Archive for February, 2013

Kein Kopfmusik

February 25, 2013

Among the arguably most beautiful pieces of music ever written, today’s recommendation is the third movement of Beethoven’s string quartet op 132. This one is not ideal Kopfmusik, because a great deal of the pleasure derives from the wonderful textures of the sound.

Many YouTube performances are truncated around ten minutes, which is surely either sacrilege or criminal. This full 16-minute performance is accompanied by an animated video that helps keep track of which instrument is doing what. To avoid distraction, of course, just minimize the screen.

Signs of spring?

February 23, 2013

Saturday, 23 February, 2013

Last time I did more or less this hike, I parked at Arastradero Preserve, and hiked uphill from there. That hike was upward of 21 miles, and I didn’t have time or stamina to complete a loop at the top, just went out to Horseshoe lake and back. Today, I parked a little further up the hill, at Foothills park, and stitched together trails through Foothills, Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, Montebello OSP, Coal Creek OSP, Russian Ridge OSP, Long Ridge OSP, and back through Montebello, Los Trancos and Foothills park. It was an industrial strength hike (17 miles, 3300 vertical feet) but not a killer hike.

It was a sunny day, cold in the shade, cold in the wind, warm in the sun. Nice.

As I hiked up Los Trancos trail in Foothills park, I met another hiker who asked me whether there was another trail off to the left, a trail that would take him back down. The Los Trancos trail swings around to the right for a good-sized loop, but left? Hmmm… In the absence of guidance, the other hiker turned back and went back down on Los Trancos trail.

Two minutes later, I came to the Castanoan trail turnoff, leading down and to the left. Now that I see it, I remember that it was there. I have never taken that trail; maybe I’ll do it on the return trip as a way to remember it next time.


A spider web, with dew that would likely last all day, even in the sun.

From Montebello, the route went down old east Alpine road. This was the only really muddy and gunky part of the hike, mostly because it’s in the shade and graded below the adjacent hill. When I first started riding and hiking the bay area, east Alpine was a real road, that ran all the way from Portola Valley to Skyline. Unpaved and closed to cars even then, but for a mountain bikie, it was a fire road ride, not a single-track trail ride. Many years ago, part of the road collapsed in a landslide, and as a secondary road, it just wasn’t worth repairing. So they built a mountain bike trail around the landslide… today, I notice on the map a note that the route is completely impassible. Not clear whether the note refers only to the road part — that’s not new news — or also to the mountain bike trail.

In any event, I turned back uphill before reaching Crazy Pete’s road — there’s a name I like! — and crossed Skyline near the vista point into the Russian Ridge OSP. Sunny up here on the ridge, but cold in the wind.


From Russian Ridge OSP, the trail crosses under west Alpine road into Long Ridge OSP and Alpine pond. I stopped there to soak up calories and enjoy the day. On the bulletin board, I notice that there will be a Signs of Spring event here tomorrow. Well, it’s true that the predominant colour is green, but in the bay area, that is more a sign of winter than a sign of spring. Wildflowers? Arthropodae? Not many.


Having been primed to look for signs of spring, I kept a close eye out as I went back down the hill. Yes, there are a few wildflowers, but not many types and not very prolific. You have to look carefully for them.




I like the 2×5 pattern of the petals on these microscopic blossoms.


I turned off on Castanoan trail, as I had promised myself. It dropped me out at the top of Wild Horse valley, as I had also recalled. From there, it was a simple walk half a mile back to the car.

Today’s adventure: this is where I came upon a gent lying on the semi-paved trail. When I got closer, I saw that he had a camera, so I went over to see what he was doing. He had a sheet of soft white plastic and a shaker of forest duff. What he would do is shake a loose scattering of duff onto the plastic sheet, inspect it for small animals and then photograph them. My kind of guy!


Of course, he had a real camera, with two radio-activated flashes and the whole bit. I can hardly compete… but even so, this looks like a really good idea. I think I will experiment with it myself.

As to the signs of spring, yes, they exist if you look for them, especially down a few hundred feet and inland a few miles from Long Ridge OSP. But unless something really dramatic happens overnight, anyone who drives to Long Ridge tomorrow hoping to see meadows chock full of wildflowers and arthropodae is likely to be a bit disappointed.

Learning things…

February 17, 2013


Although I was vaguely uncomfortable with the idea, I had always rather thought of the circulatory system as a pair of trees, one arterial, one venous, interconnected at leaf nodes via capillaries. Now that I think about it in more detail, of course, that would clearly be a third-rate design for a living organism. Any disruption to a flow, on either side of the tree, would result in oxygen and nutrient starvation, and if the disruption persisted for more than a few seconds or minutes, would result in tissue damage or death.

So although I did not know about anastomoses until I studied my anatomy text, I can hardly claim to be surprised by the discovery that the arterial and venous halves of the circulatory system are meshes, not trees.

I was reminded of this as I sat in front of the stereo (Arvo Paert, and thank you for asking) last evening, admiring my foot. I suppose I had always thought of this network as veins crossing, not intersecting. But I think we have a good example of anastomosis right here.


And by the way, I would not be at all surprised if that enlarged bump at the Y junction is a backflow-prevention valve.


Quantum standing waves

Another way I occupy my copious free time is in trying to understand at least a little bit of physics. I have learned that quantum mechanics as applied to electrons is responsible for pretty much everything we see in the world of chemistry (the other domain being nuclear physics), so I guess I should not have been surprised that, when I got a thousand-page book on physical chemistry, it turns out to really be a text about quantum mechanics.

Wave equations turn out to be fundamental. The STM picture below illustrates the process of arranging iron atoms in a circle on a copper base with an atomic force microscope. What I really, really, really like about this is that, as the circle becomes complete, we actually see the emergent probability distribution rings (the product of complex conjugate wave functions) as constrained by the ring of iron atoms. Who ever heard of being able to see a probability distribution!

I would not have been greatly surprised to see a standing wave as the result of resonance after stimulation, for example on the vibrating surface of a drum. But this wave function is not stimulated by the input of an external stimulus; it’s just the way the universe works! Way cool (to borrow a phrase).

A more elaborate view of much the same thing:

Running Windy Hill

February 16, 2013

Saturday, 16 Feb 2013

I had a few things to do today, so I didn’t want to go off on a full-day hike. I went to Windy Hill, instead, but decided to run the route as a way of increasing the challenge level. Beautiful day, lots of people out. The parking lot was full, and I had to leave the car at the Portola Valley town center, which is said to be 0.4 miles from the Windy Hill parking lot.

I am not strong enough to run all the way up the hill, but I alternated running and fast walking to keep my heart rate well into the yellow zone, if not red. Starting from the parking lot, I consider myself as doing well if I make it to the Skyline parking area in an hour; today it was 50 minutes and from a more distant starting point. Nice. And I completed the whole circuit in less than two hours (8.1 miles, 1600 vertical feet).

When I first started running many years ago, I made the mistake of running hard on a downhill and damaging my knees. Having just started running at the time, I probably didn’t have the muscular strength around the knee joints to properly stabilize them. I have avoided running downhill since then, but today I gave it a try: my knees are reasonably well-behaved, and I probably do have muscular stabilization. Older and wiser, I also ran gently, tried to avoid impact as much as I could. Bottom line: I was able to run the entire downhill. Nice. The first time I have ever run more than a trivial distance downhill.

Of course, I may be sore tomorrow. We’ll find out [note from tomorrow: a little bit, not much]. Muscular action that results in elongation under load (running downhill) is called eccentric. My anatomy text says

For reasons that are not well understood, repeated eccentric isotonic contractions (for example, walking [sic] downhill) produce more muscle damage and more delayed-onset muscle soreness than do concentric isotonic contractions.

Now the question is whether I log this as a hike or as a run. A run, I think; it hardly counts as a hike, but as a run, it’s significant.

One of the other things I wanted to do today was wash my new car, for the first time since I got it in October. Yes, I admit it: washing cars (and bicycles) is one of my least favourite pastimes. Note to self: one of the disadvantages of white cars is that it’s hard to get them clean!

Grant Ranch killer hike

February 10, 2013

10 February 2013

I haven’t been to Grant Ranch yet this year, and with more daylight, I can commit to circumambulate the outermost ring of trails (21 miles, 4400 vertical feet), even if I get a late start. It was almost 8:20 when I started out on Washburn trail, past the old barn. Although it was quite chilly, I went out in shirtsleeves, knowing that after the first half mile, I would turn uphill and generate enough body heat to be comfortable. And so it was.


Toward the end of the day, I sometimes photograph the early part of the hike from the far side. Today, I photograph the end point from the midmorning ridgetop.


Hours from now, I will come back from the left, along those grassy hills, and drop down on the train that’s visible at the far right of the picture.


Here’s what it looks like, zoomed out. The old barn in the previous picture is about 1 pixel, 80% toward the right side.

Well, and a nice day it was, indeed. It was three hours before I met anyone, and I only met six people all day, excluding the wheeled traffic I saw at the road crossings. One hiker insisted on showing me the photos he had just taken of a bobcat. Cool! I saw three coyotes myself, but coyote sightings are nowhere near as rare as cat sightings.


Spring is definitely on the way.


And here we are, about 4:30, looking down on the old barn from the south and west. Nice day, long day. As they say, it’s a good hike if you can walk away from it. And I can — just barely — still walk.

I started back down the road, turned on the car radio, to learn from the traffic reports that a hotshot Corvette driver had gone off the road further down and they had the road closed for emergency vehicles. (Well, they didn’t say hotshot, but you can imagine the details for yourself.) So I turned around and went home via Quimby road, which is a substantially longer route, but it beats sitting there waiting for the main road to be opened again.

Hiking Huddart, Phleger, Purisima

February 2, 2013

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Left the car halfway up Kings Mountain road, as usual. Hiked downhill to Richards road trail, around the outermost trails of Phleger estate, then up to Kings Mountain village, where I refilled the water bottle.

Went along the trails that parallel Skyline boulevard to the north parking lot of Purisima Redwoods open space preserve, then down the west side of the ridge, and looped back on Craig Britton trail, which runs across more or less halfway up the ridge.


It was getting on toward noon, but fog still lay heavy over the coast, and it was drifting up the valley toward the ridge.


The trail was near the fog boundary. Sometimes wisps of fog would drift across the trail and vanish before my very eyes as the fog evaporated. Further on, further up, it was sunny.


How often do you see a black mushroom? Well, actually, there are lots of black fungi around, but very few of them are conical.


The wildflowers are getting started.


All of these photos came from the west side of the ridge. The east side is nowhere near as interesting, presumably because it gets less precipitation.


17 miles, 3500 feet of climb, nice day.