Sunday, October 29, 2006

Calloused Clarity

I love my job. It's creative, interesting, challenging and I firmly believe I am doing good in the world. This is satisfying.

What my job lacks is reality. I create applications, web pages and maps. Most of the time I simply move ones and zeros around all day. Even a beautiful map, a work of art I might argue, is only paper.

It is not tangible like the patios, walks and stairs I used to build out of natural stone to pay the bills in grad school. It is far more gratifying to finish sweeping sand between the cracks on a patio, take a seat, and enjoy the beauty you've created. Stone is tangible. The feel of a perfect break as you cleave a rock in two. The joy and aggravation of piecing together the puzzle of sandstone into a beautiful, functional surface.

This is why I enjoy owning a house. It gives me a chance to actually accomplish something. When pipes break and flood part of your house it is not a joy. But even with the frustrations the work is tangible and worthwhile.

When I first moved into my house the floor joists in the kitchen had warped from a hot tub the previous residents had placed in the adjoining bathroom without proper support. There was a bow in the center of the kitchen that dropped nearly 3" by the time it found the far wall. I ripped the entire floor up down to the joists, patched in new joists, redid the subfloor and finished it off with a Pergo knockoff and new cabinets. Every time I walk into the kitchen is gratifying.

This is what my job lacks. And even though I've decided now is a good time to sell, and probably renting would better match my goals, I'll miss the joy of building a wall, planting a tree, the heft of a stone in my calloused hands.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seven Zits

A friend of mine was bemoaning the fact that in her viewpoint Idaho, or maybe she meant Boise, had no real mountains.

Another friend overheard and asked, "What do you mean? Don't the Sawtooths and the Whiteclouds count?"

In response, she added, "No. I mean real mountains like Rainier and Baker and Hood."

"What!" he retorted, "Those aren't mountains, they're zits!"

I had to laugh heartily at that, but I have enjoyed my time spent in the Cascades. I haven't done that many volcanoes yet, just Olympus, Rainier and Glacier Peak but I've enjoyed my climbs and I will admit they do feel real compared to the nearly snow-bald 12,000 footers in Idaho.

Q: How many glaciers are there in Idaho?
A: Idaho has no glaciers, only permanent snowfields
(highlight with cursor to read answer)

Recently I've taken a pretty active role in redesigning my life to be prioritized around my interests. Two near the top are travelling and mountaineering. This combination brought to mind a great book I read as a child, Seven Summits about two ordinary, but very rich men who decided on a whim to climb the highest point on each continent.

Few consider me ordinary. So, I immediately started thinking about how I could pervert this to make it interesting. My first take was to take my favorite number and climb the 11th Highest Peak on each continent.

Gasherbrum I, public photo by blu sky
licensed under the Creative Commons
Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License
A little quick research made me step back a bit. I'm not saying I won't do it, but I am saying that the 11th highest peak in Asia (and naturally the world), Gasherbrum I (26,509 feet), is a little beyond my current abilities. In 2003 19 people summited and 4 died. This is an expedition-style mountain located in a remote region along the China-Pakistan border.

Retreating slightly, I continued my search and stumbled upon a list of the world's highest volcanoes and to my delight, I'd already summited the 11th highest volcano in North America!

I may just have found my next goal to propel me around the world. To become the first individual to climb the 11th highest volcano on each continent.

My Seven Zits
The 11th Highest Volcano on Each Continent
N. AmericaMount Rainier14,411ft4,392mWashington
(United States)
S. AmericaNevada el Muerto21,286ft6,488mChile / Argentina
AfricaVisoke12,175ft3,711mCongo / Rwanda
OceaniaUlawun7,658ft2,334mNew Britian
(Papua New Guinea)
AntarcticaMount Terror10,597ft3,230mMarie Byrd Land

The Compact

Pursuing my new mantra of "Live Simple" this morning I stumbled into a story about a group of friends in San Francisco who created The Compact a yearlong agreement to not buy anything new. The idea intrigues me.

Could I do it? I'm tempted to try it. Their agreement began at the start of this year and more than a thousand participants have joined them.

They identify the goals of their Compact as:

1) to go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative global environmental and socioeconomic impacts of U.S. consumer culture, to resist global corporatism, and to support local businesses, farms, etc. -- a step, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact;
2) to reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er);
3) to simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact)

This is far from a nihilistic retreat from materialism. They are not saying buy nothing just don't buy anything new with the exception of food, health and safety items and underwear (thank goodness I think I'm still scarred from my mother insisting I wear my grandfather's boxers after he passed away). For all other material goods that you must have buy used.

I'm going to experiment with using Craigslist, Amazon, classifieds and second-hand stores over then next two months. The hardest things for me to remove will be gifts, technology purchases (Craigslist may save me there), and music (though I don't think mp3s should count since the artist is remunerated for their work and I don't consume anything but bandwidth).

If my trial run works, I'll sign The Compact for 2007.

The result, John Perry the Founding Member of The Compact explained in Sierra, may be not just a reduction in consumption and waste but,
more time and money to spend hiking, taking classes, going to performances, and eating with friends. Life gets richer and more oriented toward experiences.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Ecology of Fear

This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 Inaugural Address

Seventy years later, our current regime is supported by spreading fear, far more effectively than the terrorists could possibly achieve.

Refuse to be terrorized and the terrorists are defeated.

Once again, Keith Olbermann states clearly what so desperately needs to be heard, as he did so memorably on the anniversary of 9-11 and last week as we watched this administration push through legislation allowing Americans citizens like you or I to be jailed indefinitely without a trial (there's something that should terrorize).

Thank you Keith.

Monday, October 16, 2006

GeoLocating Reality

As a professional map-jockey I couldn't be more tickled by the ubiquity of GIS (Geographic Information Systems) these days.

Once Google purchased Keyhole (Google Earth) there has been a deluge of locationally aware applications on the market. Google Earth was followed up by brilliant AJAX mapping applications by the big two of our generation. No not Ford and Chevy, but Yahoo and Google. The internet was a start, but these are true flatteners.

A year ago I started using Google Maps to geolocate videos for Pierre Terre Productions and spatial information at my day job. While I have access to GIS software, I've discovered Google Maps is simply a more intuitive interface for most people.

While I was proud of my efforts, they look plebeian next to the latest releases of the big two's image management software: Picassa 2 and Flickr Gamma.

I tested the two of them today while documenting my Whitetail Peak climb. For the time being I'd say Flickr is the winner. Flickr is simply elegant and an amazing example of what can be done within the constraints of a web browser.

Don't get me wrong, Picassa is excellent and their geotagging application is slightly more intuitive. The integration with Picassa desktop is seamless and makes me wish I could download Flickr desktop for similar functionality. And for clueless photoshop monkeys like me the "I'm Feeling Lucky" photo-correction button in Picassa is pure magic.

In the end though, what wins it for Flickr is the ability to share maps of photos with others in a web browser. I don't want to have to open another application. If however, Picassa were to copy Flickr and slap their photos on a Google Map in a format I could share with the world, my conclusion may just reverse.

I'll keep using them both, at least until I burn up my free bandwidth.

Feel free to compare, here's the same photoset in both worlds:

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Wolves on a Plane

The sequel to Snakes on a Plane landed in my inbox this morning. Wolves on a Wilderness Area! Who would expect it? Not the Forest Service or the SNRA apparently.

Idaho Mountain Express, Ketchum
Wednesday October 11 2006

Wolf howls prompt wilderness evacuation
Frightened Forest Service employees extracted


Two U.S. Forest Service employees from Utah were evacuated by helicopter from the Sawtooth Wilderness in late September after encountering a pack of howling wolves about five miles east of Graham in the Johnson Creek drainage.

Johnson Creek is the southwestern portion of the Sawtooths and in the North Fork of the Boise River drainage.

According to Ed Waldapfel, spokesman for the Sawtooth National Forest, the incident occurred Sept. 23 at about 10 a.m. when the employees observed wolves chasing a bull elk across a meadow.

"A little while later they started hearing wolves howling all around them," Waldapfel said. "They called on their radio or satellite phone and asked their supervisor if they could leave the area."

Waldapfel said the employees, whose names he did not know, were from the Rocky Mountain Research Station in Ogden and were conducting forest inventory work in the Sawtooths, began hiking back to their camp a couple miles away. But they claimed the howls persisted, Waldapfel said.

"No matter which way they went they said they could hear the wolves," he added. "They climbed onto a rock outcropping and continued to communicate with their supervisor.

"They admitted they were very scared and wanted to get out of the area."

Shortly thereafter, Waldapfel said the employees' supervisor contacted the Sawtooth National Forest and "asked for a helicopter to come in and retrieve them."

Waldapfel said the wolves never made any aggressive or threatening moves toward the pair.

"It was the sound of the howls that scared them," Waldapfel said, "and the fact (the employees) were from another part of the country. They're not part of our regular workforce and so they hadn't had training for this kind of wildlife encounter."

Steve Nadeau, the state's wolf program supervisor for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, was shocked that wolf howls would elicit a helicopter evacuation in a wilderness area.

"Holy moly—sounds to me like someone's read too many of Grimm's fairy tales," Nadeau said. "I'm flabbergasted that (the Forest Service) would go to that extent over wolves howling in the woods because wolves howl in the woods all the time. That's how they communicate.

"If they felt threatened I guess the Forest Service reacted appropriately. But I can't imagine why the feeling was any more than anyone else walking in the woods."

Lynne Stone, a Stanley resident who regularly observes wolf behavior in the backcountry, said when wolves howl "the echo can come from 360 degrees."

"Especially up in the mountains, where there's a lot of rock, there are great wolf-howl acoustics," she said. "They probably weren't surrounded by wolves."

Stone, who has observed wolves in the mountains around Stanley on 17 different occasions since the spring, said wolves are very focused during a hunt, and the Forest Service employees were not in any danger.

"When wolves are hunting they are on target. They will be oblivious to you," she said. "I'd be more afraid of running into a moose cow with calves, or a black bear with cubs, than encountering howling wolves.

"These guys were not at risk, and it's too bad they didn't take time to enjoy one of the greatest experiences you could ever have in terms of observing wildlife."

Waldapfel said seeing and hearing wolves in the backcountry in the Sawtooth and Boise national forests is not uncommon.

"But for someone from another state or another area where they don't have wolves, I could see where it could be a very frightening experience," he said.

While there are no documented cases of wolves attacking humans in Idaho, Waldapfel acknowledged "these employees probably were not aware of that fact."

Waldapfel said the Sawtooth National Forest will review its training procedures to better prepare out-of-area Forest Service personnel for what they may encounter while in the field.

"We'll spend some time this fall and winter reviewing our current procedures," he said.

The Utah employees were flown to Ketchum after boarding the helicopter. A Forest Service crew returned to the scene to break down their camp and retrieve their gear Sept. 25.


Nadeau said it, "Holy-moly!", though "Snakes on a Plane!" or "Wolves on a Ski Lift!" may have been more apropos.

This is sad. The Forest Service and the SNRA should be embarrassed.

America has not had a documented wolf-induced human fatality and the majority of wolf attacks are the result of human habituation.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Bringing Smallpox to the Americas

I have no opener. I used to love hanging out with my friend Jim because he could start a conversation with anyone.

Last night my friend Michael tried to assist me using an old trick I read about in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Teaching English the author would instruct his students not to write a general essay of a certain length and type, but,instead to concentration on one very detailed object such as a specific brick wall or a box of cheerios.

You'd be surprised how long you can talk about a box of cheerios, or Columbus Day.

We morphed this method to initiating conversations with strangers. Looking across the bar, Michael picked out a couple of girls playing pool alone at the side of the bar and muttered "Columbus Day". I then walked over and started a conversation using Columbus Day as my opener.

"Is one day really enough to celebrate Columbus bringing smallpox to the Americas?" Surprisingly, it worked. We left alone, but not until we had exhausted all topics colonial and even managed to get the bartender to invent and concoct a "Santa Maria" for our companions.

Columbus Day was a big hit, we even joined a wedding reception briefly after Michael approached the bride and asked her if she was wearing such a fancy dress to celebrate Columbus Day.

Of course we may have this all wrong as a more effective method was demonstrated for us later. Michael was flirting heavily with cute blond lass (ok, she was in his lap) when a guy across the bar started heaving glass ash trays at the two of them. Several shattered on the wall above their heads. The man which she later labeled a "friend" then approached closer, hit her in the arm with another glass ash tray and ten minutes later they went home arm-in-arm.

This method may have been copied from a childhood spent
reading Krazy Kat. In this illustration Ignatz the mouse hucks
a brick at Krazy Kat, who interprets it as an expression of love.
I'll let you know how it works. If aerial battery fails I guess you can always drag them home by their hair.

See you in prison.

Don't Make Lists

Along the lines of living simply, I ran across this list made by David Kadavy a while back and taped to my wall next to my computer. It is a pretty good credo that I have been adopting.

1. Walk – No, I’m not saying “go for a walk,” I’m saying design your life so that you walk more. Live close enough that you can walk/bike/razor scooter to something that you frequent whether that’s work, a grocery store, a friend’s house, a bar, or preferably – all of them. Why spend 15 minutes driving to a gym to spend half an hour on a treadmill? If you’re fortunate enough to have legs that work – use them.

2. Smile – All of the time. Even when the cashier gives you the wrong change. People’s intentions are usually good, especially when they’re dealing with someone who isn’t being a dick.

3. Drink Water – Or I could say “don’t drink soda or coffee.” It’s a waste of money, health, and teeth. Save your caffeine tolerance for when you really need it.

4. Buy Used - When you buy used you get the adventure of discovery, and avoid the flat artistic experience that comes with only consuming the contemporary.

5. Underorganize – There are a number things you can apply this to, but I can’t give a better example than my “inbox/outbox” method of doing laundry. Should you keep all of your financial documents etc. in a filing cabinet? Probably, but recognize when your organizing reaches the point of diminishing returns.

6. Live Small – What’s that, you can’t afford a three-bedroom, three bath house with a huge yard and garage in a neighborhood where #1 is possible? Good. Then you won’t buy so much crap. You’ll save money in the long run, and you’ll be happier, too.

7. Remember How Adaptable You Are – How long could you live if you were transported to the middle of a forest? You would probably surprise yourself, so don’t be afraid of perceived “big” changes in life. It’s a part of human nature to do what is necessary to reach at least previous levels of happiness, but risks succeeded will get you there and then some.

8. Don’t Make Lists of Rules – or Follow Them

My current passion has been addressing "Live Small" though I am far ahead of the average American and their "affluenza." Being able to walk and bike to work and stores in Boise has made a vast quailty of life improvement. I only drive when I have to leave town or time demands haste.

Underorganizing is a facinating concept. I am looking for a system that will allow me to google my way through the piles of bills I am buried under. Recently I have been switching everything over to e-billing and that has lighted the load considerably. My next method is to switch my filing from biller (e.g. Phone, Water, Sewer) to month (e.g. March, April, May) then when the years overlap to simply chuck it or archive depending on the contents. I've asked to get my names off of mailing lists to no avail, but maybe I'll just start returning junk mail without postage to the sender. That should ebb the tide considerably.

Leaving caffeine behind would be difficult, and I'll ignore that one for now, though water certainly has it's utility and I've been attempting to switch from dehydration to hydration at least by 2PM each day. It is a start.

Smiles! I've been having fun with this one. The only problem is getting someone to look you in the eye to begin with! It is not as bad in Boise as it was in Delaware, but some days I think I have to step on a stranger's foot to get them to look me in the eyes!

With the right sense of humor it can be a very amusing game, one a play every morning on my bike ride to work. As I approach someone, I slow down, smile my best smile and utter a jovial "Good Morning!" 50% of the time I get no response at all, 20% of the time I get a smile and 30% a reply. If I walked I think my success would double. They must respond quickly and let's face it, at 7:30AM no one is sharp.

I have noticed recently my success rate is increasing, and just this month I've been receiving salutations! Just last week I received three in my four mile ride to work!

Yes, I think one person can change the world it just happens one person at a time. Like a disease, only happy.

David has some more great ideas such as "Google Vs. Yahoo Organizational Strategies", Grocery Shopping Is a Waste and the ever popular "Suburban Development Name Generator."

I'll continue to keep you updated as we find out how adaptable I am.

Material Furl

Simplicity. It is harder to embrace than one could possibly imagine. Yet, it is the times when I am without the baggage of ownership when I have been happiest. It is a weight like a backpack that bogs us down and until you take it off you have no idea of the burden.

I've readily embraced this mantra backpacking. I have the smallest pack I can possibly use for mountaineering. And every trip, be it overnight or a week it is full. This is also the lesson of houses of which mine is quite comfortable. But a box or a bag must be filled. It is time to shed this weight so I can do more of what I love: travel, be it globetrotting or just comradere with old friends.

Continuing through John December's Live Simple, I inventoried my stuff (well, the big items beyond my outdoor gear and tools) and was surprised at its brevity:

Item Inventory Support Goals?
Bookshelf Yes, but books should be thinned
Computer Desk Yes
Computer Desk Chair Yes
Desk Yes, as workspace for laptop (employer owned) and file storage
Desk Chair No, only need one chair
Computer & Printer Yes
Bed Yes, but could be more practical
Nightstand Possibly
Dresser Possibly
Washer & Dryer Possibly
Lamp Yes
Table & Chairs Yes, but could be more practical
Loveseat Yes, but could be more practical
Sofa Yes, but could be more practical
End Table Yes, but could be more practical
Coffee Table Yes, but could be more practical
TV/Stereo Cabinet Yes, but could be more practical
Indoor Plants (3) Yes, but could be more practical
Pots & Rack Yes
Coffee Pot Yes, but could drink less
Toaster Yes, but not necessary
Toaster Oven Possibly, duplicity with oven
Plates & Bowls Yes
Tableware & Utensils Yes
Bakeware Yes
Glasses Yes
Crock Pot
Patio Table & Chairs
Yes, provided not readily available outdoor seating

This is challenging. I only had the guts to say "No" to a duplicate desk chair that isn't really that comfortable. The loveseat and sofa fell close to this category, but at least one of them is nice to have to relax. I think I need to step back and examine the list again later. It is not that large, only 29 items.

Now I did leave a lot off of the list. All my tools, tents, packs, bikes, holiday stuff and clothes. These will have to be examined later. I also restricted it to items of a certain size. For example none of my 7 pocket knives were inventoried. But it is a starting point.

As I wrote earlier, my move to Idaho was based entirely off of the fact that I came to value time more than money. If I can live simply, my money will go much farther and I will be better able to enjoy the time that I do have. It is far easier to come up with money than time. Only one of the two is an artificial.

How often we forget.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Fellowship Thing

I just returned from a road trip which consisted of driving 7 hours, hanging out in a parking lot, watching a football game, hanging out in said parking lot for a few more hours, sleeping, and driving 7 hours home. The purpose? The Griz vs. Viking game at Portland State. But what is the real purpose? Why would I embrace and look forward to such an ordeal? Community. To be part of a group that shares a common background, beliefs and purpose.

The classic football tailgate:

    Brent, Niki, and Brian enjoying the
    Griz victory perhaps a bit too much.
  • To share relive old stories with friends over beer and brats.

  • To high five and hug strangers in the carefree thrill of a touchdown.

  • And to join the deafening roar which echos across the pitch from one side of the stadium "Montana", to another answering "Grizzlies".
Ok, maybe the last was unique to Montana, but the fellowship is not:


a set of people (or agents in a more abstract sense) with some shared element — in particular a group of people who live in the same area is a community. The substance of shared element varies widely, from a situation to interest to lives and values. The term is widely used to evoke sense of collectivism.
[source: ]

You may laugh, but I put forth the thesis that community is one of the driving forces behind all human endeavors. Sports, architecture, hobbies, occupations, family, civilization and this very website are driven by a need for community, to be part of a larger supporting social structure.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Consuming Community

It amazes me how many people patronize the chain and box stores spreading across America. We should be doing more to actively resist the homogenization of culture, not to mention the loss of locally owned businesses and public space.

One thing I truly love are local restaurants. Places where the waitress calls you "hon" and when the barman says "hello" he means it. I actively seek out such spots. In some areas, Hyde Park here in Boise or the Pizza Joint in my hometown for example, you can feel the fabric of community wrap around you like a warm blanket.

When I travel I seek out such places as well. I'd consider myself an officiando of great diners and dives. On my trip to Portland this weekend for the Griz game I got to revisit an old favorite, the North Powder Cafe & Truck Stop. Classic American diner fair. Drop six bucks and get a slab of lasagna the size of a cinder block and bowl full of salad, soup and half a loaf of garlic bread. Leaving without a coffee cup in your hand is dangerous for everyone else on the highway. A great road trip spot and absolutely brilliant after carving buttery turns all day at my favorite ski hill, Anthony Lakes.