Thursday, December 31, 2009


I knew it was going to be a good day when I was clearing my driveway last night. The intake height on my snowblower is 21 inches, and it was up to the top in places.

I’ve made no secret that I’m a bit absentminded from time to time. This ski season seems to have been a little worse than normal in that regard. Typically I’m really good about putting all my gear except for what I’m wearing and my boots in the car the night before.

Unfortunately, last Wednesday morning I walked out the door to go skiing and didn’t realize until I got to the parking lot that I failed to bring my boots. Thankfully, Aaron had locked his keys in his car, so it worked out that I took him to get a spare key and grabbed my boots on the way and the two of us still got a lap in after the rest of our friends were finished.

Then on Saturday, Tyler and I made it up to Alta and were putting our boots on when I realized my beacon was nowhere to be found. It was five degrees, conditions weren’t great, so neither of us was too disappointed to go back home.

This morning, however, I made it out the door with everything intact. I even brought an extra jacket so I could decide based on conditions which one I wanted to wear for the descent. It would have been a bad morning to miss. First time of the year it’s been over-my-knees deep. Mid-thigh, and almost waist deep in a few spots.

Jon S. and I broke the trail most of the way up Flagstaff, but with the deep snow we were easily caught by Ben and Mike—who started about 30 minutes after us—before reaching the top. The four of us did two laps together. The skiing was so good, I couldn’t be bothered to take pictures except of the first pitch we skied.

First light of the morning on Cardiac ridge:

I laid first tracks and stopped to take photos:

Jon surfs the deep stuff and kicks up some cold smoke:

Ben drops in with panache:

Mike makes good use of his new Megawatts. Unfortunately, coverage is still thin, so he put a core shot in them. I one upped him on lap two with a core shot plus a blown edge.

The coverage isn’t the only thing lacking this time of year. I wish I would have had the fitness for a third lap, but after two, my legs were done. 3,000+ vertical—all of it deep powder—isn’t bad, though.

I can’t believe I’m about to post this on the Internet, but back at the office, I discovered that the absentmindedness wasn’t taking a day off. I’ll need to be running to the store on my lunch break. One need only look at the title to figure out what I forgot.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


In case you hadn’t heard, Jon Gosselin’s upper West side apartment was burglarized and ransacked over the holidays. Yeah, that sucks, even for a media whore like Jon.

What sucks even more, though, is his reaction. According to his lawyer, “Jon feels like he was raped…”

Seriously? This is the guy whose only claim to fame is having TV cameras follow him and his wife and eight kids around so a cable network can broadcast what they do in their pajamas. The details of cosmetic surgery, employment contract, divorce proceedings, and extramarital affairs have been all over the tabloids. Privacy is an abstract and unknowable concept for this guy.

Yet now he feels violated because someone went in his house and took his coffeemaker? C’mon, Jon. You can’t rape the willing. That analogy is offensive and degrading to actual victims of sex crimes. The pretended outrage and apparent attempt to generate publicity for yourself is as obviously fake as your hairline.

Anyone else smell another balloon boy incident brewing?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Light is right.…or is it?

Jared recently posted about the weights and dimensions of his various ski setups. Jared likes to go fast and cover a lot of ground in the backcountry. And I understand this. The faster you go up, the more you get to go down in a given amount of time. The lighter your setup, the faster you can go up. Makes sense, right?

An analogy Jared uses is mountain biking. Most of us around here choose to ride lightweight cross country bikes. They go fast uphill and perform reasonably well on the down. This bike setup makes a lot of sense in Utah, since, with the exception of Moab and St. George, most of our trails are hardly rougher than a dirt sidewalk.

If you go to British Columbia, however, most riders are on long travel freeride bikes. They require major effort to get uphill and don’t go very fast in the process unless you’ve got a shuttle. But oh what fun they are on the down.

Just as heavier, longer travel bikes are better suited for the trails in British Columbia, so too are fatter, longer skis better-suited for skiing in the Wasatch. The lightweight setups may get you uphill faster, but if you rode your hardtail with 1350 gram race wheels down a North Shore trail in BC, your bike would be a folded-up heap when you got to the bottom. If you made it that far. Likewise, here in the Wasatch where we get 500+ inches of snow annually, you may as well enjoy the down to the utmost. For me that means a ski built for deep snow.

It’s also a matter of priorities. I don’t race on skis. I’m out there to enjoy the snow and have fun, usually skinning at a pace where I can have a conversation. I keep up with the guys I go out with just fine, so going faster doesn’t accomplish much unless I were really keen to break trail all the time or wait around at the top. I don’t want to do either.

If I were a quiver kind of guy, I might have multiple skis to suit various conditions—a deep-snow ski for powder days and a lighter ski for long tours. But I have and have had multiple skis in the past and have found that I pretty much just ski whichever is my favorite all the time.

I started last season on some 163cm atomics. These had been fine in Idaho where twelve inches was as deep as it ever got and negotiating tight trees was a priority. But even at 99mm underfoot, I hated them in the deep snow of the Wasatch because they were too short.

I switched to 181cm K2s early last season and have never looked back. In my mind, the K2s are perfect for touring in the Wasatch. They’re wide (102 underfoot) and long enough to float in deep snow, the rockered tips never dive, and the flat tails are handy when touring. Like Jared, I’d never use anything but a Dynafit binding for touring, but my idea of the ideal ski to mount them to is quite different than his.

As for boots, that decision is driven by ski choice more than anything else. You need to have a boot that can drive the skis you choose. My boots are a Scarpa Spirit 3, which is probably as light as I could go for the skis I’m on. A F1 or F3 would save weight, but I don’t think I could turn with any confidence. As it is, Andrew McLean singled out more or less my exact setup as a “horrendous combination” because, by his estimation, the bindings and boots were too light for the skis. I disagree because, as Andrew later said “If it skis good, it is good.”

My setup skis good, or rather well, for what I like to do. A lighter setup would be of no benefit at least 90% of the time. Of course, if DPS offered me a set of carbon fiber Lotus 120s to try out, I wouldn’t say no and may never give them back.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Today’s post is kind of a hodge-podge, with the unifying theme being the awesome things I’ve seen on my way to work this week.

The first awesome thing is the inversion layer yesterday morning (Dug stole some of my thunder here, but I’m mentioning it anyway). I pulled out of my driveway, stopped, and grabbed my sunglasses from my bag because the sun was so bright at my house. I took them off as soon as I got to about 5300 feet.

Shortly after stopping for a picture of the inversion, I stopped again, this time because the elk herd I mentioned a couple weeks ago was making its way along the side of the road. The bull had already come and gone from sight, but I got a shot of these cows. How awesome is that to see elk on the way to work?

The third awesome thing was at my kids’ school. They had a Christmas program, so I went and watched that before I went to work. Of course, visits to my kids’ school mean I’ll see stripper moms. Initially, I didn’t notice any good examples. It’s cold, and staying warm necessitates covering flesh. But as the program progressed, I noticed a few stalwarts, and they were exceptional.

First was the mom who seemed to shake her business at any opportunity while she walked around with a fairly tight, fairly thin sweater and no bra. Did I mention that it’s cold? Yeah, it was like a turkey timer, or rather two of them, but cold sensitive instead of hot.

Next was the first of its kind I’ve seen: the stripper Grandma. She was clearly old enough to be the grandma but wasn’t dressed like one. Tight pants, tight shirt, chemically-treated hair, and quite possibly an eating disorder. I’ll bet she makes quite a stir at the senior citizen center.

Finally, there was the mom who proved you can strut your stuff no matter the temperature. Bleach blonde hair (the carpet clearly did not match the drapes unless she treated that too), big earrings hanging down to her shoulders, leather jacket, tight leather pants, and the coup de grace, a red shirt that was so small, the fabric was strained to nearly bursting where it crossed her nipples.

My only regret is that I didn’t get a decent picture. Not for lack of trying, though. Rachel held Keiki, and I pretended to take cell phone pictures of her while really trying to get the stripper mom in the background. Unfortunately, none of them turned out.

The last awesome thing to happen to me was on my way in to work. It started snowing during the program, so the roads were wet and slick. You’d think that by now most people in Utah would get wise to the fact that snow tires are worthwhile. Of course even with snow tires, people still wouldn’t know how to drive. There were four slide-offs or accidents between point of the mountain and downtown. I didn’t get to the office until almost noon. Can’t wait for the drive home—it’s going to be awesome.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Release the avalanche poodle

Following a storm towards the end of last season, the Utah Avalanche Center forecasted high hazard conditions, and I stayed home as a result. Those who ventured out were rewarded with epic powder that was by and large very stable. A little bummed that the forecast was too conservative, I lamented the missed opportunity on the Teton Gravity forum. I got totally and completely flamed as a result, and rightly so.

The UAC does a good job and is spot on 98 times out of 100. But the two times they miss, they miss by overestimating the danger rather than underestimating it. As well they should. The flaming comments told me to get off my lazy butt and get some avalanche education so that the forecast could be one piece in the puzzle, but I could make my own decisions.

I read a number of books about avalanche safety, but this last weekend, along with Aaron and Adam, I finally took a level one class. It was worthwhile in every respect. A lot of people come away with a “blood on the highway” fear that they’ll be swallowed up at any moment. For me it was just the opposite. I learned about the science behind forecasting, what to look for, how to read snow profiles and interpret tests, how to stay in safe terrain, and what to do if an accident happens. I feel more confident venturing into the backcountry as a result.

We took the class offered by Utah Mountain Adventures, and our instructors were outstanding. Tyson, the lead instructor, wrote the book on backcountry skiing in Utah. Literally. Rick Wyatt was the first person to ski the Grand Teton on tele gear. That was back in the days of three pin bindings and leather boots. Winslow has summitted Denali nine times. Brian is a full-time mountain guide besides being one of the coolest guys I’ve ever spent a day touring with.

Tyson also has a great sense of humor. Even he thinks he’s funny and would often spontaneously start laughing as he was lecturing. I suspect that the subject matter reminded him of some story that wasn’t appropriate to share, but maybe he’s just that happy. When discussing what to do if your evaluation indicates that a slope is unstable, he asked “do you just center punch it and see if it slides? Release the avalanche poodle!?”

Hopefully I learned enough to avoid being the avalanche poodle myself. Here are a few photos of the weekend.

Aaron and Jeff doing beacon practice:

Adam seeking what I’ve hidden:

Looking up from the site of our fake “rescue.” We found and extracted three “victims,” one without a beacon, in fourteen minutes. We were told lots of groups have to do that exercise over because everyone “dies.”

Adam doing a compression test:

Aaron doing an extended column test. We learned that these aren’t widely adopted (and not technically part of Level 1 curriculum) but are used in Utah and Montana to give an indication of the slab’s tendency to propagate.

Here I am stepping onto the Rutschblock:

Winslow dropping off of Twin Lakes Pass:

Adam follows suit:

I never tire of looking at Mt. Superior:

One last steep shot before exiting Grizzly Gulch:

Aaron rides it like he stole it:

Friday, December 18, 2009


I don’t like admitting I’m wrong. But I sometimes (often?) am. And when I am, as much as it pains me, I try to admit it. For instance, when I wrote about healthcare reform, I suggested that tort reform would be a meaningful component of reducing costs. Walter and Alex kindly set me right in the comments. Malpractice insurance is typically between 1% and 3% of a provider’s cost. So even if tort reform eliminated the need for malpractice insurance (it wouldn’t), we’d at best see a 3% reduction in cost. I, and I assume most rational people, would rather pick other fights.

So yesterday when one of my colleagues, let’s call him “Rush,” was going off to the guy sitting next to me about how tort reform was the holy grail of healthcare cost reduction, I calmly got up and engaged in the conversation. I politely explained what I had recently learned about the relative insignificance of tort reform. I would have even walked him through the math if I could have got a word in edgewise between his ranting on about “I don’t care, it’s still crap.”

And when I realized that this was not an argument but rather contradiction and that his only tactic was to call my position crap, I walked away. I never walk away from an argument.

Moments later as he walked back to his office, he paused at my desk and said “it smells like alcohol over here.” I don’t know if he was implying that I must be drunk to think what I think, but that’s the only explanation I can come up with.

But maybe he has a higher degree of certainty than I do that his position is right. Perhaps he knows something that can prove the very simple math involved wrong. Perhaps, as Glen Beck suggests when admonishing his followers to buy Gold, he even prayed on it.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Beck - Not So Mellow Gold
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Crisis

Thursday, December 17, 2009

This is my gym

All across the country this morning the fit and active labored away in spin classes and on treadmills. Many gallons of sweat dripped onto elliptical machines that simulate cross country skiing.

I went to the gym this morning as well. Mine has no membership fees or instructors. You can’t even watch TV. You get views like this instead.

It hasn’t snowed in nearly a week, so all we were hoping to get out of the morning was a workout. Towards the top it was a little windpacked and crusted. But about 1/3 of the way down, we were pleasantly surprised with creamy soft snow and wonderful turns all the way to the car. I love winter.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Frosting on top

It’s finally on. Jon S. and I met up this morning for a little tour in Big Cottonwood. Meanwhile, Rick, Jon J., and Rob were in Little Cottonwood putting the first tracks of the year on Flagstaff. Rick summed it up as follows: “I won’t go into details other than to say today was really, really good.”

Rob elaborated: “Second.”

Jon J. further elaborated: "Amen."

Big Cottonwood was no different. Yet again, we got to the top just in time to see this:

I commented to Jon that it was worth hiking up just to see the sunrise. He agreed and added “that we get to ski down is like frosting on top.” Especially when you consider that looking the other way we saw this:

And this:

No wonder Jon’s smiling. The smiles only got bigger as he descended.

Towards the bottom, the coverage was a bit thin. Either that, or the undergrowth was a bit thick.

But the views remained nice.

And the smiles didn’t go away.

How can you not love the Wasatch?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday football roundup

You’re probably wondering when these “shoulder season” posts are going to end. I’d like to know myself. One way or another, I’m getting out on skis next week. This weekend’s storm is supposed to be a good one, and I have an avalanche class next weekend, which I don’t want to be my first days on snow for the year. I’ll probably go Tuesday morning, even if it’s just to go hike around on low-angle terrain.

In the meantime, my thoughts are occupied with football (both kinds). Here are a few:

  • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger can’t seem to figure out why his team has so many injury problems. Let me help you out with that one: your team isn’t deep enough. It’s not that Arsenal have more injuries than other squads, it’s that they have fewer first-team-quality players. When one goes down, there’s nobody to step up. Furthermore, fewer quality players means fewer opportunities for them to rest and therefore more injuries. Want to solve your injury woes? Go buy some players when the transfer market opens next month. Get a nice, deep squad. They won’t complain about sharing time with others if you actually win some trophies.
  • For the third time in six years, the Mountain West Conference has the best team in the country, but that team won’t get a shot at the BCS title game. Utah in 2004 and 2008, and TCU this year (sorry 331 Miles, but your Longhorns aren’t even the best team in your state, let alone the country). I was cheering hard for Nebraska in the Big 12 title game, not because I love the Huskers (I don’t) or because I hate the Longhorns (I don’t), but because I wanted TCU to get their due. I felt sick when the officials signaled the field goal was good.
  • Toby Gerhart without question deserves the Heisman trophy. If you didn’t watch him carry multiple Notre Dame defenders on his back en route to victory, it was perhaps the guttiest performance I’ve ever seen in college football. He shouldn’t be this good, but he is. I think because he just wants it more than the next guy.
  • Ben Roethlisberger isn’t nearly as important to the Steelers as Troy Polamalu. I thought it was Big Ben’s absence last week that led to the defeat at Baltimore, but then they lost last night to the 1-11 Browns with Roethlisberger in the lineup. It’s unheard of to see the Steelers get manhandled with Polamalu in defense. Not that I care. Anytime the Steelers or Patriots lose, I’m happy. Same for the Chargers, Raiders, Chiefs, and Cowboys. Which means it’s been a good season to be a hater.
  • The Broncos (my favorite team) are playing the Colts (my next favorite team) on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the second half will begin right as I’m leaving for church. Would be a good Sunday to exercise faith on behalf of my team, but here’s the thing: I don’t care about the outcome, I just want a good game. The Broncos have a two game cushion in the wildcard race, so a loss won’t ruin their season. The Colts will break the Patriots win streak record with a victory, but have already locked up their division. If the Colts win, I’d be happy. If the Broncos win, I’d also be happy. Maybe sitting in church will keep me from taunting myself during the game.
  • Michigan should hire Jim Harbaugh. Pat White made Rich Rodriguez look better than he is. Maybe you could say Toby Gerhart does the same for Jim Harbaugh, but I think Harbaugh’s the real deal. He’s a Michigan man, so he knows the tradition and expectations. Besides, who else besides me thinks that crappy little run and shoot offense is a desecration to the Big House?
  • To Blackdog and his ilk, despite the apology, Max Hall still hates you. Since football is only the 19th most important thing to Bronco Mendenhall, you’d think that preventing outbursts like this would fall somewhere in 1-18. What an embarrassment.
  • Am I the only Arsenal fan that misses Jens Lehmann? Sure, he had some blunders as a keeper, and Almunia seems to have come into his own with Jens gone, but Almunia never shoves his own players or otherwise provides the drama of Jens. The latest is that he took a leak right behind the goal during a Champions League match this week. Awesome. I seem to have a real affinity for German athletes named Jens. If I were to have another son, that’s what I’d name him.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Open enrollment

Yesterday we had our annual open enrollment meeting at work wherein our benefit options for 2010 were described to us. The health insurance portion of this meeting was presented by Sarah Palin. OK, it wasn't really her, but it may as well have been. Consider this woman's qualifications for her job:
  • Nice hair
  • Nice shoes
  • Attractive figure
  • Expensive wardrobe
  • Room temperature IQ
  • Fancy manicure featuring an accent nail on the fourth finger of each hand
Here are a few of the gems from her presentation: regarding the high-deductible option for which she is the subject matter expert, she said "after my husband explained it to me...." She also indicated she was no longer "so apt to just run to the ER." When indicating the number of physicians in the network, she responded with "almost all of them." This wasn't enough for the engineers, so they pressed her for a number, and she finally came up with 80%. Wow. 80% = almost all. Wonder if I could get away with paying almost all of my mortgage each month. I know I wouldn't be happy if all I got was almost all of my paycheck.

Of course there are those who like and even claim to admire Sarah Palin. I'm sure almost all of them either want to sleep with her or are simply mesmerized by the train wreck that happens almost all the times she opens her mouth.

When you consider that Sarah Palin was the best the Republicans could come up with as a Vice Presidential nominee, it should come as no surprise that we can't seem to make any meaningful progress on healthcare reform.

If I were emperor of the universe and didn't have to worry about breaking a filibuster, this is what I'd do.
  1. Single payer system. Critics say it's socialized and that it would require higher taxes. My response to that: so what? Healthcare is already almost socialized because between medicare, medicaid, and government employees, the government is the defacto provider for so many. Why not finish the deal? The fear mongers who claim that we in the United States have the highest quality of care are full of it. And we pay twice as much for the average quality care we receive. Taxes would need to be raised, but between my contribution and my employer's, several times what I pay in Federal Taxes is going to health insurance premiums. I would gladly pay more in taxes if those premiums went away.
  2. Turn patients into consumers. Most of us have no idea how much treatment costs or why we're getting it. Physicians charge us for it, and we have no idea what it is or why it costs that much. We need to educate ourselves about treatment options and pursue those that are most cost-effective. To do this, we need to have some skin in the game. Which is why my single payer system would have a high deductible. Everyone would be required to have health savings accounts to cover up to that deductible amount. The HSA's would be just like what's available today--contributions accrue on a tax-deferred basis and can be withdrawn tax free when used for qualified expenses. If you're healthy and take care of yourself, that HSA money could be saved for retirement, education, or similar. If you're not healthy, you're going to have to pay more and those dollars won't accrue.
  3. Reduce the cost of care. First step for this is real incentives for healthy living. The high-deductible plan described above is a good first step. Along with that, a system of credits for people who make healthy lifestyle choices and/or penalties for those who don't. We as a country are eating ourselves to death. Obesity, tobacco use, and drug abuse increase the overall cost of care and should be born proportionally. Next step is tort reform. I recognize that if a doctor screws up, common sense dictates he or she should be accountable to make the person whole. But punitive damages do nothing but cost all of us more money as doctors are forced to pay more for malpractice insurance. Ain't no such thing as a free lunch, so let's stop giving one to the litigious. Finally, a single payer system where all providers are paid the same for a given procedure and the overhead associated with insurance companies is reduced, if run properly, will lower the overall cost of care.
I realize my approach is too straightforward and logical for anyone in Washington to ever take it seriously, and that the insurance lobby would have me fit up with some concrete galoshes if I were a Congressman who put it forward and got any real momentum. But like I said, this is if I were emperor of the universe, not yet another self-indulgent blogger who makes way less money and has far less power than the idiots he self-righteously derides.

Monday, December 7, 2009

96% air

We finally got a real winter storm. From this morning’s avalanche forecast:

As the Provo UDOT forecaster Craig Patterson put it this morning – looking out at the 16” of 4% there in front of his shed in the canyon, “If we had a base, this is what dreams would be made of.”

4% snow is 96% air. That’s unbelievably delightful to ski in. Unfortunately, it’s unbelievably lousy in terms of providing coverage. It’s so light, it took me all of 10 minutes to clear my driveway this morning. With a storm like this, provided it were falling on any kind of a base, we would ordinarily be enjoying this:

Instead, I’m stuck in my office, contemplating this:

Friday, December 4, 2009

Why is everything so super?

This has nothing to do with today’s post, but if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for your favorite cyclist/backcountry skier, I would suggest the Melenzana scrap cap. Melanzana is a small outdoor clothing company based in Leadville, CO. I visited their facility before the race and picked up one of these scrap caps.

It’s perfect—it fits underneath a helmet if you want to wear it on a cold weather ride, and it’s just thin and breathable enough to be the right weight for skinning up a hill. And it’s only $12. I love mine. Here’s the catch, though: it’s not on their website. It’s called a scrap cap because they make them out of the scraps left behind from their shirts and what not, so I guess it isn’t really a production item. You’d have to call them (719.486.3245) to order one. I wear a size large in case you’re curious.

Remember back in 1980 when 7-eleven introduced the Big Gulp? It must have been a successful advertising campaign, because I remember two things about it: 1) the image of the giant cup rising out of a 7-eleven store; and 2) that I wanted to try one (in what was likely the first manifestation of my nascent diet coke addiction) but was shut down by my mother because I was in the first grade at the time.

Apparently this monstrosity of a beverage wasn’t enough because in subsequent years (I think by the time I was old enough to go to 7-eleven and buy one on my own), they had introduced the Super Big Gulp, a really original name since we already had the Super Bowl.

Since then it’s been a downward spiral where copywriters and journalists (who are really the same people, it just depends on who happens to be signing their checks at the moment) seem to have lost all their adjectives in a lexiconic black hole and can no longer come up with any other word to describe something that claims to exceed or outperform the original version, whether it actually does or not.

We have super-sized combo meals. Superpages, supershuttle, supercheats, superfoods, Super Tuesday, and Super Mario Brothers. Super has become so hackneyed that, redundant as it is, we can no longer describe something with its normal name, but have to add the super qualifier lest the object being described feel slighted for not meriting the super designation even when super no longer has any real meaning.

  Hence, attractive women with nice figures who make their living posing nearly nude or in avant-garde clothing are no longer just models, they’re supermodels. Really, because “model” wasn’t a flattering enough job description? Lest you think I exaggerate, might I remind you that America’s Next Top Model is a reality show intent on helping someone become a supermodel. Um, if you can become a “super” anything by winning a reality show, I maintain that the “super” part is superfluous.

My favorite super, though, is cycling’s super domestique. This one I can actually understand, because domestique isn’t exactly a flattering job description. Nevertheless, what the hell is a super domestique? Last I checked, if you weren’t a protected rider, you were a domestique. That role may change from race to race, but if you aren’t racing to win, you’re racing in support of someone else, which, by definition, makes you a domestique. I’m not sure how the supers are differentiated from the non-supers if they’re all riding in support.

So why does the cycling press need to add “super” to domestique? Just because someone was a promising junior or had a top ten finish in a grand tour doesn’t mean he’ll ever be a contender. Are riders’ egos really that fragile that they can’t handle being just a plain old domestique?

If that’s the case, then hire me. Because domestique still means I’m getting paid to ride my bicycle. I’ve never had the word “super” in my job title, so I certainly wouldn’t miss it on the pro tour.

If any pro doesn’t realize what a privilege that is, then he should have to spend a few weeks trying to squeeze in a ride between writing a functional spec, drafting a monthly report, or making a sales call. Oh, and he should also be required to buy his own bicycles. Because super or not, there are worse jobs than being a professional athlete.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Finally—something good on facebook

I’m no fan of facebook. But about once a month I go on there to accept the friend requests that come in and ignore all the requests to become a fan of something or participate in mafia wars. I have a general policy of accepting friend requests but never sending them, even if I have no recollection of who the person sending the request even is. Anyone know David Lake? Because I don’t remember him. But according to facebook, we’re friends.

Anyway, today while I was doing my monthly facebook cleanup, I noticed the following picture. I thought it was hilarious, not just for the content, but also because at first blush I thought that was Tasha Keyes holding the sign.

I don’t get “Twilight.” Granted, I know almost nothing about it, but I still don’t get it. Rachel doesn’t read the books and doesn’t have any desire to. Apparently her sex life is sufficiently satisfactory that she needn’t fantasize about teenage vampires.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The paradox of the flood

I really don’t mean to be a fundamentalist basher. In fact, the point of this post is more to satisfy my own curiosity than to advocate a particular position. And since I did the research, I figured I may as well post it.

That being said, the preceding comic seems to capture all that is wrong with extreme religious zealotry. It’s human nature to cherry pick the facts that support our worldview, but we ignore contradictory facts at our own peril, especially if this comic is correct.

As I’ve mentioned before, inasmuch as I believe the Bible, much of it has to be taken metaphorically or the only other rational option is to dismiss it outright. A perfect example is Noah’s flood.

I don’t intend to argue about whether the separation of Pangea into six (or if you’re Euro-centric, seven) continents happened all at once five thousand years ago while the earth was covered with water, rather than at roughly the same pace your fingernails grow, as scientific data suggest. Nor do I intend to argue as to whether or not the entire earth, all the way to the nearly six-mile-high summit of Mt. Everest, was completely covered with water, as is asserted in the text.

I prefer to limit my remarks to the practical matter of fitting a not-insignificant quantity of biomass on what is in reality a not-very-large boat.

According to Genesis, Noah was commanded to build the ark to dimensions of 300 cubits in length (~450 feet) x 50 cubits wide (~75 feet), a size that, unlike many modern shipping vessels, would allow it to pass through the Panama Canal. It was to have three levels or decks.

Ignorant as I am in the ways of divinely-architected shipbuilding (or any shipbuilding for that matter), we’ll assume that each deck was of the dimensions specified above, but that one deck had higher ceilings than the other two, since, if they were ten cubits each, a giraffe and probably an elephant would be unable to stand upright.

Fundamentalists argue that the flood happened as described when described, and they also argue against evolution by natural selection. Unfortunately, you can’t have it both ways: there simply wasn’t room in the boat.

If you assume that each of the roughly 1.1 million species of known invertebrates (to give the literalists the benefit of the doubt, we aren’t even going to consider unknown species here)—not including crustaceans and mollusks, since they don’t need space on the boat to survive a flood—needs only one square inch per individual or two square inches per pair, half of the first deck is already full of nothing but bugs. If you consider that most animals, including insects, can’t go half a year without food, then we’ll assume they’ll need half again more space for food (we’re not going to consider a need for water, since it was raining).

That leaves another fourth of the first deck for the seeds and cuttings of the 287,655 species of plants (assumes that the aquatic plants that could survive the flood will be offset by the need to store fungi and lichens that could not).

The vertebrates are going to need a bit more space. Fortunately, half of them are fish, and again, don’t need room on the boat. If we figure the amphibians and reptiles and birds are small and can fit into a space, on average, of two square feet per mating pair, then we’ve used up the next deck and 1/3 of the deck above for these three classes of animals.

Some of the bigger lizards and birds would have needed more space than that, but we’ll assume that they also stacked enclosures and otherwise maximized usage of space in order to keep things as compact as possible. We’ll also assume that the food for these animals was similarly stored above or below the space where they lived. And that none of the food rotted, and that there was no disease or predation, lest something go extinct.

So now our well-packed boat is down to about 20,000 square feet and a mere 5,416 species of mammals. You can see where this is going, but we’ll try anyway.

The eminent preacher of planning, Stephen Covey, teaches us that we need to put the big rocks in the jar first (actually, I saw this in church years before Covey ever did it, but who can fault the guy for repackaging Sunday School lessons and charging corporations $60,000/day to give them provided the corporations are willing to pay?). After throwing out the 88 species of whales and dolphins, let’s start with the elephant.

We’ll simplify from four species of elephants down to two, African and Asian, each of which is about 20 feet long. We’ll assume, given the extenuating circumstances, that each animal can fit in a space 40 feet square. That means the four elephants are going to occupy 6,400 square feet, or roughly 1/3 of the remaining space.

Each of the five species of rhinoceros is about 10-12 feet long, so we’ll use the same rule of thumb for the elephants and give them each a space 20 feet square. These much smaller spaces mean we can fit all five species in about 4,000 square feet. We’ve got 10,000 square feet left and only 5,326 species to go!

If we alot 225 square feet for the hippo, 1,575 for seven species of great apes, 600 for six species of camels, 475 for 19 species of pigs, 100 for the pronghorn, 325 for both species of giraffe, and 1,908 for the 53 species of deer, then we’ll have enough space left for just over half of the 140 species of cattle.

Which means one of four things: 1) quarters were way more cramped than I realized and everything really did fit; 2) evolution really does happen and speciation has absolutely exploded in the last 5,000 years to account for the biodiversity seen today; 3) the account of the great flood simply can’t be taken literally; or 4) dogs, cats, horses, rodents, anteaters, lemurs, aardvarks, sloths, monkeys, and really most of the animal kingdom are way better at swimming than we give them credit for and are fully capable of treading water for six months at a time.

Given that even the most ardent supporters of evolution by natural selection wouldn’t suggest that number two is plausible, then number three is the only viable choice. Even if number two were correct, it destroys the case for literal interpretation. Regardless, the basis for rejecting evolution by natural selection is out the window since the only evidence that contradicts the theory is a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Which is not to say there's anything wrong with the Bible. If we view it as a collection of stories--without making value judgments as to their authenticity--that provide guidance on how to respond to a moral dilemma or patterns for how to treat other people, then the book is of great value. But using it as justification to mistreat or discriminate against others or otherwise wallow in ignorance is completely missing the point.

But then again, I could be dead wrong. It’s happened before, after all. And if you think I am, I hope you paid attention to the last two frames of the comic above.