Ramble Bits ©

Fair Warning for new readers – this is only PCT adjacent. If you just came for hikin’ talk, this probably isn’t for you. Feel free to hit the categories or the search options to find some hikey goodness! – Disclaimer Ends.

After about a month of staying up until 3 ish working on plans and general preparations and getting up between 5 and 9, I am almost back onto a hiker’s sleep cycle. In bed between 8 and 10. Up about 5. The next two nights, who knows. My brain is in a bit of a revolt the past week and i have not been able to muster the fortitude to keep it on track. I am even having trouble listening to my audiobook because there are too many thoughts in there and i don’t stay settled. I know this is temporary, and it has been nice for me listening to more music! Though it may be freaking the other folks at my gym out a little bit. When i am in the moment with the tunes, it is all i can do not to sing – but the dancing, air guitar, and head banging cannot be stopped m/. I actually have Rock Neck today from yesterday’s workout.

Casa de Luna (Joe's House) July 2012
Casa de Luna (Joe’s House) July 2012

I expect that my time in LA at Joe’s house will be a further aid to getting back onto a hiker’s schedule as well as finally giving me more hands-on time with my gear. I have only pitched my new tent twice and have never slept in it.  I know this is less than ideal, and it was definitely not the plan. But it is a good reminder that our plans seldom stand up to actual life for very long. I can’t wait to see Joe and Terrie and be in Green Valley again sleeping in the Magical Manzanita Forest! I plan to do a little hiking and might check out the path up to the aqueduct. I will probably hike out to the oasis as well. I expect that there could be some disc golf in my near future!!

Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe
Terrie, slightly confused Korean Girl, Joe

My head is so very full of stuff to write about that it is difficult to pick a starting place. I may need to resort to the old outline and bullet point system for a bit to track the very divergent tales. One recurring issue that i have never figured out how to address is dealing with stories that are an integral part of my life but that may not really be mine to tell – or at least not in sufficient detail. Aside from the ownership of events, an admittedly not insurmountable obstacle, there is the impact on others to consider as well. In that regard i am more concerned about the business implications of full disclosure – which is why you have heard very few stories about my time in Doha and Thiruvananthapuram.

Me and Emily - June 30, 1996
Me and Emily Campbell (oldest niece)

Business and matters of the heart – how do you write about stuff without really writing about it? I have no idea. Maybe i am no good at writing that way because i am also no good at all at living that way. With everyone in my life, i always want to get to the point past all the surface crap, where you can be the real you without your defenses up.* Where you don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or causing offense because you have and trust the good feeling you share and because you know that you can work through miscommunications. I am an “all-in” kind of guy and i prefer to spend my time with people who are also “all-in”.  If you are not already nodding your head and saying “yes brother man, i get you”, i offer these simple examples. For me, the best example is the behavior of dogs. Dogs and their bipeds, dogs and each other, dogs and other animals. You always know where you stand with a dog. You know if they want to do what you want to do or if they are just going along because they like to be with you. You know when they miss you. You know when they would rather just nap by the fire. You know when they don’t like you and to what degree. You know when they do like you and to what degree. The other example i offer for those of you who are not well versed in dog is children. I don’t know kids as well as dogs, but i have spent a goodly time with many a youngster and there are some similarities. In that magical time before the conscious brain takes over, maybe it is before self-consciousness (not self-awareness now, that is something else), they leave it all right out in front of you. I like this. I don’t like that. I like you. That guy is scary. Let’s cuddle up and take a nap. I need a hug. I wish she/he would play with me. All of it just right out there in the open. I think that is a great way to live and i deeply mourn that so many of us lose this ability as we age.

Emily and Rachel
Rachel and Emily

Is there a line between boldness and stupidity? Evidence indicates that there is. I am finally pretty clear that such a thing exists. I am even getting better at locating it and abiding by it in business. But for other aspects of life, i am still not very good at these distinctions. I wanna live bravely, boldly, and in the open. I do manage that most of the time, the rough spots generally occur with “new” folks. I don’t know how much of this is normal and how much may be related to having a natural bias towards addiction – If one is good, more must be better. If once was good, all the time has to be the best, right? I am getting pretty good about controlling my relationship to substances, but i can get hooked on people too. How do you know what is really your heart and what is just some crazy expletive that the really freaky diseased part of you is excited about? Stupid heart never checks in with brain anyway. I  don’t know what that guy is up to half the time. But i do recognize him as one of mine because of how he goes about loving what he loves and that he wants to do it all Super Size!

Now that this post is firmly lost in the tall grass, it is probably time to stop.

I should have a more PCT related post coming in the next day or so about physical preparation!

Rock On Peeps. Be Bold. Live fully. Try not to hide!


* I am not saying that i always get to this magical place with everyone, but it is my goal, and i tend to spend more time and have longer relationships with folks when we DO get to the point where we are free to be ourselves without any worries or psychic baggage.

Stuff and Things

G+N.pa 96-97
G+N.pa 96-97

Howdy folks. It is getting pretty exciting round these parts. I am leaving in a week. I am thrilled and anxious and a little nervous and really jazzed up and a little scared. One of my new hiking friends and i were talking a bit about fear/anxiety. I shared a thought with her. This is not my original concept, just something i have heard from many sources and that i draw strength from at times. Bravery and courage do not imply an absence of fear. To be brave, to act with courage, is to be afraid and to carry on despite your fear.

I am practicing with a few acts of bravery here in PA 🙂

G+L+N 2003

The previously endless task list is no longer endless and all the big chunks are done. There are still a few things to tend to. If you are as “particular” as i am, there are always more things to do. All the resupply boxes are packed, addressed, and ready to ship out. I have a stockpile of backup food prepared in case i need to have my mail drop angel Liz adjust my portion sizes. I have two boxes of backup gear packaged and labeled for easy identification in case stuff breaks, wears out, or i want something else once i am out there doin’ it.

I filed and paid my taxes. I enrolled in a health insurance program. I got my booster shots both for regular USA life and for almost definite international business travel that will commence as soon as i return to everyday life after the hike (Tetanus and a Typhoid booster). My car is at the doctor’s office getting a new lung so that it will be ready for my folks to use in my absence.

I got some great tent repair tools from the maker of my new tent and have patched the hole i inadvertently made in the rainfly the second time i ever set up the tent. This kit includes a very lightweight device that will preclude the same kind of incident occurring again.

My desktop since 2006
My desktop since 2006

All of that necessary surface stuff aside – there have been some interesting emotional shifts and other reflections during this time of preparation. I look back at the years of drinking and smoking and continue to wonder how and why i lived that way at all, and for so long. There are so many great benefits for me in being sober and an ex-smoker. (I can never be a non-smoker. Even if i thought that it was possible for that title to apply to a former smoker, which i do not, Bill Hicks would crawl out of his grave, join Facebook, and become my friend – just so that he could unfriend me for applying that label to myself. No one wants that.) I will be 5 months smoke free on Friday, but i don’t really feel any different. That does not make me want to smoke again. I love not smelling terrible (or at least not terrible in THAT way). Many people have commented that it should be much easier to hike now. I don’t feel that. I don’t know if not enough time has passed, or if it has more to with me just having a very large lung capacity and staying active even when i was about 40 pounds overweight. I like not smoking. I like not spending the money i used to spend on cigarettes!

The not drinking has many more tangible, immediate, and longer term effects. One of the biggest things for me is that i am not depressed anymore. After living in a constant state of at least mild depression with several rather severe swings into deeper dark places – i have not even really been sad since i quit drinking, and it feels great. Aside from an initial few weeks of changing body chemistry, i sleep so well now. I fall asleep easier and actually sleep all through the night. What a great change that is. Having good sleep alone has probably helped reshape my attitude into the happy sunny guy you all know and love those days 😉 (Yes, i used to be even grumpier. Don’t you wish you knew me then?) I am still me, still have my own ticks, and tendencies, but i let more stuff go now. I am hanging on to less. I do still bottle things inside and am far more likely to channel emotions inside to try to understand and control them rather than just letting them run free – but i am doing it less.

A final thought to keep this “brief” and not spiral into a super lengthy introspective ramble – an unexpected correlation between long distance hiking and sober time. Many guide books offer the advice that if your goal is to thru hike a long distance trail like the PCT, you have to expect some changes out there due to fires, floods, landslides, mudslides, endangered species, and other factors. However you do choose to surmount these difficulties, the key is to walk a continuous foot path from start to finish. You don’t want to have to say, “i hiked the whole PCT, except for that bit near Idyllwild because of the …”. I understood this immediately, both what they were trying to say and why it might be important, particularly in your own memory and in talking with other hikers.

My buddy
Me and Lucas at Mickey and Max’s House – 2011

I quit drinking (this time) in January of 2013, just a few days after finding out that one of my dear friends and mentors who also struggled with depression and addiction killed himself by hanging. But on April 14th, 2014, the day i will start my thru hike attempt, i will be 6 months sober. That is because i chose to drink last October. It was something of an experiment. I didn’t go crazy or shirk my duties or anything – but i did drink for several days. I am glad i did it. If only to know that i don’t need to ever run that test again. I hated it. I was so very disappointed in myself for doing it. I had to make sure that i made a few public statements about it so that i would not have a bunch of my supportive friends trying to wish me a “happy one year sober” in January of 2014 that i did not earn. I don’t declare that i have been sober for a little over a year except for that little incident in October. That would sound and feel false and wrong to me. I don’t want to have a similar thing with my thru hike. I am not a purist in the sense of “every possible mile of the PCT must be walked”. There are several alternate routes that are not mandatory, they just take you to different sites and i am really excited about hiking those paths. For me, those alternates do not break my chain of thru hiking the PCT. Skipping sections in a car or something like that – something that does break the concept of walking a path all the way from Mexico to Canada – that would violate my personal goal. So, i get what they are saying and i am on board!

I am not judging the choices others make. That is their decision and their lives. You go out have the hike that you want to have. This one is mine.

PS – i keep meaning to write about music and m/ METAL m/ but i just have not had the time. And yes, those issues are timely and hike related! My new buddy Minda and i have a lot of common musical tastes, though as of yet, she has not found any Metal that works for her and we have been talking about metal. I wanted to write a bit about it and explain what it is about Metal that appeals to me. It may not be what you think…

Anywho – be well folks.

Rock On!

PPS – i have written about my dogs throughout this blog and i am sure i will again. With the anniversary of both of them passing – Guthrey at the end of March in 2004 and Lucas 03/30/2012 – my company getting really active in the MidEast again (which happened right after Guthrey died), and me going to hike in California again (i hiked the JMT a few months after Lucas passed) it has been on my mind. I miss my buddies every single day. No day is really harder than any other. But i am feeling it quite a bit right now.


Tech Post 4 – iOS

I generally enjoy iOS and the cool things it has brought not just to mobile computing but in most cases the backwards compatibility approach to making things uniform between mobile devices and more traditional computing stations. But there are still some examples of engineering choices I can’t understand. Sadly, this trend began during Jobs tenure, but it has accelerated into more areas since his passing. Here again I am talking about iTunes. I loved the way this used to work in the 3GS days. Your phone mirrored your home system. Your music, podcasts, audiobooks, tv, and movies were all there together.

The first change that frustrated me was the removal of video content from this mobile app. Not a huge deal, but now I have to use two separate apps and app buttons to do a job that used to require only one. The more recent example has to do with podcasts. One used to be able to download more episodes of a podcast from within the same app one used to listen to podcasts. There was a little hyper link at the bottom of the screen displaying the episodes available on your device that said “get more episodes” and that is what it did. Now that link does not work. It asks you to download the NEW Podcast App! I resisted this for ages. But finally I was on the road without any other computer and had been gone long enough that I needed to update my podcast library. So I got the app. It takes over control of all podcasts on my phone, moves them to a new location and requires that I attempt to sort through them using a form of coverflow. In addition to just being frustrated that these changes were forced upon me, I listen to enough podcasts that a coverflow view is simply not an efficient way to look for the shows and episodes I want. Certainly this is a shortcoming of the podcast producers, but not every podcast has a logo, or a distinct logo. I listen to several NPR podcasts and many of them have the same generic logo. A coverflow style system does not present enough information to discern which podcast is being represented. The images are much larger than the old lines of text, so the new presentation of text accompanying the images is very small. I would see a generic icon, or standard NPR icon and the text “NPR…”. Again, not very useful for finding the show i was looking for. This system may work for some folks, it may even be a better method for some people, and I am happy that they have this method available. I am not down on the creation of new methods, but I don’t understand why introducing a new method necessitates removal of other methods. This was not an issue of solving a problem, but changing the means by which we interact with our content.

Listening to the back catalog of The Nerdist podcast, Chris Hardwick mentioned something about this issue that had not occurred to me before. Chris mentioned, and it is true, that the podcast menu selection was buried deep in a somewhat hidden menu in iOS. He enjoys the new app because it is easy to find. I can see that point and its relevance and can see Apple choosing to break out podcasts into a separate app to address those concerns. It would still be annoying to me to have to use a separate app to access podcasts instead of having these things placed in the same app mirroring how we interact with our content on our computers, but i would be ok with it. That is a change i can understand. But forcing users to abandon list views and adopt the coverflow model gets my goat. I could accept this change without much complaint if it remained an effective tool for locating specific podcasts, but for me, it simply does not work.

Hardwick’s comment presents a nice segue to my final iOS criticisms. First, why does the App called “iTunes” access the iTunes Store and not the app which mimics iTunes on a computer? Second, the menu system inside of the “Music” App. The first thing i do with any new device or upgrade is go through all the menu options. I found out how to customize the Music App menu the first day i used an iPhone. It does take a little digging, but you can customize which options are available at the bottom of the Music App screen just as you can with the 4 static icons on your home screen. I changed mine to meet my needs – “Playlists, Podcasts, Audiobooks, Albums”. This worked well until iOS6. Since iOS6 came out, this customizable menu resets itself to the factory defaults from time to time. Sometimes it happens if you close the app from the multitasking bar – sometimes not. Sometimes it resets when you restart your phone – sometimes not. Sometimes it resets for no discernible reason. This has happened for me on both the 4S and the 5. Weird and a bit frustrating.

I can understand that things might be a little more fluid in the iOS ecosystem. Mobile computing is still in the exploratory stages, testing what is possible, what makes sense, and what works well, looking for best practices. I don’t mind there being changes, but as in all other areas, i expect to be able to understand why they occur – to sense that there is a reason behind the change. And most of all, i expect the changes to enhance the experience, to improve access for all, and not to limit our choices in how we access our content. Aside from the specific gripes i have with changes in iOS, my largest complaint and fear is the continual export of less than stellar iOS changes being exported to the OS environment.

Coming Up – A few comments on changes to the OS, a look at some of Apple’s competitors, and the thrilling conclusion.

Tech Post 3 – iTunes

BOC Correspondent # 3
BOC Correspondent # 3

I will hit iTunes Match first because my beef there is fairly short and the end of my rant against the new version of iTunes segues directly into the next post on iOS.

iTunes Match proports to provide several services that aroused my interest. It could provide higher quality versions of songs you possess and in many cases fix glitchy, skippy type errors found in older degraded files. It would make all your content available on all your devices. This is a feature available through the link between the iTunes Store and the iCloud for content you had purchased via the iTunes Store. But the iTunes Match system is supposed to be a bit more elegant, easier to use, and provides that service for all your content regardless of its origin. The process of adding your mixed origin content to the cloud also provides you with a true backup of that content.

My experience with iTunes Match was basically the exact opposite of the description. None of my damaged songs got fixed, despite downloading fresh copies after completing the initial sync/match/upload. Many songs, around 75, were no longer available on my iPhone. The reasons seemed to be that Cloud Tunes could not figure out which version of these songs i actually had. This did not happen with obscure stuff. Most of the less well known bands’ music behaved with no issues. I had the problem with Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones to name a few. Cloud Tunes can’t figure it out, grays out the songs, and adds a tiny icon you can hit for “more information”. This icon leads to a really tiny dropdown window that has six instances of the song title but no other information presented in the very very minuscule resolution window. What i am supposed to do? Guess which of these six instances of the same song title correspond to my album – at random since there is no other information available to me? Click one and hope for the best? Repeat this process for the next 74 tracks? Or just get used to no longer being able to listen to songs I own that are already on my device but that I am no longer allowed to hear? I bailed.

The good news. Because i bailed early, within 5 days of ordering the service, i contacted Apple and got a full refund.

I really do not like the new iTunes (anything past 10.7). Usually I will give new tech a few days and try to get to know the new features and see what the developers were trying to do. I did not do this for this version of iTunes. It did not last more than an hour before I hit the boards to find out how to revert to the previous version. Why?

The things that I use iTunes for became harder to find (more clicks) and harder for me to see/use. I like lists. I like “list view” wherever available. The classic iTunes layout worked well for my needs. On the left I can easily click between media types (music, movies, tv shows, audiobooks, and podcasts) or perform the primary activity that brings me there – click a playlist and jam out. I do not mind that Apple changed things. I assume that they had a reason and were either responding to customer feedback or projecting a probable course users would enjoy. What does bother me is that they made it impossible to retain or revert to previous viewing methods.

An example highlights the pre and post Steve Jobs attitude in this regard. I do not care for coverflow. Is it neat? Sure. Is it a cool bit of coding? Sure. But it is not useful for me. Coverflow came out in the Jobs era. When coverflow came to iTunes I was happy for my more visually inclined friends while also being grateful to Apple that instead of limiting our choices, they accommodated multiple perspectives. If you are a word/list guy like me rather than a cover/image guy, you were not forced to use coverflow. You could continue to use the lists as you had from the beginning of iTunes.

The new version of iTunes does not provide any options for viewing your data in the old way. It is a complete redesign. This is a very un-Apple approach to design and “innovation”. Throughout the 90s when i was still a Windows user, my Apple friends would tell me about some of the great features in Apple systems. One oft touted feature was that the menus are always the same. If you want to see what options are available to tweak a program, those options are always found under “preferences” and you can always access preferences in the exact same place for every single program on the system. This highlighted a huge difference between Apple and Windows systems. Not only did it make it easier to get things done, you felt like someone who designed the software might actually use it and want you to be able to use it also. As I got serious about switching my company and client computers from Windows to Apple, and began researching not only what I might need to know, but how I could teach other long-term Windows users to use Apple computers, I came across the same advice time and again – if you can use iTunes you can use a Mac. Not only did that prove true, it was great advice and I made it step one in prepping all my tech support clients for the switch.

This redesign of iTunes, requires you to give up your previous ways of organizing and interacting with content, most of which you probably own. I have been using this system since it came out for Windows in 2003. Innovation is fine. Forcing your user base to abandon a decade of effective methodology is just plain weird and frustrating. If they were fixing a problem, maybe I could see this move. If they were providing additional functionality, I would not like the approach, but I could understand it. As far as I can tell from experience and research, neither of these things are the case.

What this feels like, what this really reminds me of – major updates and/or new releases of Windows. Nothing really works better. Some things do not work as well as they used to. But we did move everything from where you expect it be to a new place, and we gave some old operations and processes new nomenclature. I must tell you, few things in the tech world make me as crazy as Apple acting like Microsoft.

My suspicion is that the main impetus behind making these kinds of changes is the continued drive to synergize the experience between the OS and the iOS. I don’t have a problem with that idea. I do have a problem with this aspect of the implementation. I will get into this more in the next post, but for me, they are taking the worst parts of the changes in iOS iTunes and importing them to the parent OS version.

If you also have a Mac and miss the old iTunes, let me know and I will send you some instructions on how to revert to an older version.

Next Up: iOS

A scattering of recommendations

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. If iPods and audiobooks were around when I was painting houses professionally, I might not have stopped. Well, I still would have stopped that as soon as possible, but it would have been much more enjoyable.

I highly recommend the following, all of which were in my ears during my recent painting escapade:

Stephen King’s 11/22/63

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy 

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – sadly two of these are not in iTunes, though they are available at audible.

And a treasure I have been saving for, now “out of print” but still it can be found, the only Unabridged Recording of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. *Ultra Nerd tie-in: I am almost certain that this is the same version that Eddie Dean listened to in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series.

Huh. These were unavailable, not even through audible, but for resellers for the past few years and even a month or so ago when I purchased them, but now it looks like they are on audible…

In the world of comedy, I learned about Tig Notaro when I went to the “Live” edition of This American Life  this past spring. She is a great comic and her debut album Good One  is Fun-Knee. In the past 4 months or so, some terrible stuff has happened in her life and she lets it all hang out in a recently recorded show – Live. That show will blow you away! And, Tig is one of the few comics I love, like Mike Birbiglia, who uses no profanity in her shows. She remains a little edgier than Birbigs, but still “clean”.

Audible vs iTunes – I prefer to buy stuff through iTunes. I like getting the content, backing it up, and knowing that I can revisit it whenever I want regardless of whatever licensing deals make content come and go from any vendor. This works in iTunes, but not with audible. Also, the sound quality through audible is less than that via iTunes.  That said, audible is a good service and can be a much cheaper way to get content.

On an audio-related front, Headphones!

My grandpa is 90. He served in the Air Force during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He has diabetes, a touch of gout, prostate cancer, after-effects of Agent Orange exposure, and did I mention – he is 90! He is doing well, but he doesn’t get around as easily as he used to. He likes to watch TV – Westerns, Action, Bond, anything about how stuff is made, and many more. But, he does not hear so well anymore and when he is watching TV in the basement, it is so loud i can hear it while listening to my in-ear headphones on the third floor – or even outside. Let me clarify – I can’t *just* hear it. It is still so loud, I can’t listen to spoken word items, news podcasts, books, anything like that. His shows overpower my ability to focus on the words literally pouring into my ears.

He won’t wear his hearing aids – that is a non-starter. For years, he would not use headphones either. My brave and loving father stays down there with Pappy and, somehow, works in that cauldron of aural pain. We got my dad a tool that does help – an older version of these Bose Quiet Comfort Active Noise Canceling Headphones.

Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam
Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam

The past year my dad has been having Pappy wear these in the car and on the train back and forth to the VA near Philly, and Pappy likes them. He bobs and rocks out to Big Band tunes from the War Years and some similar stuff. This planted a seed that has born glorious fruit. I found the perfect solution for us now that Pappy is no longer headphone averse.

These are no longer available from the Sony site, but I found them in stock at the local Circuit City replacement HH Gregg. They are very comfortable, wireless, simple to setup, and have a few truly awesome features. The transmitter that allows these to be wireless acts as a charging base station for the headphones. Pop them in the stand, magnets lock them into place and they recharge.

The headband is two-piece. The inner piece which sits on your head is the On/Off switch. They headphones are Off by default, but they turn On when you put them on your head. They turn themselves Off when you take them off. Genius! The Headphone volume is independent of the TV volume so he can have it LOUD in his ears and the TV can be on mute, or on low so others can stay in the room and watch a show with him.

Our house has gone from a War Zone of Pain to a peaceful Sanctuary!

Hey, that’s it for today, but I have got more lined up for you, including the conclusion of the JMT. I am looking at you Sweet!

In Between Posts

I swear, i was having such a good day.

This is not the start of the tech series, just more filler. I have not abandoned that project, but even for me, sometimes life has other plans for how we get to spend our time.

The first 9-10 pages are solid, the next 2-3 are close, and i need to do some more on the conclusion. I could have begun releasing it on schedule, but i don’t like to do that – release some before the whole is finished. What if something in the conclusion needs some more supporting evidence? Or if i decide that the beginning is too tedious (even for my writing style) which it probably is, and decide to trim some fat?

Lucas and i are back in PA to handle some life admin. It was a good day knocking down the chores, for a while.

There we are on our quick walk around the block. I have the headphones in because i am not in the mood to chat with random folks today. I had another really upsetting encounter with one of my neighbors just being kind of a general “bitca” and it made me mad. I had even put the leash on Lucas to avoid this kind of thing. But these people don’t feel that they need much of an excuse i guess. I was not at all polite, but remained semi-calm and completely non-violent, so that’s a plus.

I need a little something both angrier and more triumphant (i am starting with Nazi Mind Reader and then just lettin’ it play through – you gotta make your own call – warning – RPG’s MC is unafraid of the big-boy words).

I would love to renew my driver’s license online, but there is no security on the PA DMV website. (Hackers have fun!) So there may be a money order in my future and the security of the US mail. Given that i can’t do it online, i may go in to get a new pic as well since i have about 40 pounds less hair these days. Actually kinda surprised that was not a requirement.

I still can’t find some of the physical records i left up here as everything has been moved around. I need to find those receipts, or pay $535 bucks i don’t have (that i have already paid once) to the IRS by the 22nd.

I am not so sure that yesterday was the right time to re-quit smoking after all. No, it is going to be OK – deep breaths, count to 5 million…

Big Ball o’ Random (or small pile of unassociated items)

1. Kelly made me realize that i did not put out the word on Lucas. After writing about it here, i never closed the loop. He is doing great. His stomach was pretty much settled by the time i got back on Monday. The vet visit on Tuesday was super and he passed all his various blood work and other tests. It was just a simple upset stomach with no larger issues related. That is what i suspected, but it always nice to get more definitive analysis.

2. Last weekend’s trip to NOVA was fantastic.  It was better than i could have imagined it would be.  I am not finished processing and feeling and remembering – but it was a great time.  The music was awesome, and seeing old friends was hard to describe – in a good way.  There are many people who showed up that i did not get to spend much time with, and there were definitely folks missing, and other friends that i did not get to see – but that is kind of the nature of trying to fit twenty plus years of catch-up into one weekend.

JS, TS, NR - photo KAB
NR, KAB, LT, KM(R) - photo some guy we got to snap a shot

Aside from seeing old high school buddies, i got to re-connect with some “newer” friends as well. When i lived in Annandale in 2006/7, Lucas and i made many friends through the Mason District dogpark, but there was one family we bonded with deeply and almost instantly. The whole circumstance is strange in that two less-than-social dudes met, bonded, and have stayed great friends. Like many situations, the dogs had a lot to do with it. Lucas will get along with just about anyone, but he has had few great dog friends. There were a few other street dogs or dogs that got loose regularly that he played with as a puppy before he joined my team. Of course he loved Guthrey. But Fox is the first dog since Guthrey that Lucas really seemed to love. And, Fox was the same way. He also liked to see other dogs, and could get along fine, but had really only had one other dog friend before Lucas. Who knows what the factors involved really are.  Did the dogs know that Mehdi and I had few friends and though we liked being alone, we were also lonely? Did the dogs simply like each other regardless of how the bipeds felt? Is it something deeper but ephemeral – that because these dogs chose us individually, that we were predisposed to like the same kind of people? Is it a combination? I don’t know, but i am glad it happened. I met Mehdi’s wife and we all became close.

N, L, G - Chimbo RVA 2002(ish)

As things do, we drifted apart a bit once i left for India and i had not really gotten back together with them since i came back to the states. In the interim, Fox passed and they have two new friends now. Not being able to bring Lucas to see Mehdi and Maria was the big downside of leaving him home last week, but i still think it was the right call. It was excellent to see my old friends and to meet the new dogs and go on some of our old walks. It did not take us long to discuss and then move past “the missing years”. The stuff i wrote above is of course “the good parts” version of the story. Not that there were problems between us, but that was not a very good time in my life – which is a different story – or a part of much longer story.

FOX - Mason District Dogpark - 06/07

3. La Traviata arrived and i have really enjoyed listening to it this week. I was planning on continuing to refine my Spanish skills (and vocab!) this year, but i may have to hit an educational detour to learn more about the lyrics to this opera. I only know a handful of Italian and have not used it since 1992. But that is quite a decision to make. I love this music and wouldn’t it suck to discover that the lyrics are trite! It is hard to imagine in this case, but let’s face it, most musicals are trite… My mom asked me recently if i wanted to go see a high school musical with her.  She has one private student that she has been teaching for about 8 years, and this girl was making her singing and dancing debut. I asked my mom, “what show is it?” She said, “The Music Man!” I told her, “No. Mom, that is a terrible show.” Which is true. I was in it. Like most musicals, it was fun to be in – and i believe we performed it well – but, like Tim Kelly adaptations, that does not make it a good show. Anyway – i am trying to decide whether or not to learn more about what is happening in La Traviata.

4. One of my very smart friends misused ‘comprised’ in a recent online self-published venture. I spent a few days trying to figure out how to deal with this. I am not a grammar or punctuation or even spelling Nazi like some of my smart friends. But the proper use of words themselves is one of the areas of language that i do care about. Comprise is one of my pet peeves. I do notice and get bugged by the common faults – their, there, they’re and such. But they generally make me less fussed than a misuse of ‘comprise’. People who mess up with something like ‘there’ and ‘their’ may have never learned the difference, or may be lazy, or may have difficulty proofreading. But comprise ain’t one of your common everyday words. It is one of those book learnin’ fancy words. I do not assume that my friend was attempting to put on airs by using the word, but i see this error all the time and generally, it is someone trying to sound smarter than they are, or trying to make their argument sound fancier, or more authoritative.

So here is a good rule of thumb, a fast and loose usage guideline for you folks. ‘Comprise’ means ‘made up of’, ‘consists of’, or ‘composed of’. There are many specific cases we could go through, and i will be happy to address any if you send in your questions, but the most common mistake is people saying ‘comprised of’. As you can see from having just read the definition, saying ‘comprised of’ is like saying ‘composed of of’ which sounds a lot less fancy and authoritative than the user is probably going for. “The US is composed of 50 states.” “The US comprises 50 states.” Those two sentences mean the same thing. That is probably enough said.

Wrapping up now as i want to finish some research and preparation then head down to Maryland for a quick look at REI (i got my 2010 dividend in the mail), and then some hiking.

– – In the next episode –

Exercise update

Spam Bin update

an informal poll on the issue of discussing hiking equipment

Anybody seen Rerun? Update IV

The Nova Trip

I am going down to NOVA for two musical events and several sort of mini-reunions.

I have never been to any of my “Official” reunions, though I may drop in on one of the next in the series. Partly this is because few of my best friends from high school were in the same grade or even attended the same school. Partly this is because they cost a lot of loot and are not even at the school. We are denied the sort of reunion we grew up thinking about, hearing about, and watching on the big (and little) screen. To me, these official functions seem more like conventions than reunions. I know I am not alone in this and some of our modern social media tools are helping to fix this. My class has a group on the Facebooks, and there are at least two gatherings a year organized that way. And, there is always some “unofficial” (less costly) gathering to coincide with the official convention gathering.

This weekend’s events are neat in that they revolve around a place and a band (or bands). This cuts down on the limitations of school and grade and allows people who cared about the same kind of stuff, and the same people, to come together. I like that. Truthfully, I was not crazy about the place nor many of the hangers-on. But I too had some special times there. And I too had some special people connected to that place. And so I also go to look, to listen, to imagine, to remember, and hopefully – to connect.


This will be only the third or fourth show I have been to since 1992 where I was not playing, or doing sound, or being a guitar tech or general roadie. It is always a little weird for me to try and simply relax and enjoy. I feel like I should be doing something. The levels are not mixed well, the sound is not balanced in the house, and that guy broke a string, but the dudes at the door made me check my leatherman, I forgot my flashlight, and I don’t have any extra strings in my bag! It can get a little tense…

Lucas and Brio

I am also excited for reunions with some non-school friends. Lucas and I were looking forward to seeing our old pals and hitting some of the old trails. But he has some kind of stomach bug and will have to stay behind in PA. I don’t want to risk infecting those we visit. “Thanks for letting me and my dog stay at your house. Here’s a little special something we brought just for you!” I don’t think it is a real medical problem, just a stomach bug. But, we do our last walk between 10 and midnight. Two nights ago he woke me and my dad up at 4:00. This morning he got me up at 1:30 – two hours after the last walk. I am not complaining.  It is not his fault and I am sorry he is suffering, but that is definitely not the kind of gift we want to leave behind…

Solitude in the Burbs

Let’s segue into

Hiking Part III – Tent of Lucas

I got this wicked badass tent for Lucas last year. We did one hike up Crabtree Falls and on to the Priest Shelter. There had been thunderstorms forecast, but I looked at the weather and it seemed like your average Virginia summer thunderstorms – sweep in and dump water and sweep out. It rained for at least 12 hours. Lucas was not pleased.

I started looking into doggy tents as soon as we got back. There are many on the market. Few are actually designed for backpacking. REI has one that seems ok except the floor is not fully attached, so you are going to have water flowing through the tent – which defeats the purpose if you ask me. I found one that sounded good and was reasonably priced.

The tent itself is good. Nice solid construction. The side panels and the door work great. The flaws were obvious and immediate. It uses the fabric sleeve method for the tent poles instead of clips. I hate tent-pole sleeves. Feeding poles through fabric tubes makes me feel like I am not living in an era where we have sent men to the moon and miniaturized computers that are more sophisticated than those astronauts had down into the palm of my hand! Anyway, it is hard to feed the poles through these fabric sleeves.

Lucas testing the tent

Part of the reason it is so difficult is the second flaw with the tent. The poles are total garbage. They are super cheap and flimsy. I felt that right out of the package. I was actually surprised that they made it through the first trip without breaking. I set-up the tent indoors for a trial and to get Lucas used to it. I set it up in the woods for one overnight. And I set it up to clean it before I put it away for the winter.

The first time I set it up post-winter, about a week ago, two of the poles snapped. I went to EMS to discover that they do not have any kind of replacement poles. Later I took a road trip to the closest REI in Towson MD and discovered that they also do not carry replacement parts for poles, or replacement poles. I did get some great intel on a company that does make poles, and that may be the way to go.

One idea that I had (unfortunately a little late in this whole dog tent process) is to look at children’s tents. I bet that there are kid sized tents made by reputable companies that would fit the bill. And with our “protect the children” litigious society, I bet they would be decent quality. But, I am going to continue to explore fixing the one I have for now. The folks at REI had some good advice. Check out the used equipment sales. I can probably make the poles from any tent work with a few adjustments, so any inexpensive tent with decent poles would be good.

I did “repair” the existing poles with duct tape and set the tent back up and it held overnight without signs of over-stress. The question now is probably cost effectiveness. Is it better to get replacement poles, to cannibalize poles from a used or cheap tent, or to find a children’s tent that will work?  I don’t know.  Back to the research cave…

For those who may have been thinking, “why not just put the dog in your tent?” Good point. But, the last hike with all the rain is my counterexample. I love my dog and would do just about anything to protect him if it were necessary. But he was already soaked. I mean super soaked, by the time we got to camp. I had some dry clothes and gear, and could keep the tent and its contents dry. There was no way to dry off the dog. Inviting him in would not dry him, only wet me. Also, while Lucas is an affectionate creature, he doesn’t really like anybody messing with him while he sleeps. He will snuggle for a minute (or allow you to snuggle for a minute) and then he wants to go somewhere else and stretch out without you bein’ all up in his chili. So, that’s why…

What’s happening Hot Stuff? – Update Part II

Random Goodie –

I decided to search again and I found the version of my favorite opera that I have been looking for on and off for years. I had one of those awesome “greatest moments from” $3.99 tapes from a bargain bin and I have wanted to get the full recording ever since. This is Verdi’s La Traviata – Pavarotti, Sutherland, Bonygne, New York Met Orchestra and Chorus.

iTunes and amazon US only have the version with the London Opera Chorus and Orchestra.  That one is good too, but the recording is not as clear, and I came across the other one first and it simply moves me more both for its own sake and for associations I have with that version.  Amazon UK has dispatched (which does not mean killed) this version right on out to me and it should be here in early April (for less money than the download of the version I did not want…)

Hiking Part I –

I have gone back through my gear the past week.  Cleaning this, re-organizing that, and tightening up my list of required goods and desired goods. I got 2 new stuff sacks, a collapsible lightweight trowel, a tiny swiss army knife, and my first Nalgene bottle (and yes I did get the orange). After some mishaps and some advice from my hiker pals, I only use Sea to Summit stuff sacks. I generally buy the compression sacks, but the other models have their uses as well.

I am stoked about the knife and the Nalgene. I love knives. I have loved knives for as long as I can remember. But, I am trying to adapt and learn newer ways of being in the woods and carrying less weight. I came up in the climate of metal frame packs, hiking in with axes, canned goods and freakin’ potatoes – so I am definitely making progress. This allows me to have a knife, scissors, and tweezers – all of which are regularly useful, without carrying a giant leatherman or other assortment of tools.

The Nalegene is also great. I have never had one. I use Gatorade or Powerade 32 oz jugs in my daily life for water. For hiking, I take my 3 liter camelback, another 1 liter bladder and round out the supplies (when necessary) with my daily jugs (simmer down).  Part of the whole “lightweight” hiking thing involves food and cooking.  I don’t measure at home, but if you are on limited water and gas resources, you want to get your food right the first time, so I measure when I hike. I have used the Nalgene of my hiking companions to measure in the past, but now I have my own.

I also noted that many folks use their Nalgenes as a place to carry a few feet/meters of Duct tape. The folks at GSI noticed that too, and designed that into this bottle.  Since I have already loaded mine up with about 2 meters I can tell you – it works great! The tape wraps in that recess (they call it a “dog-bone” design) and then you slide that mesh thingy overtop for added protection and grip.  I am also pleased with the lid design. Easy to open even in gloves and uses nice (and replaceable) cord instead of plastic as a lanyard.

This is all exciting. It gets me excited to go out backpacking again. It also is exciting that I am nearing the goal I set that must be met before I get a new pack!

A good buddy and AT through-hiker advised me about pack replacement – if you want a new pack, first replace everything else that you think you might replace. Then take all that crap with you to the store and buy the smallest pack all that stuff will fit into.

Good rule of thumb I believe.

So I am close. I have to do some more experiments with stoves/cooking/eating gear. What I have now works great, but it is bulkier and heavier than I need, and difficult to gauge for fuel consumption.

Dragonfly in action at The Priest shelter

Also, I have given up coffee and not replaced it with other hot beverages since I last did a trip. My needs have simplified.  I am thinking of moving into a self-made denatured alcohol stove (just one of many info sources out there, but I like the Pirsig reference)- but I am also looking at Jetboilthe pocket rocket (simmer down), and other stoves.

I have always been an “eat from the pot” guy in the woods. Without the need for hot beverages, I think I can get this down to a much simpler, more compact, and lighter system.

After that – it is time for the big three: bag, tent, pack.

Note – there are some better hiking and equipment pics coming in Hiking Part II – i can’t find them on my computer (grrr) and Facebook totally changed the image download rules and procedures (grrr) so i have to figure out how to use photo grabber or some such to get the darn pics back onto my computer. If you are burning with desire and cannot wait – check out my Facebook album “Little Sluice Mountain”.

User Error, or Eat Your Words Fool!

Voice Over on the Shuffle – it works great.  I was terribly wrong.

You know what really helps hardware work correctly? Downloading and installing the proper software!

Somehow, i did not fully activate Voice Control before i dissed it as having a limited capability.

I fixed that and it works great.

In my defense, i did fix the printer yesterday…

I have uploaded the new version of the resume to RAI for view and download. Yesterday’s task – struggling with the one remaining “working” Windows system we have at RAI to review the MINDS and RAI websites.

The Last RAI Windows machine

I never use Internet Explorer, not even when i only had Windows computers, but loads of the people will view these sites that way, so it is potentially worthwhile to ensure that the sites do not look too bad.

Sadly, my old Dell died so i have to use my dad’s which has his customizations and the system hog Norton/Symantec suite and a bunch of other less than useful Windows garbage clogging up the works…

A terrible thought has been in the back of my mind for almost two years now, as the Dells began to die and we began to move to Apple. It is possible that i may have to buy another damn Windows computer just for checking out website designs! I know about some of the alternatives, but i am not putting Windows on my Mac, it is bad enough that i am forced to use Word and occasionally PowerPoint.

Pardon my frustration release but i fought with this half of the day.  One of the little things that just pisses me off royally about Microsoft is their total lack of responsibility or acceptance of the issues they refuse to fix. Without getting into that whole can of worms, here is an example of the attitude to which i refer by way of a brief story.

The only reason i needed to do so much web work is because Internet Explorer does not display webpages/code the same way every other browser i am aware of does.  I commonly check my work in at least three browsers – firefox, safari, opera and/or chrome. So far, things always look the same in each of these, but something is always off when i check IE. Granted, i am a much better developer than designer, but if i can make it look right in 3 or 4 others what’s the problem over in Microsoft town? So, i am reviewing lines of code trying to see if i can even figure out why things are mussed and i notice this little button on iE i have never seen before. I hover over it and it says something like “Compatibility mode – websites designed to look good in older browsers may not look right in IE.”

The balls on these frackin’ guys! Older Browsers! The other guys’ old products just can’t keep pace with the innovators over at Microsoft! I hear that the crack team of code monkeys over there are about to fix some of the security flaws in Windows 3.1!!! Seriously, IE is one of the oldest browsers on our planet. Sure, they do update it, but so does everyone else.  Firefox, Chrome – older than IE?  I don’t think so you bullet dodging, pass the buck, we hide our code so you can’t see how terrible it is…people.

I don’t bag on Microsoft just because it is easy, or because i am a Mac guy, or because it is popular, or anything like that. They have all the money in the world and still refuse – simply refuse – to make software and particularly Operating Systems that work.  If you are one of the people who thinks vista or “7” is great and finally has Windows on-track – let me ask you this? Have you been able to replace the sound card on a one-year old system without fighting IRQ problems for hours or weeks? OK – i am done for now.


Anyway – i finished (for now) with the RAI site. There are still some tweaks i would like to do (that list never ends) but i did clean things up a good deal and updated some info. It looks pretty good on “older browsers”.

The left-hand menu spacing is still fracked up in IE, but it does look better over there than it did before…