Welcome to your Midnight Rabbit Hole 6 April 2015

At least once a week I suffer through what I like to call Someone is Wrong on the Internet! syndrome. I will see what is obviously meant to be an offhand comment about an article on either Facebook or Twitter, and immediately think to myself "Really? That can't be right..." What follows is the proverbial rabbit hole of exploration into a topic. Thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and literally a million data sources, you can investigate an issue to your heart's content. Often losing hours of a night or day trying to figure out the real nuances of an issue so you can truly understand it.

Just the other day, a friend posted a link to a Treehugger article concerning the water footprint for various food stuffs; everything from lettuce to beef to tea and coffee. The Facebook comment about the article suggested that if we were truly serious about addressing the water crisis in California we would examine our food consumption and she pointed at meat specifically. The first thought that flew into my head was that not all foods were equal in caloric density. I think any middle school student worth their salt, if you will excuse the expression, would say unequivocally that lettuce provides fewer calories than meat. Thus, water requirements are only the tip of the iceberg [lettuce] when it comes to scrutinizing the appropriateness of our diets in a drought.

Part of me is strictly opposed to relying on simple us vs. them points of view when expressing a voice in changing policy or personal attitudes. Nearly every important issue is nuanced enough that a single article or chart cannot help shape an effective strategy.

For example, looking at calories per gallon for various food items like beef and apples gives you another dimension to the water footprints but that means nothing if you do not know in what quantities those products are grown in California. To do that, you need to have a look at the USDA statistics for each food. Oh, but let's not forget that there are different regions with different drought conditions and times of year for growing. Wait, wait, let's not neglect looking into exports and imports too. Crap, one should compare all of this data for the past few years to get a bit of historical perspective.

I seriously spent two hours investigating this. Learned that two separate experts have calculated that 10-11% of California's agriculture water usage is currently taken up by almonds and that we export a significant quantity of alfalfa from California to other countries so that those countries can feed it to animals for milk and meat. Also, rediscovered how incredibly difficult it is to find, access, and evaluate data on government websites.

In the end, I am reasonably sure a panel of experts would need to do research for weeks before coming up with a real, data-supported strategy for reducing water consumption in California based on changes in the diet of American consumers. Further, I doubt more than a few percentage of Americans would make any changes based on those recommendations. Consumers tend to only change based on emotional and financial pressures. Sort of frustrating, but there it is. Regulations and market forces really seem to be the only full solution. Naturally, government will not move quick enough and the market will resist any changes that cut into profits.

Still. In case you are interested: going vegetarian, eating local, and creating a personal garden would not be a bad idea.


7 Things to Know About California's Drought - Grist.org

On A Rainy Afternoon 31 March 2015

And then you randomly discover an email that you thought you had long ago deleted. Ah yes, there, there was the girl who made you think that maybe falling in love was too dangerous. Even for you.

The Relationship with Work 30 March 2015

Not sure whether it is the season (In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to...job hunting?) but there seems to be no shortage of people currently seeking a change in employment. Numerous thru-hikers on Facebook are on their way to, or seriously contemplating, their next hike or adventure. Three friends in technology have expressed frustration with their current work and have started polishing their resume for entrance into the market. And a certain redheaded baker up North is on the phone with me once a week wondering how long she will last. I myself probably consider my employment at least once a day. I am a contemplative sort so that should not be overly surprising.

While talking to one of those potential seekers today, I wondered if one can rightly compare employment to a relationship. Here you spend 40+ hours a week in the company of your job. People move across states, countries, and continents for their work. It provides some manner of fulfillment via monetary, emotional, or egotistical means. And it greatly influences nearly every major decision you will make.

Now, if you were to say to me that you are in a romantic relationship that is merely "ok" or "not that great" or "stresses me out", my advice would be to leave and find a new one. Your time and life are valuable–nay, precious. Why spend a fourth of your life in a situation that you could potentially change for the better?

Yes, yes, we do not live in a post-scarcity utopia where are ability to flutter between jobs is without restraint. But, most of us have quite a bit of power and opportunity here, if we choose to use it. One of my favorite quotes in this area comes from the late Steve Jobs:

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

That is phenomenally good advice.

Greedy, Greedy, Greedy 19 March 2015

Through the usual social media channels, I found a handy little guide written by an AT thru-hiker called Mariposa that helps people decide on whether they should carry a hammock, tent, or tarp on their hike. During lunch I cruised a few of her other entries and the end of this one on how the trail transformed her stuck with me.

Escape from materialism was a main reason I set out on the AT in the first place. I had found myself caring too much about stuff, and wanting things I couldn't afford. I strove to live simply, to better appreciate the things I have, and that's exactly what happened. Once I had to carry everything on my back, I stopped wanting extraneous belongings. I definitely didn't travel ultra-light (I ended up carrying things like a tambourine just for fun), but the desire for more clothes, more jewelry, better technology, a nicer car–that desire left me.

Lately, I have been getting the urge to be a bit more materialistic and been considering making a few large purchases. With my student loan payments gone and a raise this month, I have more funds available for purchases. Conviently, a number of things in my life are becoming a bit long in the tooth or will soon be at the end of their life. For example, my car is from the last century and while I did have maintenance done on it last year to insure it would keep going for another couple years, enough damage and problems have developed that it would cost more to fix it all than the car is really worth. Further, it sure would be nice to have a newer car with better gas mileage and improved AWD that just so happened to have everything functioning correctly.

My bike is also over seven years old and last summer I had to replace half of its components and both wheels after my accident. It is functional but it is meant for cyclocross and is not the most ideal for all the long distance road biking I do. Again, it would be nice to purchase a new, shiny road bike and then be able to dedicate the older one solely to commuting.

Of course, there are other things. Skydiving lessons so I can get my solo license. A sea kayak and coastal navigation lessons. Formal wear clothes for work events. A bit of land and a cabin in the woods. And–I cannot believe I am saying this–perhaps an actual bed and mattress set for sleeping. Luxury!

A voice in my head is telling me this is all very greedy. I should keep on saving my money for bigger adventures in the years ahead. Live lightly. Do not spend money. You can live without. Just as the trail transformed me into someone who could live even lighter, so has civilization started changing me back to someone who wants more.

I'm a Developer 17 February 2015

I didn't want to be a CTO. I wanted to be...a developer! Leaping from repo to repo as they are forked from among the mighty projects of GitHub! With my best Mac by my side!

The Laravel! The jQuery! The Homebrew Package Manager! The Grunt JS! The Symfony Components! We'd code! Code! Code!!

Oh, I'm a developer, and I'm okay, I sleep all day and I work all night. I hunt down bugs, I eat my lunch, I go to the Facebook feed. On weekdays I am nappin' and have peanut butter cups with tea.

On the Nature of Things 14 February 2015

While last year was the year of taking care of things–paying off student loans, paying off credit card debt from the thru-hike, buying a new computer, getting the car maintenance done–this year is the year of saving. For what, I am not entirely sure yet, but I want to be ready to have the funds available no matter what I choose to do.

In the first six weeks of 2015, I have already saved enough money to fund half a thru-hike, which is my new, favorite manner of putting money in perspective. It seems incredibly easy for me to save money and I am often surprised by how difficult it seems for others. I simply do not need very much and crave even less. Food and shelter are the biggest expenses because I feel at a basic level they most contribute to my daily well being. Having healthy, tasty food is one of the greatest joys in the world and with my physical pursuits it would seem silly to not put serious consideration into my eating habits. And my spectacular, shared house is in one of my favorite parts of Portland with a very private room and a space outside it for all my dirty gear. I could live cheaper but these expenses are worth it to me.

After that, it really peters out. I donate a percentage of my salary to nonprofits each month and then because of my physical activities I am usually buying a new piece or two of gear every single month too. Things like trail running shoes can be expensive but if you are diligent, you can usually find them for 30-50% off and buy multiple pairs at the same time. And that is more or less it. There are small expenses like maybe a book or going out to see a movie, but for the most part I just watch things online and get books from the library. Better usage of resources, you know.

Where does everyone's money usually go? Stuff. Now, I do not mind stuff. I rather like admiring other people's stuff. I just do not like having stuff myself. As a thought exercise, I wondered if I would be so against stuff if I had a TARDIS to put it in. A ship that could move easily through all of time and space. Your stuff would never be in the way, it would never need to be moved to another house/apartment, and you could always have it with you. I think the answer is I would be perfectly ok with collecting and owning more things if that were the case. What bothers me about stuff is having to deal with it. It is a weight around your life and prohibits flexibility and options. Harder to move and harder to move on with it.

That is part of the romanticism of a life of travel and thru-hiking. You only take one you need. You can go anywhere with what you have on your person. A very significant part of me wants impermanence. And that is why I am saving money.

Diego 31 January 2015

Diego wormed his way into my heart by being exactly the kind of animal I could not resist. He was so content just to hang out and be your calm, reliable best friend. I so desperately needed a friend who did not demand a single thing from me after the long recovery from my knee injury. I was a mess inside and not quite sure where I was going to go next. He helped alleviate the anxiety I felt about my own life by showing how content one could be with the simplest of things.

The first time we met, when I visited Amelia in Port Townsend, he just plopped down outside on the deck next to my chair while I read a book in the sun. That night I watched a bit of Star Wars on YouTube and you can see that he just jumped up and joined me. No fuss, no demands, just there.

When I moved up to Port Townsend a bit later and occupied the apartment above Amelia's, Diego would come visit and if I did not have my balcony door shut he would waltz right in and lay down on my futon. At first I resisted but my allergy to him was so mild and he was such a relaxing presence that I eventually relented. Over time, we finally became bros and he was welcome anytime.

When I returned from the trail and moved back to Portland, I was again in turmoil. Nothing felt right. Being in civilization felt inexcusably wrong down to my very core. Every day was a struggle. When I traveled North to visit Amelia, I did so to see Diego just as much as I did her.

The inevitable finally did happen though. Diego got sick just before the holidays and had to be euthanized.

I miss him. Quite a bit. Just like the last furball that I got attached to, I would give years of my life to have him here for just a bit longer. Hard to not be greedy when you have known the friendship of such a singularly agreeable creature. Rest easy, little bro.

A Troubling Lack of Snow 29 January 2015

Back in the month of November, Mt. Hood seemed to be preparing us for an excellent season of snow. On my first trip up to the mountain, the sky was clear, the temperature was in the teens, and one could circumnavigate Timberline Lodge itself in snowshoes without a care in the world. Feet of snow were on the ground at treeline and as you headed up towards Silcox Hut, exposed rock was visible but it seemed only a single storm away from disappearing completely.

Things have gone downhill since then. There were a few additional storms with snow, but the general trend has been towards melting rather than accumulation. Here is a photo taken yesterday of Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge.

Two months into winter and there is less snow on the mountain today than there was in November. My goal of being up in the mountains–at either Hood, St. Helens, or Adams–once a week to train is completely dashed. I went up 5 times before the end of 2014 but have only been up there once in 2015.

Is it climate change causing such a bleak winter? Or are we just having an extremely poor season thus far?

It has been well documented that the glaciers in the Pacific Northwest are receding at an alarming rate. Some are gone already, most are well on their way to extinction. Further, the USDA published a report last September that goes into detail explaining how they predict climate change is going to change the North Cascades in the next century, how it will affect the resources under their management, and possible strategies to cope. It is a harrowing read and a rather stark contrast to the US Senate's continued unwillingness to accept climate change.

So, what about this year? By playing with NOAA's Online Weather Data tools, you can see the precipitation and temperatures for Government Camp over the past two months. While precipitation is pretty close to normal, our temperatures have been repeatedly way too warm. Instead of fresh snow, we have been getting more rain and plenty of melting.

And here's the kicker, it is going to get worse. Much much worse. The whole reason I wrote this entry was because my housemate recently got me into The Newsroom and a week ago we saw an episode that dealt with climate change. For a quick recap, checkout the Mother Jones fact check article on the episode.

Watching the episode was painful because while you felt smacked down by its heavy-handed treatment of the material, the reality is that it was completely right. We have had this research in our hands for decades, yet as a species we have not even applied the brakes. This is happening, it is extremely bad, and the majority of people are paying little to no attention. In the United States more than half of our representatives are actively blocking any attempt to even accept that climate change is human caused.

The scale of the problem is immense. Greater than anything we have ever faced. And so, we choose not to face it.

13 years, 1 month, 15 days 29 December 2014

That is how long I have been paying my Reed College student loans. And today, they are entirely paid off.

There is no excitement, no cheer being raised, only a sense of finality. The debt has been paid. It is over.

Going to be interesting living without them. I still have my Portland State loans that I accumulated while doing my pre-medicine prerequisites, but compared to the Reed loans they are relatively easy to handle and will not be a significant burden on my monthly finances.

When I left Reed, so many of my decisions were focused on insuring I had the funds to make my loan payments. I graduated with under $400 in my bank account and was rather lucky to find a room for $350 a month with no security deposit. And when I found an attic for rent for $125 a few months later, I took it even though there was no insulation or heat up there (sweltering summers, freezing winters).  Let's not forget the invention of the infamous Burdick Burrito; all the calories necessary to feed Paul for four dinners for under $7.  Ah, those halcyon days of my youth.

EllisLab and ExpressionEngine may not have existed, or at least not in the same form, if not for my desperate need to learn programming so I could take a bit of contract work on the side. I foolishly wanted a dresser and bed, while Shadow needed dog food and vet visits.  Decisions, decisions.

Eventually it all balanced out and while the payments were still my greatest expense every month, usually exceeding all of my other expenses combined, they were no longer a life altering burden.

It was only when I went on my thru-hike that they became a problem again as making my payments every month while being in the backcountry was not a financially-wise move. So, this year was more or less dedicated to paying them off completely and erasing the burden completely.

And now, they are gone. The game has changed. A powerful variable is no longer on the board, which means I can start making plans without having to include those payments in my deliberations. Hm.

ImpactFlow is Alive! 12 October 2014

Just under two weeks ago, the ImpactFlow platform was officially launched during a party at the EcoTrust building in downtown Portland  The development process was not unlike the writing of a Reed Senior Thesis. Plenty of research, questioning, never quite sure knowing if what you are doing is right, redoing entire sections that no longer make sense, and then presenting it to a group of people and asking "what do you think?" and hoping they do not toss you out.  Stressful? Nah.

And this is just the initial launch. The platform has been public since mid-September and we already have a few hundred nonprofits and donors on the system. Oodles of feedback is coming in on a daily basis and plenty of areas need refinement. My To Do list has shifted more from large feature additions to dozens of small and medium changes required to streamline the entire process of creating projects, grants, and donations. Currently, there is only one part of the site I desperately want to tear out and start over, which is a rare thing for me. Also, a new marketing/sales team is being formed to help focus on a regional/national launch strategy, as apparently companies need to grow and bring in income (who knew?).

Still, after nine months without any time off and way too many nights and weekends working, I have a chance to take a deep breath and relax a bit. In about seven days I am taking an entire week off from both work and staring at the computer. Maybe do a few outdoor trips before the snow comes, a trip to the coast, sipping tea in coffee shops while reading a book, and eating way too many baked goods.  Sounds nice. I am looking forward to it.