Saturday, February 28, 2009

Remembering Peter Decker

This is not about the famous fictional detective, but instead about a childhood friend. Peter Decker is pictured in the photo, he is standing on the right and his friend Scott is on the left.

It's been raining for a couple of weeks in California and usually at least once during the rains I am reminded of Peter who we lost during a rainy season.

It was March 1978. I had just started high school and Peter, a year younger, was still in junior high. That year the rains were heavy and relentless. Our horses were in knee deep mud and the bottom part of our orchard was a river a couple feet deep. This was Southern California and NOT normal.

At one point during that time, I was in a car driving past the nearby country club golf course - part of which you can see from the street (Yorba Linda Blvd). A very impressive impromptu river was flowing down the middle of it. While being duly amazed, , I didn't think much more abut it. Peter and our mutual friend Scott, took one look at that and thought what many young boys thought. Rafting!

But there is a common tenant in river running: Know the route - usually by visually inspecting it from the shore. This, of course, didn't occur to the boys. All they saw was a good time, and who could blame them?

The boys fashioned a raft or rafts out of something (I'm not sure what), and started down. As with most flowing water, it was going much faster than they expected. At the end of this section of the golf course (around Kellogg Dr. you can see a sat photo here.) the river of water hurtled into a drain pipe. Scott bailed off, but Peter was sucked into the drain pipe. At this point, this would have been a traumatic, but survivable event. What turned it into tragedy was that for reasons I have never understood, there was a metal grate at the end of that pipe (and only one end), and Peter drowned.

These days such a scenario has wrongful death written all over it but being a grieving kid, I don't know what happened in that regard if anything.

Peter was like any Junior High School boy, A perfect tormentor of girls near his age. Our friendship was just as typically combative. He would relentlessly tease me and I'd beg for him to stop or go away. That year we were in different schools so I hadn't seen much of him, but just a few days before he died chance had it that our buses let out at the same time and we walked home together. This was not a happy experience for me. We lived on country blocks and I just double checked the distance with Google. 1000' of Peter torment (more that 3 football fields). What's amazing is that I have absolutely no recollection of what he said, but rest assured it was content-free - things like mangling my name, or making up ridiculous scenarios and asking questions about them mostly having to do with if it's something I would do/contemplate. The usual crap.

But then we'd reached my house (his was 3 houses further), and he suddenly dropped his barrage. Asked me a normal question about my day and we actually had a brief, but genuine conversation which was highly unusual. And we parted on civil terms. Even said polite goodbyes to each other which at the time I found to be a pleasant surprise. A few days later he was dead, and I'm left to wig out about it for every rainy season for the rest of my life.

[Edit much later
Google has been scanning old newspapers and I have found an article that references the incident. The location is wrong, but the date is 1978.,2734876&hl=en]

I Can Finally Ski Decently

After struggling for two seasons, I can finally ski decently (albeit relatively slowly). Parallel turns, weight on the outside ski, don't freak out about the speed (mostly), and even pole plants. This is on moderate blues like Trailblazer at Sugarbowl. Harder blues (like the ones on Mt. Disney) I'm quite bad at and am not even thinking about blacks. The major breakthrough was ponying up for better, more responsive skis. When I ask my current skis to turn they say "Right Away" My older ones though parabolic, were more "Let me get back to you, well, ok." Perfect on greens, but tough on steeper slopes. I am a little concerned that my Tele skis are also this type of ski, but I think I'll wait on worrying about that.

My left leg fatigue is still there but improving. I don't know if it's because my skiing skill is better and hence less wasted effort, or my legs are getting used to skiing, or because of the heavier weight training - (I'm lifting way more than I ever thought I could because of a mountaineering trainer's encouragement) or a combination.

Noticed a tele lesson going on and went over to say hi. It was actually an Alpine Skills International group which are the exact tele lessons I'm thinking of taking. I'd been waiting to take their class till I was a better skiier, but I think I'm as good a skiier as his students. His name was Jeff.

I'm just so happy that I've come so far from falling off of chairlifts when trying to exit. Today I steered around two different spills at chairlift exits and I avoided crashing into a snow boarder who wiped out right in front of me. He was very apologetic and I told him it was ok as I got to work on stopping. His instructor was amused.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coming Out: I was Once an ASH'er

Warning this is not a cheery topic though I have 10 years of distance on it. Those who have come to know me (after that time period) will likely not believe this. It sounds like a different person. And that's exactly what major depression is like.

A decade ago, I was desperately depressed and suicidal (mostly inwardly, but some very subtle outward). I needed a place to talk about the hell I was going through. To talk bluntly about it. Very bluntly. No encouraging words. "No hang in there" crap. Just needed to tell an understanding group of people that I seriously wanted the hell out of life, because depression makes life so physically and emotionally painful that all you want is out.

ASH was that place. ASH is a USENET newsgroup that stands for It no longer exists today but now is just mostly a spam trap. I haven't worked up the nerve to post what name I used there. Nor am I sure how relevant is it to this particular post.

ASH was not a support group, and yet it very much was. Just by being a place people could go and talk about what they were feeling with out someone trying to talk them out of it is (to make a really bad word choice) refreshing. It was an emotionally risky place (I created a post like that on ASH which someday I might post the link to) to be as you come to care about the people there, even though you support their right to end their lives and their suffering if they so choose. Most people survive their stint on ASH (the newer antidepressants save countless lives, but there are 15% of people for whom they don't work for), but the exceptions haunt you.

And I think that is the most important thing. If someone you know even mentions vaguely in passing thoughts of suicide, talk to them about it. Find out how their feeling and try not to cheer them up unless you sense they truly do want that. Depression is a horrible awful place to be and the more you are able to listen the better. If it's too much (it often is), then really encourage them to talk to a therapist. Reassure them that they're not going to get locked up unless the therapist thinks they are an immediate danger to themselves or someone else.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Facebook - I Finally Gave In

I'd been resisting joining Facebook despite multiple invitations. I have so many email accounts that it was hard to muster up the energy for another time sink. But I kept noticing just how many people I knew were on it which made it more intriguing.

But the thing that put it over the top for me was a different thing. I am working on a long blog entry about the drowning death of a childhood friend that rocked my community pretty hard (the rains remind me of him and his story needs to be told to the internet.) I did find references to it. You guessed it - on Facebook. Now most of the information I could get to and not be on Facebook but at that point since I was already there, it was just as easy to join and get full access.

Facebook is bewildering and that's even with help. What's scary is the amount of matching it can do and find people to suggest as friends and it turns out you know these people. Well most of them. There are a couple who sought me out and I don't know why they are. One of them I think I'll send email to and ask, politely, who the heck they are (we have one person in common so they're not a complete stranger.) the other was likely looking for a videographer as that invite happened when I publicized my No on Prop 8 video.

I must say this does bring up old High School anxieties. Even though it doesn't happen to me now (actually it never did - that was more my fear), what if someone were to send out friend requests and nobody responded? You could orchestrate a virtual shunning - something that I bet high schoolers are really good at. Especially since Facebook is really good about saying who took who as a friend. I can just imagine the drama. "You took Person-x as a friend? You are dead to me." Oh the tension. Oh the very real pain for some.

At least it's less tacky and more adult than MySpace and more relevant that Tribe, and I do have my advisors and it's a great way to keep track of agility people though that's not very hard. Just go to an agility trial with in 100 miles (or more). You'll find them. There are agility people who live hours away (even out of state) that I see on a regular basis. Now that's dedication.

Now about this sheep being thrown at me...

Skiing in Warm Snowstorms - Yeeck

So I had what I thought was a great idea. On Sunday, there was going to be a storm coming in at night, but the report said that it was only supposed to be snowing lightly during the day. I wanted to go skiing, but didn't want to have to do what could be an exciting drive on top of it so I instead took the Bay Area Ski Bus ( Well there's one leetle thing that I neglected to take into account. How warm it was going to be. Snow falling in warm conditions often turns into rain, but I'm jumping ahead.

First bad sign was that the host came on the PA when we were around Dixon and said it was raining at Sugarbowl (where we were going) and many of the lifts were closed. Two other resorts, Northstar and Sierra at Tahoe were offered where conditions were a little better and the group selected Northstar. Now the bummer of the bus is that there isn't some magic opt-out button. You are stuck with the group decision (I was hoping to still go to Sugarbowl, but was happy to do Northstar as I hadn't seen it in years.) Fortunately the ski bus had Northstar lift tickets for only $40 which was less than what I would pay with my Day Pass at Sugarbowl.

So we get there and it is raining, but we hear that conditions are better higher up. So we all take the gondola up to the "Mid Mountain Lodge" where it is sort of snowing, and the final day of the Dew Tour Snowboarding Super Pipe Competition is going on which is cool

Then I notice what the falling snow is doing. It's melting the second it lands. Snow normally when it lands on you, just easily brushes off. Not this. This really isn't snow. This is rain falling in the form of snow. Just walking around checking the place out, I'm getting wet. I take two baby beginner runs and I'm soaking and I can hardly see - I didn't bring googles, just sunglasses. I retreat into the lodge to dry out and read my book (about mountaineering accidents - yes, really - I do like cautionary tales as I learn from them).

After a while, conditions improve some and the women are going to be doing the final runs, so it seemed like a good time to go up and watch. It sure was. I saw the winning run by 17 (!) year old Austrailian Tora Bright. and I also saw Kelly Clark's high flying second place run (which was also stellar). The atheticism and the eye candy almost made it worth it. :)

I took 2 longer runs before conditions worsened again and I then gave up. The really good skiiers who were able to get higher up on the mountain where getting all snow and were having a magical time which we all were getting drenched which is a reason to get that good.

Then came the long, long drive home. Because we are now on the wrong side of Donner Pass chain controls are in effect and Cal Trans has blocked off lanes to check all the vehicles and we were on a smaller highway before even getting to I-80. Just to get going on 80 took 2 1/2 hours which would normally be under 30 minutes. They had brought a bunch of movies, so I got to watch that paeon to paranoia The Game and also some forgettable Office caper film. But it still was just arduous and I was thinking that if I had driven to Sugarbowl I could have left at noon when I realized just how bad it was and spend the day with Terri and go play with the dogs.

So the lesson was twofold
- snow in warm conditions can easily turn into rain or melt-on-contact might-as-well-be-rain
- the Ski Bus can get you there in questionable conditions that you may not want to drive in, but there is no guarentee that you will like it.

And the most important take away for me is that: I'm working on building my ski skills. Less than optimum conditions take away from that focus since that is not what I'm working on. I really need to stick with good weather conditions to get the most out of my ski time.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Help! There's a Hostile Takeover in My Mailbox

I innocently opened up the mail and in it was something from Sharebuilder that looked like it would be an annual report though it's a bit late for that. I was just about to toss it into the ignore for a while pile but something got me to open it.

It's from Roche offering to buy my glorious 1.5 shares (Sharebuilder gets the credit for allowing me to buy partial shares) of Genetech for 86.50 per share. Now given that it's a great time to be buying stock, but a rotten time to be selling it, my "Scooby Sense" (as Rachel Maddow is fond of saying) stated to go off.

Reading further I see:
On July 21, 2008 Roche publicly announced an
unsolicited proposal to acquire all of the outstanding shares of Genentech common stock not owned by them, and proposed a merger at $89/share.

On Aug 13, 2008 a committee of the board of directors of Genentech said sod off. No, that's not what they said. It says they:
rejected that proposal as substantially undervaluing Genentech.

It goes on to say that
In light of the lack of progress, we have decided to make an offer directory to Genentech's stockholders thereby giving the public stockholders the opportunity to determine whether to accept the offer.
Yikes, that doesn't sound friendly at all, not only that, they are offering stockholders a lower offer than the rejected offer - what do they take us for - morons apparently. I do believe this is a hostile take over that has just been hand delivered to me by a US Government Official (my friend Pierre gets credit for that description :). Once again, the news is affecting me (though granted this is no Prop 8).

Doing some casual checking of actual news sources, rather than what I've been handed shows:

Genentech Rejects Takeover Bid from Roche
Roche takes its offer to Genentech Shareholders [that's me apparently - wave]

And what would Roche do if they are successful? Take all their new toys and go home. Yep, they would absorb it into Roche and de-list it from the NY Stock exchange. Now I don't mind semi private holdings at all, I work for a private company. But to have a good public company be taken away (via a Low Ball Offer even) and deprive ordinary stock holders of any benefit of Genentech's innovations, just really rubs me the wrong way. Although I guess we would all become Roche stockholders but that means that Genentech's actions would be wholly within Roche.

Fortunately, I don't have a lot of money invested in them and it's worth it for me to just hang in there just so I can write about what is going to happen next. Actually, even if I had a lot of money invested I wouldn't take such a bad offer anyway. Should be interesting to see how this all works out. The Reply deadline is March 9, 2009.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Arkansas Ice Storm (Jan 2009)

On Jan 28-29, 2009 Arkansas, Kentucky, parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and other surrounding areas were hit with a fierce ice storm. Here in Calif it made the news once or twice and then disappeared. A week after that I got a call from my friends in Arkansas. They just got phone service, but were still without power and were looking at at least another week without power, and that turned out to not be an exaggeration.

The full impact of such an experience can not be carried off in the media, but it was certainly underreported here. Now I don't get CNN, but I get CNN news alerts via email and there was hardly a mention of it.

The night of the 28th was completely unreal as ice was falling from the sky and accumulating on the trees and power poles and transformers. When the weight of the ice became too much for the object being piled up on, it would splinter, crack or just explode. It felt like bombs were going off. They've been there around 20 years and have never been through anything quite like it. 90% of the power grid was impacted.

A sobering reference is here:
though that link no longer works

Here are some closely related ones:

And alarming images like this one can be found at

And my friends? It took them over a week to clear the trees from the driveway so they could get out. This is only after being imprisoned in the house for a couple of days because it was just too hazardous to go out because of falling ice.

This is John standing in front of their driveway that you can no longer see and the downed trees were much worse further back:

They lost a lot of trees and many more were damaged:

The other more heroic effort was to keep the birds and the fish alive. They lost a lot of fish as they had to hand pump oxygen into the tanks. Furthermore their primary source of heat became the wood stove (after they had all piled into a much smaller part of the house) and the parrots skin dried badly in the lack of humidity so they had to be misted which must of puzzled them no end.

Fortunately my friends have survived the ordeal (there were 50 or so deaths having to do with falling ice, hypothermia, and carbon monoxide poisoning) now have power and are enjoying hot showers again. What's alarming is that there are some still without power according to the Power Cooperatives website. This is not for lack of trying. Some 700 people were involved in the restoration of miles of downed power poles.

When they got power back I got this celebratory missive:


Sometimes the most impressive of dramas are going on not very far away.

Friday, February 06, 2009

A Real Skiing Lesson - The Alpine World Championships

I'm not used to having what ski instructors tell me show up at the World Championship level, but that is exactly what's happening now.

A basic truism of skiing is keep your weight on the outside ski - there are a ton of references on this, but my fav is Lito Tejada-Flores with his DVDs and web site: Breakthrough on skis. It's easy to think that this is just something they tell you to help you learn, but I'm watching the Alpine World Cup on Universal Sports Womens Super G that was just held 3 days ago on Feb 3rd (well the whole competition will be going on for a while) in Val d'isere, France. This is a tough, very curvy Super-G course and the object lessons were (a) memorize the course carefully (you don't get to practice on it) as there were a lot of missed gates and (b) keep your weight on the outside ski. You are going at very unforgiving speeds: if you lean in you will go down or your inside ski could catch an edge and send you flying. While there were good examples of that in that competition, an excellent example of that happening, also happened on Dec 5th at Lake Louise, NY to Romanian Edith Miklos here. A different less dramatic example is here.

American Lyndsey Vonn is currently in the lead of the entire competition (she did win the Super G event with a beautiful run, and also Lake Louise as well), and will no doubt become a household name during the Olympics in Vancouver. The results page is here.

So keep that weight on the outside ski when turning.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Altitude Blinders

I just realized that I am a world class idiot, but I'm not supposed to look at it that way. I'm supposed to be giving myself a break with this realization and just because I was too blind to not figure it out years ago does not mean I get to stop giving myself said break.

As I've whined before, I struggle with altitude, especially above 11,500' though I have been able to adjust to 12,000' and have been up to 13,000' 3 different times. When I was younger and MS-free and hiking with my Dad, climbing was relatively easy if I spent one night at altitude beforehand. I've climbed San Gergonio peak, Kearsarge Pass, and Gardiner Pass.

Well in one of those k'duh moments, I finally looked up the altitude of such lofty places. They are, in order: 11,500', 11,700, and 11,250'. None, precisely none, were at or above 12,000' Up until I started the Whitney and Shasta follies, I have probably never been above 12,000' unless it was on a plane or on a Swiss cog train. My pre-Whitney adult hiking experience (after those Sierra hikes with my Dad) was in the relatively low California coastal mountains.

So I need to just lay off on myself and take the proper time to aclimate. The trouble on the Whitney trail is that the altitude jumps between the camps are 2,000' and my body and most official texts on the subject of aclimatization prefer 1500'. Fortunately in the Outpost (10,000') to Trail Camp (12,000') climb there is Consultation Lake which is around 11,680' and a lovely place to camp from what I understand. I hate to give up that 400' on summit day, but it beats being sick even before summit day.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Want to Climb Mt. Whitney? - Apply for a Permit Now (Feb)

Mt. Whitney being the tallest mountain in the continental U.S. is probably one of the most popular trails in the entire country. Good reason too - it's a very beautiful striking place. However its popularity means that the trail has quota restrictions on it for half the year (May 1 to November 1), and that there is a lottery to decide who gets the permits. Unlike the various state lotteries, the odds of securing a permit are actually very good if you are flexible and go with only a few people.

I've been there several times and I'm realizing that people aren't always familiar with the permit application/lottery process.

First of all, the absolutely most important page to consult is this one:

and the most important factoid to gleem is that February is the month to apply for the Main Trail permits for May1 - Nov 1. Which means NOW! If you want to go up Whitney on the Main Trail (by far the most common), you need to get your rear in gear.

The information page on the lottery itself is here:

First you down load this form (this is the pdf version):

Fill it in listing as many possible dates as possible. By far the best thing you can do is list something like "any 3 [or how many you want] days from [start date] to [end date]." Generally the snow hangs around till early July. I assure you that if you include June in your list, you will get June. It might (sadly) be a low snow year and that may be ok, but odds are good you will see snow, and if you don't have snow skills, it could put the kabosh on your summit bid. It happened to me and that was my inspiration to learn snow skills, so it ultimately was a good thing, but you may not see it in that positive of a light. :)

When you're done filling out the form, you must mail it in to the address listed on the info pages with a Feb postmark. The lottery process starts Feb 15th so mailing it in now is a Really Good Idea. Applications received after Feb 15, but still in Feb will just get added to the pile. Remember the more flexible you are with dates the better the odds that we'll see you on the mountain.

Day vs. Overnight. While carrying a pack is not that fun, the overnight people suffer much less than those trying to climb and descend 6000' over 22 miles in 24 hours. Honestly, I've never tried it in a day and hope to one day, but for a first time, you will be far happier if you do an overnight trip.

Camps. Most people push on to Trail Camp at 12,000' which probably makes the most sense if you intend to summit in 2 days, but the lower camp: Outpost at 10,000' is much, much nicer is below treeline and has a lovely waterfall.

One thing. If you do get a permit (ok it's a voucher that allows you to pick up your actual permit the day before your trip), remember to reserve a camp spot at Whitney Portal the day before you go in. The pain-in-the-rear reservation site is here:

and using it is akward at best. On the left in the search area set the state to California and in the Park or Facility name say "whitney portal" and that should get you started. If you have registered with them before it may have your info - or not. :(

There are walk-in campsites, but I never have tried it as the very last thing I want to contend with right before an important climb is a full campsite. The main portal campsite is very nice and I have my favorite spots but I'm not telling. :)

When you're there, you absolutely must go see Doug Sr. at the Whitley Portal Store. His knowledge of the mountain is amazing and he truly is a dear, who I love visiting with. Plus the food is delicious especially after you've been on the mountain a while. Warning if you order a pancake, split it with someone as it's the size of a serving platter - this is not a joke. Also, if you are ever planning on going up the "Mountaineer's Route" (not the Main Trail) talking with Doug Sr. about it is invaluable. I also have an older trip that has details on the lower portion of the Mountaineer's Route (up to the two Boy Scout Lakes) here.

Oh, and in the Major Bummer dept is you have to:
  • carry and use a Bear Canister
  • carry and use a "Wag" bag for packing out your poop
If someone comes up with a way to make the Wag bags stink less I'd love to hear about it. They do stink less on Shasta but that's because it's in snow and much colder.

Best of luck and hope to see you on the mountain.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass

Sue Grafton's T is for Trespass is one seriously creepy book.

It's not the violence, there is some, but not a lot by today's standards. It's about those who prey on the elderly. getting them to trust them and then abusing them and slowly and systematically robbing them blind. I have elderly parents (fortunately with 3 kids who keep an eye out), but even so the heebee geebee factor is way high. The mind games (and the complete lack of empathy) of the perpatrator just completely unsettled me. My compliments.

I love Grafton's books as I lived in Santa Barbara for 9 years and even though most of the street names are changed she only changes them a little so fans like me know exactly were she's talking about. Cabana Blvd is actually Cabrillo, Capilo is Castillo (there's also Carillo, all major streets - Santa Barbara is tough for lost tourists). Floresta is actually Firgueroa. Far as I can tell where Kinsey lives is completely made up, but with some exceptions, that's about it the rest is completely easy to vizualize which is totally cool.

I listen to the audio books from and I really like this narrator, more than the previous one with a New England accent (Kinsey lives in S. Calif - decidedly not from New England). My only complaint is that neither of then can pronounce San Luis Obispo (Louis! not Louie - if you can't guess I live there too)