The Non-Dog Blog

Saturday, April 17, 2010

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Facebook Scam keeps reappearing

As a followup to the last post, here is the text to a Facebook scam email that was sent from somewhere in Asia from this IP address:
Dear user of facebook,

Because of the measures taken to provide safety to our clients, your password has been changed.
You can find your new password in attached document.

Your Facebook.

And they include a zip file that they hope you'll open. Opening it runs a program that trieds to contact the server of the malware writers so that your system can become a slave to do whatever they wish. The program may or may not try to steal the credentials on your system possibly giving them access to your bank.

Monday, March 22, 2010

You are the Accessory in Online Crime

It used to be that viruses and trojans were highly sophisticated programs that took advantage of obscure weaknesses in software. That is still true, but the emphasis has changed. The level of sophistication is there, but it's different, and in a way much less intimidating (to me).

The art of the grifter is alive and well on the internet and has turned into very profitable business model for criminal organizations in Russia and the Ukraine. The level of organization is now where the sophistication is. What I find interesting is that China doesn't come up in the dialog. China is still relying on sophistication instead of conning.

The entire operation hangs on "Social Engineering" fooling you into allowing some sort of rogue software to be installed on your system. This is actually a lot easier than you would imagine as people often list themselves as the administrator of the system instead of running as a limited privilege user and logging in explicitly as administrator when you need to do system work. Once you have allowed such an installation, you have likely been recruited into an army of computers called a Bot Net.

The take away message is clear. If you get a message that you are not expecting, asking you to click on a link. Don't touch it. If it's your bank, initiate the log in yourself. Places like Facebook are not going to suddenly change your password and send the new password in a like (that's going around today and has been before.)

Some of you may have been harrassed by an "Anti Virus" program. I cleaned a different one off my Mother in Law's computer. Here is one that someone detailed:
Analysis of a Rogue (Fake) AV Program

Those who are hooked on Criminal Conspiracy TV shows may find this fascinating
Pay Per Install model of Malware Distribution (You only need to read the first 3 pages to get the idea.)

Understanding Social Engineering

The Zeus Bot Net

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blogger Giving Me Grief

For years blogger has allowed you to keep your blog on your own web site via FTP. If you have your own site that makes sense. Now because of support issues (apparently we suck up too many resources - FTP is going away and I have to either give them a part of my url that will redirect to them or just have a blogspot url. Neither is probably horrible but i'm pouting as I like having everything stored on my own web site since I do pay for the stupid thing after all.

I've just learned that Word Press is available on my own site so I've installed it and of course i'm completely lost. I also don't know how to import years of other blogging to it. I have all of April to decide but I do need to start getting a little more serious about it.

I hate it when I'm given this great thing and then I get used to it and then it gets taken away. :(

So I see that Word Press has an import option. Cool. Except for one leetle thing.
They won't work on the older style FTP blogs. I have to upgrade the blog to the new style and then I can import it. Gee thanks for saving me all that work. Hmphf.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Dryer DIY Just Barely

I have been led down the primrose path by the internet and survived to tell about it. Not only that, but the dryer that I set out to fix (yes, this is my boondoggle though Terri got me out of it) is now fixed.

Our dryer had over the past few months developed a horrible squeaking/squealing sound and I innocently googled it and found a whole lot of squeaky dryers out there, but I also came across this page:
which has someone correctly diagnosing the problem as worn out "rear drum bearing" and he then continues on to explain in some detail how to fix it. What follows is many posts telling him thank you and that it wasn't all that bad and if you have two people it takes about an hour to do. This made me brave and even though our dryer is a little different I went ahead and ordered a "rear drum bearing" kit.

One hour turned into a week in our case.

Dryers are conceptually pretty simple beasts. They are basically a heated barrel that spins around on a post. This post or bearing had worn scores in it and was now howling. So knowing that and knowing that everyone else said it was doable even though it involved pulling that barrel/drum out completely, emboldened me. Such is how such misadventures start. What no one warned us about because our 15 year old dryer is likely just a little different that everyone else's is that while we could pull it all the way apart and replace the part and even find the little E-clip that went flying off when we pulled it off (**) (and of course was the one thing that wasn't included in the replacement kit), putting it all back together was well, just hell. One person said without any detail that putting their's back together was tricky, No one said anything about having to line 4 layers up blind. One of those layers, a disk of metal about 6 inches in diameter, would fall down at the smallest provocation and we learned later all the layers would only go back together in one orientation.

This is a photo of the dryer just before we pulled the drum out.

I don't have a photo of the drum out of the dryer. Too bad as it was pretty funny looking to be rolling around this drum outside of the dryer.

Once the drum was out you could see the bearing here:
It's hard to see but the mishapen disk thing is actually the bearing.

Here are a couple of photos of the older one where you can see it better. You can actually see the scoring on the shaft which is what was causing all the screaming.

The nearly impossible part was that the dryer drum had to bolt back into those little holes on the disk of the bearing (you can see them on the left photo.) If it had just been a matter of lining up the drum with the bearing that might have worked fine but the other layers involved that you couldn't touch while trying to get them lined up made me give up twice. Terri saved the day/week (not a joke). She figured out that you needed something to insert into the holes and then place the drum so that what you have inserted keeps everything lined up. We first tried dowels which weren't sturdy enough so she figure out that a bolt big enough to stay in the bearing holes would go through all the other holes, but she asked: if only I could get a bolt without a head on it.

This is one way our skills dovetail nicely. I am something of a dremel queen. Cut the head off a bolt? No problem, me and my dremel's cut off wheel only need about 5 minutes.

Then it was a matter of getting brave and trying to get the drum to line up with these three little bolts. I was the one who had been doing the lifting, but it was actually Terri who got it miraculously lined up and then I got to do the honors of one at a time pulling out the headless bolt and getting the actual bolt in there. It felt so strange to be able to accomplish something that you had given up on two days ago. I had even picked out what shop I was going to call and say "Hi, we can't get our dryer back together. No we don't need it fixed, we did that, but we can't get all the pieces lined up correctly." And each one one lined up perfectly as Terri who can be quite methodical when it's important, had taken the time to figure out exactly which orientation was the only one that would work and to carefully mark it. I'm very impressed and it's not something I would have thought of on my own.

Then we couldn't quite reach the belt to get it back on the pulley. I couldn't visualize how it was supposed to work, but we found an internet diagram and then Terri was able to draw it out for me. The only problem was that I was still having a lot of difficulty actually reaching the belt and after struggling with it for a while I finally realized that there had to be another way since my hands are smaller than 90% of appliance repair people and sure enough there was a way to it from the back of the dryer which made life much easier.

Of course when we finally finished we had to face the possibility that it might not work so with much trepidation we turned it one and No More Squeak! Ahhh. Of course we have parts left over but that's because the shaft wasn't an exact replacement so we had a couple of washers we had to omit but it's happily drying away right now and I'm hoping we'll get a few more years out of it before having to give up on it.

All in all it was worth it since it save us having to (a) buy a new dryer or (b) pay to have it fixed. The kit was about $25 with shipping. Having it repaired would likely have been over $100. But that said it was pretty high on the home improvement adventure scale and whether it is worth it to any one particular couple (2 people are required, domestic relationship optional) can only be answered by them. And if you don't have a solid relationship before you start you may not have one after it. At least it didn't involve water (washer's are way more complicated and I'm not sure I want to mess with one) and while we had most of the dryer in pieces, we never had to mess with the gas line going into the dryer, nor anything to do with the heating portion.

So we all survived and my laundry is getting done.

** And what sadist invented E clips? It took over an hour to figure out what it was called. Clamp? Nope. Cotter Pin? Nope. Got frustrated and took the dog on a walk. Came back and tried: "C clip" while not correct that got us far enough to be able to spot a picture of ours and then we were able to figure out it was called an "E clip" which given its shape makes sense.

Then we had to figure out how to get it off and the one internet person's idea of inserting needle nose pilers into the open end and then gradually opening the pilers worked. Their idea of using a plastic bag to then catch it when it releases and goes flying didn't work, and I found myself taking apart a whole 'nuther section of the dryer apart and sifting through a decade of lint, but I finally found it. In retrospect what would have likely worked is the always essential duct tape. Tape the part of the clip that you're not working on and anchor it to the dryer.


This whole experience was a whole series of unplanned side steps and in home improvement you just have to anticipate that at best things are going to go in a circuitous path. it didn't end that night, but continued this morning when Terri asked if the hot water heater was on. It wasn't as I had turned it off momentarily by accident last night and that killed the pilot. So this morning was about finding the long mechnical match and then remembering how to relight it even though the instructions were covered up by the insulating jacket (turn the dial to "pilot" and hold the red button down while placing the lit match onto what you hope is where the pilot light goes, then when the pilot lights, move the knob over to "on." My first time I got it lit then carefully moved the knob to "off." D'oh. It all finally worked out and I actually had a hot shower this morning to go along with my clean clothes.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Unplanned Weight Loss is Disconcerting

I've been trying to lose another 5 pounds and i'm suddenly getting my wish and I'm not sure I'm at all happy about it. I'm having one of those GI related problems (actually not the big D), and even though it's not particularly painful, the anxiety it causes has made me lose my appetite and I forget to eat. I fortunately can eat and do when I remember to but I don't snack inbetween meals much and suddenly I'm 3 now 4 pounds lighter. It's actually a little disturbing I find.

Fortunately, even if I were to lose another 10 pounds (I hope not) I'd still be ok.

I'm just really glad I have health insurance.

I am doing better and am now back to the weight I would expect to be (2 pounds heavier - probably had lost a bunch of water then).

Monday, March 01, 2010

Getting off the Value Pak junk mail list

In my continuing quest to get off of junk mail lists.

Valpak puts the removal instructions in the smallest type possible on their envelope.
but the number they post 1-800-676-6878
actually encourages you to use their website.

Both methods are a complete pain, but seem to work.

Entering the numbers listed after the phone number will get you to the removal part of the phone tree:
1-800-676-6878, #, 2, 2, 1
Then leave your address and spell out anything even slightly odd.

The website was a tough one too, but I finally found it:

You can give them your email address which they swear is just for confirmation only, but I declined to.

Removal is for only 2 years which is annoying as I was removed and just the time I got off the other one this one started up again.

Though given that you used to have to mail then the label for them to remove you this is miles easier which is probably why they make it hard to find.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Hidden Costs of Can't Go Home Again

I grew up in what I'm am just realizing now (funny how that works), a kid's paradise. I had animals, property to run around on (and work on which I hated then of course), and an orange grove.

It's gone now. Gone the way of most orchards and the property now hosts Yorba Linda McMansions, which I peek at with Google Satellite views in Google Maps and Google Earth. I truly and very literally can't go home again - it's a weird feeling that many folks share. Yorba Linda now remains as the one place in the world that I absolutely won't go.

And that's fine, but fate has a funny way of twisting the knife just a bit.

Facebook means that I don't have to feel guilty about not attending class reunions. I'm now in far better touch with some of my old pals on a regular basis than any reunion could have done, and this is pretty trippy in that "my world's are colliding" sort of sense I must say.

No, the weird knife bit is that in Yorba Linda of all places, a dog training center with a great reputation has been established. Well that's fine we have world class training here too, but they have taken to hosting classes/seminars from very well known trainers and behaviorists. Trainers that don't come to California that often. So I occasionally get these emails about So-and-So's only California appearance in Yorba Linda. Yeeegh (it's a Tom Lehrer sound that I don't know how to spell.)

Fortunately I have been spared by property values. The sale of my parent's property is funding their retirement. This means that property values all, but guarantee that there won't be any herding facilites founded there and it's not very likely a large agility trial place will appear either. (They have training, but it's not where you would have a trial.) But who knows.

In the meantime I still have to wait for these star trainers to get back to the Bay Area (they do come from time to time). Or I suppose I could go to them even though that's more money. I do make suggestions to the organizers, but there's always something that holds them back.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Look Carefully at my Sponsor's Skis

Sometimes when I finally notice something it seems so screamingly obvious, I wonder how I've been missing it for years.

It was actually a snowboarder who pointed this out to me. I'd been noticing that the snowboarders always seemed to be holding their boards up after a run while they waited for their score - particularly showing the underside. Then I noticed that one of the boarders was making a real obvious point about showing the name on the board to the camera. Then I noticed it again and again and again and wow, I'm slow, but they must be doing this deliberately. They are no doubt sponsored by the board manufacturer they're riding for and this just has to be part of the deal.

Then I saw the skiers. The very first thing they do when they finish a run is take at least one ski off and carry it vertically. Now when you're a tired skier this is likely one of the least likely things you're about to naturally do. Sure enough, every single skier took one or both skis off and held them up so the brand name was visible. They make it look so smooth, but it's so strangely affected. "Can you see my sponsor's skis that they gave me?" Here let me hold them up, so you can get a better look.

This is so dramatically different from the days when skiers were required to be amateurs and a skier could not be photographed with their ski brand showing. Funny how there really isn't a middle ground, we skipped from no photographs to always being photographed. Funny how it's mostly focused on skis and snowboards. It's not like runners are required to take their shoes off and hold them up. Now that would be ridiculous, but who knows maybe that's in the future.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Traveling the World to Compete with the Same Folks Again

So I'm noticing this Olympics that I pretty much know most of the big names in skiing and snowboarding, and if you tune in even just a little in between Olympics you will recognize names. Last year I wound up at Northstar and the weather was pretty miserable, so the only thing fun to do was go watch the snowboarding competition. And tonight's snowboarding competition was pretty much a replay of that competition. The Australian Tora Bright (who must never go home) won and Kelly Clark did very well, and one of the Tahoe locals Elena Hight placed. (I don't remember if Hanna Teter or Gretchen Bleiler were there).

This brings home in a way how small the world can get if you specialize enough. In Calif. in dog agility circles we joke that we travel 100s of miles and we see the same faces, and of course we can't help, but wonder why we bothered to go anywhere (but if you go far enough the faces do change and that's what makes it fun). I'm sure that occurs to the elite athletes as well. Their versions are even more extreme since they have sponsors and competing is their job as opposed to those of us with a moderately expensive obsession where we have to work so we can afford to do it. They really are always seeing the same people again and again, vs. the rest of us who recognize a percentage of the people we see, but by no means all of them.

I do love how in both skiing and snowboarding that the top women all know each other and seem to have this agreement about trading off who wins what.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Many Keys on the Keyring?

One excellent way to start a religious, superstition-laid argument is to ask how many keys should be on a automotive keyring - the idea was that if there was too much weight on it that the ignition switch could wear out.

Well, pretty much a whole bunch of things we once knew about cars is now outdated. The fastest way to stop a car with anti-lock brakes is not to carefully feather the brakes, but instead stomp on the pedal. High octane gas is not better for your car if it wasn't designed for it (though that said, the higher detergent that is often in expensive gas might help). And taking a lot of time to warm the non-carburated fuel injected engine doesn't usually make a whole lot of difference in how the car runs and is pretty much only good when the car is in the snow and you want some heat. So with that in mind, I figured that the whole idea that having too many keys on your keyring is going to wear out your ignition is likely hokum these days. Google searching is inconclusive. Even the lackies at Car Talk hedged and said well 10 keys is probably ok, but it you're a janitor you might consider separating the car keys out.

So with no solid information I cheerfully ignored the key adage and I would have continued to ignore it, until something completely unrelated to the health of one's ignition switch convinced me it was a good idea to separate them out.

At a shopping center near me there was a car jacking. Now that gave me considerable pause. Mostly because of the headlines if that happened to anyone with dogs in crates in the car. Most of these dog owners would rather be shot than let someone take their dogs, but once that scary scenario dissipated I was left with another one. If your keys are one one ring and you don't have a quick release, do you think that Criminal X is going to wait around while you take your car key off your ring? This is what unrealistic comedies are made of. So not only does your car get stolen, but they have your house and other keys and they have your registration which contains: your address.

Yikes. That more that any silly debate made me separate the car keys out from the other keys.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Your Car is Not a Television

Less so these days, but something that I still see is people locking/arming their car by pointing the keypad at the car, and of course the car (usually) dutifully responds, just like pointing the remote at the TV. But the thing is your car is not a television. TVs have infrared sensors that detect the signals from the remote. Your car has no such sensors and imagine how crazy it would make you if it did. Just think of the drama in your living room when something blocks that IR sensor, now out in the wilds of the average parking lot. Thanks I'll pass.

Car arming systems use a different technology that is not based on direction. You do no need to point it at the car. I remember in the 80s how much a friend enjoyed setting his car alarm by just reaching in his pocket. Except for the funny walk, there was no relationship to the car beeping and what he was doing. With work, he would have gotten subtly points.

Try it sometime. have the fob in your hand, but don't point it at the car when you press the lock button. It should work the same. The cool thing about this is that if you're in your house and you can't remember if you locked the car (I don't use the auto lock), then you can press the button from inside your house and if the car is within range it should respond. You don't need to open the door and do elaborate aiming gymnastics. I know Hollywood has gotten a lot of mileage out of this misconception (someone aims their remote at their new car and life), but it's been bogus for a long time.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Using an Avalanche Beacon to Locate another Beacon

Avalanche Tranceivers and their use.

As I do some research I'm noticing that specific details on avalanche rescue are a little scarce. That may be deliberate as you really need to take a class, and practice practice, practice. I'm going to focus specifically on exactly what I learned and am going to leave a lot of the other detail out.

Tome of basics are listed here:

I think it really needs diagrams but I don't know when I'm going to have time to do them.

The basic gist is that when out on a trip everyone has their tranceiver in transmit mode. If someone is buried then everyone else puts their transceivers in search mode so they can locate the other person.

The methodology in how this happens is really important (such as there needs to be a leader coordinating the whole search.)

The search steps are Primary search for a signal, Secondary search one you find a signal, pinpoint search to locate the victim and dig them out.

The parts we spend the most time on were the secondary search and the pinpoint search. The secondary search happens when you get a signal and you bend down and lower the receiver down to the snow level and start following the arrows on the receiver. Because of the way the radio waves emanate, the approach will naturally be in an arc.

When you're close the numbers (distance away is in meters) will start dropping and the receiver starts beeping more. When you're numbers start to go up again you need to stop and do a pinpoint search. Tell your leader about this - yell!- you will need help with shoveling if that's necessary. For practice searches that are only 1/2 a meter down, it's pretty easy to get numbers down to 0.5 or 0.6, but people buried for real may be buried much further down.

At this point you stop looking at the directional arrows and just look at the numbers. Some people cover them up but I didn't need to.
Now you need to concentrate and focus and that is surprisingly difficult with the ensuing chaos - people often mess this part up, but it's my favorite.
- Note and mark the lowest number that when things were the lowest (say 0.6m)
- Note the place where you noticed the numbers going up and mark that place (say 1.0m - a ski pole is good marker
- back up to past the lowest number and back off to the same amount in the other direction and mark that
- then back to the center and mark the same amount left and right (in this example mark where it hits 1.0 both on the left and right)
- You should now have a search box.

If the number in the marked center is less than a meter then dig with your hands
If more than a meter then the beacon and whatever it is attached to (person, pack or whatever) needs further locating. Assemble your probe and probe the center and work out from the center in a spiral until you get a "strike:" (ouch - the probes are pointed.)
- IMPORTANT, when you have located something, leave the probe in place
- back up about a stride and a half and start digging.
- short strokes are best, stay low and work as fast as you can.
- if it's a person, uncover their face as quick as you can (bummer if the first thing you find is a boot - you can't yank them out as they are likely injured. Keep digging - try not to make it worse but if they live they will likely forgive you for shovel whacks.
- if they are conscious try and have a conversation with them to see if there are other victims (the likelihood of them being at all communicative is not great even if they are alive. Get them medical attention as apparently there's nothing quite like being buried in snow and this is according to first hand reports we were lucky enough to have. One video I saw describe it as like being in concrete.

This all needs to happen with it 15 minutes. The locators on the beacons are so good that when you know what you are doing, you usually can find another beacon with in 3-4 minutes which is good because it takes a while to dig out that much snow if they're 4 feet down (average), which can easily be a ton of snow. This is why calling for help is actually secondary. It's important if they're hurt, but if they are going to live you have to be the one to find them and get them an airway. Such a grim and fascinating topic.

My entire goal of the class was avalanche avoidance, but I must say I liked the search part. It's geocaching with consequences.

The Weirdness of Minor Emotional Trauma

I'm in a position I've never been in before, and it's pretty strange for me.

Because the blog entries are individually searchable some redundant information first:

I attended an avalanche class where to get to certain places I needed to ski on terrain that was beyond my skiing ability.
I was basically in the position of having to either snowplow or side-slip down to where I needed to be and I also had to traverse some very steep terrain that would have been no problem if I was on foot or on snowshoes, but with skis one made it completely different and the snow was too deep to just take the skis off and go on foot (I tried). I was sometimes in tears from the anxiety and frustration, but I never feared for my life and only a little for my safety. The situation was intensely anxiety producing, but on paper wasn't that bad in the grand scheme of possibilities.

But now days later I still have these odd things happening to me. I'll have these moments where I have to just go cry for a few minutes, and not just weeping, but serious crying jags. I have trouble sleeping sometimes and I rarely have sleep issues. Last night a bad dream (a man who I don't know came at me with intent to do harm) woke me up suddenly and keep me up for a couple of hours.

Bodies are funny. I recognize that my body is healing from what it considers an emotional trauma, what's weird is I've never been in this position from something as minor as getting dragged into something that I would not of chosen under normal circumstances. I have experience with emotional trauma, but more in the realm of real trauma (depression, breakups, sickness, death: the more usual kind of emotional trauma that takes months/years to really heal from), but this is different as I never could have anticipated it. For one I usually don't let other people push me into situations that are over my head. I push myself, but I, of course, respect my own limits. I have been in groups where the skill level was beyond me, but I always had the option to drop out. I've never been in the military or other groups where you have to keep up. This situation has made me swear off groups/tours if the potential for this exists.

What's also strange is how it manifests. After seeing how well snowboards could cope with the steep terrain and knowing that the reputation of snowboarding is that it's initially difficult, but you can get good at it in a much shorter time period, I've decided to take the step of starting learn it. This gives me no anxiety. I think because starting to learn snowboarding means spending a day or more on the bunny slope and right at this moment I'm all for bunny slopes.

There's also another very positive experience about this whole thing. The trip was there and back in two different chainsor 4wd only storms. While I do have 4wd envy I was very pleased with how the car did in the storm and how well I fared putting on the chains twice. I did it one with tighteners and once without and I didn't notice a difference. The manuf. says don't use them and everyone else says do. I split the difference.

The cool think about traveling in a storm on 80 is that at least going back the speed limit is 30mph and there were no accidents. I like it. Very slow going but not that stressful.

And I have finally pulled it together to make the beacon location entry.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Snow Grieving

Still reeling from my avalanche class. I loved it but was put on terrain that was above my skill level and that seems to have messed me up some (though the class itself was great and I still need to write more about it in time.)

Given how much trouble I had with skiing on difficult terrain and how I'm not willing to move to the mountains since my life is here and I like it and I pretty much emotionally need to be near the ocean as its nearness has always been a part of my life, I've decided to learn snowboarding. Snowboarding has a very steep learning curve BUT unlike skiing, if you stick with it you can get proficient in a much much shorter time period. I had avoided snowboarding since its use was limited in the backcountry, but that's changing with the invention of things like the Split Board (A snowboard cut in half and used like skis to climb and put together like a snowboard to go down.) i'm excited about this decision, but with this resolve to learn it comes an inertia about everything else.


I'm still grieving about how skiing went during the avy class. I feel as it I've lost something dear to me. I feel as though what I've been working towards is not attainable (being an expert skier while being a part time skier - and it's true - this might not be attainable) and it was just torn away, but that really doesn't cover it. I was placed in a position over my head and forced to cope and unlike common "wisdom," it didn't make me grow. Instead I've gotten worse and my confidence has been shook down deep. I don't want to even plan a trip at all as I'll just fail anyway (never mind that I learned a lot - that doesn't seem sink in). Fortunately, I don't think I'll fail at snowboarding (it is easier and eventually attainable even part time) though some part of me fears even that.

I was planning a Shasta trip. I don't want to.
I was going to apply to Whitney. I don't want to.
I was thinking about Yosemite trip. Not any more.
I was thinking maybe just Lassen, but not even that appeals.

I want to bail on the Sierra At Tahoe women's ski camp, but I'm going to make myself go. They say that it's run at whatever level you are at.

It's funny how this grieving (weird that that's exactly what it is) comes in cycles. Most of the time I'm fine and then suddenly I'm not.

Of course the dogs don't want me to go anywhere without them and it's tempting to just give into that.

Terri read this and mention that I'm letting my fears run away with things. She's right but I feel I have to let it run its course and not make any serious decisions right yet.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Avalanch Course Pt I: Basic Overview

I really do need to stop bemoaning my lack of skiing skills and start writing down what I actually learned which had nothing to do with skiing.

The class held by the most fabulous Babes in the Backcountry (

The instructor was actually one of the Avalanche Forecasters at Squaw which was quite the coup.

It was about

Why do we need to learn about avalanches?

In what terrain do avalanches occur?

What are the parts of an avalanche so we can talk about them and study them?

What are the classes of avalanches?
(The relative size or R scale)

How do we measure the destruction that an avalanche causes?
(The D scale)

What conditions make avalanches likely?

Weather and how it contributes

Snow types and how that contributes

Field work

Gather data from websites, and other sources.

Rescue equipment and how to use it
(transceiver, probe, shovel)

Rescue methodology (very important, and this is where the class become vital)

Terrain observation and applying what data we gathered beforehand

Explained some of Squaw's weather station instruments

Ran a lot of rescue scenarios and analysis and debrief.

Fri Kings Beach area near the cabin we were staying at.

Sat Squaw (

Here's an annotated mountain map:

Top of East Broadway lift and Shirley Lake area

Then back to Snow study area near High Camp and introl to snow pit digging

Sun KT lift (oh my freakin' god)
Avalanche rescue demo at Squaw complete with one of the avalanche rescue dogs.

Solitude a difficult blue run very steep and soft at the top very frustrating for me to get around on. (I think I'm taking up snowboarding.)
More involved scenarios
More extensive snow pit which was really cool

I could be writing for days and I'd rather not recreate an acredited course, but the basics of this information is in the book Snow Sense: A Guide to Evaluating Snow Avalanche Hazard by Jill A. Fredston, and Doug Fesler


Instead I'm just going to focus on the fun stuff. More later.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Avalanche Class - Some Sketchy Details

I took a 4 day avalanche class in Tahoe and I'm still a bit reeling from it.

the vague details are:

I attended a 4 day avalanche course put on by Babes in the Backcountry ( where the instructor is one of the Avalanche Forecasters at Squaw Ski resort. this is actually multiple blog entries but in short.
Drove to Tahoe in a storm (with chains)
Spent part lecture time in a sweet Kings Beach house (on the edge of Lake Tahoe) learning about what causes avalanches.
Learned how to use avalanche beacons (think geocaching, but you HAVE to locate it in 15 minutes or the person buried is likely dead - yikes).
Watched a Squaw rescue exercise complete with 7-8 crew members and an avalanche dog.
Got dragged onto ski slopes way above my ski skill level (they had one person showing me the easier ways - but still scary).
Dug a snow pit in a light storm at the top of Squaw and took a lot of readings and measurements. Yes this is total snow geek city.
Same day, drove back in a different chains-only storm with snow dumping around Blue Canyon.
Fell into bed after an 18 hour day.

Hopefully much more to follow when I get my head together.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Skiing: The Varying Shades of Blue

Ski resorts use a colored system to grade their runs

Easiest is a green circle
Intermediate is a blue square
Advanced is a black diamond
Expert is a double black diamond

I am an intermediate skier and I'm finding that there are many varying difficulties of blue. In fact I've often seen described "easy blues" and "harder blues." and the real trouble is that the degree of difficulty can vary on the run and the only way you have to learn about it is to try it or have a trusted person who knows your ability tell you about it. The net effect of this is that you find yourself on a run beyond your ability and you feel like a cat in a tree. Fortunately I know how to slide sideways down too steep sections but it's still very disconcerting.

Last friday when leaving Sugarbowl I had a great view of Mt Disney (Jerome Hill where I usually hang out wasn't as clearly visible) and spotted one such blue run that I've been stuck on more than once. I haven't worked up the courage to try it this season but probably will.

Here is a photo with the run on it (click on it to see the annotation). The really troublesome thing about this run is that you've been blissing out on a very nice gentle run and then you get dumped off a cliff. Allegedly there's an easier way down, but I haven't found it yet.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Trader Joe's Quest

I went by Trader Joes on a mission. We have some Trader Joes gift cards and Terri wanted to know if there was something special we could get. Do you know how much fun it is to walk in looking for something expensive?

So right now
$11 gets you 2 Dungeness crabs
$13 gets you a large hunk of uncured ham (she's on her own there, but I dutifully reported it)
$11-12+ gets you a significant quantity of Alaskan Smoked Salmon
$13 gets you a foot tall container of free trade coffee
$23 gets you an even taller supply of protein powder (she passed on this :)
$8 gets you what appears to be a lifetime supply of Castle Soap
$7 gets you an enormous amount of olive oil

I now realize there were probably some great cheese wheels, but I must have overlooked it in self defense.

Dungeness crab immediately won - yum.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

The Callanish Stones follow-up - the Quest for Callanish V

This is a follow up to my blog entry about the famous Callanish Stones

I mentioned that while the main attraction was amazing, it's a total blast to locate some of the more obscure standing stones in the area that are associated with the main one ("Callanish I"). There are over 10 and the quest for Callanish V had us having a grand time tromping all around a very large cow pasture.

Inspired, I scanned in the photos of our quest for Callanish V. there is a lot of mucking about for which there are no photos as well it was just mucking about (though just trying to follow the printed instructions is a challenge - this is pre-GPS).

First you find the marker stone. Given how burired it is in peat, I'm really surprised we found it. Some kind person or group partially dug it out.

The marker stone points out the row of stones that is up on the top of the rise.

Looking in the other direction:

We were looking and looking here. It actually isn't in this frame (if I remember correctly they were hiding just behind my left shoulder and further over - no doubt laughing at me), but gives the proper needle in a haystack feeling, and I spend a long time looking at this view.

One or more of these stones is not like the others...

This was around a 3 hour adventure I believe. Oh and note the crowds. It's basically you and history having a very personal chat.

It's Twenty Ten!

2010 is Twenty Ten, not Two Thousand Ten. (Someone alert They Might be Giants as we need a song like "Istanbul, not Constantinople") I don't know who decreed that (Emily Post Inc.?), but it's caught on and, if you think about it, it makes sense as it's how we always refer to dates in the past.

How do you say 1972? Nineteen Seventy Two.
When was the Norman Conquest? In One thousand Sixty Six? I think not. Ten-Sixty-Six is way catcher.
When was the War of Eighteen-Twelve? Sorry couldn't resist.

It's the Oughts (someone correct that spelling for me) that threw us off and the workaround in the past has been to use the handy, but ungrammatical "Oh." 1906 is Nineteen Oh Six.

I think the thing that make it not so obvious is that "Two thousand" and "Twenty" aren't that much different to say if you're used to saying "Two Thousand." "Twenty Oh Six" just never caught on, but it likely will in the future as the century moves forward (you heard it here probably not for the first time, but just the nth time.)

Happy Twenty Ten.

Inedible Bounty (of Oranges)

In Sept, I was agonizing about what to do with my thriving orange tree that produces some seriously sour oranges:

I haven't done anything with the tree as it's honestly not high enough of a priority, but when it calls attention to itself by having a huge crop of oranges that not even the squirrels will eat (I found one on the thrown on the ground with one squirrel bite out of it), it does grate.

If I leave the oranges on the tree for a year, then they get to a state where I can eat a some if I leave them out in the sun for a few days, but that experience has lost its novelty. I've decided that my conclusion at the end of the first blog entry is probably correct, the original graft died and I'm left with bitter root stock that is really annoyingly thriving.

While this is a bummer, I must remind myself, it's not entirely bad news, The root stock part is very healthy so if I wanted to learn how to regraft a tree successfully (I've tried once with some cuttings from my family's grove trees and that failed), then I have an excellent candidate for a base.

So for now, I'll just cut it back to a manageable size and stop worrying about getting the oranges edible - they're not. Coming to that conclusion is very freeing. I can always take it out entirely if I feel it's a lost cause but as I was writing in the first entry, I do admire its tenacity and love for life even it I don't like what it produces. I wish there was a magic shot I could give it to make it start producing sweet oranges. Could I order that over the internet maybe? I'm sure I could. With guaranteed results too.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

DIY Home Improvement Means Not Having Someone Else to Blame

Like a lot of people, I and my partner at the time wanted to buy a house, but the ones we could afford were not in areas that we liked, so we took the time honored route of buying a fixer, and trading sweat equity in order to get into a nicer area

That paid off handsomely, which was actually not the reason for this house purchase. It's one of those emotional decisions that, for once, worked in my favor. My area is rich in history and has no shortage of historic houses in nice areas that need love and attention. I just wanted to lavish love (and attention and money and time and money and anguish and money ... ) on a house that needed it. It's one area where you can really make a difference as a nicer house improves the neighborhood which helps everyone. (Well unless you're involved in gentrification, but we'll steer clear of that hot topic.)

The trouble is that when on a limited budget (that means just about everyone to some extent) there are always long lists of things to do and only one or two of you to do the work. So you save your pennies for the projects that you want someone else's expertise in - most recently for me is seismic reinforcements. After learning all about it I decided that I wanted someone else's help (and information about it changes so fast I'm glad I sought help.)

For the rest that you can conceivably do, you have a list of doable projects that you (ok, I) think about and think about and think some more about. Then I finally get tired of it and start on one until I hit a stopping point which leads to too many unfinished projects. Usually the reason is that you've discovered that some essential thing has to happen before you can proceed - I call this: going backwards in a project. Recently I decided that I really needed to finish a project, not just start one.

This particular project - a deadbolt - had actually taken some thought as I wanted to put said deadbolt on a door that had a window. I wanted to get around the problem of someone just breaking the window and undoing the deadbolt, so I found one that had a key on each side ("double cylinder" I think) and when we're home I leave a key in it on the inside (for fast exit in case of fire) and when we're gone on vacation I remove the inner key.

So first I did the easy part and replaced the same keyed door knob (didn't have to drill any new holes for that), then it sat for a couple of weeks until the above "I need to finish a house project" bug attacked and putting in the deadbolt was a natural target since I already had most of the hardware.

The thing about doing it yourself is that you have to accept that it's going to take you 4+ times as long as a professional who does this every day. I'm a computer professional and from time to time I'll help a friend out with a computer problem and I find that they've spent days on something that I can fix it 30 seconds. The reason is that I've already spent all those hours learning about the various ins and outs.

The other thing about fixer houses is that you had better really like tools

This job "required" a drill, a key hole drill bit, a spade drill bit, a 1/8 " drill bit, a wood chisel, a hammer, and a screwdriver. (Plus the usual: measuring tape, small T square level, and pencil) Simple huh?

The job actually took a drill, a different template kit from Home Depot which made lining things up easier, a key hole saw from the kit, a spade bit different from the one in the kit because the kit one wasn't lined up quite right. a 1/8" drill bit, the kit's nice wood chisel, a mallet (don't screw up your chisel with a hammer!), a utility knife (works better to use it to draw the outline to chisel out the mortise.

But nothing ever goes as planned and this is the problem with DIY. WHEN you mess it up there's no one else to blame (stupid locksmit - oh that would be me), you just have to be prepared for it.
So add to the above: small dowels and glue to help fill mis-aligned holes
a smaller spade bit for the dead bolt part that goes into the door jamb because they neglected to tell you that the one to put the dead bolt in the door is really too large for the other side of the jamb.
A Dremel to help make micro adjustments
A Die grinder for those not so micro adjustments.
A patient, but easily amused spouse or partner who is willing to help.
A headlamp because you don't have enough hands to hold a flash light.
Eye protection
Lipstick - this is not a joke. Lipstick put on the end of the dealbolt shows where it's striking the jamb. Rumor has it even the manly locksmith guys carry it, so feel free to look for it when they are working for you, so you can tease them about it.

Things that helped:
- patience - especially when chiseling the motises (those insets you have to make for the striker plates)
- sculpture experience for same motises - this helps you to avoid whacking your hands with the mallet
- upper arm endurance - you are drilling a very large hole in a door and the drill can catch so you need to be able to hold on tight.
- a good sense of touch as it requires putting in bolts where you can't see the screw hole
- a good eye for when things are mostly level - it's not precision work, but the closer you are the less rework you have to do.
- a sense of humor
- the knowledge (hopefully not misinformed) that you are not making things worse
- health insurance (not used this time but always good to have) - note the upper arm endurance section - drills that catch on things try to turn the body of the drill - often into you.

2 sessions later, I now have a working deadbolt and all my fingers, toes, eyes and dogs and sanity and marriage, and a sense of accomplishment. Besides it's fun to actually get something done with all of your toys.

When I first published this I typoed DIY as DYI. I wonder if that stands for Do Yourself In.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Treadmill Experiments

Happy New Year

Spent a couple of hours at the gym and surprisingly I recognized at lot of of the people there. Guess it's going to take a little while for the New Year's Resolution Crowd to get here.

I've been ill for the past few days so it was really nice to get out and moving. First did my favorite: RPM which is a stationary bike class and is an invitation to try to kill yourself while cool music plays and a super nice, super fit instructor encourages you in this pursuit. It is in RPM where I have hit my Maximum Heart Rate twice (this is hard to do - once), and one time I went past what I thought was my MHR which made me dubious enough that I replaced the heart rate monitor as it was acting slightly erratically. Fortunately since I'm coming off of a cold I just cruised. Rediscovering my actual MHR will be for another day.

After class I was pretty revved so I jumped on a treadmill and wasn't winding down at all so I just kept going and wound up staying on the treadmill an hour, so I took the time to verify something that I'd been suspecting.

At a rate of 3mph
At an incline of 5.0 (5 degrees maybe?), the calorie burn rate is 383/hr
At an incline of 10.0 the calorie burn rate leaps up to 529/hr!

This means that going uphill is just as calorically effective as jogging! Maybe not as fun when you're on a treadmill, but nice to have that alternative.

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 ( 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:
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 ( others listed at: 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: 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:

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 ( 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:

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: 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:

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:

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: 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. (, 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 (, 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 (

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 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 (,_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" ( 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,_Oregon and page down, and we also have the completely biased Bucket Brigade:, 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:

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.