06.29.08

Dog Surfing? Yeah, Really…Dog Surfing!

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:19 pm by Martin

Most dogs like the ocean. Most dog owners like the ocean. Have owner put dog on surfboard in ocean. What do you get? Dog surfing πŸ™‚

Yesterday me and some friends went down to Imperial Beach, the most southern beach of San Diego county from where you can see Tijuana, to witness a quite funny dog surfing competition (see http://www.loewssurfdog.blogspot.com for details and some videos).

The crowd at Imperial Beach

There were 3 types of competitions, for small dogs on a surfboard, for large dogs on a surfboard, and finally for owners together with their dogs on a surfboard. For the dog-only competitions, the owners would position the dogs on the surfboard, hold the board until a wave came in and then let it go. The longer the dogs stayed on the board the better. Some dogs even made it all the way to the shore without falling or jumping off the board.

A dog being brought out for his next wave

It seems like most dogs really enjoyed it. When they fell off they would immediately turn around and swim back to their owner, seemingly saying “woohoo, let’s do it again!” πŸ™‚ A few dogs, however, didn’t like it and swam towards the beach, probably thinking “I’m outta here”. Anyway, it was good fun to watch.
Dog and owner on a surfboard, the kid actually managed to stand up shortly after I shot this picture

06.28.08

Hiking the Majestic Half Dome

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:18 pm by Martin

Two weekends ago I hiked up the Half Dome, an impressive mountain in Yosemite National Park in California. We were incredibly lucky with the weather. It wasn’t cloudy, not too hot, not too cold. It was quite simply amazing.

The hike took us a total of 11 hours (to get up and down) and it was quite strenuous but well worth it. A heel injury I had incurred during a workout two weeks earlier flared up again when we were almost all the way up, which made it even more challenging for me. But not as challenging as for one of my friends who came along. He had his left arm in a cast because of a broken thumb.

The last part of the hike up the Half Dome is really, really steep (and I didn’t believe it just from the pictures on the web). There are two cables that assist in getting up the last few hundred feet (see picture above) and you really need them.

On the top of the Half Dome we even found a patch of snow left over from the winter. Considering that the temperatures were fairly high (around 70 degrees Fahrenheit) it’s surprising that it hasn’t melted yet.

Anyway, it was an awesome hike with an elevation gain of almost 5000 feet.

06.08.08

Religion in the US

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:46 pm by Martin

I used to call myself agnostic when it comes to religious and supernatural beliefs. I was fairly certain that God, or any god for that matter, does not exist, but I didn’t exclude the possibility and didn’t really think much about it. After some years I’ve come to think of myself as more of an atheist, but still held some untenable supernatural beliefs. I’ve recently read some books by the so-called new atheists, among others “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”, that have made it absolutely clear to me that I’m definitely an atheist and non-believer, not just in religious faith but also in anything supernatural or metaphysical that has no substantial evidence to back it up. Just because we don’t know something yet, doesn’t mean that any kind of god or something supernatural is an adequate explanation for it (this is the typical “gap tactic” used often by the intelligent design community here in the US as a case against evolution).

If you’ve ever been in doubt about religion, read books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer and Skeptic Magazine to quickly relinqish your doubts and realize that it is due time for humanistic ethics, non-supernatural spirituality and reason to replace religious faith.

Surprisingly, here in the US, as opposed to a lot of European countries, atheism is not widespread (only about 12% of the population) and even has negative connotations in society. A Gallup poll from 1999 quoted in “The God Delusion” exemplifies this: Americans were asked whether they would vote for an otherwise well-qualified person who was a woman (95% would), Roman Catholic (94%), Jew (92%), black (92%), Mormon (79%), homosexual (79%), or atheist (49%).

Some other scary statistics about the US population from a Gallup poll (see http://www.pollingreport.com/religion.htm; I just chose the first time range, but other time ranges have a similar distribution):

  • 86% believe in God.
  • 81% believe in Heaven.
  • 75% believe in angels.
  • 70% believe in the devil.
  • 69% believe in hell.

Some other random numbers from the before-mentioned page and a Gallup poll mentioned in Harris’ “Letter to a Christian Nation”:

  • On average almost 33% believe that the Bible is the actual word of God!
  • Only 12% believe in the evolution of life on earth without divine intervention (probably the same 12% that are atheists in the US).
  • 31% believe that evolution has been guided by God.
  • 53% are practically creationists and believe the earth is not older than six thousand years. Incidentally, the Sumerians invented glue, saws, knives, axes, and many other things before that…on a non-existent earth, I presume?
  • 44% are convinced that Jesus will return to judge us within the next fifty years!

I find it incredible that such a large proportion of the American public cannot “believe” in widely accepted and well-established scientific facts, such as evolution. Instead, people prefer to delude themselves with creationism, intelligent design, and belief in the fairytales of the Bible (which is probably the most incoherent book ever written). This was also made evident by the recent propaganda movie trying to defend intelligent design with the goal of getting it into classrooms “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”. Fortunately, the movie’s claims have been relentlessly debunked by the Expelled Exposed website created by the National Center for Science Education.

Another thing that really scares me here in the US, though, is the widespread use of the word “God” in speeches by politicians. Listen to any George Bush speech and you will hear him utter the word “God” a few times, especially at the end of most speeches when he says “May God bless America”. Back home this is unthinkable and I don’t even remember any serious politician, let alone our chanselor or president, use the word “God”. Of course, it is a known fact that you could not be elected as US president if you were an atheist. This in itself is an atrocity, considering that the intellectual elite of the country consists mostly of atheists, and you’d kind of think some of them would be good candidates to lead the world’s largest super power.

Consider this thought experiment: In any politician’s speech, replace the word God with the word Zeus, so that “May God bless America” becomes “May Zeus bless America”. What would you think of a president or other high-ranking politician uttering these words? Would you be surprised, enraged, appalled, insulted? I sure would be. Just as we have no evidence whatsoever to believe in Zeus, we have no evidence to believe in the Judeo-Christian God of Abraham (or Allah, Shiva, Thor, Baal, Ra, Neptune, Poseidon, …). Yet through religious indoctrination of defenseless children by their parents, Yahweh has not yet gone the way of Zeus in our modern discourse and many of the world’s current religions enjoy undeserved respect. Honest criticism of religious faith is more often than not a taboo and frowned upon instead of being a moral and intellectual necessity, especially considering how many of our armed conflicts today are still based on religious belief in incoherent, so-called “holy” books written thousands of years ago.

With this in mind and considering that the United States were created as a secular nation, the recent statements of the Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, are a bit shocking to me, not only because they are historically incorrect.

05.18.08

Air Racing Is Awesome!

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:06 am by Martin

Two weeks ago the Redbull Air Race series held its second race in San Diego Bay, and it was awesome. I went to see them last year as well, and this year it was as exciting. I was, of course, favoring Austrian pilot Hannes Arch, and surprisingly this year he’s proven to be an excellent contender. Last year he didn’t make it into the final race but gave us an interesting show as he hit one of the quadro pilons in qualifying. This year he got 4th place and he’s even made it to the podium in the first race of the season.

The racers are exposed to incredible g-forces during the race, up to 10 g. So some of them wear suits to prevent the blood from shooting into their legs leaving nothing left for the brain πŸ˜‰ If they come close to you (for my Austrian readers, the closest race will be Budapest), I highly recommend you go and see it. Unlike Formula 1, watching a Redbull Air Race live is a really cool experience because you actually get to see the entire track. Also, the on-site commentators were excellent and they have a few big video screens with interesting shots from cameras attached to the planes. Go check it out!

It’s a 10 second penalty if a racer hits one of the pilons as in the picture above. The crew can bring a pilon back up in under 5 minutes.

Almost there…

Finally, the lucky winners of the San Diego race. In the middle, the Brit Paul Bonhamme who also won the first race, on the left in second place Californian Mike Mangold, last year’s champion, and finally on the right in third place American Kirby Chambliss, who won the 2006 season.

04.26.08

I Want to Ride My Bicycle

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:13 pm by Martin

I finally bought myself a bicycle, and quite a cool one as well. Here it is:

My New Bike

It’s a road bike, and I also bought the proper lights that I need to ride it at night. I have yet to try riding it to work (which is quite a distance and it’s a bit hilly), but I’m hoping that on nice summer days I’ll commute on my bike instead of in the car. Let’s see how that goes… Still thinking of doing some proper mountain biking sometime soon.

04.13.08

It’s a Renaissance Faire…or is it?

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:14 pm by Martin

Last weekend some friends and I went to the Renaissance Faire in Escondido. Now, my fellow European readers might be wondering why the heck would they have such a thing here in the US, considering that the country didn’t have anything to do with the Renaissance. The only answer I can give you is, beats me. They just like to dress up? πŸ™‚ Anyway, even though a Renaissance Faire might seem a bit awkward it was actually good fun. They had a big mock battle, which was pretty cool. You could eat a whole turkey leg (which, of course, I did) and test your skills in archery.

Knight's Duel in the Mock Battle 1

Knight's Duel in the Mock Battle 2

Mock Battle

One thing that I found strange was the fact that there were quite a few pirates running around. I mean, sure, they were active during the Renaissance, but I wouldn’t really associate them with the “Renaissance spirit”.

Renaissance Pirate

The coolest thing we saw was the battle for the bone. The guys and gals partaking in this particular fighting event were really fighting seriously. The rules are simple: There are two contenders. Each contender holds on to a bone with both hands. The winner is the first person who cannot hold onto the bone with at least one hand. Once a hand has slipped from the bone you cannot hold onto it again. Some of the fights were really fierce, almost like UFC fighting (okay, maybe not ;)).
Bone Fight

02.18.08

Desert Wildflowers

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:12 pm by Martin

Some friends and I went out to the desert just north-east of San Diego yesterday to search for desert wildflowers. This is apparently the first time in 2 years that the wildflowers have started blooming in the desert. We first drove to Palm Springs where we had lunch and then headed further north. First we went to Pioneertown just to check it out. Then we drove through Joshua Tree national park heading south-east from the west entrance. In both the Pinto basin and towards the southern entrance Cottenwood we found some wildflowers. It was a strange sight in the desert. Last time I was here in November 2006 there were no flowers in sight. This time there were so many you could even smell them…aaaah πŸ™‚

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

Pioneertown

01.01.08

Posted in Uncategorized at 2:35 am by Martin

I’ve been in Austria for just over a week and I’ve seen the sun only once for a few hours. It’s cloudy and really cold outside with the occasional snow or ice rain shower.

It’s amazing how much of a wimp I’ve become weather-wise by living in California for a year. I just can’t stand the cold anymore and I miss the rays of the sun shining through my bedroom window just before I get up in the morning. I miss the San Diego weather and the ocean.
Snow-covered Cherry Tree in Our Garden

But the food’s great here in Austria πŸ™‚

12.24.07

Back Home

Posted in Uncategorized at 6:13 am by Martin

I’m back home in Austria for the holidays. And immediately upon arriving at the airport in Vienna I started enjoying some of the small things that make home feel like home. Just to mention a few:

  • Perfumed, colorful, not easily tearable toilet paper.
  • Tap water you can actually drink and it doesn’t taste like shit.
  • Lovely bakeries with good bread and a much greater variety than you could find in the US.
  • The best sausages in the world!
  • LeberkΓ€se
  • A chocolate and candy section in the super market that’s at least three times the size as in Vons, Walmart, etc…again with a much greater variety.
  • Snow on Christmas.

Yellow Toilet PaperBlue Toilet Paper

Of course, there are also some downsides. I already miss the San Diego weather. As much as I enjoy a white Xmas, I just hate the coooold.

11.25.07

Down the Drain

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:27 am by Martin

Let’s talk about something that you wouldn’t expect to be different: Toilet paper. The toilet paper here in the US is probably the worst I’ve seen. It’s low quality, very thin, and only ever white. Back home, you can get thin toilet paper, really thick toilet paper (3-4 layers), and anything in between. You can get toilet paper in different colors and with nice pictures on them…and hey, during the soccer world cup we actually had toilet paper with useful soccer facts printed on them.

A Roll of Toilet Paper

Not so here. Most toilet paper is one or two layers at most! What that means when you’re cleaning your behind should be obvious. Usually, it means you have to fold multiple pieces of toilet paper on top of each other so that you don’t wipe your behind with your bare fingers. Uugh! And even then, it might still rip and tear in your fingers…or maybe it’s just me πŸ˜‰
Note that you can see my fingers shine through the paper.

When you go to the supermarket to buy toilet paper you will find the same thing that you can find for a lot of other products here in the US: There’s a large number of products you can choose from, but they’re basically all the same. There’s no variety. You encounter this phenomenon when you go into a bakery to buy bread, when you buy cheese, when you buy detergent, and many other products.

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