Blog Archives: May, 2003

Yosemite Trip

This past weekend I went on a trip to Yosemite National Park with five other interns working at Sun Microsystems. Read more to find out about the trip and see pictures.

Yosemite Falls and Half DomeYosemite Falls and Half Dome We drove to our hotel Thursday night. Friday morning we got on the road a little late and drove about 2 hours to Yosemite. When we got there, we all went on the Upper Yosemite Falls hike, the same hike I did last year. Although not everyone was as hardcore as I was with respect to hiking, 6 was a manageable number and we made it to the top in pretty good time, about 8 hours round trip. We couldn’t stay too long because it started raining, so we scooted down the mountain and hightailed it back to our hotel.

Saturday we stayed around our hotel, which was on a lake. We rented a pontoon boat (top speed: 20 mph!) and a double-tube and went out on the lake. We had a barbecue on board the boat, did some tubing, and had an all-around good time. After dinner, we went to a drug store to buy (what else?) Monopoly and alcohol. They got drunk, we all played Monopoly, and I learned that though country boys like to think they don’t get drunk, they do indeed become sloshed. I didn’t have anything to drink, because Sunday was the big day.

Half Dome, from 'Base Camp 8'Half Dome, from 'Base Camp 8' I got up early (6 am) and we headed off to Yosemite, arriving by 8:45. I started my Half Dome hike. Before going on, let me tell you that Half Dome is an ambitious day hike. Some 18 miles long and 4400 feet vertical, it ended up taking me nearly 10 hours. After just under 3 hours, I reached what I like to call “Base Camp 8” (Everest has Camps 1 through 9, and then the summit; so this was the second last camp), and saw for the first time, the rock I’d be climbing.

Let me skip forward a moment and tell you that climbing Half Dome was by far the scariest thing I have ever done in my entire life. We’re not talking scary-the-rollercoaster-is-going-upside-down-fast, we’re talking scary-one-missed-step-and-I-fall-4400-feet-to-my-doom.

Cables to the top of Half Dome, from 'Base Camp 9'Cables to the top of Half Dome, from 'Base Camp 9' As you can see from the picture, to get from Base Camp 9 to the top of Half Dome, you have to go up a series of cables. The pair of cables are about 3 feet apart, with wooden planks every 10 feet or so to let you rest. Everything else is smooth rock, at about a 45 degree angle, sloping off to the sides. It’s about 400 feet vertical up the cables, and took about 20 minutes to go up.

When I got to the top, the first thing I did was find an enclosure of rocks, where I could sit in the middle and not roll down in any direction. Then I slowly looked around, and it was a pretty darn cool view – at the top of the world, so to speak; unfortunately, pictures don’t do it justice.

If I thought going up was hard, coming down was even harder. Going up, you can look down at your feet, watch where you put them, and never have to look at the drop just a few feet to either side of you. But going down, you need to place your feet, and to do that, you have to look down. And to make things even better, my hands were tired, I didn’t have gloves, and we got stopped a couple of times. I was in pretty rough shape, but I finally made it to the bottom and back to Base Camp 9. When I arrived, my hiking stick was even still there!

A small creek on the John Muir TrailA small creek on the John Muir Trail The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful. I ate some peanut butter granola oat bar thingies, had lunch, drank a bunch of water, and took some pictures along the way. All in all, a magnificent hike, one that I’m proud to have made. Next stop, Everest!

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Yosemite Photos

Liberty Cap and Vernal FallsLiberty Cap and Vernal Falls Photos from my most recent trip to Yosemite National Park are in my picture gallery. Not quite Ansel Adams, but I’m getting there… (Ansel Adams Gallery photography).

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Away from my blog

I’ll be away from the keyboard for a few days, as I’m off to Yosemite National Park for the weekend (it’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States). If you want to see where I am, just check out the pictures I took last time I was there.

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In a blatant blog ripoff, I give you me, as a Lego person, ready for Oxford.

Lego DouglasLego Douglas

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This week: peeling

My last blog entry, from nearly a week ago, reports on my trip to Santa Cruz. I’ll start this entry by following up on that one. Those of you bitter that I am enjoying sunny California while you find yourselves in rainy Waterloo can take solace in the fact that my sunburn has started to peel.

This entry will be a bit of a log of what I’ve been up to lately. I’m working on a think-piece blog entry which I’ll have posted in the next day or two.

Marge Simpson waving Canadian flagMarge Simpson waving Canadian flag I feel obliged to recognize the genius of The Simpsons. Tonight’s episode (“The Bart of War”) has the Springfield mob eschewing mindless violence and singing the “sweet, soothing” hymn that is the national anthem of Canada, then joining hands to form the outline of a maple leaf. And through this, Bart and Milhouse come to learn that “war is not the answer, except to all of America’s problems.” It really doesn’t get much better than this.

On the topic of TV, this past Wednesday was the series finale of Dawson’s Creek. Although some readers may be disappointed to know that I’m a Dawson’s fan, I’m not embarrassed to admit that I have enjoyed the show. The finale was sad, but dealt with the series’ main theme – friendship and love – poignantly and with respect for the viewer. Although a show set in high school, I felt that it connected to me in university. And even though I’m a D/Jer, I’m okay with Joey ending up with Pacey. That’s all the fictional teen melodrama writing you’ll have from me for a while. No promises about the non-fictional teen melodrama, though.

PinnaclesPinnacles So while much of my life here in California sadly revolves around watching TV, I have been able to make it outdoors every once in a while. Yesterday, we went hiking at Pinnacles National Monument, where “we” is defined as 12 interns from Sun Labs. I learned that hiking with 12 people is less than optimal, especially when you’re going on a 13 kilometre hike and most are used to driving to “nature”, walking on a boardwalk for 100m, and then getting back in their air conditioned SUV. Okay, perhaps I’m being a little mean – everyone made it through the hike with relatively minimal complaining. Still, I’m anti-social when it comes to nature. Spending time in the great outdoors can be an almost-spiritual event for me, one that I find I can’t enjoy when I’m with other people.

As for today, today I made muffins. Boo-yeah!

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Sunny California

Although I often describe this place as “sunny California”, it’s actually but not-so-sunny for the past two weeks. We’ve had a number of overcast days, and a bit of rain too. But yesterday that was fixed: I went with a number of other Waterloo co-op students at Sun Labs down to Santa Cruz, California’s quintessential beach town.

And it really is a beach town, just as you see in the movies. We walked the board walk, passing rollercoasters and ice cream stands. I had a hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. And we did the essential California beach activity: we played beach volleyball. I’m not so bad, actually; I can serve pretty well and won a number of points based on my serves. But we weren’t really playing seriously, so I didn’t turn on the Stebila super skill¿. I did however end up with a sunburn, but I’m religiously and copiously applying aloe lotion, so I’ll survive.

Lone CypressLone Cypress After an afternoon on the beach, we headed down to the 17 Mile Drive, a beautifully scenic drive along the Pacific. I’ve been there a number of times before and took a bunch of pictures the last time I was there. This time instead of taking the standard tourist shots, I decided to go for a bit more of an artistic flair to my photographs. I’m still going through what I took, but if I find anything that’s not too shabby, I’ll post them on my site. The photograph above is of the Lone Cypress, possibly the single most famous tree in America.

I asked some of the people I went with if they enjoyed the Drive, and they said it was okay but nothing overly spectacular. And that true for me as well this time – it wasn’t breathtaking. I think it was because I was with a large group of people and we had to accomodate everyone’s desires. Which is why I think I’m going to go to Yosemite alone again this year. (I went to Yosemite for 4 days last summer alone and had a wonderful time.) I tend to be introspective in a natural setting and it becomes an almost-spiritual experience – I guess that’s not something to be enjoyed in a group setting.

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Site Update

An editorial comment: I’ve been reimplementing the design of the site in hopes of getting it to render better on Internet Explorer. I know that there are still some problems, but I’m getting some screenshots of the display (thanks Laura!) and will hopefully fix it soon. In the meantime, you might try a browser that renders CSS properly, plus does useful things like blocking pop-up windows.

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Exponential Progress

Ray Kurzweil, author and futurist, writes about the accelerating rate of change in our world.

(Warning: The article is a reprint from a business-magazine, so it’s not too theoretical.)

He argues that we are entering an age of acceleration. In fact, we’ve been living on an exponential change curve, but we’ve just been on the flat part for a really long time; now we’re entering the curved portion. The argument for exponential growth is based on the law of accelerating returns, a technological feedback loop: the tools we develop at one stage are the tools we use to develop the technologies for the next stage, and then we use those new tools again. Moore’s Law is a special case of this law of accelerating returns.

I found the following quote particularly interesting:

The whole 20th century, because we’ve been speeding up to this point, is equivalent to 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, and we’ll make another 20 years of progress at today’s rate of progress equal to the whole 20th century in the next 14 years, and then we’ll do it again in seven years. And because of the explosive power of exponential growth, the 21st century will be equivalent to 20,000 years of progress at today’s rate of progress, which is a thousand times greater than the 20th century, which was no slouch to change.

This statement leads me to a few questions.

First, what is this progress? Kurzweil’s definition is “to move forward or develop to a higher, better, more advance stage.” Pretty vague. I’m sure there are economic indices that could measure progress, but I have doubts about the suitability of economic metrics as societal measures. Is progress the number of hours of housework? the number of SUVs per capita? number of hours of freetime per week? availiability of drinking water? average lifespan? None of those metrics could ever improve on an exponential scale for any prolonged period of time before stabilising. And some (Mr. Ducharme?) would argue that economic progress is not unbounded. What measure of progress could improve exponentially for an arbitrary, unbounded period of time? Or am I missing the point – would any measure of progress itself become obsolete?

Second, will we be able to adapt to “20,000 years of progress” in the 21st century? Grandpa Simpson complains about these kids with their rock and roll and new ideas. Can any generation adapt throughout its life? If society is about to enter the curved portion of the exponential curve, and we have grown up at this critical point, are we better suited to continually adapt to increasing rates of change?

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