Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ty's Visit (the second one in California--the first one I blogged about)

The best presents that people give can give each other this holiday season are things that benefit me personally, even if I am not an active party in the transaction.  By this standard, Ty’s girlfriend got him a pretty good present.  WAIT WHAT—Ty has a girlfriend?  For readers who only keep in touch with Ty via this blog (and therefore haven’t been doing a very good job of keeping in touch with Ty lately), it only took Ty a little over a year of being away from my aura before he was able to trick an adult human female into thinking he was worth dating.  Now, to be fair to Ty, he is trustworthy, has a friendly disposition, and he’s kind of cute in an unthreatening way—all qualities that are highly sought after in a family dog.

Resuming the story, Ty’s girlfriend got him a Christmas present* which involved gagging and blindfolding him, throwing him in the trunk of her car, and driving him to the Pac 12 (footbawl) championship game, featuring his alma mater, the University of Oregon.  Where I enter the picture is that the game is being played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, which is about 15 miles from where I live.

Since they were driving 11+ hours from Utah, going to a football game, and trying to fit it all in to a weekend, I only got to spend nineteen and a half hours with them, between Saturday at noon, and Sunday at 7:30 AM, when they left.

Ty and Girl (Ty just calls her 'Girl' a la Breakfast at Tiffany's, as she seems to be amenable to it, so I see no reason to introduce the reader with her legal name) arrived, and with so little time to spend, we needed to make quick work.  The first order of business was rushing out to get Ty outfitted with his own Google Glass--we didn't want him to look like a Silicon Valley Impostor while we hung out for the rest of the day.

Such Modarn.

After the Glass was in place, it was time for the tour of the Stanford campus.  Nick led the tour, and he pointed out such historic landmarks as the spot where "there's usually a table with some students" and "this quad mirrors the other quad" (just two adjacent quads).  Things got interesting when we stumbled across the bizarre outdoor exercise equipment that very delicately straddled the line between art and cardio.

Also, for those of you who are skeptical that Ty actually has a girlfriend, this next picture should at least provide proof that, at a minimum, we encountered a girl at some point in his visit.

And for the man who just can't be satisfied by still pictures, how about a video of us playing:

(Ty's girlfriend might be a sweetheart, but apparently she never got the memo that shooting vertical videos is a major faux pas)

Our next stop was the Rodin exhibit, where we offered this post-modern commentary on the preposterousness of the artistic depiction of the human form.

Following the Rodin museum, we swung by the cactus garden, where Ty couldn't help but touch everything--which was still less embarrassing than Ty's behavior at the New Guinea Sculpture Garden.  I've worked on him for going on five years now, and he still can't see depictions of dicks without pointing and laughing.

But on the bright side (no pun intended), he did stand-in as a gorgeous Christmas Tree.**

The evening was capped off with our favorite activity--watching volleyball.  Girl didn't want to watch volleyball with us, so she tagged out, and was replaced by LK.  Stanford beat Michigan State, and LK's can't-miss dinner recommendations hit the mark again.

Ty and Girl left at 7:30 the next morning, and just like that, I didn't have any friends anymore.

*Note: there has been some debate in the past as to whether or not the seasonal exchange of gifts that Ty and his family participate in should accurately be called “Christmas” gifts.  Ty is an out-and-proud atheist, at least according to the homoerotic billboard he was on, and he insists that when his family gives each other gifts on or around Christmas, they should not be called “Christmas” gifts.  I contend that if they are appropriating the Christmas tradition of gift-giving, even if they reject the existence of a deity, “Christmas” is still the most accurate underlying motivator for giving.

**Seasonal decorative tree.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How Dan got his blog groove back (Thanksgiving Adventure)

I know I've been woefully neglecting my blog lately, but thanks to a little break from work, and a young Taye Diggs, I'm suddenly in the mood to blog again.

While I won't ever complain about two days off from work, I've never quite gotten into the Thanksgiving spirit as much as normal humans.  I have several hypotheses for that, but the end result was that with the holiday fast approaching, I was without any plans.  It wasn't that I was without invitations, but it's hard for me to get excited about these things.  All I really wanted to do was spend a couple of days riding my bike.

But where to ride?  As the day approached, I started thinking about it, and got a bit of an itch to try someplace new.  While I certainly haven't exhausted the ride possibilities in range on my house, I'd say I've done most of the roads that are worth riding, so I started thinking maybe I should drive over to Marin or East Bay and try riding there.  As I tried to scope out some spots, I remembered two key things: 1) I hate driving and 2) traffic Thanksgiving morning is probably pretty bad.  With that in mind, my new plan was just to ride from my apartment, but just keep going.

I figured I'd head straight to the coast, ride over the edge, then open up my hang glider wings and sail into the sunset, but apparently that's not allowed.  So instead I decided to pull up a map and find a nice place to stay for the night.

Inland California appears to be completely devoid of nice places, so I looked along the coast.  Santa Cruz was too close--I can do that in a day--and the next hotspot south appeared to be Monterrey--just like my favorite jack cheese.

At approximately 1am on Thanksgiving morning, I went online and booked a hotel.  While I don't mind impulsively hopping on my bike and riding into the unkown, I really wanted to minimize the amount of human interaction necessary on the other end.  With the hotel booked, I set my alarm for 7am and went to bed.  I was trying to travel lightly, so in the morning I loaded up a backpack with the bare essentials: spare tubes, a Simpsons t-shirt, and some Scooby Doo fruit snacks.  I looked at the Google maps directions 4-5 times to try to memorize them so I wouldn't have to stop along the way to look at a map, then I headed out.  The trip to Monterrey took me around 98 miles (through a few wiser choices on the return trip, I got it down to 93), and the first 24 featured about 3,000 feet of climbing.  While that I'm used to, what I wasn't used to was doing it with a backpack on.  It wasn't that heavy, but it was enough to make me feel significant extra strain in my lower back, which has been known to give me troubles before.  With over 150 miles to-go in the next two days, I was really starting to worry whether I had made the right decision.

But that whole backpack-back problem thing was sort of the anti-Chekhov's gun, because even though I had minor pain/cramping in my lower back, it didn't cause any real problems for me.

After going up all that distance, it was time to go down.  The far side of the Santa Cruz mountains was a Garbellano paradise, with miles upon miles of bumpy, winding, poorly-paved descent.  For those of you in the know, it was like 5-10 miles of Lorane Highway before they repaved it.  Pure heaven... or something like that.

The area between the Santa Cruz mountains and the coast was a new experience for me, and when I say "new" I mean "horrible".  Given how sky-high rents in the Bay are, there had to be a good reason that people haven't started settling in a little further south, and this Thanksgiving, I discovered that reason is bumpy roads with narrow shoulders, lots of traffic, and broken glass everywhere.  At one point, where the roads were particularly unpleasant, I thought my salvation had come when a sign pointed me to a bike path that ran parallel to the car way.  As soon as I got onto the path, the camera panned over to the sign, where the wind caught the tree branch that had been obstructing the sign, revealing that it was actually the "Kristallnacht Bike Path."  I have never seen so much broken glass in all my life.  I was dodging, swerving, wiping, and stopping to inspect my wheels.  It was the worst cycling experience of my life until the bike path ended and I found myself biking along the freeway.  Oy vey!

Finally, upon making it to the ocean, my bike and I stopped to take pictures by the water.  First I took a picture of my bike, then she was supposed to take a picture of me, but refused.  What a jerk.  Also, because I picked a hotel on the farthest tip of the bay, just off the beach (the Sunset Inn in Pacific Grove, if anyone wants to look it up), I had a surprisingly long way to ride between "arriving" at the bay and arriving at my hotel.

I got to my hotel around 4pm, absolutely exhausted.  I then looked up the nearest places to get food, and they were about a mile away.  I decided to walk, hoping that all the restaurants wouldn't be closed for Thanksgiving.  I found a place open that would serve me a cheeseburger and eight french fries (I counted--I had never seen a place so stingy with the fries before), and in the process, I missed the sunset over the Pacific Ocean, that I had specifically picked my hotel in order to have optimal access to.

After that, I mustered up the last bits of energy I had to walk back to my room, put on Seinfeld, and take a bath in the hotel's oversized novelty bath tub with the water jets that sprayed water all over the bathroom.

I fell asleep shortly after 8 (my dad would have been so proud if he weren't dead from all the cancer and stuff).  In the morning, I stopped along the coast just long enough to take this picture and continue on my way.

So now, I can officially say I've visited Monterrey, though if anyone asks me anything about the city, there's really not much more I can say other than the fact that it's a town by the Ocean and there was stuff there.  That's the one problem with my brand of bike tourism--I don't actually get to see or do anything.

On the way home, I had made it about 15 miles when the Kristallnacht Expressway finally had its way with me and I got a flat tire.  At least it wasn't raining.

About 30 miles into the ride, I was riding through the town of Watsonville, when I saw a park, and figured there would probably be a water fountain to fill up my bottles, and maybe a few hot moms to check me out.  While the water pressure was severely lacking, the scenery exceeded my expectations as I pulled up, I saw there was a car crashed into a tree right next to the playground.  

I'm not sure this picture does justice to just how bizarre this is.  This playground was quite a distance from the street (cars parked along the street visible in the background).  The street makes a gentle turn to the right, and apparently this car just kept going straight, presumably well above the speed limit.  According to the confused bystanders and tow truck driver on the scene, no children were hurt, though no one seemed to care about the driver (and unless the driver had an unexpected heart attack or something similar behind the wheel, I don't think he will find many sympathetic ears).  My best reconstruction of the accident looks something like this:

After stopping to ogle the wreck for a few minutes, I was back on my way.  Despite all the miles yesterday, I was feeling pretty good until somewhere around mile 70--after I had done most of the climbing, but with still a little bit to go.  That last bit on the hill was a real drag, and the only way I was able to get through it was reminding myself how much more fun this was than running a marathon.  Plus, unlike running a marathon, my knees aren't going to be swollen for the next two months.

I made it home safely before the sun went down, and promptly retreated to my bed to take a nap.  Now, 16 hours later, I am torn between giving my legs a rest day to recover, and making the most out of my Thanksgiving break by riding some more, but the all-day forecast for rain today seems to be helping me with that decision.

I don't know if I'll ever go back to Monterrey, but I'm happy I went, even the idea of blowing $150 on  a hotel just for one bike ride (well, technically two) would have been unfathomable to me as a grad student just six months ago.  But hey, what's the point of being an important businessman if I can't blow the boatloads of money they give me on trivial things like this?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Long overdue update... my life for the past two months

A number of friends, well-wishers, and enemies have been asking me to update my poor, neglected blog.  I have two working hypotheses; the first hypothesis is that people care about me and want to know about my thoughts and adventures, the second hypothesis is that people don't like me so they want more of my time devoted to blogging so I stop bothering them so much.  In either case, it is my pleasure to oblige, so here is a quick rundown of everything that's happened to be in the past 3 months.  I didn't actually remember anything, so I dug through my picture archives to jog my memory.

Before leaving Eugene, I decided to throw a going away party for myself.  I invited all of my many friends.  I even promised free pizza.  No one but cyclists showed up, either because my only friends are cyclists, or because cyclists are the only people whose love of free pizza overshadows their dislike of me.

The next order of business was to pack up all of my worldly possessions and pack them into a subcompact car with a 90 horsepower engine...

Somehow, it all fit...

After that, I drove to California and got Nick.

Then I got Google Glass.

Then I got an apartment.

Then I got a desk.

Then I got a bed.

Then I got a TV.

Then I got a banana split.

In case it wasn't clear by this point, I've been trying really hard to buy myself some happiness.  It hasn't worked so far, but I'm cautiously optimistic that the next trinket will bring eternal bliss.

Then I saw some deer on a bike ride.

Then I went to Boston.

Then something happened to my office.

Then I went to some Stanford volleyball games.

Then Nick and I watched Dunston Checks In.

Then Nick did some ironing.

Then Nick got a lot of Apple products.

Then I decorated the guest room for Ty.

Then Ty liked his guest room.

Then Ty came to visit and we went to watch Stanford volleyball.

Then I ate a giant cookie.

Then I biked to the coast.

Then we all went to In N Out.

Then my doctor wore Google Glass.

Then I went to watch a World Cup fencing event in San Francisco.

Then I had to go back to work on Monday.  Arrivederci!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Blame Canada, pt 1

Between the end of grad school and the beginning of my job, I had a few weeks off.  Combined with my forthcoming income boost, I decided I would start repaying my mother for my childhood by offering to take her on a vacation anywhere in the world she wanted to go.  She chose Canada.  Vancouver and Victoria, to be specific.

On Wednesday afternoon, I loaded up my car with clothes and fruit snacks and drove up to meet my mom who had flown in to Seattle.  After picking her up and stopping for a quick lunch at a restaurant where my 65 year-old mother was the second-youngest person there, we continued onward to Vancouver.

In just a few more hours of sitting in traffic, we finally reached the border.  Canada is a strange land.  In most ways, it's exactly like the United States,  but a few small differences really stand out.  The first difference I noticed was flashing green lights on the street.  I later looked up that they mean a protected turn, but on first encounter, I have to say I was baffled and a little angry.  Who do they think they are taking a standard American light and making it flash?  Another thing that's different here are the buttons on elevators.

Finally, whenever paying with a credit card, every place has these little machines that suck in my credit card, and then the clerk/cashier/waitress hands the machine to me and makes me push a bunch of buttons.  I suppose it's nice to be able to verify the transaction details myself, but at the same time, the whole process seems to take longer than in the United States.

The first three days were to be spent in Vancouver, and we checked into a partially lovely hotel south of town.  The hotel had a gorgeous view of the water, and the bed was quite comfortable, but there were a few quirks that weren't as nice.  For one thing, the bathroom didn't have any towel racks/hooks within reach of the shower.  It also had one of those obnoxious glass tops on the desk, rendering my mouse obsolete.  Additionally, the temperate controls never seemed to work right.   But hey, at least the view was nice.

The next day, my mom and I went to the Anthropology Museum at the University of British Columbia.  My mom had read that this was one of the finest museums in all of Canada, but then it turned out she had actually read that about a different museum, and the Antropology Museum at UBC kind of stunk.  I guess by anthropology museum standards, the Museum of Anthropology at UBC wasn't bad, but everyone knows that anthropology museums are just a scam so that anthropology grad students can pretend that people care about their work.  At least economists aren't so vain as to put their work in a museum--we know no one cares.

After the museum, we had a nice lunch downtown before being stuck in traffic for an hour trying to get back to our hotel.

After lunch, the bad lighting on my face makes me look sickly and sexy.

The next day, we went to the Vancouver Art Museum, which compared to the Anthropology Museum was a real treat, though honestly I was a little underwhelmed by their exhibits.  The building's exterior was more impressive than the interior.  One way I judge museums is based on how easy it would be for them to liquidate their assets--supposing they went bankrupt overnight and were forced to sell off their entire collection, how hard would it be to find buyers, and how much would they get for their collection.  Certainly a museum like the Louvre would be able to liquidate their entire collection as quickly as they wanted.  On the other hand, when it comes to the Vancouver Art Museum, not only would they not get much for their collection, for most of the items there, I find it hard to imagine anyone would take the items off their hands even if they were free.  At least most of the Anthropology Museum's collection could be sold for fire wood.

After the museum, we walked around a bit, then went to the Stanley Park  where I could run by the water.  After running for about an hour, I met back up with my mother, and we prepared to sit in traffic for an hour and a half to get back to our hotel.  On our way back to the car, we were approached by a middle-aged man with long hair and a fanny pack.  He asked us "what kind of music do you like to listen to?"  At this point,  I remembered what my mother always told me, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."  While I initially found that request to be obnoxious, later in life I realized that in some situations, not saying anything at all is actually quite rude and obnoxious, and it gave me a sense of smug satisfaction to know I could make that advice backfire.

My mother ignored her own advice, and gave him a bland, but honest, response.  At this point, he told us his story.  He was a musician and since 1995, he's been walking around selling his CD in person out of his fanny pack.  He told us that each CD was personally signed, and individually numbered, and something about the being in the Guinness Book of World Records, for being the world's most pathetic musician.  Perhaps if he spent half as much time working on his music as he does selling his music, he might be good.  But he obviously wasn't good, as evidenced by the fact that he didn't play any of his music for us, nor did he even tell us what type of music he plays.  At least he was Canadian, and therefore very polite for a very desperate bum.

Tomorrow morning, we bid adieu to Vancouver, and hop on the ferry to Vancouver.

To be continued...

Friday, July 4, 2014

Butte to Butte race recap

This morning was the 41st annual Butte to Butte 10k road race, my first running race since I did Butte to Butte last summer.  Last year was the first time I had done this race, and had run very little since my marathon at the end of April.  I finished with a time of 47:27, which was pretty terrible in the grand scheme of things.

I had no intention of competing again this year until the end of April when I got the running bug again (the running bug is sort of like AIDS except it destroys your knees instead of your immune system).  I started pretty gingerly, just going for some short runs at a slow pace.  Though I hadn't been running much, my cycling training had continued as usual, so I knew I had the overall aerobic fitness, and my focus was mostly on muscular acclimation.

This year, the stakes were higher, as Ty and I had a small wager.  If I were to run faster than last year, he owes me frozen yogurt, if I run slower, I owe him.  Additionally, if my time were to be +/- 2 minutes from last year, either I would have to visit Ty, or he would have to visit me.  This might have seemed like a rather homoerotic bet for me to accept, but I was unreasonably confident that I wouldn't lose.

The race starts with a mile uphill, gaining about 250 feet of elevation.  Then it drops over the next 1.2 miles, for a small net elevation drop.  After that, it's pretty flat for the final 4 miles.  Unlike last year, when I ran the course for the first time on race day, this year, my training incorporated regular runs of the hilly part of the course.  Pacing this section can be tricky (at least according to the number of people I saw sprint ahead of me at the base of the climb, only to end up walking 500 feet later).  Things worked out pretty well, and I crested the climb in about 8 and a half minutes.  I hadn't lost too much time, but more importantly, I hadn't completely wiped out my legs in the process.  The next downhill section was really my time to shine.  My number one weakness as a runner (and cyclist, and human) is that I'm too heavy, so I can really excel (comparatively) on the stretches where I'm not working against gravity.

By the time I reached the bottom of the descent, my time was about a minute faster than I had expected, and my legs felt great.  All I had to do was hang on for four more miles.  I think I paced myself pretty well, which, of course, means that the first two miles were comfortable, the next two miles were uncomfortable, and the last two miles had me praying for the existence of a nefarious deity I could make a deal with.  You can see the exact splits in my strava link below, but aside from a little blip on the fifth mile, I actually paced myself quite well.  My finishing time was 44:29, which was nearly 3 minutes faster than last year, and well past the time needed to win both bets with Ty.

By running 3 minutes faster, I actually moved up over 200 places in the final standings since last year, which would have been good if it weren't for the 217 people still in front of me.  I think if I trained year-round and dropped 30 pounds, I could probably do around 35 minutes, which would put me into the top 25, and I wouldn't have to be so ashamed of my performance.

Official Results

Strava Link 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dissertation: Complete!

Four years and eight months after I foolishly thought getting a PhD in economics would be a good idea, it is now officially too late for me to drop out.  Tuesday afternoon at 2PM, before a committee of four faculty members who had already decided they would approve of my dissertation sat patiently while I presented my work and defended it against of onslaught of reasonable questions.  At around 3:30, the charade was over with and my committee officially signed off on it.  My dissertation was complete.

The department provided celebratory champagne.  I wish they had provided me with a jug of milk like the Indy 500.

For those of you who want to read the horror of it for yourselves, you can download it here. I don't actually recommend this because... well.. even I don't find it very interesting.


My journey to a PhD all began back in 2007 when I graduated from Brown at the beginning of the recession.  I really had no idea what kind of job I was looking for, which was really the wrong attitude to have when companies were averse to hiring.  With no money or job prospects, I knew I had to run to the only thing I knew I could still do: school.  The only questions left where what to study and where to go.

I did my undergraduate study in math, and as much as math will always be near and dear to my heart, I didn't think I wanted to do graduate study in the subject.  I thought about engineering, but I likely would have had to take a few undergrad prereqs before I could do that.  I thought about operations research, but there are shockingly few places that offer degrees in that.  Finally, I settled on economics.  Economics is sort of the bastard child of math and bullshit, and so I figured I'd fit right in.  Plus, I didn't need any prerequisites because undergraduate econ programs are so worthless that even econ PhD programs don't care if you've done one.

After I knew what I wanted to study, I needed to decide where.  My unsuccessful job searches had really done a number on my self-esteem, so I decided not to apply to any programs that were highly-ranked, or well-regarded.  Even with the benefit of hindsight, I'm still not sure if that was a mistake.

Among the schools I was accepted to, I chose Oregon.  Why I chose Oregon is a secret I will take with me to the grave, but suffice it to say that I didn't ever actually look at their course offerings.  The program at Oregon was a small one, and I thought that as a smaller program, it would offer me more flexibility and person attention to tailor my education to my interests.  It turned out that I couldn't have been more wrong about that, as its small size made it particularly rigid, with limited course offerings and no procedures in place to allow its students to have flexibility, or even to provide students with the requisite information to complete the program.  The department tends to rely on more senior students telling the junior students what is necessary to complete the program, and so long as the junior students remain panicked enough at their lack of information to ask the senior students, the system seems to function.

The first year of the program, every student had to take the core sequence of microeconomics, macroeconomics, and econometrics.  This was moderately enjoyable, though the econometrics courses felt like they were taught more at high school level than graduate school level (though, to be fair, I was taking college math classes in high school, so I'm not entirely sure I even know what "high school level" is).

The second year of the program, instead of taking the "core" classes, we got to take "field" classes instead.  Each student was expected to pick a selection of courses that corresponded to a variety of economic subfields, that would support our future research interests.  This is where the department's small size really backfired, because though the department gave us a long list of "fields" to choose from, the actual courses offered only supported a limited number of fields, and none of them were the ones I wanted to study.  I took a class in income inequality, which covered nothing more than the various ways one could compare various hypothetical income distributions.  I took two classes in international trade, of with 85% of the material overlapped, and 0% of the material interested me.  I took a couple of classes in macroeconomics, so that became one of my fields, and a couple of classes in econometrics, so that became one of my fields.  Of the nine classes I took that year, the two econometrics classes and the one game theory class I took were the one ones I consider to not have been a tremendous waste of time.

It was during the second year that I really began to think this whole econ grad school thing was a huge mistake.  Most of the material I was learning was just names of economists who wrote papers that other people think are important; I didn't feel like I was developing my skillsets, and my requests to take classes outside of the department (math & computer science) that might have been able to help me with my future research were met with disapproval.

I was seriously considering dropping out of the program in the winter of my second year when I met my future advisor when he was teaching the microeconometrics course.  I suppose I owe it all to this, because while other classes had taught me economic models, this was the first classes where I learned how to approach solving economic problems, and how to do economic research.  What I learned was actually kind of fun.  For my class research paper, I started on a project involving airlines.  I had no particular love of airlines (and still don't), but this research would eventually build into the dissertation you see before you.  Once I got into the data, I often found myself working past midnight, and not only was I not noticing the time pass, I was actually kind of enjoying myself.  Finally... something that felt worthwhile.

For the next few years, I worked on my research, which much of the time spent teaching myself programming skills that I would have been wise to have picked up as an undergraduate.

Though I enjoyed the research, over the next two years, I became increasingly disillusioned with the prospects of life in academia, and so I made up my mind... not to.  Thankfully, economics is one of the subjects with a viable private sector market for PhDs (in fact, economics is one of the few subjects with a strong enough PhD job market that it's worth doing even if you aren't crazy about the work) and so my final year was dedicated to finding a job.  Finding a job before graduation was really something I should have done as an undergrad, and I wasn't about to make that mistake again.

I applied to 100 or so jobs, and when all was said and done, I landed a job with a salary high enough to justify having spent the last five years in school.  With all said and done, I can't say having a PhD has given me the smug sense of superiority I was hoping for, but at least it'll give me the money, which is really more important than self-esteem anyway.