Friday, April 30, 2010

Oakland's Urban Paths

There's now a Facebook group for Oakland's Urban Paths. Berkeley has a great path system too. I lived there for a decade and by the time I left I was still discovering new ones; don't know whether that's neat or sad. (Hat tip Thurston, aka Gregor. No Thurston, you won't get that. Yet. Heh.)

A Little History About Rose Canyon

Named after settler, postmaster and entrepreneur Louis Rose. I'd heard of him before because there's a small monument to him on UCSD campus not far from the Sun God. More at Wikipedia here.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

UCSD Free Clinic Founder Recognized by Irvine Foundation and the State of California

This isn't exactly about outdoors stuff but it certainly is about San Diego.

Today Dr. Ellen Beck received a James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award and was recognized by the state legislature for her work with the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic. I'm currently taking the free clinic class and many of my colleagues (as well as Dr. Beck) are featured in the video. We're all very lucky to have people like Dr. Beck.

Dr. Ellen Beck, UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project, San Diego from The James Irvine Foundation on Vimeo.

Monday, April 26, 2010


I don't really follow pro sports, but since a) I like Vancouver and b) I like pissing off people from LA, I will do my best to remind people that the Canucks just knocked the Kings out of the playoffs. Let's have a pity party - 1, 2, 3, awwwww.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The 8km Stairclimb

....up Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) in Anhui Province, China. These pictures are straight out of a Sung landscape painting; seriously, click through on this couple's photos. On my already-long to-do list for the Middle Kingdom.

Heads-Up: There's a Creepy Guy in Balboa Park

He's flashing joggers. That in itself might seem funny but there are further safety considerations when someone is behaving like this.

Cleaning Up the Death Zone

People always seem surprised that people who die on Everest are left there. Look: at that altitude, it's all you can do to carry your own gear and put one foot in front of the other. Carrying 160 lbs. of literal dead weight through the Khumbu Icefall is not an option, and the county coroners won't go up there for you. That's not all that's up there. Never having been to the snow-line in the Himalayas, I have heard repeatedly that the upper elevations are a litter field of freeze-dried bodies, discarded oxygen bottles, and excrement. Apparently the Nepali government is bothered enough by it that they're sending Sherpas up for a clean-up. Yes, you want to keep the mountain as pristine as possible and it's a huge revenue source for the government (~$20,000 per summit pass. Per individual, not per group.) But the point of all this stewardship of the environment is the point of all behavior, which is to preserve life and quality of life. So do you really want to risk still-living people for a) no-longer-able-to-suffer people, and b) the esthetic sense of people climbing the mountain?

Join the Earthquake Sensor Network

(Cross-posting this from my more sciencey blog).

If your computer has an accelerometer, you can join the early warning network. With the ongoing seismic activity inland from San Diego recently I would hope folks in San Diego and Imperial Counties would be motivated. NPR has an article about it here. Among laptops, Lenovos and Apples both have accelerometers, maybe others too. Right now only 1,000 people around the world have this installed but the goal is to get at least 10,000 just in California. This is better than the post-quake "Did you feel it?" maps because it has the potential to give us a few extra seconds and save lives. Come on! It's more useful than SETI! Here's a link straight to the program itself.

Plus I bet it's way better than toads.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

So Now It's Frogs That Predict Earthquakes?

Given the recent SoCal earthquakes, this may be interesting: a researcher watching toads in Italy noticed that they left their breeding area, then 3 days later, an earthquake struck.

(Cue X-files music)

There are many, many stories of animals mysteriously sensing impending earthquakes. There was even a guy in San Francisco who said he kept track of the number of dog run-aways and a few years ago when he saw a spike, announced that the Big One was coming. Guess what? No Big One. I imagine that anomalous animal migrations happen all the time, and when they're near an earthquake, we humans with our confirmation bias notice. As much as it would be nice to believe we've found a reliable way to predict quakes, the jury is still out on this until someone figures out an experiment that can distinguish between actual causation, vs. fooling ourselves with wishful thinking.

Great Boston Marathon Moments

Warning: it's from The Onion.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Warm-Up Bleg

I just came back from a run in Rancho Penasquitos which was a perfect example of a problem I've been having for a year or so, which is that it takes me forever to warm up. Pardon the bitching, but if you run across this post I'd be glad to hear from you.

I haven't been able to find much online about my "syndrome". What happened tonight is typical: I start, I feel bad. I run a mile, I feel worse. I run two miles, I feel really bad; it's all I can do to keep from walking, even on the flat. I basically give up on having a decent run. After an hour and 7 or so miles of this I get back at the car, at which point I realize I'm effectively sprinting and feel great. So I've had an hour of miserable running only to open up to feeling like Superman for the last five minutes, at which point of course I'm done. I know from experience it's not in my head, i.e. that if I turn around and run for another hour, the Superman feeling stays. Unfortunately I usually don't have time to run for more than an hour, and if my one-hour runs continue to be this un-fun I don't know what I'll do. What's wrong? How can I fix this?

I have several theories, none of which are mutually exclusive, and none of which seem to explain the problem (or suggest a solution):

Over-adaptation to long distance. That is, have I after 20 years of distance running effectively converted all my muscle fiber into slow-twitch? This is probably the most flattering and least likely of the three alternatives.

Bad condition, worse workout schedule. I'm not putting in the mileage I could before med school. My workout schedule is awful and may actually cause more damage than good. Typically: 12-15 miles Saturday, 12-15 miles Sunday, both hilly if I can help it. After this I'm sore, cranky, unfocused and peeing orange for 48 hours (and needless to say not running). Maybe Tuesday or Wednesday I'll finally got around to doing 4, which will as mentioned above be awful. Maybe Friday I'll do 5 and push really hard to punish myself for being weak. And then another huge weekend, and I'm back to being worthless. But if it's just injury that's the problem, why is a 2 hour run better than a 1 hour run?

Old age. I'm no longer 25, which when I could get away with my self-flagellation workouts. If this is it, same paradox as above - why is the second hour better than the first?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cool Stuff Happening in Berks County

The Schuylkill River Heritage Area received funding to expand the trail and connect towns along the river. I'll be hitting this next time I'm home and I'm jealous that this wasn't there when I lived in Berks! Time for a Volksmarch (with beer at the end)? If you can't wait for a Volksmarch but want to drink beer outside with good folks, try the Reading Hash House Harriers.

Also volunteers are getting out and working on the trails in Berks. If you enjoy the outdoors you've probably benefited from the work of volunteers already and it feels great to give back.

Local Boy Makes Good

David Western, adjunct biology professor at UCSD and founder of the African Conservation Centre in Kenya, has won the 2010 World Ecology Award. Congratulations!

One Finch Flies, One Finch Disappears

The finches survived Monday night okay, although it gave all of us caring neighbors a start when I saw they weren't in the their artificial nest anymore - until I heard baby-cheeping and saw Ma and Pa finch hovering over the bush right next door, and sure enough, there they were. Because the cold rain was already starting, a neighbor and I were about to bring them inside for the night, so I caught them and put them in a big box first so their parents could see they were still present and alive. But before I knew what happened, the better-developed one flew right out of the box and landed in the tree across the street! Dad followed on his/her tail. The younger one stayed in the box.

Quite surprised, I changed my mind and left the younger one in the artificial nest for the evening. This morning he was gone again, and I haven't looked for him/her, but maybe s/he flew away too. Because I will likely have no proof of any outcome to this story, that's what I'll choose to believe.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rescuing Baby Finches

Finches are interesting buggers. Zebra finches in Australia have been studied because they have regional accents; yes, you really can tell which part of their range they're from by listening to the song. You can measure it. Turns out they listen to their dads and imitate his song, and because no copying process is perfect, geographic distance correlates with dissimilarity, exactly as it does with human language, or exactly as time correlates with genetic distance. What's really interesting is that if these birds have a mutation in a gene that is also important to humans for learning to speak grammatically (yes, really) they also have trouble producing a coherent song. They even have rules for "grammar" themselves - that is, song structure that are apparently biologically built-in a la Noam Chomsky and Derek Bickerton, which all zebra finches obey. House finches in North America (those little red-headed grey-bodied guys) follow similar rules. Consequently they've been studied as a non-human model of language acquisition.

What's far more important than all this is that the babies are SO DARN CUTE.

Here's one where the little sister didn't blink:

Last night these two little dummies jumped out of their nest right by my bedroom window - prematurely, apparently, because only the larger one could sustain flight for even a few seconds. Mom and dad were flying around like maniacs looking for them and after a few tense moments, they finally found the shrub where one had landed and where I placed the other one. After this picture was taken a kind and skilled neighbor (good combination) made a little nest for them with cotton and cloth and a foil cover, anticipating a cold night, and I put in some seeds for them. They were doing okay as of this morning but I haven't seen mom and dad go in there to feed them yet. I'll post updates on the progress of these guys.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Orange County's New Great Park; Plus Outdoors Education for Kids

1) Here's a new blog by folks hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this year with the intention of raising awareness for kids' outdoor education. It's not just your imagination: kids really do spend too much time inside watching TV and playing video games. Not only will they pay the price for it in terms of their health later in life, they lose interest in preserving the great outdoors when they grow up to vote. This is a great project and I'll definitely be following their blog. Have fun out there Melissa and Justin, and be safe!

2) And another PCT blog here. Good luck to you too Mark! Lucky bastards...

2) Also check out Volunteer San Diego, where you can search volunteer opportunities. Looking through the RSS feed for San Diego events this weekend I was thrilled how many clean-up and stewardship efforts were going on, and wish I didn't have an endocrinology exam tomorrow.

3) When I posted about the possibility of Miramar MCAS and Camp Pendleton becoming parks or preserves in the future, a reader was kind enough to comment based on her own experience. I just ran across an article about this open space, Orange County's in-development Great Park which is on the old El Toro base. Official website is here. New metropolitan parks in SoCal in 2010 aren't easy, but they're worth it. I can't wait for it to open.

Animated Map of the Iceland Ash Plume

This is cool.

I'm a geek so I also like watching animated satellite weather maps of the Eastern Pacific and looking up to see if approaching systems are visible on the horizon yet. But (fortunately!) they've never been as interesting as that.

And following up my earlier speculations about the variation in joules of global seismicity per year and triggered earthquakes - I wonder if volcanic output correlates as well?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

"Surfers Worried Trail Will Bring Non-Locals"

They're putting in a new trail up at Trestles, and regular surfers are unhappy about it.

You know those kids in school who got mad if you sat in "their" chair even though there were no assigned seats?

It's public land, guys. Anyone can use it. This reaction just reinforces many people's perception of serious surfers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seismic Activity in Joules, Watts and Standard Deviations

I used to think that all the interesting stuff was in Northern California, but I've been awakened twice by earthquakes in the last week (bringing the total to three in the 11 years I've lived in California). Until I wrote this post I didn't even remember that there was already unusual activity in Mexicali 3 months ago.

What I would like is some script that collected the little squares on the USGS maps over time so I could make an animation showing how they cluster and migrate and trend over a year or more (like a time lapse weather map), but to do that I'd have to know something about Java thingies. [Added later - turns out that USGS does have this; see it here.]Link to live USGS map here; below is a static screenshot of the CA-NV map as of 12 April 10. There's normally not even close to that much activity in extreme southern California.

I also wonder if over a period of a year's time, the total joules released by plate movements around the entire planet changes significantly. Living in the Western hemisphere (Haiti + Chile + Mexicali), it certainly seems like 2010 will be such a year. I bet these papers have been put together somewhere but what's the geology equivalent of I'd also be curious what the standard deviation is for global seismic wattage (total joules released by all earthquakes per year), and what time period you have to drop down to before the standard deviation increases to, say, 10% of the average. If you run across this post a know where this data is, please point me in the right direction!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Variable Climates

Here is my mother's balcony in Pennsylvania in summer and winter. See if you can guess which is which. Spot the difference!

Three Unlucky Hikers

Can you imagine going for a hike to see a waterfall, and getting arrested and imprisoned by a dictatorship? That's what happened to three Berkeley students hiking near the Iranian border when Iranian officials captured them - and they've been held for 250 days now. Visit for more information and to show solidarity.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Art Devany Redux

One of my favorite writers on human genetics, Razib Khan, runs across an Art Devany interview and gives his interesting two cents. In a nutshell, Devany considers endurance sports and running in particular to be a form of arch-villainy. More on Devany is here. Note that Khan makes the same point I did: let's see how it works within related individuals (Devany looks to be in good shape in those pictures. Did a lot of his relatives struggle with early-life obesity? I doubt it.)

Devany is an economics professor, which means he must know his statistics - so he should know that in statistics, you can't ask too many statistical questions with the same set of data. Why? Because if you ask enough times, eventually, there will be an equation that fits the scatterplot you're looking at, purely by accident. The converse applies as well. The further afield a theory is applied, the more likely it's not giving us real information, beyond the overconfidence of the theorist. The guy who created the Simpsons (Matt Groening) had a comic called Life In Hell, and I remember one of them was a list of types of college professors. One of them was called the One Theory Explains Everything Guy: "The nation that controls magnesium controls the world!"

On a podcast I heard from December 2009, paleo promoter Robb Wolf extended his claims for a paleo diet from weightlifting performance (I have no grounds on which to object) to "leaky gut" (a "syndrome" incoherent enough that it's not medically recognized) to claims that Huntingdon's disease (yes, really) could be treated by moving to a paleo diet. For the record: Huntingdon's is a well-understood genetic neurodegenerative disorder - you get it from your parents, not from grains.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bad News and Good News from CA Outdoors

Bad news: climber death was related to altitude sickness on Mt. Shasta. Most people think 14,000' is low for an actual death from altitude sickness but this is the second time I've heard of it. (Note: I haven't read the report, so there may be more to it than just AMS.)

Good news: despite the best efforts of jerks on the Central Coast, a condor egg hatched in the Pinnacles! Hooray!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

New Data Shows Open Space and Home Ownership Coexist

Story here. "Land preservation efforts in Silicon Valley and surrounding areas have had only a minor effect on housing construction, according to a new Stanford study that looks to end decades of squabbling between environmentalists and developers." If you read the blog periodically and I sound like a broken record, that means we agree! So help get the message out and prevent San Diego (or your own hometown) from turning into Los Angeles.

Friday, April 2, 2010

I Got Tom Stienstra's Back

For what it's worth, I love Tom Stienstra's columns, and he's been a great source of outdoors info as well as an outstanding advocate for hunters, fisherman, and hikers everywhere. He was recently arrested up in Northern California for growing marijuana. Clearly he's a productive member of the community, and he's far from the only person doing this in NorCal; the whole thing makes these laws seem even sillier. What a waste of law enforcement attention and taxpayer money.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Do Open Space Groups Have Plans for the Future of Miramar and Camp Pendleton?

One of the main tricks special interests have to keep the public from acting in their own interest is to polarize an issue on the political spectrum - for example, to convince conservatives that maintaining open space is a communist plot and threatens private property (when in fact open space enhances property values; see here and here). Another possible alliance that I hope will one day will occur in reality would be between the NRA and the Sierra Club ever got together on open space issues so forests and mountains and deserts were preserved for hunters and hikers and everyone in between, they would be unstoppable. There would be nowhere on the political spectrum for mineral extraction and agricultural lobbies to turn.

Open space groups and the U.S. military seem another unlikely alliance - but think about where the open space is in San Diego County. Yes, it is almost entirely off-limits - today. In a more peaceful world, these bases can be decommissioned (yes, this is possible!), and huge tracts of preserved land will suddenly be with our reach, and then we have a choice to make: do we become southern Los Angeles, or do we set aside at least some of it to defend the land and the cultural character of San Diego? Runners, just imagine the trail runs in the wide-open Pendleton Unit of Cleveland National Forest (the official map will be better):

Worth thinking about next time you're driving up I-5 to O.C.

I bring this up now because, optimistically, Camp Pendleton will close eventually (optimistically not out of disrespect to the military, but expecting that we'll all build a safer world). When it does I hope that there have been organizations (private, non-profit or otherwise) that have already been talking to the military and local governments and have preservation plans ready to go.