Monthly Archives: June 2014

Travels-Getting Engaged on Mt. Bierstadt

Maria and I got engaged at the top of Mt. Bierstadt (14,065 ft. above sea level in Clear Creek County, Colorado) on our fourth dating anniversary: May 22, 2014. Maria recently wrote up her experiences of the day at . I suggest you read that first. I’m going to write up my side of the story for this post.

I’d been planning a mountaintop engagement since we decided to travel to Denver for a post-1st-year-of-grad-school vacation. When school ended at the beginning of May and the trip started getting close, I started looking for a good mountain to hike. To my legitimate surprise, I discovered, via trip reports on, that all the tallest peaks in Colorado were still snow-bound from the trailhead to the top of the mountain. I had been in Colorado in mid-May 2009 and was able to easily hike two 14ers without special equipment. The snow hadn’t started until above the tree-line (~12k feet). I thought this was normal and expected our trip in 2014 to be similar.

2009: Not much snow at all and basically none below the treeline.

2014: Deep snow, even way beneath the tree line.

I started getting worried. Maria had never hiked a serious mountain before. Neither of us had any special equipment (snowshoes, crampons, hiking poles) and we don’t really have a ton of money to spare to buy said equipment. There was talk of constant post-holing (taking a step and having your foot fall through the snow to the ground) and some avalanche danger in the trip reports. All the people that were writing trip reports sounded like experienced climbers or skiers who had considerably more practice at climbing mountains than I did.

We flew out to Colorado, waited an hour on the tarmac to taxi to our gate due to post-tornado backup at the Denver airport, and met my friend Bryan Wallace. Bryan and I were really close friends in high school and are trying to be better at keeping in touch nowadays. Bryan wanted to join us for some hiking and had taken Thursday May 22 off to hike with us.

Maria and I went to Rocky Mountain National Park on Wednesday to get acclimated to the altitude. I was still hoping to hike a 14er on Thursday, but hadn’t decided which one. We were in good enough shape that we could easily do the Class 1 or Class 2 mountains (Elbert, Grays/Torreys, Bierstadt, Quandry, etc.) in the summertime, but some of them sounded much more treacherous this time of year. Bryan looked through the trip reports and conditions on Wednesday and suggested Bierstadt. Bierstadt wouldn’t have been my first choice in good weather conditions, but it seemed like my only choice in snow. Bierstadt had its difficulties (see below), but it was doable in the snow.

Sometime Wednesday night, long after all the shops had closed, Bryan mentioned that we could RENT snowshoes at REI. We had been at REI Wednesday morning and didn’t see any rental options. Apparently the rentals are in the basement and unmarked. REI would much rather have you purchase their overpriced equipment than rent it. So we SHOULD have rented snowshoes for our climb, but didn’t know that was an option. We would do it sans snowshoes.

Mt. Bierstadt was named after landscape painter Albert Bierstadt, who may have been the first person to summit Mt. Bierstadt and who drew a famous 12’x7’ painting titled “Storm in the Rocky Mountains” that immortalized the 14er next to Mt. Bierstadt. This peak was initially called Mt. Rosalie in honor of Bierstadt’s wife, Rosalie. The two adjacent mountains sat in marital bliss until the Colorado government thought it made more sense to honor second territorial governor of Colorado by changing Mt. Rosalie’s name to Mt. Evans. At least the naming initially made sense. If we were hiking in the summer, without snow slowing us down, we probably would have hiked Bierstadt, then crossed over to Evans via the “Sawtooth” that connects them and summited both.

Bierstadt on the right, the Sawtooth in the middle, leading to Evans on the left. Evans’ peak might not be visible in this shot.

We left around 4am Thursday morning to drive to Bierstadt. Two hours and one winding approach later, we were staring at the winter road closure. We had to park there and walk an extra 2 miles or so to the normal trailhead. Annoyingly, the road was totally clear of snow and could have easily been opened to the trailhead. Oh well, call it a warm-up.


At the normal trailhead, Maria headed off for a potty break. It was at this point that I alerted Bryan to the fact that I was going to propose if we were able to make it to the top. I caught him totally off-guard. He recovered and agreed to take a bunch of pictures of us during the climb and at the top. Maria is addicted to pictures and I knew she would want the experience documented.

It was right after the trailhead when we hit the biggest challenge of the snow-bound Bierstadt climb. There is a long (about 2 miles) flat section of the hike before you really start gaining elevation and feel like you’re climbing a mountain. In the summer, apparently this section through the “willows” is not too bad and even has some foot bridges in places. In the winter, in 3-4 feet of snow, it was hell. Despite the cold, early start to our hike, the snow was soft and we constantly post-holed. Bryan acted as our guide and had snowshoes, but Maria and I were left to the ravages of post-holing. It’s brutal to have to constantly be climbing out of holes, only to fall back in at the next step.

Example of Bryan post-holing past his knee, even with snowshoes.

After 100 yards of post-holing and knowing that there was around 2 miles more to go, I almost wised up and called it a day. We could try again tomorrow with the proper equipment. But May 22 is our anniversary and I really wanted to get to propose on our anniversary. I was stubborn. The objective part of my brain saw that there was only about a 50% chance we were going to make it to the top at a reasonable hour (storms typically blow in on the mountains around noon), but the emotional part of me still wanted to try, even if we ended up having to turn back later.

Bryan also told me later that, objectively, we probably should have turned back. After all, getting to the summit was only half the hike, and we would have to go through this flat stretch again on the way to the car. But he knew why I wanted to make the summit, so he pushed harder to finish the hike than he would have under normal conditions. And for that I am very grateful.

And so, we pushed on through the willows. There would be glorious sections where the snow was solid and we didn’t post-hole, but these would just lull you into a false sense of security. The first post-hole step after an easy section is the worst and just takes the breath right out of you.

Maria actually got stuck in a post-hole on the way up the mountain. The snow collapsed around her foot and both Bryan and I had to dig our arms down into the snow to free her foot.

Maria’s foot stuck in snow. She had attached her GoPro camera to her chest and set it up to take a picture every minute. She was trapped in this hole for 3 minutes as we struggled to get her out.

A year or two later, we finally made it out of the willows and started the serious ascent to the summit. We still had about 3000 feet of elevation to climb and were totally exhausted by constantly falling into the snow and having to step up and out. I honestly don’t have a lot to say about the ascent. We just kept putting one foot in front of the other until we made it up. The three of us all hiked at very different speeds. Brian and Maria were steady climbers, going nearly the same speed all the time. I’m more of a sprint and rest kind of person, so I would let them get a good lead on me and catch up in a minute or two. Then I would rest and repeat.


Toward the top, Maria was getting pretty tired. I was getting worried that we weren’t going to make the summit in time to avoid the on-coming dark storm clouds. It’s a terrible idea to be near the summit when a storm comes rolling in. I carried her bag the last stretch of the climb as we climbed over boulders, and we pushed each other to keep climbing.

Are we there yet?

We summited Mt. Bierstadt a little after noon! It was a devil of a climb up, but we made it. Maria’s first 14er and my third. I think it was also Bryan’s first or second snow ascent, though he’s done about a dozen summer summits. Maria and I had also taken the train to the top of Pike’s Peak, but that hardly counts. We took congratulatory pictures of each other and I told Maria to get a new battery in the GoPro so that we could take a video at the top.


While she was fiddling with the GoPro, I fished around in my bag for the ring. I palmed it in my hand as I explained that I wanted Maria to take a 360 degree photo of the summit with narration. Bryan saw what I had in mind, so he started taking pictures of Maria when she started filming. As she had her back to me, I dropped to one knee with the ring. She kept narrating until the camera came all the way back to me, where it had started. Then she realized what was happening.


I had a whole speech prepared, but with the exhaustion of the hike and the fear of the oncoming storm, all I was able to say was “Maria Schwartzman, here on top of the world, will you marry me?” Maria said something to the effect of “Oh my God, Yes.”


The video that Maria had started narrating ran throughout the proposal and ensuing hugs/kisses. Yes, folks, I tricked my fiancée into filming her own engagement.

After more happy pictures and celebration chocolate bars, we again noticed the storm and decided to get going. We retraced our steps through the boulders.

When we reached the part of the ascent that was clear of huge rocks, we tried our hand at glissading down the mountain. This is a technical term for sledding down the mountain on your butt. It was a lot of fun and took us down a few hundred feet, but we still had a huge hike ahead of us back to the cars.

Sliding a bit of the way back down the mountain.

Once we got back to the willows, we tried a new strategy. I stole Bryan’s snowshoes and acted as a bulldozer, crushing a path through the snow that Maria and Bryan could follow. I think this, combined with the falling temperatures and hardening snow, helped us get through the willows much easier the second time. We didn’t fall into holes nearly as much and were still running on adrenaline from our summit experience.

About halfway through the willows, the storm hit. However, it didn’t fling lightning and rain at us, as expected. Instead, it started to blizzard. We made it the rest of the way to the road in a blizzard. My toes and fingers were frozen. My knees were sore from tripping on the descent once and from walking a foot at a time as I made a trail through the willows.


We hiked the couple miles down the road back to the car and made it there sometime around 4pm. Yes, it was a very long and slow 10 hour trip. Yes, we probably should have called it a day and saved some serious exhaustion about a half mile into the trip. But everyone was really pleased with the result. We conquered a really tough snow-bound climb. We got engaged! We got to butt-slide down a huge mountain. And we developed a semi-effective approach to avoiding post-holing when you only have one pair of snowshoes for multiple people. All in all, a success! Hope you enjoyed the write-up and thanks for reading!

Engaged! May 22, 2014.

Book Review- From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg

From Gutenberg to Zuckerberg
by John Naughton, 2011

gutenberg zuckerberg

This book gives nine rules for understanding the role of the internet in creating and spreading disruptive innovations:
1. Take the Long View
2. The Web Is Not the Net
3. For the Net, Disruption Is a Feature, Not a Bug
4. Think Ecology, Not Just Economics
5. Complexity Is the New Reality
6. The Network Is Now the Computer
7. The Web Is Evolving
8. Copyrights and “Copywrongs”: Or, Why Our Intellectual Property Regime No Longer Makes Sense
9. Orwell vs. Huxley: The Bookends of Our Networked Future?

It is a fairly quick read, and much of the material will be familiar to the internet-savvy. However, I think it does have some good insights. One thing that interested me was the evolution of market share in new technological innovations. When the telephone was introduced, many small phone networks were created until Bell/AT&T offered better service and took over the market. When radio was introduced, there were many broadcasters all seeking to share information. After some years, a handful (or less) of advertisers and broadcasters came to dominate the popular soap opera radio programs. Three network providers quickly came to dominate television in the second half of the twentieth century. When computers started to become useful, many hardware providers vied for market share. But the market was dominated by Microsoft and Apple by the 1990’s. And the internet? Are we moving from an era of many content providers to an era dominated by a few companies? Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo!, Baidu (Chinese search engine), Wikipedia, QQ (Asian internet portal), LinkedIn, Bing, and Twitter get the most traffic. Do they get a majority of the traffic? A significant majority? It seems these companies get more and more traffic each day as more and more people accept their service or join their network. While I understand that networks increase in value as more and more people join them, it does seem troubling that a small number of companies/networks hold the key to the future evolution of the internet.

Scout Scheduling

Interesting cover story in the most recent Analytics magazine from INFORMS. It tells the story of how The Perduco Group, a small defense consulting firm out of Dayton, Ohio, started offering services in the field of sports analytics. Yes, right now it appears the firm only has one lead analyst in the sports realm, but they still have a variety of interesting services/offerings.

The most interesting offering in the sports realm was in the scheduling of the travel of scouts. It makes sense that you would want to maximize the time your scouts spend viewing high value recruits while minimizing travel costs. Once schedules and players of interest are inputted, it seems like a great area for automation/optimization. Great idea.

A small company that focuses on defense and sports. Seems right up my alley.

sports scheduling header
(Image from The Perduco Group’s website!scout-scheduling/c1gq4. Click on the image to see it a bit larger.)

Theory Tuesday- Generating a Random Number from any Probability Distribution

Assumption: You can generate X, a random number from a Uniform[0,1] Distribution. There are many ways to do that.

The objective is to turn X, which is uniformly distributed between 0 and 1, into Y, which is a random number from a probability distribution of your choosing. Examples of probability distributions are the Normal Distribution, Exponential Distribution, and Beta Distributions.

Key insight: All probability values are between 0 and 1. The cumulative distribution function (CDF) for a probability distribution gives the percent of the distribution that is below a value in the distribution. Take X, the number in Uniform[0,1], and transform it into Y, a value in your distribution of interest that has CDF X.

Example: Say you generate X=.766 and want a random number, Y, from the standard normal distribution (mean=0, standard deviation=1). Abbreviate the standard normal distribution as N[0,1]. Let F(x) be the CDF of N[0,1]. To generate Y~N[0,1], we need to find Y=F^{-1}(X), where F^{-1} is the inverse of the CDF. We can look up F^{-1}(X)=F^{-1}(.766) in a normal distribution table or by using the function norm.inv(.766,0,1) in Excel. We find that the value of interest is Y=.7257.

For distributions whose CDF is invertible, we can find equations for Y, the random number from the distribution. Take the exponential distribution for example. The CDF of the exponential distribution with mean 1/\lambda is F(y)=1-e^{-\lambda y}. Solve F(y)=x for y. We find y=F^{-1}(x)=\frac{-\ln(1-x)}{\lambda}. Now, when we generate any X~U[0,1], we can use the equation for F^{-1}(X) to find Y, which is a random number from the exponential distribution.

For distributions whose CDF is not continuous, you will want to find the smallest Y who has a CDF of at least X.

Life Tips- Do What You Can, Then Let It Go

We have a lot of defined deliverables in our lives– work that comes with a deadline. And you bust your ass to create a good product, produce good work, and line yourself up for rewards. Which is great. But remember that once your deliverable is presented/turned in/sent into the ether, there’s not much more you can do. Don’t fret about the results. Let it go.


Worrying about the deliverable’s reception doesn’t do anyone any good. It makes you stressed and it annoys your co-workers that have to listen to you.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t do all you can to position your deliverable in a good place. You should. But all the accessory stress that comes with worrying about the fate of the deliverable should be avoided at all cost. After all, who has time to worry? Go work on your next project.

Code Monkey Mondays- LaTeX for WordPress

If you like to write math and run a blog with WordPress, it may be useful to know how to use LaTeX in your posts. First question: do you host your own blog and use as the formatting system or does host your blog?

Self-hosting with formatting:

This is what I use for my site. Goto Plugins and search for LaTeX. Install the plugin WP LaTeX. You can now add equations and math to your posts by typing “latex mathy-LaTeX-code” with $ instead of quotes. So, for example, “latex e=mc^2” would become e=mc^2 if I had used the dollar signs instead of the quotes on the outside of the expression. To allow similar expressions to be used in your comments, goto the Plugin settings and enable the comments parsing.

Blog hosted by

You don’t need to install any plugins. Just type LaTeX as described above and it will auto-parse.

Travels- Comparing Keeneland to Churchill Downs

I’m no horse racing connoisseur. But I’ve watched the Kentucky Derby for years. In the past few months, I was finally able to make it out to Keeneland in the fall and Churchill Downs in the early summer. Here are my thoughts about the two.

-Located outside Lexington, which is better than the Downs’ Louisville, though I may be biased.
-Great view of the entire track from the seats. Churchill Downs’ track seemed gigantic, and you couldn’t tell what was happening on the far side of the track during the race.
-Helpful tutorial offered before the racing started about how to pick horses and place bets.

Churchill Downs:
-Obviously more famous. More grandiose, with towering spires.
-Better options for seating. We had five people and were able to get a little 6 person box that kept us from climbing over other people when we went to bet.

I made money at Keeneland. I lost quite a bit of money at Churchill Downs. On an unrelated note, I liked Keeneland better.

Book Review- How to Write a Lot

How to Write a Lot
By Paul Silvia, 2007

how to write a lot

How to Write a Lot discusses the not-so-secret secrets of academic writing. The main argument of the book can be distilled into this sentence: Schedule your writing time, and stick to the schedule so that writing becomes a habit. Prolific writers write according a schedule. Binge writers, never finding time for writing and always facing deadlines, don’t end up writing much.

This book was a quick read and funny in places. The introductory chapters and the chapter about style were the most useful for me. The rest of the book delved a little too deeply into the specifics of writing in the psychology field. The details about how to write journal articles and books focused upon psychology articles/books, but some insights can be gleaned for any field.

One of my goals is to begin to structure my time more wisely this summer. Here’s hoping that I begin to write a lot.

Project Updates- June 12, 2014

I have goals this summer of doing my own research and writing up the results, as well as doing some general-purpose technical reading. I’m doing great on the technical reading. I read a journal article in the morning, and I’ve read half of a queuing theory book as well as half of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Kahneman. I’ve had some ideas for my own research, but have had trouble motivating myself to put them on paper/computer. Will keep trying.