Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Callanish Standing Stones

I have a thing for rocks, and I've been happy to discover that there are a lot of people throughout history who have also had a thing for rocks. And having a thing for rocks and art done with stone leads one on all sorts of fun adventures.

But it's not just rocks really. It's the people behind them. I love stone circles and other monuments and I love the things I learn along the way simply by following the stones.

I have been all around Scotland twice just looking at stones. It was fabulous because it took me to some fantastic places. I've been to Lewis Island in the Outer Herbrides. Which is so off the beaten patch but the (pictured) Callanish Stones (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callanish_Stones) are there and I saw one photo of them and knew I had to see them in person

Journeying out to see them really brought home that it's so much more about the journey than the destination, but wow what a destination. Smaller that Stonehenge. Just as powerful and no big fences and far fewer crowds (who go away regularly). nothing like a few hour ferry ride to put a dent in the wandering tourists. We did run into some Americans but they were the nicest Americans you could wish for.

And the fantastic thing about Callanish is that Callanish I is only the beginning. On the wiki page skip down to "Other nearby sites" and you have the ultimate geocaching adventure listed. I was tromping about in a cow pasture, looking for one of the obscure marker stones, trying to parse out sort of vague instructions, and I realized that I was having a most excellent, outside the box, adventure. These days I have no doubt that all the sites have GPS coordinates, but I had no such thing and even if I did I would still have a fabulous time.

The bummer is that you can't do this on a tour bus. You need a car and one of you needs to know how to drive on the right side of the street (a pretty empowering skill I must say). A tour bus will take you to Callanish I and pause briefly at the very nearby Callanish II and III, but they are not about to drop you off by the side of the road with a basic map and say here's where you climb the fence (a "stile") and say go for it. I really must find and scan in some of that material as it left me with a thing for rocks and I'm a geocaching fan too, but I must say geo caching is nothing compared to this adventure.

Some googling on the other sites has shown me that others share this passion.
Here is Callanish IV standing appropriately in the middle of a sheep pasture.
You have to love getting your feet wet (sometimes more than just feet) and your pants muddy.

And I tromped all around the place to locate Callanish V:

This obsession has inspired other trip such as driving all over Scotland looking at Pictish Stones and Castles and then a trip to Orkny to see Viking and Victorian graffiti (different sites) and Neolithic home furnishings in Skara Brae (seriously - do you have a bureau? I sure don't and they did. See here.), but this is all a different post(s) sometime.

I may have a climbing obsession, but when asked about my travels I talk about rocks and their breathern, and the human side of archaeology (e.g. the need to graffiti, and make a home). I need to keep this in mind.

My Name is Jump the Gun

I don't know about other people, but when I start working out possible plans I totally jump in with too many feet way too early before I've had a chance to really think about it. Then reality hits and those feet get cold. This is annoying as it makes me look like a flake though I usually make myself follow through unless I have a really good reason. This time I signed up for an avalanche evaluation course that has some serious skiing in it - it's not cheap either. Fortunately when I signed up they didn't have their visa system set up so I don't owe them any money but I feel bad for backing out as I really like the organization that's doing it and I want to do it in 2011. Instead I'm trying to get into a women's ski camp which will be much more at my level. The bummer is that I haven't heard from them and I can't get a confirmation either way.

Now I've discovered a 3 day glacier class on Mt. Baker in Washington.

The nice thing is that it does not include a climb which should be a bummer, but I get left behind by groups especially on snow. What I can do is schedule a 1 day private climb right after the class. Then I can go at my pace AND Mt. Baker while heavily glaciated and skill demanding is not a tall mountain but is 10,781 feet (another source says 10,778' - maybe they're subtracting the snow) and well within my ability.

So I want to sign up right now. Wait a minute. That's 6 months away and it's not like it's an Everest or a popular Rainier climb (backed out of one of those too). I'm going back to Whitney in late July or any time August and I need to schedule around that and I'm going to Shasta a couple of times (late May and mid June). Whitney is the difficult one as I need to be flexible in my dates. I suppose I could not do Whitney and just aim for Baker which might be just fine. Baker would be an adventure. Whitney is just a bleepin' obsession. Oh and I wanted to check out Mt Ritter later in the year.

I also hate the idea of not having my car with me, but instead having for a rental car to just sit around and do nothing while I'm on the mountain. So I've talked myself into the 12-13 hour drive up to Seattle which will be an adventure all in itself. Then I can drop in on my parents to say hello briefly before making the 1.5 hour trip up to Bellingham where the class meets.

What I love about classes is that I learn something and I'm not struggling to keep up with a faster group. The class is not that much money so hiring a guide for one more day is doable. The only thing is that it's with the same group as before and classes are a great way to test out other organizations, but the last class I took with these guys I was under the weather and I wasn't that successful at it, and I want to show that I can do it well. It's really tempting to take their 7 day course again but I fear being completely miserable in paradise (again!) and it's quite a bit more money. Enough money that I could almost go to another country and have a fabulous time.

I had written out an inquiry about how far in advance I need to reserve the spot, but I made myself save it as a Draft (Daft?). Slow down a second. Yeesh.

I'm working on a separate blog entry about me questioning why I have this stupid obsession anyway.

[follow up and reality check]
I was watching some you tube videos of Mt Baker climbs and it shows them climbing roped, and it all came back to me. I really hate traveling over glaciated terrain where you have to be roped and spaced out at significant intervals. This is so that the others on the rope can catch you if you fall into a crevasse by throwing themselves on the snow and digging in their ice axes (this is not a joke). what I hate about is is how intrinsically lonely it is. Half the fun of climbing mountains is standing right beside someone that I'm climbing with and saying wow look over there is that cool? In glaciated terrain that has to wait until you're in a safe spot, so a lot of the spontaneity (and hence some of the experience) is lost.

If you try and do it all in a day it's a huge outing: 7000' of elevation gain as evidenced by this pretty amusing video:


The AAI course ascends to 5600'-6000' and has class from there and if you were going to do a summit climb you would start from there which is easier, but it's still nearly 5000' climb which is no easy climb, and more than I've ever done.

Of course I could just do the class and not the climb, but much as I love hanging off the side of a crevasse, I'm questioning whether it's something I really want to relearn right now esp since I'm not doing much of this kind of climbing. I love all the snow skills I've learned beforehand as they are skills that I use (you use self arrest techniques to stop yourself when glissading, but crevasse rescue is not something you ever want to have to use, so I'll put this on hold and if I want more technical climbing practice I should work it out on rock.

In the meantime, I think I'll stick to non-glaciated terrain which is way more fun and less stressful - going to focus on longer climbs with a day pack with hopefully ski mountaineering in the future which brings me right back to that avalanche hazard evaluation class.

So cooler heads have prevailed this time and I've deleted the email inquiry that started this all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How Not to Catch a Chicken

If you watched the most recent season of Survivor (I love the scenery and I love fantasizing about being one of their puzzle/game designers which means I get hooked into the drama and I've stopped worrying about any psychological damage that that might create. :)

ANYWAY, if you were watching this time you likely remember that a chicken escaped and there was much comedy of them trying to catch it until it flew up into a tree and they stood there slightly dumbfounded that a chicken could actually fly. (Please. They do. Only under the duress of a mad Survivor chasing them, but they do - if their wings aren't clipped.)

Well I, and no doubt a whole lot of other people, spent a lot of time pointlessly yelling at the TV.

I've never owned chickens, I've only taken care of my neighbors chickens when I was growing up, but even I know that CHICKENS SEE POORLY AT NIGHT.

You want to catch a chicken? Wait till dark - this is not rocket science - I could even pet the chickens after dark which as a kid is all I ever wanted to do anyway - other people on the internet say that if predators break into the hen house it's pretty much easy pickings.

Oh you've chased the chicken way up a tree? Well bummer for you (d'oh). What amazed me is that you'd think that with that many people, one would know this about chicken. And, of course, the one scary redneck guy who was guaranteed to know that was in the other tribe. So instead they let the chicken wander around until one of them couldn't take it anymore and devised a net which actually worked, but it would have been so much simpler to just wait.

One interesting tidbit is that Russell tried to let the chickens out one night to create chaos, but the story line ended there. I think we can fill in the rest. He opened the door and the chickens just stared blankly in his general direction. They couldn't really see what he was doing - so no drama resulted and it just turned into a teaser to put in a commercial and that's as far as it went.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Loma Linda a Blue Zone? More like a Smog Zone

There's a book out talking about the "Blue Zones" which are areas where the population stays active and often lives to be 100 years old.

Places like Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy are not surprising and they have been previously noted, but also mentioned is Loma Linda, California.

Really? I never could have predicted that.
Loma Linda is located here:

I've been there, it's not terribly notable except for being right beside the larger city of San Bernadino. In San Berdu and any city backed up to the San Bernadino Mountains the air is so thick and smoggy that it's oppressive esp. in summer. The air rams right against the mountains and settles down for a nice nap.

I guess air quality doesn't affect aging that much which I find completely remarkable. When I'm in smog I can tell that I'm doing my body some harm - not severe but it's not like fresh mountain or ocean air.


Mt Hood - One Man's Heroic Effort to Save His Friends

The thing that drives me nuts about accidents where everyone involved dies is that there's a huge story that is doomed not to be told except by conjecture.

There are enough clues in what we know so far about the most recent Mt. Hood tragedy to imply something dramatic happened. On Friday Katie Nolan, Luke Gullberg, and Anthony Vietti set off on a winter climb of Mt Hood in perfect conditions at 1am. When they didn't return that day at the expected 2pm, people began to worry. The next day Gullberg's body was discovered.

Halfway down this article: http://www.cnn.com/2009/US/12/15/oregon.mssing.hikers/
you get the intrigue - the one glove. Gullberg had ONE glove and it wasn't his - it was Nolan's, and it implies all sorts of drama and a very heroic effort to save his friend.

Current conjector is that Nolan was in an accident and lost a glove. Gullberg with minor injuries (or not - they may have happened later) decided to try get help and gave his gloves and pack to Nolan and took her one glove for some warmth. It appears he was then caught in an avalanche and later perished from hypothermia. But what a guy. He was doing everything he could to save his friend. This implies that Nolan was alive when he left her. He was found at 9100' so she is probably higher up, perhaps in a rudimentary snow cave (they have ice axes, but no shovel.)

We currently have no info about Vietti.

I do wish that Gullberg had taken photos after the accident, but that's the last thing you think about even though it's something that we all hang to. We know they were all smiles just beforehand so what happened happened quickly.

There is a publication called Accidents in North American mountaineering that comes out every year and is a litany of cautionary tales and some very well thought out scenarios. Their study of what might have happened to Karen McNeil and Sue Nott on Mt. Foraker is first rate.


Next year's issue should be interesting and we'll have to see if anything turned up in the following weeks. Meanwhile I'm leaving my Google Alert on the topic turned on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Locator Devices - Maybe it's Time for a Mandate on Mt. Hood

[This is the second entry on this subject]

So a friend and I were discussing devices to locate someone. I was pointing out the limitations of Avalanche Transceivers, and she was suggesting the SPOT personal locator beacon (PLB) that uses GPS technology (http://findmespot.com others listed at:http://www.rei.com/category/40002203). to be fair it's a lot more than just a PLB and you pay for that fact as it's a great, but very pricey service.

Avalanche Transceivers have a range of less than a football field. PLBs have a world wide range, but don't work under cover - meaning inside buildings, caves, thick woods, and most relevantly under a huge pile of snow that's just dropped on you. It occurred to me this morning (but before doing the research below) that the well dressed mountaineer would have to carry both(!). The GPS to get your rescuers to the avalanche area and the transceiver to help recover the body. This is not a joke. If you get buried in snow you usually have 30 minutes max. There are devices to help you get more air such as the Avalung (and here is an account of a very brave person testing it: http://outside.away.com/outside/features/200506/buried-alive.html) but that doesn't stop your core body temperature from dropping or CO2 poisoning from starting to set in.

HOWEVER! Mt Hood has designed a device to address all of these issues. It has the innocuous name of Mountain Locator Unit and more info on it is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mountain_Locator_Unit.

MLUs are radio wave based, and have a line of sight range of 20 miles which covers Mt. Hood quite nicely and it goes through snow AND they can be rented for $5 from the outdoor shops or from the Mt Hood Inn at Government Camp which is open 24 hours a day. It transmits at 168.54 MHz and rescuers have to use their own sensors to find them. You could point out that the weather was so bad that this would not have saved the currently missing climbers, but the device was invented after the horrible May 1986 incident when seven students and two faculty of the Oregon Episcopal School froze to death during an annual school climb (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Hood_climbing_accidents) where rescuers walked right by their snow cave. For whatever reason (I am not speculating publicly on this one), Mt Hood likes to kill Christians as this is the 3rd well documented time.

So this availability is why the local Oregon public is particularly angry and I must say they do have a point. An MLU is not likely to save your life, but it would give your loved ones some peace. (If you are interested in saving your own butt your party will still need to carry your own Avalanche Transceivers unless they start making the MLU Receivers available to other people besides rescuers.) Unlike Mt Foraker where Sue Nott and Karen McNeil were lost, Mt. Hood is a popular, well trodden mountain, if the batteries lasted long enough, someone would find you ... eventually.

The mountaineering community opposes mandatory use of MLUs as it would increase the chances that someone might take. I'm not sure that's entirely valid though there are examples of people with Personal Locator Beacons doing dumb things (don't have a ready reference sorry). But you don't usually see people testing out their car's airbags just for fun, so I think it's certainly time to try a MLU mandate on Mt Hood, as the voluntary way just isn't working as well as we want it to. More info here: http://blog.oregonlive.com/breakingnews/2008/01/the_technology_mountain_locato.html

Here is a video that describes how the MLU was used to rescue a climber in Oct 2007. It does a great job of showing just how ridiculous conditions can get on that mountain: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJSN2IgKiJg and it also illustrates how zeroing in on it requires two teams of rescuers using triangulation (look it up) and some expertise. I'm hoping that new technology will help redesign it to include GPS as that would save time, and maybe something that members of the climbing party can also carry instead of having to rely on rescuers.

Maybe the well dressed climber needs to carry all three? Talk about a burden. Ok, maybe not. If I had to choose one, on Mt Hood it's obviously the MLU. When not on Mt Hood who knows probably a PLB and if they wanted to find my body in the football field of snow they narrowed it down to, they can then bring a dog and metal detectors.

So what am I going to do? Stick to popular areas during good weather. I am a fair weather climber and I still manage to have some pretty cool adventures. My first time on Mt. Hood I'll use a guide (it may be a short mountain - lower that the elevation of Mt Whitney's Trail Camp, but it is obviously treacherous.). I've been on Mt. Shasta, so many times that I'm knowledgeable about the lower elevations on the South routes (to the point I could guide them and do for friends) and I wouldn't go higher without a GPS and map/compass anyway.

Anyway it's going to be interesting to see what the future brings us in Locator Devices.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Avalanche Locator Beacons - Not a Perfect Solution

Currently there are 2 climbers missing on Mt. Hood. Now Mt. Hood is like Mt. Whitney in that it's near civilization and attracts all sort of people and thus is a major amateur hour. But there's a difference here - these are experienced climbers who chose to climb in winter and the conditions when they left at 1am were nearly perfect and they could have easily returned in the 13 hours they'd planned. But an accident has happened and one climber is dead and two others are missing and conditions do not look good for their rescue (Google: mt hood climbers - there are at least 100 matches right now). But they chose not to carry avalanche locator beacons/transceivers and again the debate of whether we should require climbers to carry them has sprung up again.

On paper it all sounds great. Require climbers to carry a locator beacon (aka transceiver) and in this case, there's a very (very!) remote chance it would have helped, but there are some major problems. Beacons are (1) expensive and (2) you have to activate them (but as I read more - you should activate them when you leave on your trip anyway) and (3) most important - they have a very limited range. The debate is raging here: http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2009/12/mount_hood_another_tragedy_ano.html#postComment

I contend that the beacon prices need to come down for them to be more readily used - even rentals are pricey unless someone has started subsidizing them (need to check on that - yes, they have see next blog entry). You need one per person which drives the cost up. However that said, the frequency has been standardized (457kHz) so even random rescuers could find you if they were within range (BIG if - I give ranges below). REI has a great article on them here: http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/avalanche+transceiver.html

The climbers were also carrying a cell phone and rumor has it that there is cell service on the mountain (I haven't climbed Hood yet but will - ahem, during the spring climbing season - not winter.) If there is cell service and we haven't heard from them this has some very grim implications. The phone is either lost or they are not able to use it. While I very much hope they are holed up in a snow cave (which is a fantastic if slightly chilly shelter), the possibility of this is fading if it ever was a possibility at all.

It's likely that the accident that resulted in one of the climbers dying from hypothermia (the climber had a "long, slow fall" but did not die from it) happened before the weather turned bad. If they were up high when a fall happened (he was at 9100 feet on an 11,200 mountain - a great diagram is here: http://media.oregonlive.com/news_impact/photo/hoodgrfcjpg-fe5b745a63b3f0ed.jpg) they could have ended up most anywhere though an aerial search hasn't turned up anything. This implies that they are under snow either of their choosing or not.

Some transceivers from REI
Ortovox Patroller - range "up to" 70 meters (analog then digital when closer) - price $289 -
the cheapest

Backcountry Access - range up to 40 meters - price $289.50

Pieps - range 60 meters - price $450

Mammut - range up to 60 meters - price $450

Othovox S1 - 60 meters - price $499

What does more money buy you? Speed of searching, depth measurement, more graphics, and ability to mark a spot and continue on searching for other victims. It does not buy you more range. What you want is to be buried with the cheap Orthovox Patroller with the rudimentary locator tools and have the unburied person have the snazzy "look they're right here" version. Easy right?

So if you're off with other people and you get buried in an avalanche and they don't (which is one reason people traveling in a avalanche area are spread out - a surprisingly lonely feeling for me at least) then having transceivers, shovels and probes is a Very Good Idea. However as a general tool that Search and Rescue could use, it's not really all that useful unless they have a good idea of where you are, which is so not the case right now on Mt. Hood. To sum up, beacons are a great tool within a climbing party and not much use beyond that.

But just to avoid ridicule by an uneducated public, you probably should carry them anyway just so people can say you had them. Think of it as something you do for your loved ones left behind so they don't have to put up with the stupid implications that people always leap to. Such as filing a flight plan which is totally not required for most small plane trips, but is always the first things reporters ask about. Think of it as reputation insurance.


My friend Holly and I have been having a conversation about an intriguing alternate that has recently become available. It's called a SPOT tracker. (http://findmespot.com), and it uses GPS technology to locate a beacon that you carry. There are even options where someone could track you online. It's not a cheap service at all $100-$200/year, plus the cost of the unit ($50-$150). This is not something the average poor mountaineer is going to be willing to pay for (mountaineers with money use guide services anyway), but you know right about now their families sure wish they had it.

Now if you have taken a GPS backpacking you know that there are limitations. In particular they work poorly in the woods, but even if a tree fell on you in the woods, rescuers could go to the last place that it was able to check in and that would be a heck of a lot closer than nothing.

About the only place it wouldn't work is with spelunking/caving (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caving), something that can be quite fun and really dangerous. They would be of questionable use in slot canyons which can be even more dangerous than caves (but are stunningly beautiful in places - stunningly beautiful as they have been recently carved by really violent water that may just be right around the corner.) A satellite has a better chance than anything of getting a signal in though usually you need multiple sats for triangulation and that may be hard to come by, but slot canyons and caves are limited in size so it comes back to telling someone in grand a glorious detail (on a map!) about where you are going.

I kind of wish the forest service in the more hazardous locations could have some SPOTs that people could rent. Wonder if there's a way to subsidize such a thing. That might make it more palatable since Hood is usually a very short hike (1-3 days tops), but unlike Shasta, there are many places to get lost there. Though as I type that I realize that you can get lost on Shasta but it's a lot harder and deaths on Shasta happen from falls not cold or crevasse cave-ins. Though even Shasta has major searches (I had a helicopter land near by last year looking for someone - my purist guide was totally offended, but I found it pretty fascinating), but usually they are found down at tree line walking in the wrong direction. SPOT would actually have helped locate those errant hikers and would have saved money as those lost (and poorly prepared) hikers actually walked out on their own unaware of all of the commotion they caused by one stupid "we're lost" 911 phone call.

AND In the next entry I discover that Mt. Hood has developed their own solution.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Rethinking: I Can't

More than a decade ago I had carpal tunnel release surgery on my left wrist. My wrists were sore enough that I was concerned that I might have to change jobs (till I realized that *everyone* types to some degree or another these days, and that I need to figure out how to heal them).

With lots of rest and time they healed, but to make sure I recovered as best I could, I made some choices as to how much I could use my hands, and ease up on the more wrist-stressful activities.

Things I stuck with were: computer work (it's my job and writing is a hobby). working around the house, painting, and working with the dogs. The activity that hurt the most to ease back on was music. In particular, I stopped playing guitar, and shelved the idea of doing more drumming.

I didn't have my parents piano at the time (that piano is another blog entry unto itself), so I was essential not playing an instrument at all and continued my musical education by working on singing and doing a lot of unstructured ear training by really learning how to listen to a song and pick out the individual elements - which has turned out to be enormously helpful.

But I find I do miss playing and taking part. Terri now uses my guitar and it gets the attention it deserves and it gets on-stage time even which is something it never got before. It's been long enough and I know a lot more about building of strength that I'm starting to wonder if I could start playing.

The trouble is that music just makes you want to keep playing and the risk of overdoing it is sky-high. The other trouble is that I get bored with the standard open chords (C-D-G-A-Em etc), and am fond of those slightly fancier higher up the neck bar chords, but it's those and wide chords that span 4 frets that just kill my hands. I'm toying with learning more lead guitar though that looks like it could hurt too and I'm thinking of buying an electric guitar again (I had sold my older electric) because electrics are usually easier to play. In fact I have an unpublished blog entry of all my electric guitar agonizing. Unpublished probably because I'm not quite so willing to tell the world how obsessed I can get. :) Though I did admit it to my Facebook friends.

But I need to start slowly with basic chords again and stop after a specified period of time. I guess to keep it interesting I should try to learn some new songs by ear. The cool thing about that is that it really works your brain and you stop a lot which is good for your hands. I noticed the other day that one of the Grammy award nominations is just done with open chords, so that might be worth starting with. If only I could remember what song it was. Guess that's project number one....

But before stopping I need to wrap back around to my original point (and I did have one at least then). This is difficult to summarize and even to put into words and it's likely to sound completely incoherent, but I was taught all about "I can't" at a young age. Now that's not entirely fair as I was given the opportunity to learn all sorts of things and the only reason I notice the "I can't" sneaking into there is that I was mostly taught "I can." The glaring exception to this is with respect to physical training and injury. Physical rehabilitation was not as well known nearly as much as it is now (Remember "Walk it off"? Oh please.) Most everything I've learned about physical therapy and healing from injury, I've learned as an adult. Now that I think about it: pointing out injury and minor disability and war wounds was prevalent all through my growing up particularly with respect to school athletics. "I can't" always got more attention than "I can." It set you apart in a really weird, unhelpful way (in my view) - I'm not talking about serious disability here, more the minor injury things.

So not playing guitar has become my "I can't" and now I'm not so sure I need to keep carrying it around (In fact I'm actually quite sure I don't need to). At the risk of sounding like an Obama campaign: the point is that I can. Probably in a limited way, but it's not all-or-nothing. I can, dammit, I can, and I need to stop being defeated by this. I am not my wrists.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Using Visualization to Oversolve a Problem

... and the resulting hazards.

We often hear that if you want to remember something that one technique is to visualize a picture of what you want to remember. The more absurd the better. Sounds innocent enough right?

In April of this year (8 months ago) I was just about to go in the store and needed/wanted three unusual items that I was going to have a hard time remembering (usually remembering three things is no problem so I'm not sure why I resorted to this). I wanted to pickup some goldfish crackers, the triangular "Reach" dental flossers, and some papertowels. I didn't have a piece of paper to make a list so I instead, for fun, made up this image:

And yes that's not a goldfish, but it doesn't matter for me to remember it right? The more absurd the better. And that is the problem. I only drew that picture a couple of days ago just for the purposes of this blog entry. In other words it's been in my head this entire time. This is a freakin' grocery list! I've made bunches of grocery lists since then and do I remember them? NO! Should I remember them? NO! Should I remember a list from April? I should think not. So I can personally say that using too large, too effective of a hammer to solve a problem has its hazards - until the time comes when I need goldfish, flossers and papertowels.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Klamath Falls - Not Exactly (Part II)

The Search for Klamath "Falls" - continued

So coming into town I figured I'd see giant signs telling me about how to go see the falls. I'm not seeing them and things are looking suspiciously flat - the geography is just not right. There are hills, but not near the river. The following bad photos that I actually dug out of the trash shows about how confused I was

Now i will ask for directions when I need to, but something's just not right. I pull over and ask the GPS to tell me about points of interest that are "falls." It cheerfully provides a list and the closest one is a hundred miles away. It even tells me about Bridalveil in Yosemite which is a long, long way away. This is not looking good. Now I have a puzzle and I can't resist most puzzles. And I sense a clever trap: "Oh look we got another one looking for "the falls."

I drive further up the lake looking for tourist info and I pull off at Hagelstein Park and look at a map on a board. It's a very helpful map and Klamath Falls is on it and I see they have tourist info back there and there is a symbol by the name. Looking at the legend I see that Klamath Falls has 3 museums, and nothing about any falls. I'm pretty sure I have my answer. If there was a falls, it went bye bye.

I finally got enough of a brain to realize that this big river-fed (as opposed to spring-fed) lake I'm beside is created by a barrier at the end of the lake (either natural or human-made) and any falls would be after that barrier and given that the water is flowing towards Klamath Falls then my driving further up the lake, albeit very pretty, is not going to help my quest.

I turn around, and I stop to gas the car up for the drive back.
As I pull up to the pump, I stop the car, open my door some to release the latch to the gas cap and while still looking down I see a pair of boots four feet away from me. I nearly jump out of my own shoes, but before crying out; aaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh, I have the presence of mind to look up and see that the boots are attached to an attendant. Remember those? Those were the people whose job it was to put the gas in your car before much of the world figured out you were bloody well capable of doing it yourself. Completely taken aback I ask: You are full service?" "Yes" he says in a friendly tone. As he's getting the pump going I work up the courage to tentatively ask "So are there any falls in Klamath Falls?" He says "Well there used to be, but it's a dam now." I then wander into the store, and when I have a bit of information I can't resist asking other people in the know about it as well to get their take on things. (Admittedly, this drove my ex crazy.) The woman behind the counter tells me that the falls went away a very long time ago, and it's a very common question. (See, I knew it was a trap.)

I then drive into town but don't readily find the tourist info until I come across a sign telling me the address, but I decide that I have my answer, the afternoon shadows are starting to get long, I need to drive back to California possibly through a storm, and that I'll do some reading on the internet about it.

What I saw was a common story though with some unique angles. I was looking at a depressed working class town that is past its heyday and is struggling to re-identify itself. The city's web site states that fact as the very first line of their web site (http://www.ci.klamath-falls.or.us/)

Welcome to the City of Klamath Falls. We are a City in transition and as such, we are welcoming many new businesses, homes and people into our community.

This cool train engine is in a park right at the water's edge. Reading at http://www.ci.klamath-falls.or.us/visitors/history tells me that when Southern Pacific Railroad came in 1909, the town was a boom town until the great Depression crashed down in 1929 and the lumber boom died.

But I still don't have any mention of a "falls." Do you know how had it is to find mention of something that everyone wants to pretend doesn't exist? Careful reading of the Wiki page for Klamath Falls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Falls,_Oregon - Donate to Wikipedia while you're there.) says that the city (then named "Linkville") was basically dropped on top of the falls, and then completely shoved said falls out of the way when one of several dams were built circa 1907 by the "Klamath Reclamation Project" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Reclamation_Project). Note the naming style and the date. My how things have changed. In 1907 "reclamation" was about draining marshes for farmland, now it more means restoring the wetlands to maintain bio-diversity. And thus we have tripped over the major political football of the area. Water rights (Go back to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klamath_Falls,_Oregon and page down, and we also have the completely biased Bucket Brigade: http://www.klamathbucketbrigade.org/), which boils down to the common theme of: farmer vs. wildlife preservation that comes up all over the place.

What I can't figure out is if the huge bucket in front of city hall has anything to do with the Bucket Brigade "we want our water" protests. It's labeled Bucket Brigade but it's more considered public art and is listed here: http://www.oregonartscommission.org/pdf/kfallspublicart.pdf

I take some more photos of the downtown area and then head back for Redding where my Mother-in-Law lives. Didn't get rained on too much. I didn't realize that Redding was so close to Klamath Falls, Oregon (about 2.5 hours on 97 and I5). All in all a fun adventure all inspired by a misconception. I think such places are inherent cautionary tales as its heyday lasted just 20 years. A lesson in non-sustainability that they are working on learning, they have beauty on their side, but the adaptation is clearly painful and hopefully they'll come out the other side wiser, despite the efforts of the Bucket Brigade. Oh and sorry: No falls. That was bulldozed by progress. Oops.

Downtown Klamath Falls.

Clouds over Butte Valley, CA on return.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Klamath Falls - Not Exactly (Part I)

My accidental Klamath Falls adventure. This occurred by driving to the back side of Mt. Shasta and neglecting to turn the car around. I'm from Southern Calif and grew up taking part in impromtu driving tours so this behavior is quite natural for me.

I WAS going to do my usual Black Friday Snowshoeing on Mt. Shasta, but the weather was so-so.

and I've done that trip a lot so I decided to stay in the car and go check out what the North Side of Mt Shasta looked like.

Well as you might guess, it looked a lot like this.

But looking the other direction on Hwy 97 looked downright inviting. Compare the view over the hill with the view in the mirror. So I continued on as I was curious about the roads that lead to the trail heads even though I knew they weren't passable and you could totally tell that me and my non-4WD were not going on them. So I just kept driving thinking that I'll turn around at any second.

So then I find myself coming into the tiny CA-OR border town of Dorris.

Dorris' whole purpose appears to be about getting in your way. It's like they used the border crossing (see photo) as a theme (see map). Zig. Zag. Zig. Zag. And don't you really want to stop at one of our fine dining establishments?

So after some zigging and zagging I find myself in Oregon and I see that Klamath Falls is just ahead even though I feel like I'm walking as the Oregonian speed limits for highways that aren't interstates is the glacial 55 mph. I've never seen Klamath Falls so I decide to check it out. Might be pretty, and I love water falls. Hold that thought for part II.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Hazards of Driving While Listening

I love listening to audio books and podcasts, but they are not without their hazards especially when driving.

I've gotten somewhat used to avoiding the Drive off the Road While Laughing hazard that Wait Wait Don't Tell Me needs to disclose. Or the OMG Can You Believe That?!! one that often accompanies This American Life (and once in a while Fresh Air).

But the one I haven't quite gotten used to is the slow building, steaming, sex scene (of whatever genders involved) that, while not the abrupt laugh out loud hazard, has that steady attention derailment effect that can make you drive into a parked car without even realizing it. It's insidious too. I'll be fine and then I realize that my imagination has completely absconded with my brain (mmmmm) and then I jolt back to the reality of moving more than 5 mph in a vehicle larger than a bicycle and then I have to pause the book a moment. I'm getting better, but these things really need to have Use Caution When Operating Heavy Machinery While Listening to This Book. I mean really. This is something you REALLY don't want to have to explain. "I drove into the back that car because well you see... Oh, never mind."

My current hazard right now are the heavy petting incidents (of various genders) in James Baldwin's Another Country (at least it's a classic that's making me a driving hazard).

Less vaulted, but just as fun distraction material can be found in
Bitten by Kelley Armstrong - seriously, steamy, werewolf sex
and The Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher has some rather distracting interludes as well.

And I just noticed that Diana Gabaldon's sexy historical fiction series/romp Outlander is available in audio. That's amazing and I'm surprised that terrible crashes haven't been blamed on it.

Mortise and Tenon Who?

Dealing with my garage carriage doors is becoming quite the journey.

So I've been learning the hard way
  1. Don't be more anal that the tradespeople you hire
  2. If you can't afford more anal tradespeople then you have to
    (a) Get used to it
    (b) Learn how to do it yourself
For the most part I've done ok with (1) or (2a), but when it comes to intricate Victorian woodwork I'm really learning that's not the case. It's something I feel strongly about, and want to do the history right. The amount of artwork and craftsmanship in a Victorian Carriage Door (http://www.carriagedoor.com/), is just exquist, and I've inherited some that are just falling apart.

Up until recently, I've been totally intimidated by the doors - We have a more complicated version than shown here: http://www.carriagedoor.com/carriage_house_doors.php). Terri's been showing me how they were put together and that just intimidated me more, and I just couldn't fathom how mortise and tenon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mortise_and_tenon and a page with a nice illustration: http://www.valleycustomdoor.com/mortisetenon.html) worked at all especially on something as large as a door. Carriage doors are amazing puzzles that hang together just so.

I had someone working on the doors and when i got them back I wasn't happy with the door that was the worse off (the other was ok and we had managed to do the other two ourselves). After staring at it for a while I decided that I needed to really commit to learning how they fit together and do it right as doing that meant that the money I spent would net me more skills (and more tools!).

So I undid the sloppy patch and am now contemplating what's really involved. The thing that was really getting to me was that I just couldn't visualize how routing really worked despite all the pictures I looked at. Enter: You Tube. What did I ever do before Google and You Tube? I watched 10 or more routing demonstrations of varying quality. My favorite was the slightly goofy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot6pfnDabAQ, but there were a whole bunch of other ones. As I watched, my imagination worked out how it could work on my doors and then I had it all in a flash (mostly).

The cool thing is that Terri inherited a router from her Dad. After my You Tube session we dug it out and I started seeing how it worked and what we needed. The hard thing about routers is their versatility and the fact that this weirdly shaped bits can carve out something beautiful.

So then it became what router bits will create the right shape so we can recreate the broken piece of the door that has to fit in just so - but not quite "just so" as the other side is kind thrashed too.

When you look for router bits you need to look at the profile that they carve. This site showed exactly what we needed: a Beading Bit : http://www.mlcswoodworking.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/smarthtml/cat/Site/0013.html The wood will have to have the beading bit pass over the edge on each side and a regular bit to carve a channel (clearly I'm going to need a picture here.)

Fortunately the beading bit has a little roller on it where it can roll along the wood. The tricky part is cutting a straight channel down the edge of the wood (that holds the interior panels in place). That took a lot more thought last night. This is going to require the application of money but not as much as I thought (and the router bits aren't that expensive fortunately.

The thing that we need to insure a very long straight channel is the same concept as putting a saw in a table (i.e. a table saw). Yes a "router table." Turns out that routers are built with the idea that it can be guided by hand or bolted into a table and they are not priced in the stratosphere at all and cost less than half a day of a craftsperson's time. Here's a basic one and I think it's all we need: http://www.sears.com/shc/s/s_10153_12605_Tools_Power%20Tool%20Accessories_Router%20Tables%20&%20Attachments
What I find amusing is that you can't even see the router in the pictures because it mounts upside down. They have these mounting holes in the router that allow you to do this to it (how very clever.)

So after staring at these doors for years and doing small piecemeal work on them like patching/puttying holes and replacing the windows, I can now better see the big picture and I'm actually excited about this. I'm sure reality will set me back a bit, but I'm enjoying this small euphoric, rose-colored, highly theoretically-based insight.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New development in MS research

An Italian Professor of Medicine Paolo Zamboni, after much research and re-research which included dusting off a lot of old medical text books, has developed a surgery that early evidence is suggesting that it might dramatically improve the lives of Multiple Sslerosis suffers.

Things are still in the early stages, but what has been written about so far is intriguing and leading to some annoying conspiracy theories (one is at the end).

The story has a great romantic side as Zamboni was motivated by his own wife's MS.


I can't help but wonder that since his specialty is Vascular areas that it's one of those "When you have a hammer, every problem is a nail" things, but maybe it really is a nail. All in all it's very intriguing and I will be watching it develop.

Oct article by the MS Society basically saying it's interesting, but more information/research is needed.

Zamboni's own web site

His linkedin page:

One bordering on wacky conspiracy article is here


I left a comment that they'll never approve so here it is:

You need to have a citation for the "[Drug companies] in an uproar" comment as there's no obvious Google evidence for it at all. At this point it looks like you just made that up.

And there is no "unbelievable array of drugs prescribed for MS" There is only the ones you explicitly list: A.,B.,C.,R., and Tysabri and that's it. Everything else listed is just for secondary symptoms that someone may or may not get.... Read More

The MS Society in the US has said that if they get a solid research proposal they'll likely fund the research.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Berkeley Brick and Mortar Adventure

I don't get out to stores enough particularly ones where parking is a challenge like Telegraph Ave. in Berkeley a place I used to go to a lot. Fortunately UC Berkeley has opened up the Channing parking lot to the public for a $1 and hour which is more than reasonable. It's funny, it you give me parking then I will come as it's not like you see me not going to REI, and Mike's Bike's now has parking which helps a ton - though I mostly stay away from Mike's Bikes in financial self defense.

My mission was to go to Amoeba "Records" on Telegraph to order Philip Glass's ("'s" rule is here) opera Satyagraha (sa-TEE-a-gra-ha - and yes I had to ask someone how to say it). I'm not an opera fan, but I love Philip Glass's operas - especially that one. It's just been rereleased and the price has plummeted. The person helping me (whose name I have narrowed down to three possibilities and am afraid of committing the wrong one to memory - though I'm leaning towards Zachary) explained that the contract has expired and now it's just profit for the record company which explains why the price dropped from $50 to $18. The price of this particular Opera has gone completely all over the place since it went out of print. I have a whole separate entry called "That LP You're About to Replace? Check on It First" on the ridiculous prices I have found on Amazon Marketplace. But back to Amoeba... I asked about a different Glass opera called Einstein on the Beach but that's still in the earlier really expensive category. (Though I do think it's out of print so that may change in not too long of a time - I told them to keep an eye out for a used copy for me.) It's funny, I have been carrying around a $20 credit for Amoeba for the longest time and I just can't believe that I might have credit left over (that won't happen as I don't want another piece of paper to carry around for over a decade, but I do have some CDs I could sell them and then get more store credit - aaaaah!)

Order placing mission accomplished I then went across Telegraph to spend lots of money at Moe's books (http://www.moesbooks.com)
I'm really glad I finally got my butt out to that part of Telegraph as it's so good to see Moes. It's sad to see Cody's books all closed up. I asked Moe's how business was with them gone and the clerk said that it was ok since they have a difference clientele, but that they missed having Cody's around.

Telegraph is much the same in a way. Still has that dilapidated feel to it, but that's always been the case (maybe a touch more without Cody's). I am resolved to show up more. It's fun to actually go into stores these days. They seem very happy to see me.

The basement of Moe's is like having my own personal book buyer. I'm spoiled as I have the locally owned Books Inc in Alameda, but it's Moe's and Cody that really have the special place in my heart. I can walk into Moe's and always find something cool to read. From Moe's I got the new David Byrne book Bicycle Diaries (no link - go buy it a Moe's), Mort an older book by Terry Pratchett that I need to reread, and for Terri: Stephen Colbert's I am America and So can You. She's thrilled at the surprise.

I really also need to get over to 4th Street in Berkeley also but I don't have quite the same romantic attachment there except for Bette's Diner (bliss.) Oh and Builder's Booksource and the Pasta Shop and I hear that Title Nine is moving there (risky move hope that works for them.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Opting out of Valassis Advertising Mail

I make a career out of getting off of junk mail lists, purely for the challenge and also because it's so irksome having a large pile of pointless newsprint come in. Unfortunately, my postal carrier doesn't know that and thinks that everyone gets one (I keep trying to explain about opting out, but he doesn't get it). But if I can make it so that there isn't one there to deliver, it's ok. It used to be that there was a card that had to accompany the advertising, but that appears to have changed. This is for the better as the card was always getting separated from the rest, and I would be bestowed a pile of paper with no identifying marks on it.

Now there has to be a return address on the advertising which means that opting out should be easier. On this one I'm looking at the first page shows who it's from in teeny tiny print, but it's there. and it is from a company called Valassis.

The cool thing is that if you can figure out the company name then they always provide a way to remove yourself from the mailing list. A quick Google reveals the contact page:


and the opt out is right there on the menu:

Select: I am a: Consumer
Select: I would like to go green and be removed from your mailing list
Enter your mailing address and click Submit

Hopefully that will be it. They say it takes 5-6 weeks but we'll see if it that works after that.
Certainly when I opted out of ValuPak it worked though I had to write them then.

[Update 11/25] Got another pile. I'll have to keep track to see how long this takes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

That LP you're about to Replace? Check on it first

I was waxing on to Terri about the incredible beauty of Philip Glass's 1980 opera Satyagraha, and how I only had an LP of it and wanted to get a electronic copy. I took a glance at iTunes and was mystified that out of 100's of listings for Philip Glass I wasn't finding it except on a really expensive retrospective and that didn't even have the full work.

So I went back to Google and Amazon has an entire Philip Glass store (wow) and I found it there. Prices for the CD set start at $40 and I noticed that it wasn't listed on the main site which means it's out of print (sees like a crime personally). Scanning down the list I see the prices hovering around $40-$50 (expected - it's a 3 disc set) and then suddenly they jump to 89, 90. 100, 120, 159 ?? What is going on? On closer look I see words like "slipcover," "libretto booklet," and "disks appear unplayed" Huh? When's the last time you could tell if something was played? OH! When it was made of vinyl! They're talking about LPs. It starts to slowly sink in and I go find my copy just to make sure it's still there. There it is gathering dust. Something I was thinking of replacing is actually worth several times what I paid for it. That's a nice surprise. And I do have that "libretto booklet" which is a thorough description of the opera. I'm wondering if I can get that $15 price tag off the front without messing it up.

The weird thing is now what do I do? I guess I should put a post it on it saying that it is worth money and shouldn't just be tossed out (unlike say the other LPs). We are going to be digitizing some of the out of print LPs but now I think I should probably just get the CD rather than play it again. Fortunately the price of the CD hasn't changed that much save for the fact that the price of the used one is pretty close to the price when it was new 10 years ago.

Just out of curiosity I check on another Glass opera Akhnaten which I have on CD. Similar story. Out of print average price is around $35 with a weird sudden price jump to 65 for a couple of CD sets and then up to 90 and 115 for what must be LPs, though I'm not sure as Akhnaten was released in 1987 and CDs were becoming the norm then.

For fun I also checked on Laurie Anderson's 4 CD set United States which is also out of print on CD though you can order it in MP3 format new (because she's nothing if not high tech :). Prices for the CD Box are even more insanely variable. 40 to over 400(?!)

Strange that something that just sits around becomes more valuable simply because they're not making more of them, though it's little weird with the CD getting more valuable since it can easily be copied. Guess I'll at least dust them now. Maybe CD box sets are an investment of sorts. Now I'm trying to figure out what will be the next big thing. Actually that sounds like a money trap so I should pass, and just stick with what I'm passionate about which is plenty.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Gyms: Strangely Similar to Parallel Play

This has been occurring to me for a while and is now really sinking in. My gym is very much like adults doing parallel play. That type of play that very young children do when they're able to play with toys in the presence of other kids but don't want to interact with them.

Now that's not entirely fair. People do interact with each other esp if the already know each other and I know some folks in class, but it's not the default. I'm so used to dog and team sports where you have to interact, and it's part of the fun. I think I'm feeling this acutely right now because I took a month off to heal from some tendonitis and I hadn't been doing the RPM class as much any way. Now that should be nothing for regulars, but it's just long enough for some shifting around and the people I usually see there aren't there, and I never knew them that well. Compare that to dog agility where I know people very well esp. if they're in a class of mine or in my club. Even in herding or obedience I have plenty of time to talk to people, and I used to that and miss it.

Now my gym membership is due and I think I need a break from it, but it's a great way to get wintertime exercise. However it cuts into my dog walking time and I don't like that and I can run with Trek at noon if I like. Not to mention (that's a weird phrase as I'm about to mention it), it's expensive. If you have no other way to get exercise it's an excellent choice, but I think I can keep up with it and there are running, biking, hiking clubs a plenty so I'd get my social outlet too.) And I can't help but look at the price and think that's 11 lift tickets or 1/2 a bike. I'm also at risk of my depression coming back if I don't exercise, but I actually feel more depressed after the last two gym visits, so maybe it's not helping with that at all. I like the dog walks as I spend the a lot of the time talking to the dog, and they actually listen too. I think they're easily amused. I also talk to people whose houses I often pass by on the walk.

Though I will certainly miss the over the top nature of the RPM class. I just love it. I think I have to wait long enough to miss it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Because it's so Much Easier Running Somone Else's Life

A few days ago I took a four day working vacation to my parents. I caught the bills up, did 2 years of filing (and cleared off a buried table in the process), arranged for automatic payment of some bills, took them to tour a very nice retirement facility (that I sure wouldn't mind living in in 20 years), took them to various places, joined in a nice dinner that my brother prepared and excellent and frank conversation afterward.

And then I go home. I too have a slightly missing table and too much paper. At least my bills are caught up (thanks to automatic payment), but there's still this pile of paper that drives me nuts. Why is it that I can totally organize their lives, but then I come back to my own stuff that's just starting back at me?

I think because when I'm somewhere else I'm not being distracted by the dogs who want to go out and in and them fed and walked and trained and entertained. And I'm all to happy to oblige them as I love them and that's why I have them. Then there's the 101 home maintenance things starting at me, and the dirty dishes and the floor that needs to be swept, and last night it was doing major lamp readjustment including taking two torchiere's apart to be recycled and pulling down a heavy light fixture to replace the bulbs. Oh and I had to go get the bulbs and be impressed that Home Depot actually has nice lamps and marveling at how much influence Boomers are wielding against normally tacky hardware store selection. But that's another blog entry...

So the pile still stares at me. One reason there's a pile is that I've gotten tired of burgeoning file cabinets and have started scanning bills and other things in and then shredding them. This is really, really cool except that each piece of paper takes more time because it has to be scanned and then named and electronically filed. Not much time, but enough that it's easy to fall behind.

Also paper can be a real problem of mine and it's just too easy to just set it down (i've learned to sort of cope by not allowing myself to set anything down unless it's in its designated "home." The problem is that bills and statements get mixed up with agility course maps, and other information that I kinda want to keep, stray photos that someone has given me, cards, letters, and the endless little notes I keep. Fortunately I'm good at sorting so instead of walking a dog at lunch today, I kicked them out into the yard and brought the pile out and sorted it. Also fortunately a good part of it got dumped into the recycle bin, but there still is a sizeable scan pile and there's this annoying nebulous stuff I don't quite know what to do with 9which got placed in a different pile and someday maybe I'll look at them within a year (yes, I have a couple of 2+ year old piles just like that - pathetic I know), and the course maps got stuck in a file folder, and I paper-clipped all my little notes together.

It's the curse of the almost, but not quite organized. It's vaguely tempting to just stop worrying about it, but not doing it would cost me a lot of money because Health Net needs a surprising amount of management for a huge company, and it would drive me nuts anyway, even if it feels like an unobtainable goal. Being organized is a goal worth striving for because even if you never achieve it even just doing it some means you've put thought into it and likely have SOME idea of where something is. Though I don't have quite the amazing skill that some disorganized people of being able to find one piece of paper 5 inches down in a pile.

I'm still mixed on the scanning solution. I really like it, but I don't like the extra time. I'm thinking of going back to paper and then scanning a pile of the same bills in at once. Then I wouldn't have the hassle of changing directories and each name would only need minor changes. Of course to do that I need to clear some space out of the file cabinent but with Google a log of that save paper can go away. Ok some of it, not all of it is on the web. Maybe I should scan it. Argh.

Then there's the unscanned 1000s of photos (which are at least date organized), but that's another angst ridden blog entry as well.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of The Help

I never blog about work, but this is not really about work anyway...

I hate blaming the underpaid, hardworking hired help when things go awry. I really, really hate it. It's the first thing my mother thinks of and it drives me nuts. My mother says some of her jewelry went missing after she went to the skilled nursing facility to recover from knee surgery, it must have been the help. The bonded, carefully screened help. I don't think so - I carefully stayed out of it as I didn't have anything useful to say besides "You are such an elitist." which I have told her since and will probably say it again for what it's worth and "Keep looking" (it was in the safe deposit box of course).

But sometimes the evidence is incontrovertible. I set up a home network for our company's president and it would be working and work fine for a week and go down. I would come back and find it unplugged. Plugged it back in, things working again. In a week it would go down. And repeat. It turns out, the maid comes in to vacuum and lacking a plug, unplugs the router. It actually would sort of be fine if she were to plug it back in, but that doesn't happen. This time an employee was house-sitting and she's quite bright so I went over the situation with her and we devised a plan to leave a plug for the blasted vacuum and make the other cords less tempting and she's going to leave her a note. I also went over the basic layout of the very simple network with her so I now have another pair of eyes who does go over there from time to time (more often than I do.)

The entire situation makes me laugh. One maid with little to no understanding of little boxes with leds on them, armed with one vacuum in search of a power outlet wields an awful lot of power. The power to halt an entire network, and bring out what in this case is an over paid plug-in technician (I made that up) out to patch it all back together.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Nepal: So who do you believe?

It's funny the vastly different views you get of countries depending on the source.

This all started when I casually looked into possibly doing a short term volunteer vacation.
I was looking on the Global Aware site (http://www.globeaware.org/) and saw a Nepal section. Nepal is where Mt Everest is and the Sherpa culture is pretty intriguing.


They suspended their Nepal trips in 2006. Looking at
Shows a very long explanation as to why.
"The political situation in Nepal remains tense and unpredictable and levels of violence remain high across Nepal ." (Go to the site for the rest, it's pretty interesting)

Noting that this was dated in 2006 I looked for more current info. Wish granted, and I now have two vastly different takes the US State Dept and Lonely Planet.

The US State Dept in their typically paranoid way says STAY AWAY
This is published today (Oct 27):

The May 4, 2009 resignation of the Prime Minister and the resulting caretaker government has created an environment of increased political instability and the potential for demonstrations to be called without advance notice.

Political violence remains a problem in Nepal. The Young Communist League (YCL), a Maoist Party subgroup, continues to engage in extortion, abuse, and threats of violence, particularly in rural areas. Youth groups from the other two main political parties, the Nepali Congress (NC) and the United Marxist-Leninist Party (UML), have also formed and clashes continue among these political rivals. Violent actions by multiple armed splinter groups in the Terai region along the southern border with India remain a significant concern.

Curfews can be announced with little or no advance notice.

In contrast Lonely planet (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/nepal dated Sept 30) talks about what a wonderful place it is and here are the cool places you can go. So I did some digging, major digging and it doesn't seem quite right to bury this information no matter what you think of it:


Page down down down and you will find:

Dangers & annoyances

First sentence of this section says:

"Despite the continual stream of bad news headlines that flows out of Kathmandu, the most touristed areas of Nepal remain remarkably safe. "

Fair enough but what follows are pretty much the same facts as before just in a more moderate ton. Mostly.

  • Register with your embassy in Kathmandu.
  • Keep an eye on the local press to find out about impending strikes, demonstrations and curfews.
  • Don't ever break curfews - instructions have been given to shoot those who are found breaking curfew.
What? This is just an annoyance? Lonely planet's tolerance is pretty high I must day

[more quoting]
  • Don't travel during bandhs (strikes) or blockades. Get very nervous if you notice that you are the only car on the streets of Kathmandu!
  • Be flexible with your travel arrangements in case your transport is affected by a bandh or security situation.
  • Avoid marches, demonstrations or disturbances, as they can quickly turn violent.
  • Don't trek alone, even on a day hike. Lone women should avoid traveling alone with a male guide.
  • Consider flying to destinations outside Kathmandu to avoid traveling through areas where there have been disturbances.
  • Avoid traveling by night buses and keep bus travel in general to a minimum.
  • Be prepared to pay the Maoists a 'tax' if approached while trekking and budget the cash for that eventuality. Trekkers have on occasion been beaten up for not paying this tax. It's just not worth arguing with these guys.

Ok I am clearly a travel wuss and I have traveled during terrorism scares (1986 in Europe and it was fine). But the odds of you being hit by terrorists are usually remote. The odds of you being robbed or assaulted are much more likely.

Of course, I live right beside a violent area (though ironically my area is very safe) and so obviously you just have to be aware and know where to go and where not to and when not to. I'd love to see the travel advisory for Oakland, Calif. I'm sure it would be scary.

I have an acquaintence in Israel and when bombs were being lobbed in from Palestine on a regular rate I check in with him. This most recent time he said that the bombs weren't quite reaching him so life was going on as usual. I think this is a lesson here. Even in war zones ordinary life does happen.

So what does this mean? Is it safe or not? I think the answer is probably, but maybe not and do I want to deal with knowing that. I think if I want to go to Nepal I should do it with a highly organized group which kinda cuts into getting to know people on a volunteer stint though I'm sure it's possible.

Could Nepal be the next thing you hear about on the news? Well if depends on if some Americans get into something they shouldn't. Right now the focus is on Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan with brief forays into Cuba and Pakistan and India, so the headlines are a little full. We'll just have to see if the Maoists or their rivals decide to start doing large scale bombings. General strikes and petty thefts don't get much press attention even if it gets the US Dept of State's attention.

I don't get much thrill about traveling in potentially dangerous areas. I'd rather see it in a movie like a favorite of mine "The Year of Living Dangerously." When I travel I like to focus on learning about the area and talking and connecting with people. If I was there are a news correspondent I wouldn't mind the danger as much as it would be my job and that would be ok. But in my oridinary life when traveling, even though I'm good about taking ordinary precautions, I really don't want to be on guard as I find it pretty tiring and takes away from the experience. The performers on the George Pompidou Museum's plaza in Paris are really cool, but the place is so rife with pickpockets that you really can't relax which is a huge bummer. You walk out there are you can feel the eyes of a hundred predators. Weird and not fun.

Monday, October 26, 2009

My New Role

I used to be so good about giving my parents the freedom to live their own lives. No longer.

One big change is that I've had enough of bills getting buried, not read, and ignored and a utility nearly getting shut off. My brother has saved the day more than once and he's sick of it so now I have most of the access information so I can monitor what's going on. My brother was nice enough to set up Bill Payer so I can pay something that needs paying as long as there's money there. My new role as a power hungry money manager (ha).

One thing I regret not taking a copy of is the increasingly snotty letters that one company was sending them. When I saw the letters long after the issue was resolved, they had a completely opposite effect on me - they were really, really funny. When I get a hold of them I will blog a generic version of the whole sequence as John Cleese would be proud. Think "Since you have apparent disegard for our previous ..." Fortunately that company has been paid off and is out of business anyway (trash companies - yeesh).

I shopped the Ludowici property to Habitat for Humanity, but haven't heard back yet. It will be really sad if they say no - can't even give it away. Oh yeah that's my other role as minor league land baron. .

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Want to buy land in Ludowici?

I've been so good about not complaining about my struggles with my parents, but that's going to change because I am not alone here by a long shot.

First things first. Does anyone want to buy property in Ludowici GA? As you might guess this is not a joke. Someone that I so need to write about (should be a book actually), is my freewheeling businessman grandfather (NOT the farm agent that's the other one). In no particular order this guy
  • brought electricity to Jesup GA
  • ran a theatre there
  • made all sorts of questionable loans through said theatre
  • had a stormy, but working marriage with my very strong grandmother
  • was dearly loved by his community and had 200 or so people at his funeral - where I saw my first Mason or Moose or Elk or something funeral rite
  • had one of the few gasoline stations
  • during prohibition, was into all sorts of illegal or at least dicey things that we have no proof of (darn it)
  • taught me shuffleboard at a young age
  • sort of taught me pool at a young age
  • and finally bought property that he thought might prove to be profitable
It's this last one where he has left a strange legacy. As with most speculation much of the property didn't turn out to be the score it was (though he certainly had his share of jackpots too.) My parents have been gradually selling off what they inherited, save for one that I have yet to learn much about but will be very soon.

Ludowici (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludowici,_Georgia) is a teeny town of 1400 that is adjacent to the slightly larger Jesup, GA. It's named after a German with an Italian sounding name. I'm sure my grandfather thought it had great growth potential since it's right by a highway where a lot of traffic passes by. Emphasis on passes by. The town has gone pretty much no where. How many towns do you know where IGA Grocery and Dollar Tree appear on the town's Wiki page? And within the first few sentences? As of 2000 the median income is around $27,000, which is skating just above the poverty line. If you want to see it, Google Street views has been there. I was there when I was 16. It hasn't changed much at all.

So we're stuck with what is basically a strangely shaped white elephant property. There are other lots in the area that are listed with Century 21 and it's tempting to try to sell it but I'm thinking we'd be much better off donating it to a non-profit (there are some in the area.) So I need to sell the idea of Hey let's give it away. Which might just work. We'll have to see.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Perhaps not that: Off The Grid

I'm seeing what appears to be a reactionary (the literal sense, not the right wing kind) trend with some people wanting to withdraw from modern life and not be so plugged in. Some even want to live completely off the grid meaning as self sufficiently as possible.

While in some senses I find that admirable I find it a bit of an over reaction, and probably a new implementation of Futureshock (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Future_Shock) which the author Alvin Toffler in 1970 defined as: a personal perception of "too much change
in too short a period of time."

Sometime ago I wondered if we were now impervious to Futureshock since we come to expect change especially when it comes to technology. I think I am wrong. While we are pretty impervious to the things that Toffler was writing about, some of us still appear to get a bit touchy
about not feeling as in control of our circumstances as we'd like.
These days I've been reading about people now trying to live "off the
grid." This means many different things to people.
Ones I've seen are
The Slow Food groups
- grow your own food
- go to the farmers market and organic food market more, grocery store less
- raise your own livestock
The chop wood, carry water Firefox (not the web browser) types
- build you own home/shelter
- make your own clothes
The types on overload
- not be so internet/cell phone/tv dependent
And the alternative energy/tell PGE to go away
- create your own power (who tend to be a different group - they literally mean the electrical grid)

What's fascinating to me is that all these groups are not the same though they have a lot in common.

I'm very much a slow food type, but while I grow a little food, I more spend a lot of time in food tores figuring out how to make it a nutritious, usable experience.. And I don't have livestock.

Also many of those wanting theiir own solar power are not really interested in withdrawing, they ust think that they can generate power by themselves than PGE could ever do it for them and hey even give some of it back. (Show offs. Hats off to them.)

I think some of the off the grid movement (for lack of a better phrase) is over reaction. Walking away from such things as phones and email and social networking internet sites, robs you of a global village that you could have and make excellent use of. And this is yielding some very wacky contradictory scenarios like those people who blog about living off the grid (no citation as I don't want to single anyone out). What they have to say is useful information perhaps, but I think they have to be a skoch more honest with themselves that just maybe perhaps they are not really "off the grid." :)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

How I got Tennis Elbow from a Treadmill

I managed to injure a tendon in my forearm (the "tennis elbow" tendon) while on a treadmill(!). How? Well you put it on max incline and set it just a little faster than you can keep up and hang on to the siderails tightly. Endorphins make sure that you really don't notice that something is being injured until later. Oops.

Then it was: oh let's just rest it a couple of days and it should be fine (it really wasn't) and I have a hiking trip scheduled (where I'm going to make heavy use of Trekking Poles) and I want to do that since I talked someone else into going. So now it's really hurt. Drat.

A few years ago on a different injury, I had a Physical Therapist read me the riot act and I remember it: Tissue takes 6-8 weeks to heal and you have to be patient, and start back gradually. What a favor that was. I looked at the calendar and realized that besides dog walking I was taking Sept off in terms of exercise, because I can't seem to exercise without using my arm that way. The cool and dangerous thing is that it's now Oct and it's starting to hurt less. Dangerous because even though it's hurting less, I could easily reinjure it, and even using it some (like say for ahem: typing) make it unhappy. So I really need to wait till mid October.

A friend who plays tennis posted this link that shows that a very simple exercise using a rubber bar (a Thera-Band Flexibar) is showing to be very effective at helping tennis elbow: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/25/phys-ed-an-easy-fix-for-tennis-elbow/ I've been trying the exercise that the video details and it does make it feel better. I don't use a rubber bar but just a towel rolled up.

But rereading the article shows that actually having the rubber bar will make a different and it's under $20 so I've ordered it via Amazon. In the video they were using the Red "light" version, so that's the one I chose:


They were doing 3 sets of 15 repetitions a day, but started out with 3 sets of 5 repetitions.
[update 10/8
It came in and the exercise detailed was in a handout in the box.
I'm now dutifully doing the exercises.]

This is killing me some as there's a trip I want to do in Yosemite off Tioga Road before it closes for the winter. Historically it closes in Nov (see: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/seasonal.htm), but it could close as early as mid October. Sigh. Patience Patience Patience.

Of course since I've been off for a month I'll be out of shape but I really have no real goals besides maybe checking out the approach to Mt Dana, which means driving to 10,000' and walking around and trying not to fall over.