Cartoon Image of Justin Andersun

American Highpointing

25 August 2015

Since 2013, I’ve been aiming to cap America’s roof. Each state in the union has a highest geographic point, and I aim to stand atop all 50. While some are no more than 400 feet above sea level or a rock in someone’s backyard, others are granite peaks requiring vertical climbing or multi-day expeditions through inclement weather. In this variety, there is great beauty. Pursuit of the U.S. highpoints uncovers the hidden gems of America. As I discover them for myself, I will share my findings on this blog.

 

But first, some history:

 

Highpointing is the act of climbing to the highest point of a geographic region. While it is not a novel concept, it is still a peripheral activity in our culture. Since the early 1900s, highpointing has existed in America. As explorers and surveyors sought to map the nation, determining highpoints became an exciting activity. Shortly after topographic findings, A.H. Marshall became the first person to summit all 48 states in 1936. Once Alaska and Hawaii joined the union in 1959, more climbers began to bag the 50 peaks. As the sport grew, a man by the name of Jack (“Jakk”) Longacre formed the Highpointers’ Club in 1986 to provide information about the peaks and foster a mountaineering community across the U.S. As Longacre kept thorough lists of the individuals who completed the summits, he used an old typewriter with a sticky “K” key, often mispelling his name “Jakk.” Ergo, the club’s kitschy motto “Keep Klimbin'” was coined.

 

Since Jakk’s founding of the club, over 250 people have completed all 50 of the U.S. summits. While this number may seem small, the popularity of the sport is growing and countless people enjoy visiting the States’ highpoints. To cater to the thriving community and keep the sport alive, the Highpointers’ Foundation strives to conserve the peaks. As a nonprofit, the Foundation maintenances the summits; placing signs along roads, providing logbooks and benches at the peaks, and promoting environmental sustainability en route. With such effort being invested into the sport, highpointing will continue to grow and put the U.S. on the map for mountaineering. I’m excited to be part of it.

 

Stories of my adventures will be posted under the #highpoints tag as I document my experience, share climbing tips, and awe over the quirky majesty of America’s peaks.

 

In the skewed words of Ash Ketchum, I gotta cap them all.

Pragmatic Minimalism

11 August 2015

Minimalism has inundated graphic design as a trendy aesthetic. But it also yields a beautiful, elegant, and conscious lifestyle. Fewer possessions can foster greater happiness with the select few. As a general rule, I subscribe to this.

 

But too much minimalism favors the rich.

 

Not owning a backpack or purse is possible for a true minimalist, for she could simply buy the things she needs as she goes. For instance, there would be no purpose for owning a water-bottle because she could purchase an iced beverage when thirst bemoans her. Although minimal in ownership, this mentality encourages a lifestyle of heavy-spending and high-risk. This seems misaligned with minimalism’s values.

 

A good person ought be prepared. Carrying a single lighter on a camping expedition is minimalism, but what happens when that lighter is lost, damaged, or dead? Preparedness sometimes requires redundancy. Packing two lighters may seem sacrilegious to the devout minimalist, but the risk mitigation for future expenditure resonates with a deeper devotion to the cause. So I propose a new ideology. One that rides off the coattails of frugality, thriftiness, and the simple aesthetic. Boy Scout-approved and inspired by modernism, the pragmatic minimalist is born.

 

Each asset the pragmatic minimalist possesses, every relationship the minimalist shares, and in each activity the minimalist practices, should be assessed with these questions: Do I enjoy this entity? Do I use this on a regular basis? What is in jeopardy if I am without it? Through answering these, the minimalist can determine the significance of the entity within his life. If the entity need not be part of his life, remove it. But don’t be too stringent.

 

The pragmatic minimalist has a few things and a few extra things. This statement should be taken literally, not liberally. Designing a lifestyle that incorporates enough for one to be self-reliant, but not so much that there is excess is a fine line to ride. But if ridden carefully, it yields a wonderful life.

The Tuesday Effect

3 August 2015

At the writing of this sentence, it is nearing the end of a Monday. At the finish of this post, it will be Tuesday morning in my time zone. While I should be lying in bed, computer closed, visionary aide removed (no contact lenses, no glasses, no lights), I am writing about the struggle I’ll face in six hours.

 

I call it The Tuesday Effect.

 

Think of the last time you had to take a flight, drive a far distance, or wake up at an unusually early hour for some event. Rising wasn’t that difficult, right? At least not for me. It was a singular event, and I was mentally—as a consequence, physically—prepared for it. So much so, that I awoke, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, before the alarm sounded. I knew that the event was coming; it was something new, and I was anticipating a change. The effects were nominal. Of course, later in the day, I felt very tired and out of sync, but the initial change of events was easy to cope with.

 

Now think of the last time you started a new routine. This is common for those not yet on the stable career schedule. Many students are awake all hours of the night and arise at noon, but are then lurched into a replicated version of a stable career—such as a corporate internship—requiring them to arise at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. The beginning of this routine is much the same as the process described above: a relatively easy shift into the dawn of a new routine. The day passes, it feels strange, but was mostly painless.

 

But the event was not singular. If only.

 

Waking up the next morning is not so effortless. Monday wasn’t bad at all, but Tuesday on the other hand…that’s where the effect comes into play. The alarm sounds. You press snooze. The alarm sounds. You press snooze. The alarm sounds. You press snooze. The alarm sounds…

 

The Tuesday Effect.

 

You drag yourself out of bed, hastily change, maybe shower, definitely don’t eat, and hurry off to wherever you’re supposed to be. The day is an uphill battle and you almost give up, but you eventually you make it through and soon it’s hump day and you’re on the downhill. Only two more days until the weekend; that sort of thing.

 

Tuesdays suck. There’s no way around it and nothing to do about it. We’re adaptive creatures that can push through to Wednesday. But it’s important to be aware of the Tuesday Effect. It is ubiquitous in life. You may get through the first week of your new job just fine—the Monday week—but the following week, you experience the Tuesday Effect. When you move to a new city, you are caught in the bustle of newness that your first month flies by with little thought. The second month drags on like a dying animal. When you start some four-year plan, like a college degree or a contracted career, the first year will be filled with change and adjustment, so you are too busy to struggle with forming a routine. But the second year, you experience a slump triggered by the Tuesday Effect. For most situations, it’s more difficult to adjust to change after the first experience of something new than the first experience itself, as the initial shock energy has worn off. It is this second point where true effort is required to move past. Fortunately, once you have overcome Tuesday, things start to flow a little smoother. A routine develops.

 

I’m no psychologist or mental health expert, but this seems to be a regular issue, and I figured I’d share. So bring it on, Tuesday!

 

We can’t wait for Wednesday.

Bigfeet

1 August 2015

Some of my extended family live in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. On a recent visit, having driven for miles through the dense and spindly forests, my cousin shared the lore of Sasquatch. The Bigfoot.

 

Like any urban legend, Sasquatch abounds with odd traits apart from the physical: tall, hominid, hairy, etc. From what I hear, it’s common for Sasquatch to turn branches upside-down to mark its territory. Leaves are mysteriously absent on trees at 10-feet from the ground. An odd echo reverberates through the forest as the beast taps branches against trunks. Large footprints appear in loose soil. In the bulk of Bigfoot stories, these motifs flourish.

 

Les Stroud, known as Survivorman and one of the few credible TV survivalists, has been researching Sasquatch. In a six-part series, he lays his reputation on the line in search for this cryptid beast. Whether or not this Bigfoot creature exists is only a small part of Stroud’s micro-series. What he cares about is the legend—is it really just an elaborate hoax or is there a kernel of truth? As an icon of the north, the Sasquatch is a part of the regional culture. Curio shops are filled with magnets, statuettes, bumperstickers, and postcards bearing this creature. While the topic could be dismissed by most, some become fixated. For this reason, I try to answer an important yet neglected question: what is the plurality of Bigfoot?

 

With so much hype around this creature from multiple regions—Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Pacific Northwest, and Northern Rockies—it’s difficult to imagine that Bigfoot is singular. One beast, if it did exist, could not make multiple appearances in so many regions for so many years. Unless there’s a supernatural force that enables a different plane to coincide with ours, I think it’s safe to assume that Sasquatch is a species, not a single creature. Bigfoot could exist or merely be a culture creation, but the referent language of the beast must be dissected.

 

In The Dark Knight trilogy, the power and appeal of Batman came not from Bruce Wayne, but from the symbol itself. Multiple people could have been The Batman, but the referent language would have remained singular. Not “The Batmen,” but the strong and singular “Batman.” I’ve noticed this trend to exist when pertaining to the unknown. A single entity seems more powerful and tangible than the plural. Likewise, the Loch Ness Monster is singular—a sea monster that lives in a Scottish loch named Ness. Sasquatch and Bigfoot are also singular in name, but there’s no way they’re singular as a species. So I ask, is Sasquatch, as a plural, “Sasquatches” or a collective “Sasquatch,” like deer?

 

I prefer “Bigfeet.”

Foodtruckers

20 July 2015

The modern man is over-concerned with identity. It is important to a sense. Being aware of one’s socio-economic status, race, sexuality, religion, and the intersection of those identities is important for understanding issues in the world and how conflicts arise and interactions are made.

 

But personal identities have gotten out of hand. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the Twitter/Tumblr/etc. bio with the description “writer, (blank) aficionado, (blank) activist”. Note the all lowercase. Note the amount of commas, titles, varying adjectives. We’re striving so hard to stick our heads above the masses. To stand out and be somebody and show the world how different we are.

 

Foodtruckers are what I’d like to call the popular group of people who exert great effort to stay on top of trends, embrace the counterculture that is on the verge of mainstream, and think eating out of overpriced foodtrucks is a must when visiting Portland. To avoid turning this into a Buzzfeed article about “yuccies” or some other brand of cookie-cutter Millennial who refuses to believe they’re from a cookie-cutter, let me say this: there is nothing wrong with foodtrucks or even the people who like foodtrucks. The problem is that people spend too much time defining themselves by their interests for others to see than defining themselves by the disciplined effort exerted into these interests that would allow them to become interesting people. Don’t over-identify with being a painter when you spend <1 hours a week actually painting. This tendency leaves not only a stain on a generation, but our self-absorption blinds us from the very important role identity has to play.

 

Understanding oneself is essential to understanding others. Through understanding others, change can occur. But when we become obsessed with personal identity and use our knowledge of other people for the sole purpose of defining ourselves, we become self-absorbed. With a world of self-concerned people constantly rewriting their life stories, privilege is squandered and abused, rather than employed to make a difference.

Rugged Education

19 July 2015

Educational reform is a hot topic in politics. Yet little seems to happen. The current state of the public education system is largely college-prep. Entire courses are dedicated to standardized testing and advanced science, mathematics, and literature. We’re enabling a strong white-collar workforce, but we’re cultivating a society incapable of basic competency. That’s bad.

 

So I open a new discussion for the political theatre: rugged education.

 

K – 12 public education could benefit from a more rugged curriculum that focuses not strictly on challenging academic subjects, but on directly applicable skills and understanding. This proposal stems from a belief that publicly-available education should prepare all citizens to be informed and capable members of society. For instance, woodworking and home economics could replace biology or pre-calculus as required courses. These more hands-on and directly applicable subject areas could provide more benefit for people under the age of eighteen. For this reason, I propose the following curriculum:

 

Construction

Whether its basketweaving or small engine repair, all people should be given the opportunity to learn the basics of a craft. In this subject, students could learn about woodworking, plumbing, welding, sewing, or a variety of other physically-constructive trades. With a perfunctory understanding of these skills, students could be more confident in pursuing a trade upon graduation or making basic repairs on their property.

 

Gastronomy

Healthy diets are becoming increasingly mainstream, and most of these movements embrace organic and small-scale farming. Pupils would learn the basics of gardening and plant care as well as how to care for and raise animals. In addition to growing food, students would also learn techniques for cooking and baking.

 

Bureaucracy

This subject may be the most dull, but it could be the most beneficial (even lifesaving) for contemporary citizens. Coursework would educate pupils on navigating paperwork—from reading online content to filing taxes, leasing an apartment, understanding insurance, and saving and investing money.

 

Etiquette

Everyone has heard “chivalry is dead.” Manners, tactfulness, and the ability to hold an interesting face-to-face conversation has dwindled. The coursework and structure of this subject would be basically teach pupils how to survive happy hour. They’d learn about gift-giving customs, event management, vocal tonality, how to read people, communication, and basic psychology and sociology. There are few programs that exist to foster these essential people skills. A good example is the Art of Charm.

 

Literature & History

Without history, we’re doomed to repeat it. All citizens should be given the tools to be literate and informed. In this subject, students would read from a wide zeitgeist of classic and contemporary literature, blogs, and news articles to understand culture, history, and politics. Pupils could learn professional and academic writing, so they can later continue self- or higher-education in the future.

 

Science

This is an abbreviated version of STEM. Through hands-on labs, students would learn how to apply algebra and statistics to both hard and soft sciences; such as chemistry, physics, and computer technology. Intended to spark their curiosity and ability to problem-solve, this coursework would enable to students to pursue personal research or higher-education in a more grounded manner.

 

Art

Creative expression is important for everyone, as a means of pleasure and reflection. Whether it’s painting, music, theatre, or graphic design, all citizens of the United States should have the opportunity to explore this during their childhood and adolescent education.

 

Physical Education

Whether through organized sports or personal regiment, a subject dedicated to cultivating physical well-being and strength could have countless benefits on today’s citizens. Teaching the fundamentals of weight training, cardio, and even yoga could benefit many. In addition, providing martial arts training in a public institution could help build confidence for young people.

 

With this curriculum, all citizens could receive requisite knowledge to be informed, knowledgeable and skilled in all areas of their lives. An education that teaches not only professional collaboration but self-reliance is needed. This education system would target the breadth of education and expose pupils to a variety of industries and interests so they could spend their adult lives honing the depth of one area, creating a citizenship of T-shaped individuals.

Human Quintessence

7 July 2015

A diploma mill has decreed upon me all the rights and privileges of a B.S. degree. That means I’m officially educated in “Information.” It was a new program at the University of Michigan, and I was a member of the first graduating class. The curriculum was designed to cover the intersection between people, information, and technology. As such, I should be well-versed in human-computer interaction. Well…

 

. . .

 

After being accepted into the university, I took some tests and wrote an essay to determine my placement in first-year courses. The essay was to revolve around the ideas discussed in an Atlantic article by Brian Christian. The article was a reflection on the Turing Test—an annual competition between supercomputers and humans. Judges would communicate with humans and computers, and the test determined how “human” each party could be through language. The most human of computers would pass the test.

 

Christian, a member of the human party, claimed that humanity is defined by our ability to connect and communicate in interesting ways. The best humans and computers didn’t have perfect spelling or grammar and didn’t rely on formulaic pleasantries. They conveyed more than the average person by means that were seemingly unteachable. Essentially: language is the human quintessence.

 

So upon entering college, I believed that humankind is unique because humankind has sophisticated language. We speaks countless tongues and dialects and convey abstract thought through intangible means yet craft concrete change. It was impressive and beautiful. I studied Latin and English and spent personal time honing my language. This was the most human I could be.

 

But, as any good institution should do, the university pushed me to take a breadth of courses, most unrelated to language. Astrobiology, anthropology, digital communities, graphic design, calculus, and programming contributed to my broad curriculum. The depth of these fields was incredible, and the combined work of generations led to groundbreaking changes on multiple fronts. Without the transfer of knowledge, the information would have been lost.

 

Language was often the tool to achieving these milestones, as written text conveyed ideas across generations. But I came to realize it may not be the defining trait of humanity. Birds chirped to one another. Dogs could communicate with scent and sound. Many life-forms use language.

 

As I explored computer science and technology, I thought creation was the great human activity. The ability to plan and build and bring things to life must be our purpose. Yet again, I was wrong. We created computers to do work we either didn’t want to do or just do more efficiently. Some primates could use tools to make their lives easier, so this isn’t uniquely human.

 

. . .

 

For the latter half of college, I dated a linguist. Most of her work with language involved breaking sounds into quantifiable parts. It was fascinating and highly complex. It takes much human effort, but we are enabling computers to process natural language. Our ability to not only create a machine but to teach it sophisticated language seemed so human. Perhaps education itself is something that is distinctly human?

 

I toyed with the idea of pursuing education as a career. Passing on knowledge and wisdom to coming generations was noble and exciting. It’s a great field, but education for its own sake couldn’t be the driving force of humanity. Like language, it’s a sophisticated method of conveying ideas. Without a purpose, though, it cannot be the human quintessence. It felt close nonetheless.

 

Most of my education at the university had occurred outside the classroom. Several jobs, internships, and student organizations, taught me a good deal. Experiencing the impact of social identities, the power of leadership, and tenderness of human interaction helped me understand that humankind is both boringly simple and frustratingly complex. On its own, humankind is no different from any form of life: a collection of chemicals living on a sphere that revolves about another sphere. But given some direction, great things can occur.

 

. . .

 

Upon leaving Michigan, I hope to have left it better than I found it—it certainly has done that to me. For me, inventiveness and creativity were means to building many things—companies, student organizations, and works of art—and leaving them in good hands required sufficient education and language. These are great tools. But they aren’t the quintessence. What I’ve learned is that improvement—of ourselves, of the race, and of our world—is the human spirit. Not in a 1950s “progress” sort of way—not of mowing down forests to build puritan gardens or expedite sales, etc.—but that humans can discover underlying problems and work to combat them to improve their conditions and the state of the world. We can educate each other so that we may accomplish more as a whole. That is the human quintessence.

 

And when that spirit is aided with greater tools, more is possible. Human-computer interaction is a young field concerned with this relationship. While we have much to learn about the fruits of this labor, we can be assured that this man-machine hybrid is inline with our purpose. It will bring us to new places.

 

And I like new places.