Sunday, November 24, 2013

Can a Mondegreen be a single word?

From Wikipedia: Mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony.

As a child, my hearing was good, but sometimes the cognitive processes couldn't quite make sense of what I heard. Around Christmas time, as Silent Night was sung, I visualized "sleep in heavenly peace" as "sleep in heavenly peas."

Life goes on, I eventually learned the less interesting truth and put such things behind me.

Now, some 70+ years later, I  am kidding Susan. She has a princess quality, and is truly sensitive to slight imperfections, particularly those that affect her comfort. Remember the pea under the mattress story? Anyhow, I try to accommodate her when I can, as she is genuinely distressed and can easily be made happy. I do, however, tease her a little about this princess quality. This morning as I proceeded to satisfy some request, I responded "yes, your highless".
Susan says "what did you say?"
Me "your highless."
Susan "it's highness."
Me, "no, I'll even show you in the dictionary." ... to the dictionary ...
"Curses, she is right!"

Later, I google to make sure, still disbelieving that I could get it wrong all these years. I graduated from college, even have an advanced degree, enjoy reading, and have encountered the term many times, still in my brain, it came through as highless. I think this qualifies as a one word mondegreen.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spot Global Phone - satellite phone review

I have frequently wished that I had a sat phone, but weight and cost considerations have held me back.'s new phone at $499 with monthly and annual service plans caught my attention, and when they offered me a loaner for review purposes, I jumped at the chance. When the phone arrived, the first thing I did was weigh the components. The phone itself was just under 7 oz, and the charger and cord were 5 oz. A spare battery would be another 2 oz. It feels comparable to a home mobile phone. I started charging the battery that evening. After two hours it was still charging, fully charged by the next morning.

The phone has a lot of features. A quickstart manual comes with it, but the full manual needs to be downloaded. To get the user manual go to and download. 118 pages. Manual is half page size so can be printed as booklet with 4 pages per sheet if you have a duplex printer. I wanted a sat phone for emergencies, and didn't get heavily into its features, but some seemed interesting, such as 35 character incoming texts allowed without a data plan. Standby time is up to 36 hours, and talk time 4 hours.

After charging the phone, I did the usual phone setup, voicemail, backlighting time, etc and made some test calls around the house. A clear view of the sky was required, and the antenna needed to be extended and pointed to the sky. Voices each way were clear and easy to understand. I noticed that for people having caller id, my calls from the Spot Phone showed up as "unknown caller".

My main test of this phone was on a couple extended backpacking trips on the John Muir Trail in California. This trail has 200+ miles with no road crossings, and only about three places where supplies are available. Cell phone service is mostly non-existent. Elevation 9500 to 10000 feet, day temps 60s, night 30s.I turned the phone off, put it in my pack, and didn't pull it out for a week, until I wanted to make a check-in call. Got good signal, connected call, then phone shut down after about 30 seconds due to low battery. Would not start up again. That was upsetting, even more so as a couple of days later we wanted to make a call about medical issues, and couldn't.

We ended that trip, and went back in again in a few days. I again started with the phone fully charged, but turned off. Prior to start, I fully discharged and recharged the phone three times, assuming that this might be needed to get battery to where it could hold a full charge. I did this by setting screen to be always on, and placing the phone where it would be searching for service and not finding it. After about seven hours of this, phone would be discharged. I had to restart the search several times during the process.

This trip was similar to earlier trip, but higher elevation and colder. More rugged and far from cell phone signals. The short review is that the phone performed well, without battery issues, but easy to accidentally turn on.

Longer review of 2nd trip. I kept the phone in my shirt pocket, thinking that if the battery stayed warm, it would last longer. We first used phone about six days into trip. Battery was at full strength and we were able to reach our party. Sound was clear. Over the next several days we tried the phone several times. It could not find a signal in moderately forested areas, but I did not expect that. It did get a signal in some very deep canyons, but took some trial and error to find the right direction to point the phone for a strong signal. At times, reading the screen was an issue, as the sun was bright, and getting a signal required pointing the phone in a direction that was not best for reading the screen. Always managed to read it eventually. Several times when I went to use the phone, it was already turned on, though I was quite careful to turn it off each time I used it, waiting for the powering off message to be sure. I was carrying a map in the same pocket as the phone. My assumption is that when I was removing or inserting the map, I brushed the on button sufficiently to turn it on. On the first trip the phone was in a waist belt pocket, which got bumped quite a bit. My cell phone requires a noticeable length of time to press before turning on, so it never turns on in my pocket. This would be a good idea for the Spot Phone. As an alternative, if you are in a situation where the phone cannot be recharged daily, and you are relying on it for emergency communication, I would carry the battery removed from the phone and in a waterproof bag, inserted only to make a call.
During the remainder of the time I've had the phone, I have found that the phone is easy to just throw in the day pack for local hikes. We have many areas with spotty cell service, and it is a comfort to know the Spot Phone is there if I can't get cell service. Recently we took a 10 day trip driving through Nevada, southern Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

We would drive 150 miles or more not seeing another car, a gas station, or any buildings, just an occasional dirt track going off in the sagebrush or desert. Of course there was no cell service. Having that Spot Phone in the duffle bag brought peace of mind, particularly because there were patches of snow on the ground and it was November, when a snowstorm could come at any time.

I'm packing up the phone and returning it in a few days, and I am definitely going to miss it. It might even get into next year's backpacking budget.  

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Albany Bulb - Why not establish an Urban Wilderness Area?

This rubble and rubbish filled landfill, projecting into San Francisco Bay, has benefited from benign neglect, it has a world class view and is now slated to become parkland. However, there are some complicating factors, the folk art, the resident homeless, and the risk factor perceived by city and park authorities.

I’ve been walking here intermittently for twenty some years. This blob of land maybe 200 meters by 400 meters is strewn with massive chunks of concrete; rebar sticking out of much of it. This is just the visible part. More is beneath the surface, and some partially exposed. You need to pay attention when walking. A stumble could lead to being impaled. Of course when this landfill is excavated further, all sorts of other more noxious things are encountered. For the usual urban park, the park district would bring in bulldozers and landscapers to make it all safe for visitors.

Complication 1 - the folk art, ranging from graffiti to works done by established artists. This art all shares a common base - created from materials on hand, which happen to be concrete with rebar sticking out, slabs on the ground, driftwood, found objects from the landfill such as bicycle wheels, etc. etc. etc.. I’ve done a short youtube video to give you a feel for it.

Complication 2 - the resident homeless, and in some cases, the resident homeless artists. In my time walking out there, there were always people living there, but relatively out of sight. The area could be freely strolled without the feeling of invading someone’s privacy. This has changed over the last several years, and the population has gone from my guess of no more than 10 or 12 to around 60. One can’t walk from shore to shore without intruding. Albany city authorities are in the process of finding the homeless other accommodations prior to turning the area over to the park district. Some of the homeless have a different point of view, and express these views quite strongly on blogs on the Albany Patch website. A video with a half dozen or so of the Bulb residents gives you their thoughts.

Complication 3 is the perceived risk. The park district wants to avoid lawsuits, so will sanitize the site to their level of desired safety. I haven’t seen any official statements on what will be done, but I have a vision of bulldozers and heavy equipment leveling out and burying most of the current folk art. Authorities in this area do not have a good history of preserving anonymous roadside art, the Emeryville mudflat sculptures being a good example.

My proposal is that an urban wilderness area be created - on a similar model to the National Wilderness Areas. i.e. Visitors enter at their own risk. If they stumble over a piece of concrete, it is no different than falling off a cliff in the backcountry. Emergency services will be provided if needed, but there is no thought of the park being responsible for there being a mountain to fall off of. No heavy equipment allowed except for emergencies, no powered devices outside of what an individual might carry on a backpacking trip. No gas or electric utilities.

I do propose that three permit controlled backpacking sites be established, each one with room for three or four tents, with two of those having a permit limit of two days. Those would be on view sites on the west end of the bulb. The third site would be an interior camp available for juried artists in residence for a maximum of 30 days unless the art jury adjusted the limit. An individual could only get one permit in 365 days unless waivered. There would be a central piped in water source, and a central toilet facility. Camping would be Leave No Trace - no trash pickup.

P.S. This post is primarily about the art preservation, but I have a suggestion on the homeless resettlement, and that is that the city of Albany provide a free campground somewhere so that the residents could at least have access to police and fire services, as well as access to water, toilets and showers. Even assisted housing costs money and is in short supply so this would be a humane alternative.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

You're backpacking the John Muir Trail? You're how old?

heading towards Donahue Pass
approaching Glen Pass
 Every once in a while we meet some young men on the trail - 30ish, and they go on and on about how great it is that we are out on the trail. We have figured out that they think we are old and thus a novelty. We thought we were just other hikers, participating in what we sometimes look at as an extreme sport. Hiking and backpacking are one of the few areas where I can talk the usual trail topics, gear, food, weather, and feel like any other hiker. I guess we will have to live with being categorized by a few. At 72 and 77, we may be getting past middle age.

viewing Rae Lakes
We see our older friends beginning to be impacted by aging, so that threat is always out there. As a consequence, each of our trips over the last few years is an intentional pushing of our personal envelope. How else do we find our limits? This does lead to making mid trip changes to adapt to the circumstances. For the most part, age seems to be a factor mainly in resiliency - a ten mile segment of trail over rough terrain and always above 10,000 feet elevation, with several thousand feet of ascent and descent - is a demanding day for anyone, but we can do it. The difference is in how fast we could do it again (no, this post is not about sex). When we get to the planned end of day spot, and find that going a couple of miles further would be better, it is a little more difficult than
it once was. As a trip approaches, friends will ask " aren't you excited about your trip?". While we are looking forward to it, the more accurate feeling is hope and trepidation. Hoping that things will go well, concern about finding a new limit. However, we presist.

So, to the trip. Plan A - do the John Muir Trail in 20 walking days (216 miles of wilderness, mostly above 10,000 feet, a food drop resupply at the four day point, and the ten day point, with a layover day in a cabin at the ten day point. Our daily schedule was ambitious - 11 to 12 miles per day, and \meeting it took us all day, 8am to 6pm. At day seven at 4pm, we still had a 2000 foot climb and then a descent, to stay on schedule. Obviously we were going to miss our cabin reservation and layover day, so executed plan B - hike out to Vermillion Valley Resort, and through a combination of shuttle services and car rentals, drive several hundred miles to recover our car from the start point, drive home and regroup.

Upper Basin
Plan B continues - about six days later we were on the trail again. This time headed north, from Kearsarge Pass to Piute Pass. This trail is by permit only, and our only choice was this northbound route. The plan was ten days, and slightly fewer miles per day. Some thunder and lightning the first day, but only after we were over the entry pass, so no risk. As we continued north, the southbound hikers we met kept telling us about the four days of terrible storms, trapping them in their tents most of the time. We started feeling a little better about giving up our original plan. Our trip stayed problem free, other than the occasional Men are from Mars, Women from Venus discussions about risk assessment on possible scenarios of weather variations. Likely probability is not a useful argument against such things as "what if there is a freak storm and we are trapped by snow out here?".

Plan C was used to end the trip. I had one of the last Plan B days set to cross a high pass in late afternoon. Not a good idea under any circumstances, and possibly fatal if an afternoon lightning storm occurs. That morning the sky was dark and cloudy, and worsened as the day went on, so we went out by an alternate route with a sheltered area to camp, and crossed the alternate pass the next morning under clear skies.

Hints, Tips and Factoids

In no particular order, things we did, learned, that may help others.

Spot Phone: We had a satellite phone, loaned to us for testing purposes by Spot LLC, the company the makes the popular Spot emergency signaler and tracking device. This worked for us in areas where no cell service was available. I did find that it accidentally got turned on several times, using up battery power, so if I took it again, I would remove the battery except when making a call. I will do a separate post on the phone at some point.

Phone business card: I made a two sided Word document where the content was the size of a business card - 2.5 in margins, centered, about 6 phone numbers on each side. I had the various emergency service numbers on one side, and the personal phone numbers on the other. I covered each side with clear plastic wrapping tape, and cut it to the size of a business card. That way I had a waterproof document stored right with the phone, both in a ziplock bag.

Infection: This is a scary thing. It can kill you in about four days. Susan had an issue with her ankle and shin a couple of years ago in France. We didn't know it was an infection until we saw a doctor at the end of day two. Never found the entry source of infection, but antibiotics cured it. This trip we met a man who's wife had just been airlifted out, delirious, and a temperature of 105 F. This was from badly infected blisters. Another four to twelve hours delay, and she would have died. With any sort of wound, be alert for signs of infection, puffiness, redness, pain, keep it flushed out with water, soak in hot (not scalding) water every couple of hours if available, and get medical attention if it worsens. Have a way of estimating a person's temperature. Find Jim Hansen's post in Facebook's John Muir Trail group.

Altimeter Watch: I carried a gps on this trip, but only turned it on once. What I relied on was the altimeter  watch. Elevation was usually sufficient to pinpoint a place of interest. Even if not calibrated exactly, very useful for measuring the amount of ascent or descent.

basic e-ink Kindle: I carry this on most trips, with lots of useful documents. However, during Plan A part of trip, had it packed in the backpack flat against the back. This cracked the screen, making it unusable. I have learned since that the e-ink Kindles are very sensitive to any sort of bending. The screen is extremely fragile and cannot be bent or pressed in any way. So, pad it well. I did, by the way, replace the screen successfully. Googled for replace Kindle screen and found as well as
Ordered the replacement screen from China - AliExpress. The Youtube version was the most helpful.

Condensation:  We have a single wall tent, and on three different nights the condensation was dripping off the top several hours after we had gone to bed. Used a pack towel to wipe it down several times during the night, and by 3am, the remainder had frozen, so stopped dripping. I used to carry a small sponge for this purpose, and it worked better than the pack towel.

Footwear: Most people on the JMT were wearing boots, but we had our usual trail runners, and think they worked better than boots for traction, and as good as boots for walking on those paths of small boulders that sometimes make up the trail surface.

Hiking Poles: I again managed to break one of my Black Diamond Ultra Distance fixed length poles, but still swear by them and have ordered a replacement.

Warm Gloves: I didn't bring any, so constantly borrowed Susan's for those cold mornings when I was up making the coffee and tea.

Fleece Socks: I wore these most nights, but they wouldn't warm up feet if I went to bed cold - had to warm feet with hands first, then put on socks.

Packa: The Packa "pocket" was too small to fit my pack with the bear canister on top, so had to revert to using a pack cover. If I were to do much more hiking with a bear canister, I would order a custom Packa to fit, as that protects the pack better than a pack cover.

Maps: I had both the Tom Harrison JMT map pack, as well as the Eric the Black booklet. Eric's maps were slightly larger scale, and had water sources and campsites marked on them, so were useful. The map pack covered a larger area, so was also useful. We had the Elisabeth Wenk book on the Kindle, so just a printout of her list of data points (campsites, etc with utm coordinates) for the Plan B part of the trip.

Pee Container: On nights when cold or inclement weather make it difficult to leave the tent, a quart yogurt container with lid, or its sturdier rigid Ziploc equivalent can save the day. You just have to stick an arm out of the tent and toss, (keeping in mind what is in the direction you are tossing).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

My Youtube video channel and my slide software

We've just been doing training hikes lately, primarily on city streets. Our goal is two  or three long hikes a week. (at least 10 miles). We discovered that Semifreddi's bakery is 5 plus miles from our house, depending on route, so we make the journey there, carrying our packs, have a pastry, buy a sandwich for the trip back, and return home. Voila! 10 miles. They give out these little cards, to be stamped once for each visit. Twelve spots on the card. When it is full, we get a free coffee. At this point we are about half way through our 3rd card, representing about 300 miles walking to Semifreddi's.

To get to the blog topic, we've also been giving some video presentations around the area, some on Patagonia, and some on the Camino. During setup, for my own entertainment, and to test the laptop and digital projector setup, I run some short videos that I've put out to Youtube. After the presentation I always get a couple of questions about the projection software and about how to find our Youtube channel. Now I can say check  my blog.

The presentation software is Pictures to Exc - runs on windows but can build projects for Mac. It is very powerful, but the support (excellent) is mainly from the associated online forum.

To find our Youtube channel, just google for backpack45 youtube and you will find - select browse videos to see all.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Camino Chronicle could use a few more good reviews

You may have wondered about my blog name "This Makes No Sense At All". It came about because one of the things we have always loved about hiking is the consistently wonderful community of hikers, when we meet them on the trail. No matter what their circumstances in the real world, on the trail they are without exception, friendly and go out of their way to be helpful.

When we got more interested in long distance hiking, and I started following the related hiking online forums, I discovered that this spirit prevailed, but that there was also more than expected angry divisive commentary. It was this that made no sense at all. I could not match it with the people I met on the trail.

Last fall when we noticed that our sales of Camino Chronicle abruptly dropped by two thirds, we did some checking and saw that a couple had bought a copy from Amazon, and then posted two very negative one star reviews. Since we didn't have a lot of reviews to begin with, that had a drastic effect. I don't really quarrel with their not liking Susan's journal writing style - some do, some don't. It is just that they seemed so angry about it. This is a non fiction book. The facts are what they are. The scope of information is substantial and took a long time to gather and organize. A one star review is the equivalent of a letter grade of F, and inappropriate. They are hiking the Camino this spring, and maybe when they come back they will have the hiker spirit and revise their review, but I am not hopeful.

Over the years, many people have told us that they liked the book. We didn't think to respond: "Thanks, an Amazon review would be helpful". If you are one of those people, this is your opportunity!