Memory Lane

Tomorrow I embark on the longest trip of my life so far: driving from the west coast of Canada to the east coast and back.  I have traveled a lot in my life, but never this much at once, and I’ve been unusually non-nomadic the last ten years.

I’ve been talking about doing this for a few years.  Actually, going back and looking at my painfully ’90s pre-blogosphere website, I first mentioned the idea of this trip in 2001.  At the time my friend Phloem described the idea as “Travels with Samantha Lite”.  (TwS is a good read, BTW. Go!)

So ten years I’ve been planning this.  Wow, time flies.   But while the specific route I intend to follow has meandered a bit since 2001, the goals have not changed at all.  I waited this long because now I’m eligible for my employer’s sabbatical program – I get an extra seven weeks of paid vacation this year, and that really helps; this is going to be an expensive trip.

The timing kind of works out well in other ways too – for one thing, Labrador just completed their first through road last year, which opens up the possibility of driving through that pseudo-province.  For another, I turn 40 next year, so this can count as my mid-expected-lifespan semi-crisis extravaganza.  I didn’t actually think of the trip in that context until just recently, but the intended theme does fit:

The main point of the trip is to revisit all the places I remember from my youth.  I want to rephotograph old photos, photograph places I remember but don’t currently have photos of, and generally just refresh all those old memories and steep in nostalgia for a while.

As I wrote when I first described the idea: “I don’t want to become like a goldfish, only able to remember being as I currently am.  Change is core to my life.  Forgetting who I used to be is a kind of stagnation.”  My memories are most strongly keyed by places; my hope is that revisiting old places will remind me of parts of myself that are, at present, buried.

Thinking of it from the midlife context, it will also serve to nicely summarize and cap off my life so far.  I’ve been thinking I want to change my direction, so this should help get some closure on my larval stage.

A secondary purpose of the trip is to do some tourism stuff – visit places along the way that I haven’t visited before.  That takes a definite back seat to the primary purpose though.

I will also be attempting to film a time lapse movie of the coast-to-coast drive in both directions.  I did one for the trip between Vancouver and Calgary a few years ago, and learned a bunch from it.  This one will be better, provided the equipment can take the punishment (digital camera shutters are not rated for the number of operations that will occur on this trip).


I’m very excited about this trip, and also a bit scared.  I’ve actually been having intense dreams and not a few nightmares about it for weeks now.  There is so much that could go wrong.  I could have an accident or a breakdown.  Some kind of financial setback.  I could get too sick to drive, or even just too sick to enjoy the trip.  By far the most likely problem is that I could simply get too exhausted to go on; I have sleep trouble even at home and especially tend not to sleep well in hotels.

But I’m not going to let any of that stop me.  I’ve got too much invested now, and I’d intensely regret backing down.  I’ve taken all possible precautions and my past travel history is spotless, so I tell myself my fears are unreasonable and press on.


Bloggination will be perpetrated here as time and net connectivity permit.  I do not expect to be booking any face or plussing any googles while on this trip.

TED round 3

More interesting talks:


Kwabena Boahen on a computer that works like the brain – Detailed comparison between transistors and neural ion channels, with application to brain enhancement.

Julian Treasure: The 4 ways sound affects us – Hell yes. More awareness like this please!


Mike Rowe celebrates dirty jobs – Basically a rant about American laziness, but the story is interesting.  There is some truth to his conclusion but I think he’s over-romanticizing.

Ian Dunbar on dog-friendly dog training – Magical truth-saying! I’m glad to see some progress in the science of dog training.

Deb Roy: The birth of a word – Some really interesting data visualizations here, and he makes me envy (somewhat) kids growing up today in the world of ubiquitous digital photography.  While it means having evidence to suppress, it also means having great memory aids.

Christopher “moot” Poole: The case for anonymity online – I don’t think he really makes much of a case for anything – indeed he talks about some things that could be called invasion of privacy. But it is interesting to hear the back-story of a little-understood web phenomenon.

Malcolm McLaren: Authentic creativity vs. karaoke culture – Long but good.  At first it’s not clear where he’s going, but it comes together when he gets to his art school story.  He’s on about one of the things that really bothers me about western pop culture.

Amber Case: We are all cyborgs now – I love her visualization of the mass of the data we carry around with us.


James Balog: Time-lapse proof of extreme ice loss – Standard-issue environmental message aside, the time-lapse movies of glaciers moving are worth watching.

Michael Pollan gives a plant’s-eye view – A nice counterpoint to the typical view of man exploiting nature.


David Pogue on cool phone tricks – Grab bag of useful clues about cell phone services.


Aaron O’Connell: Making sense of a visible quantum object – Science!


Angela Belcher: Using nature to grow batteries – Progress!


Philip K. Howard: Four ways to fix a broken legal system – “You can’t run a society by the lowest common denominator.” HELL YEAH!

Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity – Basically about remix culture versus IP law.

Barry Schwartz on our loss of wisdom – A great rant about how mindless rule-following and poorly constructed incentives have led to some of the social and legal insanity we suffer today.


Benjamin Wallace on the price of happiness – Gets to my problem with a lot of “gourmet” culture, namely mistaking attributes like rare, special and expensive for the attribute “good”.


TED second helping

Some more TED talks I’ve enjoyed recently.


Ray Kurzweil on how technology will transform us – Basically a reiteration of the first part of his book The Age of Spiritual Machines.  He lays out his case for the evolution of technology having always been an exponential process, and the near-future implications of that.

Kevin Kelly on how technology evolves – A good follow-on to Kurzweil’s talk.  Here the case is made (something Kurzweil also claimed) that machines are on their way to becoming the 7th kingdom of life, and the progress of technology is actually us bootstrapping the next “meta” layer of evolution.


Derek Sivers: Keep your goals to yourself – Aha.  I always suspected something like this might be true, and I’ve seen the effects in myself.  Good to know.  My world domination plans are now extra-secret.

Michael Shermer on strange beliefs – Hillarious!

Srikumar Rao: Plug into your hard-wired happiness – A better restatement of happiness advice I’ve heard before.

Barry Schwartz on the paradox of choice – Some interesting insight into the glut of similar products we have today and why it might be going a little overboard.

Jeff Bezos: What matters more than your talents – Mostly the standard exhortation to do what you love, but his story about his grandmother really hit home for me.  Being clever instead of kind is one of my major failings that I feel has been getting worse lately.

Diane Benscoter on how cults rewire the brain – In talking about her experiences with the Moonies she makes the interesting point that many humans, especially young ones, have weak memetic immune systems.  This is something we can fix and, I think, are fixing.

Robert Sapolsky: The uniqueness of humans – Some really interesting discussion about behavioral similarities and differences between humans and other animals.


Tan Le: A headset that reads your brainwaves – This stuff has come a long way.  I remember one of my classmates when I was taking electronics in college was trying to develop something like this, but filtering out environmental EM noise was a major problem for him.  That makes these recent developments more impressive for me.

Al Seckel says our brains are mis-wired – A bunch of new optical illusions I hadn’t seen before, as well as some old favorites.

Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep – Yup yup.  I also discovered the hard way that sleep is grossly underrated.

Jeff Hawkins on how brain science will change computing – Damn! This is probably the most personally relevant of all the talks I’ve watched.  This guy just saved me a bunch of time in my line of thinking about the nature of mind.  Plus, I want to work on what he’s doing.


Miru Kim’s underground art – She seems shy on stage, but obviously she’s got some guts to do what she does.  Great idea though, and I’m not liking it just because of the nudity – I also like urban archaeology photos.


Dean Kamen: The emotion behind invention – A bit drawn out and touchy-feely, but the video really drives home the point that cyborgism is here today.  Not sure why Rose Tyler’s father is sitting on the stage though.


Paul Root Wolpe: It’s time to question bio-engineering – Wow, lots of stuff here I didn’t realize was going on.  Interesting questions come out of this, as well as fantastic possibilities.

Anthony Atala: Printing a human kidney – Cool! If this ends up working, no more need to grow clones to cannibalize for replacement parts!


Stewart Brand proclaims 4 environmental ‘heresies’ – Tons of clue in here, especially about nuclear power.  He also changed my position on GM foods a good bit, though Monsanto is still the face of evil.

Richard Preston on the giant trees – I’ve always liked giant trees, and this talk adds some new information I didn’t know about the redwoods.


Brian Greene on string theory – Good general introduction, with visualizations.


Pranav Mistry: The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology – Impressive prototype demos, but these things never seem to materialize in production – I think there are still some major problems needing to be solved.

Seth Godin: This is broken – A rant about an older form of defective-by-design.


Becky Blanton: The year I was homeless – A short but interesting recount of a personal experience.

Gever Tulley teaches life lessons through tinkering – I’m glad someone still cares about teaching children useful stuff.

Stewart Brand on the Long Now – Interesting discussion of the search for the location to place their 10,000-year clock.

George Dyson at the birth of the computer – Some amusing computer history anecdotes I hadn’t heard before.



TED addiction sets in

I’m really starting to like TED talks. They’re short, often you can just listen to them without the visuals, the presenters are usually skilled and entertaining, and there are lots of interesting topics.  Here are a few favorites out of what I’ve watched so far.  More to come!


VS Ramachandran on your mind – He talks about an assortment of neurological disorders and treatments, none of which is new to me, but at the end he talks about synesthesia and draws some very interesting speculation about creativity as a function of brain structure.

Christopher deCharms looks inside the brain – Using real-time FMRI to begin mapping between thought and reality in both directions.

Henry Markram builds a brain in a supercomputer – Computer models of how brains work, specifically the beginnings of simulating human brains in digital computers.  This is something I’m interested in getting into, and I’m glad someone is finally heading in this direction.

VS Ramachandran: The neurons that shaped civilization – On the importance of mirror neurons.


Ron Eglash on African fractals – Wow, I had no idea.


Janine Benyus: Biomimicry in action and Janine Benyus shares nature’s designs – Taking nanomaterial designs from nature.  I heartily approve.

Dean Ornish says your genes are not your fate – Very short, but a good exhortation to improve your health.

Dan Buettner: How to live to be 100+ – Lifestyle lessons from the regions that produce the most centenarians.

Global Threats:

Peter Ward on Earth’s mass extinctions – Interesting theory I hadn’t heard before, that many of the Earth’s mass extinctions were caused by hydrogen sulfide emissions from the oceans, triggered by rising temperatures.


Sam Harris: Science can answer moral questions – Oh, hell yes! He says what we’re all thinking!

Richard Dawkins on militant atheism – First time I’ve seen him speak.  Totally agree.

Randy Pausch: Really achieving your childhood dreams – Its long, but totally worth listening to.  He totally deserves the standing ovation he gets at the end.


Gregory Stock: To upgrade is human – Echoes a lot of my own sentiments.

Juan Enriquez shares mindboggling science – Starts talking about the US economic problems, but then gets into convergence of biological and robotic technology, mentioning a few things I hadn’t heard of, leading into discussion of upcoming evolution of our species.

Aubrey de Grey says we can avoid aging – This is the first de Grey output I’ve consumed, and I’m quite impressed.  Especially with how he characterizes the crazy attitudes of death advocates.


Theo Jansen creates new creatures – The sculptor explains how his wonderful “animals” work.  He sounds almost like a proper crackpot inventor too – he wouldn’t be out of place in Gizmo.


George Dyson on Project Orion – I’ve been a fan of Project Orion for a long time, but this talk adds some personal detail about the people involved that I hadn’t heard before.

George Smoot on the design of the universe – He has some 3D animations of that long-range galaxy survey.


Julian Assange: Why the world needs WikiLeaks – First time I’ve seen Assange speak.

James Nachtwey’s searing photos of war – Powerful photographs.

Bill Strickland makes change with a slide show – Heartening. I had no idea this sort of thing was going on.

Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity and Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! – this guy is an excellent speaker, and I really like what he has to say about education.

Clifford Stoll on … everything – Holy cow, I love this guy!

Outing: Manning Park 2

As you may recall from an earlier post, I’ve been spotting places in Manning Park that I want to go back to explore and  photograph. My first return trip was a partial bust – I got some nice snow pictures but I wasn’t able to get up the mountain road I wanted to explore because it was closed.

Now I’ve gone back a second time. The snow was gone, and the road was open. Here’s part of my GPS log showing just what road I mean:

The first 5 miles of the road, leading up to the viewpoint are paved but narrow, with no guard rails. It was a little tense going up and down this road for someone like me who gets vertigo on dropoffs and is afraid of falling off.

The viewpoint was nice but nothing special relative to other mountain viewpoints; you could still see a lot of buildings and hear the road below.

Continuing on to the end of the road, another four miles on a rough, washboarded gravel road, brings you to the Alpine Meadows recreation area. There are lots of open meadows at the top of the mountain here, with delicate wildflowers that bloom in the summer. There are easy hiking trails all around, as well as longer trails heading off into the wilderness for overnight hikers.

I arrived too late in the season for most of the flowers though there were still some left. The meadows were still quite nice as were the views. I found a bench to sit on and eat the picnic lunch I had brought. I had a great view to the east with only miles of empty air in front of me, no signs of human presence, and a profound silence. The breeze would occasionally sigh through the trees, but when it was still it was the quietest place I’ve ever been. Not even the rural area in Manitoba where I once lived ever got this quiet.

You can’t get true silence in the city. It’s amazingly relaxing when you do find it. I must make a point of seeking it out more often.

Photo gallery here.

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