Friday, January 30, 2009

I know Not to Test Drive Cars I can't Afford but ...

I know not to test drive cars I can't afford but didn't know how that applied in other circumstances like skiing.

I went skiing today and yesterday rented skis from Any Mountain.
My choices were the basic super-stable beginner ski, a higher end ski with more stiffness and speed, and some demos. I said that I probably wasn't an advanced enough skier to control the demos, but was interested in the second one. After some description I decided that it was worth trying especially if it would help me learn to ski better.

I brought my old slow skis to Sugar Bowl as well just in case I couldn't control the skis I rented. Turned out the rented skis handled beautifully, easy to control and very responsive. I had a great day skiing and I don't know whether it was because of the skis, or my improved skills or better leg strength (though I will have some left quad weakness), or a combination.

On the way back I decided to check out how much they were as I'm planning on skiing 4 more times this season and it might make sense to just buy them rather than rent. So when returning the skis I asked to see the equivalent retail model.

Well. It turns out that what I thought was a nice midline ski (made by Volkl) is actually a high performance ski. The responsiveness and control I noticed comes from the fact that there's a thin layer of titanium (!) embedded in it. And it's $800-$1000. Ack!

Here's one reference:

And here's a similar, woman specific, model that they have demos of that I'll have to try out sometime:

They say they do sell them at the end of the season, which is tempting, however that doesn't help me right now. Maybe I'll just rent demos since it appears that I can actually handle high performance skis.

I always say only buy [quality-wise] up to what you can tell the difference. Unfortunately now I can tell the difference (ouch).

At the time of writing, eBay did not show any Volkl skis in my size, but today (the next day) Liquidation Sports did show a used pair (probably also from a rental fleet) and the buy it now price was reasonable ($120), so I did order that. Shipping of skis is steep which drives it up to $150, but that it still cheaper than 4 rentals. These will probably be fine for another season or two and then I'll probably be so hooked that I want a new pair.

I'll look into selling my old Rossignols on Craigslist. I like Craigslist as then I can deal locally and not have to deal with shipping.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Altitude: so it's not what I thought it was

So I've been assuming that my altitude issues were getting worse as I seemed to hit a wall just above 7000'. I'm discovering that that's not the case and what I've been observing is something that's always been around and something I can work past.

The 7000+' issue is there but it's something I noticed a long time ago when climbing up Sentinel Dome at 8122' in Yosemite from the Valley floor (~4100'). I gallivanted up to Glacier Point at 7214' no problem, but when I did the rest of the distance up to the top I struggled some though was able to do it. This was 15 years ago. Now that I look at the numbers I see it would be a great training hike for Shasta though that trail is technically closed in Winter (though some leap over the barrier). Anyway, this is [mostly] not the issue i was having on Shasta.

The reason I've never really noticed the magic 7k' before is more of my climbs start above 8k', so in all cases I had to acclimate some. Once on Lassen I didn't acclimate, but just went up and was fine till about 9k and then hit a wall. Maybe I just need to pace myself better knowing that I've going to run out of reserve oxygen.

Last weekend we went snowshoeing on Shasta and got up to above Spring Hill (over 8500'), and sure enough right around 7200' I felt the oxygen dissipate from my muscles. Mentally I was like: Hey wait! Come back! But it was like the air had been let out of a balloon and all I could do was sort of observe it happening. The cool thing though was that I was then able to feel that even without that oxygen reserve I could keep going, though did a lot more pressure breathing and the weight training I've been doing is helping.

So I'm still left with - what happened on Shasta last year? I really thought I was ready but I was actually in good sealevel shape, but not able to cope with the stresses of higher altitude and also pushing myself to keep up with a group (something I'm probably not going to do much of now). It appears that to compensate for low oxygen, you have to over train and Courtenay, the Body Results trainer I'm consulting with, is emphasizing heavier that typical weight training and intervals.

The relevant Body Results pages are:

And a good altitude reference (and description of pressure breathing) is

But I can't escape the feeling of futility. The fear that no matter what I do I'm going to fail. I also can't do the full program and do all the dog related things I like to do. It's striking a balance and it's really tough. I'm down on myself for not keeping up and I have to stop myself and say "Hel-lo! You just did 100 lb squats after doing RPM and then you walked both dogs. That's pretty cool in and of itself - give yourself a break."

One issue is that if I don't get enough intense aerobic exercise (like the RPM spinning class), I start to get depressed. My exercise program does include aerobic training, but not in the quantity that my brain apparently needs. It sneaks up on me gradually but became clear this week. I did RPM today and feel good but I need to do it very consistently for a while to keep me from getting worse even at the expense of training. If I get depressed then everything stops, my perspective goes to hell, and I would need to go back on medication which I'd rather not do if I can avoid it. One thing that helped me realize that I was tettering on depression is that I don't seem to realize that the fact that my altitude issues are not worse is really great news. More correctly I know it's great news, but I don't feel it. The joy just isn't there and that's a red flag.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bye Bye Gitmo - Investigatons Next?

Obama signed an order to close Gitmo (Ref.) and I just listened for a second time to a Fresh Air interview with Phillipe Sands on what might happen next and just how far reaching the implications of the Bush administration being involved in torture.

What was interesting about the Sands interview is that he goes into detail about what might happen, and who it might happen to.

Torture is considered an international war crime, right along with Genocide. What I didn't know is that these crimes are considered crimes against the whole world and most any country can investigate them and in fact is to some degree obligated to. If the US does not advance an inquiry into just what happened at Abu Grab and Guantanamo Bay, then another country is very likely to do so.

It's easy to think in terms of Bush and Cheney who have some sheilding by just because of having been the pres and vice pres of the US, but those who are really vunerable are those who were just underneath them, but in very high profile positions.

Names that we may be seeing again in terms of being investigated are these attorneys:
Donald Rumsfeld: former Sec of Defense
David Addington: Cheney's General Council and Chief of Staff and very central to policy making, and credited with coming up with the general climate that torture is ok.
Jim Hayes: Legal Council to Donald Rumsfeld, and now a lawyer for Chevron
John Yu - Attny who authorized aggressive interrogation methods, author of the torture memos
Alberto Gonzales: former Attny General and White House Council
Doug Fife & Paul Wolfowitz - helped dispense with adhereing to Geneva Convention

It's very interesting that Bush did not pardon anyone preemptively and Sands points out that even if Bush were to pardon all involved, then another country will step in.

Also if any of them were to travel things get really interesting because of extradition agreements. This is not theoretical. In 1998, the despot Pinocet went to London for a medical procedure. He thought he was safe there, but Spain who was investigating him and which Pinocet knew to avoid, asked for extradition, and he was immediately arrested.

It means that all these people are in some sense imprisoned here. Not much of an imprisonment, but it's a start and like that their freedom is curtailed at least some.

What's appalling is that precisely none of these people are apologetic about what they did. Ironically the one who has come the closest is Bush himself.

What's also interesting is that this screwup is entirely from the Administration lawyers and not the military lawyers who apparently were very opposed to this.

Staying tuned.

Monday, January 19, 2009

When Training is Emotionally Risky

Anyone who has trained for a physical goal has dealt with this, it's that classic fear of failure combined with a sense of futility and inevitability.

It's particularly difficult when it's something you've failed at multiple times, and yet refuse to give up just yet. While training for ski mountaineering this season, I find that I again am going back to Shasta and will try to climb it. While training for skiing right now, I'm not completely convinced that my skiing confidence will be enough to make me feel ok in ungroomed areas like Shasta, as I'm only recently figuring out how to ski without exhausting myself, so I may instead default back to climbing.

Because I want to give myself the best shot I can, I've hired mountaineering trainers Body Results, and Courtenay is designing programs for me first aimed at ski mountaineering and then for climbing. Her idea is that if I concentrate on strength and intervals that may indeed help me with my altitude issues.

Courtenay says that women always underestimate what they can lift. Sounds right, it's what we've been taught. Well I got to see this theory in practice as I went to see her while I was up visiting my parents in Seattle. We talked about dumbbell rows (here is an example). I mentioned that I normally do them with 15 pounds, and she said ok. Try this. She pulls out a 40 pound dumbbell. Eek! But she was encouraging and said just try it. I was able to do about 6 and that's all she was asking. I had no idea I could do that without getting hurt. The training regime for the first month had me doing 30 pounds, which is a great confidence builder.

She also showed my how to set up and use a squat cage, and even though it wasn't a part of my program I have been doing them anyway just because of the shear novelty of them and because it was cool to get past being intimidated by it. Now I can squat weights that I had no idea I could do. I started at 45 pounds (that's the bar weight) and added 5 pounds each time. I'm up to 85 pounds and am going to stay either there or at 90, as it's getting difficult. She's also having me deadlift 40 pounds and that's harder as it's tough on my back though I've figured out how to make it easier by raising the barbell up on step risers (the big boy weights that are too heavy for me, are wider in diameter so they don't have to bend over as much as I do.)

But during training I still have this inevitable feeling that it's still not going to help me magically deal with altitude. I don't let it stop me but the feeling is still very much there. Altitude issues are tough when you live at sea level and I've written about them a lot before, I'm going to Shasta this weekend to snowshoe and will get above the magic 7500' level where I usually have trouble. I was up at 8000' at Squaw Valley but that's downhill skiing so I don't know how much of a test that was though I was going up stairs at that altitude and didn't feel out of breath so there's hope.

The thing that I have to keep in mind is that I have these great adventures, while not reaching my goals despite how disappointing as it is and how much of a failure it makes me feel like. I may not have gotten above 10,300' on Shasta, but I have been there multiple times and what a gorgeous place to be. I know my way around the lower Avalanche Gulch area very well and can tell others how to navigate it (not that it's that hard mind you, but in snow everything tends to look the same unless you're familiar with it.) I have good mountain skills, I'm comfortable in snow, and know how to snow camp (something that a lot of hikers dread and I think they really should learn how so they don't have to be so limited to just summer), I've been snowed on in June which is a magical feeling, and I'm a really good glissader. I'll glissade by someone struggling up the mountain and they say how they want to be in my position and I happily tell them: "It's the only way to fly." I'm also in the best shape of my life. My genetically inspired high cholesterol and triglycerides is under control with exercise, diet and supplements.

But it does nag. Struggling with altitude gives me a lot of self knowledge. I know that it's AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) treatable with Diamox, and not something more serious. Knowing this, I'm going back to Mt. Whitney this year and I'm going to summit if weather conditions allow. I've done the hard part (to Trail Crest at 13,000') twice and run out of steam. This time I'm not going to stop unless it's something more serious (I know the last time I was at that altitude I could have pushed myself, but it would have been an exhausting step by step grind). The gotcha will be if the 7500' altitude wall I've been running into of late (a new development for 2008) stays or lets up with persistence and acclimatization.

For not reaching my original goals I certainly have a fine time doing so, and I have to keep perspective on this, even it it means that I may have to find lower altitude adventures. Fortunately, there are many challenging mountains that are 10k' or close to it. The often challenging and sometimes deadly Mt Hood is merely 11,249'. Mt Adams in Washington state is heavily glaciated and is 12,281'. There are other peaks in Washington which are difficult and even lower.

Selling a Dream

One of my jobs at work is to go through our Spam Queue to look for things that got caught by mistake. It's an appalling sort of job going through email that tries to appeal to our most base desires, so to cope I spend time analyzing the trends.

The trends are remarkably simple:

  • sex, sex, sex (meaning enlargement, viagra, russian women, some porn site advertising)
  • beauty / body image (lose weight, abs of steel, fake pharmacies; Closely related to sex)
  • money (get rich quick, get out of debt, refi, avoid foreclosure)
  • business (also money - but more specific)
  • Advertising such as
    - As Seen on TV (e.g. pedipaws - a dressed up dremel)
    - Free and likely a catch (fake watches, gift cards, test and keep, bootleg software)
    - Buy this (the usual advertising but surprisingly little)

And that's pretty much it. Five topics sum up our most basic desires, and the first two are pretty much the same. What does that say about us? Are we that simple at our most base level?

Commercials (radio and TV) run along similar lines but starts to differ in interesting ways.
AM radio is very snake oil and skates quite close to spam. FM radio and TV are more expensive and more regulated so what shows up is more beer and cars.

And sometimes you see a cross over. I saw an enlargement ad on TV and was shocked that someone could afford to do it (or that someone took it). And Viagra is everywhere it seems.

But they all are selling a dream. I'm still not sure what that says about us. I think it means that a lot of us crave companionship and fear loneliness, and there are far too many of us that are happy to take advantage of that vunerability.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Prop 8 Supporters being Willfully Dense


But Prop. 8 proponents said Monday that Brown was carving out law where none existed. They argued that if the attorney general's argument prevailed, it would be virtually impossible for voters to amend the state Constitution whenever the courts determined that inalienable rights were involved.

DUH! For precisely ONE time they got the point, but refuse to learn ANYTHING from it.
"What do you mean we can take away rights? That's just not right " (ok, that's me putting words in their mouths.)

Willfully dense. Just amazing.

Jerry goes on to say:
It would be "tyranny of the majority" to allow such rights to be taken away by a simple majority vote, he said, arguing that such an action is "inconsistent with the guarantees of individual liberty in the state Constitution."
You go my man!

John Stewart is also very much on the My Hero list with his respectful skewering of Jim Huckabee. You can see that interview here. (The URL is a little long so I didn't put the full thing in here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Zappos: faster than a speeding brick and mortar

I have nothing against going into stores, but it will usually take me more than a week to actually get myself to said store (except for the grocery store). The advantage of a brick and mortar clothing store is that I can try things on.

Zappos is trying to challenge that advantage and appears to be being successful at it. They usually have things priced at pretty close to list price, the difference is the speed that it appears and they pay for shipping both directions. What a great business model. They actually encourage you to order several items and return the ones you don't want. (They do have to be in new condition so wear them inside first.)

The shoes (they sell other things too) show up amazingly fast the next day even when I order after 5pm. This is to the point that I've started inadvertently testing them out. At 8:45pm last night I ordered a pair of running shoes that I've been putting off buying for a while. At 11pm I got a shipping confirmation (say what? who works then? I guess they do), and at 11am (just over 14 hours) the shoes appeared. That's just astounding. I think about going to the store for longer than that.

I still like going to physical stores as I like to see the selection but this is just amazing.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Are We Musically Unshockable Now?

I've been wondering for a while now if we're past being shocked by music anymore.

In the 60's the Rolling Stones singing Why Do We Live Together created a huge stir.
This continued with all the inuendo of 70's disco.
Then the 80's and the door pretty much came down
Though the 80's was when i was paying by far the most attention so my perspective may be skewed:

- Violent Femmes Add it Up where Gorden Gano asks: Why Can't I Get Just One Fuck?
- Frankie Goes to Hollywood openly sang about oral sex and it later became clear the singer was gay.
- Prince and his Little Red Corvette which wasn't a car
- Madonna getting it on with a holy statue in the Like a Prayer video
- Rap really got going and while it started out in politics (my favorite) it quickly became (or went back to), getting really explicit about sex (and misogyny).

In the 90's and the 00's people get more in to a lather about the conduct of the artists than the music, which is nothing new. Keith Moon blew up toilets, 100's of guitars and hotel rooms have been smashed and trashed. but now it's more about celebrity drama and bad judgment. We have Wardrobe Malfunctions (which was more just a risky choreography move gone really wrong on one of the most public of stages - the Super Bowl), leaving your babies in a car while you go shopping, somewhat controversial African child adoptions. But none of this has anything to do with the music. Even when the Dixie Chicks were having their CD's run over by red state tractors it wasn't the music, it was them dissing Pres. Bush. (which puzzled the blue states and funny how that doesn't happen anymore even in the red states.)

Even songs like Detachable Penis are novelty songs and no one that I know of protests them.

I got my hopes up while listening to Alice Radio (97.3 in the bay area) when they played "I kissed a Girl and I liked it." The singer, Katy Perry, goes on to say she hopes her boyfriend doesn't mind. The DJ came on and said that her boyfriend did mind and dumped her and has written this blog entry about it (I should look it up, but I haven't). But is anyone protesting the song? Ok Google tells me that a church in Ohio is trying (by putting on their marque that homos are going to hell - yawn, be more original please) and it seems to be backfiring or having no effect at all besides people being really annoyed at them (Ref.) So once again, it's about the backstage drama, not the music.

My research continues, this is fun.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Dear Harvey, We need You Now

I just saw Milk, which is a Gus Van Sant film about Harvey Milk. I hope both Sean Penn (wow he's come a very long way over the years) and Gus Van Sant get Oscars for it as this is such an awesome film, and they took pains to nail the details.

And everything felt so Deja Vu when they were talking about the Brigg's amendment. Milk talking about the importance of coming out and making sure every voter knew a gay person. Prop 8, while not as heinous as the Brigg's amendment, showed us that we still have work to do in that area, and I dearly wish he was around to offer his wisdom.

I realize that the odds of him not getting shot, or then perhaps dying of AIDs complications in the 80s, or just simply not surviving to age 78 (he was killed when he was 48. 30 years ago), were not good, but I still wish we had him and his insight around.

We miss you Harvey. We really do. Thank you Gus and Sean and everyone else for bringing him back to life.

I had a Great 2008 and Wow I Feel Guilty

I watched a lot of new year's celebrations here on TV (feeling lazy and didn't want to go out, so instead cuddled with Terri and the dogs - we do these inadvertent sofa puppy piles to see how little horizontal space we all can take up). Everyone interviewed on TV was saying 2008 good riddance and were hoping for a better 2009.

While I completely understand, I feel gratefully way out of step with this perspective.

I got married. I am employed. My spouse is employed. My employer is in good financial health. I have a house with a good fixed rate loan that I can afford. I have a car that I can afford. If it turns out I can't afford the car I can sell it and just use my truck that I keep for the house (and because it's paid for). We have 2 great dogs, one who is doing very well in her agility training and hopefully going to be a star, the other, who has been a behavioral pain in the rear, is improving and is doing very nicely in his herding training.

In short, it's been a good year for me. The passage of Prop 8 was a bummer but there is growing high profile opposition to it and the Supreme Court will review it in March. My parents are in so-so health, but are coping, and my mother just had a knee replacement and that is proving to be life changing in a positive way. I still have MS, but it's been stable for years (I'm a good kid and I take my medicine), and I still train for mountains and skiing. (Which I'm not that great at yet.)

This is all making me slightly paranoid. I feel like: "Don't get too comfortable" - like there's a disaster around the corner. I sure hope not - I like this.