Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Pirates and Global Warming

My favorite meme in recent memory is the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which was a response to the ridiculous actions of the Kansas State School Board to introduce intelligent design to the "science" curriculum of that state. There are a few reasons why i think this is so cool. First, it's funny. It's not especially original-- people ridiculing creationists have invoked magical, mythical creatures since time immemorial (usually giant purple chickens, etc.), but this instance has a particular depth and texture that is unprecedented. There's an FSM creation myth and FSM paintings and FSM iconography and FSM scripture ("touched by His Noodly Appendage"), and even an FSM Holy Week. Second, it really does expose the essential ridiculousness of ID, even if it is, as must be the case, preaching to the choir (must be because ID is designed-- no pun intended-- to be evidence-proof). Third, it involves pirates.

Worshipers of the FSM, called "Pastafarians", know that one must don full pirate regalia in order to teach the beliefs of FSM-ism (I'm wearing an eye-patch right now, i swear. Ask the parrot if you don't believe me). The key scientific evidence in favor of the FSM is the clear correlation between the increase in global temperature and the decline in the number of pirates.

Sure, it's smart-alecky and all. But a good dose of clever humor goes further than the pronouncements of experts. Most of the scientists asked to speak before the Kansas board declined, realizing that if the board were interested in intellectual honesty they wouldn't be having a hearing to assess the relative merit of evolution vs. ID. The FSM won't have any affect on ID true-believers, but at least it's more fun for the rest of us than yet another dry refutation.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Hike the High Country

Nothing will make you appreciate the necessities of life like a good hike that's mostly above 9000 feet. Food, water, oxygen. Warm clothing. Protection from the rain. And nothing will make you eliminate the unneccessary things like having to carry them on your back.

Needless to say, my friend Gary and i survived our backpacking expedition in the Mount Baldy Wilderness. It was a great trip, though exhausting. It wasn't the length of the hike so much as it was the steep up (or down) inclines and the altitude. At 10000 or more feet it's hard to catch your breath. The Mount Baldy Wilderness is a roughly triangular patch of forest, river, and mountain of about 7700 acres. We hiked a route which took us up the western trail to the summit of Baldy (or as close as you can get to it), down the eastern trail, and then across the base of the triangle on a 3.5 mile crossover trail.

The initial trail head is at about 8700 feet and you go up only gradually for the first few miles. The trail at this point follows one fork of the Little Colorado river, through meadows and stands of aspen, Douglas fir, and Ponderosa pines. It's incredibly beautiful country, especially this summer because they've had significant rain and everything is green and flourishing. One could point the camera in almost any direction and get a good photo.

We both felt pretty good through these first few miles, even with the heavy packs. The weather was perfect, sunny skies and just a bit cooler than ambient. Soon though the trail started to head sharply upward and we slowed down quite a bit. We stopped near a stream to get some water and food and take the packs off, but at the time we had no idea how far we were from the summit. As we approached 10000 feet i started to suck wind pretty hard and Gary was having some pain in his hip. My rule of thumb for backpacking has always been that you can make around 2 mph uphill and 3-4 downhill, but we were probably closer to about 1 mph on these sections. After a series of switchbacks that ran up the side of a ridge, it flattened out a bit. Eventually we came to an interesting bench of rock poised right at a saddle point on the ridge so that there were views in both directions. Although it was beautiful, i nicknamed it The Bench of Desperation, since we felt like we'd been walking for a long time and we had no idea how far we were from the summit.

We were probably only about a mile out at that point, but as the altitude approached 11000 feet, it was pretty hard going. Gary started a pattern of walking 100 steps and then stopping for a rest. We counted unique species of mushrooms. It was eerily quiet-- no wind, no birds, no scurrying wildlife or protective squirrels, not even a cricket chirping-- yet the sky was clear except for a few isolated rain clouds. Finally, we reached the border of the wilderness area and the Apache reservation, which is as close as you can get to the summit of Mount Baldy if you're not Apache. Gary's GPS put the altitude at 11,164 feet.

We rested for several minutes, drank some water and ate some trail mix. Then we started down the East trail. The character of the trail was almost immediately different, and i don't just mean its relative downness. There seemed to be more water, so the flora was markedly different. We also found a spring flowing from the rock just below the trail about 1/2 mile down. The most interesting site on this part of the trail (and perhaps the whole hike) is the debris from an airplane crash. I don't know enough about airplanes to identify anything from the wreckage, but it was clearly a large plane that hit the mountainside hard and scattered the debris widely. On the internet, i found evidence for both a DC-3 crash in April of 1937, and for a B-24 crash in 1942. The latter seems the more likely candidate, because there was an unmistakable Air Force marking on one part of the plane, and this was definitely a military aircraft.

A short distance further down the trail we came to a rocky promontory that gave us a great view of the whole wilderness area and points beyond. It was both a gorgeous view and also a good excuse to drop our packs and stop walking. After a bit we loaded up again and started down the trail, keeping our eyes open for a decent place to spend the night. Sunset was still more than an hour off, but we figured it would get dark early since we were on the east side of the mountain. We finally found a relatively flat spot with a fire ring, so we made camp and tried to start a fire. Turns out that it's hard to start a fire with wood that's been rained on for several weeks. We managed to get a small blaze going, and Gary fired up his WhisperLite stove to boil some water. We used the water to reconstitute some red beans and rice, which, even though slightly crunchy, was very good after a full day of pack mule duty.

In relative terms, it wasn't a bad night in the tent. It remained abnormally quiet, but we both managed to get a little sleep and it didn't rain. At about 5:30 am i finally heard a few birds signaling the impending dawn. I got up and tried to start a new fire, but i just couldn't keep it going. Gary got up a bit later and boiled some more water for oatmeal and coffee. He checked the GPS and realized that we'd probably spent the night on the Apache reservation, onto which the trail wanders for one short section. We'd planned to hang around the camp for a while, but we decided we should probably move on.

The next mile or so was relatively flat, sort of along a contour line at around 10400 feet. At one point the trail ran across an open area of bare rock that gave us more views of the surrounding valleys. This trail, unlike the west trail which featured primarily trees, is characterized by geology. We reached a series of switchbacks that went down a ridge through some of the oddest and most fascinating rock formations i've ever seen. There were towers of rock that looked like giant cairns of boulders built by giants. There were caves and ledges in the cliff faces above us. It looked almost as if the rock had been worn away by flowing or receding water, but this would have happened long ago since this is still way above the river.

Finally we came out into open meadow again, running along the other fork of the river. After a mile or so of this relatively flat terrain, we came to the eastern trail head. Fortunately, Gary had the presence of mind to realize that we could leave our packs here for the hike on the crossover trail, and then drive back when we reached the other trailhead. That was good, because the crossover trail would have sucked with the extra weight. It was a nice little trail, though not as well maintained as the other parts, but we were both too tired by this time to enjoy it much.

Backpacking is a strange pasttime for me in the sense that i'm alway really excited to get started when i start, and always really happy to finish when i stop. It's not like watching a movie, or even playing most sports, because instead of period of relatively consistent but predictable enjoyment, backpacking tends to give you periods of pain or exhaustion in exchange for moments of unexpected, transcendent joy. I can't count the number of times over the years when i've been right at the moment of thinking "Why the hell am i doing this to myself?" and then i'll come around a corner and see a view (or an animal or a tree) that makes me feel lucky to be alive. It also make me appreciate civilization, though the effect is temporary.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Up and Away

Here is where is i plan to be this weekend. My best friend Gary and i are backpacking up Mt. Baldy this weekend. I haven't been on many backpacking excursions since my kids were born, other than a short trip to the Anza Borrego desert a couple of years ago (with the kids) and a trip to the Superstitions many years ago (without the kids). So, anyway, i'm psyched.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Alt Country

This is an entry i first put on my "other" blog (my Yahoo 360 page). I've updated it a bit in light of some new bands i've found.

My musical tastes tend to fixate on one particular genre for a period of time until i suck all the flavor out of it and then i move on. Over the years this has included everything from speed metal, to baroque music, to rock en espaƱol. My latest obsession is the alternative country genre, whose best known exemplar is probably Wilco. Alt country is a vaguely defined genre, so it covers a lot of ground from very folkish to nearly punkish. On the other hand, it's one of those "you know it when you hear it" genres. If i had to describe alt country, i'd say that it is any type of music with identifiable traces of roots music, but with lyrics that are more interesting than the typical c+w song. As a disclaimer i should mention that i've always had a fondness for country music in general. If you don't recognize the essential genius of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, or Flatt and Scruggs, then i can't guarantee that you'll dig alt. country.

One of the benefits of working for an on-line music service is that you have reason to cull through craploads of music metadata as part of fixing a problem or adding a feature. Since i have an overactive sarcasm gland, i tend to pick out amusing and/or silly band or album names (they're just more fun to test). Sometimes, i make an effort to listen to these oddly named bands or albums just for kicks, and more often than not i find that the band name was the first and last clever idea that the band had.

One notable exception in my opinion is Drive-By Truckers, who have become one of my favorite bands. DBT is somewhere in the southern rock, country rock, alt. country mixture of genres, but with a noticeable punk component (i hear shades of Social Distortion). They're a bit of an acquired taste if you have no previous attraction to southern or country music (if you had a Molly Hatchet album when you were in high school, you'll probably love DBT, you old son of a bitch).

I'd been listening to Wilco quite a lot before i found DBT, but as of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, they'd ceased to be an alt country band. It was my interest in DBT that really got me to explore Wilco's predecessor bands, offshoots, and similar bands. This is my list of interesting stuff in this musical space, which ranges from fairly country to pretty much alternative, but since it's my freakin' list i'll put whatever i want on it.

  • Drive-By Truckers. 'Nuff said already.
  • Wilco. OK, you gotta have Wilco on the list but listen to the first 3 albums (AM, Being There, Summerteeth)
  • Uncle Tupelo. The key members of Uncle Tupelo were Jeff Tweedy, who went on to form Wilco, and Jay Farrar, who went on to form Son Volt. These guys are sometimes credited with inventing the alt country genre, but i think that's a bit of a stretch.
  • Son Volt. After DBT, this is probably my favorite alt country band. Much of their material will remind you of early REM, especially Reckoning. Jay Farrar has a perfect voice for this genre. Farrar recently reformed the band with new players and released the album Okemah and the Melody of Riot, a very good album with some overtly political material.
  • Lucinda Williams. Pretty country, but with an attitude. She's got a great voice. If you like Lucinda, you might also like Mary Gauthier.
  • Slobberbone. Another band on the same label as DBT. Fun.
  • Magnolia Electric Co. A new band formed from the ashes of previous bands. They've got a new album (What Comes After the Blues) that sounds sort of Neal Young-ish.
  • Whiskeytown. Ryan Adams's old band. Adams is now doing solo material that i'd classify as more rock than alt country, but it's still good stuff.
  • Tift Merrit. More country than rock, but some interesting songs. She performed live here at the San Diego office about a year ago.
  • Vic Chesnutt. Sort of folk, but with a southern/country feel. Sui generis.
  • The Jayhawks. I really love the Jayhawks except when i find them annoying. It's a mood thing.
  • Steve Earle. You gotta respect Earle, if only because he looks rode hard and put up wet.
  • Richmond Fontaine. This oddly named band made one of the best alt country albums, Post to Wire, which contains a song of the same name that is one of the best alt country songs ever made.
  • Damnations (aka Damnations TX). This band appears to still exist, although they don't seem to have release an album since 2002. One of the members of this band (Deborah Kelly) sings on the Richmond Fontaine's song Post to Wire, which is how i found out about them. Their 1999 album Half Moon Mad is one of those obscure gems that you only find a few times in your life. It's a great album.
There are dozens of other artists in this general area. There are some more straight country stuff i'd check out if any of this appeals to you, like early Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, Lyle Lovett, Sugarland, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nickel Creek, even the Dixie Chicks. There's also plenty of older music out there to which alt country owes a debt: Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead, etc., and the entire universe of bluegrass and roots music. I also highly recommend the web site Cheezeball.net, a site dedicated to alt country in all of its glorious cheesiness.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

I Want Teleportation Now

I was at Fry's with my kids the other day looking at cell phones, and i was amused at how much the typical cell phone looks like a Star Trek communicator (there must be a word for this phenomenon, where fiction anticipates the future while also influencing it). Then yesterday Slashdot linked to this WSJ piece entitled Requiem for the Future. The basic point of the piece is that the future we anticipated back at the time when we (old folks) were kids and men were walking on the moon never really came to be. We're not on Mars. Not only haven't we established bases on the moon, we haven't even been back.

The recent shuttle mission emphasized how little we've progressed in the last few decades. When i was a high-school senior (1982) i entered a contest called the Space Shuttle Student Involvement Project (you might remember stories about bees flying around in space, or plants growing in microgravity,etc.). I wrote a proposal to do diffusion experiments in space, and i won a trip to Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama (Turns out that doing diffusion experiments in space wasn't a half bad idea. Several real scientists had already thought of it, and in fact done it. The biggest effect though was primarily due to lack of convection currents, which i knew nothing about). We got to visit several of the labs (including the one where they made the exploding bolts that hold the shuttle on the launch platform), and we met astronauts and mission specialists. It was cool. The shuttle was fairly new, and this was long before the Challenger disaster so we could still imagine the shuttle as being a sort of highly reliable space airplane that was the first step in making outer space a permanent outpost.

None of us at that event would have suspected that 23 years later the shuttle would still be the most sophisticated form of space travel, and that it would still have a lot of flaws to overcome. At that time our relatively brief lifetimes had seen the space program go from almost nothing, to manned space flight, to moon landings, to the shuttle. I'm sure that we all assumed that by the turn of the century we'd be on our way to Mars.

Of course we did see amazing technological progress in those years. That year (1982) just happened to be the year that the Arpanet became the Internet, and you can now buy commodity computer hardware that's as powerful as the supercomputers of that time. Cell phones didn't exist then (though you could get a car phone). As the WSJ article also points out there have been some interesting space missions in that time, especially to Mars (and of course, the Hubble). But nothing that feels like it came out of the science fiction of the past.

NASA gets blamed for this, for a lack of vision or something. But i don't think NASA is at fault so much as a general lack of enthusiasm for the idea of human space travel. Maybe as our perceived standard of living has leveled off and even dropped, the idea of spending money to go to the moon seems frivolous. Maybe there's a general malaise regarding technological progress in general.

But my personal crackpot theory is that computers and the Internet exposed us to the idea that outer space is not, as we previously thought, the final frontier. We can now imagine the prospect of virtual worlds that are not only different from ours, but limited only by our imaginations. Even science fiction changed (e.g., Gibson's Neuromancer and the whole cyberpunk thing, The Matrix). If our motivation for going into space was simply exploration (and not the technological challenge per se, or commercialization), then the virtual world offers as much without the danger and unpleasant space trips. Of course, the benefit of real outer space is that we could encounter things that we haven't yet imagined, but it's gonna be damned hard to get there. That's why we need teleportation, now.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Random Walk

I have no idea how people keep up with these things on a daily basis. It's magic.

I guess the trick to having an active blog is to have an active life. My life over the past couple of weeks has been like that Kids in the Hall sketch where Kevin McDonald is determined to stick to his to-do list regardless of what's going on around him (like he goes to the bank in the middle of a robbery and gets taken hostage but still insists on getting stamps,etc.). It's been a productive time, but boring. Unless you find the repair and maintenance of a 2000 Nissan Frontier to be fascinating, in which case have i got a story for you.

The only semi-interesting thing we managed to do over the last couple of weeks was seeing Yo Yo Ma at the Civic Theater. He was with his Silk Road Ensemble, so the music was not the standard classic fare. There was Mongolian opera, Chinese music, Persian classical music, Indian music, gypsy music-- much good stuff. The highlight of the night for most of us, especially my sons, was a piece by Sandeep Das, a tabla player, along with several other percussion instruments. It was amazing, both because of the strange rhythms and the unusual instruments. There were several string instruments- violins, Ma on cello, and a bass- carrying a line of melody throughout the piece, which provided a nice anchor for the rhythmic improvisation. Very cool.

My martial arts instructor decided to leave town to finish up college at Cal State Fullerton, so i have to break in a new instructor after 3 years. He was also my kids instructor, and my wife's tai chi instructor, so it's kind of like losing a member of the family. For a going-away present we bought him a copy of Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Morihei Ueshiba's The Art of Peace. I figure that should keep him busy, and possibly confused.

I've spent the two weeks since the SF marathon doing nothing but eating. I think i've put on about 5 pounds. Ultimately, it'll probably be good for my body to give my joints a rest and just get fat for a few weeks, but i feel a bit bloated at the moment. I start a new cycle in about mid-September in order to prepare for the PF Chang Rock'n'Roll marathon in Phoenix in January. I intend that to be my all-out effort for Boston qualifying, so i'm sort of psyching myself up for it. It's gonna be a tough holiday season, since i'll have to be a bit more careful about what i eat.

A real random walk is a Markov chain, which means roughly that the direction of the next step you take doesn't have any dependence on the steps you've taken in the past. That seems like a good metaphor for my life at the moment.

Friday, August 05, 2005

100th Post/Evolution

This, according to the blogger statistics, is my 100th post on this blog. I didn't want my 100th post to just be an announcement of my 100th post though, so i decided to write about something that i have a strong interest in: evolution.

In the same way that most evolution proponents tend to stereotype creationists as uneducated, Bible-thumping yokels who only leave the house long enough to go to church or attend NASCAR events, i suspect that creationists imagine that evolutionists spring fully-formed from the heads of East-coast leftist academics. In other words, it's hard to imagine a proper church-educated person falling for the evolution dogma. I, however, spent most of my formative years in a Lutheran parochial school (Missouri-synod Lutheran, which is to Lutheranism what Hasidism is to Judaism). Although we were not taught strict Biblical literalism (Lutherans are smart enough to appreciate a good metaphor), i was taught that evolutionary theory was incorrect and that the Biblical account of creation was correct. When i began my freshman year at the public high school, i proudly declared in my biology class that i believed that God had created the earth and all of its creatures in a week. In other words, at the fairly advanced age of 14 i was a creationist.

Although i can't remember exactly how or when my opinions began to change, i'm fairly sure that my formal high school education had little part in it. Our high school solved the debate over teaching evolution vs. creation by not teaching either. We dissected frogs and made papier mache models of cell organelles. I was aware of Darwin, and at some point either late in high school or early in college, i bought a hard-bound version of The Origin of Species, which i actually read though i recall it to be the single most boring volume i've ever slogged through.

But in high school i was a pretty hard-core science freak, and it's hard to delve into physics and chemistry without finding in the same sources discussions of natural selection, neo-Darwinism, punctuated equilibrium, etc.; not to mention the cosmological origins of the universe and genetics. By the time i started college i was pretty familiar with the ideas of biological evolution, though i was still in the "just a theory" camp (i apparently had an incorrect notion of what a theory was).

By my second or third year of college i was already a budding secular humanist (more proof of the pernicious effect of those damned liberal academics). But i wasn't really convinced about evolution. There are certain limits on human intelligence (for even the most brilliant) that make evolutionary theory hard to grasp. The first is that humans simply have no capacity to understand long time frames (Richard Dawkins discusses this in, i think, The Blind Watchmaker). Our brains are conditioned to think of 100 years as being an eternity, while all of the interesting things that happen in biological evolution require hundreds or thousands of generations. We just can't understand how long a million years is. The second limitation is the intuitive way in which we think of randomness. We have this sense that evolution involves randomness, but we know that the pure combinatorial possibilities in the human genome are so vast that the odds of getting a better combination seem remote. But DNA is not shuffled like a deck of cards. It changes slowly and subtly in most cases, and even then most mutations are selected against. But don't get me wrong. These are not hard ideas to get past just for the uneducated or unwilling; they're hard period. Unless you can convince yourself that the mechanisms of biological evolution could work, you'll never fully accept the theory. It's like having to learn quantum mechanics before you can explain why grass is green.

I think this is where concepts like Intelligent Design (ID) become so appealing. Even if you accept that the earth is billions of years old and that the planet has changed drastically over time, it's still comforting to interject some miraculous process that explains away the stuff that's almost incomprehensible. I know it was extremely hard for me to come to grips with certain aspects of natural selection. Not surprisingly in my case, what finally convinced me was writing a computer program (not surprising for me because i always understand ideas better if i can express them as programs). I was in college during the time that AK Dewdney was writing his Computer Recreations column in Scientific American, probably my favorite column ever. One of his columns was about something he called "flibs", short for finite living blobs. Flibs were a very simple form of artificial life, or a genetic algorithm, or both. Basically flibs were simple finite state machines, consisting of a string of bits. Flibs lived in an "environment", which was also a string of bits, though longer. The fitness of a flib within the environment was based on how the flib state machine responded to the environment string.

The initial set of flibs was created randomly, but at each stage the flibs that scored the best against the environment were "bred" using crossover breeding. In some cases this lead to new flibs that responded better to the environment, sometimes it didn't. The other crucial element to the flibs algorithm was in the introduction of periodic random point mutations. Without the mutations, the algorithm would tend to converge to a "best" flib and then never get better.

The flibs program is an extremely primitive approximation to biological evolution, but it taught me a couple of things. The most important aspect was probably that you could run through hundreds of generations very quickly so it did give you the sense of watching evolution unfold. The program also revealed the idea that mutations were extremely important to the evolutionary process. But the real epiphany for me was in the way that new flibs that showed greater adaptability to the environment would quickly overwhelm less fit flibs. Of course, this is based on the idea that the more fit flibs get the chance to breed most frequently and so pass on more of their genome to the next generation, but that's one of the basic assumptions of natural selection. What this taught me is that "fitness" is not a measure of some abstract ideal that human beings might strive to attain. Fitness is simply how well you pass on your genes to the next generation. In other words, there is no "goal" in evolution, no requirement that genotypical changes lead to phenotypical changes that correspond to greater strength, or size, or beauty, or intelligence.

Evolutionists themselves have, i think, muddled some of the ideas of evolution through the use of poor language. For example, it's still conventional to say that animals "adapt" to their environment, as though there's some sort of Lamarckian process whereby creatures change to better fit the environment. What really happens is that animals less adapted to their environment die, or get displaced, or fail to reproduce in numbers sufficient to sustain their population. Perhaps ID proponents would be less enthusiastic about their position if it were clear just how pitiless nature is; that nature in fact doesn't care at all about its creatures, it has no plan for them.

I won't make any attempt to address any of the scientific objections of ID-ers or creationists to evolutionary theory, because that's been done elsewhere effectively and honestly most of the objections are silly. But one argument that creationists will use is the "what are the evolutionists afraid of?" argument. They argue that if the ideas of evolution are sound, then they should be able to withstand competition. To be honest, i don't think most evolutionists would mind Biblical creationism being taught in schools, any more than we'd object to teaching Hindu creation myths, or Greek, or Hopi. Our objection is to the teaching of creationism as science, because it doesn't meet the criteria of science. Giving creationism equal time in science class would be equivalent to giving Holocaust revisionists equal time in history class.

Although both sides of the debate argue a lot of fine points, i think the fundamental issue in creation vs. evolution arguments is this: accepting biological evolution as the basis for the origin of species is the first step toward atheism. That's not to say that all evolutionists are atheists-- far from it. In fact, Pope John Paul II made his famous statement that evolution had to be regarded as more than a hypothesis (although there are indications that the Catholic church hopes to back away from that stand). Although evolutionists don't really discuss it often, i think it's true: acceptance of evolution does lead to atheism. Again, i think Richard Dawkins made this point in one of this books, but a scientific explanation for the origin of species (and essentially, life itself) is a practical prerequisite for rejecting God, even if Enlightenment philosophers did not require it.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Missed It By That Much

The short version: i ran 3:22:16, which is 1 minute 17 seconds slower than the time i need to qualify for Boston (3:20:59). So that sucks. On the plus side, this is still my personal best time for the 4 marathons i've run, on the most hilly course i've run. I'm particularly happy with the second half, which i ran in about 1:41-- far and away my best second half.

The longer version: We drove up to about the Thousand Oaks area on Friday night, got a hotel along the freeway and spent the night. The next day we just drove up the 101 all the way to SF, except for food and bathroom breaks. The marathon expo was near the Embarcadero, just across from the ferry building. We got there at about 3:30, picked up my stuff, and then walked over to our hotel (the Omni, on the corner of California and Montgomery). We checked in and then walked around the city for a while, mostly Chinatown. I really wanted to get Chinese food, but i figured i should get some pasta so we ended up at the Cafe Niebaum-Coppola (yeah, the movie director who has his own winery). It was OK. The kids were amazingly cooperative, and they enjoyed Chinatown.

The run started at 5:20 on Sunday morning, so we went back to the hotel so i could get some sleep before getting up at 4am. I figured this early start would suck, especially since it meant that it'd be dark for the beginning of the race, but as it turned out i really liked it. It was cool, probably in the 50s and the start wasn't too crowded. The course was fun. Even though it was very hilly by the standards of a road marathon (how could it not be in SF?) it was easily the most interesting course i've run, the highlight of course being the trip over and back on the Golden Gate. Not surprisingly, it was foggy so there were no views from the bridge to speak of, but it was still cool. I've walked across the bridge in the past on the sidewalk thing built for that purpose, but running on the actual road was a rare experience.

The first half was pretty tough, and i came through the checkpoint just about 1:41. I was feeling good though, so i threw in a couple of faster miles and i got back on 3:20 pace fairly quickly. Although it seemed uphill for a long stretch, i felt really good. After about 18 miles i just started focusing on passing the next guy in front of me. There was a huge downhill just before 20 miles and after that it was fairly flat. I still felt strong until maybe mile 23 or 24 and then the wall hit me. I shuffled through the last couple of miles, but i never had to stop to walk. It sucks to miss my qualifying time by so little, but i feel like i pushed it as hard as i could, so i'm not too depressed.

Because of the early start, i was done before 9am, so i walked back to the hotel. I showered and changed, we checked out and drove over to Pier 39. I'd purchased tour tickets for Alcatraz. The tour is more fun than you might expect. It's a self-guided audio thing, which worked better than a normal group tour. Since you're going at your own pace, there's no big group through which you have to fight to see whatever point of interest you're at. The weather was good too, and the boat ride over was pleasant.

After the tour we hopped back in the car, found our way out of SF, and hopped on to the coast highway. We decided to stop in Monterey, so we got some dinner at a place down near Cannery Row and then got a hotel. We got up early on Monday morning and drove down to San Simeon to take the tour of Hearst Castle. There's a vast amount of cultural context to that place that my kids just don't have experience of yet, but i think they get the idea that it's an unusual place built by and unusual man.

Finally we just power drove down the 101-405-5-78-15 to home. Too damn much time in the car, but we avoided most of the worst traffic (thank you, car pool lane).