Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Walk Thoughts #2: mapping the route

Along with getting serious about my diet, I'm going to hit a local tourism office this week to see if I can't get hold of a map of my Seoul-to-Busan Four Rivers route. If I'm not mistaken, the rest stations are represented on a map by 24 dots connecting Seoul to Busan. In refiguring my pace, this means I can, in fact, use one rest stop per night if I overdo things for the first few nights. If all this is true, that's welcome news.*

Realistically speaking, Rest Stop #1 doesn't count: that's my starting point. By the same token, Rest Stop #24 is Busan itself—my destination—so I won't need to count that, either. That leaves only 22 stops to worry about. If I move at a rate of 1.5 stops for the first four days, I'll arrive at Rest Stop #7 on Day 4, and from that point on, I'll just have to walk at a rate of one rest stop per day for the rest of the hike. I need to confirm that this is, in fact, the case, and that I won't be walking myself to death going from stop to stop. If the expat bikers are correct, the stops ought to be no more than 15-20 km apart, which is easily walkable for me, unencumbered, in my present physical condition. Assuming no Murphy's Law, I should be able to connect all 24 dots within 21 days.

I normally get to work late in the morning; my usual start time, these days, is between 10:30AM and 11:30AM, which gives me plenty of time to hit the tourism office around 9:00AM to ask a ton of questions and, I hope, receive an armful of maps. Once I have the maps, I'll be able to study, in some detail, where exactly I'll be going along my route, what the exact distance between stops is, what sort of facilities there are at each stop, and many other crucial bits of information. And once I have all that info, I'll be sure to write another Walk Thoughts post about it.

Stay tuned for more soon.



*A second look at the map shown in this post indicates that I may be able to hit one stop per day and still finish the entire trail in exactly 21 days, taking a train back to Seoul on the day I finish. Some of the dots at the beginning of the trail had fooled me into thinking they were close-together rest stops, but on closer inspection, they've turned out not to be on the trail I'll be following at all. A recount suggests a total of 22 dots, and if I count Rest Stop #1 as Dot 0 (i.e., my point of departure), then I'll reach Dot 21 on Day 21, walking at a rate of one rest stop per day. If I'm right about all this, that would greatly simplify matters.

Water no more

Because my sales from CafePress.com have slowed to far less than a trickle over the past ten years, I rarely visit the site anymore. While I had made a couple thousand dollars off Water from a Skull in the wake of its initial release, there's been almost nothing since then. I do still sell the occasional Dalma Daesa tee shirt on that site, but sales aren't happening at more than a negligible rate.

Just a few days ago, I went back to CafePress to take a look at Water from a Skull... and discovered, to my shock, that the book has been yanked without any notification and without my permission. Just—poof. Gone. I'm charitably assuming this is because of some obscure, small-print policy that says something like, "If none of this product has moved during a 6-month period, we reserve the right to yank it off the shelves as a means to save data-storage space." Because that's what we're talking about, after all: data-storage space, not physical storage. What pisses me off about this is that, in publish-on-demand situations, you should theoretically be able to store your product on the cyber-shelves indefinitely: a huge company like CafePress can't possibly be hurting for storage capacity.

Well, whatever the reasons for my book's disappearance, it's gone. I can email CafePress to find out why, but the explanation ultimately won't matter. One of my future projects is to put out an improved version of Water from a Skull—heavily edited, with lots of new content, plus some of the basics that never made it into the first book, like a glossary, an index, and a much longer and more rigorous list of references. If it turns out that CP is no longer publishing books of any sort (and a cursory survey of the site seems to indicate that this is indeed the case—probably because of competition from publish-on-demand services like Amazon.com and Lulu.com), then I'll republish via Amazon.com, just as my friend Young Cheon did.

I'll talk about all my other writing projects in another post. Meantime, let's fondly remember that Water from a Skull actually had the honor of being selected for inclusion in one of Yale University's prestigious libraries (see here). Wow—that was ten years ago.

UPDATE, 1/31, 1:16PM: I wrote to CafePress, and CP has indeed discontinued the publication of all books, so it's not as though my book had been singled out for elimination. This probably does have a lot to do with the rise of e-books and the taking-over of POD books by the likes of Amazon.com and Lulu.com.



Monday, January 30, 2017

"Sicario": review

2015's "Sicario" is a drug-crime drama directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Emily Blunt, Benicio del Toro, Daniel Kaluuya, and Josh Brolin. (The word sicario comes from the Latin sicarius, meaning "killer" or "assassin." A title card informs us that, in Mexico, sicario means "hitman.") Blunt plays Kate Macer, a principled, by-the-book FBI agent who heads a kidnap-retrieval task force. Much of Macer's work has involved Latin drug cartels, and as the movie begins, she and her team burst into a property that is likely owned by Manuel Diaz, a higher-up in the Sonora cartel. Macer's friend and teammate Reggie (Kaluuya) discovers that the cartel safehouse is a grisly hiding place for dozens of bodies that have been hidden behind drywall and in crawlspaces all throughout the property. A bomb goes off as Macer's team continues its inspection; she loses two men, but her successful raid catches the attention of the CIA and certain mysterious government liaisons.

Still shaken in the aftermath of her operation, Macer is taken into an FBI conference room where she meets Matt Graver (Brolin), a laid-back gent in flip-flops who poses seemingly rude questions about Macer's marital and familial status. Graver wants to know whether Macer is the person he needs on his team, which is aiming higher than Manuel Diaz in order to bring down the Sonora cartel's big boss: Fausto Alarcón. Macer's boss Dave Jennings (Victor Garber) tells Macer to think carefully before volunteering for this CIA op; Macer volunteers on the condition that the men who bombed two of her team will be brought to justice. She is then told she'll be heading to El Paso to pick up Guillermo, brother of Manuel Diaz.

On the morning Macer is to fly out, she meets Graver (Reggie, somewhat redundantly, tells her not to trust him) on the tarmac, and she also meets Graver's ostensible partner, Alejandro Gillick (del Toro), a taciturn, world-weary fellow with a dangerous look about him. Macer discovers, to her consternation, that she'll be flying to Juárez, Mexico, not to El Paso, Texas, to pick up Guillermo. Gillick eventually opens up at one point to caution Macer that she will be seeing things she doesn't understand, and she won't know whom to trust, but she should have faith that, in the end, everything will make sense. The importance of this moment will resonate throughout the rest of the film as Macer is forced to witness violation after violation of law and procedure in the US government's effort to prosecute its drug war.

"Sicario" isn't so much an action film as it is a slow-burn drama. There were moments when I felt that director Villeneuve was channeling David Fincher in terms of pacing and atmospherics. By the end of the movie, we find out who the "sicario" of the title is, as well as what motivates him. What's strange about the movie is that Kate Macer is our point-of-view character, and while she starts out as smart and capable, her role throughout the film is shaved inexorably down to the point where she is little more than a victim and a bystander, a humble pawn in a vast and long-running game.

One reviewer that I read said the film is anti-feminist in that sense because Macer's arc is one of gradual, steady disempowerment. That's one way to read the story, but I didn't see this as an attack on a woman by the patriarchy: to me, the film was trying to make a point about the soul-crushing nature of the drug war itself. One character—maybe it was Graver—says at a crucial moment that the best we can hope for, in the drug war, is a semblance of order, i.e., stability, with no major shifts in the status quo. It's a sinister echo of Jesus' line in the Bible that "the poor you will always have with you." There is simply no resolution to this problem—not unless all drugs are suddenly legalized. Kate is rendered impotent, but she remains our primary point-of-view character, except for those moments when the sinister sicario does his thing. Morally outraged, Kate Macer has one last chance, at the very end of the film, to stand up for her principles when she is told by the sicario, at gunpoint, to sign a document that essentially legitimizes the entire dirty operation to take Fausto Alarcón out. Does she refuse on principle, or does she sign out of a fearful sense of self-preservation?

I liked the movie's dramatic structure. I liked the idea of a potent and morally upright main character whose potency and uprightness fade over the course of the story so that the eponymous sicario can come to dominate the proceedings. I like that the sicario himself isn't treated like a cipher: we come to understand his motivations and his humanity; he's not some blank force of nature. "Sicario" was, in that sense, a very unconventional movie. Its story beats moved in unexpected directions despite the slow, deliberate pacing—and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised when one character who had death written all over him didn't die by the end of the film.

"Sicario" is an issues movie: it's making a point about the vast futility and the tentacular nature of the current drug war. Another reviewer noted how the film trafficked in dualities: contrasts in weather (sun versus storm), contrasts between rich and poor, contrasts between the principled and the morally flexible. What's ironic is that, as morally complex as the movie is, it probably doesn't even scratch the surface of the drug war's actual, mephitic reality. If you're like me, you'll find the movie simultaneously worth watching and deeply depressing.



Sunday, January 29, 2017

office-style budae-jjigae

You're looking at 1600 calories: four hot dogs, 200 grams of spam, 120 grams of kimchi, and a package of Shin Ramyeon (noodles're under there, but not visible). This meal is the caloric equivalent of one MRE. Judged from an Atkins perspective, it's rather awful: way too carby, too much sodium, and the meat is all processed. But it is very tasty, and I've since found a way to remove most of the carbs: switch out the noodles for tofu and use a homemade blend of ramyeon seasoning. That drops the calories down to 1300.







Saturday, January 28, 2017

ululate!


A celebrity-death double whammy: TV and movie star Mary Tyler Moore died at the age of 80 this past January 25, and barely a day ago, Sir John Hurt passed away at 77.

Moore is mostly remembered for her positive portrayals of strong, driven, principled women on broadcasts like "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and, later, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," neither of which I remember very clearly. I do remember Moore as a luminous, smiling, constantly upbeat presence; it's impossible to imagine anyone saying anything negative about her. I note with some irritation that Moore's diabetes has been mentioned in various articles celebrating her life, with the implication that diabetes is ultimately what killed her. But as near as I can figure it, the cause of death, in her case, was mostly age: she died "from cardiopulmonary arrest complicated by pneumonia after having been placed on a respirator the previous week." Respirators, nasal cannula, and other breathing aids are often vectors for infection; my mother acquired the superbug MRSA after entering the Fairfax Hospital ICU, when she was given nasal cannulae to aid her breathing after an operation. Sterilization methods are far from perfect* in US hospitals, which are, perhaps ironically, where people end up with all manner of serious infections.** Moore's death was fairly typical.

I just rewatched the opening sequence of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on YouTube. I do remember the iconic hat-throwing moment—an affirmation of freedom, open horizons, and bountiful possibilities. I just wish I could remember any of the episodes. When I was a kid in the 70s, I was probably more preoccupied with shows like "Happy Days" and "Laverne and Shirley." And unfortunately, I never saw "Ordinary People," for which Moore received an Oscar nomination (she played opposite Donald Sutherland, who apparently did similarly excellent work but was snubbed by the Motion Picture Academy). That said, it's sad to hear of Moore's passing. The world could use more of her pep and positivity.

John Hurt—Sir John, really—was known to me for three iconic roles: as Joseph Merrick in "The Elephant Man," as the ill-fated Kane in "Alien," and as Winston Smith in "1984." Hurt, whose surname described his dolorous mien perfectly, was divinely created to play roles that included suffering, anguish, and terror. Even as Mr. Ollivander the wand-maker in the Harry Potter series, Hurt radiated a tragic aura mixed with hard-won wisdom. Hurt, too, had a Sutherland-family connection: he was involved in a webisode series produced by and starring Kiefer Sutherland titled "The Confession," which featured a twist ending that I should have seen coming, but somehow didn't. As with so much of his other work, Hurt in "The Confession" played a man with a painful past that had come back to haunt him.

The world is a poorer place without these two folks. It's sad to see them go, but we can be thankful for the happiness and entertainment they brought the rest of us.



*Sterilization of hospital equipment is normally chemical, thermal, or a combination of both. Absolutely perfect sterilization is nearly impossible, of course, and all it makes is a single microorganism, multiplying by powers of two, for any danger to arise again. Equipment will generally follow a multi-step sterilization procedure, e.g., via autoclave; the procedure will have, say, a 90% effectiveness, after which another procedure will eliminate maybe 90% of the remaining pathogens, and so on. The process is asymptotic: you approach zero microbes, but almost never quite reach that state.

**The technical term for "in-hospital infection" is nosocomial infection. An arguable subtype of nosocomial infection is iatrogenic infection, i.e., infection caused by a doctor or other health-care professional. Another reason to be leery of hospitals. And doctors.



Donald Trump and the PoMo ouroboros

I just saw what is quite possibly the best post I've ever read from Ed Driscoll, who guest-posts at Instapundit, a politiblog that used to be curated solely by Glenn Reynolds until he decided to make it into something like a team blog (with rotating team members) several years ago. Driscoll almost never manages to write typo-free posts, and he's constantly being raked over the coals by snotty commenters for his various and numerous gaffes. But in this case, he has put together a pair of blockquotes—one from David Ernst at the Federalist, and one from Victor Davis Hanson at Hoover.org—that will be worth your while to read. See Driscoll's Instapundit post here. Be there to read the articles (linked above) in their entirety.



Happy Lunar New Year!


The Year of the Rooster begins today. May this be a year of only good things for you... unless you're France or South Korea, in which case you've got some nasty presidential elections to look forward to. Good luck with that.

Happy New Year! I'll be spending it indoors, for the most part: my sore throat morphed into a full-blown cold, so I'm going to be curled up in bed, where I'll also be recovering from the effects of a work marathon that's had me going full-burn through January and is, alas, going to last through February.



Friday, January 27, 2017

Walk Thoughts #1: food on the trail

I'm starting a walk-related series called "Walk Thoughts" that will be devoted to writing about all aspects of my upcoming Seoul-to-Busan walk. Today's post will be the first entry in that series; topics won't be in any particular order: this will be more of a desultory, "as I think of it" kind of ongoing meditation. By titling the series "Walk Thoughts," I'm making it easier for you to search for these posts: in the future, after I've done a few entries, just type "walk thoughts" in my blog's search window (up top), and all the posts with that title will appear. Click "arrange by date," and you can read through the posts chronologically.

So today: let's talk food.

It's pretty basic—no food, no life. A walker needs food on his walk if he hopes to live to the end of it. If I'm going to be walking around eight hours a day for twenty-one days straight, I'm going to need some level of nourishment. In my case, since I come pre-loaded with a surfeit of fat cells, I probably won't need all that much food on the trail. This is important to keep in mind; I'll be coming back to this fact soon.

As I'd mentioned earlier, I'm currently looking at three major types of nourishment: (1) MREs, (2) Soylent, and (3) Survival Tabs. I may have to add a fourth possibility: good old Mountain House food packs, which are freeze-dried, along with being arguably lighter, smaller in volume, more durable, and above all, tastier than MREs. (I reviewed plenty of Mountain House food packs here. They are indeed tasty, and I unhesitatingly recommend this brand over all others.) There are several factors to consider:

1. How heavy will a 21-day supply of food be?
2. In terms of value, what is the per-calorie cost?
3. How much actual space will a 21-day supply of food take up?
4. Do I really need a 21-day food supply, or can I get by with a 10-day supply?

The answer to question (4) is a big yes: I can get by with only ten days' worth of food. With all the aforementioned fat cells, and with an every-other-day supply of nutrition, I have zero chance of starving to death on the trail. I might lose weight, but in my current state, that's actually a desirable outcome, not something to fear.

While I plan to talk more about encumbrance in another Walk Thoughts entry, I can say now that encumbrance is a major consideration, given my knees, which haven't improved much since 2008. Here's what I can say about my knees as they are now: they get me everywhere I need to go during a normal work day, and they're fine when I do my creekside walks, whether we're talking about the truncated walks that I currently do or the much longer, five-hour walks I was doing several months ago in warmer weather. If anything, the long walks showed that my knees weren't the problem: my feet and my hip joints were what ended up achy.

But the moment you factor in the backpack, the knees become a concern again. From my 2008 walk, I remember that I was able to walk a good 20 miles a day while wearing a friend's Alice pack (a type of US Army external-frame backpack made of heavy canvas, but with a very light frame) and carrying a much-reduced load on my back—somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-25 pounds as opposed to the monstrous 60 pounds that I'd been hauling beforehand. During that less-encumbered period, there were no knee problems, no back problems, no nothing.

Upshot: in terms of encumbrance, I need to keep my backpack's weight down under 35 pounds. In the meantime, I personally need to lose at least 20 pounds of fat (not water) before I begin the hike in May. With the weight loss and the reduced backpack load, I ought to be just fine on this trek: I'll be able to maintain a pace of about 3 miles an hour, making it possible for me to hike over 20 miles a day if need be.

So how do the numbers add up if I'm working with a ten-day supply of MREs or Soylent or Survival Tabs or Mountain House? Here's the tale of the tape:

MREs
The US military's "meal ready to eat," or MRE, has become culturally iconic on the American culinary landscape. Love it or hate it, its consumption has expanded beyond the military: there are civilian versions of MREs out there (which aren't much better in quality), and plenty of people laud MREs for providing surprisingly tasty, and reliably rib-sticking, meals. The rib-sticking nature of MREs probably has something to do with those huge, dry crackers that come in every pack, and the meal's main course is also normally quite carb-heavy. MREs have a shelf life of three years if stored in ideal conditions, but once conditions become too hot or too cold, that shelf life can drop down to as short as one month, according to experienced hikers. This means that MREs are probably not the best food to keep around for survival/emergency/bug-out-bag purposes; they're also bulky compared to other food alternatives, according to some complaints.

That said, I count myself a mild fan of MREs. They'll never win any culinary awards, but the meals they provide are sufficiently filling, giving you energy to get through the day. I take to heart the warnings about their heaviness and bulkiness—both qualities being major considerations for my journey. Let's examine the weight/bulk issue in depth:

1. How heavy will a 10-day supply of food be?

The average MRE weighs 625 grams, or 1.38 pounds. That's quite a lot, but keep in mind that the main course inside an MRE already contains water; it's a lot like opening up a can of Chef Boyardee "spaghetti" and eating that: everything is pre-cooked, so the only thing you need to do is heat the food through. MREs come with a chemical-heat source (filled with reactive metals like magnesium); that also undoubtedly contributes to the heaviness.

So: 625 grams x 10 = 6,250 grams, or 13.8 pounds. If it's a ten-day supply of food, that's not horrible. I haven't had a chance to put together my gear yet (I'm ordering plenty of supplies from the States, but am also planning to shop for some supplies here in Korea), but I suspect that I can keep the weight of my non-food items below 20 pounds. So 13.8 pounds' worth of MREs is doable, at the very least.

2. In terms of value, what is the per-calorie cost?

The average MRE supplies a hiker with about 1,200-1,500 calories per pack. For a big guy like me, I can maintain weight by eating two packs a day, thus supplying me with close to 3,000 calories. I'll be eating half that amount, and only every other day, so there'll be significant weight loss along the trail, but the result will look worthwhile, I think. Right, ladies?

The cost of MREs varies with where you buy them. Perhaps the cheapest option is eBay, and one guy is selling two boxes of "Case A" and "Case B" meals—24 meals total—for $188 plus $54.71 for shipping to South Korea. Let's do the math:

24 meals x 1,350 calories (avg.) = 32,400 calories

$188 + $54.71 = $242.71 for purchase and shipping

242.71/32,400 = $0.00749 per calorie, or about $10 for a 1350-calorie meal.

It's the shipping cost that's killing me, here: if shipping were free, the cost would drop to around $8 per meal. I'll keep looking around for cheaper MRE options. Perhaps eBay isn't the cheapest venue, after all. (I see that Amazon is selling the same two boxes for $190, but shipping to Korea may possibly be free.) I remember buying MREs off the black market in Seoul for under $6 a package.

3. How much actual space will a 10-day supply of food take up?

An MRE is 3.5 by 5.5 by 8.5 inches. That's about 164 cubic inches. Ten such packs would take up 1,640 cubic inches in my Gregory backpack, which has a 95-liter storage capacity (REI no longer sells this beautiful pack, alas). 1,640 cubic inches converts to 26.9 liters, so that's around a fourth of my pack's space being taken up with food. Not horrible, but maybe we can do better as we move to examine other food alternatives.

Soylent

Soylent is a scientifically engineered meal-replacement drink that comes in two primary forms: (1) a bottled, flavored, shake-like liquid and (2) a bagged, powdered, just-add-water drink. Rhett and Link, on their Good Mythical Morning show, describe Soylent as tasting like "Cheerios milk," i.e., the milk that's been interacting with a bowlful of Cheerios for a while. I have to wonder whether I can drink Cheerios milk over the course of three weeks and not go insane. That said, Soylent is apparently fairly cheap in terms of per-meal cost, and as Michael Stevens of the YouTube channel VSauce recently proved, you can drink nothing but Soylent for three days and suffer no ill effects.

Also of note: Soylent has a one-year shelf life in ideal conditions, and it requires no refrigeration—an important consideration out in the boonies.

1. How heavy will a 10-day supply of food be?

If we're talking about bottled Soylent (which many customers say is better-tasting than the dry powder), then each Soylent bottle weighs 414 grams (14-15 ounces); the plastic bottle itself has an approximate weight of 15 grams. That's 429 grams total, per bottle. If each bottle provides only 400 calories, then the caloric equivalent of an MRE is about three to four bottles. If I'm drinking three to four bottles per day, every other day, then a ten-day supply of Soylent will be 30-40 bottles—let's use an average of 35. 35 bottles x 429 grams = 15.015 kg (33.1 pounds!). Incredibly, that's heavier than ten days' worth of MREs. (You'll recall, above, that ten days' worth of MREs will weigh 13.8 pounds—less than half the weight of liquid Soylent!)

So bottled, liquid Soylent is already looking like a no-go, just from the weight perspective. What about the powdered form, then?

A pouch of dry Soylent contains 460 grams of powder. Each pouch contains four servings' worth of Soylent, and each serving, in this form, is 500 calories, not 400. I seriously doubt that I'll use 3/4 of a pouch in a single day's worth of meal-consumption: quarter-full pouches will get annoying very quickly, so I'm most likely to consume an entire pouch's worth of Soylent in a single day. That way, I can roll up the empty pouch and stow 'til I throw. I have no idea how much the pouch itself might weigh, but I think 10 grams isn't far off.

So: 460 grams of powder + 10 grams for the package = 1 day's supply. Ten days' worth of powdered Soylent would therefore weigh 4.7 kg, which is a hell of a lot lighter than liquid Soylent. Since I'll be walking alongside rivers the entire length of this half-peninsula, water won't be an issue, especially if I'm using that Grayl filtration system. So that's covered.

Powdered Soylent is already looking like a winner, here. Ten days of Soylent is 1.5 kg lighter than ten days of MREs.

2. In terms of value, what is the per-calorie cost?

Apparently, Soylent is cheapest when you buy it directly from the Soylent website and not from a retailer like Amazon. The website sells a package of 42 bags (which it claims will make 210 meals) for $324. The site says that this comes to a cost of $1.54 per 400 calories, which gives us a per-calorie cost of $0.00385. If we compare this to a 1,350-calorie MRE meal, that's like paying only $5.20 per MRE. Of course, I didn't factor international-shipping costs in; that would probably jack the per-meal price up to around $7 or even more. Still, Soylent trumps MREs in terms of cost.

3. How much actual space will a 10-day supply of food take up?

At this point, we can assume that, if I'm going with Soylent over MREs, I'm going with the powdered form, which is exponentially cheaper. I'm unable to find dimensions for individual packets of powdered Soylent, but a 21-meal box of Soylent has package dimensions of 11.8 x 6.8 x 10.1 inches, for a total of 810 cubic inches. If we chop off 15% of that volume to account for the bulky, cardboard packaging, we get about 689 cubic inches, which converts to 11.3 liters, or roughly 2.5 liters per pack (assuming 4-5 packs per 21-meal box). That's 25 liters of space taken up, which is slightly better than the 26.9 liters calculated above for MREs.

All in all, Soylent may be the more boring choice for nutrition, but it's significantly cheaper, lighter, and less bulky than MREs are.

Survival Tabs

Opinions on Survival Tabs vary across the spectrum from hiker-love to all-out hatred. They look like exactly what they're billed to be: huge tablets of nutrition. They're marketed as a meal-replacement solution for outdoor and survival situations. For what it's worth, Survival Tabs have a customer rating of 4 out of 5 over at Amazon. While it's hard to imagine a more boring food source than Soylent, Survival Tabs might actually be even more boring.

Survival Tabs have an estimated unopened shelf life of 25 years under ideal storage conditions (this goes down to 90 days after opening), but suffer little if any deterioration even in extreme heat and/or cold, or so the makers claim.

All the same, I have practical questions:

1. How heavy will a 10-day supply of food be?

A single pack of 24 tablets is supposed to last a person two days (i.e., you eat 12 tablets a day, or four per meal for three meals). 12 tablets is 240 calories, so the Survival Tabs makers aren't kidding about bare-minimum survival: if you're using these tablets, you're merely trying to stay alive and minimally nourished, which makes Survival Tabs the most austere nutritional option thus far. Amazon.com lists the "item weight" at 3.2 ounces. I'm unsure whether this accounts for the bag as well as the tablets, so to be safe, let's round that figure up to 4 ounces. A ten-day supply of tablets, then, would weigh 40 ounces, or an incredible 1.13 kg.

This is by far the lightest of the three options examined up to now, but it's also the one that's most likely to crush my soul. I want to bask in Korea's beauty as I walk through it, but part of that experience, for me, has to be the enjoying of a decent meal. Running on nothing but Survival Tabs for the entire length of South Korea might end up sucking all the fun out of the experience. Am I willing to risk that just to shave off a few pounds' encumbrance?

2. In terms of value, what is the per-calorie cost?

A single pack of 24 tablets costs $8.95 plus shipping, and shipping could conceivably double the purchase price, especially if Amazon refuses to ship these to Korea. Let's assume the worst and double the purchase cost, so: $17.90 for a 24-tablet pack. At 480 calories per 24-tab pack, that's a per-calorie cost of $0.037 per calorie—much more expensive than either MREs or Soylent. To make the MRE equivalent, multiply by 1350, and a Survival Tab meal costs $50.34 for an MRE-sized portion of calories. Of course, that's not how we're supposed to use Survival Tabs: we're supposed to ingest only 240 calories per day, so a day's worth of Tab-eating will come out to $8.95.

We haven't even gone through all the set questions yet, and I'm already not liking Survival Tabs as an option. They're expensive on a per-calorie basis, and they might trigger bouts of depression during a long hike that will likely include dreams of gourmet meals.

3. How much actual space will a 10-day supply of food take up?

Amazon lists the "product dimensions" for Survival Tabs as 2.8 by 5.5 by 8.5 inches. That's 130.9 cubic inches for two days' worth of food. Multiply by 5, and that's 654.5 cubic inches, or 10.73 liters. That's much, much smaller than the 25-27 liters taken up by Soylent and MREs.

Survival Tabs are also sold in huge plastic bottles that remind me of dog food. I could repackage the tablets in Ziploc bags to save space, but all in all, I'm not too motivated to buy Survival Tabs.

Mountain House freeze-dried food packs

Having already thoroughly reviewed Mountain House products elsewhere, I already know that, in terms of taste and quality, this is the food option I most prefer.

Mountain House products do present something of a challenge, though, in terms of calculating cost, dimensions, etc.: the problem is that a single package of freeze-dried food (you reconstitute it with boiling water, which means I need a heat source while hiking) is usually meant to serve 2-3 people. True: when a package says "serves 2-3 people," that's usually enough for just one Kevin, but another challenge with Mountain House is that, because the meals are varied, the serving sizes and costs will also vary. It's probably best, then, to use maybe three different meals as a representative sample, then average those meals out to get the requisite numbers for the questions that follow.

Those three meals:

Lasagna with Meat Sauce, 2.5 servings, $9, 4.8 ounces (136 g), 240 cal/svg
Beef Stroganoff with Noodles, 2.5 servings, $9, 4.8 ounces (136 g), 260 cal/svg
Grilled Chicken Breasts with Mashed Potatoes, 2 servings, $11, 3.7 ounces (105 g), 210 cal/svg

Average cost per single serving: $4.23
Average weight per pack: 4.43 ounces (125.6 g)—round to 5 ounces (+ bag)
Average calories per serving: 236.7

Final bit of trivia: Mountain House freeze-dried meals come with a thirty-year taste guarantee. In other words, if I were to buy a package of Mountain House right now, I'd likely be dead before the thing went bad on my shelf.

1. How heavy will a 10-day supply of food be?

At an average of 5 ounces per bag, that's 50 ounces (1.42 kg), only 10 ounces heavier than Survival Tabs, and a whole hell of a lot tastier.

2. In terms of value, what is the per-calorie cost?

This is where Mountain House falls down. At an average of 557 calories per bag, and an average cost of $9.67 per bag, we get a per-calorie cost of $0.017. For a 1350-calorie meal (MRE equivalent), that comes out to $23.44. Compare that to the $5.20-per-MRE value of Soylent. Ouch.

But you're paying for quality, and that might be worth it during a hellish, three-week slog.

3. How much actual space will a 10-day supply of food take up?

Amazon is listing the "item dimensions" for Mountain House Beef Stroganoff at 9.5 by 8 by 2.3 inches. That's a decent standard, and those dimensions come out to 174.8 cubic inches for one pack. Ten packs would therefore take up 1748 cubic inches, or a whopping 28.6 liters in my backpack.

Overall, Mountain House is definitely tops for quality and lightness, but it's an expensive, bulky option that will make life difficult for me when I'm packing.

Yet here's the thing: as I hike along and reach those way stations, I'll be throwing away the emptied-out packs of food, thereby increasing the free space in my backpack and lightening my load, several ounces at a time. Bulk is a relevant issue, but only at first. Over time, it becomes a non-issue. As long as I can stuff all the food packs in and keep the total weight of my backpack under 35 pounds, I really ought to be fine, no matter how bulky my food might be. My knees care only about weight.

Having looked at the options in some depth, now, I'm very tempted to go with Mountain House as my nutriment of choice. Then again, there's nothing stopping me from selecting a combination of the above foods as a way to keep weight and bulk down; that's another thing I'll be thinking about over the coming weeks and months.

Well! That's it for my first-ever Walk Thoughts. Sorry if all the math was boring (and do tell me if you think I've gotten the math wrong... I've been known to overlook certain factors and/or make goofy mistakes), but thanks for joining me in this thinking-out-loud session. Here's a quick chart summarizing my findings (winners in green):


Until next time!



Thursday, January 26, 2017

long day at the orifice

I've got some walk-related thoughts that I'll be tossing up onto the blog soon, but I need to leave the office and go back to my place first. Hang tight.



Isaac Newton didn't have to deal with this

I've got a lot of apples, and I don't want them.

My company gives me two giant, expensive boxes of apples and Asian pears every lunar new year and every Chuseok. The lunar new year is coming up this weekend (Year of the COCK, baby!), so I got my apples a few days ago. At first, I got to work making various products out of those apples: I incorporated them into my choucroute alsacienne; I made pie filling; I made apple sauce. When another wave of apples and pears came my way, I ate some of them, but many of them ended up rotting.

This time around, I simply don't want them anymore, so I'm going to trundle them over to Seoul Station this coming Friday, and if my surmise is correct, there will be a huge congregation of homeless people, plus several crews of charity workers who will be providing free dinners to all those folks. I'll leave my fruits with the workers, who will know best how to distribute my measly two boxes among hundreds of people (cut each fruit into ten pieces? twenty?). I had thought about going Gandhi and distributing the apples and pears to the homeless myself, but then I realized the mood would sour the moment I ran out of goodies.

So that's one Friday errand. Another will be to grab some ground lamb from High Street Market: in a couple weekends, I'll be inviting the dudes over for a gyro fest.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Deepwater Horizon": review

2016's "Deepwater Horizon" is a retelling of the true-life 2010 oil-rig disaster off the coast of Louisiana that cost the lives of eleven men. Directed by Peter Berg ("Lone Survivor") and starring Berg regular Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams alongside a very grizzled and "Hateful Eight"-looking Kurt Russell as rig supervisor James "Mr. Jimmy" Harrell, the movie follows a standard disaster-film formula, including the use of some painfully corny foreshadowing.

The first bit of foreshadowing comes early in the film when Williams's daughter rehearses the class presentation she's going to do about her father's job: she uses a Coke can, a metal pipette, and some honey to demonstrate how a rig pierces the rock to reach oil, then pours "mud" into the piercing pipe to prevent eruptions... except that, during the daughter's demonstration, the "mud" plug gives way and Coca Cola erupts out of the pipette. Ominous! A vision of things to come! A second bit of foreshadowing happens when Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriguez) tries to leave home in her old, beat-up Mustang, but it breaks down, forcing her to get a lift on a motorcycle from her boyfriend. A third bit of foreshadowing happens when Mr. Jimmy sees a BP executive wearing a magenta tie. Jimmy asks the exec to take the tie off because it's bad luck: on an oil rig, a "magenta alert" indicates the worst sort of emergency. The fourth bit of foreshadowing happens not long after, when the helicopter carrying part of the Deepwater Horizon's crew suffers a bird strike. The crew is rattled, but no one jinxes anything by saying anything untoward. This slew of omens is rather heavy-handed compared to what we see in a bad-luck film like "Apollo 13," which simply went for a wedding ring lost down the drain and a crew change caused by suspicion of measles.

We don't get to the actual disaster until we're an hour into the film, which is only 107 minutes long. In the buildup to the disaster, we meet many of the crew members, as well as the film's antagonist, British Petroleum representative Donald Vidrine (John Malkovich with what I can only describe as a creepy Southern accent). Vidrine has sent home the crew that would normally pour the concrete that stabilizes a well; we also discover that crucial tests have not been performed (the rig is 43 days behind schedule and is falling apart, much to BP's consternation). Vidrine insists on moving forward with the drilling, and Mr. Jimmy reluctantly consents. These scenes are inter-cut with underwater footage of the rumbling and fracturing sea floor, building up to destruction.

When all hell finally breaks loose, the movie goes into full-on 70s disaster-film mode. Berg handles these scenes well; the special effects are quite good, although I think James Cameron did a better job of portraying maritime emergencies in "The Abyss." As other critics have noted, "Deepwater Horizon" isn't big on characterization: there are no real character arcs, and we instantly know who the good guys and the bad guys are. The movie does, however, make the moral point that one's true character reveals itself in a crisis. In some scenes, we see people in positions of authority and responsibility either fleeing the area or freezing up when they should be giving intelligent commands.

On the level of social commentary, the movie warns us that cutting corners just to turn a profit can be deadly—not a new or original message, but one that bears repeating. While I don't think that "Deepwater Horizon" should be read as a broad indictment of capitalism as a whole, the film definitely targets the corporate irresponsibility of British Petroleum, and it makes us aware of the fact that executives like Donald Vidrine ended up getting away scot-free (a title card at the end of the movie notes that Vidrine et al. had been indicted for manslaughter, but no punishment was ever levied against them).

Despite all the action, hubris, agony, and morality, the movie felt strangely subdued to me. Some critics have praised this aspect of the film by saying that Berg's approach was understated or not overly preachy. Maybe that's what I'm picking up; I don't know. It's a good, solid, watchable movie, but for some reason, I didn't feel entirely engaged by it. It could simply be that, because the film focused so much on buildup, and because we Americans are already quite familiar with the actual story of the disaster, there was just no tension or suspense: events on screen merely unfolded.

If nothing else, the movie offers the viewer a great virtual tour of an oil-drilling rig. I'll give the film a cautious thumbs-up, but if you're familiar with the history, you might experience some of the same disengagement I did.



health, interrupted

Like a demon in the night, a sore throat has taken me over. It started small yesterday: I noticed a twinge of pain right before I went to bed, so I did a quick, cursory gargle, then thought nothing more of the problem. When I woke up this morning, it was nearly impossible to swallow thanks to incredible pain. My body had responded to the microbial invasion by creating some sort of mucus plug in the back of my throat that both heightened the difficulty of swallowing and made it hard to breathe through my nose. So I went through several aggressive rounds of gargling: hydrogen peroxide, Listerine (yeah, yeah—not very effective, but it hurts, which is good), and good ol' salt water. To ease the pain of swallowing, I sipped at a shot glass full of a 50-50 mix of honey and lemon juice, which was actually rather pleasant.

Am in the office now. I'm able to swallow and to breathe through my nose. I swung past the grocery in the complex where I work, buying honey and lemon juice for use in hot tea. I also bought salt for more gargling throughout the day. Thus far, there have been no other symptoms, so this doesn't feel like a cold or the flu. No headache, no fever or chills, no nausea, no watery bowels, no lethargy, no coughing, and only a little bit of a runny nose that is probably a consequence of whatever is generating the mucus in my head.

I'll be monitoring my symptoms throughout the day, and if things get worse, my doc is on the other side of this building. I'm sure he'll be delighted to see me. Too bad I won't have any infected fingers for him to rip open.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Chosun Ilbo freakout: "yesterday NAFTA, today attacking the TPP"

It's gonna be All Trump, All the Time, I think. Yeesh.

death of a walker

My buddy Mike points me to the story of Mark Baumer, a walker attempting his second crossing of the mainland United States—this time barefoot—as a way to raise consciousness about climate change and, apparently, to protest the presidency of Donald Trump. This article, which Mike linked to, describes how Baumer was struck by an SUV in Florida on the 100th day of his walk. Baumer's two major websites were (and are, I suppose, despite his death) Barefoot Across America and the more sinister-sounding NotGoingToMakeIt. That final blog post of his is creepy in how it seems to anticipate his death not long after. Then, of course, there's the creepiness of naming your walk blog "Not Going To Make It"....

Baumer's writings strike me as more than a little nutty and misguided. I think the walk itself was a brave endeavor on his part, and I tip my hat to him for trying a second time, but his take on the state of the nation is/was more than a little paranoid. RIP, Mr. Baumer.



Monday, January 23, 2017

'twas cold last night, but...

It was midnight, and I'd missed the last subway, so I walked home from the office last night. The walk was mostly safe; there wasn't enough ice to warrant breaking out my special cleats. Of note, though: it was 13°F (-10.6°C), but despite the cold, I was bundled up in exactly the same gear I had used when doing my creekside walk in 24-degree weather, and, strangely, it all felt the same. As I noted before, 13 degrees isn't arctic weather by any means, but I'm wondering whether there's a certain range of coldness that all pretty much feels the same, even if the temperature variance is more than 10 degrees. Things might have to get a lot chillier before there's any need to add more layers.



Sunday, January 22, 2017

(Walk Thoughts α) yes: the Seoul-Busan walk is happening!

My Seoul-Busan walk is a go, according to my very understanding boss. This is fantastic news, and it gives me a new sense of purpose. Korea might go to hell in a handbasket this year thanks to the country-sundering, dragging-through-the-mud embarrassment of President Park Geun-hye's ongoing impeachment, but I'm going to be doing just fine as I prep myself to accomplish a very specific goal: a 500-600-kilometer walk from Seoul to Busan. While much, much smaller than the sea-to-shining-sea walk across the US mainland that I had envisioned years ago (and only about half the distance I actually walked over a period of three months in 2008), this will still be a worthwhile endeavor, and May will be the perfect month in which to do it. I'm excited.

I'm excited, too, because I learned many lessons from the 2008 walk that can be applied to this upcoming one. I consider myself a fairly experienced hiker and camper, at this point, although by no means a year-round, "seasoned" veteran. That said, I did do plenty of winter camping at my parents' house during the winter from late 2008 to early 2009, while the house was being renovated and I had no bedroom to sleep in, so I've got some cold-weather camping experience under my belt along with warm- and hot-weather experience (I even have some embarrassing wind-related camping experience).

Also important is that tech has improved since 2008, thus making the documenting of my hike even easier to accomplish. I have a nice smartphone, now, not a slowpoke Blackberry. And while I'm no longer on Twitter, I am on Gab.ai (alternatively known as Gab AI), where I'll undoubtedly be live-gabbing my experience every day.

Some of the more worrisome issues have already been solved by the nature of the path itself: the rest areas spaced along the path have free camping, and they also come equipped with Wi-Fi and what I assume are phone-charging stations, so getting my message out won't require me to use too much allotted cell data. If phone-charging isn't possible at every station, I plan to have a portable charger with me—another innovation that was only in its infancy in 2008. (Back then, I tried using a solar charger, but that ended up sucking, so I don't trust solar chargers these days. If you think I'm wrong and know of an absolutely reliable solar charger that also works very well in less-than-optimal light, let me know.)

Another issue I'm pondering is food. I want a 21-day supply that is light, not too bulky or heavy, and easily disposable in a standard or "green" way. I'm looking at Soylent, the meal-replacement drink, as one possible food to take along. I'm also looking at Survival Tabs, and lastly, I'm looking at good ol' US Army MREs. I suspect the MREs will be the bulkiest, but I'll tell you more as I explore each of these products.

For water purification, I've got a LifeStraw, but I regret having purchased it before having seen the awesome and well-reviewed Grayl, which is a hiker's dream come true. I'll probably be ordering that soon, along with a spare filter or two.

Other prep will involve training my body; I'll be continuing the walking, but will likely increase my distance until I'm routinely doing 17 miles a day—a distance I had been walking for a while last year (a few miles during work hours, then the rest at night). I need to be able to hike 17 miles a day for 21 days in a row before I get on the trail: there's no other way to find out whether my knees can take the strain. I also need to plan for the fact that a quarter of the trail will be steep because it leads up and over the Baekdu Daegan mountain range. My creekside-path staircase work will be very useful in that regard. I also have to consider what it'll be like to walk while encumbered, so a good bit of my training will be devoted to the health of my back and the rest of my upper body. If I join my building's gym, I'll likely work further on leg and core strength there.

Then, of course, there's the research. I have many, many questions about the Four Rivers Project trail, especially as relates to the exact distance between rest stations. If the stations are truly spaced about 15-20 km apart, I think I need to hike at a rate of about two stations per day to remain on schedule and finish the whole walk within 21 days. At a minimum, then, two stations will mean a 30-km walk; at a maximum, the distance will be more like 40 km. In miles, that's 18.6 miles and 24.8 miles, respectively: 7 to almost 9 hours' walking daily, not including breaks. Honestly, I'm not sure I can manage those distances 21 days in a row, so what's likely to happen is that I'll end up camping just off the path, between stations, on alternating days. Again, we'll see: I'm thinking this through without having done the actual research yet, so I'll come back to this topic when I've got concrete numbers to work with. There's a tourism office close to where I work; strangely enough, it's located under a bridge, like an orc enclave, but I'll give it a visit one of these days and see how many of my questions can be answered there.

I do also plan to walk part of the trail as an initial reconnoiter. Blogger Brian Dean has offered to walk with me; I don't know whether he has the time to walk all the way out to the first rest station and back, but that's what I'd like to do. That in itself will be a 30-40-kilometer trek—a good day's walking. If Brian does want to do this with me, we'll likely have to start pretty early in the morning so as to get back to our respective abodes at a reasonable hour. (You up for this, Brian? Probably won't happen until March-ish, as per your comment.)

There's a lot to think about, but my brain is on fire, and I believe this is eminently doable.

More info as it comes. Stay tuned.

ADDENDUM: here's a map for you to stare at. The dots along the Seoul-to-Busan path appear to be the rest stations, and they do indeed seem fairly evenly spaced along the way. There are about 24 rest stations—depending on how you count them—going from Seoul to Busan (the north end of the trail seems to start west of Seoul, in or near Incheon; I'm not counting that part: I'm planning to hit the trail from Seoul proper). If the stations are all 20 km apart, that's a walk of about 500 km (24 x 20 = 480, plus 20 km for the initial stretch before the first station). This corresponds to what most bikers say the path's length is, i.e., approximately 500 km. The one biker I followed gave a figure closer to 580 km, but part of that number may be because he got turned around, at one point, having circled a mountain instead of having followed the trail the way he was supposed to.








Saturday, January 21, 2017

I shouldn't kick 'em when they're down, but...

Ein Bißchen Schadenfreude für Sie...






that cavernous smile

If they ever make a TV biopic on Nigel Farage, I know just the guy to play him:






at least there'll be no more of this

the ultimate krav MAGA

In the run-up to Trump's inauguration, and all over social media, the hashtag #MAGA has been rampant. It stands for "Make America Great Again," and with Donald Trump's now having taken the oath of office, #MAGA becomes something like a new national motto.

The text of Trump's inaugural address is here. As some commentators have noted, it lacks the blizzard of first-person-singular pronouns that throng in Obama's speeches.

The mainstream media, true to form, quickly got busy beclowning themselves with their bitter and often fearful commentary as they watched Trump's ascension alongside the rest of the world. Chris Matthews and Rachael Maddow, for example, traded Hitler and Mussolini references, seemingly incapable of understanding that their thoughts and behavior are contributing to the long-overdue, well-deserved death of the MSM. Other liberal-media figures have tossed around the adjective "dark" to describe Trump's speech, which began with a promise to "[transfer] power from Washington, D.C. and [give] it back to you, the American people," as well as "That all changes – starting right here, and right now, because this moment is your moment: it belongs to you."

My impression of Trump's speech was that it didn't, at first, seem to echo the can-do, bootstrapping ethos of JFK's "ask not what your country can do you for you" moment: Trump seemed almost to be saying, "You, the people, have been neglected for too long, and that ends now, for I've come to rescue you." I found that a little disturbing, but at some point along the way, Trump's speech morphed from a litany of paternalistic "you"s to a series of more life-affirming, synergistic "we"s. Trump then listed a raft of goals and achievements that "we" will accomplish together, so perhaps, buried somewhere in the text, there was indeed an implied "ask what you can do for your country" after all.

Far from being dark, Trump's speech strikes a note of hope and optimism for the future. The MSM think the speech is ominous because Trump's time in office bodes ill for them, so perhaps the MSM aren't wrong, from their selfish perspective, to see storm clouds on the horizon. One of the most entertaining aspects of Trump's presidency will be his constant circumvention of the arrogant journalistic gatekeepers via Twitter and YouTube (if only the man can control his errant, arrant spelling!), and his constant pranking and head-faking of the press to show what dupes they are.

I wish the man luck. I didn't vote for him, but Donald Trump is my president for at least the next four years. As even Matt Damon, that liberal to end all liberals, says: a successful president is good for all of us. May Trump put our country on a better economic and geopolitical course. May race relations improve under his watch as they failed to do under race-baiting Obama. May enlightened self-interest, at the national level, be the order of the day because, in the end, national self-interest isn't selfish at all—not when it focuses on the welfare of a third of a billion people. #AmericanLivesMatter.

ADDENDUM: this is pretty damn funny. Also on a humorous note: a comparison of Trump's inaugural address with Bane's brief speech from "The Dark Knight Rises."



Friday, January 20, 2017

what a cock

2017's lunar new year will mark the Year of the Rooster—or the "Year of the Cock," as per the indelicate wording on those paper place mats you find in Chinese restaurants in America. Having been born in 1969, I'm a rooster, fortunately or unfortunately: this is the year I turn 48, an age that's divisible by 12. That is, in fact, how you can remember the animal associated with your year of birth: if your age is evenly divisible by 12 this year, it's the year of your animal! Congratulations! The twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac each cycle around every twelve years, but the actual calendar takes sixty years to go through a whole cycle (there are a lot of "stems" and "branches"... it's complicated). This is why Koreans traditionally throw a bigger-than-usual party—called a hwan-gap—for people turning sixty: such folks have survived a complete cycle of the zodiac which, back in the day, was a noteworthy accomplishment. These days, age sixty is increasingly seen as... if not young, then certainly not old, so there's less of a "Congrats! You survived!" vibe at today's sixty-year parties. As for me: one more trip through the Chinese cosmic menagerie, and it'll be time for my own hwan-gap. How short life is, eh?

Year of da Cock. Dat's right—my year. Suck it, baby.



winter wonderland

The view out my apartment's window this morning:

Ave, Mike! (I'm now on Gab.ai!)

Thanks to my buddy Mike, I am now on Gab.ai, the purportedly freer-speech version of Twitter for people who are sick of watching righties getting shut down simply for voicing opinions that don't follow The Narrative. Instead of having to wait for Gab to crawl down the waiting list toward me (I was nearly Number One Million on that list), I received a personal invitation to Gab from Mike, so I've logged on and have created a new account and profile named, appropriately, @bighominid. Here's the link to my feed; I hope it's actually visible to non-Gab members. If Gab has a feed-widget that I can install on my blog, I'll slap that up soon. If not, then you'll have no choice but to click the link I've provided.

I'm still feeling my way around Gab's interface; there are similarities to Twitter, but there are also numerous differences, and it's obvious that, in several areas, Gab has a lot of catching-up to do before it's truly competitive with Twitter in terms of functionality and ease of use.

I don't expect Gab to drive traffic to my blog as much as Twitter did (although honestly, Twitter's influence on my blog traffic was minuscule), and I don't expect to "gab" quite as frequently as I tweeted. But Gab might prove useful if there are fellow Gabbers who might be interested in following my misadventures as I prep for what I hope will be a long walk across the southern half of the Korean peninsula. Those folks might be able to provide much-needed advice and/or encouragement—and who knows? I may end up meeting some of them.

I began my career on Gab with an appropriately un-PC post that praised Hitler, pined for the Caliphate, and saluted Cthulhu. Expect more arrant nonsense soon.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

bye-bye, Barry

A collection of reflections on Obama's presidency that articulate, better than I can, what I think of the past eight years:

Victor Davis Hanson

Stephen Hayes

"The Obama Legacy in One Chart"

Bre Payton

Peter Berkowitz

Styxhexenhammer666

If you prefer to filter your reality through distorting organs like The Huffington Post, please be my guest, but I think the above assessments—which admittedly contain some contradictions when paired up with each other—present a more accurate picture of the reality of the past near-decade. And now, on January 20, we embark on uncharted waters. I think Obama was disastrous for the nation—easily as bad as Dubya had been, and I agree with the current wisdom that Obama's track record, now seen in retrospect, paved the way for Trump's rise (note that article's source). Are we in for worse, or for better? We'll soon find out. My hope is that the next 4-8 years will be more interesting than depressing.



chairs and bureaucrats


A rant about stupid people.



surprised and a little impressed

Otherwise-undistinguished UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is either pulling some cynical political ploy, or he's actually grown a pair of wrinkled old balls: Ban has come out strongly in favor of THAAD deployment in South Korea. Well, good for him.

For those who don't know anything about Ban: in 2007, Ban succeeded Kofi Annan as UN secretary-general. Now at the end of his term of service, he may be eyeing a run at the presidency of South Korea. A bland, generally unremarkable politician who has apparently earned the moniker "slippery eel," Ban isn't known for staking out firm, clear positions that could make him a figure of controversy.* That's what makes his THAAD position so surprising to me: I'd never have expected him to come out one way or another on the deployment of a missile-defense system in the ROK. THAAD is a thorny issue: many irrational South Koreans are protesting it, having been hoodwinked by the local press into believing the defense system emits harmful radiation that will slowly spread cancer among the populace. The prospect of THAAD in Korea also upsets China, which is constantly wary of any threats to its interior.** Korean leftists who kowtow to China are therefore upset because China's upset.

The big rumor is that Korea's dominant conservative party, Saenuri, wants to woo Ban to run for president under its aegis, but I find this bizarre because Ban has always struck me as more of a milquetoast leftist than as a rightie. But what do I know about Korean politics? Almost nothing, really, but it'll be interesting to watch this drama play out.



*To be clear, Ban's "slippery eel" moniker has more to do with his avoidance of press questions than with his amorphous or limp-wristed policy positions.

**Yes, yes: THAAD is purely defensive, but tell China that.



Wednesday, January 18, 2017

the Great De-press-ion

Unbelievable. If 2016 taught me one thing, it's never trust the mainstream media. They lie, lie, lie—and they do so with a straight face while exuding a hypocritical fetor of self-righteousness rising like a column of greasy smoke toward a cohort of dark gods.

The latest salvo from the morally twisted MSM is this "open letter to Trump" by the hilariously misnamed Kyle Pope of the Columbia Journalism Review. Note first Glenn Reynolds's brief comment on this letter: "Can you imagine them sending this to Barack Obama, who needed to hear it just as much? No, no you can’t. And that’s because they rolled over for Obama."

In brief, the open letter levels several accusations against Trump (a tactic that isn't likely to make Trump any more receptive to the press, but I don't think Kyle Pope was in a negotiating or conciliatory mood when he wrote this amazingly sanctimonious piece), then proceeds to list the many ways in which the press, now having awoken to Trump's nefarious agenda, will hold the president-elect's feet to the fire. Here's a quick list of those ways:

1. Access is preferable, but not critical. (We have other ways to gather info.)
2. Off the record and other ground rules are ours—not yours—to set.
3. We decide how much airtime to give your spokespeople and surrogates.
4. We believe there is an objective truth, and we will hold you to that.
5. We’ll obsess over the details of government.
6. We will set higher standards for ourselves than ever before.
7. We’re going to work together
(i.e., together as a corps of reporters).
8. We’re playing the long game.

While there's far, far too much material to spend all day debunking here, I'll concentrate on two items: (4) and (8).

Let's start with (8): it is my fervent hope that the MSM are dying a slow and painful death. There will be no long game (Pope speaks in terms of centuries, not single presidential terms) as long as the MSM refuse to learn any lessons from 2016 and before. The democratization of video production has made it possible for news and commentary to bypass the traditional media gatekeepers completely in order to report directly to the masses, and much of that "citizen journalism" is better than the swill oozing from the legacy-news outlets. Again: at this rate, there will be no long game.

As for (4)... where do I even begin? The most comical line in the entire piece is this:

Facts are what we do, and we have no obligation to repeat false assertions...

The MSM are currently trying to push yet another narrative on the people: that there is a thing called "fake news," and that it originates from the right or the alt-right or from some dark corner far removed from the shining bastions of unimpeachable journalism. Ironically, the MSM are themselves the primary generators of fake news: see ZeroHedge for a damning laundry list of the MSM's recent sins—and there's so much more to find if you're willing to dig further back into history.

"Facts are what we do" is the funniest lie I've heard in a while, and in this article, it's said with such seriousness that I suspect the influence of something pharmacological.

Pope's open letter is only the most recent article of several that have caused me to question journalistic integrity ever more deeply. On January 14, Instapundit blockquoted a chunk of an article titled "'Fake News?' Media, Heal Thyself." Here's that blockquote:

In December, PolitiFact awarded its “2016 Lie of the Year” award to “Fake news.” But mainstream press deserves plenty of blame. We can’t all be gullible rubes, after all. Why are American news consumers turning away from mainstream media? The answer is simple: contemporary reporting is awful.

According to George Mason University economist and political scientist Tim Groseclose, whose work has focused on measuring partisan bias in the press, news editors and reporters overwhelmingly skew left on the American political spectrum. To wit, the Center for Public Integrity found that, of the over $396,000 that members of the press gave in 2016 to the two major presidential campaigns, 96 percent of the funds went to Clinton.

Recent headlines claiming that malicious foreign actors “hacked” the 2016 election suggest that editors make deliberate choices to try to shape how we think about current events. Although federal officials have found no evidence of vote-tampering, the damage is already done: over 50 percent of Democrats in a recent YouGov poll think Russians hacked actual vote tallies to help Trump. This conspiracy theory rivals the belief that President Obama is a Kenyan Muslim.

Michael Cleply, a former New York Times reporter, wrote after the election that his editors often assigned stories to him with prepackaged narratives. His job was to gather facts and comments from sources to support the storyline. This is not “reporting.” It is little wonder that many people distrust mainstream media.

Got that? So from now on, whenever you read or hear that "Facts are what we do," keep in mind the reality, which is that "editors make deliberate choices to try to shape how we think about current events." It's lies, manipulation, cynicism, and hypocrisy.

The fact that the press is so biased isn't really the problem for me. Once I know the bias is there, it's easy mentally to "recalibrate" what I'm reading to account for the skew, and it's especially helpful to map a biased report onto another report from an outlet with the opposite bias. But what does bother me is the press's insistence that it's somehow committed to objective truth. "Facts are what we do." What's being sneakily left unsaid is that an agenda becomes visible when you look at the choice of facts being reported. And then, of course, there's the matter of outright lying...

On January 7, Korea Exposé published an article titled "Ethics Be Damned: South Korean Journalism Fails" by Se-Woong Koo. This article is a "J'accuse!" list of journalistic sins in the South Korean media, but it could just as easily be a condemnation of the intellectual sloppiness and moral bankruptcy of Western journalism. Interestingly, many of the commenters responding to that article thought the author was naive and out of touch with reality—that he didn't understand the true nature of journalism today. One wrote:

Ethics in journalism is an idea that only exists in ivory towers of academia, not in today's commercial and [consumption-oriented] society. [Just] as major global news outlets are controlled by major media [corporations'] (NewsCorp, AP, Reuters, AFP, Time Warner, Comcast, etc.) [boards] and shareholders, [all] other news outlets must cater to [their] readers [for survival through] clicks, [the] selling [of] ad spaces, subscriptions, and donations—even for your beloved NYT and Korea Exposé.

It's [not just] in Korea, but [also] in [the] UK, France, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. [that] you’ll readily find [a] spectrum of news organizations working for their bottom [line or] promoting their readers' agenda[s], often reflecting [their citizens' desires] and [the] political spectrum of each country without ethics [sic].

So, whether JTBC illegally produces its own news or not, let's drop all pretense [of] the notion of journalism ever having ethics or holding [itself] to a higher standard in the first place.

Basically, the commenter is affirming that journalism today is little better than prostitution, morally speaking: it's all about the acquisition of attention and filthy lucre at the cost of integrity and dignity. My response to the commenter's cynicism, though, would be (1) "Thanks for essentially agreeing with my (and the author's) condemnation of journalism," and (2) "...but not wanting to improve the situation smacks of moral cowardice. You're not even willing to speak out against the problem? All you want to do is 'drop all pretense'?"

Whatever your view of that commenter's attitude and reasoning, the larger point is that journalism is losing its luster for droves of consumers while alternative media are strongly on the rise. With any luck, the MSM will eventually either die off or radically reparadigm, but given current trends, any reparadigming may be happening too late.

Good.



Steve says nerp

My buddy Dr. Steve says, "Not my president."

As I wrote before, I plan to give Trump at least a year before I draw any preliminary conclusions about him as a leader. Your own mileage may vary. Steve, it seems, won't even get into the car. He should probably read Scott Adams.



Tuesday, January 17, 2017

eat it and weep, baby

Now, that's a good sandwich! Behold: homemade curry/satay chicken* with homemade Thai-ish peanut sauce on country-style baguette (from the new bakery in our building), with iceberg lettuce and store-bought mat-kimchi. I had worried that the kimchi might clash with the peanut sauce, but I needn't have. Despite its strong taste and smell, kimchi goes surprisingly well with a huge number of foods from very different flavor profiles.


Quite delicious, this was, although I don't think the baguette lived up to my expectations. It looked like a country baguette, but when I leaned close and smelled it, I got a distinct whiff of sourdough. I've smelled the sourdough odor coming off certain el-cheapo, store-bought baguettes in the States, and I just don't understand what these people are thinking. As offended as some politically correct nincompoop might be about my above sandwich and its various cultural appropriations (as you know, I don't think "appropriation" is a bad word), I'm more offended by these horrific knockoffs of what should be an awesome bread.

There is, however, a bit of irony** in not liking sourdough baguettes: sourdough bread-making apparently dates back to ancient times, but in more recent history, modern American sourdough was brought to California by French bakers. So sourdough has a pedigree that runs through France, but in my view of bread's evolutionary tree, there must have been a separation, somewhere back, between sourdough breads and baguettes. No proper baguette is made with sourdough, even if the internet is rife with recipes for such. Non, non, et non.

That said, today's bread was good enough to make for a fine sandwich. As with Paris Baguette's sad and shitty baguettes, it helps not to think of this bread as a baguette but, rather, as a new thing to be evaluated on its own terms. And by that criterion, this was a good-enough bread that contributed to a very tasy lunch.



*I pulled the curry chicken toward a satay by incorporating yogurt. Ideally, when making a satay (the yogurty kind, not the teriyakiesque kind), you marinate your raw chicken in a curry-yogurt-garlic marinade. A marinade should have an oil, an acid, and an aromatic: the garlic is the aromatic component, in this case, and the yogurt—being a fermented milk product—provides both the oil (well, the fats, anyway) and the acidity. The first time I realized that yogurt marinades were possible was a mind-blowing experience.

**I suspect I'd better spell the irony out before someone calls me on this. Basically: I love baguettes, which are French, but I don't like sourdough baguettes despite sourdough's French pedigree. Okay, maybe it's not that ironic, and now you're thinking I've misused the concept of irony the same way Alanis Morissette was accused of doing in her song "Ironic." But I see the irony even if you don't, dammit.



Happy Birthday!

A very Happy Birthday to the late, great(est) Muhammad Ali and to Benjamin Franklin, who share a birthday on January 17. There's some other unsavory person turning 75 today... can't remember who that is...



sometimes, life is like this


When I see two alligators wrestling with each other, snapping and writhing like angry dragonspawn, I see two tasty things competing for the chance to be first on my plate.



Monday, January 16, 2017

18°F

Walked back to my apartment—about a 25-minute trek—in 18° Fahrenheit (-7.8°C) weather last night. Didn't feel all that different from walking in 24-degree (-4.4°C) weather, to be honest, so I think my nighttime creekside walks are still doable. This isn't arctic weather: it's not as though the snot from my nose is freezing as soon as it meets the cold air, nor are my eyeballs in any danger of icing over. So yeah—this is all still walkable. I may, however, need one more layer of upper-body insulation for when I stop walking the staircases and just walk straight back to my place, sweating underneath my coat. It might also be nice to have thin gloves that fit under my thick gloves: with my current gloves, my fingertips still freeze. Aside from that, I'd say winter walking is quite feasible... as long as things don't get too icy, thus forcing me to break out my trusty ice cleats.



I give up

It is now officially too cold out for me to continue with my previous heating arrangement (space heater + boiling water). This building comes with no real insulation, so the place is an icebox when I get back from work,* especially now that nighttime temperatures have hit the mid teens, Fahrenheit (17ºF = approx. -8ºC). As a result, I am now turning on the dreaded ondol, which means my electric bill is going to go from manageable to massive. Ah, well. Such are the woes of winter.



*Yes... I worked until midnight on a Sunday. I have no family. Or friends. Or life, apparently.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

the new walk project

If I can clear this with my boss, it's gonna be amazing.

By the time we hit March 1, I will have racked up over 120 hours of comp time on top of the 20 or 30 extra hours I have left over from my Christmas/New Year's break. I've therefore broached the idea of taking three or so weeks off straight so I can walk the South Korean half of the Korean peninsula, from Seoul to Busan, by following the Four Rivers Project bike path. The path actually varies in length as there are some alternate routes (that all come together by the time you reach Busan), and one of the four segments will take me across the imposing (imposing to me, anyway) Baekdu Daegan mountain range.*

One athletic Canuck made a video of himself (drone camera, GoPro, and all) biking from Seoul to Busan; his version of the route covered a distance of 572.95 kilometers.** In miles, that comes out to around 355, which is a bit more than half the distance I walked in 2008. I calculated that, if I were to walk the route in 17-mile chunks every day, the walk would take 20.9 days, i.e., 21 days, or three weeks. If I block off about 24 days to walk the route (with a few days' padding as a "Murphy's Law buffer"), I can do the whole thing in about 3.5 weeks.

If I get the "yes" from the boss within the next week or so (we're still confirming our publishing schedule), I'll begin training much harder than I currently am. Having walked 600 miles before, I now have a much better idea of what to expect in terms of aches and pains, logistics, etc. On the bright side, I'll be armed with a much better cell phone, and since I've seen reports that there's a 500-kilometer version of the trail, I might suss that route out and make it my hiking route of choice.

Further research has revealed that foreigners who have biked the Seoul-Busan route were delighted by (1) how well-maintained and generally easy the route was, and (2) the fact that there are rest areas and free(!) campsites spaced evenly along the way every 10 or 20 km. That last thing was a worry for me: I had wondered how much back-country camping I would have ended up doing, with no recourse to civilization. Now, it seems that civilization is available every 10 or 20 kilometers. Good. So I can concentrate on walking.

One major issue is, of course, my knees, which haven't really improved since 2008, given that I've gained weight since then and have kept my knees under constant strain. I'm going to look into a wheeled carrier that I can hip-belt to myself, but I'd ideally like a rig that can convert easily into a backpack if necessary: I anticipate needing such a thing when I reach the mountainous part of the route. And if all else fails, I'll go back to using my backpack, but I'll do what I can to reduce my encumbrance to no more than 30 or so pounds. (In 2008, I was lugging about 60 pounds on my back, gear plus pack. I'm not a trained soldier—not used to carrying 120 pounds of gear plus 8-15 pounds of a weapon and ammo—so 60 pounds was insane for this untrained civilian.)

The prospect of a long walk is exciting, even if it'll be short in comparison with 2008's walk. Here's hoping the boss looks over our 2017 publishing schedule and says yes.

Oh, and: if I do get to do this walk, it'll likely happen this May. Walking during Korean summer would be unbearable.



*Korean mountains generally aren't that high, but their slopes can be steep. South Korea's tallest peak is actually Halla-san, which is not even on the main peninsula: it's on Jeju Island, just off the coast, and is 1950 meters tall (6398 feet or about 1.2 miles).

**Watch the video with the sound off. The music soundtrack is horrible and obnoxious, and the guy's voiceover narration doesn't add anything important to the video, except maybe for the one part where he ends up in the mountains and wastes part of a day inadvertently biking a loop instead of a line.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

24°F

ululate!


William Peter Blatty, author of that horror classic The Exorcist and director of "The Exorcist III" (from Blatty's novel Legion), has gone to his maker at age 89. I enjoyed The Exorcist in novel form as much as I enjoyed the movie version, and if Blatty's reward for his literary efforts is an eternity in hell, then may he traverse the laval fields of the inferno upon a regal palanquin carried by all of his legion of demons. He's earned it.



first checkup of 2017—and good news!

I went to see the doc this morning for my monthly (well...six-weekly) checkup. Somehow, I got away with not submitting a urine sample, but I did get the usual blood-sugar and blood-pressure checks. Blood sugar was fine; the doc smiled at the numbers and said I was good—much better than the previous checkup, anyway, when my HbA1c numbers came back looking rather poor. But the big news was my blood pressure, which was the lowest I'd ever seen it:

110/80

I did a double-take. A BP of 120/80 is considered "classic" normal. I have no idea whether I'll be able to maintain such stellar numbers over the next few months, but we'll see. I began exercising again a couple weeks before today's appointment, and I also did my usual cheat-diet* starting a week before today. If I stay on this path, that'll be a good thing, and I'm thinking that diet and exercise may have played a small role in my improvement.

But there's yet more great news: the doc no longer needs to see me every month: we're now moving to every two months. Eventually, if I get healthy enough, I imagine I'll "graduate" and will no longer have to visit the doc at all. That stage is still a long way off, but it's no longer unimaginable. In the meantime, I enjoy having a doc who acts as an externalized conscience. God knows I need one, given my general lack of self-discipline.



*You may think it's devious and wrong to do a cheat-diet instead of just changing my dietary habits over totally. But hear me out: all the doc sees are numbers, right? What he's looking for, from month to month, is a trend in those numbers. If I'm able to cheat-diet and provide the doc with that trend, then I'm actually obtaining real health benefits from my seemingly cheating lifestyle because, little by little, I'm shaving away the bad dietary habits and replacing them with good ones. It's a gradual process that mimics a graph's approach to an asymptote, but I'm going to stick with it for the time being, especially if I'm getting results like those talked about above.



Friday, January 13, 2017

Darth Vader and "Rogue One"

Continuing our Friday the 13th theme: here are some interesting articles on the issue of Darth Vader's spare but memorable appearance in "Rogue One":

"Can we talk about that final Darth Vader scene in Rogue One?"

"Let's Talk About Darth Vader in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'"

"How Darth Vader Got His Groove Back in 'Rogue One' Thanks to Last-Minute Tweak"

And amusingly:

"'Rogue One': Vader's Final Scene Redone Shot-for-Shot in Epic Lego Fashion"

Vader sure made an impression. And yeah: they made him evil again.





here's a dark thought for Friday the 13th

With a week to go before the inauguration, Donald Trump has been making all sorts of enemies. During the campaign, the mainstream media did its best to make him into the next Hitler, and Trump has punked the media several times, either by bringing unexpected guests to a news conference or by inviting reporters to a presser for an "exclusive," then castigating reporters for their bias and sloppiness. Trump has also made enemies within the intelligence community, especially recently with the surfacing of Buzzfeed/CNN's "Pissgate," a fake-news scandal in which Trump has been accused of perverted dalliances in Russia involving prostitutes and golden showers in posh hotels. The president-elect has fired back at both media and intelligence for sloppy work, ranting on Twitter about a "witch hunt." Trump supposedly conducted his own private sting against the intelligence community as a way to determine whether that community was actively leaking classified information; he claims to have caught some leakers, none of which is endearing him to the spooks.

The media and the intelligence apparatus are two huge, powerful, and pervasive blocs that deeply influence American society. Glenn Reynolds, on Instapundit, has written ominously of "the Deep State," a term that refers to large entities that may be trying to quietly control national policy and exercise influence throughout all branches of government. Making these entities into one's enemy is, to my mind, a very dangerous thing, which makes me wonder: what if something terrible should befall Trump on Inauguration Day? It's not inconceivable. Many people, especially those on the left, are actively seeking to keep Trump from the levers of power, and they'll be agitating against him for the next four to eight years.

Unless something happens on January 20, and Mike Pence suddenly finds himself being sworn in as the country's forty-fifth president.