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 Berkeleyside.com.

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.