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Month: April 2009

Chatsworth Peak

Chatsworth Peak

Apparently that oil drum was just below (as in virtually the same thing) Chatsworth Peak as recognized by the US government.  Here is a google maps plotting of the GPS coordinates for Chatsworth Peak:


View Larger Map

What does that mean? Well, it means that yesterday I hiked to a vantage point of 2,314 feet above sea level. This is more than twice the minimum feet required for something to be a “mountain.” …which means, I can (technically) say I’ve climbed a mountain… on my own… without equipment or a trail… and survived.

I’m radioactive

I’m radioactive

My dad pointed out that the area I was in yesterday was the Santa Susana Field Laboratory.  Specifically I was wandering around Area 1 and the “southern buffer area.”  Apparently the land is still quite polluted and the fires last year released more toxic stuff.

This morning I woke up with a stuffy head/runny nose.

Do you think I have swine flu or radiation poisoning?

Adventureland

Adventureland

Sunday at noon Victor caught me online and we headed to Shamshiri for lunch.  I had the lamb and while it tasted good, it was … “chewy.”  Nothing like the super soft lamb I’ve always had at the Westwood Shamshiri.  Shamshiri always stuffs you (with rice, mostly) to the point of pain.  Today this would come in handy.

Victor had to do some homework, so I decided to go to Stoney Point by myself as it was such a nice day out.  At Devonshire though I decided to make a left turn.  Every time I’m up near stoney point I see the mountains to the left with rocks going all the way up and think “god, I want to climb to the top of that.”  I think I’ve even mentioned that to some of you reading this when we’ve been in the car together in the area.

Well, today I decided to see if I could go up there.  I parked at Chatsworth Park North.  There was some kind of garden show (supposedly Huell Howser was inside) going on sponsored by the Chatsworth Historical Society.  It was $4 and the median age of attendees was about 66, so I decided to skip it and head north into the actual park.  

The first thing I noticed was that there were plenty of trails, but there were really no people.  Eventually I’d see a horse rider or some teenagers here and there, but compared to all the other parks in Los Angeles this one was deserted.  The horse trials would be perfect for mountain biking.  I wasn’t concerned with biking though, I wanted to climb to the top.  

To get to the top one has to climb over two ridges (or one, the second ridge is pretty much the top I guess).  It wouldn’t be easy.  I had to keep moving south along the base of the ridge.  I did this for what must have been about half a mile before I finally found a non impossible (dangerous rock climbing) way up.  Even though I had to go through a ton of brush (apparently nobody goes up that far, all the dirt trails stop way below that point) and dead tree branches I knew this was safer than actually trying to climb alone.  At one point I thought I’d spotted a place I could “easily” climb up by myself:

This spot was higher up than it looks.  The scene was cool though, there was a little sand pit at the base of this part and then immediately after that (behind me when I took the picture) was a large tree growing out of huge boulders that had fallen as water had (apparently in the past) flowed down the cliff.  This was shortly before 4pm, so I took a breather at the sand pit and plucked all the little burs, thistles, etc. out of my socks and legs.

When I began to climb I realized that the way up was more treacherous than I initially surveyed.  Although it looked very possible to climb it without injury based on what I know about climbing/bouldering…. I decided that I’d play it safe since I was by myself and climb back down (after I was about 12 feet up on my way) and try to go further south.  As I started around the base I ran into my first snake:

I kept going and going and going, circling along the base of the first ridge.  There were a billion spots that would have been spectacularly fun to climb IF I had safety equipment.  Eventually I broke through the weeds and brush and climbed up and up and up (which was still dangerous as the rocks seem to have a lot of sandstone) and made it to the top of the first ridge.  On top of that ridge is an electric tower (tower 417 actually):

I sat there for a while and then headed off to the ridge at the very top, one of the highest summits on any of the surrounding mountains.  I decided that would be my goal, I’d get there and then call it a day.

Here is a photo from tower 417 showing the rock I was sitting on when I took the photo above:

My phone died soon after.  After reaching the tower I found several dirt trails that led up to the next summit.  Well, almost to the next summit.  As I was climbing my way to the top I realized I was going to have to do another twenty feat of hard climbing to reach the absolute top.  The rocks were all sandstone and literally giving out under my feet in a lot of spots so I decided to stop where I was.  I sat there and leaned back for about fifteen minutes, just taking in the whole scene.  I could see the entire valley, all the way from the 118 in the north to the Warner Center in the south and then forward (east) out until… well… the smog made everything gray somewhere around where the 405 must have been.

I looked at my watch when I was ready to leave; it was 5:15.  I figured that I’d find a trail to get down pretty easily and be back at my car by 5:45 (I was wondering when the gate to the Garden Festival parking was going to close).  I headed down the ridge, but everywhere I went I came upon cliffs that were shear vertical drops.  I had to actually keep climbing up.  I had to remind myself a few times that I’d be okay if I kept walking.  I started moving faster and covering very dangerous terrain.  Often I was running along cliff edges about ten feet from the edge through heavy brush and trees.  Many times I could not even see my feet and more than once I ran into patches where the weeds were over my head.  At least five times I turned around and headed up…and up… and up…   

I really wasn’t getting anywhere.  I had been trying to reach a small dirt trail that I could see way over south of where I was.  I couldn’t see where it ended up though – but I assumed “oh, it’ll start after the next ridge.”  Every ridge crest only brought a new vertical cliff face though and I had to go backwards.  Eventually I gave up on the trail and headed over the summit to find the access roads I’d seen (further west) when I’d been at the top before.  I saw houses off to the north when I was at tower 417, so I knew there had to be some roads somewhere.

I found blacktop eventually.  I started walking ….  After walking for a little while I found a gate, indicating that this wasn’t public access.  I found a bunch of abandoned cars from the 80s.  It was getting creepy.  I kept walking and the blacktop turned into dirt again.  Eventually I saw another blacktop road that went up the hill to what looked like a house.  I thought “great, I’ll call someone at that house.”  I started up the road and noticed “Private property, no trespassing, property of Rocketdyne.”   The road was at a very steep grade and I was getting exhausted.  At one point I looked at my watch and saw that it was about 6:30.  I started to feak out a little bit.  I kept pushing myself.  I got to the top and found the strangest scene since going to creepy backwoods places in Ohio.  What I found were several abandoned cars full of stuff.  There was a giant oil or water storage drum.  I scanned the drum for an emergency phone.  There wasn’t one.  Next I was going to check out this house that I thought I saw.  It was… something… not quite a house, but not quite a shed.  It looked like a home-made oversize storage shed, but it had a little entrance patio and real house doors.  I knocked but nobody was there.  The whole place looked like it had been home for someone who was suddenly and semi-permanently homeless, but had abandoned their home a while ago.  There was a ton of weird stuff laying around on the ground like old power tools, lamps, shovels, tubs, nuts, bolts, etc.  In retrospect I was probably lucky that this guy wasn’t around.  I would probably be dead after the crazy guy on the mountain stabbed me with an old power drill.  … none of his cars were operational (the hoods were open with engine parts strewn about) and I highly doubt he would have had a phone in the “house.”

 In the map below you can see the drum (click on “satellite” view). Point B is the oil drum thing and point A is where I parked my car. (You may have to just click on “view larger map” if the map keeps refusing to embed itself)
View Larger Map

I looked over the side of the hill (the oil drum was at the crest of another part of the mountain) and saw that the houses I saw earlier were to my left. I went down the hill and followed more access roads. I decided to go east back towards the towers. I knew there was a chance I might just end up stuck at the towers again, but I also knew that behind the ridge was basically nothing for a long time, and spending the night back there was worse by spending it by the homeless guy’s oil drum was better if it came to that. I picked correctly though and to my delight I came out onto Mesa Drive.

I stopped at the first house where I saw activity and knocked on the door. A frightened woman came to the door and I asked if I could use the phone. She seemed perplexed and angry at my request (maybe she didn’t speak english very well), but after explaining it twice a man from somewhere behind her shouted “A lot of people get lost in that park!” in a pissed off tone. The woman relented and handed me a phone. I then realized that the only numbers I could remember in the whole world were my parents, my office and my own number. I didn’t want to call my parents and freak them out at what would have been 10pm their time. So, I called the office and hoped that Victor was still there. He wasn’t of course. The woman could tell I was leaving a message. She said “just wait here, five minutes, okay?” She closed the door and I waited. And waited. And waited. After ten minutes I gave up and started walking down Mesa. About a quarter mile down the road I came to another grouping of houses. There was a teenage boy walking around. I talked to him and he said he didn’t have a phone and nobody was home. He advised me to go back down a trail he and his friends use to go to Chatsworth Park. I decided that would be a bad idea. Instead I walked to the first house on the right. Before I even got to the already open door a woman and a giant poodle appeared and said hello.

She was very friendly and invited me inside, asking me about what had happened to me and offered me a bottle of water. She explained that she’d just moved here from India and didn’t know the area very well, but she’d gladly drive me back to my car. I couldn’t believe my luck, I was safe, and this woman was volunteering to drive me back down.  She told me I was actually in Ventura County, later as we were on the freeway coming back to Chatsworth I noticed a “now entering Los Angeles County” sign.  I had actually hiked out of LA…

On the ride down to Chatsworth she began explaining to me why she’d come back to America after being in India for 25 years. I couldn’t really understand it, but apparently she works for a Christian motivational something or other. She invited me to some sort of “prayer education” meeting. When we got back to the parking lot at Chatsworth Park I told her to wait for me to get my wallet so I could give her some money for her trouble and she refused. Instead she wrote down her name, phone number and website. After further research I found more info about her here.  My car was the only one left and the Garden people had already closed and locked the gate. The parking lot had no fence though, and so I only had to drive over the birm to get out.

I was glad to be alive.  There were a few points in the ordeal when I knew that if I was a weaker person I would have just given up on that mountain and been cougar food.  It also was very fortuitous that Victor and I had gorged ourselves on Persian food.  I used every last calorie in that mountain of rice running up the hill, jumping on rocks and breaking dead trees.  All the trees were dead and covered in ash from the fire a year before.

It wasn’t until I got home that I looked at myself and realized how scraped up I’d gotten.  In addition to the scrapes my body and clothes were covered in smears of black from smashing through all the dead burnt trees.

Here is one section of one leg:

I’d worn my thin OSU workout shorts and shirt, and some tiny socks, so large swaths of my skin was exposed.  I didn’t realize how many little cuts (and some big ones) I’d gotten everywhere.  I guess I must have been pumping a lot of adrenaline to not feel any of that.  The only thing I felt the whole time were the annoying burs that kept getting caught in my shoes.

Don’t try this at home kids.  

A few key mistakes:

At every other park in LA – when you climb to the top, you always find an easier trail back down – because you were never the first one to the top.  In this wilderness I was wrong about that.  I think I actually trespassed onto private land.

Bring water.

Make sure your cell phone is fully charged.  

Remember, it is harder going down than up…

 

I DID however let two people know where I was before my phone went dead, and always kept my wits about me.

Many Lives Many Masters

Many Lives Many Masters

After having a philosophical discussion with a classmate recently I was recommended to read the book Many Lives Many Masters by Brian Weiss MD.  I wasn’t able to find the time to read the book until the school term was over.  However, the book is short and I was able to finish it in under a week (only reading while on the elliptical machine at the gym).

The book is quite straightforward in its “discovery” of “proof” of reincarnation.  The entire book, save for some brief reflective paragraphs about the author’s life, is simply the (supposedly) verbatim copy from Dr. Weiss’ therapy sessions with a patient named Catherine.  Under hypnosis Catherine goes into great detail about the physical details of her past lives (“I’m wearing a blue shirt with a necklace containing a small piece of lapis”) and also connects with “the Masters,” knowledgeable spirits that want to teach Dr. Weiss about the afterlife.

At first after reading the book I thought that Dr. Weiss had written a less obvious type of “life lessons” book like “Ishmael.”  However, where Ishmael spells out its lessons fairly clearly, the lessons in Many Masters are disconnected by the long narrative “hypnosis interview” segments that by the end of the book I was skipping through.  In each life something is supposedly learned (or not learned) and it can be connected to something that is happening in Catherine’s current life.  At the end of the book Dr. Weiss tries to pull it all together saying that knowledge of our past lives through meditation and hypnosis can cure all our mental ills because we’ll discover why we’ll feel the way we do (“I had sensitive teeth in a past life, that is why I don’t like ice cream!”).

I surmised pretty quickly that this whole thing was fake, in the same way the gorilla in Ishmael was fake – but a device to get us interested in the story and message.  However, unfortunately, Dr. Weiss tries to validate that his story is true by repeatedly mentioning his credentials and “how did she know that?” moments in therapy.  One of the things he mentions early in the book is how Catherine took her father to the race track and Catherine bet correctly on every single horse that day.  …..to me this is an ability much different than discovering and learning from past lives.  Now we’re into the realm of telling the future, which is not just a belief, but patently absurd.  Dr. Weiss mentions this oddly enough as some kind of validation for Catherine’s regressions and “proof” of her abilities to connect with the afterlife.  To me these two are vastly different things… but lets move on…

After I finished the book I decided to google Brian Weiss.  As it turns out he has written several similar books capitalizing on the success of the first one.  The author of Ishmael went this same route, publishing books about Ishmael’s other students… but unless you’re a complete moron it is obvious there never was a talking psychic gorilla.  Daniel Quinn has used this fact and interest in his book’s points to organize organizations supporting these ideas to bring about changes in our society (or at least how we think about things).  To this end he has participated in non-fiction films, articles and books talking about our societies methods of food production among other issues originating in Ishmael.

Dr. Weiss goes the opposite route.  On Dr. Weiss’ website I found several more books for sale about other patients he has regressed to past (and now FUTURE) lives.  Beyond that (surprise!) he sells meditation programs both on disc and actual live conferences (an Alaskan cruise coming up!).  This information can be seen here.  So, that validated my skepticism in all of the claims he has made.

Beyond this book I have several problems with reincarnation.

Even if it IS real, what is the point?  As concerned with our physical lives reincarnation doesn’t help.  If we’re supposed to learn a lesson – how would regressing and realizing that help?  Wouldn’t that disqualify us?  Wouldn’t that be like being given the answers to the GMAT by Stanford before you take the exam and then still expecting them to admit you to the program afterwards (“but I got an 800!”). 

Since you can’t remember your past lives without hypnosis, doesn’t that mean the person you were is actually dead.  The “soul” lives on, but so what?  The “soul” is not the you that is, thinking, living on this earth and reading my blog entry right now.  THAT part of you still dies and is gone forever – and THAT is the part we’re all scared of losing anyway. That is why Christians don’t like reincarnation, because Christian theology provides for the personality of the physical mind to continue into the afterlife untouched.  Under reincarnation this still dies, thus providing no relief to the fear of death.

The ironic thing is that Dr. Weiss repeatedly says that this regression treatment cured himself and all his patients of their fear of death.  However, Catherine never remembered her past lives without hypnosis, and even when describing them she appeared more as an observer in their bodies than actually the same person over and over.

If I take you and wipe all the memories in your brain, then transplant your brain into another body on the other side of the world …. you’re dead. 

Or are you?  That is a question any good psychology 100 class asks freshman students in undergrad.  Byron and I actually had this same discussion in relation to cyborg technology, cryogenics and the like a few weeks ago.

Imagine if Neo didn’t remember that he was Neo every time he went back into the Matrix… and he was pushed back into a different body.  Would he still be Neo?  Would it even matter?  To me it seems like the previous Neo would have still died.

That gives me no consolation to assuage my fear of death.  But it also brings up the question, now that I’m 28, have I died 27 times already?  (or any arbitrary number of days, months, minutes, etc.)  Surely we all know we think differently than we did five years ago.  Does that mean that person is dead?  Does a consciousness really “grow” and remain the sameif it can’t remember the past?  Existence without a past is a hollow one.  I’m sure when people get amnesia it doesn’t help much to be “told” about what happened to them in the past.  If you can’t remember it, it doesn’t feel like YOU did it.  (ask anybody that did something out of character while drunk – “I said that?  no way!!”)   Reincarnation therapy is apparently doing this over and over.   86 times in Catherine’s case.

Oh – and after reading the book I also wondered how you account for a growing population.  Surely there are many “original” souls born all the time.  Weiss allows for this by saying that souls can “split” to take up two or more bodies at once in the same time period.   It gets even worse when you learn that eventually some souls “merge with god” and never come back into a body.  Okay, so that means there are an original number of souls…. how many?  If the goal is to get to merge with god and there are only a certain number of souls, won’t you run out of souls at that point to reincarnate?   Will people just not be born and the human race ceases to exist… poof?  and when did these souls start?  Did it start when we were walking upright?  When we were living in caves?   When we first formed language?   When we were swinging in trees?  When we were single celled organisms?  The whole idea of continuous reincarnation is riddled with some very huge holes and the only way to accept or believe it is to not think about it too much.   Sounds like every other religion…

anybody have any ideas?  Maybe I can come up with all these answers and write my own book….and sell my own CDs…

Why Texas is welcome to secede from the US

Why Texas is welcome to secede from the US

Keep in mind the Secretary of Energy being questioned here has a nobel prize in physics and a PhD from Berkeley.  Barton was so proud of himself afterwards he put up this message on twitter:

Joe Barton single handedly shows why we shouldn’t have Texans OR Christians in government.  (Adrienne, you might want to check out what Joe Barton did to fight the Combating Autism Act….)

PS – Joe Barton has received over a million dollars from the oil industry.  Glad we’ve got one of us regular Joe 6-packs representing us on the  House Committee on Energy and Commerce.  I wish I was making this up….

Dear Old Dad

Dear Old Dad

So now I can be added to the burgeoning masses that blog about “OMG my mom and/or dad are on facebook!”

Yeah, now my dad is on facebook.  Nothing wrong with that – dad has always* embraced technology, I remember seeing huge yellow books on our bookcases about learning C+ as a kid.  

*except for the internet – I still recall the “waste of time” speech at the dinner table when our mother brought up the topic somewhere around 1998.  Dad was converted by the time I graduated from high school though.  Another memory I have is of him chatting with my aunts and uncles at our house after my graduation about how he was able to look up information about his old Air Force base in Minot online. 

Dad rightly skipped the myspace “craze” and has now created a facebook page to keep tabs on his sons and also his siblings (Aunt Anne had a page before he did).

Now the really interesting thing is how you think of someone in your head when you have a “relationship” with their facebook page.  The person that exists in my brain as “dad” is not really the same as the person I would “see” on facebook.  I’d never really been faced with this conundrum before.  Oh, sure, I’d dated women and checked their myspace pages out before meeting and been blown away (for good or bad) when meeting in person, but this was the opposite.  I think this is the problem I have with the Facebook Status or Twitter.  Tweets and Status updates are not indicative of a person.  Furthermore, unless you really seriously know someone deeply, it is impossible to read the hidden meaning in these cryptic messages. 

As someone who lays on the sarcasm a bit thick (so thick that my friend that I hadn’t seen for a while reminded me on Saturday to stop it) communication devoid of inflection and gesture can be rough.  I also get a chuckle when I see a status update that probably seems benign to the other 150 friends on someone’s page – but because I know them well, I know they may be secretly laughing, hurting, etc. inside.

I’m being slowly dragged into this Facebook world, but I’ve learned to cut out all the BS.  I’ll comment on something when appropriate/necessary.  I’ll email on facebook if I don’t know/have a real email address and need to communicate.  I changed my profile photo for the first time in two years last week.  I haven’t put in a “status” message for over a year (and I’m not sure I did back then either), I’ve gotten rid of most of the “boxes” , “apps” and whatever, and I generally ignore any new ones (of which I get requests daily).

A friend of mine who has a job that depends on network told me about a month ago that I should rethink how I use the website.  I had previously only been using it to keep tabs on certain people.  “oh, Byron is in Phoenix..”   “oh, my ex is sick/running/eating/sleeping/tired/scared/excited/younameit”  “oh, my friends from class are bantering about our midterm”   However, my friend told me that facebook can be a powerful networking tool if you use it properly.  What that means is – be social – but somewhat professional.  When used properly facebook can enrich what were previously business relationships and turn them into personal relationships.  I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but you never know, your (or my) next job might come from someone you know on facebook. 

I now have over 100 “friends” on facebook (dad was lucky #100), and believe it or not I actually think long and hard about whether to add certain people.  Byron, if you’re listening – you can validate this as we had a discussion a few weeks ago when I was deciding whether to accept Mindy’s request.  Mindy was a girl I went to high school with.  We knew each other because we were in some classes together – but we mostly knew each other because I dated her older sister.  What Byron informed me (although in different words) was that certain “friends” on facebook are like business cards in a rolodex.  There would be no need for rolodexes if we didn’t keep the cards from people/businesses we didn’t use.  Yet we keep them all “just in case.” Sometimes it can’t hurt to have these people “available” if you need them even though you may never.  I may never have a personal conversation with Mindy for the rest of my life, but she IS in a network of people that I used to have close personal ties with – and you never know when I might need a piece out of that network to complete another puzzle (or more importantly – they might need ME).

How long will facebook last?  A few years.  A unified source of information is coming as phones (like this vaporware Palm Pre) tie all your digital “personality” bits together.  Eventually (within 7 years) I think we’ll exist as personalities on the internet and not as any member of any certain sites.  There are already a myriad of websites in existence now that disseminate your “tweets” or updates to all the sites you are a member of.  I have a feeling this will eventually flip flop over back onto the user – and the user will have a cloud synced profile that starts with Google or Microsoft keeping the data.  In that sense Twitter got it right, eventually we’ll all “subscribe” to each others’ information, but we won’t be using Twitter for short messages, wordpress for journal entries, facebook for photos and so on… we’ll have one unified account without many limits on characters or photos.

Google is already setting the pieces in motion.  How many of us feed ALL our other email accounts to google?  How many of us sync our Outlook Exchange with Google Calendar? How many of us use google docs?  (I can tell you that Google Docs is The collaborative workspace in my MBA program – even though Pepperdine encouraged us to use their own proprietary one)  Within just a few years a thumbprint or word (not the word itself – but your unique vocal chords) will activate your account, a public account (you set the limits) available to anyone and subscribable.  Another hint that google is going in this direction is that now you have the ability to put your name in your google homepage URL (i.e. I could make my google homepage igoogle.com/andrewlong instead of http://www.google.com/ig)  Facebook is also making its pages publicly viewable by non-members (but members control what information can be seen by whom) and transitioning to customized URLS (i.e. facebook.com/andrewlong instead of facebook.com/ad35hga#w27%^34).

Okay, enough for now.  I doubt anyone made it all the way down here anyway…

Roger, you devil…

Roger, you devil…

Seven months ago I railed against Roger Ebert because he was apparently a creationist. 

Recently he has blogged again with an entry called “How I believe in God.”  In it he says he is not an atheist, believer or agnostic but rather some sort of mash-up.  His views are somewhat close to mine (which maybe I’ll fully reveal in a similar large blog entry at some point), but unlike Ebert I can recognize that I’m agnostic.  Admitting that there are unanswered questions means you are Agnostic.  I think perhaps Roger is afraid to admit this because most of those Nuns he knew as a child would lump agnostics in with atheists, and he subconsciously doesn’t want to let them down (or feel the “you’re going to hell!” guilt associated with their dissaproval).

The first comment on his new blog asserts “sorry, Roger, you’re an Atheist.” Wrong!  An atheist contends to KNOW that god doesn’t exist.  This notion is just as silly as thinking for sure that he does exist, and certainly nowhere does Ebert profess that he knows God doesn’t exist.  In fact, to the contrary he leaves the question quite open (again – this is the agnostic “belief”).

So, why did I rail against him originally?   Well, if you look at his blog entry from back then it becomes clear he was answering the questions about creationism not as his own opinions, but as what current creationists think of the issues.  He doesn’t state whether he agrees or thinks all of it is hogwash (and he probably thinks neither).  But he doesn’t preface the entry with this disclaimer.  So, I jumped to conclusions and assumed he was answering in defense of his own views, when in fact he was simply providing fodder for debate (and ad revenue for The Chicago Sun Times which hosts his blog, how clever) … and so it turns out I have more in common with RE than I thought. 

 

The Terminal was still a horrible movie though….