Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why in Such a Hurry to Grow Old?

Many of my peers seem to be fond of saying that they're getting old. While I'm sure it's very freeing to say that, I've always feel a bit odd, especially when the person is younger than me. I never knew what to say, but the words were finally given to me when I heard or read that some people who are in their 70s and 80s take great exception to someone in their 50s or even 40s claiming to be old.

Now I have something to say: "You know those who are in their 70s and 80s really hate it when someone your age says that." That does take the wind out of things and probably is a bit of a kill joy, so I need to use it judiciously. It appears that some really like to acknowledge that they are getting older and I must admit that I find it really mysterious as I'm in my late 40s and I've never felt better. I used to worry that I was approaching 50 until I started consistently running into people on mountains in their 50s and 60s (met a dentist who is 68 and who had just summited Mt. Whitney) and have heard of those in their 70s who consistently climb mountains. I've resolved to stop worrying about it entirely. Age is clearly attitude. Well ok, taking care of yourself counts too.

I still have to figure out a proper response to some youngster complaining about being old. Likely the best response is none at all. I think maybe what's going on is that your body does start to change when you hit your 40s (like your eyes stop working as well as they used to, and your hair starts to gray, and healing takes longer which is pretty frustrating) and that does take some adjustment and that's probably what's going on.

Maybe I should just agree with the and say "Yeah, YOU'RE old," but I believe in Karma so I think I'll refrain.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Killers in the Snow: Tree Wells

Ski Season approaches and I really want to be a backcountry skier, however...

Not too many things scare me. Mostly it has to do with not looking like a complete idiot which I guess is what this one is sort of related to.

There are some risks in mountaineering that are not avoidable like going through avalanche areas. I want to be more educated about avalanches so I'm thinking about taking this course:
(I do love the Babes classes)

or IMG's

Which looks totally cool though as always I do worry about not being a good enough skier.

However, going over the course particulars I spy something that has actually keep my up at night worrying about. I actually don't fear avalanches, so much as with avalanches I feel at least I have a chance. What I DO fear is: Tree Wells.

Tree Wells are collections of very soft powdery snow that collect underneath trees. The good thing is that a Tree Well is marked by a (surprise) tree. So if you avoid trees while skiing away from the groomed sloped of the ski resort you'll be fine. And if you want to be sure, then stay above tree line.

But there's a problem. To get above treeline you have to go through trees. AND also I am an intermediate skier who is getting better, but short on confidence, and have run into things (no trees) before on a kayak (for more info see my really long entry about my kayak class). It's called Object Fixation: where you run smack into what you're trying to avoid because you're, well. staring at it. (Look where you WANT to go, not where you don't).

The scary thing about Tree Wells is that they are almost impossible to get out of on your own. You run into the tree and suddenly upend into the super soft quicksand-like powder. Don't believe me? This set of web pages really scares me:

During a test 90% of people (and these are experienced skiers) could not get out on their own. Heebeejeebee.

They even have a clever acronym for it.
NARSID - Non-Avalanche Related Snow Immersion Death

It mostly occurs with trees that have a lot of lower limbs, so for a while I was reassuring myself that most of our trees don't have a lot of lower limbs. Then I read page 3. The number one region for NARSIDs is of course British Columbia. #2 is NOT Colorado or Washington State, it's California (eek), then followed by Colorado, then Washington, then Montana, then Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and finally Alaska.

I feel so reassured (not). I really do want to learn to backcountry ski, but NARSIDs usually occur on the ungroomed slopes. of the backcountry.

But the prevention pages give me some hope:

1. Avoid Deep Snow and Tree Areas

My response was: good luck with that, but the text clarified things for me.

"Remember, most of these accidents happen in treed areas during or right after deep snowfalls. Resisting the urge to ski or snowboard through the trees during deep powder conditions, no matter how inviting the untracked powder looks, is the easiest deep snow accident prevention."

Really? That's not so bad. Most of the time I want to backcountry ski is during the climbing season of May and June, which is after ski season. Tons of fresh snow is a rarity (new snow here and there is very common), Most of the snow is in a: warm during the day / refreeze at night cycle. There is not a lot of unconsolidated powder. So it turns out those "powder days" of the winter ski season that advanced skiers worship are the real killers, and during that time I'm at a ski resort or I'm snowshoeing.

The other tips are pretty common sense;
- ski with a partner and check in with them very often
- avoid trees (well duh)
- if you do fall in a Tree Well, clear some airspace by rocking your body gently and not thrashing
- "if you are sliding toward a tree well or a deep snow bank, do everything you can to avoid going inverted into the snow. Grab branches, hug the tree, or roll your body to get your feet below you. Do anything you can to keep your head above the surface or at least your feet below you."
- "carry a transceiver, shovel, probe, and whistle. This is the same personal rescue gear carried by backcountry skiers or snowboarders."

So maybe my fears are unfounded as I'm not a good enough skier to get myself killed that way. (I hope.)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Text Message Scam (And a Do Not Call List update)

(I love it when scams find me - make things all the more fun to check out.)

So scammers are branching out this year. I just received a text message (unusual because I don't text since it costs me extra - note to self to make sure I don't get charged for it.) allegedly from 36245 saying "card blocked" for more information call 888-814-6669

Googling the phone number told me nothing.

Calling the phone number from a different phone and entering nothing says

Union Card Services
Our records indicate your account is restricted
please enter your card number

Evil little subterranean rodents.

A coworker dug up this missive from Commuity Bank from Feb 17, 2009

Googling for "text message scam" yields tons of references

The Community Bank web site encouraged me to call the FTC (877-382-4357) and out of curiosity I did. Within just a few key presses I was talking to Martin (I'm sure you know him - think he's from Texas though I didn't ask).

I wasn't sure if the FTC even wanted to hear about it, but they did and he filed a complaint for me. Took my information and noted the 888 number and the text of the scam message (and the message that the 888 number was saying.)

He also suggested adding my phone number to the Do Not Call List. Surprised, I said "But it's a cell phone."

He said that if it's registered on the DNCL that they can file it as a double violation
(I refrained from asking "You mean running a scam isn't enough?")

The number of the DNCL is 888-382-1222

On the website you can also verify that they have your phone numbers listed correctly and can even tell you the date that you added it.
The DNCL listings do not expire.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Life and Death in the Garden

I grew up helping my Farm Agent grandfather in the garden. I have fond memories of throwing fertilizer (which I don't touch these days), and digging trenches (I now use a drip system). Ah yes gardening in the 70s. My family also had a substantial (1.5 acre) orange grove, and as tradition dictates, I was conscripted child labor for it which I, of course, hated at the time and only after leaving did I realize what an unique experience that was.

So because it's in my blood, I do garden a little. I think of myself as the most non-serious of gardeners. just a few plants in the planters and a few herbs and others off of the edges of the yard. Ok, I did put in a drip system (who wants to have to remember to water?) and, well, I do mix my own soils, but that's because I read a Martha Steward book while on disability with carpal tunnel years ago (my mother gave it to me and she seemed totally surprised that I actually read it) and realized just how simple it is and just how much the plants love it. And I did rearrange and add to the tomato cage so it would actually support a 6' tall tomato plant. But I'm so not serious. Really. And I'm digressing (I think). This is where my namesake Degeneres says "My point, and I do have one ..."

There is a certain element of playing God when you garden. What gets put in and where, and more to this point, when to take something out. For the most part, I let plants I put in live their lives in peace save for necessary pruning and trimming. (Invading plants I have no problem being vicious with - especially vines which can be really evil.) With annuals that's easy. What prompted this entry is that I just took out most of one of the basil plants and made pesto - yum. With perennials that can present some difficulty and now that I've been a home owner for a while the time does come where it makes sense to end the life of something you helped give life to.

In the case where a plant is injured and isn't recovering it's a pretty easy decision. I had a lavender plant out in the sidewalk area that a kid rode a bicycle through and left it in a V form and after nursing it for a year (unfortunately you can't just cut them all the way back like you can with other plants) I gave up and took it out. Also, when my neighbors tree shaded my oregano the taste went away since it needs the sun to bring out the oil, so I pulled it out. Enough sun is an issue here. I plant Early Girl Tomatoes. It's Sept and only now are they ripening. Real early huh? Fortunately they're worth the wait.

But I now have a dilemma. I have this Orange tree (of course I do - How could I not?), a Washington Navel that I got at Orchard Supply. I've had it since 1993. I bought it as a dwarf and had it in a pot, but after I bought this house, I got tired of episodes of nearly killing it (because I'm bad about regular watering). So I put it in the ground and within a year, it completely forgot that it was a dwarf and is a very cheerfully happy full size orange tree. There's just one catch and this is my dilemma. It's appearing that it's not really hot enough in Alameda to make sweet oranges. Or at least where it's located. It gets plenty of sunshine, but it doesn't get the super direct, cook-the-brain sun for enough hours to bring out the sweetness. So I have an abundance of not very sweet oranges. After I pick them I leave them out in the sun for a few days and there is more sweetness but not as much as I (or anyone else) would like, and honestly I'm getting tired of the taste and I'm the only one who will eat them.

I've been doing this mucking about for a few years and now the tree is large enough to be really in the way. It just occurred to me that maybe I should consider taking it out, but deliberately killing a healthy tree (especially a tree as opposed to a relatively small plant) is so against my nature even though I have no attachment to its origin (like I would have if I'd smuggled one in from Southern California - yes, it's not legal because of a disease the oranges can get there). This tree came from OSH, nothing terribly special. I've given it quite a happy life for 16 years and now I want some payback, and I'm not getting it and we could really use the space these days.

The failure of this tree to produce sweet oranges is giving me pause in my other plan to put a tangerine in the front lawn. Tangerines have to be sweet. The front gets a lot more sun, but I don't know if it's enough. I suppose I could leave it in a pot for a couple of years and just move it around. As long as I put a watering system on it that should be ok. The only bummer is that I was going to put a full size one in and that won't work in a pot, but even a full size tree can live in a pot for a couple years.

But of course this doesn't help me to decide about the other tree. It's funny, as a tree it's perfectly happy it's just me putting my "publish or perish" "earn your keep" values on it. I suck at this God playing.

Reference that totally backs up my experience:

I leave the fruit on for as long as possible which helps - some.

For those feeling guilty about taking out a tree and they can't replace it they can support Plant A Tree:

Just doing some more googling for references and I came across:

Down a ways you see someone named Prichard say:

In Central Florida, I've lost a couple of trees to freezes. Even if they don't totally die, disease sets in and within a couple of years, the tree dies back to it's "sour-root" origins, i.e. the good graftings are killed off. When you start to get those long shoots with big thorns on them, that's sour-root. It produces some beautiful looking oranges, that are so sour and bitter, you'd think they were poison.
It's just sinking in. Maybe that's what happened to my tree. The sweet grafting died and all that was left was the full size sour-root stock. I don't see the big thorns that often though, but everything else totally fits. I'll see if I can talk to Four Winds in Fremont who was referenced in the first url. Four Winds were the people who told me about it not being legal to import cuttings from Southern California. I admitedly tried it anyway, but it never took and the oranges down south were allowed to pass away under a bulldozer (and 4831 N. Ohio, Yorba Linda, CA is the one place in the world that I won't go - though I do peek with Google maps once in a while.)

More confirmation here:
The tree froze, recovered but the fruit is "nasty" and they're asking about grafting.

I see grafting in my future.

At noon today I walked up to the trees and said
"You've been fooling me all this time."
I pick an orange and say
"You see this? It doesn't taste good."
It didn't see remotely intimidated.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Where I was on 9/11 - Endings and Beginnings

Because everyone has one here's mine, and it's actually slightly unique:

On 9/11/2001 I was at home (SF Bay Area) working at home on our company website because at the time I had better software tools at home (I forget why - something to do with a Mac no doubt.)

The phone rings and it's Catherine at work.
C: "Are you watching TV?"
Me (totally taken aback by the weird question): "Of course not, what do you think I do here?"
C: "No really, go turn on the TV. Someone has crashed planes into the trade center towers and one has fallen down. This is bad."
Me: "OMG"

The rest of the day was spent exactly like everyone else's. Glued to the TV in shock.

That evening I get a phone call from my friend Pierre whose wife Betsy is pregnant with twins.
P: "We have news."
I pretty much cry out "No! No! Please no more news. I can't take any more."
P: "No, we have NEWS"
Finally getting that he means the twins were born, I reply "Wow congratulations, how did you get anyone to pay attention to you at all?"
He joked about the doctors keeping half an eye on the TV screen.

The poignancy of getting that news at the end of that day really brought home to me that there is a future. And I will always know James and Katie's birthdays. Happy birthday. And happy birthday to my (unrelated) friends Celia and Cheri who also share this birthday with them.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The Nevada Nuclear Test Site - Gradual Declassification

A Very Long Time Ago in a Place Relatively Close By. I worked at EG&G. While the projects I worked on were not Top Secret they were used in Secret places so the information was sensitive. One project I was working on was the Weather Stations at the Nevada [Nuclear] Test Site. Working on Weather Stations is pretty peaceful especially because I was nowhere near Nevada, but I should have known that eventually during the installation the engineer would have trouble and ask me to come help. I was not happy about it, but I went to help him and while I was there I got a personalized tour of the place. Pretty unremarkable at the time and in retrospect quite a coup from a historical perspective.

The Test Site is no longer conducting Nuclear tests and much of the information about the site is now declassified, and there is a great Wiki page on it:

In the Really Bad Idea that wouldn't go away for a while Dept. was Operation Plowshare (which I like to call Operation F*ck Up). The idea was to place nuclear bombs in shallower positions in hopes the could be used to dig trenches. This is not a joke.

Nice try. It created radioactive mountains, and that area was fenced off when I was there - my normally level headed brave engineer coworker advised not to get too close - if he's says that then he means it. What's surprising is the radioactive level at a lot of the test site area not that high (that same coworker of mine measured it in several places - EG&G made the measuring devices so it was our business to know. )

Although there is no bomb testing going on the site is still very much being studied which to my amusement leads to all sorts of paranoia and conspiracy theories such as this video:

Artifact? Dude take a breath, they're just measuring devices and yes it's likely they're still collecting data.

Given how much information has been declassified I may as well finally tell the one really tiny, but really important factoid that I couldn't part with until testing ceased and things began to be declassified.

Protestors would often sneak into the site to get to ground zero in an attempt to stop the test. What fascinated me was that our weather stations were in little silver trailers all over the site. They would measure wind direction and speed as well as temperature and a host of other items. If the weather stations weren't reporting in then there could be no test. Yes that's right. No weather data, no test. Period.

It was so difficult not to let the protesters (fortunately I don't know who they are) know that if they really wanted to stop a test (instead of getting on TV), all they had to do was break off the antennae's on those silver trailers scattered unprotected all over the place - it was a weak link. I never did anything about it as (a) I didn't want to go to jail (b) I do take having a security clearance ("Q") seriously and may someday need one again though I hope not (c) support for testing was waning quickly and likely would stop and (d) the protesters actual goals might not be to quietly stop the test, but to be visible to show disapproval for testing.

If I were to run into those who did the protests, I'd love to ask. If you knew how to quietly stop a test would you do it or would you prefer the march to Ground Zero to get arrested and on TV approach. I wonder what they'd do? Probably both is my guess, but what would they do if they had to choose? I honestly don't know the answer.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bulwer-Lytton - the toilet roll that goes bumpity bumpity

NPR was talking about first lines of novels which reminded me to check if the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton results were out - they are. Bulwer-Lytton is that contest that "challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." In all fairness NPR was talking seriously, but I don't know if after Bulwer-Lytton if it's even possible to have a serious conversation about first lines of novels without descending into silliness.

Honestly I think I like the runner up better, but neither compares to the ones from year's past where are listed here:

Which contains my all time favorite from 2002. Whenever I think of Bulwer-Lytton I think of toilet rolls going bumpity bumpity.

On reflection, Angela perceived that her relationship with Tom had always been rocky, not quite a roller-coaster ride but more like when the toilet-paper roll gets a little squashed so it hangs crooked and every time you pull some off you can hear the rest going bumpity-bumpity in its holder until you go nuts and push it back into shape, a degree of annoyance that Angela had now almost attained.

--Rephah Berg, Oakland CA (2002 Winner)

And in case you haven't seen the inspiration for all this fun:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Who had a hyphenated name long before it was fashionable. Such a trend setter in so many ways.

I keep thinking I should try to think of some entries, but the idea of trying to keep to one sentence is more than a little daunting though I dearly love all the weird imagery and bad metaphoric language and I'm realizing that I haven't ended this sentence yet - hmmmmm.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Pissy iPod

Pissy in the American sense (Picky Prima Dona) but the alcohol related British version is not far off.

My 16GB iPod Nano has been having odd fits of "can not be written to or read from" messages while syncing. Even though whatever I was trying to load on it played fine on my Mac. The last straw was today when it wouldn't load an book I wanted to listen to this weekend. It wouldn't load it, even though it looked like it mostly worked it wouldn't show up in the menus. This weekend I'm going to be on the road for at least six hours so I was willing to spend some time to fix it.

First of all there are some podcasts that just won't load and I have to uncheck them, but the book was appearing to work. This problem is not completely fixed, but I did get a lot further by doing what they suggest on the Apple web site (figuring out the url is an exercise left to the reader.) I may have left out a step but this is the gist.
  • update iTunes on the Mac
  • attach the iPod
  • select Restore
  • let it wipe its brain (you will need your administrator password for this)
  • check: Sync only checked songs and video
  • in each ipod tab uncheck: Sync Music, Movies, and Podcasts (and click Apply)
  • you should have a mostly empty iPod
  • then selectively add things back
  • if a non-essential item doesn't load then uncheck it

If you're not sure which one is not loading when you get the can't read message then click ok and try the sync again and watch the top to see what it's trying to load. When you find out what it is then go back into your library and uncheck it. Then try syncing again - it should pick up where it left off.

My book has loaded. Other items have not like Sasha Baron Cohen's (Borat et al) Fresh Air interview but I just listened to that now on the Mac. It also doesn't like half of Fareed Zakaria's videos which make's me think it's suspicious of those with funny names but it's full of World Music and lots and lots of funny names. Only podcasts and videos. It's balked at the occasional Stephanie Miller too. Maybe it's just a critic.
I have two iPod Nanos which I love but they are the more recalcitrant pieces of Apple hardware I have ever owned. Sort of similar to my dysfunctional relationship with my Canon Camera but no whacking is required.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Twitterese - messing with convention (mini rant)

I'm not on Twitter, since I have no shortage of places to express myself and since bits don't weight anything and since I don't make a habit of texting (it's not free for me) I don't feel remotely obligated to limit my musings to 140 character "Tweets" or less (in fact I think I'm past that already).

What's weird to me is Twitter trying to usurp commonly understood email nomenclature and it's messing with my head.

Quoting from the help (

What are @Replies?
An @reply is a public message sent from one person to another, distinguished from normal updates by the @username prefix. If a message begins with @username, we collect it as a reply. Reply publicly to any update on Twitter by using the @username format.

So someone from Twitter talking to me on Facebook will address me at @ellen. Now I speak email and internet nomenclature pretty well, so to me, the name comes BEFORE the @ and the domain comes after. @ellen means you're turning me into a domain name and it's jarring every single time. There are so many other design approaches they could have taken. Mucking with the well understood @ symbol, smacks of laziness to me especially since a # or a $ or % or & or <> or + heck even a ~ or -- would have worked fine.

I'm not a domain name.

Too Many Cooks

I'm working on this much longer entry that's taking forever so I'm just going to go with short attention span entries for the moment.

Dog people are notoriously not cooks to the point that I worry about them.
But every so often I find someone who is and in fact in the last week I've found two dog people who cook and not just because they have to but because they enjoy it. I don't know why I'm so thrilled by that. May be it's because I know there's a section of the dog community who won't have to resort to stealing food from their dog.

While washing dishes I had this idea for an amusing small party, but I'm realizing it actually could be a fun TV show. It's called Too Many Cooks. Put 4 experienced cooks in a small kitchen with the task of making a meal. Would every one work together or would it devolve into Survivor like tactics? (And unlike Survivor, everyone is armed.)

On second thought maybe this isn't something I should do with my friends. :)

The Callanish 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 ( 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 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.