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Showing posts from August, 2014

Holidays as a Chance to Re-assess Your Sports

With the hordes coming out for one last fling (Labor Day) I made sure to get one last mountain bike ride in. Hiking works better on a holiday weekend because it is easier to escape the motor-crazed yahoos. At first the slope was perfect (semi-steep) and the road was smooth. When it got rougher I got a bit discouraged, but then gradually got used to it and learned to like it. It does take some effort to see the benefits of rough roads. But let's back up a step. I once had an outdoorsy friend who acknowledged that aerobic-exercise sports (e.g., hiking, bicycling, running, swimming) might be "good for you", but were dull and repetitive. He preferred sports, such as technical climbing, that emphasized skill and risk. He had a point that would probably help me if I would work harder on developing more technical mountain biking skills. But there were times when it seemed like buying crap for his sport was the main attraction. There are many sports like that: they have the

The Sun Winds Down

It was better than a colorful sunset. Surprisingly I had never done this before: drive out of my way to a spot where the mountains didn't block the last hour of the sun. Then I made a cup of tea and sat on the front step of the RV and watched the sun set. What did I think? That if I sipped the tea slowly the sun would slow in its descent, and I could suck out another five minutes of daylight? But the leisurely sipping seemed to honor the sun and season. It is that time of year again, when I always getting a funny feeling in the stomach and a lump in the throat. It is time to retreat from the highest altitudes. No matter how many times I have done this, it still seems significant and dramatic. But why does this funny feeling only come at the beginning of autumn? It never feels this way in the spring. Shouldn't it be symmetric? My best guess is that we gringo/palefaces have a tribal memory of winter: winter is dangerous, winter is suffering. To escape winter by heading dow

A Long Term Love Affair with a Certain Type of Land

While selecting a new tow vehicle I have been aware of the disadvantages of having once worked in the automobile industry. Consider the analogy of four middle-aged male friends, sitting at a cafe after golf. The geography of their table makes for some pleasant and harmless girl-watching, at which all of the men except one consider themselves an expert. The foot-dragger is a middle-aged, male gynecologist, who has been putting in unusually long hours lately. He tries not to be a "wet blanket" on the discussion, especially after one of the men brags about how "hot" his new girlfriend is. But the best the gynecologist can manage is a condescending smile for the sake of his friend. But I wonder, does the world-weary gynecologist really consider his ennui a higher form of wisdom? Or is there one part of him that envies the naive enthusiasm of his friends at the table? This analogy doesn't just apply to someone like me buying a new tow vehicle. It also applies t

Hiking Should Be More Interesting and Less Donkey-like

Clearly it has benefited me to do a fair bit of hiking during my years as a full-time RVer. It would have been easy to underestimate the pleasure of hiking and to get discouraged. I'm glad I didn't let that happen. Still, it would be nice if people who enjoy the sport even more than I do would divulge a few of their secrets and principles. This would be far more helpful than the typical hiking blog post. Why even read the post if you already know what it is going to say: that they walked X miles and climbed Y feet along the Pioneer Trek trail; and that it took Z number of hours; and they walked to Emerald Lake, by way of Bridal Veil Falls; along the way there were some breathtakingly-beautiful wildflowers, sunsets, bunnies and Bambis, etc. Yawn. Too harsh? Because 'the medium is the message,' the internet favors chirpy posts, globbed over with Photoshopped digital postcards. Must I throw in the sugar pill that 'there is nothing wrong with any of this?' But i

Thinking Yourself into -- and out of -- a Hole

No doubt most readers have experienced dead-ends when they were trying to solve tough problems in life. Even worse, there is that dreaded feeling that the more they think about the problem, the less good it is doing them. Yes, it infuriates me how large and expensive vans and pickup trucks have become. Perhaps the best way to start is with a sense of humor. Consider the more-or-less useless car reviews written at the big name websites (Edmund's, Car and Driver, Car Connection, etc.) When it comes to a specific model made by Corporation X, their reviews are bland and innocuous. How could they be otherwise? The reviewer is at the mercy of the corporation for a freebie car to test drive. Typically the corporation flies the reviewer to the assembly plant, puts them up at the airport Marriott, wines and dines them, gives them a tour of the automobile assembly plant, and perhaps an interview with a high-level executive. Even if all of this didn't butter up the reviewer, the rev

Be Careful What You (Don't) Wish For

Before this, I had only heard an adult woman scream -- really scream -- once in my life. It was a college girl having an argument with her boyfriend. Then she started running down the sidewalk, with him chasing her. As luck would have it, I was the first person on the sidewalk for them to encounter. "Pass" would be a better word than "encounter", since the latter implies a confrontation. I had decided, with only a second or two to think about it, that I wasn't going to confront the boyfriend, despite being a young man at the time, and therefore, a bit of a fool. But I always wondered how I decided to keep out of it. Was there something about their body language or her scream that suggested a harmless lover's quarrel? Can a woman's scream be broken down into a language as a dog's barking can?  Dog owners learn the language of their dog's barks (plural) after a couple years of practice. There is something charming and Saturday morning cartoon-l

The Lure of Incomplete Information

If only I had a nickel for every time somebody said, "Buying a DVD doesn't make much sense, because once I've seen the movie, it isn't interesting anymore." They are correct of course if they are thinking purely in terms of how the story turns out. But I prefer to ignore that issue and focus on identifying classic lines from classic movies. These become philosophical building blocks, comparable to Aesop's Fables, famous quotes and speeches from Shakespeare and the Bible, and the proverbs of folk wisdom. The same thing can be said of classic jokes. For example, consider one of Jack Benny's, from the days of Radio: menacing footprints are heard approaching, as he is walking down the sidewalk at night. It  turns out to be a mugger. The mugger tells Benny, "Your money or your life." There is a long pause after that. Benny finally blurts out, "I'm thinking about it!" There was a joke similar in spirit in Sydney Pollack's mid-19

Just Discovered a New Blog about Consumer Culture

We all get into ruts on the internet, reading blogs that talk about the same thing every time, or are thinly disguised infomercials, or are mere boob-toob level entertainment.  I just found a great blog on consumer culture, money, and financial independence called Living Stingy. It is intelligent, acerbic, and full of common sense. Why did it take so long to find this blog? The title of the blog is unfortunate. The writer really doesn't allow comments, which I think is a mistake. Well too bad, it is fun to read and written with mordant wit. Admittedly I am a bit prejudiced when it comes to style. I like to see a writer observe concrete things that seem bizarre to him. Then he must try to explain those things, and in the process of doing that, the blog post moves towards more general and universal principles. At any rate, give this blog a try and tell me what you think of it.

A Practical Way to Get Started on the Origins of World War I

If you are interested in the centenary of the Great War but don't know where to get started, consider this brief article by Eric Margolis. Recall the old quote by the Latin poet, Horace, that "fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue." In studying the origins of the Great War, the first mistake you must avoid is the British bias, which is also the bias of Anglophiles in the power establishment of the American Northeast. Many people see diplomats as empty talk, talk, talkers, as well as duplicitous scoundrels. But the diplomats at the end of the Napoleonic wars crafted a peace that lasted a hundred years in Europe -- not complete peace of course, but there were no general European-wide wars for a hundred years after their peace treaty. But halfway through that remarkable century of progress, something new happened: Germany became a united country, and started industrializing and arming itself at a rate that soon threatened to make it the Big Cheese of Europe. The former