Category: Archived

Pet Rock


I love the wallpaper pictures that Patagonia offers free of charge on their website. I particularly love this Christian Pondella photo of Lonnie Kauk leaping from a boulder in the Buttermilks.

But when I showed this photo to a friend at work, a person who has done considerable photo retouching professionally, he instantly said the photo is a fake. He swears it is composited…and he showed me how, by using something he called a “spaghetti curve” he could pick out dramatic differences in gain in three or four regions of the picture. He believes that the climber, the rock, the sky and the ground are all separate elements. Unfortunately my Photoshop chops don’t allow me to reproduce my friend’s wizardry to use as an example.

Now I wouldn’t be surprised to find that there was some significant post-processing to balance the sky and foreground. But I find it hard to believe that Pondella, Kauk, or Patagonia for that matter, would participate in creating a composited image. I simply think too many people would call “foul,” and I don’t think the photographer, the climber or the company would want to risk their reps on forging a photo like this. I think it would be too easy for Pondella to take the shot straight up rather than risk a smack-down for fakery?

Can anybody help me out on this? Maybe you know this route and can verify that it’s real. (Pointers to additional pics would be great.) Or maybe you have the Skillz to identify it as a fraud. Please leave your helpful input in comments…thanks my friends.

Brain Therapy

As I posted last week, I’ve hit an emotional rough patch. A real feeling of burn-out. The cure, according to the proponents of Positive Psychology…and doesn’t the name of that discipline just inspire trust? Anyhow, the cure for depression is to block out significant activities where you can focus on the area of your greatest strength.

Me, a lot of my effort involves organizing data. I’m extremely good at it. But it just so happens that “being organized” comes at a great emotional cost to me. I’m plain living hellfire at coming up with new ideas, novel solutions, discovering patterns, opening cans of worms – that’s what I really do best.

Last weekend presented an opportunity to do something creative. I decided to do something novel, fun, energizing. Anything. And guess what? It just seemed like too much effort. Even turning on the tube and watching the SyFy (another winning name) network seemed like too much trouble.

I decided to do nothing. But I’m not terribly good at simply doing nothing, so I had to do nothing with a vengeance. I gathered all my ambient and vintage electronica mp3 tracks onto my iPhone, anything with Fripp or Eno or any avante garde composer with a German name and put the whole thing on Shuffle. I also found my old Lava Lamp, drew the blinds and plugged my ears into 12 hours of sonic assault.

The results were fascinating. After a couple of hours alternating between “Somber Reptiles” and “Always Crashing in the Same Car” with a long stretch from “Index of Metals,” I swear that I could literally feel my brain reorganizing itself. And this kind of makes sense when you think about it. Loud, highly textured music, for me at least, leads instantly to creative visualizing…high intensity daydreaming if you will. Apparently there is a link between executive function tasks and daydreaming. Just a wild guess…not being a real or even pretend doctor…perhaps daydreaming re-sets the neurons that are responsible for executive tasks (ie putting on your socks first and then your shoes, despite the fact that you just told everyone that you’re putting on your shoes and socks.)

Of course this could be a bunch of nonsense. Maybe I indulged myself in 12 hours of iTunes-enhanced placebo. But hey, who cares if it’s a placebo? Just as long as it works…

Following Your Happy Trail

Something happened earlier this month and I lost my will to live. Just reached a point where everything seems pointless.

A lot of this is because of my job. Much of my effort is going into stuff that I am very qualified to handle, I’m arguably the most qualified and knowledgeable person in the organization regarding this stuff. But the work that I’m doing right now is really low in my skill set. And it’s killing me.

I hit the my emotional floor on Wednesday night. I started contemplating a career change that involved buying a gallon of Frontier Whiskey and becoming a professional alcoholic. Worked for Bukowski, why wouldn’t it work for me?

That night I had a cascade of dreams in which I was personally invited (in one case with a wax-paper replica of the Declaration of Independence arranged in the style of Mad-Libs) to participate in challenging projects that involved creativity and problem-solving. I woke up to the damn itching dog, took her downstairs to bathe her (and myself) in flea poison and had the epiphany that I should Google a systems approach to happiness. After all, when you feel like you’ve been spinning in an eddy for some time it’s a pretty good indication that there’s feedback process going on, perhaps a balancing loop.

This is all just a long way to say that I stumbled across something new to try – Finding Your Signature Strength. Actually this is something that I already know, and have worked on for some time. But I haven’t followed an organized approach. One idea, a miracle cure for depression apparently, is to take your top signature strength and use it in a new way.

This seems a bit vague – use your signature strength in a new way…when? How often? For how long? Well, seeing that my signature strength turns out to be “Creativity, Ingenuity, Originality” (you can take your own test here) I suppose I can make my own answers.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Reset Button

My astute reader will note that I haven’t posted for a while.

Fact is, I’m burnt out. An emotional cinder. Extra crispy.

Too many irons in the fire. Too many candles burning at both ends. Too much heat, not enough light.

So today I decided to hit the reset button. I purged all the items off my to-do list and am starting fresh.

Right now the number one thing on my radar is dealing with the poor little dog’s horrible flea problem. All this scratchy-scratchy-scratch and thumpy-thumpy-thump is keeping me up at night.

Sunday Sermon: God’s Weekend Project

Horrendous Collection of Unfinished Projects

Horrendous Collection of Unfinished Projects

I’ve been conducting a little experiment for the past couple of months – reading the Bible as if I was having a direct conversation with God. For instance, I’ll ask a question and then see if my daily Bible reading has the answer. Now I’m sure some of you may consider this to be like playing Magic 8-Ball with a 2,500 year old piece of poetry. Some may figure that I’ve just bought myself an EZ Pass to Son-of-Sam-Land. I’ll send you a postcard when I get there.

My way of thinking is that Jesus told his followers to ask for whatever they wanted and it would be given to them. This seems to indicate that at the very least the practice of following Jesus is supposed to be dialectical.

Let me cut to the chase here and say that yesterday I was reading from my friend Tom’s superb devotional Fearless: 40 Reflections on Fear, illustrated with very nice surf photography by his brother Hank Foto. Yesterday’s assignment was this: As you pray today, ask God to show you areas in your life that He would like to change so that you might experience the full joy of being His child.

I went about the morning piddling and tinkering on little projects, not making any real headway on any one thing. When I went out to take the dog to the groomer I noticed a little puddle of water seeping out from under the garage door. I figured it was a leftover from Friday’s freak rainstorm. Still, I decided that I would follow the stream back to its source…wouldn’t you know it but our 7-year water heater decided to expire two weeks shy of its seventh birthday.

Suddenly and rather pointedly I am aware of an area of my life that needs changing – my garage needs to be cleaned out so that the repairman can get to the water heater. So I’ve spent that last few hours shoving crap from one corner to another wondering what it means that God wants me to clean out my garage. But as I was cramming an unfinished kayak back up into the rafters another thought came to me. I didn’t ask God what I should be working on. I specifically asked him what He wanted to work on.

If this is true, if the word of God is living and active, then it would appear that God wants to work on, and hopefully bring some healing to, some weird part of my soul that is connected to the crapheap in my garage. This, I suppose, is what they mean when they say God moves in mysterious ways.

End of the Road for Bodie State Park?

Abandoned truck at Bodie "ghost town"

California’s dire budget crisis has left vacationers with the very real fear that up to 220 California State Parks could be closed by the end of the season this September. Right now there’s no telling whether this is a political power play on the part of Governor Schwarzenegger, or how many parks would actually be closed.

But consider a worst-case scenario – what would happen to the well-presevered mining town of Bodie, California if state funds dry up and the area goes unprotected? It’s not too far a stretch to think that it could go the way of Burro Schmidt’s cabin, pulled apart by scavenging tourists to decorate their rumpus rooms back in the suburbs. Once an oddball museum preserved by the desert air, a real hard rock miner’s workshop, Schmidt’s cabin has been picked clean by souvenir seekers.

The threat of State Park closure may be exagerated. If not, it will be an interesting little experiment to see how long these carefully kept treasures can hold up without the overseeing eye of our state government.

For those inclined to not sit back and watch helplessly, the matter is going before the budget conference committee on June 2 (tomorrow). You can fire off a letter here.

Photo by James Marvin Phelps

Middle Sespe Toad-Hugging

Wading a deep section of the Sespe

Wading a deep section of the Sespe

Sespe Creek snakes through the heart of the Los Padres forest like a coronary artery. It starts below Oak Springs, south of Ventucopa and flows east until it smacks into the foot of the Hopper Mountain bioregion, finally emptying into the Santa Clara River after a 55 mile journey.

Last weekend, while the rest of the country celebrated the fallen war dead by burning meat over a propane fire, I met my fellow toad-huggers at the middle Sespe to conduct a survey of invasive species and take a long walk in a quiet place.

Following the creekbed from Beaver Camp to the edge of Lion Canyon isn’t exactly canyoneering but it’s not a trail hike either. About one third of the time you’re lumping your pack from boulder to boulder and another third of the time you’re slogging through decomposing plant matter in a foot or more of slow moving water. The rest of the time you’re up to your waist in cold water or you’re recovering from a stumble which, while painful, still counts as progress.

On this trip we geo-tagged one mature tamarisk bush on Rock Creek, and five seedlings along the Sespe. Such a low count was a surprise, considering the infestations we’ve seen on Piru Creek. It was also a mystery – some of the seedlings on the Sespe were upstream from the “mother” plant on Rock Creek. So what was their source?

To get an idea of how tamarisk can impact a habitat check out this Before and After featuring Ansel Adams’ documentation of Canyon de Chelly.

(Yes, we also found a mating pair of Arroyo toads – the immediate recipients of this largesse.)

Accidental Irony

SPOT Personal Satellite Tracker
SPOT Personal Satellite Tracker
This morning I noticed this odd arrangment I’d made on my desk.
One is designed to prevent you from dying alone in the desert. The other advocates it.

Things to Do in April: Clean-Up at Lizard’s Mouth


Here’s the thing about suburban frontiers…too close to the suburbs. There’s some good to that. You can live and work close to nature. Problem is too many people don’t clean up after themselves.

Real Cheap Sports in Ventura is sponsoring a clean-up day at Lizard’s Mouth, as I mentioned earlier a great local spot for bouldering. Work starts 10 AM on April 18. Co-sponsored by Earthworks Climbing School. Past Lizard’s Mouth clean up events were funded by Forest Service Adventure Pass fees.

BMW GS Brake Fix

Last week, riding home from work, I used a little more rear brake than usual and it felt “crunchy.”  The BMW R1200GS has integral brakes, meaning that when you engage the front brake you automatically engage the rear brake as well.  I tend to be light on the brakes in general, using them mostly to signal motorists behind me.

When I parked the bike I felt the rear rotor–blazing hot. The front rotors were cool. I checked the inspection hole on the rear brake pad and found that I could see just a little bit of rotor. Fortunately it’s easy enough to replace the rear brake pads on an R1200 GS. I followed this procedure here and it was a snap.

The toughest part of the whole operation was getting the ABS mudguard back in place. The tricky part was aligning the steel positioner for the top bolt:

(Photo: Jim Von Baden. See his site for excellent tutorials.)

The secret…or what worked for me…was to loosen the Torx bolt that holds the positioner to the brake caliper, then thread the long bolt for the mudguard through the positioner and into its hole in the final drive bracket. (Leave the mudguard off for now.) Next, torque down the brake caliper. Finally, remove the long bolt, put the mudguard in place and tighten the long bolt in place. The two small bolts should be easy to align.

Test Ride

I rode the bike to work and back today and what do you suppose. The rear brake rotor is still getting really hot! After some research it seems that a hot rear rotor is “normal” for a BMW GS. Go figure.

Following God Into the Wilderness

A couple of months ago I decided to read the Bible differently than before. I’ve always tried to wrestle Knowledge or Truth from the Holy Scripture. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not so much.

This time around I’m trying to read more as if I’m having a conversation with God. It’s a subtle difference. But an interesting one.

For instance, I most recently read how the Israelites left Egypt and 430 years of enslavement behind and began a new adventure in the Sinai peninsula. Their response? Ungratefulness. The same sort of whining pit of despair that I all too frequently throw myself into, face first. In Exodus 14:12 the Israelites give words to the way far too many of us live, in our horrible little suburban lives, protected and paved, walled off from the world as God created it – It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!

The thing that makes this passage interesting – startling, really – is the fact that just an hour or two before reading this section of the Bible I was listening to a recording of Edward Abbey reading from his book Desert Solitaire about a search and rescue team and what they found – a corpse in the wilderness. Here’s Abbey’s take:

Looking out on this panorama of light, space, rock and silence I am inclined to congratulate the dead man on his choice of jumping-off place; he had good taste. He had good luck – I envy him the manner of his going: to die alone, on rock under sun at the brink of the unknown, like a wolf, like a great bird, seems to me very good fortune indeed. To die in the open, under the sky, far from insolent interference of doctor and priest, before this desert vastness opening like a window onto eternity – that surely was an overwhelming stroke of rare good luck.

I have no idea on earth what God may be attempting to teach me about this matter. But when it comes to freedom, to slavery, and dying in the desert it seems that God and Mr. Abbey clearly agree. A person could do worse.

A Whole Ton o’ Suck

Maybe you’ve noticed. Maybe you haven’t. But I haven’t been posting much. Just firing up the browser and logging in seems like more work than I can bear. I’m exhausted. I suck. I’ve lost my bearings…sliding off the trail into a slippery slough of late bills and bad karma.

Here it is, the opening season of the vernal equinox and I feel like I’m trapped in the dead of winter.

Perlerorneq. That’s what John Jerome calls it. Channeling Barry Lopez from Arctic Dreams:

…the word means to feel “the weight of life.” To look ahead to all that must be accomplished and to retreat to the present feeling defeated, weary before starting, a core of anger, a miserable sadness. It is to be “sick of life” a man named Imina told Malaurie. The victim tears fitfully at his clothing. A woman begins aimlessly slashing at things in the iglu with her knife. A person runs half naked into the bitter freezing night, screaming out at the village, eating the shit of dogs. Eventually the person is calmed by others in the family, with great compassion, and helped to sleep. Perlerorneq.

There is no antidote to this feeling. No course of action except to pay a few overdue bills with the last money remaining and dial into The Risky Biscuit Hayseed Hoot and Get Some Ed in Your Head.

iWeb ’09 = Great Except When It’s Not

I wanted to quickly prototype a new website with the purpose of getting information to the high school seniors at our church. So why not use Apple’s iWeb 09 and my Mobile Me account?

There’s a lot to love about iWeb – just select a template and badda-bing, badda-boom you’re done. If you don’t like Apple’s templates there are (a limited number) of professionally designed iWeb templates from 3rd party suppliers.

You can add Google Adsense ads you your iWeb site with push-button simplicity. The iWeb Adsense Widget recognizes your Adsense account and provides a heads-up display menu with Adsense sizes and themes. Far easier than using Google’s site. Adding photos is just as easy, simply drag and drop from your gallery and iWeb resizes and places the picture.

So much for the good. Now for the ugly. If you want to have simple navigation, such as a tag cloud, you’ll have to bolt it into iWeb using a third party provider. The good news is that there is an HTML Snippet widget to make the task fairly easy. The bad news is that I couldn’t find a provider…after about 20 minutes of searching I gave up and switched to Word Press.

Actually the deal-breaker for me when it comes to iWeb is the fact that you can’t can’t cut text from another source and drop it into iWeb without bringing the text styling along with. For instance, I had a list of facts that I copied from another web page (attributed of course,) and I wanted it to display in the same text style as the rest of my page. Instead the new text retained the original text style from its source page. Weird.

I’m sure there’s a simple way to reapply text styles in iWeb, but I didn’t find it after fifteen minutes of poking around. Remember…I wanted this to be a fast easy way to prototype a website. I didn’t want to have to learn a new software app.

So in the end, as much as I loved working with iWeb, a couple of minor picks soured the deal. It would still be fun to use for a family site, just not clever enough to do what I wanted.