Archive for September, 2009

Through Problems We Learn

I am a mix of emotions.

  • happy: Gina is safe.
  • proud: The SoCal Trail Headz (SCTHz) rallied in a true grass-roots sense to help its community.
  • bummed: In my daily life, I add minimal value to “making a difference.”

Gina, an accomplished ultra-runner full of grit, determination, and will went missing for 3 days in scorching 100 degree temperatures after running on the most strenuous trail I know of in the Cleveland National Forest.  detailed story

The running group that both she and I are in, SCTHz, immediately started efforts after discovering the news. At least 4 groups of 5ish runners flanked the canyon she was in.  Gina came out of the canyon within a day of us finding the news.

I found the news out at 7:30am, during a pointless conference call.  I immediately had memories of two runs I did with her, the 2008 Mt Disappointment Ultra and a training run for the 2008 Saddleback Marathon.  The first I did a quasi Indian run with her and Maya.  The second I learned the course that I later conquered.  But, these memories were hiding in my brain, and suddenly emerged with the news of her.  It’s funny how the brain works like that.

Soon after the meeting, I was on my way to help.  It’s what we do.  In two text messages, Pam told me what to bring and where to go.  After wadding through the news cameras, we took off.  LSD, Michelle, EKP, Janet, Molly, and I headed up Los Pinos Trail in the heat of the day.

We shouted to the un-answering Gina. We guessed what happened to Gina.  We kept an optimistic outlook. We drank lots of water; water that Gina did not have for 3 days.

dre sent me an update!

A helicopter spotted a person matching Gina’s description.  We held tight on the trail, hoping for the best.  No news confirming the spotting.

We decided to go further in, at least cresting Los Pinos for a better view.  Soon after, we received news that the the black helicopter that flew within a quarter mile of us going slowly and smoothly was carrying Gina to safety.

On the way back, we heard the roar (literally) of the second shift support: jeff, special k, Steve, and Shannon. We playfully descended into the canyon.  We were thankfully happy.


It was neat to see that we didn’t need the media. We were part of a real grassroots effort.  We used our running website, Facebook, Twitter, and text messaging to organize the search.  If anything, I found most of the media distracting by asking us stoopid questions while we were getting ready to head out.  I hope that we are at the start of an exponentially increasing era of independent media.

hard part

I admit I am going through a quarter-life crisis, reflecting on my minimal real world skills.  It was very rewarding realizing that I have the ability to cross the 22 mile trail in the hottest part of the summer.  This is probably my only real world skill that I consider myself good at.  The hard part is going back to normal life again, with its lack of excitement and its obscure purpose of pushing paper.

Thank God for unicorns.


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L1|\|u>< n00b

That’s leet for Linux newb, or a Linux beginner.

The last time I installed Linux, five years ago, I learned: the newest thing is not the best thing.  I built a computer with a 64-bit processor, after the 64 just came out on the market.  I bought the processor for various reasons.  So it came down to either lots of frustrations or buying a $20 academic Windows XP Operating System (OS).  Yay for Windows.

song chart memes

This time, I installed Linux on hardware that is more common (Asus 1000 Netbook).  To install Linux I think you need:

  • an additional working computer with internet access next to you
  • gusto and the ability to not worry about screwing something up* (CTYA)
  • no project finish time expectations

*Don’t leave files you want on the same partition as the operating system.  It makes it easier to install a different “distro,” or re-install after a big mess up.

Jerry recommended Mint over Ubuntu.  I read that Mint is good for early [Windows] converts (me).  It’s also “light,” or faster with user interfaces (me since I have a relatively small amount of memory), and built for media users (me).  Me, me, and ME!

One thing I found neat is that you don’t need to have the image on a CD to install the OS anymore.  UNetbootin allows you to write and install the OS from a USB.  I installed Gloria, Linux Mint Version 7, using UNetbootin on a 2GB USB flash drive.

I had troubles which ended up being with the BIOS.  But, another small victory puts me at conquering bigger problems in the future.

I don’t know if I would recommend Linux over another broad type of OS. Personally, I like the advantages: independence from corporations as well as the interactions in the open sourcing community.  But, there are drawbacks, so it isn’t for everyone.

I find working on computers less enjoyable than my recent hardware adventures.  To me, there is something more enjoyable about physical project evidence over the digital enhancement.

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streaming consciousness

I have a few thoughts on my mind lately: one is ditching the car and the other is couch time.

First: couch time.  To make a long story short, I would often return late at night from the computer lab and go directly to bed.  Like, do not pass Go; do not go to the bathroom; do not remove clothes; do not take shoes off; and then, wake early and go directly back to the computer lab.

So, my roommates required that I sit on a coach for 15 minutes a day, with stipulations if I didn’t.  I found out I like video games.  I often played Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.  Old School.

Anyway, I’ve started doing couch time more.  I sit in the front of our apartment building.  It ends up being around 6pm.  I’ve waved to this biking surfer quite a few times, and I’ve figured out who I can say “Hi neighbor!” to and whom to just wave at.  Additionally, since I’m usually sweaty from biking or running and live near Dog Beach, dogs like to smell my . . well, dogs say hi to me more than humans.  It’s interesting.

The other: ditching the car.  This has been on my thoughts for a while. I’ve challenged myself to a month without the car.  So far, I have one unjustified cheat on this goal, during week 2.  The more I do it, the more I see that I don’t “feel” like I’m missing out on as much as I thought I would.  There would be a decent change.  However, I just feel so much better about not having a car: mainly higher energy and a more child-like goofy outlook.  It’s also a fun way to add a challenge in your life.

I don’t know if I’ll end up selling my car or not.  It would make getting to the trails and wilderness harder, but at the same time I might relish in those experiences more.  Maybe not?

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The Journey at Home

To me, few things compare to the open road, by way of feet, bike, or car.  I like the unexpected.  I like the new experiences.

Travel leads to learning, like geology, geography, or architecture.  Most of my vacations often recharge my to athletic interests, breaking the monotony of my usual schedule and routines.  And I spend time with friends, as I often reunite with my favorite idiots, a group of about 10 people from the Purdue Triathlon Club.

In the last month, my perspective and interests in travel is changing.  Lately I’ve been working on home projects, where I’m learning new things.  And the best part: I get to see my accomplishments.

Travel accomplishments, to me, are meeting new people, going to weird cultural festivals, and seeing some breath-taking beauty.  These feats create memories and social currency.

Home projects, in addition to memories and social currency, can possibly add learning a new skill and a tangible product, like a tuned bicycle or some eccentric furniture.

In general, I don’t think one is better than the other.  It’s a personal thing. prefers staying put, and prefers the open road.

I think I like both.

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Aquaponics: Urban Gardening

After reading the aquaponics section of the Toolbox for Sustainability, I tied my TV Aquarium into an urban garden, termed aquaponics.

Say What

Aquaponics is a combined word, aquarium + hydroponics = aquaponics.  Here are three advantages of aquaponics [source]:

  • Recycles water and nutrients – environmentally friendly.
  • Uses 90% less water than ground crops.
  • Eliminates chemicals and pesticides.

By recycling water, aquaponics combines the disadvantages of aquariums and hydroponics.  Namely, aquariums need to flush fish waste, and hydroponic systems need to add nutrients for its plants.  Combining the two systems allows the fish to fertilize the plants, as well as conserves water and chemicals.


In its current version I have three cells: a fish tank, wetlands, and hydroponics.

Fish tank

I slightly modified my fish tank by placing a 1/25 hp pump into it.  The pump, at 5 feet of head, supplies 120 gph, which is plenty for this system.  This is the smallest pump at my Local Fish Store (LFS), and it was $50.

To put the pump into the undergravel filter system I connected the 3/4″ inlet adapter to a 3/4″ — 1″ connecter.  That connecter is also attached to a 1″ PVC tube that slips over the undergravel filter.

I drilled 1/16″ holes in the bottom tubing section.  This is for the Oh Shit Factor (OSF).  The OSF considered here is plugging from an above cell, preventing water flow into the fish tank.  This way the fish will still have a little bit of water to survive until I come home to see that the OSF was deployed.

Pump connected to the undergravel filter system.


The wetlands cell consists of:

  • three 12 gallon tool storage bins, $5 each.
  • six bulk-heads (how to put a pipe through a bin), $10 each.
  • two 50L bags of hydroton (clay balls), $35 each.
  • pea gravel, free.

The reason for six bulkheads instead of three is for the OSF.  There is a main bulkhead, which is dependent on gravity for flow; the additional bulkhead in the system is much like that little drain in your bathroom sink.  Here the additional bulkhead covers a plugged outlet, if the OSF is deployed.

I spent the extra money on hydroton, as opposed to using pea gravel, because it is so much lighter than pea gravel.  This is a luxury item.  If I were on a laycation or a reduced income, I would have used pea gravel.

inside the wetlands cell


Yeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaah, hydroponics!!!  To “mod” the fish tank I found, I just had a local glass shop drill two 1.5″ inch holes in it and then connected two bulkheads to that.  Again, one for the main flow and one for the OSF.  The glass shop charged me $30 for the two holes.

Piping it together

I used a variety of pipe sizes and connectors.  I learned how to connect pipes reading two pages in the hardware store.  It’s easy and fun, and PVC pipes are cheap (~$20 to make this system).

I used $3.50 ball valves over the wetlands cell because I only care to control if the cell is on or off.  However, I used a $6.00 gate valve after the pump outlet because I want to control the amount of flow.

There’s one thing I learned about cementing pipes together: don’t do it an area without ventilation.  I got a little high off it one night and felt dumber than usual  the next day.

The missed point

I spend a lot more time appreciating and wondering about pipe installations now.  I’m sure I’ll get over this soon, but there’s something to be said about appreciating a field after you dabble in it for a bit.

Additionally, I’ve finally put a link together from my $500 beginner chemical engineering fluid transfer class and actually implementing the designs.  It actually feels pretty cool and full circle.

The next adventure

Let the experiments begin and learn how to garden!  What little I do know is plants where leaves are harvested (herbs) do better submerged in water (hydroponics), and fruits and vegetables do better is a drier environment (wetlands).

I assume that the plants will do better supplemented with potassium and phosphorous, rather than just nitrogen from the fish.  At first, I’m just going to put some worm tea in the system, and then go from there.

Who knew the Huntington Beach Public Library is stocked full of indoor gardening and hydroponics books?  So, I have that going for me!

. . . and of course, continue on with the revolution of freeing myself from the Man!

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Even Steven

I try to hop at every opportunity to save someone in pain.  Unfortunately, it’s mainly for selfish reasons because I know I will need help in the future.

jeff praised me for his brilliant mistake on the track, when he needed a ride. He tenderized his feet trying to run too many miles at his first barefoot running attempt.  It just made sense to help him.  (1) I knew if I were him that I would want a ride, and (2) I do stoopid things all the time.

And so soon, I needed to cash in my credit. Rod saved me with ibuprofen, so now I’m back to Even Steven.

I’ve now had two bad allergic reactions from a sunburn, at ages 14 and 28:

I’m predicting that the next time I will have a bad sunburn will be at either age 42 or 56.

I can only explain this two to four hour allergic reaction as an insane itch.  It’s not that the itch demands a deep pressure or fast speed. It’s that the itch is only suppressed when it has a CONSTANT application of cold water, gentle massaging, and the aid of drugs.

The first time I had this experience was worse than this second time.

First Time, Age 14

After doing one of my favorite jobs in the world, mowing lawns, and other yardwork all afternoon on the first warm spring day in May, without a shirt, I awoke in the middle of the night.  What first started with a slight itch soon transformed into a I’M GONNA DIE / WAKE EVERYONE IN THE HOUSE UP type of event.

My dad soon had me in an ice bath and was rubbing my back, which apparently turned purple.  I know it was a relatively long time to scratch someone’s back, maybe 4 hours.  One detail I remember vividly is sitting in cold water in my blue plaid Calvin Klein boxers.  I was 14, and my dad’s girlfriend (now wife) was making sure both me and my dad were doing ok.  With her visits to the bathroom, those boxers I earlier threw off suddenly flew back on with her checking in.  Anyway, with my dad’s help, I avoided insanity for that intense experience.

Second Time, Age 28

This time, in my infinite wisdom of being 28, and a few days following an afternoon of day-dreaming on the beach, I set my grocery bags down and felt an itch.  I didn’t think much of it.  Like the night before, a quick cold shower should cease the itch.  Nope.  Without some kind of ibuprofen or antihistamine, I was scared the itching would never cease.

So while itching and massaging myself in the shower I did what anyone in that position would do: I yelled out the window!

Then, being the rational guy I am, I kept yelling if anyone could hear me and if they did could they bring me some ibuprofen.  No avail.  On to my next option for help, I clad myself with a towel and made the 60 second dash, without my precious cold water, to get my cell phone.  (20/20 hindsight, the towel was useless: if no one could hear me, then no one could see me and/or pull an “I’m so offended” move on me.) After a few phone calls (ranked in order of location convenience), I found a life-line!  It was very mentally alleviating to know that Rod could not only hear me, but help me.

Not to worry though, I kept yelling for help while itching myself in the shower.  To ensure (whatever) person coming to help was not mentally bothered, I put on my Old Navy red and yellow plaid boxers while in the shower.  Rod gave me ibuprofen; then, I told him that I envied his high level of melanin.

The itching finally stopped.  And, in about 2 hours of a constant stream of cold water, all my water conservation — via lack of bathing and quick showers — also came to an Even Steven.  But hey, you can’t win ’em all.

After cooling my core for 2 hours in that shower, I did what any other shivering idiot would do with a nearby sleeping bag suitable for conditions above 15,000 feet of elevation: I wrapped myself in a 0°F sleeping bag in the biggest heat wave of the summer.  Meanwhile, my first life-line of the evening, dre, sat next to me dripping in sweat while serving me some comfort foods: orange soda and pizza.

I think these are the key take-aways:

  • My parents no longer buy my underwear.  I wear the cheap stuff now.
  • The above graph is a bad extrapolation: I’m plotting a casuality, not a causality.
  • In two independent experiences while in that sleeping bag, I’ve not only felt cold and terrible, but I’ve also accidentally and negatively impacted water sources.
  • Please put me on speed dial for when you are in an emergency. I promise I will pay-it-backwards.
  • Wear sunscreen.

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