Saturday, April 28, 2012

At least I got the HP Sauce

I get a ride by TheTurducken
I get a ride, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
A blow-by-blow account of the attempt to circumnavigate Manhattan:
5:39 I wake up reluctantly. Sore from capoeira.
6:36 On the 1 train, thinking of the things I wish I had packed. A book. My foam roller. An enormous hot chocolate.
7:08 I get to South Ferry early, so I go inside for that hot chocolate.
7:20 Our fearless leader arrives.
7:30 Our planned departure time. There are four walkers and about twice as many cyclists.
7:38 We hit the South Ferry restrooms.
8:04 Finally, we are off!
8:09 We've only gotten as far as the terminal for the ferry to Governor's Island when the leader hollers and waves at us. We stop to wait for one more hiker.
8:39 We are a little past Chinatown. So far, we have been in the shadow of the east side highway.
8:58 Under the Williamsburg Bridge. This is the last time we see two of the hikers, who strike out ahead of us.
8:45 Trapped in a dead end; we have to cross the street. This is the first of a couple of occasions where the trail veers away from the water. I start wishing for a restroom. We don't see the fifth hiker after this; it's down to two of us.
10:16 We've passed the UN and Midtown. Almost to 59th St. Bridge.
10:21 I am delighted to find a clean public restroom with toilet paper. Thanks, municipal workers. Michelle checks a blister. I eat the world's best pb&j sandwich.
10:31 We head up a ramp by the bridge to get back along the river.
10:47 Stairs!?!
10:57 We stop by the dog park to shed a layer. We end up alternately putting on and taking off layers a lot on this trip.
11:14 100th St. A nice round number.
11:18 Under the bridge to Randall's Island.
11:33 Target. We joke about stopping and shopping. The next little bit of the trail drops off precipitously in terms of maintenance - after all, why would the government spend money where the citizens aren't rich?
11:38 We pause for a break before crossing over the highway.
11:45 Break over. Here we have to turn away from the water for a while. We head west on 120th St.
12:07 We detour to explore Marcus Garvey park. There's a random hill in the middle, with an awesome (albeit broken) tower on top.
12:30 We turn uptown onto St. Nicholas. Ho ho ho.
12:43 Sweet little old ladies try to give us creationist literature outside of St. Nicholas park.
12:51 A voice announces there is a Brooklyn bound train one station away at 138th. Whoa. We're right by a subway entrance, apparently. About a block later we stop for a restroom break at 140th, the end of the park.
1:45 I yawn. Is it naptime? We are passing under three bridges that head over to the Bronx. This is the closest I've ever been to the Bronx.
1:53 The trip leader texts to see where we are. We are at 181st. A group of cyclists passes us; one rider has a camera mounted on his helmet.
2:12 Off the river again; we turn onto 10th Ave.
2:23 We pass the 207th St. 1 station. I think, "I could get on it and be home within 20 minutes."
2:40 We reach Inwood Park, the northern tip of the island. We stop for a long break and let our toes air out.
3:11 We start up again. My right foot is trying to cramp up, it seems. Wish I'd brought Gatorade.
3:35 We cross over the Metro North tracks, down to Dyckman Fields.
3:53 We go up the stairs to the Hudson Greenway.
4:08 It's the old road stop pavilion.
4:20 Hurrah! The GW Bridge!
5:15 We stop just shy of Riverbank State Park for a pee break. My right foot is killing me. My companion is talking about bailing.
5:31 We stop at the random Fairway under the highway so I can get a Gatorade. We randomly walk by the "British Foods" aisle, and I grab a bottle of HP sauce. I've been looking all over for it. I hope drinking some Gatorade will solve my foot problems, although now my ankle and calf are starting to hurt, too.
6:00 I concede defeat. However, we are trapped in the Cherry Walk, which is south of the highway, so there's no way to get over until the underpass into Riverside Park at 104th St. I desperately have to use the restroom. You will notice this is suspiciously near my house, so you might think I made up the part about my foot as an excuse, but I swear it was coincidence. I wouldn't make up such an unbelievable story.
6:28 Home.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Where automobiles hang out

Lately, I've been seeing a lot about the (hidden) subsidies for cars in this country. Three articles that stand out:
Many of these pieces are inspired by Donald Shoup's The High Cost of Free Parking, which I suspect is probably worth reading.

Of course, there is also parking lot art.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Weather gods

I am supposed to do this hike on Saturday. However, the forecast right now has a 60% chance of precipitation. Luckily, there is still time for it to change.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hike in Harriman State Park

To the Hudson by TheTurducken
To the Hudson, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
Did my second-ever hike in Harriman State Park yesterday. The first was in the southern portion of the park; this was in the northeast. Both hikes are similar; lots of ups and downs over hills that look gentle from a distance, but are rather rocky and steep in spots up close. They're both kind of pretty, but neither gave me a severe case of the wows. Perhaps I just haven't seen the right parts of the park yet, but 50 Hikes in the Lower Hudson Valley says of a hike that covers much of the same terrain we did yesterday, "This hike is one of our favorites." Maybe I am in the right parts.

Then again, maybe I'm expecting too much. The park is within an hour of the city by car, so it's practically a local hike. Within an hour of Nashville, you can get to Percy Warner or Cedars of Lebanon, which I'd rate similarly. Harriman gets more points for difficulty, but the cedar glades of Middle Tennessee get more points for being interesting, actually. 

Yesterday I was hampered by personal problems; in terms of mileage and elevation, it was easier than the previous one, yet I was much more exhausted. A small part of it was that it was hot and I forgot sunglasses. But the bigger part was that I had really ramped up my capoeira training in the last week, and I went into the hike already sore.

One thing that was interesting - although not in a good way - was that a recent brush fire had scorched the area. Most of the trees were fine, but the ground was black ash. The trail itself actually served as a firebreak in places.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Two years of capoeira

A while back, a friend asked me what capoeira was and what I got out of it. I gave him my sentiments, but I felt wary about defining it. There's a multiplicity of definitions in capoeira and a real sense that one shouldn't speak for other capoeristas or capoeira as a whole. Yet if I'm the only capoerista my friend knows, in a sense I am all of capoeira to him.

Perhaps a great mestre would have no hesitation, but I'm a total novice, after all. It's not my place to say why anyone should or shouldn't do capoeira, unless their motivation is immoral (e.g., they are looking for victims for their serial killing spree) or certain to lead to disappointment (e.g., they think it will make them ten inches taller and regrow their lost hair). Then again, I'd say the same things about reasons for doing Tai Chi or playing the zither, and I know nothing about either one.

Also, the reasons people come to capoeira are not necessarily the reasons they stick with it. Maybe they think the acrobatics look cool, maybe a father figure teaches it, maybe they want to impress girls. They might even get what they are seeking; capoeira probably impresses some ladies. (To my sisters of the heterosexual persuasion: It doesn't seem to work the other way, alas.) But you quickly figure out there are faster ways to most of those ends. If you don't develop some other motivation, you won't stick with it long.

A few of the reasons I commonly hear is that capoeira gives you community (it does, but so does joining a WoW guild); that it makes you fit (it does, but so does Zumba); that it's Brazilian (it is, but so is samba). In fact, samba and Brazilian jujitsu also meet all those criteria.

Some people like getting pretty cords; others like discovering they can do things they didn't think they could; others like the aggressive, competitive aspect; and others still like its similarity to dance. For others, its Brazilian/African roots are most important. My highly unscientific theory is that you can tell what it is practitioners value by looking at the other things they choose to do. If they don't do anything else for fun, well, they're probably a contra-mestre, at least!

So, if I hike, do yoga, and read a lot, you can reach your own conclusions about my purposes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The AAUP Faculty Salary Survey is out, and you can read about the findings in The Chronicle  or at the AAUP's own site. I should mention that I'm a fan of the AAUP and its work in general, because the next thing I'm going to say is that the survey is deeply unsatisfying.

Naturally, I did what any professor would do - I checked it out to see how my pay stacked up.

Only one for-profit institution in the country is listed: DeVry. So I turned to look at my geographic region. New York salaries are, after all, a little higher than elsewhere, albeit not as high as the cost of living would suggest. In the state of New York, 104 institutions are listed. (Note: As of this writing, there is a glitch: Selecting "all four-year colleges" gives you only the 29 public colleges.) You can't narrow the list down to NYC-area colleges, which is no big deal, as I am savvy enough to know that SUNY Buffalo is not in NYC.

No surprise, I'm making less than assistant professors at NYU, Columbia, and Fordham. I'd like to compare my salary to those at CUNY, but, oddly, CUNY isn't listed. Now, as the name tells you, the data is collected from a survey, and institutions are under no compulsion to participate.

The thing is, CUNY is a public institution. You can find their salary scales here, and actual salaries here.* If I can do this legwork, so can anyone. It would make the AAUP results more useful if they did it and included it in their findings, perhaps with a flag.

I'm not sure how many other institutions are in similar situations. If the University of Phoenix or Harvard decides not to report salary data, there is no substitute source AAUP can get it from. But there definitely are others. I checked out Oregon, which I know well and has a manageable number of institutions, and there are no community colleges listed. In fact, only 163 CC's are in the data overall.

So, while the survey is useful, it has some big gaps. Only 1,251 out of the 4,400-ish U.S. degree-granting institutions are represented.

*Choose the following from the pull-down menus:
Pay year: 2011
Branch/major category: Executive
Agency/Area: CUNY
SubAgency/Employer: Choose individual institution
Position: Asst Professor, Assoc Professor, Professor, etc.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The unfuture of work

These days, Slavoj Zizek is required reading if you have any pretensions of being on the left, and this article is a cogent piece on why "middle-class" jobs are becoming less and less so. But as someone less comfortable with reality than the imagination, today's economy reminds me of one of the big predictions from science fiction's "golden era" that has not - and likely will not - come to pass.

No, not personal jetpacks; the one-day work-week.

See, the idea was that automation, robots, etc. would improve productivity, a prediction that has come to pass. Therefore, we'd all need to work fewer hours, without any reduction in the standard of living. We would enter a golden era of human flourishing. (Strangely, in these futures, people used their spare time to master playing the lute or become tenth-degree black belts rather than using it to watch television.) But that last oddity aside - we've seen the productivity, but no real reduction in work time. If a job used to take two people working a 40-hour week, and now it's twice as productive, they lay off one of the employees; they don't have two part-time employees paid for full-time work. What happened?

First, the idea of uniformly marching productivity has always been nonsense. Some jobs are easier to automate than others, such as manufacturing. Others aren't easy to automate but theoretically we could spread their hours out among the workers who used to be in now-automated fields. For example, I could easily imagine a waiter working one day a week. But other jobs can't be made more productive or reduced. Probably my favorite academic paper of all times discusses why service-intensive work becomes relatively more expensive when other sectors become more productive. Baumol and Bowen used the example of string quartets; it takes the same amount of labor to produce a concert today as 100 years ago. And you simply can't be a concert-quality violinist on eight hours of playing a week. Still, the total number of labor hours could still go down, even if not evenly.

More importantly, that's not how capitalism works. Owners of capital, in the aggregate, are trying to maximize their profits. They pay enough to get skilled workers to work for them, and that's it. Why would they pay someone for a full week when they work only one day? As long as there is a surplus of labor, wages are driven down (see Grapes of Wrath, The). Under productivity increases, jobs are conglomerated or become piece-rate freelance gigs. This isn't meant as a slur on capitalism; it's basic economics. Occasionally a Henry Ford tries paying employees more, but much more often wages are artificially increased only by government via mechanisms such as minimum wages. So, could we posit government mandates at work in these sci-fi futures?

Don't be silly! Remember, we're talking golden era sci-fi writers! These guys were bullish on American capitalism in the middle of the Cold War. They were libertarians before libertarians were cool. (Well, lukewarm, anyway.) According to them, the new work order would come about strictly via the invisible hand.

In retrospect, it all seems a little naive.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Saturday, April 7, 2012

UWS to NJ via GW

West side by TheTurducken
West side, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
Since I realized I could walk over to New Jersey, I was determined to make it so. I took advantage of the college being closed Friday to do just that.

I started off from my apartment, heading north through Riverside Park. The park has paths at different heights, including one right by the water, but you have to cross over the Henry Hudson Parkway to get to it - not advisable unless you are a pro at Frogger. In any case, the park varies in width; the easiest thing to do is stay up on the highest level, even though it's not always scenic. You can see New Jersey the entire way up. At one point, the GW Bridge looks misleadingly close. In fact, at 165th St., you have to veer away from it and turn up Fort Washington. Then, at 178th St., turn west again. (I tell you this in case you want to make the trek yourself; the directions are not intuitive.)

The bridge has bike/pedestrian paths on both the north and south sides, although the north one is closed. There is no toll, incidentally, for those of us without motors.

From the bridge, unsurprisingly, there are some great views of Manhattan and the Hudson, such as the photo above. There are also a lot of signs warning about suicide. I have to say, I don't understand. Oh, sure, I understand that the rails on the bridge aren't high enough to prevent it, and a fling over the edge would be deadly. I also understand that people get very unhappy and wish to end it all. I just don't get choosing that method over the others available. While I'm not scared of heights, I don't like jumping from them. Cliff jumping, or the high board at the pool, scare the bejeebers out of me. If I'm already miserable, why would I want the last few minutes of my life to be filled with more terror?

But anyway, if you can rein in your self-destructive impulses, you eventually make it to New Jersey. If you turn left off the bridge, you end up at Fort Lee Park, at the top of the cliffs. (I haven't figured yet how one gets to the Shore Trail at their base.) There, one can have a nice sandwich, stare back at Manhattan, and wander around looking at (mostly replica) Revolutionary War fortifications and ordinance.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mighty Hudson

From lower Manhattan, the Hudson River looks sort of like this. Oh, sure, the birds are kind of cute, but the river is nothing special. It's easy to forget that you don't have to go very far before you start seeing this instead. Look how pretty New Jersey can be!

Until now, I had ignored the fact that the Hudson River here is the same one that launched the Hudson River school. It's not just something that keeps New Jersey away from Manhattanites; it's the only fjord in North America. And I can walk to it from my apartment. (Yes. Under 6 miles.)

I think I may now be obsessed with the Hudson River. I am very sad that you can't take a commercial boat all the way from here to Albany. (It's legal enough, but no one has regular commercial service in place. You can sail your own, or charter one.)