Saturday, March 31, 2012

Chocolate Associated with Lower BMI

This is not one of my usual "ha ha, I'm in medical school and have a crappy diet and generally abuse myself" posts. This is a link to a real paper that just came out in the Archives of Internal Medicine: Association Between More Frequent Chocolate Consumption and Lower Body Mass Index, by Beatrice Golomb et al.

Above: Stay away. Toxic sludge.

To be clear, the above is a serious, peer-reviewed paper, Dr. Golomb is a real professor and these are real results. The following is not, but it's very funny: Goading crocodiles every day 'makes you thinner'. Says one crocodile-goader: "'Either I'd had a bad day at work or had been dumped by some bastard and my immediate response would be to put on my PJs, grab a stick and poke a crocodile in the face.'"

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Claremont Canyon, Strawberry Canyon Fire Trail

It seemed today that the North Pacific wanted me not to run. Which of course meant that I went two miles further. At the top of the ridge the rain actually hurt; maybe it was hailing up there in the wind and the fog and the mud, who knows. Despite nature's best attempts, I felt great! Read the paper tomorrow for my obituary (cause of death, pneumonia).

And now a word from Sam Eagle.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Mud-Skiing in Briones; and, a Revelation

San Diego friends, savor this post. Because I'm going to put it in print:

I miss San Diego.

After two years of whining down there, suddenly I realize the Bay Area is not the answer to all life's problems. And the clouds, and the crap coming out of them up here, have been looking amazingly Seattle-like - even when there are breaks in the clouds, the thin bands of blue sky between them look somehow at once pale and deep blue and far away and cold. And it has been cold. And I've been sick. Yesterday I went to Briones, which is a great park that yesterday featured many coyotes and an owl and young brazen calves, but on most of those fantastic green hills running was just absolutely out of the question. I was feeling so irritated that when I spotted one coyote watching me un-shyly from just off the trail, I decided to take the opportunity to stop and pee at it. For his or her part, the coyote seemed unfazed by my display of bellicose micturition. (And yes, I did feel better after that, thank you very much.)

The Marin Hash Saturday, set by one Dr. K. up at College of Marin, was not as stupid-muddy because it was in forest instead of open scrub oak country. But it was cold and raining. Still no fun when you're sick.

Where's the sun? Where's the dry sage and cactus and 70 degrees! San Diego, take me back!

Of course I'll deny all this later, or just start pining away for the other side of the pasture once I'm down there, so you'll have to get to it through the wayback machine and remind me.

Pic from Okay, Briones is damn pretty, but that still didn't stop it from sucking really bad yesterday.

Is Silence Going Extinct?

Via The Browser: a documentarian went "to a remote region of Denali national park in Alaska and recorded the sounds. The result? In five years of continuous recording, there were only 36 days free from the sound of an internal combustion engine."

I used to ask non-runner/hiker/traily types what the furthest they've ever been from a road is, and the answer is usually when they were on a plane or sometimes cruise ship. But furthest from a motor is probably a better question.

Some river with a lot of n's and t's and k's and l's in it (thanks phonemically-constrained Athabaskans!) in Denali National Park, August 1999.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Have Online Petitions Ever Helped Anything?

A post at Frogloop gives examples of online petitions that actually made a difference - take this with a grain of salt because it was written by the founder of a petition site - but the facts are verifiable. For us traily types, the relevant case: "Obama Administration Protects Roadless Forests. In just two weeks, more than 8,000 Care2 members sent letters to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, urging him to take action to stop a Bush-era plan to open up old-growth forests in Oregon to clearcutting. The Obama administration listened and agreed!"

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rain and Fog: NorCal in March

It doesn't rain all winter, and then right after I come back up from San Diego to the Bay, the normal winter weather returns. The weather is a d*ck. This hasn't stopped me from the usual ridge trail in Tilden (whatever that thing is called) and Tenessee Valley and Muir Beach, and Annadel State Park today. (Annadel State Park, which is still on the closure list.) Muir Beach was particularly fun. Every trail was a river and the little creek that flows out into the ocean was a full-on torrent.

Tilden in the fog. World, please come back when I get back to the trailhead. From

I should add that both my right upper IT band and now my right ankle are bothering me. But hey. When you have a sudden increase in mileage that leads to injury, you know what the treatment is? More mileage!

This training regimen is known as the reverse taper. The Oakland Marathon is this coming weekend, and once again, I'm doing the training regimen of champions.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Wise is the Crowd In Basketball Predictions?

Bottom line: a crowd with mostly non-fans did better than two out of three major sports prediction sites, and didn't lose by much to the third. For more, read on.

Pundit Tracker, an awesome blog which holds "experts" accountable to their predictions after the results come in instead of letting them slink off to hide, rounds up March Madness picks so far.

Thanks to everyone who participated, including the folks I met over at McGee's in Alameda. By the way, some of your friends over there are a little too intense. One guy was about to run me out of the place. (I think he had trouble understanding that I wasn't trying to get people to bet on anything.) After taking out wise-guy outlier data, I had 38 responses - not as many as I would've liked, but it might still be interesting. I post this stuff on the internet for people to discuss so if you like it, hate it, think I'm full of it, please comment below!

Now that the game is played, here's how the crowd as a whole did. And there are some interesting differences between groups of people in the survey, not all what I predicted they would be.

1. Score Prediction.

1.1 All Respondents (Minus Outliers) Against Experts

Numbers for the crowd are given in the format mean/median. TE is Total Error (sum of absolute values of point prediction errors for each team.)

2.Crowd (38)69/6967/6316/16
4.CBS Sports725825

Of course with N=1 the crowd's performance could be a fluke and we should do it for multiple games - but I leave this to the statisticians and psychologists of the world who have time and funding to do this. Note, I put CBS Sports 4th because they had the same total error but one of the individual scores was more egregiously off.

Outliers: I took out two sets of score outliers for each, probably from the same wisguy since they came in sequentially, who gave predictions of 500 and 1 for Cal, and 219 and 1 for USF. This left a scoring range 40-116 for Cal, and 30-114 for USF. (At first I thought the 30 was an outlier but left it in because a score that low actually has precedent in recent tournament history - Mississippi Valley State lost 70-29 to UCLA in the first round of the 2008 tournament. Yikes.)

1.2 Score performance by level of basketball fandom:

Actual score5465-
Serious fan (7)53/5454/5012/15
Casual fan (11)64/6661/6214/15
Not a fan (20)78/7774/6933/27

Note that the more serious a fan you are, the lower and more accurately you guessed. Expertise made a difference. And when I started looking up predictions to compare to, I noticed there was a lot of talk about both teams' defensive play, especially USF.

1.3 Score performance by method of prediction

Own knowledge (12)54/5258/547/11
Ask friends (1)(70)(64)(17)
Guessed (23)75/7570/6826/24
Researched (2)93/9388/8862/62

It looks like if you had some knowledge, or asked someone personally who did, you did better. It seems our two researchers were looking at the wrong numbers. Most of the guessers were not fans of basketball (17 of 22); of the rest, 5 were casual fans and 1 was serious. Of those that used their own knowledge, 6 of 12 were serious fans, 4 of 12 were casual, and 2 of 12 were not.

1.4 Score performance relative to caring about these particular teams

Don't Care75/7471/6627/21

Again we see that the less important the game is to you, the higher your score estimate (as in 1.2 above, where the more serious of a fan you are, the lower the score you predict.) This is possibly because of lack of knowledge of USF's defense.

I asked this because I wanted to see how fans of the teams stacked up against those who had no interest. My prediction was that they would do worse, but obviously they did not. (I entered an office pool in 2008 and won, based entirely on averaging points scored and allowed by each team during the regular season, and won! Ironically that year Kansas State took it, and that's what I predicted, by the method I used for this little experiment to predict 72-62 Cal. Back in 2008 at the start of the tournament an otherwise loyal Kansas State fan told me I was nuts - the whole point is that I had no emotional attachment to any team, and I was just looking at numbers. While I was collecting my money I asked someone to explain what a 3-point shot was because I didn't know. The system didn't work as well when I tried again in 2009.)

As I was sorting data I most regretted not asking whether people were Cal OR USF fans, because such a bias could run in opposite directions depending on who your teams are, and it could cancel out. However, it's probably a safe assumption that more of the 9 people who cared about these teams cared about Cal than USF, considering I work about 5 miles from Cal's basketball court, and some of the people I initially sent this to actually work at the university. So most influence that we see here is probably the result of Cal fans.

As would be expected, everyone who said they cared about these teams were casual or serious fans.

2. The Future of March Madness

The Atlantic just posted an article about the growing pile of dollars involved in the NCAA tournament. This blog is no stranger to posts about the distorting effect of money on college sports,
but there's nothing special about college athletics: in 1997, a Kenyan runner accepted money to run under the banner of Oman. Why? Because they paid him, quite above board, that's why! Because there's prestige that comes from associating with a winning sports figure or team, and as long as that's the case, these things are going to happen. At the time this was considered shocking (I wish I could find a link), and though I've read no coverage of similar events in the international marathon world since then, I would be surprised if it hadn't happened more. And to be honest, is it any different than any other athletic endorsement? "Eat Wheaties and Qatar is great." And in the end, none of us has a legitimate complaint against a committed professional's making a move that will benefit them and their family.

What will be interesting is if all this money flowing into March Madness ends up making the championship process more drawn out and opaque - because what's being maximized is profit, not fair and exciting athletic competition. Fans would like to believe those two mostly overlap, but that's not how it works. Just ask anyone who watches college football. Previous posts about that particular conflict of interest here.

Of course the people making money in college athletics aren't evil athletic robber barons. The statistic that has been thrown around for Penn State football for years is that the first home team paid for the entire athletic program, and the rest was profit for the school at large. But these windfalls still have to be considered against the attention that college-branded entertainers divert from the true mission of their colleges. The heroes at these institutions are the researchers pushing knowledge forward. Find me a fan at one of these games who can name a single prominent scientist or scholar there. I bet you can, but it's in the single digits. That's another prediction that's probably more worthwhile to follow up.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Help Us Predict the USF-Cal Game

***SURVEY CLOSED*** - I'm working on the results and will post them shortly.

Check out this little experiment. I want to see if the wisdom of crowds can accurately predict sports scores as well as experts. Note: you don't have to be a basketball fan to help. The USF-Cal basketball game is coming up this Wednesday 14 March, and people are adding their own predictions. Before the game I'll close the survey, say the average, and then analyze the effect of the respondents' backgrounds. E.g., were fans of these specific teams vs general basketball fans more or less accurate? How about people who said they were serious fans vs not fans?

5-question Surveymonkey here, or just get there via the pop-up - and please forward. Thanks, this should be interesting.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oakland Sports Teams Shake Down Broke City

First, in case you think this screed is against sports in general, check out this cool article, which did a statistical analysis of where on the court players score from. This is for all shots taken in the NBA from the 2006 through the 2011 seaons.

This post is a screed against taxpayers getting fleeced to support private sports teams. "Oakland lawmakers approved $3.5 million toward efforts to redevelop the Coliseum complex along with adjacent land west off Interstate 880. The A's, Raiders and Warriors are all being courted away from the complex they have called home for more than four decades. The A's have for years sought to move to San Jose, the Warriors are considering a proposed arena in San Francisco, and the Raiders are potential tenants in stadiums proposed in both Santa Clara and Los Angeles." Story here.

Why is this happening? Sports team redevelopment does not create jobs, period, and we might want to look at what's happened in other cities. The bottom line for these teams is that it's a losing battle, they've been threatening to leave for years, and they're going to leave, and they're just trying to get some cash out of Oakland before they do. This is a stupid decision. The City Council has a lot of nerve spending $3,500,000 of our money when, as Councilwoman Nancy Nadel says, "I hope everybody realizes that we have no money...As much as you might love the teams when you have no money, it's a very different game."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Outdoors Round-up

1) Observant rock climbers on a rocky island off Australia found a species that was thought to be extinct. Now bred in captivity, they're about to be released back into their native environment to re-populate it. Without those climbers, they would've remained confined to that one rock and probably died out. (There were only *30* of them.) More here. No, it's not cute, but it makes a point. A trail ultra also saved a part of a national forest in Wyoming from development. You can make this stuff count!

2) For hashers: research on the effect of drinking alcohol on exercise. Limited results suggest that it improves women's performance and decreases men's, but these are to be taken with a big grain of salt so far (and some peanuts too). Note that personal experience with drinking and running shows that muscle soreness is not the result of lactic acid build-up; it's the result of micro-trauma to muscle tissue. If it were lactic acid, alcohol would make you (i.e., me) much sorer, and it does not. Further (frustrating) personal experience is that this hooey is still being taught in American medical schools.

3) Went for a four-hour (no idea about mileage) on Mt. Tam and around Phoenix Lake, Lagunitas, Bon Tempe and Alpine. When I lived up here before I didn't spend nearly enough time running on the Marin reservoir district trails and I'm fixing that now. I wish I could bottle the smell of mixed oak and redwood forest, there's nothing like it. Didn't see much wildlife, although on one board there wa a report of a bald eagle - which I was sure I saw before, but other visitors were quick to tell me it was an osprey. (I've seen both before and know what they look like, thank you. Now I feel vindicated.)

Gertrude Ord Trail, from

4) Latest random cool-looking part of my own country that I never heard of before, also latest evidence I spend too much time on Google Maps: the wooded Tug Hill plateau in upstate New York, west of the Adirondacks and famous for their heavy snowstorms. There are fewer Panoramino photos in there than some other pretty untouched places. Did we ever really colonize that part of the state? Reminds me of how white settlers didn't find the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania until well after the revolution ended.

View Larger Map

Thursday, March 1, 2012

NorCal Round-up

1) Registered for the Oakland Running Festival? Several races on 25 March, check it out here.

2) I finally went and saw my albino redwood, in Henry Cowell State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The albinism is of course the result of a low or near-zero cholorplast count, which means the trees only survive by getting nutrients from the root systems of their non-albino clone brethren. They still can't grow very tall. Interestingly, unlike the "solid" albino below, the one I saw at Henry Cowell had albino branches, or even some branches that weren't all albino, and even some twigs where not all the needles on the same twig were albino! This being the case, I was trying to be a tree pathologist and diagnose the process going on in the plant to produce this non-continuous pattern. It seems more likely that all parts of the plant had chloroplasts as they were growing, but that early in the growth of the branches they die for some reason. Cytoskeleton problem maybe?

From Arleen Olson Photography.

3) Ventana Wilderness, where the southernmost redwoods are, remains outstanding. I decided to play a game and see if there were flowers of every color of the rainbow on the exposed parts of the trail, and "won" in the first mile (plus some nice big white-purple daturas and some pink I don't even know, but the shore was purty.) In this dry winter, it's drawn crowds like I've never seen, particarly on Pine Ridge Trail on the way to Sykes Hot Springs. This is partly owing to morons like me who go around shouting how awesome Ventana is. But once you go there you really can't help it.

One of those exposed sections of Pine Ridge. From xasauantoday.

4) Instead of trying to grow redwoods from seed, I brought back a branch (one that had already been broken off a tree and was laying on the trail) to see if I can clone one that way.

5) Over 50% done putting together clickable maps for Nobody Hikes in LA. Driving through Whittier or Irvine and want to know where to find a trail? This is for you! Note: as I write this post, all the hikes are not yet included on here since I'm not finished, although by the time you read this post they may be.

View Master Map - Nobody Hikes in LA in a larger map

Daniel Richards and the Mountain Lion: Is What He Did Wrong?

California Fish and Game Commission President Daniel Richards is under fire, and may be forced to resign, because he (successfully) hunted a mountain lion in Idaho, where it's legal. (For the record, it was a wild mountain lion, and he did eat it afterward.)

This kind of politics is really troubling, not least because it divides an already sundered outdoor community - on one hand you have hunters and fisherman, on the other hand you have the hikers and climbers and trailrunners, and they view each other as different species. But both are interested in conserving wilderness and preserving open space, and when the Sierra Club and hunters' groups come together on an issue, no politician can withstand them. This pseudo-scandal reminds you of a company demanding someone give a surprise blood test during their off-work hours, and then firing them when it comes back positive for alcohol. ("Yes, it was Saturday night, I wasn't in the office!") Oddly, one of Richards's detractors in the CA legislature, Ted Lieu, asked something similar: "Imagine if the (national) drug czar went to a jurisdiction where marijuana was legal and then posted an Internet picture showing him smoking marijuana." Oddly, because this is possibly the best argument in favor of Richards! Yes, of course that hypothetical drug czar's political opponents would use his wild-times-in-Amsterdam photo against him. But was his action wrong? If that drug czar's job is enforcing the laws of his jurisdiction, in his jurisdiction (and not on the whole rest of the world!) then he obviously didn't do anything wrong legally, and unless the issue bears some moral context that differs from place to place, he didn't do anything immoral either. Are mountain lions endangered? Not even in California, and especially not in Idaho - "Least Concern" on IUCN's index.

While Ted Lieu is dragging the details of people's personal lives into their public service, let's mention a NorCal favorite, to show how the argument falls apart. I like Gavin Newsom. I think he was a great mayor of San Francisco, and I would definitely consider voting for him for governor eventually. Also, Gavin Newsom had an affair with his campaign manager's wife while he was at the head of a city government solemnizing same-sex marriages. I wholeheartedly support legalizing gay marriage and I'm proud of what Newsom did. I don't see his personal mis-step having anything to do with what he was trying accomplish. Tellingly, even Newsom's most vicious opponents in this fight never saw fit to drag this tidbit into the debate. And that act is more obviously immoral in a context-free way than the game hunt that Richards went on.

People have every right to be morally outraged, but our outrage doesn't give us a right to interpret the law however we want to, on either side of any issue. SF Chron article here.