Monday, December 15, 2008

pheasant with my phowling piece

We're going hunting, aren't we ? O boy o boy o boy, I can't wait, let's go, now or sooner if possible, this is gonna be great !

Artie does his job exactly as he's bred to do, runs deep into the weeds and flushes the birds out. I on the other hand frequently don't get my part of the job done, and miss the birds.. Once in a while I do hit, thereby avoiding Artie's ire - you should see The Look he gives me after missing - and he faithfully brings it in.

Pheasants are extravagantly beautiful. They are, as Gierach observed of trout, far prettier than they need to be. On the other hand, for the last couple of centuries it's been a very successful strategy from an evolutionary standpoint: be attractive/useful to man, and he'll spread you far and wee across the world. Both pheasants and trout seem like elementals of air and water, jewels that swim and fly. Then men like me come along to turn them into meat.

In the evening, the birds come in from the cornfields to their evening quarters in the bottomlands. We hide behind the haystack and wait to see who shows up. The trick to recognizing a rooster is the C's - either hear him cluck, or see the colour on his face. In the evening the colour trigger isn't usually visible; luckily they'll sometimes declare themselves by chattering to their harem. This evening, four hens swooped in silently. The solitary rooster dropped into the dense weeds. We went to root him out with the dogs but in the meantime he'd run down into the jungles of the wetlands. Outfoxed by a bird, yet again.

Back at the barn having tea, Artie fell asleep standing up, while I scratched his ears. A thoroughly-well-hunted dog.

Update: 'the last couple of centuries', forsooth. Pheasant arrived in England with Caesar's armies. They'd been moving out of Asia for a few thousand years before that. There are some 30 distinct sub-species of the common pheasant; the status in the wild of all of these is unknown. The common and ringneck pheasant are of course not endangered, being so widespread.

Harold Macmillan on pheasants in England, reported in a letter of Patrick Leigh Fermor's,
"We're very lucky to have them. It's entirely due to the Roman occupation of Britain. The junior officers were very fond of them, and collected them in large numbers. I believe there was a certain amount of rivalry about which centurion had the most or the handsomest birds. In the end, of course, in 410 AD, in the reign of the Emperor Honorious, the order came for all the legions to return to Rome, but they weren't allowed to take their birds with them, so very reluctantly, all the centurions let their birds go. There must have been thousands of them. Anyway, they survived the Picts and the Scots, and the Saxon invasion."

There are some other remarkable pheasants. Bird books usually give a picture plus a paragraph or more detailing the 'field signs', the notable features by which the bird may be recognized while twitching. For the Lady Amherst and the Golden pheasant, one word: 'unmistakeable'.

The Lady bird:

From excelglen's flickr set.

 The Golden:

From Dave Appleton's flickr set.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

eragon and saphira

#1 son wanted me to publish his picture of Eragon and Saphira, so here it is..

Friday, December 5, 2008

what are we playing at ?

The last construction weekend of the year. We're putting up the deck for the yurt near Palisade, five 'professionals' with soft hands labouring manually. One ex-engineer who went careering off to law, and one actual engineer, so at least we have good directions to follow.

In the course of the weekend, the side of the shed in the background blew off. We upgraded the yurt with the wind package.

It's quite soothing to have nothing to do but heave lumber and bang nails, in the cold wind below the mesas.

The children of the yurt lent a hand and a hammer, putting in the spacers for the Trex boards. That palled after an hour or two, so they went off to Crash Valley, the gully where the previous farmer sent all his cars to die.

A few vagrant gleams of sunshine were all we got.

On the drive home even those would have been welcome - Vail pass was closed most of the afternoon and evening. We gave up and checked into a hotel. The boys and I went to sit in the hot tub, under snow, where we learnt that the hotel had just filled up and the Red Cross shelters opened. I hardly ever get that right, usually we're in the miserable cold waiting for the pass to reopen. After dinner we all huddled around the laptop, watching 'The Gods must be Crazy'. I thought the boys would enjoy the slapstick, their parents indulged in a bushveld nostalgia.

Two of the pictures courtesy of Mitch and Linda, thank you.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Brad DeLong says:
"We can finally have normal politics and policymaking again. That's not a tremendous accomplishment, is it?
It feels like one:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth... the holy city, new Jerusalem..."

I'm not sure it's possible to return to a normal politics after the last eight years, that well is deeply poisoned: still I agree it's a relief (in the same way that a biopsy for cancer coming back negative, is a relief) to have a respectable President again.

Not much to ask, but it seemed unattainable for so many years. Ezra Klein sums up the Bush legacy:
"He has been worse than a bad president: he has harnessed the power of America to do genuine evil, under his watch."
From the report by the Senate Armed Services Committee (12 R, 12 D, ranking member Sen McCain):
"senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."
The general counsel for the Department of the Army has declared that what we did to prisoners in Guantanamo was torture. No weaseling, no mealy-mouthed obfuscation by tough-talking bed wetters, just the admission that it is in fact plain old ugly torture. The Red Cross thinks so too. Of course, most of the tortured were innocent as well.

This is the second time I've voted for a black president. I also got to vote for Nelson Mandela, in the first free South African elections. Praise be. Perhaps a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good next step, now that we will stop torturing people.

John McCain seemed relieved and happy in his concession speech. Odd. Perhaps he does have a conscience after all ?

Elsewhere I proposed 'Caravan of Love' as the song for the day. It's always worth hoping.

Update on torture: there was no campaign promise and no official statement on this. I had confidence however, and now:
"I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture, and I'm going to make sure that we don't torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."
Decency in government, what a refreshing change.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

dumb humans

California's proposition 2 will allow farmed animals
"to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely."
You mean they can't do that now ?
Astonishingly enough, there is strong opposition to allowing farmed animals the freedom to lie down.

We are all God's creatures; tormenting our fellow creatures seems to me appalling in any religion's worldview. If we are not God's creatures, instead just East African plains apes with delusions, living under an empty sky: then those of us capable of compassion should show it, for the good of our mortal souls if nothing else. We need to obey the Vonnegutian imperative, "There’s only one rule that I know of, babies - God damn it, you've got to be kind".

Update: looks like it passed quite convincingly, sixty-some percent voting for it. Oh good.
On the other hand, proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage, passed as well. Cruel to humans but kind to animals, there's another puzzle of the human animal..

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

bird dogs in Veteran, WY

Off to darkest Wyoming, near the town of Veteran, to take Artie on his first duck hunt. The ducks are coming down the Central Flyway and are susceptible to ambush. Blue-winged teal are still on the ponds: since we broke the weather they stay around a lot longer than what used to be usual.

Ballasbak in the barn, planning a normal distribution of chores and entertainment.

Here's Artie taking a nap with his favorite stuffed toy, a 25c garage-sale cat.

Boy and dogs heading out to the wetlands. Artie thought he'd died and gone to heaven, from the boring suburban green-belt spaces to a whole farm full of smells.

Once the feathers hit the water, the party is reduced to serious hunters only. Artie's dad Spot is point dog.

Artie gets to practice with the downed ducks. Real birds were harmed in the making of this picture, I fear. Very tasty too.

The rest of us needed a bit of shotgun training, making shards out of clay pigeons. Mostly I couldn't hit the doubles, one going R and one going L, because I'm just too slow. Three different guns: a lovely little Beretta over/under 28 gauge, which pointed itself, didn't miss anything with that one; a Winchester 20ga, perfectly competent bit of American craftsmanship but my euro-snob side preferred the pretty Italians; a Beretta 12ga side/side, hardly any heavier than the 28ga. Ken sneaked in a goose load on the 12ga at one point, thing kicked hijus. The last thing I shot with a kick like that was a RPG. The clays would break when hit with 28ga, the goose load basically turned the clay back into silt.

Next day, Artie got to fossick around in the fields, to kick up some pheasant and/or quail. No shooting at these since the season isn't open yet. They tell me Montana is big sky country, but Wy manages a fair old spread too.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

a brief excursion

Ken coming downstream, in a satisfied sort of way: took 5o casts and two changes of fly, but he finally got that 16" rainbow that was rising to tricos.

A turbocharged rainbow, he jumped higher than my head. Returned with thanks.

None of the comforts of home, but many countervailing pleasures.

High country, empty and quiet. Except of course for the cows on welfare, grazing public land to a nubbin. Their outraged moos kept us awake for, oh, nearly five whole minutes.

nothing to say, just gratuitous prettiness.

Next morning on Lost Creek. Nothing much fish-wise, but it could not have been better.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Vista wireless networking

The Windows 2000 and XP machines work fine. The Vista machine drops and re-connects the wireless connection every 3-5 minutes or so, which is very tedious when trying to watch videos. These don't play on Win2000, and the XP box has its own problems with overheating in the GPU, so the Vista needs fixing.

After a brief descent into the usual circles of forum hell, where self-styled hacker doodz spread misinformation and the unfortunate ESL guys patiently try to make sense of it all: here's the short list of things to check.

Update Dec 2: I upgraded Vista to XP, but the problem persists. XP gives a few more things to try:
- used the Dell utility for wireless, and disabled the Windows WZC service
- disabled the Dell utility, and used the Windows WZC configuration for wireless
Also tried a static IP address, which improved the time taken for the initial connection, but it failed in the same way.
Dell 1390 WLAN mini-card, Broadcom 44/10x100 integrated controller. I'm beginning to think the problem is in the 1390 card, since that's the only thing that is different between this PC and the others that work.

The PC works fine at the library with an unsecured network. I tried turning off WPA-PSK at home, and now that works fine too. However I'm not prepared to run without security. 

Finally worked around the problem by disabling the 1390 Wlan card, and installing a USB wireless adapter. It's slightly slower, but at least it doesn't crash the entire network on a regular basis. It was a hardware problem, not Vista's fault at all. That hardly ever happens.. 

Update Aug 29: well, it seems the behavior is by design in Vista. It checks automatically every minute or two to see if there's a better wireless connection. That check will cause a lag in the wireless traffic, and in some cases a complete disconnection. Microsoft believes this to be acceptable behaviour. There are some little programs floating around that may work, try WLAN Optimizer or Vista Anti Lag, but neither worked for me. The only workaround is to buy a wireless bridge, aka wireless gaming adapter, and connect it to the laptop Ethernet port. Then disable the WLAN Autoconfig service in Vista.

Or, simply upgrade to Ubuntu Linux. First get the Live CD, which allows Ubuntu to run from the CD, without needing to install. This is a way to make sure the hardware is supported under Ubuntu. If that runs OK, test the wireless connection under Linux with this step-by-step. All being well, make a dual-boot system with Windows and Ubuntu. Follow the instructions here. Then, boot into Windows Vista when you don't have enough pain and suffering in your life: otherwise use Ubuntu.

Here's the list of other things to check in Vista, just in case something helps.
Change power options.. Start, search for Power Options, then proceed to set it to high performance for everything.


Try channel 11 instead of the default 6. This is set on the router configuration, and should be picked up automatically by the clients.
Both channels 1 and 11 do not overlap with the default channel 6; use one of these three channels for best results.


Turn off the 802.11 authentication.
1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
2.Click Network and Internet, click Network and Sharing Center, and then click Manage network connections.
3.Right-click the network that you want to disable 802.1X authentication for, and then click Properties.
4.Click the Security tab, and then, in the Security Type list, click No authentication (Open). Click OK.


Turn off network speed auto-detection:

Select Network Settings, either from your Start menu or from within Control Panel.
Right click on the connection that corresponds to your network card, and select Properties.
In the dialog that results, click on the Configure... button immediately below the "Connect using..." item that shows your network card.
In the dialog that results, click on the Advanced tab.
This is where things vary based on your network card. In the left-hand list will be a series of properties that can be adjusted. Look for a setting similar to "Speed", or "Link", or perhaps "Media Type". Click on that, and the right-hand "Value" dropdown list will probably have something similar to "Auto". If you click on that drop-down list and options include entries that look like "10mbs", "100mbs", and so on, you've found the right item. Change the setting from auto by clicking on the specific speed you've determined you want the network card to run at, and press OK (If the setting also includes a full/half duplex selection, full is normally correct.)


Update the drivers etcetera.
1. Verify that you are using the latest version of the wireless network adapter driver that is available from Microsoft or the wireless network adapter vendor. To obtain the version of the wireless network adapter driver that is installed, right-click the wireless connection in the Network Connections folder. On the General tab, click Configure. From the wireless network adapter properties dialog box, click the Driver tab. The version of the wireless network adapter driver is displayed next to Driver Version. If your wireless client is connected to the Internet, click Update Driver to launch the Hardware Update Wizard and search Windows Update for a newer version of the driver. Alternately, check the wireless network adapter vendor's Web site for a newer version of the driver.

2. Upgrade the router's firmware. Since our Dlink is way out of support, we have the absolute latest 2004 firmware already installed..

From Microsoft's trouble-shooting document, found here:
Wireless Auto Configuration is Enabled and a Third-Party Wireless Configuration Tool is Installed
Windows XP Wireless Auto Configuration provides integrated support for wireless networking and helps automate wireless configuration. Wireless network adapters also provide a wireless network configuration tool. If the wireless network adapter driver supports Wireless Auto Configuration, installation and use of the network adapter vendor's configuration tool is not needed. To test whether your wireless network adapter supports Wireless Auto Configuration, right-click the wireless connection in the Network Connections folder and then click Properties. If there is a Wireless Networks tab, your wireless network adapter supports Wireless Auto Configuration.
Note: there are no third-party configuration tools for Vista. Only the WLAN Autoconfiguration Windows service exists, which is broken as noted above.


If the SSID broadcast is disabled on the preferred wireless network, clever old Windoze might be disconnecting from the network in order to use a different network that is broadcasting its SSID. We do broadcast, so that isn't the case here, but just for completeness..

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

5430 triathlon

1.2 mile swim, 56 bike, 13.1 run.
35:06, 2:38, 2:08 for 5:23 finish.

Heading out the door at 4:30 am, I contrived to smack the left quad into a doorknob with sufficient force to bring tears to my eyes. Limped to the car, pondering the three pains to start the race with - quad, bursitis in L heel, and some strange tendon (Flexor hallucis longus I think) in the R ankle. Oh goody.

I'd tapered carefully for this race over 10 days, and it really paid off. The warmup run was the best I've had in a decade or more, felt light strong and fast. Unfortunately the rest of the day was all uphill from there. Swim heads straight into the sun, past the orange round buoys and turn at the yellow triangular ones, which is better than the usual undifferentiated markers. The previous wave had orange caps that matched the buoy's colour perfectly, so route-finding was a bit tricky: the small round red head in the near waves looked a lot like the far buoys at times. Calf cramped briefly at one point, after three sighting strokes and kicks for the route-finding provoked it. The two guys drafting off me were a bit ticked off, but I didn't lose much time. Out of the water in 33:50 which seemed slow: general consensus at the finish line was that it may have been a couple of minutes long.

The bike starts out with a long steady almost invisible climb, 350 feet over 4 miles. The low point of the course comes a few miles before this on the second loop, making the climb more like 500 ft over 6 miles, even better. It's always discouraging to be grinding out 15-16mph on an apparently flat road. Patience and humility are called for but I do not heed the call. Actually I thought I was being very conservative on the bike. Even after the previous 3 weeks at sea level, breathing was easy; I could have passed the talk test at any time. One guy rode by and said 'time for new shorts, dude'. Lycra gets transparent as it ages: but the shorts had looked fine when I put them on in the dark at 4am. At the finish I asked Julie, 'so how bad is it ?' and turned around. She dissolved into helpless giggles, so I guess it was pretty bad. I apologise to everyone behind me..

After the grind, a series of rollers, fun and nothing serious. Then a screaming descent at 40+, whee. Here as elsewhere on the course, anything over 30mph meant tucking into the aero position and relaxing. I was surprised at the number of people I coasted past while they were pedaling furiously on the descents.

There was a strange little dogleg at one point down a side road, with an unexpectedly narrow turnaround. The girl ahead of me went wide, into the dirt, but recovered back onto the tar. I had the first inadvertent unclip of my cycling career while going about and looked down at the pedals instead of thinking. The girl by this time had stopped, so I successfully jammed the front wheel firmly into her rear wheel gears (ooh baby) and came to a halt. Of course I fell over on the side that was still clipped in, head hit the tar with a startlingly loud whack, then someone ran over it. Luckily the long tail of the aero helmet deflected the wheel away from the cranium as such. It was a curious sensation, like a dog had grabbed the helmet and given it a good shake. That evening my wife wanted to know how I'd managed to get lovebites on the back of the neck. My story was that they were tiremarks and anyway I didn't even know the bike in question, think I was able to sell it.

A burst of profanity to relieve the immediate emotional distress, apologised to the girl I'd rammed, and off again bleeding only lightly from the knee shoulder and elbow. Later I discovered this had also cracked the rear wheel cover. There was a lot of equipment damage for such a slow-motion crash. Still, no bones broken. Hopefully it won't show up on YouTube. By now I was up to six pains, the three I'd started with plus shoulder cramps and bleeding, on top of the general systemic effort which I never really feel as pain. So that's OK.

The rest of the course is rather pretty, two-lane roads through farm country with the mildest of rollers, very enjoyable. Halfway in 1:18 which was faster than I'd expected: this probably meant I'd gotten the pacing wrong. Oh well. Second lap was mercifully uneventful except for getting yelled at for going slow at the turnaround. Brother, I have the scars.

Off the bike in 2:37 feeling not too bad at all. Sat down to get socks and shoes on and use an asthma inhaler which was wholly supererogatory, as I never got anywhere near oxygen debt in the entire race. L'affaire doorknob hadn't hurt much on the bike so I'd forgotten it. Now it appeared that I couldn't lift the left leg at all. This didn't matter much at first since the right leg wasn't coming along too well either, but I'd rather hoped to be able to start running after a mile or two. Quoth the raven, Nevermore: thirteen miles of survival shuffle is what it took. I've run over a hundred marathons, trail marathons and ultras, and never had to gut it out for such a long time. It was absolutely the hardest race of my life. My personal worst for a half-marathon in competition was 1:36, after basic training in the Army when I'd bulked up to 180 lbs ('bulk' is a euphemism, there was a fair bit of blubber in there too). Well, I just shattered that mark.

The run route here is lovely, dirt road around Boulder reservoir in the prairie with grand views. The fine weather we'd had all day persisted, good cloud cover, warm but not extravagantly hot. Best weather in years for the 5430 and I couldn't take any advantage of it, boo hiss. Shambled along kicking up dust, tried to 'run' between aid stations and walk the aids but couldn't even manage that. I'd never known it was possible for me to 'run' and go so slowly. The first lap took 56 minutes meaning even my worst-case time goal was out the window. The Gatorade, Coke, water and gels were not mixing well in my stomach by this stage, lots of sloshing and gurgling going on, with shooting pains to add to the other six. I skipped taking the next gel at the half-hour since I just couldn't face (or stomach) it. This produced a swift retribution as the pace dropped to about a 25-minute mile, forced the gel down at the next aid station, after which I was able to pick it up to nearly 10min/mile, woo-bloody-hoo. In the end I just relaxed and enjoyed a fully-catered walk around the res to finish in 2:08 for the run, 5:23 overall. Shameful.

Met Julie at the finish and commiserated on our races. We found shade in the beer tent (mmm) and sat down, but didn't have the strength to get up and actually fetch a beer. Julie's friend Kim was kind enough to get our beer, thank you oh thank you..

One thing I'd do differently in the alternate universe where I'd try this again, is to use trail shoes like the Montrails for the run. The rocks and pebbles in the dirt road had tenderized my feet quite effectively by the finish. Another is to eat some solid food on the bike, instead of just gels. Panini are what I'd try, recipe below. It's possible also that I drank too much for the mild weather.

After six weeks without a bike ride but some good swim and run training, plus some 30-odd (some of them extremely odd) years of marathoning, I'd hoped to be able to fake the run after taking the bike easy. Turns out it can't be done, 56 miles of bike ride even at a relatively easy pace will turn the run legs to jelly. This is not news I suppose, but I thought I could do it. Hah.

Note later: Mike Ricci had this to say on another 5430 race report,
"My thinking from seeing this time and again, is that being in that aero position for 2+ hours (when you aren't training like this) tends to really fatigue the hip flexors so when you get to the run, you feel like it's much harder than it should be. I am betting that's one of the reasons the run didn't go as planned."

Thanks to Barry Siff, Mr 5430tri, for yet another fine race. Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers, in particular the girls in bikinis at aid station 2 on the bike, though the guy in a bikini there I could have done without: oh my eyes.

Receipt from though I can't find it on the site anymore:
Panini are usually made with white bread after the crust is removed. This reduces sandwich size so it can be eaten in three or four bites.
Traditionally, the bread is toasted. Then one side of each piece is quickly touched to a flat saucer of white wine. This is done to add flavor and, the Euros believe, it aids digestion. The wine seeps in to make the bread soft by the time it's eaten. Starting with untoasted bread could result in a very mushy sandwich.
Inside is butter, cream cheese or a soft cheese like Brie, and jam. Honey is favored by some riders. On cold or rainy days or for long races in moderate temperatures, soigneurs might add a slab of ham.
The resulting sandwich is wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it protected, fresh and moist so it's easy to eat.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

On Mt. Kandili

Uncle Dino wanted to know if I got paid for all the running and swimming I was doing on vacation.

I am paid in the red coin of the sun going down,
the notes of waves susurrant in the pebbles
which cannot be counterfeited;
the figs ripening and the wind that bears their scent
chattering of cicadas,
goat bells in the olive grove, behind the monastery,
cool sweet water from the mountain springs;
the wages are good enough.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

North Platte at 3600cfs

A clear blue sky to begin with, the last we'd see for 3 days. But note the low grey clouds sneaking in over the horizon..

The bright sun turned the river from brown to silver, luring us down the primrose path (bit muddy for primroses, though).

While waiting for the shuttle drivers to return, I improved the shining hour by going fishing. There was only one little backwater in a mile of river that looked as if it could shelter a fish, and indeed it was pullulating in an invisible sort of way, down there in the murky depths. This is the biggest sucker I've ever caught, 22" or so. I thought I'd hooked a monstrous brown trout, but as a rafter from Boulder Boatworks observed later, there's no second act with the sucker. He fights well for a few minutes, then goes belly up and yields to his fate with scarcely another twitch of the fins. Quite a handsome fish all the same. A couple of smaller brown trout, then this beast, 18" with a jaw like a crocodile. His dorsal fin came sailing up through the thick water making me think it was another sucker, but he went several rounds.

Here's a view from the backwater, into the canyon. Upstream from here is some class IV water (at this water level), which a couple of rafters hiked up to inspect. They'd just come from the Grand Canyon, but decided to give the N. Platte another day to subside before they attempted this canyon.

In between that picture and this one of the first camp, there was an awful lot of activity, but no time to be taking pictures. A pity, since the waves were fearfully impressive. The whitewater canoes and the inflatable were in their element. Mike and Deb were in a well-loaded tandem boat with not much freeboard. They handled the rapids without problems, but tended to emerge at the tailout with gunnels level to the water, up to their waists inside the boat. A swamped canoe like this is very unstable: the usual procedure is to catch an eddy and bale out. Today the high water turned a sequence of class II rapids into one single class II-III rapid, leaving very few eddies, and those few mandated a close personal relationship with the willows. So, the rest of us got some rescue practice. Chasing an inverted canoe through the rapids with no time to read the water for the best route, just ripping through the rocks and holes in hot pursuit, is good for the adrenalin generators. Add in a strong cold blustery wind that kept blowing the boat sideways, and the whole thing became a bit of a tightrope dance: perhaps not the brink of disaster, but certainly an excellent view of it.

By way of comparison, here's the river as it was at 3600cfs, and the last year at 1100 cfs (thanks to Roger for last year's picture).

After all that excitement, I needed to have a quiet spot of fishing to calm the nerves. More healthy happy brown trout, like this one which looked in fine fettle,

and then a rainbow, full of jumps and aerial flourishes.

The view from this backwater full of fish:

I stayed up late that night, closed the camp down at 8:30pm, as we all collapsed into bed just ahead of driving mists. In the middle of the night I got up for middle-aged reasons, and it was the pitchiest sort of black, cold drizzle blowing by.

The inflatable canoe went into Dick's tent with him. I guess some guys really love their boats.. actually he was using it as an air mattress, to sleep on. Quoth Dick upon emerging the next morning, "and it comes with an attachment, named Zelda.."

Next morning, cold grey skies and a wind with ice and snow in it. Midsummer in Wyoming, and welcome to it. Packed up camp and fished for a bit, this morning's chapter of piscatorial incident included a 12" cuttbow which I'd never seen here before. The Wyo G&F doesn't stock the river, but there are private ranches along the river that probably dump dumb stockies in for the paying clients. I'm happy to see the stockies going feral.

Only one rapid of consequence left, Douglas Creek, half-an-hour downriver. We scouted this one since we could. Instead of washing out, the rapid had just bulked up magnificently, huge standing waves curling into white foam. The sun reappeared briefly. In its light the waves seemed lit up from within, glowing brown and gold like tiger's eye. I remember taking a small boat out into the swells off Shark Point, the westernmost tip of Australia: the huge wine-dark waves rolled in with a thousand miles of ocean behind them. These waves were a kind of landlocked miniature version of that emotion; driven by seasons rather than ocean.

"The old voice of the ocean, the bird-chatter of little rivers,..
  From different throats intone one language."

Mike and Deb decided that Ken and I could run their boat down, while they took video. We approached the entrance carefully, backpaddling and quartering into the waves to keep the boat dry. After the first quarter mile there was a narrow channel between boat-eating holes which was the must-make move. Going in there we paddled hard, crashed through with the water slapping into my chest, but stayed up and only half-filled the boat. That was fun in fact.
We pulled over after that for a little snack, taking advantage of the brief sun.

Onwards, as the weather closed in again. The sun kept trying to emerge, a bleary yellow eye in the clouds, but it wasn't trying hard enough. The rain began, driven hard by an upstream wind into our faces, like being pelted with small cold pellets. The temperature was medium 40s. As this all soaked slowly into us, on a river which was snow yesterday, it became distinctly cold. Reaching camp at 4pm, we immediately dragged up a heap of driftwood, soaked it in Coleman fuel, and torched it. No energy to accomplish anything except steam gently in front of the fire. I had a backpacking tarp secreted at the bottom of the drybag. We put it up with some paddles for tentpoles, then performed the hypothermia pavane, twirling slowly between shelter and the fire. We did get five minutes of sunset light with a rainbow and a bald eagle working his way homewards. My camera batteries had died by that point so you'll have to take my word for it.

My tent on the lone prairie, with rainbow and pointillist sagebrush.

It was cold and miserable enough that I didn't get any fishing in. Ken and Dick sat around the fire swapping military tales but I collapsed at 8:30 again.

A few rattles of rain swept over the tent in the night. I pulled an all-nighter, which for a middle-aged man like me, means I slept all night without having to get up: very exciting. In the morning, the flysheet clattered as I opened it up, being covered in frozen rain. In that frosty dawn we moved like lizards, slow and careful. We'd planned to leave early to have more time for the Hobo hot springs in Saratoga, but it was no go the merrygoround, we waited for the ice to melt off the tents.

More 'busy' water in Ken's term, that is only 2-3 foot waves, as we forged on to Treasure Island. This stretch of river has a lot of islands and riverine forest, so the birdlife is extraordinary. Ken saw a pileated woodpecker, his first in 15 years and only the second in 23 years of running this river. The rest of us saw orioles, warblers of various degrees of beauty, tanagers, bald eagles both fledged and immature. At the takeout, I did my usual bunk for the backwaters, but found nothing except a huge beaver which dove into the water with remarkable grace.

At the Hobo hot springs, the cold weather and high waters had cooled it off to a mere 105 F, so I could actually get in. Usually it's up at 110-120, and it's too hot for my thin skin. Ken found someone who knew his first wife's parents, and they had a good chat about the snows of yesteryears, the refinery tanks, etcetera. Wyoming has half-a-million people for the whole state, so it's like that. The neighbouring swimming pool had a free swim day, several kids frolicked under the eye of a chilly-looking lifeguard clad in a wetsuit, hoodie and towel.

Lunched late at Stumpy's, fine cheeseburgers and chocolate malts, which Mike paid for in his gratitude for deliverance from the fell rapids of the first day. Thanks Mike. More pictures and video on his page.

Looks like we managed to hit the peak flows for the year:

Friday, May 30, 2008

IT skill shortage

I keep trying to write a full post on this, but get discouraged by the magnitude of the task.. As a placeholder, here's a short response, provoked by this article.

If there were a skills shortage, then IT salaries would be increasing, not decreasing.

There is also no actual data to support the contention that there is a shortage of trained people. See the Business Week review of the data.

So what the executives call a 'skills shortage' must mean something different. I suspect this means 'short-term shortages of engineers with specific technical skills in certain industry segments or in various parts of the country', as the second article above notes. That is, the executives find it inconvenient that they cannot snap out a C# engineer and snap in a Cobol one, or vice versa, as their needs dictate. My sympathy is limited.

The answer is really as simple as Sandra outlines in the first post - invest in technical staff, to get them the training they need to acquire the skills. The mainframe is not a mythical beast, with its habitat and behaviours shrouded in mystery: it's well-documented and easily learnt. It's the attitude to technical staff that classifies them as interchangeable parts, which produces the appearance of the 'skills shortage'.

Of course required reading on this is Dr. Matloff's investigations.


The redoubtable Yakov points us, grumpily, to Jason on 'what to do when you're laid off'. Jason thinks the appropriate response is to book a flight to somewhere cheap for a long vacation. Yakov does not.
I am of Yakov's mind - this advice is good only for the glittering digerati, the young strong and lucky, the children of privilege. I can't speak for Yakov, but this might be an emigrant thing. Those of us who escaped only by dint of outworking the competition, have a jaundiced view. We see a steep and thorny way through the miseries of poverty: salvation is through hard continous work.

Of course it may also be simpler, maybe it's just the optimist/pessimist divide. I have a nagging suspicion that those damn'd cheery optimists have a way of creating good luck by their very sunniness. I've never been able to fake optimism though and certainly can't pretend to the real thing, so this remains a source of gloominess. Hah.

One more thing: quoth Jason,
"But I'm married with a family and a house... Ok, you win. You're screwed, but that's the life you chose for yourself so you're going to have to live it. It's worth noting, however, that most Europeans wouldn't consider that a reason not to travel. Right this second, there is a German couple pushing a stroller down a remote beach in Thailand, and they're not going home for another month. What's your excuse again? "

Well, let me count the differences between a US couple and that German couple. The German couple each have a Worker's Council (read: union) to protect their interests at work; they have 5 to 6 weeks of paid leave a year, plus 10 other paid days off; they have state-guaranteed health care, so if they lose their jobs they don't lose health care coverage; they have state-guaranteed pensions, so they don't have a 401k as the only thing between them and dogfood for dinner in retirement; they have the euro, the strongest currency on the planet: five excellent reasons they can be a tad more carefree than US wage slaves. "Americans average 25.1 working hours per person in working age per week, but the Germans average 18.6 hours."

That German couple is on vacation for a month. The only way a US couple could get a month's vacation, is to be laid off simultaneously: at which point their family is laid bare to the rapacious wickedness of ill fortune.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

bold Nebraska

We were in Nebraska for Memorial Day. Drove 6 hours on Friday to cover 280 miles, with 30-40mph crosswinds tugging at the canoe the whole way. Pulled into North Platte in horizontal rain, Jeff saw tornados coming down from the clouds. We sat in a restaurant and discussed options. Hotelling it was the consensus, got a 2-bedroom hotel suite, the wives and children were very happy. After the kids had swum for an hour in the hotel pool, we watched kayaking on TV, how pathetic. 5 inches of rain and 60mph winds in our destination town of Valentine that night, so I think it was the right decision.

Next day attempting to pitch the monster 8-man tent in a Nebraska light breeze, started setup with tent backed to the wind: by the time it was up the wind had swung through 180 degrees, then a strong gust blew up the tent. I mean literally blew up, the flysheet exploded along the seams, pole shattered, splitrings holding pole anchor points on the inner were straightened out.. etcetera. Then it blew away, looked like a giant tumbleweed thundering through the campsite, nearly took out some tourons walking through to see Smith Falls. Once we'd subdued it again, drove into Valentine for a new tent. Young's Mercantile didn't sell tents but recommended Fred's Bait Shop, Fred had only 2-man tents unfortunately. The hardware store had a 5-man luckily, a mere $160. Next time I'm just checking straight into the hotel and staying there, it will be cheaper.

River high and chilly. On Mem. Day it was a dark and stormy morn, ranger came up as we were packing and said 'you can't leave now, it's just about to start raining again'. Everyone's a humorist.

bold Nebraska ? the song is always in my head when driving to NE. But I see the lyric is actually 'all aboard, Nebraska's our next stop' where I'd always heard 'bold Nebraska's our next stop'. I like my version better. This turns out to be a mondegreen

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

vaccines and autism

CBS interviewed Dr. Healy, and now seems to think this is an 'Open Question'. From the interview,
"why in the past decade hasn't the government compared the autism/ADD rate of unvaccinated children with that of vaccinated children?"

Because this has been done before, many times. No link between vaccination and autism has yet been found.
From an article in the Guardian:
"The Danish Epidemiology Science Centre compared 440,000 children who had MMR with 97,000 children who didn't. The children who had MMR were no more likely to develop autism than the children who didn't. A group in London looked at 498 children with autism, to see if they developed it after MMR. They looked at when they had the MMR jab, and when they developed the symptoms or the diagnosis, and found no sudden blip after immunisation. Another paper shows no increase in GP consultations in the six months after immunisation. Two hundred children in London and Stafford with autism were studied to see if there was a new type of autism related to MMR, featuring bowel problems and sudden regression, a bit like in the drama: half had the jab, half didn't, and there was no difference in type of autism between the groups. In California, looking at 1,000 children a year, over 14 years, the number of cases of autism increased by 373%, while the number of children getting MMR increased by only 14% (from 72% to 82%). "

If anyone has published studies showing evidence of a link, I'd surely like to see it.

From the interview again,
"If we can screen children to see which ones might be more susceptible to vaccine side effects.."
There is no known theory and no plausible biological mechanism for vaccinations to cause autism. So how could this screening be done ?
At one point thimerosal was postulated as a possible link. That's a separate discussion, but irrelevant now: child vaccines containing thimerosal are no longer used. Since then, there hasn't been any new causation mechanism proposed.

Also, a study in Japan, published in New Scientist print edition, 17 February 2001:
Journal reference: Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (DOI: 10.1111.j.1469-7610.2005.01425.x)
"They found that the number of children with autism continued to rise after the MMR vaccine was replaced with single-shot vaccines. The medical records of 31,426 children in the city of Yokohama were checked. Before the vaccine was withdrawn, between 48 and 86 children per 10,000 were diagnosed as autistic. After the vaccine was withdrawn, 97 to 161 children per 10,000 were diagnosed with the condition."

There is considerable evidence that the "increase" in autism rates is an artifact of better diagnosis. See the Journal of Pediatrics, and the British Medical Journal.

If you want scary, contemplate thousands of children in iron lungs with polio, thousands of children blind or brain-damaged by measles, epidemics of whooping cough and thousands dying, malformed babies due to their mothers being exposed to rubella, etcetera. This is a certain result of large-scale refusal of vaccinations for populations at risk.

While Dr. Healy has undoubtedly done a lot of good work in the world, I suspect there may be a political aspect to this. Note that Dr. Healy is a Republican political appointee, and was "a member of the Advisory board of The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, an organization later shown to have been founded by PR firm APCO and funded by the Phillip Morris corporation to criticise scientific research inimical to the interests of tobacco companies and other corporations" (Wikipedia). I don't see what advantage there is to starting this particular hare again, but I suspect it's there. It may just be part of the broader front in the Republican war on science.

The benefits of vaccination are proven. The hypothesis of a link between vaccination and autism is speculative and has no theoretical or evidentiary support. That doesn't mean it does not exist, only that it's unlikely in the extreme. From a public health perspective, investing in studies of a speculative unsubstantiated hypothesis is not easily justified.

Update September 2008: hm, now it appears Lance Armstrong is going anti-vaccine. Science saved his life and career, but now he's joining the druids, the forces of old night and chaos.
Further reading on the subject, rather better-informed than my brief jog through it, here and elsewhere on the site. Predictably, measles is first to make a comeback, but the other horsemen aren't far behind.
Some measurements of the number of lives saved by vaccines is at

More on the horrorshow that preceded immunizations at Making Light.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

asthma and doping

Petacchi, the dominant sprinter of the last few years, has been suspended until August by the not-august Court of Arbitration for Sport: for a doping violation involving the asthma drug salbutamol (yclept albuterol in the USA).

In the article, it's claimed that 'Salbutamol can be used to increase an athlete's anaerobic power. '

I have adult-onset asthma, and take salbutamol when racing. The reason I noticed the asthma was that my 5k run times were 10-20% slower at maximal effort, than what training results predicted, with the addition of unusual distress. My training logs go back to 1975, so there's enough data there that I at least am satisfied that the predictions are reasonable. Tests confirmed the diagnosis, so I take it as prescribed now. With salbutamol, performances are back to normal: but I have never been able to measure any performance enhancement, even when running short maximal-effort intervals (400m repeats).

So I took a closer look at the data. The studies that show improvement in anaerobic power used a dosage of 12 mg/day for four weeks. See

That's 12 milligrams a day. To put this in perspective, an inhaler delivers about 200 micrograms per dosage. The anaerobic power improvements require 12 000 micrograms per day. This is equivalent to 60 metered doses from an inhaler. That's a dose every 16 minutes (assuming 8 hours sleeping), for four weeks. It's impossible to hit this dosage except by taking it orally or intravenously. It's clear that Petacchi wasn't doing this.

There are also lots of studies showing that at dosages that can be delivered via inhaler, there are no measurable performance improvements, aerobic, anaerobic or anabolic.
See for example
- The effects of albuterol on power output in non-asthmatic athletes, LEMMER J. T et al,
International journal of sports medicine ISSN 0172-4622 1995, vol. 16, no4, pp. 243-249 (33 ref.)
- The effect of salbutamol on performance in endurance cyclists, Norris Petersen and Jones,
European Journal of Applied Physiology ISSN 1439-6319 (Print) 1439-6327 (Online), Volume 73, Numbers 3-4 / May, 1996

Then there is the question of how the salbutamol dosage is measured. WADA's measure is 1000 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml) in the urine. This is not a very good measure. See for example this study, which notes:
"Urine cSAL increased with dose and was highly variable, with the peak value observed being 831 ng x mL(-1) after a dose of 800 microg.
Conclusions: Inhaled SAL does not enhance time-trial performance, regardless of dose, and that urine cSAL after exercise is related to dose, demonstrates high variability, and is partially related to hydration status."

Even at 800 micrograms, an order of magnitude lower than a single day's dose of the amount required to produce the anaerobic improvements (and that dosage was repeated for four weeks), it's possible to get very close to the WADA limit. Add in variability, plus the fact that dehydration will artificially elevate the measurement in the urine, and it's clear it's possible to exceed WADA's limit without seeing any performance improvements.

There are a couple more problems here. Metabolization will differ by individual, and by the environment in which it's taken - a fat breathless desk jockey like me is likely to have a different rate from a Tour de France sprinter. Metabolism of salbutamol differs between asthmatics and healthy people too, with the asthmatics showing higher concentrations of salbutamol in urine for the same dosage.

Another thing that's missing is data on the urine concentrations in the subjects who took the massive doses, and showed anaerobic performance improvements. Do they show the same variability of urinalysis data ? What kind of urine measurements were found ?
I suspect their urine would show levels massively higher than the 1000 ng/ml that is currently considered a violation.

Personally I give any endurance athlete the benefit of the doubt in a salbutamol case. A cycling sprinter like Petacchi is a special case, since he could theoretically benefit from the anaerobic performance improvements: but he still has to ride 4-6 hours at moderate to high aerobic pace, just to reach the sprint. Anaerobic performance after this kind of effort has never been tested. Add that to the questions around the current level which is considered a violation, and I think all these salbutamol 'violations' are likely bogus. The potential benefit is too small for the risks.

This 'violation' in particular is nonsense. Even the CAS said, "the adverse analytical finding in this case is the result of Mr. Petacchi simply, and possibly accidentally, taking too much Salbutamol on the day of the test, but that the overdose was not taken with the intention of enhancing his performance. Indeed, it would be an unusual way of attempting to enhance performance to take the prohibited substance after the particular event had concluded."
So.. what is this ? zero-tolerance, as propounded by the imbeciles that propagate the War on Drugs ? It's senseless.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

endurance training

After reading through the 99 pages of the letsrun thread discussing Lydiard and Daniels, I realized I had not understood Lydiard's training methods.. another thing that struck me was how similar Mark Allen's protocol is to Lydiard's. (I see the thread is now up to 128 pages, oy, more homework).

The closest thing to a Lydiard training manual appears to be this document, from a lecture tour in 1999. Another reasonable facsimile of it seems to be in Bill Squire's book (coached Bill Rogers and Dick Beardsley among others).

A compare/contrast of Lydiard and Daniels is on page 12 of the thread, and see an outline of Mark's ideas.

Both systems use a repeated cycle of base/sharpening/specific training. Lydiard had a 6-month cycle allowing for two peaks a year, Mark uses the MAF test to determine when to shift the focus. The MAF test seems very close to Lydiards' "time trials", a test that gives the coach the metric and data to fine-tune training.

- Base: Lydiard liked 8-12 weeks, Mark mentions 4 months. Lydiard threw the watch away and asked his runners to run at a pace that left them 'pleasantly tired', but feeling able to do more. Mark gives an exact HR range based on Maffetone's numbers. The HR makes a lot of sense for new athletes who don't have a good sense of RPE, and as a reality check for experienced athletes: personally I think the old-fashioned LSD 'talk test' works fine too.
- sharpening: Lydiard has fairly detailed and specific sections, but he's on record as saying the actual anaerobic sessions don't matter much, as long as the required work is done. Typically about 3 weeks of running economy work, using hill springing and downhill running; followed by 4 weeks of 'anaerobic training', 2 to 4 sessions/week of the basic interval work we all know and love. Before reading the letsrun thread, I had not realized how much drilling/running-economy-specific training was done in the 'hill training' phase.
Mark is a lot less specific, but the principles are much the same:
"high end interval anaerobic training one or two days/week... just like the aerobic training, there is a limit to the benefit .. you will see your speed start to slow down again.. signal that it is time to switch back to aerobic.. Keep your interval sessions to around 15-30 minutes of hard high heart rate effort total."
- race conditioning: Lydiard uses weekly time trials (not race-effort) and short high-intensity intervals, reducing volume but not intensity over the last few weeks. Mark doesn't explicitly detail this stage.

The commonalities are a base of pure aerobic training, a training cycle that repeats the basics over a maximum 8-12 weeks of any one phase, and regular tests at known distances and efforts to measure the results of the training.

Never underestimate how much improvement you can get from consistent aerobic training. There was a great interview with Peter Snell at Runners' World, but it's vanished now. Luckily letsrun has preserved it (about a third of the way down the page).
"Most physiologists are trained on the idea of specificity, and simply can't understand that slow training makes you faster. "
Bear in mind that Dr. Snell is himself a physiologist.

My favorite quote from the letsrun thread:
"Eventually the Lydiard system vanishes, like the state was supposed to under Communism, and the runner just feels it. It is the way musicians do it. Music and running are really the same thing - performance and emotion."
Tom Derderian (himself a fine marathoner)
Another good Derderian quote: "the world is a conspiracy to keep you from training."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

out of season 6

The graveyard at Lotzbeuren, immaculately maintained. See the first 'out of season' post below for context..

Friday, March 14, 2008

out of season 5

mere gratuitous prettiness..

out of season 4

I had visions of renting a bike to pootle up and down the Mosel. Apparently the river is unusually high. Here's the bike path.

out of season 3

In the early 90's, those go-go days, the egregious Esther Dyson together with some other overpaid theoreticians, proclaimed 'the overthrow of matter'.

Here it is the Year of our Lord 2008 in a bold new century, and we're still pushing coal laboriously upstream in order to fuel the power stations that move our electrons around. Watching these barges shoving along, it looks like they are going uphill. In several senses they are I suppose, but it's still odd to watch.

out of season 2

Since I can't find a way to format the layout of pictures in Blogger (always get slapped up on the top), my carefully-conceived layouts get bloggered. I give up, one post per picture.

Mosel vine, showing evidence of a moister climate than is usual for winegrowing regions. I expect a stony feel to the wine. No country for cotton socks, this.

As it turned out, everything was still closed until Easter weekend. Eventually found a place to taste wine in Zell/Mosel, but they had run out of trocken wines. All the sweet ones tasted identical to me. I could not distinguish any character, only sweetness. At dinner in Reil, I'd had a sweet Riesling, but it had lots more going on than just sweetness, rather a delicious gulp in fact. I figured I'd get a Beerenauslese just for the fun of it, but they'd run out of that too and I had to settle for a Riesling Eiswein.

In the hotel, I was going to drink the half-bottle of white in the minibar, but it turned out to be French. According to mine hostess, there are only 3 vineyards on the whole Mosel that produce half-bottles: they bottle in late April, so by March there's usually none available. Extraordinary.

out of season

Back in Germany on company business. Notes from a previous visit are on a different branch, but still apply for the most part.

Currently in a little hotel in Reil on the Mosel river. The Mosel itself looks more like the Big Muddy, and it's raining as is usual in March. My hotel is exactly as it appeared in the brochure, a small converted house, quite charming - except for the scaffolding all over the outside and blocking my view of the river. Humph. Oh well mine hostess is sweet, the town itself is quaint, I'm sure I can find some wine to drink here.

Upon arrival at the airport, they had no cars at all. I took the first one offered, ein plutokretz-mobil. Shown above at the graveyard outside Lotzbeuren, a town I had not planned to visit. It has a fine old cobbled town square with a church big enough to house the entire town. The graveyard is possibly the best-maintained in all Christendom. See picture above, in 'out of season 6'.