Archive for the ‘environment’ Category
The past three days of riding have been spent winding along U.S. 12, a road through rugged wilderness. The road follows the bends of the Lochsa River for most of the part we were on, and the area is designated a Wild and Scenic River; a friendly park ranger said we can pull over and camp anywhere we’d like. It has required some planning in advance so we could always have enough water, especially in what’s been a bit of a heat wave through the area. We’ve been filling up on water at ranger stations and some picnic areas with better amenities. There is no cell service through most of this route, so we can only make updates when we find a place with wifi. I was also excited to see “wildlife resistant” trash receptacles, because it means we’re really out in the wild, but relieved to see signs saying grizzlies are essentially non-existant in this area.
Cycling over Lolo Pass going westbound was a breeze – only a 7-mile haul up, followed by an incredible coast down the other side. Six percent grades on a meandering road are just about the ideal when you’re coming down, as you don’t need to brake. The ranger station atop Lolo Pass was one of my favorite rest stops: free coffee and tea (many flavors of tea), wireless internet, picnic areas, and the usual wealth of information and maps.
There have also been plenty of places to pull over and wade into the river. It’s a great way to cool off, and we even talked to some fly fishermen who were finishing up their day in the oppressive midday heat. The temperatures have hit the low hundreds each afternoon in the river valley, though it cools off significantly in the evenings. We finished reading A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, which made us begin to understand fly fishing and life in these parts a little bit better.
Recent milestones: crossing the 3,000-mile mark of our trip, entering Idaho and the Pacific time zone, and celebrating two months spent on the road! We’re looking at options for the rest of our ride to Santa Barbara, but expect it’ll be another month or so before we end our bike tour.
All in all, Washington DC wasn’t hit too hard during Hurricane Sandy. A few hundred thousand without power for a day or two, some felled trees but mostly small branches, and minor flooding of low-lying areas. The fact that the Bloomingdale neighborhood didn’t flood was a story in itself (on DCist).
Can’t say the same for New York City and surrounding areas. There it’s clear that Sandy’s effects were disastrous. Last I heard, there were around forty storm-related deaths recorded. The east coast saw around 8 million without power. People are working around the clock to pump out floodwater and restore service to get their lives back to normal. We were lucky here, but many weren’t.
To continue going through our Iceland trip, I wanted to write a little bit about the area surrounding Lake Mývatn. Myvatn is a common vacation spot for Icelanders and tourists, with mixed-use paths running the perimeter of the lake, opportunities to birdwatch in the surrounding wetlands, and a beautiful geothermal bath. The lake was created by volcanic activity, which continues to shape and re-shape the region.
The drive to Lake Myvatn by way of Route 1 was preceded by sweeping changes of landscape throughout the morning. The immense looming glacier Vatnajökull, miles (or kilometers) of open ocean raging against the shoreline, black sand beaches, and barren volcanic deserts carried us along the coast and back towards middle Iceland. The last couple of hours driving towards Myvatn from the east was truly a barren land – no people, a few wandering sheep, sparse vegetation, and patches of snow atop the seemingly endless stretches of mossy lava.
More photos, so the post continues after the cut.
Returned from Iceland last night and I’m starting to go through photos and notes from the trip, but for now here are a few things I find impressive about that island country of 300,000 centered on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge:
Use of geothermal energy to conquer what is often a fierce and unforgiving land. The water heated below the surface of the earth is harnessed to heat homes and businesses, greenhouses, and the Icelanders’ beloved hot pots. Hot pots are natural tubs that can be found in nearly every medium-sized town, a great place to soak and socialize. This geothermal energy has allowed Iceland to become mostly energy-independent and is much of the reason the country is livable. And Iceland is not by any means an easy place to inhabit – people have to deal with dark, snowy winters that make many roads treacherous to travel, and the greatest number of active volcanoes in the world which can (and do) devastate towns without warning. In addition, not many animals can live in Iceland, but those that can are some of the hardiest in the world.
How quiet and unpopulated the country can feel. We travelled there in late September, which is the beginning of the off-season, but at many popular stops we saw few other tourists unless we happened to arrive at the same time a tour bus did. At the majority of our stops, we were the only ones around. Much of the country is uninhabitable – think fields and fields of nothing but volcanic rock – but a lot of it is also rural farmland. The ‘big’ cities include Reykjavik (the capital with around 100,000 people) and Akureyri (population 17,00o), which gives you a sense of how small the other towns must be. It’s commonly said that there are more sheep than people in Iceland.
Iceland as a nature lover’s dream. It’s hard to deny that it’s a gorgeous country. Abundant opportunities for hiking, ever-changing landscapes, all sorts of adventure sports, and volcanoes and glaciers. Mountains, hot springs, steam vents, and waterfalls everywhere you look.
This past Saturday, I walked 31 miles (50K) in 12.5 hours, along the C&O Canal from White’s Ferry, MD to Harpers Ferry, WV. This was part of the annual One Day Hike organized by the Sierra Club, with both 50K and 100K distances. It’s a great hike, with support stations every 6 or 7 miles to provide first aid, water, and food to all hikers. The distance is definitely no joke, although I kept pushing on by reminding myself that marathoners run almost as long as I walked.
I met a nice couple on the shuttle who were also first-timers, but lost sight of them early on because we got a late start (waiting in the bathroom line after the hike had begun). I was hiking with a friend who had been training for the hike mostly in the gym, and he found out quickly that conditions in the gym didn’t really prepare him for the gravel path we were hiking on. The first four miles were backtracking to get the complete distance right, then things were pretty easy for awhile – we were having fun, enjoying being outside, and making good time.
My friend made it to the support station at mile 17.5 before his knee gave him too much pain to continue. After that I was mostly hiking solo, which wasn’t an issue until it started getting dark. The path through the woods, when only lit by your headlamp, can be a little eerie.
After mile 20 or so, it felt like my motions were just robotic. Any time I stopped it was hard to start walking again, so I just kept walking with as few stops as possible (except to take photos of every mile marker). At the second and third support stations I had to stop to get my blisters popped and bandaged by the first aid volunteers. The volunteers on this hike were really supportive, and what a relief it is to see them at the stations and checking up on hikers on the trail! My feet were taking a beating, but my willpower was high and my legs weren’t really tired.
At mile 27, I pretty much hit the wall. After miles of constant pounding on my feet, most of the pain was concentrated there. I had some pretty intense blisters and hot spots on my heels. It started to get dark out. There was a light drizzle going. With 4 miles remaining, I honestly didn’t know whether I’d be able to continue; at the same time, I knew that quitting wasn’t any better – it’s not like they could have air-lifted me out of there, after all. 🙂
So I kept going, even though my pace dropped considerably and it wasn’t much fun at that point. All I could see was the path immediately ahead of me, lit by the headlamp as I proceeded into the darkness. Mile 30 brought me into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where there was a half-mile uphill looming before the end point. The change from a mostly-flat hike to a short uphill climb did help break the monotony and the pain on my feet, though. I chatted with a couple 100K hikers on the way up to the finish line before I fell behind again. The last tenth of a mile seemed especially difficult because I was already mentally drained – yet somehow I pushed myself up to the community center, where a shuttle back to the Metro waited to take back a pack of tired hikers.
Now, three days later, I’m still sore in my left foot and the blisters are on their way to healing. Would I do it again? I know it’s possible.
Here’s to the end of 2011. It’s been quite a busy and eventful year. I’m pleased with how I’ve been able to keep up with posting what I’ve learned every day, even if I didn’t keep track in June (posting instead about my trip to Korea). One blogging tip I have – especially for longer term projects like my “Everyday Lessons Learned” – is to set aside time to post. Otherwise it’s easy to forget and realize that you’ve fallen behind. If you set a personal schedule of posting and set yourself to it, it’s not hard to keep a blog active.
22: This year was the first year in over 3 decades in which we sentenced fewer than 100 people to death row. From a report by the Death Penalty Information Center, as reported on NPR’s Morning Edition. Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association, says one factor in this is crime rates:
This year the murder rate fell to where it was in the 1960s, meaning there are fewer people to charge with capital murder. That’s an enormous drop from the 1990s — when the U.S. executed more inmates than in at least half a century.
23: Did anyone else attempt to read the dictionary as a kid? I’m reminded of my short-lived attempt to read (not necessarily memorize) every word in the dictionary when I see this list of words David Foster Wallace copied out of a dictionary. My bookmark while I read DFW’s Infinite Jest was a sheet of paper on which I wrote all the words he used that I didn’t know the meaning of.
24: Together with the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) forms the Triple Crown of long-distance hiking in the United States. It’s 3,100 mile long, and runs along part of the North American Continental Divide. A thru-hike (a complete hike of the entire trail from end-to-end) of the CDT takes around six months at a pace of 17 miles/day. Add that one to your bucket list.
25: The East Coast Greenway (ECG) is a 2,500-mile, car-free path planned to go from Calais, Maine to Key West Florida, spanning huge distances with a continuous path. Currently over 25% is already on paths free of motorized vehicles, and the rest consists of interim on-road routes while the rest of the paths are being constructed. The goal for the ECG is to link all the major cities along the way, creating a safe way to travel by non-motorized means between these places on the eastern seaboard.
26: Some of the benefits to having a green roof:
There are many benefits to a green roof including a decrease in heating and cooling costs, which in turn mitigates the urban heat island effect. Other benefits include a natural filter for rain water, an increase in the life span of the roof, a natural habitat for animals and plants and a reduction in dust and smog levels. (via ArchDaily)
27: Detroit is planning a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system that will span 110 miles with these dedicated bus lanes. This would make Detroit’s BRT system the largest in the United States. (The largest in the world is currently Jakarta’s TransJakarta BRT system.) Stephanie Lotshaw at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy says that all current BRT systems in the U.S. are under 20 miles.
28: As described in the New Yorker, the Pitch Drop Experiment is the world’s longest running lab experiment, in which University of Queensland physics professor Thomas Parnell poured hot pitch into a glass funnel, tracking how long it would take for a drop to fall. It look eight years for the first drop of pitch to fall, another nine for the second drop, and so far there have been eight drops. The professor currently overseeing the experiment, John Mainstone, predicts the next drop will occur in 2013 – no one has yet witnessed the actual occurrence of a falling drop.
29: Layaway programs are regaining popularity in America with the depressed economy. These allow shoppers to make payments on the full price of a product, only getting the product once it’s paid off. However, there’s usually a $5 service fee, which means that it would typically cost more to buy something on layaway. The option of paying for things on layaway has recently returned to Walmart. Some of the appeal of layaway is that it forces you to put money aside for a specific product, rather than spending it elsewhere, especially because of the sunk cost of the service fee and the extra fee for cancellation if the shopper doesn’t make all the payments.
30: The Teapot Dome Scandal was an incident considered the greatest scandal in American politics, before Watergate. In 1922, during President Harding’s administration, the Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall accepted huge bribes from oil companies to grant them production rights without competitive bidding at Teapot Dome, an oil field in Wyoming. Fall was the first Presidential cabinet member to be imprisoned for his actions while in office.
31: Just to come back around: In 2011, Arlington
may have had its first year since the 1950s without a single murder. DC’s also experiencing a decline in murders.
For some other notes in the year-end roundup, keep reading.
Traffic to my blog grew by more than 65% over last year.
Most-read posts on Aesthetics of Everywhere from 2011:
- Everyday Lessons Learned: May 2011, Week 3
- T-money for transport and more in Seoul
- Spa Land in Centum City, Busan (and this one I just typed out quickly on my iPod)
- Seersucker Social 2011 Photos
- “Hamtdaa: Together” at Artisphere
Cheers to the New Year! Make 2012 count.
Projects abound these last few weeks. I keep forgetting it’s nearing that time to stop and take a break.
8: There are a variety of ways that allergists test for allergies. Allergy specialists use skin tests or blood tests to test the patient against suspected allergens, and several are usually tested at the same time.
9: Vacation photos of hotels can often be misleading. Check out Oyster’s Photo Fakeouts for some particularly exaggerated ones.
10: Random Hacks of Kindness is a hackathon devoted to creating software solutions focused on disaster risk and response. Programmers assemble in groups all over the world to work on projects like raising awareness of emergency hydrants in San Francisco or this analysis of health facilities distribution in Haiti.
11: Google has a product called Fusion Tables that allows you to import your data and map it fairly quickly. Somehow I missed when this came out, even though I’m a geek about making maps. I’ve played around with the sample and though Fusion Tables isn’t what I’d call a great product yet (it’s still in beta), it’s certainly nice to see the act of mapping data simplified and opened up to the masses. See examples here.
12: In September 2006, the mayor of São Paulo banned all outdoor advertising in the city – to include billboards, flyers, ads on buses, and other forms of “visual pollution.” This Clean City law was a move intended to wash away all the garish adverts that covered virtually every surface and increase quality of life for those in São Paulo. For some thoughts on how effective this has been, see the responses on Quora.
13: The Cupertino effect is a widespread error in texts of a certain time period that originated with spell-checking software. When the word “cooperation” (without a dash between “co” and “operation”) was typed on an older computer, the word would auto-correct to “Cupertino”, a word that was commonly found in the spell-checker’s dictionary.
14: A talk by Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice, always an entertaining topic. “The way in which we value things depends on what we compare them to.”
15: The LuminAID is a solar-powered inflatable LED light designed by two Columbia University graduates, Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta. It’s lightweight and waterproof, making it ideal for disaster relief. They also position the LuminAID as “a cheaper, safer alternative to kerosene lamps.”
16: Apparently there’s a language fad among female college students called vocal fry, a kind of “creaky” sounding voice. Hear an example here. But be warned, this is one of those things where once you hear it, you’ll start to hear it everywhere.
17: Read “The Movie Set That Ate Itself” and just try not to think about The Truman Show. Director Ilya Khrzhanovsky began a mock town inside of Kharkov, Ukraine, placing cameras all around this set and making it home to over 210,000 cast and crew members for six years. They’re recorded 24 hours a day, living out their roles. This is for his film Dau, and filming is scheduled to end in 2012. If anything, it’s an undertaking.
18: Composting your food waste has benefits for the environment, because less organic matter that ends up in landfills means less methane gas produced by the landfill. Currently about 98% of America’s food waste goes to landfills according to the EPA. Reduction of food waste is even more essential, as America wastes 27% of the food available for consumption – around 30 million tons of food each year.
19: An amazing story from a researcher conducting ethnographic fieldwork in China: Street Vendor Life in China.
20: Get geeky with these 3D pixelated animals by artist Shawn Smith. He uses balsa wood which he cuts to length and paints, arranging each ‘pixel’ to form these striking figures.
“For the past few years, I have been creating a series of ‘Re-things.’ These whimsical sculptures represent pixelated animals and objects of nature. I am specifically interested in subjects that I have never seen in real life.” (via Colossal)
21: Though I am planning a round-up of great end-of-year lists, The Atlantic’s In Focus series of photos from 2011 is especially noteworthy: The Year in Photos (Part 1 of 3)
Lots of topics the past two weeks about cool research. I’m deep in data these days, so it’s seeping into all of my thoughts…
8: Before the concept of homesickness came around in the 1750s, it was known as nostalgia and categorized as a medical condition – deaths could be attributed to this condition. Francesca Mari reviews Homesickness: An American History: “By two years in, two thousand soldiers had been diagnosed with nostalgia, and in the year 1865, twenty-four white Union soldiers and sixteen black ones died from it.”
9: A mondegreen is a mishearing of a spoken phrase that results in a more interesting take on the intended phrase. Here’s the origin of the mondegreen:
The term “mondegreen” was coined by Sylvia Wright in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen.” As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn’t realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And laid him on the green.” (Source)
10: New research suggests that the middle class eats the most fast food – not the poor.
11: It’s no secret that bicycling keeps you fit. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that if residents of 11 Midwestern cities ran just half of their short-distance errands by bicycle for four months out of the year, it would save at least $3.8 billion from avoided mortality and reduced health-care costs, and lower the number of annual deaths by 1,100. Results of the study are posted here.
12: Natural Language Processing: Where linguistics meets computers. Check out some of the work by the Stanford Natural Language Processing Group here.
13: The debate around climate change has changed markedly in recent years. A Harris poll in 2007 estimated that 71% of Americans believed burning fossil fuels led to climate change. That number was only 51% two years later, and then dropped further to 44% by June 2011. But this shift in belief has been very one-sided: 70-75% of self-identified Democrats and liberals believe in climate change, while only about 20% of self-identified Republicans do. (The Nation)
14: Mexico City’s Metro officials reported that 23 to 35 people fall into train pits each year. Mexico City is working to install platform barriers in its stations, starting with just two of their busiest stations (due to budget constraints). From The Atlantic Cities blog.
15: A law student in Austria, Max Schrems, requested his Facebook data – and received a CD with a 1,222-page long PDF of his personal information including deleted private messages.
16: Number of people who have disappeared from cruise ships in the past decade? 171. And 19 people have already gone missing this year alone. Because cruise ships tread murky international waters, and it’s often not possible to stop the ship to search for a person fallen overboard, and there’s also a high incidence of suicide on cruises, many cases are unresolved. It’s true, some are likely to be on-board murders. It’s in the cruise industry’s interests to quiet any of these disappearances. The eerie story of Rebecca Coriam, the first public disappearance from a Disney cruise, is recounted in The Guardian.
17: Apples go through a trial by fire kind of process when they’re bred; the process is narrated in John Seabrook’s piece in the November 21 issue of the New Yorker, “Crunch.” This story’s a lot more compelling than it sounds at first. For instance, did you know that apples are often selected over time for their redness, despite the fact that the redder apples have less flavor? It’s called “red drift” – retailers believe customers buy with their eyes, so growers tend to select for redness while sacrificing taste. An all-red apple also hides its cosmetic defects better, meaning more of your apples will be sold.
18: The Love Parade Stampede was an incident in Duisberg, Germany, on July 24, 2010 in which 21 people were trampled to death and over 500 were injured in the underpassthat led to the Love Parade music festival area. This was the only entrance and exit, and long after the stage area had filled up past capacity, people were attempting to enter through this tunnel. Those who were already in the main festival area had no way of exiting, with the masses of people pressing forward to get in. I first saw video footage of this horrifying scene in the crowd-sourced documentary Life in a Day, which records the happenings of a single day as experienced by people all over the world. Al Jazeera coverage shows footage of the event.
19: Pierogies are made in essentially the same way as Korean mandu (dumplings), except the filling’s a bit different and you add sour cream to the flour. Our first batch came out decent, though the process was kind of long. It’s a learning process. I’d say every culture has their own form of dumplings – one of my favorite things to do at family gatherings is sit around with my mother and grandmother and form the mandu by hand, adding special flourishes to mark them as yours (like signing a work of art).
20: There’s a proposed plan to turn an abandoned trolley terminal in NYC’s Lower East Side into an underground public park: Delancey Underground, or “the LowLine”. It’d be like the subterranean equivalent of the High Line.
21: According to XKCD’s notes on the Money Chart, the EPA’s current dollar value on a human life is $8.4 million. Go spend some time exploring that chart.
Hope everyone enjoys their few days of rest and feast. Happy Thanksgiving!
The theme of the week is: mind control. And food, as usual.
15: Research by the Yale psychology department a few years ago found that the most persuasive word in marketing to consumers was the word You. The other most convincing words were: Money, Save, New, Results, Health, Easy, Safety, Love, Discovery, Proven, and Guarantee.
16: During a recession, teeth-grinding goes up; shark attacks go down. Teeth-grinding, or bruxism, is often triggered by daily stress, which increases during periods of financial stress. As this often occurs at night, it’s difficult for a person to control (that’s if they even know they’re doing it). And why fewer shark attacks? Fewer vacationers.
17: Less time for play might be causing today’s children to grow up more anxious and depressed. There’s no question that unstructured play time is essential for proper mental development in children, and psychology professor Peter Gray believes it’s even linked to rates of clinical depression and suicide.
18: The body of a dead whale can itself sustain a complex underwater ecosystem as it decomposes. The process of decomposition takes something like 50 years, meaning the whale’s dead body sustains life for around the same length of time as it was alive. A whale carcass that has fallen to the ocean floor is called a whale fall, and certain species have only been discovered at whale falls.
19: Corning is a glass company that is the manufacturer of Gorilla Glass (which protects smartphone touch screens), along with other specialty glass. I recognize the company from their very well directed, futuristic advertisement, “A Day Made of Glass” – meaning their advertising is pretty effective.
20: A vigilante group in Veracruz targets drug cartels.
21: The Romanesco cauliflower is a broccoli-cauliflower hybrid. See image at left. It’s a naturally occurring fractal. Nature and math are awesome.
22: More math! I don’t think I can explain this better, but read on because it’s fascinating: NYC water towers (via kottke).
23: The jackalope is an imaginary creature that resembles a giant rabbit with antlers. Sad about the imaginary part.
24: Tacos are an amazing food, whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Especially for breakfast. Anybody know a good place to get a breakfast taco in Washington, DC?
25: Zombies = big business.
26: Rodízio is a style of Brazilian dining in which the waiters bring skewers of meat (or other foods) around to each of the tables, and the diners choose how much to receive. The meal is prix fixe, so one flat fee will get you as you want to eat.
27: The Occupy Wall Street movement has an app for informing those who need to know that you’re getting arrested.
28: Focusing one’s attention is a more daunting task than it seems – our brains receive over 1 billion pieces of information a second, but we can only consciously process about 40 pieces of information at a time.
29: The true size of Africa in relation to other countries: Top 100 Countries by Area.
30: I like these somewhat random finds. History of the Chinese Actuarial Profession, by Xie Z.
31: You can learn a lot about your neighborhood by sitting on your stoop/porch/stairs and greeting the people who go by.
Happy November, now. This entry’s shorter than usual because I’ve been swamped with work and moving house. Fall moving right into winter.
01: Your senses are delayed by about 80 milliseconds. Your brain can align inputs from simultaneous sensations (traveling from different distances through your body) so they’re experienced in sync – in a way, your brain waits before registering the information it has gathered from your body.
02: According to a recent CDC report, 5% of Americans drink over 550 calories of sweetened drinks daily. Teenage boys drink the most of the sugary stuff.
03: Caleb Chung, the creator of the Furby, wanted to improve upon the electronic pet idea (like the Tamagotchi and Giga Pet – very popular in the 90s) by creating a toy that could appear to be responsive and emulate machine learning. The more you played with a Furby, the more its vocabulary seemed to grow. It was programmed to gradually move from an unintelligible “Furbish” language to the English language, though the toy itself couldn’t actually hear or understand anything that was said to it. The Furby’s emotional expression are tracked to its ears – essentially serving as both its eyebrows and its arms. (Radiolab)
04: Pickling cucumbers doesn’t require many ingredients: cucumbers, water, vinegar, sugar, salt, garlic, and dill. I haven’t tried making them myself but hope to soon!
05: Verbal overshadowing is a term used to describe the strange effect studied by Jonathan Schooler: those who wrote down a description of a bank robber immediately after a staged crime actually had a harder time remembering the details later than those who didn’t describe the person right afterward. But his data began to regress towards the mean… (This one’s fascinating. Listen to the whole story here.)
06: The first Piggly Wiggly supermarket opened in Memphis, TN on this day in 1916. It was the first of its kind: a fully self-serve grocery store, in which customers could pick their items off the shelves without having to write an order to the clerk. According to the commemorative plaque at that site, “shoppers presented their orders to clerks who fetched goods, ground coffee beans, measured flour and sugar, and then added the bills in pencil on the back of sacks.”
07: An interesting analysis of China’s dependence on tobacco:
Smoking in China remains a highly gendered behavior with 57.4% of men and 3% of women smoking, respectively (WHO, 2010). The concentration of smoking among men reflects advertising and marketing strategies that have linked tobacco to traditional notions of masculine identity (nanzihan – 男子汉), political leadership (imagery of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping smoking) and expressions of nationalism and patriotism (cigarette brands such as Zhonghua – 中华). Anthropologists such as Matthew Kohrman have described how exchanging cigarettes forms the currency of male networking and friendship in rural and urban China (Kohrman, 2007).