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Complaining about TV 28 April 2010

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You might like watching the Amazing Race, love it even. But I gather it’s even more fun to hate on the disaster that is every contestant. What fun!

To be clear, Caitlin Upton made it obvious early on in her modeling career that she is no scholar. Her spectacular display of brain cells gone wild has already drawn more 41 million views on a YouTube clip of her Miss Teen USA performance. Even now, she can’t speak for more than a few seconds with out splintering sentences with the word “like”. The looks of abject bewilderment on hers and boyfriend Brent’s faces on each Amazing Race challenge has only enhanced their ranking among brainless reality TV contestants.

More TV love here.

Still not summer 26 April 2010

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Titling a post “Never Summer” a while back probably makes this one redundant, but hey, it’s been snowing for I think five days straight now. And although just about every mountain around here is closed and you’re probably golfing, that doesn’t mean the Coloradans aren’t still heading for the hills. In droves. In bunches and bunches.

Nearly three feet of snow had fallen by Sunday, and the eleven inches that settled on Arapahoe Basin’s angry pitches only buried another ten from the two days before. “Where,” Coloradans collectively asked, “had this been the entirety of the season?” Then they skied it for a few hours–until the sun came out and the powder piled into clumps and bumps–and wished that winter would get it over with already. They drank bloody marys(ies?) out of plastic cups and chatted about the possibility of mountain biking the next weekend.

I won’t say this is Colorado distilled yet it represents the ennui that has set in at the end of the season. And after so little snow has fallen there’s, this sense that despite the obligations of lawn mowing and hedge trimming and flower cutting in the Front Range that, well, 21 inches has fallen in the mountains. Time to dust off the skis. Put the cover back on the Lawn-Boy. Fight the crowds. Everyone on the lifts hadn’t skied in weeks. It was a last hurrah. One guy wished for kayaking season to begin, and I’d agree, but kayakers are certifiably crazy. Just YouTube some of it.

Thinking about it, I guess it’s my last hurrah as well. I leave my position at Vail Resorts just a few days from now. My storage locker is secure. My unwanted clothes are now at the thrift store. And now I’m left with the task of picking up my life and moving it somewhere. Not to Missouri of course, but perhaps back to this state in a different, more challenging capacity; perhaps to Seattle to discover the possibilities of the northwest. Five more days.

The statistical value of your life 21 April 2010

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I tend to forget that not everyone went through economics courses in college and that of those who did, a scant few came away actually liking the subject. So on Monday when I asked you whether the death and suffering in Haiti hurt the world economy more than did the enormous and widespread annoyance following the unpronounceable volcano’s eruption, I assumed an economic response. And failing that, I assumed a utilitarian response based on the total amount of good/bad brought into the world. I am bad at assumptions, evidently. Only an economist would place a value on human life, right?

Well, no.  Everyone does every day. If you’re alive, it comes with the territory, so let’s take a moment to explore the value you place on your own life. The concepts involved are relatively simple ones, and they’re more broadly applicable, too, so in addition to learning about the value of a human life, it should become clear why gambling is such a tremendously bad idea as well. Tremendously bad. Hooray for teachable moments.

The concept is expected value, an outgrowth of probability. Multiply each possible outcome for an event by its probability and sum the products. Voila: expected value. But maybe that’s too abstract. Examples typically help. Consider the outcomes from a coin flip: heads or tails. Now, say I give you $1 if when you flip the coin it lands on heads. If it lands on tails, however, I give you nothing. What’s the value of the coin toss? The probability of heads is 1/2 (or .5) so you can multiply .5 * $1.00. So, $0.50.  Now take the other outcome, tails. This time you’ll get nothing, so the equation (the probability’s the same of course) is .5 * $0.00. So, $0.00. Add $0.00 to $0.50, and the expected value of the coin toss is $0.50.

Admittedly, it grows more difficult when the the number of outcomes grows. You’ll find it harder to, say, judge the expected value of a dating situation when the possibilities include 1)Acceptance, 2)Rejection or 3)Rejection and gossip to all her friends that you’re sketchy. Or you can pick a happier example. Regardless, that’s about it for the textbook talk. Let’s get on with life.

Consider a crazy world in which your commute to work is an expected value scenario consisting of two possible outcomes (like a coin toss). Outcome one: you drive to work on the highway, arrive safely, make $600 for the day, and drive home to your wife/concubine/television and cats. Outcome two: you die in a fiery wreck on the interstate. Boom goes the dynamite. On any given day, the probability breaks down to a .99991 chance of outcome one and a .00009 chance of option two.

You can see where this is going: if you believe life cannot be valued or has infinite value you will not go to work. If you believe the former, then you’ll flop to the garage floor in a paroxysm of indecision, and if you believe the latter, you’ll stay at home because the result of your calculations will be infinitely negative. In fact, unless you consider your life worth less than about $6.7 million, you’ll ask for a raise or become a perpetual shut-in. Best to stay with the mistress.

Now, granted, most folks aren’t the rational calculators that my example assumes, but plenty of careers in the real world test the same idea. Why else would the show Deadliest Catch exist? Commercial fishing is the most dangerous industry in the US. It involves a very real risk of dying. And because of that, it necessarily commands higher wages. Is the work that much more difficult than that of any other physically strenuous position? Probably not. But you aren’t likely to die while splitting rocks or digging a ditch.

Interestingly enough, it’s that kind of trade-off the government uses to determine the statistical value of a life. Its auditors look at the premiums workers in dangerous industries request to compensate for higher risks of death or injury. And then policymakers (not politicians) use that information to determine whether the number of lives saved by a new measure or construction project will make up for the costs. It’s cold, but then again, Americans like to drive 70mph even if it costs scads of lives.

Talking about value 19 April 2010

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Questions to ponder–Accounting for the statistical value of a human life (in the US ~ $6 million) which has cost the world economy more: the Haitian earthquake or the Icelandic eruption?

Friday Seriousness: Obama and the Great Outdoors Initiative 16 April 2010

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Is earth week next week? Google says yes, and I guess that’s why President Obama came out today to tell Americans about the Great Outdoors Initiative, which will do… something. As best I can recall, The Sierra Club showed up to laud the move and my former employer, well, actually, blew it off, but perhaps with good reason: the initiative doesn’t initiate anything. It hopes. Case in point:

The president said the “America’s Great Outdoors” program will involve a series of listening sessions throughout the nation to solicit an array of ideas.

Yes, an array of ideas. That’s about as vague “variety of issues” on my resume, and it marks a return to the aspiration game, which seems to hope that since we won’t be going to moon anytime soon, we might as well gaze at America’s wild-ish navel instead. Aren’t there weekly radio addresses for the stuff no one needs to know, though? Did America really need a special meeting to hear that it was getting a little homely, that maybe it should try getting out every once and while to work on its tan, take a stroll in the woods, leave a Snickers wrapper at a scenic overlook? Well, maybe.

Yes, National Park attendance has not grown in step with the economy, and more Americans visited in 1987 than have in any other year since then despite our swelling population. But to use the presidential pulpit to urge Americans to reconnect with the outdoors smacks of desperation. Curious since we’ve made no attempt to hide our flirtations with televisions and theme parks and European vacations over the last two decades. Why the hope for reconnection now? With more wilderness than ever, with conservation-friendly bureaucrats in office, why the sudden rush to support the American outdoors?

Over at the Times’s DotEarth blog, Andy Revkin might have the answer: our urban president. George W wandered around Crawford wounding trees with a bow saw in the name of fire mitigation. Cheney hunted quail and friends. Clinton whitewater rafted. Al Gore’s still afraid of ManBearPig. And George H.W., even if he didn’t like broccoli, at least retired to the Maine coast now and then. On the other hand, urbanite Obama, not so big on the Bass Pro scene despite his academic predilections for conservation.

I don’t think, however, that the great outdoors initiative is an effort to make up for lost opportunities or for the fact that Obama’s never wrestled a grizzly with his bare hands. Rather, it’s an offer from an urban American to urban Americans reminding them that Colorado exists, that so much space lies between I-5 and I-95. Really. And, yes, that may sound like aspirational gibberish to folks who make it into the woods every once and a while. Maybe it is.

But recall that the urban poor voted for Obama in overwhelming numbers. And recall that there are a lot of urban poor. They registered because he appeared on the ticket. Regardless of what you make as the reason why, consider that these are folks who rarely if ever see opportunities to vacation in national parks. It is they who need the hope of a wild America the most, and more pragmatically, it is the conservation crowd that needs more voters interested in environmental issues. Ignore the hope-y language  and instead focus on the stated problem and implied “ask” here:

Despite our conservation efforts, too many of our fields are becoming fragmented, too many of our rivers and streams are becoming polluted, and we are losing our connection to the parks, wild places, and open spaces we grew up with and cherish. Children, especially, are spending less time outside running and playing, fishing and hunting, and connecting to the outdoors just down the street or outside of town.

If Obama can offer the hope of America’s natural bounty to those who might never have made use of it, he can also recruit supporters to protect that bounty. And in this case, I bet winning environmental consideration from voters who already hang on your every word will prove far easier than swaying a hardened and skeptical suburban electorate. When more Americans connect with the outdoors, more Americans vote for the outdoors. Shrewd move. And yeah, it’s cool if the city folks get end up getting muddy a little more often, too.

Friday Fun: Mike Rowe 16 April 2010

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Ever wanted a sack for your cat? Too bad. You didn’t call QVC in 1992 to buy it from Mike Rowe.

What I’m Doing 14 April 2010

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Stuff White People Like # 120: Taking a Year Off

If you work with this person, be sure to give them a FAKE email address on their last day on the job or you will be inundated with emails about spiritual enlightenment and how great the food is compared to similar restaurants back home.  Also, within the first five days following departure, this person will come up with the idea to write a book about their travel experience.  Sadly, more books about mid-twenties white people traveling have been written than have been read.

More here.

Summit County, CO: Snowboarded, left with imprints of my face 13 April 2010

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This is a blog post about snowboarding. It is mainly about how snowboarding makes my butt hurt. It is about how snowboarding makes my face hurt, too. Sometimes. That is to say, I took a lesson today after spending 85 days this year on skis. Yes, 85. I boast, but I can also say that 85 days on skis does not really translate into snowboarding prowess. The rugburns on my elbows prove this.

To understand the process of learning to board, imagine strapping your feet to a dingo, cinching them down and all that so that no matter where the dingo goes, you will most assuredly go as well. At first, this seems like a clever plan since dingos are frisky and lovable, but about two moments after your instructor teaches you to stand up, he lets loose something small, furry and very, very speedy. What follows is “riding.” Or for me it’s Andy’s Illustrated Guide to Snowboarding Falls Vols. I, II, and III. IV will arrive shortly, pending the recovery of my butt, knees, wrists, left pinky, and like I said, face.

But by the end of the day part of the appeal becomes clear, mainly that snowboard boots is comfy. Skiers will tell you that heat-molded liners and custom footbeds and all that make their boots tolerable. Skiers lie. When the rapture comes, those not among the elect will walk to hell in ski boots. And once there, some lesser demon wearing a fuschia onesey will force them to descend stairs for all eternity. Their suffering will know no bounds.

In all honesty, though–and I’m an honest skier–it’s a pleasure to return to knowing nothing at all about a sport, to become a snowboarding tyro if you like. And yes, I say that so you can solve a clue in next Monday’s crossword (Novice: 4 letters). Speaking of which, the next time I find an occasion for “adzes,” you can be sure to see that as well. This instance doesn’t count. At any rate, please excuse my rambling. Point is that after so many days spent on skis, nothing seemed terribly steep anymore and the fear had just about disappeared. Learning to snowboard brings all that back. The “Aacckk! Too fast! Turn?! Stop!? Tumble, tumble, tumble” progression returns. But to be learning again, there’s the fun.

Grins all around.

Never Summer 9 April 2010

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Vail reported its largest dump of the year two days ago, and even though the state’s avalanche crew disputed the 19″ figure, it amounted to a whole lot of snow–nearly three feet by the time the storm left town. Back in Williamsburg, temperatures hovered in the low 90s. What gives? Where’s spring? 9000′ lower, I’d imagine.

Sometime in November, the year-round folks her pointed out that winter tends to drag on, and that around the end of March Coloradans once again long for green shoots and a few buds on the trees. Not really believing them, I discounted that idea. Who wouldn’t want ski season to extend forever? It’s now April. And I don’t. The ski season can end.

Sure, it’s still possible to tool around on the mountain big grin plastered across the face, but it’s high time for some other outdoorsy pursuits to begin, like roadbiking and hiking and looking at anything green. Really. An Apple II E featured a broader palette than does wintertime Colorado. It is a land of brown and white laid out under a cobalt sky. The lodgepole pines have long since succumbed to the advancing beetle, and what ever-greenery remains will perish in the next few years as well. But lest you think it’s a desolate landscape from Fargo, nine months of winter in Colorado will always beat the grinding rain of Williamsburg’s coldest season. There’s a bra tree, after all.

Still. Summer. A humid languor in the river bottom air. The sun’s setting. A silo in the distance, and the bike speeds along in the wind. The bat cracks. A little league cheer and the sound of a shifting gear. A lone oak in a cornfield, the cliche. Headlights on and highschoolers on their way to a house party. A bonfire in the woods and empty lawn chairs circled around a cooler. A can of Budweiser at the side of the road. Tap on the brakes. Jack calls. He’s on his way to Main Street. Too soon to turn around.

Vail Snow Report: asd;flkajfpaosdfoj1!!!11 7 April 2010

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19″ inches in the last 24hrs. 30″ in the last two days.

If yesterday was the best powder day of my life, then today I’ve died and gone to heaven. Heaven with an afternoon shift, that is.

Something like what this guy’s doing:

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