scene isn't beneficial.

That means it's not a question of just signing up for an email alert and being part of "real" search operations. But, if you do want that training and you're willing to put in the time, you can certainly join the real SAR team. The Sheriff's Department does have training programs (call (619) 956-4990 to get the application) but you have to show serious commitment: starting in January, they have a boot camp requiring 200 hours of training, on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings. There's another group, San Diego Mountain Rescue, that (apparently) has a less intensive training schedule and that's having their annual recruitment meeting on 8 September, 7-9pm at the Mission Trails visitor center.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Search Organizations

Motivated by the missing person case that's going on right now (see article before this one), I called up the SD County Sheriff's office, and yes there is already a program for people who want to volunteer with their Search and Rescue group at various levels (varying from administrative to rescuer to almost-deputized.)

They certainly seem to have an outstanding record to be proud of, but there is still the slight problem that whoever wrote the text on their main page doesn't seem to understand separation of church and state (at the bottom of this page). Kind of a bummer to think they would want to exclude non-religious San Diegans from helping their neighbors.

Missing Person Right Now, and No "Searcher Army"

This situation is ready-made for the army of runners pre-trained in organized search methods that I mentioned just a couple days ago. A mentally disabled woman has been missing in unincorporated El Cajon since last night.

SANDAG Trolley Route Will Not Go Through Rose Canyon

Great news. You'll be able to take the trolley from Old Town to UCSD, AND we get to keep Rose Canyon. Win-win.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Glucosamine Is Mostly B.S.

Glucosamine. Image credit Hopkins Arthritis Foundation.

Here's the study (here's the original journal article). Bottom line, there was a double-blind placebo-controlled study done of glucosamine in lower back pain in osteoarthritis. Glucosamine didn't do any better than placebo. That is, it was the same as not taking anything.

I was eager to post this because so many runners swear by glucosamine and related supplements - often uncritically. (For instance, are you taking it to alleviate pain, or to make your joints stronger? Never made that distinction before, huh? Most people don't.) And of course you can't generalize a single study to all effects of glucosamine in all settings. So maybe (for example) glucosamine might be better for knees than backs, maybe it's better in healthy athletes than in osteoarthritis patients. The way to find this out is from studies; that's how you cut through marketing hype and our own biases.

Before we get to the evidence, there's an important point there - it's often hard to filter out real evidence from promotion. Always remember that there is a lot of money in supplements, with lots of vested interest in not asking tough research questions. It's a multi-multi-billion dollar a year industry. And since these aren't legally defined as drugs, the standard of evidence for these companies' claims is basically nonexistent. This is why you should be very cautious of any statistics reported in running magazines or especially "alternative" or herbal pharmacies!

As a side note: it's very frustrating to hear people talk about evil pharmaceutical companies, when those companies provide evidence, and then these same people will slap fifty bucks down at a fancy pharmacy for evidence-free grass clippings in a bottle because they're "herbal". The supplement manufacturers are happy to let you keep believing, and they're also happy to sue anybody who they perceive as threatening their business with pesky evidence and studies. I would love to get publicity from them trying that after this blog post but I doubt this will come to their attention. I'm all for people making profits, but when someone else's profit motive interferes with my own desire to make health decisions based on evidence - well, guess which one wins.

So (drum roll) what does the no-nonsense, peer-reviewed, publicly accountable, non-conflict-of-interest evidence say? When you gather together the studies so far, there isn't much reason to believe that they do anything to help fix cartilage. On the other hand, several other reviews say there is maybe some spotty effect on pain (again, these are studies in osteoarthritis patients). If all it's doing is helping with pain relief, then I'll stick with my well-studied, cheap ibuprofen.

You might be reading this and thinking "Well, I take glucosamine and I know it works for me." And some of the people in the placebo group of that back pain study certainly improved on their own, and were dutifully convinced that they were in the group getting glucosamine. "But I'm really sure." So were they. This is why you do placebo-controlled studies. In my previous career as a clinical research professional, I worked on multiple double-blind studies where even the doctor didn't know what s/he was dispensing, and after the study the doctors always wanted to know which patients got what. And usually, even the doctors guessed worse than random chance.

So if you want to keep taking it, what's the harm? Besides to your pocketbook, none. Glucosamine and related supplements seem to have no side effects, although most of the glucosamine you take goes into your blood as sugar, not as glucosamine. So if you're on a low carb diet, think hard about that the next time you're taking your dose.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Standing Army of Lost-Person Searchers?

It seems that once or twice a year, there's someone lost or missing in a park or wilderness or canyon, and there's a general call for people to help with the search.

It seems that the runners and riders of the world could really help out here, and many have already. The issue is that a) there is no central place for such announcements to be made, i.e. there's no Bat Signal for long-distance search teams; and b) search-and-rescue does require specific knowledge and training.

If it doesn't already exist in the area (I'm relatively new to San Diego) it seems that there's an opportunity here for us to make our fitness and love of the outdoors more useful. Imagine if many or most of the runners and riders in the area had already volunteered for a few hours of basic search-and-rescue training on some Saturday in the past. The next time the Bat Signal goes up (text messages, RSS feeds, cascaded on Meetups and at athletic stores) then bang, the search authority has a few hundred new pairs of hands (and legs) that actually know what they're doing. Granted, emergencies don't always happen on the weekend and not everyone can drop what they're doing at 2pm on a Tuesday when there's a lost hiker or missing person - but some could, and that's better than nothing.

Does this already exist and I'm re-inventing the wheel? (If so, how do I get the training?) Or if not, does this sound like a useful idea?

Rides to Trailheads for One-Way Runs/Hikes/Rides

Oftentimes I'll find myself thinking "I'd really like to do a one-way run on Trail XYZ, but I can't find anyone to drop me off and wait for a few hours to pick me up." Then I'll see someone on trail and wonder if they were doing it the other direction or the same direction. All that kept our respective one-way runs or hikes from happening was that we didn't know each other. I assume this happens a lot to people that do trails on their own.

But that's why we have Intarweb! There are various carshares and rideboards online along the spectrum of commercialness and formality. Why not for this? (Or does it already exist? If so, enlighten me.) I'm a web idiot and I'm in medical school, so if anyone does set this up, it won't be me. But it would be WAY cool because it would solve this problem and you'd meet people, and here's what it might look like:

1) Prescreening of participants. You want to have some accountability so it's not just hitchhiking and the only difference between the creepy guy picking you up on I-5 and the creepy guy picking you up at the trailhead is that the latter was able to sign up for an anonymous email. Maybe make it reference-based at the beginning like Gmail. Maybe use a phone call-back feature like some web services do. Large group meetings in advance work well but they also take time that people don't have.

2) Track features offered by ridesharers. Imagine a checklist on the sign-up. Some people will want a child seat in the car, or a bike rack, or a driver who doesn't mind dogs. For safety, some people might like to have someone else with them while they do the trail.

3) Enforce karma.
For those people with cars, it won't do to have one core of nice people constantly offering rides, and other folks never returning the favor. The system could track who gives and who receives. Another possibility is that people could trade on their own - "Sure, I'll do it for $10." "Sure, I'll do it for five power bars. "Since I'm a landscaper, I'll trim your rosebushes for three rides."

Just a thought. It would also be great for people traveling, who could learn about the cool trails before they even show up.

Outdoor Health Emergencies - Be Part of the Solution

Do you know what to do in case of heat exhaustion or heat stroke? Do you know how to tell the difference, and which is worse? Yesterday I was out for a run when I ran across a couple laying on the trail, and the male of the pair looked bad - eyes half-open, stuporous, pale but with flushed cheeks. They had fluids but he'd been like that for half an hour. Since there was someone healthy there, they had fluids, and they were in the shade (but he was unable to walk), I went straight back to the ranger station to report it, and they sent people out to help.

There are two points to this story. The first is that you can't assume certain emergencies will only happen in certain places. I'm in Northern California right now and people still get heat exhaustion/stroke up here. Second, if you spend a lot of time outside, chances are sooner rather than later you'll be hurt yourself, or you'll have a chance to help someone else who is. Know what to do.

Here's information about heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Are you CPR certified? Here are San Diego area classes.

Also, snake bite

Also, broken bones/sprains.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Awww, LeBron James is Leaving Cleveland, Boo Frickin Hoo

I shall establish my sports journalism credibility thus: the sum total I know about LeBron James is as follows.

1) He is a professional basketball player.
2) Until recently he played for Cleveland.
3) He just announced that he's going to Miami, which is apparently newsworthy.
4) As a result people in Cleveland are saying things like this:

"This is the worst day of my life," said John Horn of Amherst, who watched in frozen horror with hundreds of others at a Lakewood bar when LeBron James announced live on ESPN that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Above: John Horn of Amherst.

Sir, may I offer you and your compatriots the following piece of helpful advice: you are a dipshit. LeBron James is a professional athlete. Do you know what that word means? "Professional" means people pay him to do what he does. Since we're talking about a national franchise, in this case "professional" also means he is an employee who works through an office in your city, like McDonalds or Holiday Inn. The Holiday Inn franchise in Cleveland might be called "Holiday Inn #985", and the local NBA franchise is called "The Cavaliers". LeBron James just got a transfer and a pay raise. He's a smart guy with a good agent.

In the following paragraph I will assume I'm talking to a fellow male American. Let's say you (or maybe it's your son) work at the local office of a national franchise. Let's also say you talk to the manager of another office in this franchise in a neighboring city. They have an opening and it matches your skillset. If you get the job, it'll be a big salary increase for you. You (or your son) would do it! Would you be a "traitor"? Would you be "turning your back" on the town you'd previously worked in? Maybe that's how you feel, and maybe you won't pursue the transfer and promotion on these grounds. In which case your wife should and would be sorry she married such a commie, hippie, I'm-a-milquetoast-pushover-who-can't-stand-confrontation-so-I-use-the-excuse-of-putting-the-good-of-the-community-ahead-of-my-family-and-myself loser. That's what you're expecting LeBron James to do, you socialist community-activist sonofabitch.

Now, you might reasonably ask why, if I don't care about professional sports, I can't control the unchecked vitriol I spew into cyberspace about people's child-like loyalty to their athletic demigods. Yes, I do have a pet peeve, which is that I just can't frickin' take it when people have such brain-damaging tribal loyalty to the local office of a national franchise. Hey, you can't transfer out of that Taco Bell! You can't close that Taco Bell! That's our Taco Bell! You owe it to us! You owe it to the community! Guess what? There's no difference. The two situations are EXACTLY THE SAME. Why people insist on flushing their brains down the toilet when pro sports come into the picture is an absolute mystery. As long as professional sports are professional, stuff like this will keep happening, constantly, and you can cry your little eyes out until the stars burn out and LeBron James and the other real capitalists of the world won't care. Got it?

Who's the highest-profile crybaby in all this? Dan Gilbert. But Dan Gilbert I actually get; he has a real reason to try to convince other people that they somehow have a right to determine the future of LeBron's career, because Gilbert will actually lose money. "But it's not all about money!" you say. Yes, it is. It really is. Remember the word "professional" up above? Go back and re-read, or learn more here. Or, I guess you might legitimately believe "it's not all about money" because you're some kind of a socialist hippie anti-corporate leftist. I guess that's the other possibility.

"But his fans were loyal! He's from Cleveland! That should count for something!" you might also say. Yes. In the magical fantasy rainbow world of elves and unicorns prancing on lollipop mountain, yes, it counts for something. In this world, where you and I and LeBron James deposit our paychecks and take out mortgages, it doesn't count for shit. But hey. If you don't understand, I'm sure your boss will be quite happy to keep you working for less than you're worth because to take that promotion would be to turn your back on your coworkers in this city. And I'm sure Dan Gilbert has some James stuff to sell you. And while I'm thinking about it, I have a bridge for sale too.

To simultaneously gloat and be angry at infants crying to mommy for milk go here.