Wednesday, March 01, 2006


I originally posted this on my shared weekly essay blog, but I thought it warranted being repeated here.

Well, it’s Wednesday again. This isn’t just any Wednesday though, it’s a special Wednesday. This is the Wednesday when I actually post on essay on time, with good grammar, proper spelling, and maybe even a dash of wit.

Ok, that’s not actually why I meant it’s special. I was referring to the fact that it’s Ash Wednesday. This day marks that special that time of year when good Catholics try to live a purer life closer to god, while remembering the temptation Jesus suffered at the hands of Lucifer while fasting in the desert. Starting today, they’ll give up their vices for forty days; hopefully maintaining this fast through the eve of Easter, after which they can participate in Pagan fertility rituals involving eggs, bunnies, and feasting, and forget about Jesus until Christmas rolls around they get presents.

Despite my jest, I actually always liked lent. Unlike many of the Catholic sacraments which don’t have a lot of practical use, the lentin fast contains a sense of purpose. It reinforces the ideas of self discipline and will power, which make you a better person. I try to practice these on a regular basis and encourage others to do so as well.

Lent also makes sense from a historical standpoint. Back in the glory days of the middle ages when nonsensical concepts like separation of church and state were unheard of, the churches had the mandate and power to forcibly control and mold the populace. Dictating the practice of will power would have been one way to turn parishioners into better citizens. It also fits neatly into their greater plan of imposing guilt and self loathing as a method of creating a perceived need of salvation, which the church was more than happy to supply, well, as long as you paid your dues. Overall, it was a good plan.

Unfortunately, in today’s world, the practice of lent has really lost its meaning. Although people will abstain from certain things for the season, many don’t actually make any sacrifices. They’ll simply trade one vice for another one that is just as easily accessible. They might give up coffee, only to drink more soda instead. Maybe they’ll stop eating chocolate, but then increase their intake of other candy. Granted, I’m not saying that all lentin promises are rubbish; in fact I’ve known many people who really take it serious, and rather impress me. There is one main practice mandated by the catholic church, however, that has always annoyed me, and that’s the meat rule.

For those of you not inculcated with the ways of the meat rule, let me quickly indulge you. The catholic church mandates that good parishioners abstain from eating meat on the first day of lent, Ash Wednesday, and every following Friday until Easter. That’s a total of seven days. (They don't count Sundays towards the forty days, so there's an extra week) One exception, however, is fish, which is not considered a meat for the purpose of the rule, and is thus allowed to be consumed on the forbidden days. I think this has something to do with the fact that people in the biblical era ate fish as a staple, and it follows that eating more fish could potentially allow one to relate more to the people back then. That’s just my theory. It could be that fish was harder to come by years ago or maybe harder to prepare and make taste good, which could at least conceivably make it a sacrifice to eat it. (At least maybe for the person who did the cooking.)

Regardless of the origin of the rule, I don’t think it applies today. You can go into any restaurant or grocery store and find a plethora of sales and specials on seafood during lent. Perch, cod, salmon, chump, shrimp and lobster; it all counts, and most of it tastes quite good. Even McDonalds will offer deals on its fish fillet sandwich over the five weeks. Additionally, you can find many fish fry specials on Friday nights where the entire family can go out and gorge themselves on endless plates of greasy fried perch and french fries. Although these options technically follow the rules, they seam to completely go against the entire point of having the rules in the first place. It’s like the church allowed a giant loophole as to not actually inconvenience its parishioners.

With all this in mind, I’ve decided to participate in the lentin tradition of sacrifice this year even though I have little affiliation with the Catholic church these days, or Christianity in general (Although I do agree with most of the stuff Jesus said; he was on to something). I’m going to give up not eating at McDonalds. Wait, huh? Yeah, NOT eating at McDonalds. Just stay with me a moment; it’ll make sense. Trust me.

I used to eat at McDonalds a lot, especially my first year in grad school when it was the closest and cheapest food available in a timely manner. Eventually though, I started to taste my food and eat healthier in general. It really has little appeal to me now. It depresses me to think what I’m actually putting in my body when I eat there, compared to when I cook for myself, and I not only know, but can pronounce every word of the ingredients. Plus there’s the whole practices of the meat industry, which I won’t bother going into here, but I find rather revolting. These days, I maybe eat at McDonalds once every six months, until today that is.

Hence, to start off lent today, I went to lunch at McDonalds. This is actually a sacrifice for me though. For starters, I wasn’t able to eat the nice healthy lunch of fruit and sandwiches I’ve accustomed too. Second, the closest McDonalds is a mile and a half away. Since I don’t drive my car to work, the only options are either biking or running down the hill and back. Today I chose to run. Although that did allow me to get a short run in, it didn’t allow me nearly as long as I would have liked, which leads to my third point, I don’t have as much time over lunch to exercise. All the sacrifices I make to try to be a good catholic. Plus, do you have any idea how hard it is to run up a mile and half hill with a stomach full of Big Mac and fries? Its six hours later, and my stomach still hurts. (I did consider driving to work, which would also be a sacrifice since I couldn’t get any writing done on the train, it would cost more, and I’d have to sacrifice some ideals, but I just don’t have strong enough faith for that. Baby steps I guess)

The idea for this plan came to me last year when I found myself sitting in airport hungry on the Friday before Easter. The only place without a huge wait for food was McDonalds. As I was eating my greasy burger, it occurred to me that it was lent. I’ll admit that this at first filled with a bit of guilty pleasure, breaking rules that I didn’t agree with. As I thought about it more though, I began to realize how stupid the meat rule really was. I had actually completely forgotten about lent up until that point, and now that I remembered it, I was somewhat disappointed that I didn’t have more Fridays left to eat fast food. I decided that the following year, I would make a point to eat a Big Mac on every Friday of lent. I like the irony, and now, after almost a year of waiting, the time has come. You can call it an exercise in irony if you like, but I just like to refer to it as McLent.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Europe the overview

Here’s the quick recap.

30 days, 5 countries
Although I originally intended on traveling by myself, by the time I met with my sister and other contacts, I ended up spending little time alone, probably a more fun option.

Germany – Heidleberg: 3 days (visiting Carrola)
Germany – Berlin 3 days
Holland – Amsterdam, surround cities: 3 days (with Sherry)
Belgium - Anterwerp 3 days (with Sherry)
Belgium - Bruge 3 days (with Sherry)
France – Grenoble on to Briancon: 3 Days (visiting Virginie)
France – Paris: 3 days
England – London: 2 Days (2 different days)
Scotland – Edinburgh, Braemar, Kirkcaldy: 3 Days (visiting Mhairi)

General observations:
The most fun I had was visiting friends and really getting a chance to experience the culture. You don’t get that doing the tourist stuff. Go traveling if you can!!!

I had expected the cultures to be slightly different, but mainly the same, and I was surprised. I had been thinking that the core cultural features would be fundamentally the same, but just implemented in different ways, but there were definite differences. It’s hard to explain, you’d have to see for yourself…

I'm back

Ok, I’m back in country. Actually I’ve been back for two weeks, but I’ve been sick for the last three weeks, so I’ve slow to get back on the blogwagon.

Europe was fun, and the posts will be coming shortly. I’ll try to get a couple cities up every couple of days, and then I can get back to current events.

I’ll also have a couple of other bloggy things coming up to take up my time. First, I’m collaborating on a site with a friend from high school with the point being to work on our writing skills by, sharing, and critiquing essays on a regular basis. I’m a little behind already (having posted nothing), but hopefully I’ll get caught up soon.

Wednesday Night Essays

Second, I’m starting a journal of my Primal Quest training. I’ve kept training journals in the past, and it’s a lot of fun, and good motivation. It’s especially neat adding up the mileage at the end of the season. I’m still not sure if the whole Primal Quest thing is going to happen or not. I think if I end up getting my relocation money, I’ll be willing to commit. There’s still question of getting the rest of a team together though. Oh yeah, there’s the whole being cable of completing it thing also. I’m not going to post the link for that until I have something substantial though.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Out and about

I'm currently out traveling Europe for a month.
(In Germany right now)

I may or may not get a chance to post things as I go.
Expect lot of posts after I get back (Jan 5), including a couple I had in the works before I left.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Biking vs. Driving Pictoral

In comparison to my post regarding the beauty of the American river bike trail while commuting to work, I’ve put the pictures side by side to what I see when driving. These pics were from was an ok traffic day. Yeah, I should fix the crack in the windshield.

Biking pictures on the left, driving on the right, not so bad so far

On ramp up the levee to get on the trail; On ramp to get on the free way

Along the trail, with the Sac State bridge in the background. On the freeway going under and overpass.

On the trail, on the freeway

On the trail, on the freeway

On the trail, on the freeway

On the trail, on the freeway

On the trail, on the freeway

One more time. I see a trend developing

Keep in mind, I like the physical act of driving; I think its fun. As far as commuting goes though, the cost benefit analysis just doesn't add up. I wonder how much productivity is lost in this country do to commuting????

Friday, December 02, 2005

Burn blowers, not books

Leaf blowers should be outlawed. Plain and simple. Have a big party in the middle of town, gather up all the leaf blowers, throw them in a pile, and light them up. We could make it a fall celebration.
They’re noisy, pollutive, and quite possibly the most hedonistic device ever conceived of. A person who drives a big SUV can at least use it for the once a year occasion to haul something, a person who uses a gas lawn mower on a 10’ X 10’ patch of grass instead of getting a manual one can avoid getting sweaty in the summer sun. Hell, even everyone in the cafeteria at work who chooses to use disposable utensils and plates even though real ones are right there, can claim that it saves them the time of having to walk all the way over to the tray return instead of just throwing away the disposables. (FYI: These are all very terrible excuses) On a side note, the whole disposable plate things shows that people act more out of habit than making conscious decisions. It’s actually much nicer to use real plates and utensils compared to disposables, but people are so used to using the inferior plastic ones at restaurants (who use disposables due to costs) that they keep doing it even when given the option.

Anyway, back to leaf blowers. I don’t think a leaf blower has any positives. Raking leaves is not that hard!! It’s probably one of the easiest lawn maintenance tasks there is. A blower makes so much noise, much more than a lawnmower, and doesn’t save time. I was watching a guy blow leaves yesterday, just standing there waving it back forth to get everything. I could have raked them in the same amount of time. Plus, fall weather is beautiful, so it’s not like you’re going to sweat your ass off (heaven forbid) by picking up a rake. Plus there the care for the blower, gas, initial cost, and did I mention noise?

This points out one of big catch 22s of living in a free country. People are free to make bad decisions as well as good ones, generally still a good trade off. What do you do when everyone keeps making poor desicions that are hurting everyone including themselves? I meant this post as a joke, but maybe banning leaf blowers is a good idea. Who gets to decide what a "bad decision" is though? Good thing we have an educated, well informed, unbiased, and ethical congress to think these decisions through for us.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tree climbing dog

My mother's dog is crazy. About five years ago, there was a racoon in a tree in front of their house. She tried to climb the tree to get it. The racoon was obviously gone the second day, but she kept trying, for weeks, until she finally made it up. For years, she would love climbing up the tree, and my dad had to put a ramp in so she could get down, and put up a board to prevent her from climbing higher. After she got fixed, however, she was to fat to make it up. She still tries though.
In all honesty, this was just an excuse to try out putting video on my blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Everyone else is doing it, so why can't I?

I'm jumping on the blogwagon, and putting in my two cents on the two Slate ariticles about biking that are making noise on the blogsphere.

Good bicycling articles point out that cycling, although different from driving a car, is not worse. They mention how changing your schedule or dress can easily integrate cycling into your lifestyle. They comment on how we have a tendancy to take for granted many of our actions and how our habits are reflection of the environment we grew up in. Overall, they focus on changes, not sacrafices, and talk about the benefits.

Neutral articles weigh the costs objectively. They point out how some benefits may not be as viable in your community, and how yes, it may take more work sometimes. They may even admit the commuting may not be best for everyone. Overall, a good article will mention obstacles, but also mention how to overcome them.

A bad article would look at cycling through the eyes of a driver, only seeing how its impossible to maintain habits they think are necessary while riding a bike.

Bicycle Diaries is a bad article. Actually, its worse than a bad article. Not only does he reinforce myths about commuting, but he actually makes up a couple of new ones. Cycling will get you fired? You'll be outcast from society? I'll admit that some people might look at you differently, but that's just because they're not used to seeing cycle commuters. I bet people gave a weird look to the first person to drive down the street on a car also.

Nobody bikes in LA is a good article.

Stupid Things - Primal Quest

Lots of people think some of the “fun” things I do are actually kind of, well, stupid. (Sorry, the trip postings are slim this fall due to work/school) I just might get a chance to prove them right though.

I received an offer to train with and potentially join an adventure race team for Primal Quest 2006. For those of you not tapped into the adventure race world, PQ is THE expedition race of the world. It’s one of the most extreme, with world wide television coverage, and a $250,000 prize purse attracting the best teams in the world. I thought I would like to do something like this in the future, maybe, if I could ever get a team together. Just getting the option to register for one of the coveted spots require either being on a top qualifying world team, fishing high in the previously years race, or winning one of the lottery spots, some of which are reserved for international teams. Oh yeah, you probably want to make sure you’re in good enough shape to do a 800km race with an estimated finishing time of 5 – 10 days, sleep optional.

Why would I want to do this in 2006?
-The 2006 race is local. (Somewhere across Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Arizona and/or Nevada. You don’t find out until later) 2007 will be on a different continent.
-The guy who contacted me already has a slot, he just needs to put a team together.
-800km, 5-10 days

Why not?
-I’d have to start doing some serious training come January.
-$8000 registration fee per team= $2000 per person. (That does include lodging though)
-800km, 5-10 days
-I might not be capable of finishing it if I’m not in top shape.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Moaning Caverns

Finally got the pictures to make this post.

On the Saturday of Halloween weekend, I went with a couple of friends to take the “Adventure Tour” of Moaning Caverns . This cavern is one of many natural caverns in the northern part of California that are privately owned. The main advantage of private caves is that they are easy to find, and you they provide guides so you can explore with out worry of getting lost. The big disadvantage of course, is the price they charge. Many owners also make the claim that private caves are preserved better than ones on open federal land, a claim that in all honesty might be true. (In general, I find the libertarian idea that privately held land is a more efficient way of environmental protection as complete BS.)

Before going in, and sitting around at the bottom

Moaning Cavern is quite the spectacle. Instead of being a normal limestone cave formed from carbonic acid seeping down a crack in the bedrock and slowly eroding a passageway, this was instead formed by a geyser of water shooting up through the rock. The result is a vertical cave, with an enormous cathedral like chamber with a ceiling towering 150ft above the floor. This allowed just as large rock formations to develop untouched from the ceiling, some of which are the largest in the world. From the base floor, the cave creeps and spirals down into more fun crawl spaces.

Carina, Steve, me

Rock formations and the bottom of the cavern. You can see the old sprial staircase put in place put in place many years ago, and still used for the walking tours

Tour choices consist of :
$15 walk down the 150 spiral staircase, and see the caver, walk back up.
$50 rappel down into the cavern to look at it, walk back up the stairs
$50 walk down the stairs and get a cool spelunking trip into the bellows of the cavern
$100 Adventure Tour, rappel down, take the spelunking tour, and then walk back up.

We took the pricey Adventure tour. They use high friction setups to dumb down the rappel; causing you to spend the entire time tending to the belay and getting stuck in spots. The spelunking tour was really fun, and our guide actually spent a couple extra hours with us, possibly to make up for the two hour delay we had. Overall, I’d recommend it if you’ve never done anything like it before. Its worth doing the walking tour, and if you like spelunking do that also. Only do the rappel if you’ve never done anything like it before.

Dinner at Firewood, a great restaurant in Murphy that our guide recommended. It has authentic Mexican and good American food, all cooked over wood.

Saturday, November 19, 2005


Saw my first cyclo-cross race this weekend. I had never heard of the sport until this year, but it turns out Sacramento has an active XC community. A couple of guys in the bike club at work had mentioned it, and on Jmac’s recommendation, I headed out to watch the final races of the season on Sunday.

Here’s a brief summary of what I’ve been able to piece together as far as what cyclo-cross is. Back in the day, roadies wanted something to do and to stay in shape for after the regular road bike racing season ended. The fall season would be colder, and rainier, with worse weather overall. The idea came that instead of running from the conditions, embrace them. Since you can’t know what the road conditions are going to be, why go on the road at all? Keep in mind that this was before the legendary Specialized Rock Hopper hit the market spurning the mountain biking craze of today. Instead, you simply took the road tires off your bike, and put on knobby tires slightly wider than road tires. Then take off your front derailleur, and switch out your chainring for a single smaller chainring (something closer to what you’d see on a track or mountain bike). There you have it, a simple cyclcross bike. A modern cross bike will also have a higher bottom bracket, but in these races you see everything form cross bikes, to modified road bikes, to mountain bikes. Disc brakes and forward pointing bar extensions are illegal though.

Now that you have a bike, all you need to do is set up a small circuit court going through parks, and what not. A good track will have sections of mud, dirt, hills, stairs and lots of obstacles. Here’s the thing though. A bike like this still isn’t going to be able handle the abuse that a modern day mountain bike takes, so what do you do to handle obstacles in your way? The forefathers had quite the idea, get off and carry your bike, hence the “cross” nature of the sport originated. This isn’t an optional aspect either. Even if you think you could handle going over a log, the rules require you to port your bike across certain sections. This brings a completely different element to it, requiring different muscles, and different types of breathing to go from sprinting, to taking a hair pin corner in the dirt, to dismounting and sprinting up stairs, to getting back on your bike.
I saw three such scenarios in this weekend’s race. The first involved running up a set of at least twenty stairs, and then later dismounting to jump over an obstacle and push your bike up a single track hill. The last one was to pick your bike to run/jump across a series of logs laid across the path. Super fun stuff.

The races went from registration at 8:00 to numerous divisional races spaced roughly 1 hour apart. I had biked the 23 miles out to the course mid Sunday morning, but had only planned on staying for short bit, just to check it out. The course was set up much better for spectating than I had anticipated, though, and after running into some friendly faces, I decided to stick around till the A race, and watch Jmac.

For information, and cool pics, check out : Velocommunity
Not only is this home to Sacramento’s Cyclo –Cross, but it’s also the home of the greater Sacramento cycling commuting. “A blog not just for me, but for everyone,” as the webmaster envisions it. Hopefully that vision will come to be.

Friday, November 18, 2005

WALMART: The High Cost of Low Cost

This week is(was) the national debut of Walmart: The High Cost of Low Cost. First off, I have to say that this movie was fantastic. Although I’ve been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks, I was still expecting a totally one sided biased story that would discredit itself. (Michael Moore like) I wrong on my assumptions. It was done very well, and a conscience effort was made to extend across political borders. They made it a point to let us know that many of the people interviewed were actually gun toting, truck driving republicans. The highlights were numerous interviews with ex-high level managers from the giant corporation. They were able to spread insight into how many of the problems do in fact come from the top.

They also did a neat way of promoting the movie, essentially letting anyone across the country host their own screening of the movie. All you had to do was purchase a DVD, and invite a bunch of people over. They’d even advertise your screening with them. I chose to see it at the local classic theater, The Crest, where one of the independent free newspapers was sponsoring a showing, along with some good comedy skits before the movie. This is somewhat fitting because A) There is an open air mall located a few blocks away, and the owners wanted to install a Walmart as part of a “downtown revitalization>” I won’t even comment on that one. Luckily the city council decisively said no to that one, insisting they draw smaller shops into the building. B) That same city council, however, was toying with the idea of giving Century theaters a 10 million dollar subsidy to build an arts theater directly across from the Crest, as a way of drawing people to the area. The street is dead, and the only, and I mean only, thing drawing people there are the Crest and Pyramid Brewing, most of the rest of the buildings are empty. Let’s see, there’s brewery, and a theater, there already, hmm, lets add a theater!!! Ok, I’m off subject.

Anyway, see the movie. I’ll save my Walmart rants for later; I have a couple fun Walmart projects lined up for Spring.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Fall Bike Ride

I took what will probably be my last full bike commute of the year. I wanted to go one more time to check out the leaves, and Veteran’s Day provided the perfect opportunity. I decided to take pictures along the way to show just how nice of a ride it is. Although I took most of the pics while moving, I did stop quite a bit. My legs aren’t in nearly as good as shape as they were earlier in the season either, so I ended up taking over 1:45 minutes for the 25 mile ride. It was a good day.

Keep in mind that this entire trail is going straight through the suburban sprawl that is the greater Sacramento area, yet you see very little signs of it along the trail, and the traffic is even out of earshot most of the way.

Leaving the city. The Sac State Bridge: Some say it was modeled after the Golden Gate. I say, well, its a suspension bridge. It allows students to walk over from the apartment buildings across the river to the school. I do wonder how much pull the land owners on the other side of the river had in the decision to have it built.

Nimbus Dam, Lake Natomas, and back to reality

Highlight of the trip, running into this guy towing his canoe with his bike.

He had a couple of suggestions for me when I mentioned that I'm building a similar setup for my kayak. He really goes all out though, biking upstream with a folding bike, so he can take it on his canoe with him, paddling downstream back to town.