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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

No More Alcohol at Bay to Breakers in San Francisco

As of now the funnest footrace held every May in San Francisco is banning alcohol. People couldn't figure out how to have fun without making a shambles. As someone who quite often consumed large amounts of this substance during past races but still was able to refrain from littering, peeing on people's doorsteps, and generally being a nuisance (along with the rest of the people in my group) I'm sad, but I'm also sympathetic with the city. For those familiar with San Francisco's traditions, this has gradually turned into Halloween in the Castro.

Also worth noting: in Japan you can buy beer out of vending machines, and drink it legally while walking around in public. Why? Because people behave themselves, that's why.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Trail Adoption Programs in San Diego?

Riverside County now has an Adopt-a-Trail program; apparently works the same as the Adopt-a-Highway programs we're already familiar with.

This is awesome. One of the most frustrating things about trails in San Diego County, especially the canyons, is that a lot of people seem to disrespect them and litter a lot. I think we could use this program here. (Again, if there's some form of it in action, let me know so I can volunteer!) I volunteer in advance for Rose Canyon. Except I bet Debbie at Friends of Rose Canyon is in line in front of me. Plus, you don't want those hippie socialist jerks up in Northern California to be better than you at policing their parks? Cause guess what. Right now they are. Come on!

A Rose Canyon crossing. Image credit to Shirla P.

Friday, July 2, 2010

The City Tries Again to Build Another Bridge Across Rose Canyon

The city just tried to commission a several-million dollar environmental impact report for this project, which homeowners don't want. If that's not bad enough, the bridge would cost about $37,000,000. You can see the article here.

Currently the fund for the bridge has less than a tenth of that. So we (taxpayers) are paying millions of dollars for an impact report on a bridge that we don't want, and that they probably can't fund anyway. (Where are we, L.A.?) Plus, if we have that kind of money laying around, why isn't it going to schools and firefighting?

Thanks goodness for council member Sherri Lightner, whose district this falls in, as well as council members Todd Gloria and Anthony Young who voted against this impact report. Visit Friends of Rose Canyon to email them a big thank you for their votes - I already did.

I Have De-Throned Basquiat.

A neighbor recently moved away and offered me all her spray paint. As an emerging power in the art world I snapped up the supplies, knowing I could displace that fraud Basquiat as Official Awesomest Spray Paint Artist. The following is looking down from the top of the trail to Black's Beach. Obviously:

Though admittedly primitive in technique, it's fair to say there are glimmers of Rothko, or rather, a howler monkey on coke set loose in a hardware store. You can see the essence of Black's Beach and the cliff, right? Sure, if you're legally blind, have no taste and less talent, and are on acid. I'm not legally blind. But over half of the cans had no pressure left in them so I had only four colors to work with. As a great artist, I was up to the challenge.

In all seriousness I went into this expecting it to be a colossal failure, and in that I succeeded famously (with verve and panache no less.) But - it was an experiment, and it was fun!

Where Are the Tibetan Marathoners?

I ask because a flurry of papers in the last month or two has shown that they've racked up a bunch of oxygen-efficiency mutations, unsurprisingly. What's interesting is it shows that where humans live can have rapid evolutionary effects on us, even in just a few thousand years (Tibetan and Han Chinese populations split less than three millennia ago). Most interesting is that one of the mutations much more common in Tibetans was already associated with improved athletic performance. (Science paper wasn't up yet so here's an article from the lay press; here are two more.)

So why don't we see more of these guys and gals out on the course? My prediction is that before long we will, although I'm presuming (since I haven't read the paper either) that these are genes which improve aerobic metabolism rather than muscle mass and will therefore enhance performance in endurance sports.