Monday, December 31, 2012

Bristlecone Pines

This piece starts out with a brief mention of the cosmic microwave background from the Big Bang, so you know it'll be good.  (Cause that's cool.)  About the impact of climate change on the oldest trees in the world, here in California.

Meaning in Nature, from an Unlikely Source

David Allen is the Getting Things Done guy, so it was with surprise that in an interview with him I ran across this gem about how we filter, and how nature is information-dense but meaning-light:
Information overload is not the issue. If it were, you'd walk into the library and die. As soon as you connected to the Web, you'd just explode.

In fact, the most information-rich place in the world is the most relaxing: it's called nature. It has more varied horizons, more detail, more input of all sorts. As a matter of fact, if you want to go crazy, get rid of all your information: it's called sensory deprivation.

The thing about nature is, it's information rich, but the meaningful things in nature are relatively few—berries, bears and snakes, thunderstorms, maybe poison oak. There are only a few things in nature that force me to change behavior or make a decision. The problem with e-mail is that it's not just information; it's the need for potential action. It's the berries and snakes and bears, but they're embedded, and you don't know what's in each one.

People's Republic of Pennsylvania Demands You Buy Their Wine

For my PA readers: it's already bad enough that your alcohol is controlled by a North Korean-like state apparatus. (True story: when I was at Merck, I once ordered lab-grade ethanol from a supplier in New Jersey. First the the State of Pennsylvania had to buy it from the supplier, and hold it in a special warehouse for 9 weeks where apparently it would become less evil or something. Then they would sell it to Merck, who of course had to pay the warehouse fees.)

As if to revel in the absurdity, the monopoly holding State has now started selling its own brand of wine. Now, apparently one of the reason the State keeps the monopoly is because alcohol is bad, and Pennsylvanians must be protected from it. But now they're making their own...(sound of head-scratching)

It bears repeating that the PA liquor tax was enacted to pay for the cleanup after the Johnstown Flood. Yes, really. And last time I was there, Johnstown was doing okay. How much longer are people going to put up with this?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Backbone/Bulldog Loop in Malibu, and Not a Lat Injury

Despite a current injury, I relied on my low levels of common sense and did an awesome 15 miler (this trail with side spurs) in the I-can't-believe-I-haven't-run-here-before Malibu Creek State Park, in the Santa Monica Mountains. Some of the views would not be out of place in Colorado, except for the Pacific being below your feet of course.


There sure am be some green stuff back there, and the rock formations and sea views from the top of the ridge can't be beat.  Plus along the way I saw the MASH filming site.  It's only right now that I laugh out loud and realize I ran the aptly-named Backbone loop (and Bulldog).

Why is that funny?  Two posts ago I mentioned a possible injury to my lats that I got (I think) from bicep curls.  Despite knowing that something didn't fit, i.e. the location of the pain wasn't really where your lats are, I didn't update my belief.  Saying the same thing in medical language, I should have moved "lat tear/sprain" down my differential and thought about what to move up.

Long story short, there are many reasons to think that my current (and previous) pain are a disc herniation, rather than a lat injury.  I have contralateral pain at a different level that also fits the bill for herniated disc that's stayed with me for a year but I can tolerate it; this one has gone from comparatively much worse to almost resolved in a few days, and it's moved downward a little too (n.b., muscle injuries don't do that).

Fortunately, scary though it sounds, disc herniation is usually self-resolving or only causes mild discomfort, and can be managed conservatively with NSAIDs, heat, and activity restriction.  15 miles up and down hills didn't bother me too much; I guess I just need to find a bicep exercise that doesn't involve shock-loading my spinal column.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Redwoods in SoCal

Previously I attempted to turn San Diego into the Bay Area by planting redwood trees around my house and in a nearby canyon.  This has not come to fruition; after attempting even sillier techniques, I resorted to the correct way of doing it (and with the little kits you can buy), and even then wasn't able to make one grow.  But all is not lost.  Gary Valle reported last year on a grove of redwoods (planted by humans) doing well in Malibu Creek State Park, but also links to a short 2004 report documenting the rapid decline of landscaping redwoods planted in Ventura County, and broadly surveying their use elsewhere in the state outside their native climate.

The author blames pathogens rather than climate, although the latter could predispose to the former, and with a spotty distribution that's more intense in certain areas.  But hey.  At least the invasion is begun!

Above: Rose Canyon, two centuries from now.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lat Injury and Running

(As always, advice welcome.)  I've re-injured my left lats, most likely from bicep curls.  Last time I did this was 12 years ago and I couldn't run for 6 weeks, which of course were the 6 weeks immediately prior to the Boston Marathon.  This time it's immediately before my Christmas break, during which I was hoping to get in some serious mileage.

It isn't as bad as it was before so I'm going to continue trying to run but pay attention to it.  A 14 miler the day after the injury didn't seem to exacerbate it.  But DAMmit.  I'm starting to wonder if there's something about anticipating vacations that makes me hurt myself!

Snow and Bears

Went up to Angeles NF yesterday to play in the snow.  At the Baldy trailhead, the trail up to the cabin was (and thence to the summit) was pretty white, but we got started late so we just fooled around and then went back down.  Fact:  bears in SoCal do not hibernate in the winter.  Do we know what their trigger is then?  (Sun here too bright?  Too warm?  Not enough snow?)

And speaking of bears, now you can go camping without anxiety:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Taxpayer Money for Stadiums: Sports Welfare

If you missed the Craft Beer Debate in September - about whether taxpayer money should be used for new stadiums (hint: it shouldn't be) - then here's a great article about that infamous parasitic 47%, in the form of pro sports franchises demanding and getting your money. "... the team owners sitting in luxury boxes built with taxpayer dollars, charging PSL fees for seats constructed with the same. They’re the athletes writing off fines for bad behavior. They’re the multimillion-dollar professional leagues, Ozymandias-shaming college athletic departments and -- ahem -- charitable bowl games all enjoying lucrative and dubious non-profit status."

Hometown Girl Hikes Appalachian Trail

"Hometown" as in Reading, Pennsylvania that is (the first third or so of my life). Kudos to Samantha Dalton for doing it. And kudos to the Eagle for summarizing her favorite parts of the trail. I still haven't been on a trail in the Smokies, which Samantha confirmed are as awesome as I've heard they are.

Baxter Creek Trail in the Smokies. From

Friday, December 14, 2012

Big Oil? Big Beer

Here's an article about how increasingly large beverage conglomerates are increasingly pressuring microbreweries. Though serious beer snobs will already know this, the golden age of American microbreweries was ushered in with a change in the law. But this is not enough to guarantee their continues survival. I just recently learned (direct from the founder of Stone Brewing at the craft beer stadium debate) that the giant breweries have exclusivity contracts with bars and other venues, like stadiums. That's why even here in San Diego it's harder than you would think to find bars and restaurants serving your favorite brews. Recently, century+-old breweries in Germany have been getting gobbled up by big companies. Did you read that? Beer in Germany is being damaged by this process. If that doesn't scare you I don't know what will! In most industries, this would be considered anticompetitive. That said, in many industries there are de facto arrangements between product-makers and distributors if the two businesses are separate. Case in point, big entertainment companies and radio stations. And that must be why music radio stations are the cutting edge of art for the serious music connoisseur, producing a high-quality product for a diverse range of discriminating tastes. Just like Anheuser-Busch.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Cholesterol and Sunlight

If you do not like serious fitness-health geekiness, then won't you please look away now, madame or sir.

Humans make Vitamin D in our bodies when UV radiation (sunlight) strikes 7-dehydrocholesterol (7DHC) molecules in the skin. These same molecules are used as precursors in cholesterol synthesis. One day while running in sunny San Diego I thought about this and wondered what the relationship was between cholesterol and vitamin D. And of course the whole reason we care about cholesterol is because high cholesterol causes heart attacks. (It's rare in biomedicine to be able to make such an unequivocal statement as that, but it's very well-supported.) So how might this work?

Possibility 1: if you have a lot of cholesterol does this mean you have a lot of precursor available and therefore will also have a lot of vitamin D? And does this mean that by taking a statin, you'll lower your vitamin D production? My excuse for geeking out about this is my own high cholesterol. Half of your blogger's LDL receptors have a glutamine instead of an arginine at the 3500th amino acid residue. (Thanks Mom!) Hence without pharmacologic intervention, my LDL runs about 160. So did I save myself from premature coronary syndrome more by moving to California and getting lots of sun during my runs, than by taking that statin?

Possibility 2: Can a blockade of one or the other pathway result in diversion of more precursor to the other pathway?  By that argument, (a.) people congenitally unable to synthesize cholesterol would have loads of vitamin D from all the piled-up 7DHC, assuming they get enough sun and that the reaction does have some kind of ceiling.
OR (b) the opposite - do people who don't get much sunlight have loads of cholesterol from all the piled-up 7DHC not getting turned into vitamin D?

For Possibility 2a above, it turns out there are people missing the enzyme to make cholesterol (7DCHR); the disease is called Smith-Lemli-Opitz Syndrome (SLOS), and people born with it have significant deformities and health problems. Most interesting for our purposes is that although they DO have piles of 7DHC sitting around (because they can't make cholesterol out of it), they do NOT have more vitamin D or D precursors than other people. The research team even matched patients for season of collection (to make sure we didn't get all winter samples from SLOS patients, and sunny summer samples from healthy controls.) We don't yet understand how they can avoid poisoning themselves with vitamin D, but somehow they're compensating.

Which brings us to Possibility 2b. In 1996 a British group looked at the relationship between sunlight exposure and cardiovascular disease. These plots show what they found.  (Click on them if they're hard to see, especially the first one with the countries, which is kind of cool.)

Note that they included a cholesterol plot but a) this paper doesn't investigate the direct relationship between vitamin D and cholesterol and b) consequently they can't show vitamin D to be in the causal pathway, despite the interesting figures. The relationship with sunlight exposure they show is definitely interesting but we already know that physical activity, diet, and genetic differences all definitely play an enormous, hence confouding role. It's tough to compare Japanese with Swedes and say that sunlight is a causative factor in cardiovascular differences, rather than diet, which as you might recognize all differ substantially!

Furthermore, the SLOS patients are able to "rebalance their accounts" with respect to precursor utilization, so it's not unreasonable to expect that a similar mechanism could be operating the other way in health, erasing any benefits that cholesterol-precursor-eating sun may have. (For a different opinion, you can read That Paleo Guy's take on this, which is where I originally found this paper. I do not endorse most of his opinions, so if you want a hint on how to weight our conflicting arguments, consider that I'm the one in medical school. Just sayin.)

My conclusion is that this is interesting and I'll certainly be reading any articles that come out on this, but for now we just don't have evidence that sun exposure lowers cholesterol and therefore coronary syndrome risk. And if your output in thinking about sun exposure is all-cause mortality, then even with a putative cardiovascular benefit, we're going to be looking at a U-shaped curve because there are other considerations, chiefly among them skin cancer of course. So if you're concerned about your cholesterol, exercise regularly and take a statin if recommended by your physician.  In the meantime, I'll be running in the sun because it makes me happy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Santiago Peak, Orange County

Went up from Trabuco Canyon via Holy Jim trail.  I should qualify that and say I stopped a mile or so short of the summit since it was getting dark and there has apparently been a lot of kitty activity up there recently.  It was a lot prettier than I thought it would be. Despite the picture I chose below, it's not just SoCal scrub forest but actual patches of woods, and the last half mile of the trail before hitting Main Divide Road is pretty exposed and cool.

The silver lining of my strange fit of common sense?  This leaves the peak for my future 22-mile A-to-B where I go up Holy Jim from Trabuco, gain Santiago, cross the saddle and gain Modjeska before descending to Silverado.  Hopefully next week if I can talk a certain person into shuttling me...