Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Why Doesn't the PAC-12 Want *Openly* For Profit Colleges in the League? Duh

Article from Sports Illustrated here. It's very strange that colleges are whining that Grand Canyon U. is doing this to make money. I guess all the Pac-12 schools have a loss every year from their football programs? No, they don't; they're massive money machines: and this is why in the large majority of U.S. states, the highest paid state employee is the football coach.

What's really going on here is a) ASU doesn't want to divide the college sports market in Phoenix, but they can't say that out loud; and b) the schools know that they're all running a business with the brand names of universities, and profiting from people's rabid allegiance from something they think of in tribal-colors terms rather than business terms. As soon as there's a for-profit school doing exactly the same thing, fans can't help but wonder if their own school isn't, as Steve Hsu perfectly described, "a tax-exempt sports-entertainment complex that is, for strange historical reasons, hosted by the higher education system". The article notes:
While it's true that non-profit universities reinvest their revenues from the major sports, they also rely heavily on outsiders' donations. Is it inherently more noble for Oregon to accept $68 million from mega-booster Phil Knight to build a new "Darth Vaderish Death Star" football complex than it is for Grand Canyon to spend its stockholder-generated capital on a "$300 million investment in state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, dormitories and athletic facilities?"
What I really want to see is Stanford twisting and turning to make an argument as to why a private school shouldn't be in the PAC-12. "But they're for-profit! They're for-profit!" Again, I don't think Stanford (or the rest) lose money on their sports programs. This is kind of like when one casino doesn't want another one starting down the road to compete with them, but they can't just come out and say that, so they somehow end up saying "2 casinos in this county would lead to immorality. But just one (us), that's okay." The talking-out-of-both-sides-of-their-mouth that goes on when people are defending their money, but can't be seen as defending money, is beyond hilarious and indeed, maybe into Orwellian territory!

And it bears repeating, big football schools are not notorious for being the most academically rigorous, although for what it's worth, there's no relationship in either direction between a school's football status and their academics (I ran the numbers myself). And lest you doubt that college football is, in fact, big business, then how about this piece showing that the many frustrating mysteries of the college football ranking system are all explained by one thing.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Cuyamaca in Winter

February 2013. I was there in regular running gear (shorts and running shoes and T-shirt). Very pretty and the cold was okay, in fact great! But it was right above freezing and running was just slippery and muddy and unpleasant. Short run that day. I went over to the bottom of Noble Canyon after this but it wasn't any better.

Canyon Cleanup Day 2013

(Cross posted to my blog the Lucky Atheist.)

I'd been meaning to post the pictures from the Canyon Cleanup back in April. A few of us came out from SDNA (thanks everyone!) and joined some other teams of people - if I remember, Qualcomm was well-represented - but the coolest thing was that Dorothy and Sara got to take a kayak out to get the trash along the water to complete the cleanup on the other side. This is Penasquitos Creek, which a bit further downstream opens up into the marsh at Torrey Pines State Beach. Fun day! Next one is 21 September 2013.

Severe greenery was in evidence
but the cleaner-uppers were not dissuaded.

Intrepid cleaner-uppers scour the other side of the river.

Sycamore Canyon/Santee/Scripps Ranch Valleys

These canyons are: a. the most beautiful springtime place I've ever seen in San Diego (pictures taken in March and April) and b. of questionable legality to access, possibly being part of Miramar MCAS. For that reason, I certainly didn't take these pictures, but rather a mysterious person who is not me, and who took them, after which miraculous event they magically appeared on this blog. If you run or ride a lot you probably know where this place is anyway. There are two sets, one in mid-day from the end of March, and one getting on toward dusk in early April. Restorative does not begin to describe the (much-needed) effect this green place had on me.

I'll start off with a coyote talking:

Finish up with a panoramic video from the top of a hill.

Baden-Powell and Throop

To see how fast SoCal's forests are burning away, scroll down.

Finally got up to the high peaks in the Angeles (besides Baldy). NICE. Baden-Powell is now easily my favorite peak. (BTW, good luck to the Angeles Crest 100 people this weekend!) I posted when I was up there before but didn't include any of my own pictures. Below are a couple.

There have been some fires recently and it kills me every time I hear how much acreage has been lost. I hate to be a negative Nellie but I just can't understand: our forests in SoCal are so precious, why do we let people have ANY kind of fire during fire season? Isn't a forest worth enduring the crippling inconvenience of not making s'mores between Easter and Halloween?

I started thinking about HOW precious. Since 2009, counting just the Station Fire, Mountain Fire, and Springs Fire, we have lost about 13% of our total forest. That works out to 3.3% of our forest per year. By that rate, all the forests will have burned by 2040.

How do I justify this number? The data I used is below. My assumptions are:

-Burnt areas were all forest (I know that's not true); but I also assume that ALL of SM, Angeles and SB are forest. Liberally speaking, not even half are. So the % destroyed is possibly worse than my estimate.

-Not counting Los Padres as SoCal. I also don't include Cleveland NF. If you've done much hiking in Cleveland, you know there are a couple spots with trees, but I'm overestimating the forest in SM+Angeles+SB a lot more than I'm underestimating Cleveland's contribution (which I estimate at 0).

-This neglects regeneration. I know fire-damaged areas recover, but over a human lifetime(s). (Cedar Fire-damaged areas in San Diego are still just bushes 10 years later - there's nothing like a forest there as yet.)

If you still think I'm being pessimistic, consider climate change. Will SoCal get hotter and drier over the next few decades, or cooler and wetter?

SoCal Forests Lost to Fire Since 2009 (all areas in acres)

AreaForest SizeFire size% lost
Angeles NF655,387160,57724.5
Santa Monica NRA156,670 28,00017.9
San Bernardino NF823,816270003.3
TOTAL156,670 28,00013.2

The total forest lost to fire in four years - actually, not even four total years - is 13.2%, or 3.3% lost per year, reflected in the graph above.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Growing Pot in California's National Forests

Jack Elliott has a great piece up about how marijuana cultivation - that is, marijuana prohibition - is causing damage to national forests, including pictures of what to look for. I imagine having people up there who don't give a damn about the national resource are also more likely to start fires too. and even for people who don't care about protecting national forests, then how about destroying Mexico's drug cartels? Another outcome of legalization is that the cartels' profits disappear overnight.

To this end it will be interesting to see what happens in Colorado's national forests in the next few years regarding illegal weed cultivation.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Nasty Plants From Around the World: Meet the Croton

There are croton shrubs in various places but there is one in southeast Asia that produces an oil which causes a rash similar to poison ivy and causes tumors in mice; presumably humans too. And you thought poison oak was bad!

I ran across this friendly fellow while doing some research. It seems the oil responsible for all this horror (PMA) is useful as a tool in immunology research, since it makes your "worker-bee" immune cells fire the poison nets they use to kill bad guys. The structure is below, compared to the urushiol family of compounds found in poison oak. Those long ugly greasy side chains are likely helpful in adsorbing the compound to cell membranes. You know sometimes I really hate nature.

Above: PMA

Above: Urushiol

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Info On the Mountain Fire

Just wanted to link to Gary Valle's information on the Mountain Fire, from 2:54 PM local time Thursday 18 July. You might say "it's 2 days old even when you're posting it" but Valle's post is still the most up-to-date, complete, useful piece of reporting I've seen about the fire. As has been the case for big SoCal forest fires since I've moved here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Paleo *Cognitive* Regimen

This is cross-posted to Cognition and Evolution.

Paleo dieters avoid post-agricultural foods. The argument is that agriculture is a product of culture and so it introduced sources of nutrition that our genes haven't caught up with, especially grains, refined sugar, and other concentrated carbs. By eating vegetables and lean meats (so the argument goes) we are more in tune with paleolithic humans and therefore should be healthier.

There are any number of problems with that argument (not least of whic is that adherents often seem disinterested in empirical testing of it), but an interesting question is: couldn't we apply similar arguments to our cognition? The way we think about the world, or possibly even, that we think about the world, started undergoing profound changes about 40,000 years ago. Of note, this time corresponds with humans leaving Africa, developing specialized tools, hunting larger game that required team planning, and the spread of the current form of the FOXP2 gene and subsequent use of language and the cognitive modernization of humans; it marks the boundary between the upper and lower paleolithic. That is to say, until about 40,000 years ago, we solved problems in a primitive, isolated way, and knowledge could be shared only at a much more basic level. Suddenly we have language, reasoning, and mountains of cultural transmission in the form of tools and worldviews so that what we achieve in working memory can be expanded across a whole lifetime, or indeed indefinite lifetimes (i.e., among other things, the idea of an alphabet, hit upon by some clever Phoenician twenty-five centuries ago, allows us to more easily share these ideas right now). This has profoundly changed our physical environment in ways that have outrun our genes' ability to respond - including agriculture.

Therefore, shouldn't a person making the paleo argument for diet also make a similar argument for post-paleo (or at least post-lower paleo) cognition? That is to say, if you're really concerned that agriculture-based food is a threat to the fluorishing of H. sapiens because of its newness and alienness, aren't things like reasoning and systematic institutional research just as bad, if not profoundly more dangerous? Shouldn't we be approaching problems with blunt emotions and a vague memory of some chance association from last time we were in this part of the world with no way to obtain or share knowledge from others? Shouldn't the males of the species be getting in fights with people that look different from us or look at our woman for a second too long, with a resulting homicide rate of 30%? (The actual number for some hunter-gatherer groups.) This is what we're adapted for - our cognitive environment for thousands of centuries. How can the alien world we've built for ourselves in cognitive modernity not be hurting us?

In extension you could even make a Nagel-like argument here that paleo defeats itself, that if you think paleo is the way to go because profoundly biologically novel activities are threatening to an animal's well-being, then you should also eschew reasoning, and therefore eschew paleo, which was arrived at with a very un-paleo process (reasoning, communicating about it with large groups of people, and institutional research).

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Control Invasive Species By Eating Them

Article here. Akin to having a Phylum Feast on Darwin day, eat local by taking critters that shouldn't be around! My favorite new organization: the Institute for Applied Ecology.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Atlas ICBM Launch Pads in Scripps Ranch/Santee

The area south of Scripps Ranch and north of Santee has some awesome valleys and trails, as I am about to post. The area is of questionable legality, but is lightly (or not at all) patrolled. When I read up on the area, I found that the Atlas ICBM rocket was tested there in the 1950s, leashed to launch pads that are still there. Read this account of one explorer who actually drove down Sycamore Test Road to the site, something I wouldn't risk. (Good Poway and rocketry history in that piece too.) The area I'm talking about is here:

I'd originally entered from Via Santa Vienta and then gone all the way down to the lakes in Santee. (It's not signed except to say "LIVE FIRE AREA" to the west side of that trail in the valley, so if they want people to say out, they need to put up better signs.) But to go over to to Building 4, you'd have to go through at least one Do Not Enter sign. I really get no thrill from trespassing and at this time of year the land will be pretty parched and hot. Plus urban explorers have kindly already posted the fruits of their risk-taking, and there's gross stuff in the ruins (cadmium, etc.) - here are some excellent photos, and below is one of the videos of the blast shield.

Exhaust flume? Sycamore Canyon Test Facility.  3
Possible exhaust flumes.

Stay tuned for my March and April pics. For my money, those valleys are the prettiest place in San Diego County in the spring when they're green and lush.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Chariot Fire Damage at Mount Laguna

As of this writing (18:23 10 July 2013) there is no active fire anymore, just a lot of smouldering. The cooler overcast weather today helped the firefighters. But the damage is done, to both to the beautiful forest at Mt. Laguna and the campsites:

View California Fire Map in a larger map

As always, thanks to the firefighters who keep us safe. And no disrespect to the organizations that lost property and memories up there, but it's the loss of some of San Diego County's very rare forest that hurts the most.

Today I noticed the damage from the fire that happened a few weeks ago at 52 and Santo Road. Is your fire kit and evac plan ready?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Water Quality Data at San Diego Beaches

The Natural Resources Defense Council posted their report for 2012 water quality data. They said that Delaware had the best beaches and Avalon in Catalina has the worst.

I have to admit...I wonder how consistently collected the data is, and to what extent varying local standards influence it. I certainly do have many fond memories of Lewes and Rehoboth - the Delmarva Peninsula is a much cooler and more unique place than most people realize (where else can you eat corn and crabs that came from the same farm?) - but best in the country? Really? The northern half of the state is on Delaware Bay, which is the mouth of the Delaware River, that drains between Pennsylvania and New Jersey through Philadelphia. And that's cleaner than Catalina, an island in the Pacific with strong currents and no nearby rivers (not to mention probably a stronger commitment to their environment)?

Looking at local data, Imperial Beach is a sadly unsurprising 1 out of 5 quality, with Coronado 3 out of 5; Mexico and TJ are clearly the culprit here, but they are consistently unable or uncaring about this problem. (Or in active denial; see this clever study that proved what we all knew.) But La Jolla shores came in at only 2 out of 5. The best rated beach in San Diego County was Moonlight in Encinitas at 4/5.

But I really don't know what to make of these ratings. In particular they don't correspond well with the Heal the Bay ratings for San Diego County beaches. These gave an A or B to all of them along the ocean except for Torrey Pines State Beach, which to be fair, does have a naturally sediment- and microbiota-rich canyon-draining marshland outlet right there. I emailed both organizations; we'll see if they can make sense of the gaps.

Added later: the NRDC responded at length explaining their ratings. The response is below.
The Heal the Bay Beach Report Card (BRC) is based on actual beach bacteria monitoring data provided and compiled by SD County Environmental Health. Our methodology has been vetted and endorsed by the CA State Water Resources Control Board as an effective way to communicate beach water quality to the public.

In the links you provided, it looks like the blogger is comparing the NRDC's annual summary to our weekly website grades. The grades on our website are based on the last 30 days of available monitoring data per location.

We also release an annual report (each year just before memorial day) that is based on one year of actual beach bacterial monitoring data. We include a summary of beach closures due to sewage spills but the grades are based solely on the actual bacteria data.

you can find our most recent annual report here:

The San Diego section is on page 16 and 17, and the grading methodology is on page 74+75.

It is important to remember that these annual reports, and even our website grades that are based on the most recent data, do not indicate 'real-time' water quality. I usually suggest looking at a location's grade history to see if a beach generally scores A grades throughout the year (or if water quality fluctuates wildly throughout the year) if you really want to dig into whether a location is safe to swim.

you can see this historical grade info on our website by clicking the 'historical data' tab on the map balloon on this page (for example)

we also report beach bacterial advisories and closures due to sewage spills in as close to real-time as possible on our twitter account @beachreportcard