Category: Archived

For “Mind Like Water” Use a GPS

Garmin Nuvi Frees the Mind

Last week’s trip to Seattle and Portland was the most enjoyable time I’ve ever spent driving in two unfamiliar cities. Nevermind the list of crazy place names: Tukwila, Puyallup, Newaukum, Tigard, Tualatin to name just a few. I was at peace. I had achieved mind like water.

Apparently I use a lot more brainpower than I ever realized by trying to reconcile a mental picture of the highway map with the geography that I see as I drive. Keeping all those Tukwila’s and Tualatin’s straight, along with North, South, East and West is a real pain in the brain.

The Garmin nüvi GPS that I picked up on Amazon – at a heck of a good price by the way, keeps all that information straight and feeds to the driver on a need-to-know basis. One of the most useful features is the little arrow in the upper left corner showing the direction of the upcoming turn, along with a mileage countdown ticker. This way I could plan ahead which lane to be in.

Driving with a GPS isn’t entirely new to me. I’ve got a Garmin StreetPilot on my motorcycle. But this is the first time I fully appreciated how much freedom and peace of mind a person gets by not trying to mentally juggle an agenda.

Keeping need-to-know information outside of your brain is called metamemory. It’s what productivity experts like Mark Forster and David Allen specialize in. The idea is that everything you need to think about goes into a trusted system and the system feeds you the information exactly when you need it.

A GPS, with an up-to-date city map, is a trusted system and on this trip it worked great. It makes me wonder how much brain-strain a person could eliminate in a familiar setting. Programming shopping stops into your GPS might just give you peace of mind doing the weekend errands.

The Price of Certainty is $25

I ordered a GPS unit from Amazon ahead of a trip to Seattle. But then the estimated arrival date slipped to the day after departure.

Dilema. On one hand it seemed like the USPS should be able to deliver the parcel in time. On the other, I really wanted the unit to help navigate a tight itinerary.

So…just to be sure that I got the delivery, and at Amazon’s suggestion, I ordered a second GPS and shucked out $20 for overnight delivery, knowing that I’d have to pay $5 to return one of the units.

Wouldn’t you know it, but both packages arrived today. At least I was free of nagging worry for one day. At a cost of $25.

UPDATE: Amazon not only refunded the full price of the GPS, but they refunded the express shipping charges. The price of certainty? $5.

What’s the Big Idea Behind TEDxConejo?

TED Notes by Nina Khosla

Buckminster Fuller believed that power and potential came from opposing forces. Fuller’s geodesic dome, an enclosed space with no need for interior supports, made use of this principle. But Fuller felt that the clash of opposites could do much more than keep buildings aloft. He saw in these forces the potential to end world hunger.

And so it is with TED. The annual Technology, Entertainment, Design conference bills itself as a symposium on “Ideas Worth Spreading.” And yet attendance at TED is either by application or invitation. TED talks are now shared freely with the world on the TED website. The TED experience, on the other hand is very exclusive. Opposing ideas these – exclusivity coupled with the idea of being all-inclusive.

TEDxConejo is an independently organized event in the pattern of the “Big TED” conference. The aim is to bring the TED experience to people like you and me. Well, people like me anyway. There is an application process in order to get tickets. The conference theme is “What’s the Big Idea?” and sessions will be grouped around the themes “Thinking,” “Doing,” and “Seeing.”

The first announcement of thinkers, doers and seers include the executive editor of Wired Magazine, Thomas Goetz who looks to be all of twelve years old. On his heels is Scott Patterson, Ph.D. head of Medical Sciences at Amgen Inc. Finally there is a seer, Mark Robert Waldman author of How God Changes Your Brain.

What I’m really excited about however, is not the talks – although anything that can inspire such fervent note-taking as in the example above must be truly inspiring (I wonder if Nina is aware that her notes bear an eery resemblance to the work of Dan O’Neill?)…no. What I’m excited about is the possibility of connecting with people who are focused on work that matters. More than 50% of the seats at TEDxConejo will be set aside for students and educators. The rest will presumably be filled with local doers, thinkers and visionaries. I really hope this event will touch off some vibrant conversation space, meet-ups and hot tubs for the brain on a local level.

I’ll be there, doing what I can. As my friend Howard Rheingold says, What It Is–>Is Up to Us.

Why I Stopped Blogging

I started this year with a goal to better focus my writing and blog every day. I did a pretty good job of it until February 15…and then I stopped. Why?

My attention shifted. The things I’m interested in at the moment don’t necessarily fit the theme of this blog…which is loosely defined as “things for the suburban frontiersman.” I’m caught in a dilema. Do I post these things because they are close to my heart? Or do I reframe them to stay on-topic with this conversation? Or do I, like the Protestant Church when faced with a dilema, start another conversation elsewhere?

So I am doing what I typically do when faced with a confusing choice: nothing.

Some blogs manage to pull together very eclectic conversations by having a loose but persistent focus.

  • boingboing continues to amaze, delight and surprise me. (Happy Mutant Culture)
  • LifeHacker is regularly useful. (Simple tricks to boost productivity)
  • KK Lifestream produces “Oh, wow!” moments (“Out there” meets “in here”)

Other blogs make me wish they would get back on track. For instance I wish Geek Hiker would post more of his excellent trail reports (SoCal hiking scene from a guy who is hopelessly single).

I’m toying with the idea of adding a “BrainBucket” category as a place to talk about some of the ideas I’m having. Such as The Permeable Organization – Crowdsourcing Marketing Conversations from Within. Then again, that’s way far afield from “stuff to feed your suburban adventures.” I’d also like to talk about Hunter vs. Farmer – Tips for Hunter Personality Types, Viewing Church Splits as Conversations and Using Music to Reset Executive Function Meltdown, Out of My Head: Tips for Creative Types Who Are Poor at Making Social Connections.

In other words, an explosive hodge-podge of conversations that dont’ fit any particular theme. Do I put them here and blur the focus of “suburban frontiersmanship” that has had moderate success over the past month or two or do I need yet another platform?


Project Trail Dog: Training the Perfect Hiking Buddy

dogs meeting on trail

Dogs meeting on the trail

A good trail dog needs to be calm, confident, alert to danger but not easily threatened, and most of all…focused on his owner. This does not describe Mr. Moose, the German Shepherd (Greyhound?) mix that I am training to be my trail buddy. He does very well with people he knows, and he’s more plenty willing to take on a challenge outdoors – I took him to the river this weekend and he galloped headlong into a patch of quicksand. This mishap surprised him, but it didn’t freak him out.

The big problem is the way Mr. Moose handles strangers. He is extremely wary, to the point of aggression, with people he doesn’t know or understand. With dogs he is hyper-ballistic.

Learning to Walk All Over Again

I started Mr. Moose on the Martingale collar, a nylon collar with a slip-chain that can’t choke the dog. The good: the collar doesn’t choke and he can’t twist out of it. The bad: When Mr. Moose spies a Schnauzer and lunges to the end of his leash his instinct is to pull harder against the resistance. This turns a peaceful dog-walk into a fight with a barking marlin. The ugly: Strong, firm corrections don’t even register. I’ve had to give a really hard yank to get the dog’s attention.

Next we switched to a prong collar. After satisfying myself that the prong collar is not an instrument of torture, I found it to be a very useful tool for teaching Mr. Moose to heel. I’ll need to cover my training method in another post, because the prong collar alone won’t keep a strong dog like Mr. Moose in line. But it does provide a level of natural consequence that the Martingale collar didn’t. The good: Mr. Moose quickly learned that the most comfortable place to walk is by my side. The bad: It still takes a firm tug at times to give a correction. The collar needs to be used thoughtfully, and takes a certain amount of skill to administer. The ugly: The prong collar did nothing to keep Mr. Moose from lunging at the sight of other dogs. If anything it escalated his aggression, possibly because the collar was hurting him as he yanked and twisted on the end of the leash.

Now I’ve switched to using a Halti head collar. I’ve had disastrous results with head collars on other dogs, tugging, wriggling and generally causing freak-outs. But seeing that Mr. Moose had learned to heel and that his instinct to pull against resistance (cf. sled dogs) was now the major problem, it seemed like a head collar might work. True, he hates having his snoot looped, but it does prevent him from making sustained lunges. Now when he tries to pull against the leash instead of being like fighting a sailfish the effect is more like trying to land a 70 lb. flopping bass. The good: the dog doesn’t continue lunging forward against resistance. The bad: instead, the dog frantically moves backward, twisting, shaking and clawing at the head collar. The ugly: given enough twisting, he can escape the head collar. Fortunately there is a back-up lead that clips to his regular collar.

The important lesson here is that a training collar is simply a tool. The collar alone won’t correct a rotten dog’s behavior. I suppose this all goes back to the old joke:

Q. What’s the first thing you need to know in order to train a dog?

A. More than the dog.

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Bucket o’ Links #3: Tips, Tricks and Hacks






Project Trail Dog: the Going Gets Ruff

trail dog project

Like a grenade at the end of a short leash

When I decided to take on the project of a new dog, I thought I knew what I was getting into. I had previously taken Mr. Moose on a “test drive” and satisfied myself that he was an intelligent dog, willing to learn, eager to please and able to settle down. He met my sketchy criteria for a decent trail dog: short hair. We previously had an Australian shepherd and it was a full-time job picking burrs and ticks out of her coat.

Things haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped. Mr. Moose is starting to mix it up more often with our resident cocker spaniel. It’s not always clear what sets the dogs against each other but it’s starting to get exhausting trying to keep them apart.

Our twice-daily walks aren’t getting any easier, either. In three weeks I’ve gotten him to the point where he doesn’t tug on the leash and he will automatically sit when I stop at corners. Using a combination of rewards via clicker and pockets full of dog cookies, he’s a pretty willing learner.

Unless…and this is a big unless…he catches sight of another dog. Mr. Moose explodes in a furry of growls, flashing teeth, deep-throated barking and ungodly yodeling. He lunges, twists and stands on two legs…pretty well freaking out everyone nearby.

The problem is that I haven’t yet found a way to deal with this behavior without reinforcing it. He won’t calm down as long as he can see another dog. So I drag him around a corner until he does settle. Then I try to gradually re-introduce him to the spot where he last saw the other dog (the owner and dog having long since skedaddled.) Two things seem to be happening, however. Every time I drag him away from another dog it seems to simply reinforce his doggie notion that other dogs are dangerous, and (presumably) Must Be Destroyed! On top of this he is recording all the corners, paths and alleys where we have encountered other dogs and anticipating future encounters. These days were are at Threat Level Orange before we even get out the door.

So. What next? Dog trainer Lee Charles Kelley has an interesting approach for building up a dog’s confidence using pushing and pulling resistance training. Interestingly, Kelley is a big advocate of playing tug-of-war with your dog…and letting the dog win. I’ve always heard that letting the dog win is a big “Bozo no-no”…because it encourages the dog to challenge your position as pack leader. Kelley, however, links to Neil Sattin’s page that explains that the object of playing tug-of-war is to focus your dog’s predator drive on you – not that you’re the prey, but it makes you the main object of your dog’s desire, attention and fulfillment.

At least I have some ideas to work on for a while. If these confidence-building activities really seem to reduce the explosive-aggressive behavior, I’m probably going to have to do them with both dogs.

I’ll keep you posted.

Bucket o’ Links #2: Unnatural Animal Acts

Animals the way nature never intended.

Jerry, the World’s Most Human Chimp

Unicorn taxidermy ($900)

Smuggler busted with geckos taped to chest (pic)

Chimpanzee baffled by magic act (Japanese)

Paper Keyboard Cat

Wall of Fluff (way too much cute)

Homing pigeons courier memory cards for whitewater photographers

Dog eats Taco Bell burrito in 1 second

Dog goes bonkers in the snow (to the tune of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer)

Hippo and dog are friends.

Bear gets down (parental advisory, lyrics)

Bear waits for picnic basket.

Polar bear and dog are friends.

Monkey Western

Monkey waiters at Tokyo restaurant

Monkey Picked Tea

Bucket o’ Links #1: Cool Gear

Here are a few links I’ve collected over the years, but an never going to get around to blogging. Enjoy, there are plenty more where these came from:

Bacon Wallet: Looks like bacon, won’t attract dogs. The Goat

Do-It-Yourself Gear
Backpack Stove: Use a Pepsi can (these work great!) Lifehacker
Messenger Bag: Make your own from plastic bags. Get Outdoors Blog
Bedroom Bouldering Wall: Make your own cave. Get Outdoors Blog
Pen: Make your own Mont Blanc quality pen in 2 minutes. BoingBoing
Pincushion: Looks like an eyeball. BoingBoing
Stain Remover: Make your own. Seven recipes. Dumb Little Man

Bologna Bubble Gum (Discontinued): Blow your lunch. BoingBoing

decTop: $100 personal computer.Lifehacker

Outdoors Stuff
Atwood Mini-Tools: Multi-functional works of art. Cool Tools
Bivanorak: Think “Snuggie for the outdoorsman.” Cool Tools
Credit Card Survival Tool: A toolbox that fits in your wallet. Lifehacker
CRKT Zilla Tool: Multitool with an attitude. The Goat
Dry Bag: With straps. The Goat
Field Tweezers: Tiny, flat pack, key-ring friendly. Cool Tools
Knot Tying Tool: You’re not a Boy Scout. You still need knots. Get Outdoors Blog
Pelican Micro Case: Waterproof, possibly hippo-proof protection for small electronics. Lifehacker
Tarptents: Lighter than many pack tents. Better cover than a tarp. Cool Tools
Tick Remover: Does what it says. Cool Tools
Sardine Can Survival Kit: Decent kit, great concept, fun gift. BoingBoing

Magic Wheel: Unicycle for sissies. Get Outdoors Blog
MaxiMog: All-terrain vehicle. Honestly. The Piton

Here Comes the Flood

This sounds ominous–a “strong Pineapple-type connection” is possibly roaring down upon us from the Pacific Northwest, according to this blog note from the Ojai Post. For what it’s worth, a Pineapple Connection (sounds like a dating service for Hawaiians?) was responsible for the killer storm of 2005 and the La Conchita landslides of 2005 and 1995.

The Ojai Post follows with an explanation of El Niño conditions that gives weather forecasters a little more wiggle room. But still, it sounds like Southern Californians might want to head out to Harbor Freight Tools and stock up on cheap tarpaulins. And if you live in La Conchita…well, you might want to visit relatives.

RIP Art Clokey, Gumby’s Dad

Sad Gumby

I had the pleasure of meeting Art Cloakey quite a few years ago. He denied that Gumby advocated LSD and he seemed genuinely hurt by Eddie Murphy’s Saturday Night Live portrayal of the little clayboy.

“Gumby is an ambassador for all that is good and innocent in the world,” Cloakey said.

While Gumby himself brims with innocence, this innocence leads to some pretty terrifying places such as in the episode In the Dough where Gumby and Pokey are kidnapped and, for want of a better way to say it, violated by a couple of nasty jelly rolls. Because Clokey worked so closely to his subconscious there’s a surprisingly noir subtext to the show, typically brought out by Pokey. For instance, in the episode Santa Witch, some of the dialog could be straight out of a steamy detective novel – “wouldn’t you look cute with a ribbon wrapped around you.”

Just like the original Time for Beany show, Gumby works on deeper, and I think truer, levels than mass produced cartoons of today. It shows you what a little artistic genius can do.

Boing Boing has a touching little tribute to the man.

Resident Evil: Introducing a New Dog to a Grumpy Older Dog

Yesterday I said Moose had a good temperament. Well, the fangs started flashing when I took him for a walk with our resident dog.

Lilli is a cocker spaniel and is used to having the run of the house. Moose is a monster, mixed breed but he looks for all the world like a Dutch Shepherd. After a cordial introduction the two have begun to scuffle. Lilli may be the instigator but now she is terrorized.

I want to make this work but there are a lot of complex dynamics going on.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far–

1. I need to be in position as pack leader. Outside Magazine

2. I can’t be the pack leader if I can’t create a safe, secure environment for each of the dogs. Dog Whisperer.

This is going to be a big change for me. I’m more comfortable acting as a consultant than as a pack leader.

I have a feeling the dogs are going to require a little more commitment.

2010 Goes to the Dogs

German shepherd and ? mix

Suddenly all my plans for 2010 have changed. I’ve been gifted a monstrous dog, that I’m calling Moose, a one year old puppy. the dog is a mix of German Shepherd and we’re not sure what…something that was brindle in color and rather big. Possibly greyhound, possibly Great Dane. We’ll see.

Moose has a good temperament, he’s alert and curious but he’s going to need a lot of my time. We’ll see how this cuts into the expedition life I was planning for 2010. Certainly he can’t go off on any motorcycle junkets with me. And you can’t take a dog to the Sierras. So we’ll be adding dog-friendly junkets to the mix in this coming year.

2010: The Year of Weird Expeditions

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. That’s how Hunter Thompson put it. My plan for 2010 is to see how many destinations I can reach that are listed in Weird California: Your Travel Guide to California’s Local Legends and Best Kept SecretsThe Top Ten Hikes in the Nepalese Himalaya – are completely off the table. Smaller, lighter, weirder, stranger and closer to home is the order of the day.

My first expedition will be in search of the Lost Continent of Mu. (p. 31, Weird California). Details to unfold in the days and weeks to come.