2016 Year in Review

In rough sequential order, a run-down of my 2016:

In January and February I burst my ski ego. Racing for CMU’s ski team humbled me, being both out-skied and out-drank by a group of fun-loving undergrads. East Coast ice is tricky, especially after 4:00 am Fireball shots. Oh, college.

Practice at Seven Springs

Mark, taking his "senior" run at Sawmill.

Mark, taking his "senior" run at Sawmill.

Sloane, showing off her bases at regionals.

Sloane, showing off her bases at regionals.

March brought me and friends to the Arizona for a hairball trip down the Upper Salt River.

The Upper Salt River Crew

The landscape we traveled through remains my favorite of river passageways. Pity we only managed the first 20 miles of it, owing to a certain incident in which I flipped my boat and lost the oars during the very first stretch of river where we weren’t stuck on rocks. Camilo’s ingenuity and paddle-guiding prowess saved the day, along with Anne’s optimism, Saskia’s graciousness, Jason’s steadfastness, Jon’s fun-loving enthusiasm, Gordon’s hearty good cheer, and Sagar’s selfless support of his friends (dispite near hypothermia, stomach illness, closed roads, flat tires, and other mishaps).

Gordon and Jon in Rat Trap Rapid

Anne takes in the morning desert on our last day

The trip coincided with my brother-in-law Tory’s 40th birthday, providing a wonderful occasion to celebrate him and reconnect with coworkers from Arizona Pain Specialists.

Happy 40th Birthday Tory!

My light load in January and February to accommodate travelling every weekend to a ski tournament corresponded to a heavy load in March and April that nearly sunk me. I made it out (and, to the best of my knowledge, passed all of my classes).

Hope's a doctor!

May took me to Seattle to celebrate Hope’s graduation from med school and for a sailing trip to Blakey Island with quadlings.

The Blakely Island Crew. Thanks, Gordon, for hosting!

I spent the summer working for CREATE Lab under Randy Sargent, building visualizations of environmental data on a planetary scale, e.g. the animation below of the seasonal advance and retreat of vegetation (green = vegetation, white = no vegetation). I loved the work, and the lab challenged me every day to think about the values I brought to work and how to affect positive change.

Austin? Austin. I went to Austin to revel in Erik’s last days of bachelordom. Austin is a super fun place. Enough said about Austin.

I spend most of the winter, spring and summer running. I’m not surprised by this, given the lack of mountains around Pittsburgh. I ran the Pittsburgh Marathon in Boston-qualifying time in May, and attempted to outrun old age in July by participating in the Never Summer 100k ultramarathon with TJ.
I should note that after the 100k race, I’ve barely run (or done anything active) at all. Good riddance.

Despite the day’s lows and highs (literal and figurative), I failed to outrun old age, which found me on July 26, in the company of good friends and amazing food (Abram, those squid-ink steam buns with pork belly still haunt me).

September brought me back to Colorado for Erik and Amanda’s wedding. Although I’m not much one for weddings, Erik managed to squeeze a lot of fun into the weekend, in addition to the lovely ceremony. I’m privileged to have been a part.

This fall I upped my concert photography game, taking concert photos for The Cut Magazine and The Tartan Newspaper (both CMU student publications). I’ll miss Pittsburgh’s amazing access to live music.

Metric at Thrival in September

Lucius at Mr. Smalls in October

Somewhere along the way I’ve fallen in love with transit and transportation. This summer I published a project on Pittsburgh’s bus’s that picked up some local press coverage (including Pittsburgh’s mayor). In October, I found out that I had my first academic paper accepted for publication in the Transportation Research Record (TRR Paper …).

And, somewhere along the way I fell in love with Pittsburgh. The city is gritty and burgeons with character. Old, diverse, up-and-coming, and fun, Pittsburgh is a real treat of a city. My suggestion for the future: let’s round off Colorado at an even fifty 14ers, and move the extras next to Pittsburgh.

I enjoyed sharing Pittsburgh with my parents in May, and my siblings, Rachel, Andrew, Grace, and Judah this fall.

My dad, at the National Aviary

Judah, Jenny, and Grace on the Rachel Carson Bridge

Judah, Jenny, and Grace on the Rachel Carson Bridge

I’m not sure I fell in love with Pennsylvania in the same way that I fell in love with Pittsburgh, but I did enjoy poking around in its hills a bit.

In December, I wrapped up my time at Carnegie Mellon University, having learned the skills I had set out to acquire, broadened my mind and worldview, and having made a host of wonderful friends.

Students walk across the Randy Pauch Bridge on the CMU campus

Anne, Abram, Sagar, Jon and Ken surprised me for graduation, appearing in my local bar and leaving me (to this day) entirely flabbergasted.

This fall I interviewed for a bunch of jobs I didn’t want, before finally interviewing for one I did actually want. As luck would have it, they liked me as much as I liked them. I’ll be starting as a transportation data scientist with High Street in May.

Once again, 2016 was book-ended by soul-searching and snow-playing with friends in the Montana backcountry.

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind tour of PA, WY, CO, AZ, MT, CO, VA and DC. I’m currently packing my bags in preparation for departing to France for ten weeks of furiously skiing uphill wearing spandex.

I’ve included here only a thin sliver of the friends and experiences that enriched my life in 2016. I’m grateful for the privilege of grad school and all my friends and peers who I made and miss already.

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How to Make A Casserole

I just learned how to make a casserole!

I was hungry. I went to the pantry. All I found was a box of penne noodles. Okay, that’s a start. Add noodles to a pot of salted boiling water, then back to homework for ten minutes.

[ten minutes later]

Okay, noodles are done. What’s in the fridge? Empty, except for a few cans of Duquesne Pilsner, a big tub of mayo, and a sad looking bottle of sriracha. Money.

Back to the pantry. Let’s see. Black beans? No. Tomato paste? Not going to help. Oh, what’s this pile of packages? Maybe a pesto mix packet? Too much to hope for? Hollandaise sauce mix, hollandaise sauce, and, oh! a foil packet of tuna. Probably ten years old. Fine. This stuff never expires, right?

This is going to be weird, but who cares? I’m hungry. Nobody is going to judge me.

Hey! This isn’t terrible. More mayo. More noodles. A minute in the microwave to bring everything up to the same temp, then it’s back to homework with weirdly-satisfying sustenance.

A casserole is born!

Mark’s Saturday Night Casserole


Time: 15 minutes (5 active)

Serves: 1 desperate college student


  • 1 lb penne noodles, cooked a la dente
  • mayo
  • siracha
  • 1 package or can tuna. Preferably at least five years old.
  • 1 oz desperation


  1. Put mayo and siracha in bowl and stir with fork to combine.
  2. Add tuna and mix.
  3. Add pasta, and stir with fork until pasta is coated.
  4. Place in microwave for 60 seconds.

Serve immediately.

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Pizza Margherita Recipe

As many of my friends are aware, I’ve spent the last number of years honing my pizza craft. It’s still a work in progress, but I think I’ve made strides in the right direction. My friend Kelli provided a generous write-up of my pizza a few years back.)

I wrote out the current state of my recipes for a school recipe book this afternoon. I thought I’d post these dough and sauce recipes here, as well, in case anyone else is interested in making great pizza at home!

For Pittsburghers, all of the ingredients below can be obtained at the Pennsylvania Macaroni Company in the Strip District. PennMac is worth visiting, in its own right.

Pizza Margherita (Photo credit: Kelli Donley)

Pizza Margherita

Prep Time: 3 days (2 hours active)


  • Dough ball (see recipe below)
  • Red sauce (see recipe below)
  • Fresh basil, 10 – 12 leaves
  • Fresh mozzarella, one 8 oz ball


  1. Two hours before baking, remove dough balls from refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature
  2. One hour before baking, place baking stone in oven on the highest rack, turn oven to highest heat setting. Allow oven to preheat for 60 minutes before baking.
  3. Flour counter and dough ball generously. Flatten dough ball to 13 – 14” diameter circle (there are lots of good instruction videos on YouTube for this step, or use a rolling pin)
  4. Ladle 1 c. red sauce onto crust
  5. Arrange basil and mozzarella on crust in random pattern
  6. Transfer to baking stone, and bake 6 – 8 minutes (depending on oven temperature) until cheese is boiling and crust is lightly brown

Note: if you do not have a pizza stone, you can use a baking sheet. Preheat the baking sheet in the oven and remove immediately prior to placing pizza on baking sheet (using extreme caution). Place crust on pre-heated baking sheet, then build ingredients on the crust.

Pizza Dough

An extended cold fermentation in the refrigerator develops better tasting crust. This recipe is best if made three days ahead of time, but is still good if made the morning before baking.

Yields 5x 345g dough balls

Time: 2 hours (30 minutes active)


  • 1000 g “00” bread flour (this can be obtained from PennMac or online)
  • 650 g Water at 80 * F
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 30 g olive oil, plus 20 g water
  • 20 g salt
  • 10 g diastatic malt (optional—promotes browning when baking in home ovens which do not get as hot as real pizza ovens)


  1. Combine flour, 650 g water, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes
  2. Add remaining ingredients. Using stand mixer, knead dough using dough-hook on medium-high speed for 8 minutes
  3. Remove dough to lightly floured counter, and divide into five portions of 325 – 350 g each
  4. Fold portions into balls and let rest, covered, for 20 minutes
  5. Stretch each ball and fold back into ball shape. Place in greased 1 qt container
  6. Place dough balls in refrigerator and allow cold fermentation for up to three days before use

Red Sauce

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: ~ 1 quart sauce


  • 28 oz can whole san marzano peeled tomatoes, drained, then crushed
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1.5 tsp salt
  • juice of one whole fresh lemon
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp fresh oregano
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp Fresh Basil


Bring sauce to a simmer. Hold at a simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and add basil.

Posted in Food | 1 Comment

Saving The Procrastinator Theater in the Strand Union Building

As part of preparation for an upcoming interview, I’ve been prompted to think about instances where I’ve had a personal impact. One instance that comes to mind is the struggle for The Procrastinator Theater’s home in the Strand Union Building. I led the student fight to ensure that the renovated building had the projection booth necessary for the projection equipment that provides a “theater experience” when viewing movies at ASMSU Procrastinator Theater on the Montana State University campus in Bozeman. This is just one story in the countless annals of individual contributions by committee directors to the joint history and success of student government provided services at MSU.

The Procrastinator Theater is a student-run movie theater on the campus of Montana State University, Bozeman. “The “Pro” is service of Associated Students of Montana State University (ASMU), and an organization of which I was steward for a year. Established in Linfield Hall 125 in 1991, “The Pro” has become an MSU campus institution, showing independent and second-run movies, and hosting events like the annual Rocky Horror Picture Show. Beloved by students, it’s fun, cheap, and a good alternative to drinking in the dorms.

For its almost-20-year history prior to my arrival, the Pro had operated out of an old lecture hall in the Ag building (Linfield 125), with a projection booth built in the back that accessed via a rickety ladder.

Running The Procrastinator for a year was the most fun job I’ve ever had, and I did it well. Relative to the year before, in my year attendance doubled (the first year-over-year increase in attendance in ten years) while net operating costs declined, thanks to some combination of Ryan Flynn’s creativity and pre-show entertainment, increasing screenings and marketing, the addition of a concessions operation, and engaging with community partners (including the Bozeman Film Festival) to bring more events and attendees into the theater.

At that time, the Strand Union Building (SUB) was in the midst of getting a much-needed face-lift. One of the major selling features in the campaign to get the generation of students prior to mine to vote to tax themselves $60 / year (or, future generations of students, rather) to pay for the building upgrade was the promise of a beautiful new theater for the Procrastinator, with new projection equipment, a bigger screen, and state of the art sound system. (And while the students dreamed of a new, beautiful film screening room, campus administration and facilities dreamed of a beautiful “showroom” auditorium for campus events.)

The Pro would move to its new home in the SUB the year after mine. My task was to lay the groundwork for a successful move. As I inspected the blueprints for the new space and discovered that, in the interval between when students had last been actively involved with the building design and the current plans, considerable changes had been made. In particular, Procrastinator Theater no longer had a projection booth.

The elimination of the projection booth was intended as a cost-savings measure, predicated on two assumptions (by facilities): 1) the movie industry would be switching to digital projection, and 2) as a consequent, the projection booth could be replaced with a ceiling-mounted, consumer-grade projector. These assumptions, it happens, were wrong on both points. Not only would it be five years before the non-theatrical movie distribution channel from which The Procrastinator rented its films would be able to distribute and screen digital prints, but also, when the conversion to digital occurred, and digital movie projectors are just as big, heavy, and hot as their analog counterparts. A ceiling-mounted consumer-grade projector would never be able to provide a theater experience. This came at a time when attendance at The Procrastinator had been in decline for ten years straight, reflecting the trend in the industry as a whole.

In short, we needed a projection booth—without which there wouldn’t be a movie theater. So I led a a charge to halt current construction in that part of the building and literally go back to the drawing board and to make a projection booth once again part of the construction plans. What happened? Well, three things:

  1. I did my research. Was digital projection viable? If not, what would be required of the projection booth, and how could that be funded? There were lots of important details about HVAC and fire suppression, and what the minimum requirements were of a projection booth were to be able to show movies in the new theater.
  2. I got the support I needed from student government. I met with the ASMSU president and VP (the power due Tegan Molloy and Scott Eggensperger) and got their, then presented to student senate, and got their buy-in in the form a resolution calling on the facilities manager to make the projection booth part of the plans for the renovation.
  3. Engagement with facilities. There was a flurry of research reports, memos, requirements, and presentations.

It culminated with a final presentation with representation of facilities, the architects, the builder, and student government, in which I laid out the necessity for a projection booth, the architects presented their revised drawings, the builder presented the change request expense estimate, and student government presented its resolution to make it happen.

In the end, the change happened. Student government kicked in $31k, facilities matched this, and the final $31k came from the contingencies fund for the construction. When construction finished that summer, David Keto (the new ASMSU Films director) moved The Pro to its new home in the SUB, delivering on that promise that had been made to the generation of students before mine for a beautiful new home for the Procrastinator Theater.

Today, The Procrastinator has now been operating for 25 years. This week it’s showing Finding Dory, and still providing cheap, alternative entertainment to MSUs current student body.

In the end, student organizations have very little institutional memory. I’m not sure if the current director of the theater even knows there was a big fight back in 2007 for the space it now enjoys, and that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I loved that theater, campaigned intelligently and successfully for the theater, and today future generations of students continue to enjoy cheap, quality alternative entertainment on campus as a result.

Unrelated but related: in rooting through some old documents, I found my records of movie attendance figures for 2007 – 2008. Here’s a snapshot view:

Posted in Movies, Papers, Thoughts | Comments Off

On Running Injuries

Six months into learning to run, I guess I get to claim my first running injury. I sprained an extensor during a training run last weekend (on the brutal Rachel Carson Trail), and ran 36 miles on it yesterday. I wasn’t sure how it was going to hold up. Answer: not great. I can still discern the outline of an ankle, under that pulpy mass. Alas–I’m not alone.

Injuries are endemic to running–to the point, in fact, where many non-runners associate distance running with destroying one’s body. Some have blamed Nike (et al) and the advent of the modern running shoe–and in a sense, perhaps they’re right. I think that the surety of getting injured from running boils down to two things:

1) We’re not conditioned for what we set out to do. Not a lack of training, but conditioning. We’re creatures of comfort, knowledge workers, armchair jockies. It’s not the demands of running a hard race or pushing hard during a workout–it’s the contrast between being sedentary 92% of the time, and then making strong, specific demands on a body conditioned to the contours of an ergonomic desk chair. The body’s had no opportunity to develop the strength necessary to protect itself. (I herniated a disc in my lumbar spine in the same manner–throwing myself into trail work without adequate transition. It’s not that cutting on a two-man saw and lifting 100+ lb logs necessarily leads to injury–but it’s liable to if you’re a 140lb weakling with little recent experience lifting anything. The protective muscles just aren’t adequately developed.)

2) Modern shoes. They’re not the culprit–they’re just enablers. Modern shoes turn our feet into little tanks, and let us beat on our feet and our bodies in a way that evolution never prepared us for. Cushioning itself isn’t the enemy. Cushioning just allows the body to absorb bigger impacts. If running barefoot or in minimalist shoes results in fewer running injuries, it shouldn’t surprise–doing so also concomitantly results in fewer podium finishes. Refer to #1. Modern running shoes are technological marvels that allow us to exceed what was physically possible prior to their advent. If you want to spare yourself from injury, steer clear. Running shoes are aid. Running shoes are doping. Still going to strap those weapons of joint destruction to your feet? You’re going to get yourself hurt–but you just might pick up a few ribbons along the way. What were you saving your body for, anyway?

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The Measure of Happiness

A letter arrived yesterday from the Social Security Administration. Making an exception to my usual mail-handling approach of letting letters wither, unopened, in a heap, I opened this government agency notice hastily. Instead of the bad news I expected (“Dear Mr. Egge, your Social Security Number has been revoked!” or, more probably, “Dear Mr. Egge, you owe us money!”), inside I found a notice of my paid social security taxes, and a promise that, someday, should I become disabled or retired, I will receive payments in kind. Nice!

I also found in this charming little missive a yearly summary of my entire taxed earning history. Apparently, yes, someone is tracking these things! Here the mail randomly brought me a document created by a government agency with fourteen years of information about my earnings. Being the data nerd that I am, I immediately entered this data into a spreadsheet and began creating charts.What correlations or insights might I find?!

But first: a brief digression into the ebb and flow of happiness through changing circumstance and the passage of time since becoming a sentient being (which I consider to have occurred for me at around the age 16). My last years of high school were golden. Breaking up with my high school girlfriend and starting college brought me bitterly low. Going abroad my sophomore year restored me. I returned with a new-found sense of self, and enjoyed three halcyon northern years rich with friendship, intellectual engagement, “college” shenanigans, and the occasional adventure.

The working world found me in 2009. My employer was generous but my situation was not: I worked hard at a stressful job and made good money, but struggled to find community. It wasn’t until I finally fled Phoenix that I recaptured happiness in life. Oh, Colorado–what a difference you made! Newly (financially) destitute from being the co-owner of a not-yet-profitable small business, I quickly found myself rich in community and adventure.

Something changed for me in 2014. All my life I’ve been a hack–smart, but listless and lazy. Maybe too smart for my own good–to the extent that I never really had to work hard for anything. I’ve skated by far more often than I’ve done things right. Without my deserving it, life and luck have nevertheless blessed me with opportunities, and I’ve been smart enough to never say “no.” But saying “yes” and succeeding on an above-average quantity of underutilized, directionless intelligence is a different thing from setting one’s course in life.

January 2014 found me running a small business by day, and slinging burgers and fries in the hot kitchen of a nearby bar at night. My hours between were spent daydreaming and sketching concepts, menus, and floorplans for restaurants. Bored of medical billing, I cast about for “what next,” and found myself flirting seriously with the idea of opening a restaurant in a mountain community, becoming a pizziaolo, and settling into the rest of my life as a committed ski bum.

A well-timed visit from a friend ripped me from my mountain-town torpor. Without intending to (or having any idea of the impact it would have), Bri reminded me of the world outside the snowy mountains. In a way, I appropriated her grad school and worldly aspirations, picking up studying for the GMAT about the time she left off. I studied for the GMAT through the summer while beginning, for the first time, to conceive of a path of my own in life.

Running the Rim Rock Marathon on November 1st, 2014 marked a change of epoch. My previous marathon attempts had been about as intentional as everything else in my life to that point–saying “yes” to opportunities, and then trying to skate by on natural ability. I didn’t finish my first marathon, and walked much of the last six miles of my second marathon.

The thing about marathons is that you can’t run a marathon on pure natural ability. One must train, be disciplined, intentional. And in the months leading up to the Rim Rock Marathon, perhaps for the first time in my life, I was. Disciplined. Intentional. The last six miles were (and remain) the toughest thing I’ve done–but I ran them in good time and finished because I’d trained and prepared for those last six miles. That day marked a manifestation of a change in myself long in the making, from my listless and lazy former self to someone who sets goals and works hard to achieve them. (It’s hard to be happy in life when you have a poor image of yourself. Call it the environment I was raised in, but I’ve always disdained lazy people. What a relief of burden, then, to finally cast off this self-loathing of my lazy self!)

My first year of grad school has brought its own attendant hardships (mostly the stress of working harder than I’ve ever worked before), but also the reward of learning, and the sense that–ha!–for once, I’m actually working hard for something I’m excited and care about. My happiness in grad school hasn’t necessarily been, say, equal to the three weeks spent rafting in the Grand Canyon last May–but my contentment with life these past eight months has been off the charts.

Well, that’s a long tangent. Back to my income data. Reflecting on the last fourteen years (reviewing the notable events on my timeline), I assigned a subjective “happiness” score to each year. I then plotted these points against my income data:

Well, there you have it. A completely subjective (but seemingly scientific by virtue of there being “data” and a graph!) affirmation of the idea that money doesn’t buy happiness.

Searching for other quantities of self, I dug up a few others. For example, I’ve tracked my number of ski days per season in recent years:

It was also easy to pop into my photo library and count how many photos I’ve taken each year over the past number of years. Photos are a proxy for adventures and other memorable events. The data from 2014 on is skewed, however, since I bought a “real” camera in 2014 and have taken considerably more photos ever since:

How does this all add up? Let’s take a look at the correlations:

Measure vs. Happiness Pearson Correlation Coefficient
Days Skied vs. Happiness 0.47
Income vs. Happiness -0.63
Photos Taken vs. Happiness 0.19

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, we see that the number of days spent skiing are strongly correlated with happiness. Income, as it happens, is strongly negatively correlated with happiness (in fact, the correlation is stronger than the skiing effect)!

My retrospective assessment of 1-10 scale happiness in years prior is interesting, but too subjective. There may be an art to happiness–if so, paying attention to it seems like a logical first step toward getting better. From this month, I’ve set up a Google-Form-based “Satisfaction With Life Scale” survey, which I’ll complete for myself monthly. So, the next time I get an unexpected letter with data about myself in the mail, I’ll have a slightly more objective basis from which to measure it.

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Top Albums of 2015

For the sake of procrastinating, I’ve compiled my annual list of my top 25 albums for the previous year. If you’re looking for some new tunes, dig in! I present, my top 25 albums of 2015:

  1. Grimes - Art Angels
  2. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  3. Best Coast – California Nights
  4. Purity Ring – Another Eternity
  5. Mew – + -
  6. Dave Rawlings Machine – Nashville Obsolete
  7. Punch Brothers – The Phosphorescent Blues
  8. Brandi Carlile – The Firewatcher’s Daughter
  9. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
  10. Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp a Butterfly
  11. Ryan Adams – 1989
  12. Foals – What Went Down
  13. BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul
  14. Florence + The Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful
  15. Beirut – No No No
  16. The Chemical Brothers – Born in the Echoes
  17. CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye
  18. Ryan Bingham – Fear And Saturday Night
  19. Low – Ones and Sixes
  20. My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
  21. Calexico – Edge of the Sun
  22. Wavves – V
  23. Neon Indian – VEGA INTL. Night School
  24. Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon
  25. Grace Mitchell – Raceday
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2015 Year In Review

2015 just had a nice ring to it–probably because I like numbers that end in five. Upon reflection, it happened to be pretty durn good year. Some highlights, in more-or-less sequential order:

2015 was book-ended by trips to Bozeman with our annual cabin to celebrate the New Year with friends from Quad E and Quad D. Games, snow, food, drink, and good friends.

Two ice-climbing trips to Ouray (both with great groups of people). I’m nowhere near a badass ice climber, but I’m getting closer to having the skillset for some long-term objectives (a ski-descent of Mount Rainier via Liberty Ridge, in particular). I’m now pretty comfy leading / soloing grade 3 ice, and can strongly recommend Orvis hot springs (a bit of a trek from Ouray, but the vast, hot, quiet outdoor pool is 100% worth the drive).

Raced the Grand Traverse with TJ. The Grand Traverse is a 40-mile backcountry ski race from Crested Butte to Aspen. At the crack of midnight we raced up Crested Butte resort into darkness among a crowd of 400 lyrca-clad, headlamp-wearing, skinny-skied athletes under a cold thin moon and abundant stars. By 6:30 am we climbed up Taylor Pass among the alpenglow-kissed peaks of the Elk Mountains, and by 11:00 am bombed down the thrilling 4000′ vertical descent down Aspen mountain slashing slush turns under the finish line.

Finagled a 50-day ski season, with a good dose of Colorado backcountry days with friends (a.k.a. “training”),  Arestua Hut cabin trips, beach days, hut days at Loveland, and early-morning skimo races.

Celebrated Gaper Day in fine style (e.g. with a monoski and a mohawk)

Drank way too much (and did a little skiing) for a weekend in Wolf Creek, CO

Played too much slappy cup (and did a little skiing) for a weekend in Crested Butte, CO

Rafted the Grand Canyon with a really great group of people. Incredible beyond words.

Said farewell to Golden and packed my bags for Africa

Saw the pyramids in Egypt

(My Cairo taxi driver said to me, “I take your picture! Go stand on rocks! Pretend to touch pyramid!”)

Went in safari in Kenya

Went snorkeling and searching for new Commandments in the Sinai peninsula

Drank a beer on top of Mount Kilimanjaro

A video posted by Mark Egge (@markegge) on Jul 19, 2015 at 3:41am PDT

Went diving in Zanzibar (and got my PADI Open Water Diver cert)

Hiked Table Mountain in Cape Town

Sold Atlas, moved to Pittsburgh, and started grad school for data science at Carnegie Mellon University. Made the acquaintance of a ton of dear friends. Won the Deloitte Case Competition and the DiscoverCMU Case Competition. It’s been really fun exploring Pittsburgh (especially the weekend when Sagar and Curtis came to visit)

Raced in my first cross-country mountain bike event

Taking advantage of Winter Break, I moved all of my skis into my car and took off on a 5500 mile road trip back to the Rocky Mountains and along the northern United States:

And, finished the year back in Colorado, in the mountains, with good friends and snow:

So, yeah. Lots of skiing, mountains, friendship, snow, and adventure. I also managed to squeeze in reading a bunch of books, a few good movies (and The Wire!), a lot of mountain bike miles, distilling, pizza and bread making, and photography. I once again failed to think even so much as a single interesting or original thought, but nevertheless succeeded in enjoying myself thoroughly. I’m grateful for the friends and family I got to enjoy 2015 with, and the new friends made along the way.

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On the Martini

I’m here to tell you something important, and something that you might not know if you don’t spent your evening reading books about spirits and foodie blogs. I’m bringing you some advice that you’re not going to get elsewhere. They’re not teaching this in school. This is information that your bartenders know, your foodie friends know, but you may not. And it’s this: a martini is a GIN drink.

Yes—a martini is a cocktail made of gin and vermouth, served chilled in the V-shaped stemmed glass that has come to share its name. The martini is a timeless and a sophisticated cocktail, favored by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, Winston Churchill, Earnest Hemmingway, and many among others.

Now, let me ask you: Would you make a martini with rum? – NO. Would you make a martini with bourbon? – of course not. Would you make a martini with vodka? Ah–some of you perhaps are saying yes. But no—that vodka-based cocktail you’re thinking of is called a kangaroo, or maybe even vodka-tini, but certainly not a martini. (And if I say martini and apples or chocolate come to mind, that’s right out!)

Let’s consider the facts. First, the history of the drink. Origin stories for the martini vary, but what is certain is that it was invented in more than 100 years ago as the combination of gin and vermouth, and sometimes bitters. The martini survived World War I, prohibition, the great depression, and World War II before the first bonehead mixologist had the audacity to publish a cocktail guide combining vodka and vermouth and calling it a vodka-tini.

Second, consider the gustatory fact of the beautiful harmony between vermouth and gin. Vermouth (as you may or may not know) is wine fortified with brandy and infused with botanicals and aromatics. It is slightly sweet and very floral. Gin’s primary ingredient is the juniper berry, which gives gin its pine-tree smell and slightly astringent taste. But gin is more than just juniper berry–it’s a whole bouquet of botanicals that gives gin its subtlety and intrigue.

The miracle of the martini is the interplay between the gin and the vermouth. The sweetness of the vermouth neutralizes the astringency of the juniper, resulting in a drink that combines more than a dozen botanicals into a drink that’s mysterious, intriguing, and subtle–a drink where curiosity and pleasure draw you from one sip to the next.

Vodka, on the other hand, is a tasteless, odorless, and flavorless spirit. When you combine vodka and vermouth, what you get is diluted vermouth–hardly the sort of drink to send poets into ecstasies.

H.L. Mencken once described the martini as “the only American invention as perfect as the sonnet.” But, just as a sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines, a martini is only a martini if it follows a specific format. So please, next time you’re in the cocktail bar, spare yourself the embarrassment and your taste buds the unpleasantness of vodka-diluted vermouth and instead order a true martini. What you’ll get is a drink as beautiful and sophisticated as you!

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The Return

I’m still settling into my return to America. I’m slowly readjusting to the idea of readily available high-quality coffee, to the superabundance of cheap, high quality food (there’s a paradox: the daily staples of an East African diet can be had for $1 – $2 a meal, but the cheap staples of a humble American meal–a good loaf of bread, say, and some hard cheese–cannot be had at any price). The produce in East Africa is fresher than much of the produce here in the United States–but, paradoxically, not of higher quality. We grow better varieties of apples, citrus here.

The biggest change has been becoming reaquainted with the safety and security of America. I still find myself going tense when someone walks into a bathroom behind, when a car drives up behind me in the street. I still feel nervous when using my (replacement) iPhone in the street, worry that someone might use the cord between my earphones and my phone to attempt to snatch it from me. I’ve found myself thinking, for the first and only time in my life, that it might be useful to take some self-defense classes, to take boxing lessons, to learn how to dodge and throw punches.

Self-defense, like iron-smelting, is a delightfully useless skill in America. (In fact, the statistics bear out that preparing in self defense in America makes your more likely to be involved in violence.) The use of force here has been surrendured to an astonishing degree to the police and civil authorities. It’s conceivable to be involved in a fight in America (typically over some perceived slight).

I imagine that East Africa today (or, at least, its big population centers–Nairobi, Dar es Salaam) is much like the 19th century American West, where each individual is responsible for maintaining his own personal security, but a credible threat of violence. Frankly, I’ll say its far more pleasant to live without being under a constant threat of violence.

East Africa was a bruising and eye-opening experience. I don’t know if there’s another society other than America where individuals have so much liberty and also so much security. There’s generally a trade-off between liberty and security, but someone America has managed to push the production frontier of that relationship far further from the origin than any other society. How did we get here? To what do owe our tremendous richness of both liberty and security?

The truth is, though I certainly did not admit this to myself while travelling there, I didn’t much enjoy East Africa. East Africa is poor in many of the ways that make traveling rich.

I found East Africa to be culturally uninteresting. It’s difficult to say if this is because East Africa is westernized, if it’s because African culture has a strong presence in American culture (and so is familiar), or if East Africa is still caught in the grips of its pre-colonial tribalism, recent colonial heritage,. National identity is weak. Since the nations are (relatievly) newly minted by colonial powers, its not realistic to expect any sort of national art forms. There’s barely national unity (perhaps art could help with this). The music, mostly hip-hop and reggae, was nothing I hadn’t heard before (the bands were different, but the style was substantially the same). The modes of dress were generally very western (except, perhaps, for the Masai–but the Masai have been so over romaticized and have become reflexively aware of the commercial promise of their romantic allure of their traditional ways). The architecture was either mud huts or colonial. There was very little in the way of public art. The art galleries that existed all produced art in a very similar and hackneyed vein, which seemed more reflective on what a tourist might think typical of Africa and be inclined to purchase than any sort of true artistic expression. That is, I walked into a half dozen galleries across four countries and everywhere the art was the exact same (paintings of baobao trees, women with exaggerated curves carrying clay pots upon their  heads, paintings of the outline of the continent of Africa, of elephants and giraffes).

The food, suffice to say, was shit. One of the first words of Swahili I learned was the word for salt (“chumvi”). Bland and very repetitive. The meat was consistently gristle-bound, tough, and flavorless. And many of the staples of East African food were obvious imports. Wheat does not grow in East Africa, yet chapati (or “chapat”), (someone resembling the Indian flatbread of its namesake), was ubiquitous, and made from imported flour.

Aside from those going on safari or a mountain trek, travelers were few and far between. Only the largest (or decidedly “tourist” oriented) cities had hostels or any sort of accommodations oriented toward international travelers. As such, few of us such as we were, there was little opportunity to meet other travelers.

And, frankly, I didn’t much care for the people. My suspicion is that a century of colonialism followed by a half-century of neo-colonialism under the guise of aid work has conditioned Africans to view all white western travelers as Santa Claus. Perhaps rightfully so–aside from major tourist destinations, aid workers outnumbered travelers. Even the friendships I struck up while traveling in Uganda seem now, in retrospect, to have been less interested in me as an individual than me as a potential source of free drinks or other largess.

Plain speaking and honest dealing are not African values or virtues. I think deference is made to pleasantness, harmony.

And dear god, what an unpleasant place to travel (at least by means of public transportation). Self-driving would be fine (though the safety and security of your vehicle would be a constant concern). But nowhere, in all my travels in the developing world, were the means of public transport so uncomfortable or so unsafe. Between major destinations there were usually large buses. Though usually stifling hot (and never air conditioned) a bus guaranteed that you would get a whole seat to yourself.

As with previous travels, I suspect my greatest “gain” from my months in Africa this summer is a keener appreciation for this place I call home.

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