Mountain biked up to Sapfinger to replace a geocache this afternoon, and bumped into an old friend on the way back. Can’t help myself from snapping this tree every time I’m up there – starkly beautiful in any light, but always reminded that what makes it so photogenic is the fact that it’s dying and leafless (pine beetles?). Today, turkey vultures were circling around and through, gliding just above its branches. Every time I visit, a few more big branches are crumbling at its feet. In a few years it’ll be just a stump, then eventually nothing, and this plateau will be a lonelier place.

RIP Olaff Itoff

Just lost someone special who hovered on the periphery of my life. Diagnosed with cancer in April, told he had a few weeks to live, gone by the end of May. Life is so fleeting. He was a geocacher who went by the name Olaff Itoff (“Oh, laugh it off!”). He once gathered me and five other people who had had trouble finding a cache together for a group hike and discovery. A few weeks later, he and his son went out caching with me and my son. For years after, we kept seeing each other’s names in logs, leaving little notes for each other. The other day I published a new cache, and the first finder’s log entry said “RIP Olaff Itoff 2016.” Contacted the finder and heard the sad news. So sad, so unfair. Wish I’d gotten to know him better.

Geocache Europe

No, I’m not heading to Europe – just happened to notice this curious phenomenon when tracking one of our travel bugs recently – geocache placements completely blanket Germany, France, Spain and Italy, then drop to near-zero as you head East toward Belarus and Ukraine. Almost certainly related to the relative lack of tourism to those areas.

geocaches europe

Click for larger version.

Loose Notes, SXSW 2011

Keyboard Cat Three Wolf Moon Lightning Eyes Enjoying my sixth annual pilgrimage to Austin, TX for South by Southwest Interactive, 2011. Once again, I’m renting a bike from Barton Springs Bikes – fantastic way to get around, especially now that the conference is much larger and more spread out. It actually makes it feasible to attend sessions 10 blocks away, given the 30 minute break between sessions. Unfortunately, the excellent mountain bike they gave me was stolen from in front of the hotel on Saturday night – cable lock clipped. They cheerfully delivered a replacement bike to me later the same day. Since my hotel is right on the river, I’ve got the luxury of riding all the way to the convention center along Ladybird Lake (which is actually a reservoir that “flows” through town). Weather was high-70s/low-80s all week – shorts weather in March, so lovely!

As soon as I arrived, rented a kayak and spent a couple of hours boating around on the “lake.” Next day, had a few hours before sessions started and went bicycle geocaching along the water. Frabjous day! You’ll find my photos on Flickr or by following @shacker on Instagram.

Ate lots of great Texas BBQ and TexMex (thanks Chuy’s, Stubbs, and IronWorks). Didn’t do a lot of partying, but did manage to squeeze in a visit to the Museum of the Weird, where I got to see a woman drive a 30-penny nail straight into her nose (a move called “The Blockhead”). And of course my annual pilgrimage to Tears of Joy hot sauce shop – had another box of excellent sauces shipped home. Was treated to an evening of hilarious comedy with John Oliver of the Daily Show (and four others, each more funny than the last). Met tons of cool people, got my brain filled with inspirational and challenging new ideas, and ran myself ragged. Halfway through, gave up trying to stay caught up with email or anything going on back home, though we were very much aware of the earthquake/tsunami disaster going on in Japan – it was very strange to try and stay focused on the conference while that was happening. The enormity of it is still sinking in. There were many disaster-relief fundraising efforts going on during the conference, and SXSW did what it could to pull together and help.

Spent most of the week attending dozens of sessions on interactive media and taking notes, which I’ve posted here as “Loose Notes” and have tagged here at Birdhouse under #sxsw2011 (though that link won’t get you to all of them – pagination is currently broken, sorry). While every session had something useful to offer, some are obviously better than others. If I had to pick a favorite, I’d give the honors to Jeff Jarvis’ amazing talk Let’s Get Naked: Benefits Of Publicness V. Privacy, which crystallized a lot of the thoughts I’ve had on the public vs. the private vs. semi-private web over the past year. The other big one for me was Jane McGonagil’s talk Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better, which challenged a lot of my notions about the effect of gaming on kids’ minds, and its potential benefits to education and to improving the world. Truly inspirational.

As for hands-on sessions, the most inspirational/useful was Creative JavaScript and HTML(5) Visual Effects – a double-long session that gave us a great hands-on intro to doing particle animation, movement, shading, and WebGL in the HTML5 canvas tag. That’s not to detract from any of the other sessions – check the links below for lots of juicy stuff.

If I had one complaint about the conference organization, it would be the fact that it was so spread out. In part, this was necessary, since there were more than 19,000 attendees this year – more than could fit in a single convention center. But the trek to some of the remote hotels was a barrier for many people. In addition, it ghettoized some topics unnecessarily. For example, all of the Future of Journalism sessions were at the Sheraton, 10 blocks away from the Convention Center. If anyone could benefit from being mixed in with all of the geeks, it’s journalists. I get why multiple venues are needed, but would have liked to have seen the topics mixed up across venues, not split up.

A handful of misc images taken from in and around Austin throughout the week:

To view larger, or with full captions, check out the Flickr set.

Complete list of Loose Notes from SXSW 2011:

Mt. Tamalpais, West Point Inn

Absolutely glorious day hiking Mt. Tamalpais with family yesterday. Started at the peak, heading up to the old fire lookout station first for 360 degree views of the entire Bay Area first, then wound our way down on Fern Creek trail – so steep our thighs turned to rubber by the time we made it to the main fire road. From there, North 1.5 miles to the West Point Inn, which was once a thriving mountain getaway when the Gravity Railway served it until 1942. When the railway was decommissioned, maintenance of the Inn was taken over by volunteers, who have run it ever since. Beautiful piece of history nestled into the Bay Area’s greatest view spot. Apparently you can still spend the night in the cabins here! Ate our picnic lunch of macadamia nuts and peanut butter sandwiches and headed back. All told, just a 4-5 mile loop, but we were pooped! Did a bit of geocaching along the way.

Photo set with captions on Flickr

Alvarado Park

Amazing solo geocaching hike today, starting in Alvarado Park in Richmond, CA. 7.2 miles in nearly 4 hours, absolutely perfect weather. Soon left Alvarado for surrounding areas (some private, some public).

At the peak, looking out over the entire Bay Area and meditating on the people I love, struck again by just how majestic the Bay Area is on a perfect day. Spiritual moment.

Took a wrong turn off the peak and ended up in Richmond neighborhoods… which wasn’t all bad — had a grand tour of the East Bay Waldorf School (solar powered art studio, log cabins, little racks full of galoshes so students can play in the rain) before heading back up and over the hill through private property (hopped a barbed wire fence, but worth it). Found myself in some insane machete territory without a machete, powering through blackberries, poison oak and thistle for half a mile – I was committed to the route by that point.

Lesson: Don’t rely on old geocache data in the GPS. Last time I had loaded up this area was in 2008, and several caches had gone defunct in the mean time, including one I really wanted to get in an elaborate hut made of sticks. At another point, found myself in the middle of a herd of cows looking for something that didn’t exist. Mother cow very protective toward her calf, had to move slowly and not provoke.

Also made some experimental photos with the new HDR setting in iOS 4.1, below.


(Click for full-size version). HDR mode doesn’t always work perfectly, but when it does, it’s amazing.

Lake Margaret

Amazing weekend in the Sierras with Miles and my parents, highlighted by a 5.4 RT hike to Lake Margaret, off Highway 88. Weather report had called for rain, but we lucked out with sunshine that morning. By the time we made it to 7,700 feet elevation, just past Kirkwood Ski Resort, the temp had dropped to 40 deg farenheit (in August!)… and I was in shorts and shirtsleeves (fortunately had a sweatshirt and pants on hand for Miles).

The hike is a non-stop visual barrage of geological awesomeness – trekking across great slabs of granite pushed clean by a passing glacier some tens of thousands of years ago. Ancient cypress and bristlecone pines windswept into impossible shapes, tarns left behind by glaciers melting in place, trees cut short by beavers, just like in cartoons. The round trip was about the same length and technical difficulty as the Kalalau trail we did in Kauai, but the mile-high-plus elevation did a number on us – you get tired a whole lot faster with the reduced oxygen.

Flickr set

Tracked down a couple of geocaches on the trip. As we approached the first, hail started to trickle down on us, and on my bare legs. Had to keep moving to stay warm. The second geocache was hanging in a tree on top of a great granite slap pushed up by forces you shudder to imagine. It was a level 4 terrain cache, and we spent a good bit of time talking about how serious it would be to get injured miles from anywhere, and what it would mean to get helicoptered out. We agreed not to do anything stupid, to move slowly, not make any hasty decisions. Miles got it. Still, halfway up to Dawg Years we decided to back out and not go any further… until we spotted the secret back way up to the lonely windswept pine that we were certain held the cache. From there on it was easy going, and I let Miles do the honors.

It only got colder on the way back, as we listened to thunder rippling across the valleys, signaling the start of rain. Incredibly lucky – we only got sprinkled on, but it started to pour buckets just after we got in the car.

Decided to see what the camera in the iPhone G4 was capable of, and took all of these images with it. Impressed overall, but they’re still not at the quality of images from the PowerShot. From now on, will continue to hike with the PowerShot, but will be stoked to have the iPhone on-hand for spontaneous quickies.

Elevation profile:

Unfortunately, the weekend ended badly, when Mom slipped on gravel heading down to Cat Creek, where we were planning to do some swimming in the melt water. I was 10′ in front of her when I heard the “oomph,” and turned around to see her ankle bent at a very wrong angle. Dad and I hoisted her back to the car, and she ended up in the E.R. She’ll have to have a plate installed, and will be laid up for quite a while. Best luck and love to both of them getting through this – a horrible thing to witness and it won’t be pleasant for the next month. Much love.

Kauai 2010

It’s sometimes said that Kauai is the last remaining vestige of “the old Hawaii” or “the real Hawaii” – the last bastion of island life as it was before much of it was taken over by hotel chains and tourism. Kauai isn’t without its share of commercialism, but it’s true that it’s almost entirely free of high-rise hotels, and that natural wonders abound.

At the same time, some of your old-school stereotypes about Hawaii just aren’t going to come true. Visitors are no longer greeted on the tarmac with a flower lei around the neck, you aren’t going to hear ukulele concerts or witness spontaneous hula dances on every corner, and luaus are no longer organic affairs where people sit around on the beach sipping Mai Tais and picking meat off a pit-grilled pig, scooping three-finger poi with bare hands.

To be fair, your visions of stereotypical Hawaiian nature are still real, while the stereotypes you may hold of Hawaiian culture are probably not.

Kauai is encircled – for the most part – by a single road running through a dozen or so major towns. You can drive around the entire island in a couple of hours (note that “driving through” does not equal “exploring,” and that driving the outer rim will only get you to the beach towns, not to the juicy jungles that comprise Kauai’s interior). I say “for the most part” because the insane terrain of the Napali coast has proven impenetrable to road builders – it’s simply not possible to build a drivable road through the mountains of the northwest coast.

Coconuts in Water

You won’t find the “real” Kauai by hanging around in the downtown areas. But if you make an effort to get even a little off the beaten path, you will find yourself surrounded by nature at its most powerful. Kauai is a volcanic wonderland of dense jungle, incredible ocean life, succulent wild fruit, and loose chickens.

Throw yourself into the environment, and you won’t be able to avoid swimming in impossibly blue/green waters, inhaling the cleanest air your nostrils have ever encountered (remember you’re surrounded on all sides by thousands of miles of wild Pacific). You will find that the Aloha spirit is omnipresent and real. You will find yourself slowing down, being reminded why you’re walking this earth, and what nature at its most raw can do for your soul.

In June/July 2010, we spent two weeks in Kauai, staying in two different houses with two different families, in two very different environments. In the end, I shot more than a thousand photos. Thought I’d turn all my vacation notes and photos into a quick blog entry on return; the process ended up taking a couple of days — which was OK since I needed that time just to transition back to “real” life and get the hang of cold weather and the absence of snorkeling grounds outside my back door. Editing the photos down to a “mere” 470 and filling in the details from my notes turned out to be the perfect obsessive/compulsive transitional gig.

Photos: Here’s the Flickr standard photo set view, but much better is the Flickr lightbox view. I’ve also embedded a slideshow version below, but for best results dim the lights, put some Hawaiian music on the hi-fi, and put your browser in full-screen mode.

Note: I lost my camera on the very last day — turned out I left it under the seat in the rental car — so the set isn’t quite complete. Fortunately I had been backing up the camera’s contents to iPhoto throughout the trip, so had an almost complete set. Super-lucky news is that Budget Rent-a-Car in Lihue found the camera and is returning it to me; I’ll add the final images when it arrives. Thanks Budget!
Continue reading “Kauai 2010”

Tomales Bay Trek Day

Playing bachelor for a few weeks while Amy and Miles spend time in Minnesota and I return to CA to get back to work. Taking the opportunity to do things I never get to do with family… like spend an entire day hiking rather than just a couple hours. Yesterday decided to geocache the entire rim of Tomales Bay. Knew it would have to be a combined drive/hike thing. Ended up driving almost 200 miles total, and hiking 15.

Day got off to a bad start with horrendous Bay Area July 4th exodus traffic, overcast skies, and a starter string of three DNFs (Did Not Finds). But things quickly turned around – everything turned gorgeous when the sun came out, the caches kept getting better, and the hikes got longer. Favorite cache of the day was Crivens! – on a peninsula half-mile off the road. Trekking through walls of blackberry taller than me, out toward a perfect blue bay, with amazing views. While most caches are filled with forgettable geo-crap, this one had an excellent Mullet-scented air freshener (yes, that kind of mullet) and a USB “humping dog.”

The west side of the bay was quite a bit trickier, since most of the rim is in State Park area. Access to caches much harder than it appeared on a map. Decided to hike to Johnstone rather than pay the $6 parking fee. So glad I did – descended through deep dark woods with bluebirds and chipmunks, got some major heart pumping action on the way back up. Dropped off some travel bugs I had carried home from Minnesota.

The scene changed completely for the last cache of the day as I headed toward the Pacific side for Kehoe Beach earthcache. Suddenly it was about salt mist and jellyfish, sand and dense fog. Reminded me of Morro Bay. This one was a major geology lesson – needed to photograph quartz veins running through granite cliffs and read about five pages of text on the local geological forces to answer the questions needed to log the find. If I nail it, will be my first verified earthcache find.

Getting very close to hitting the elusive 300-cache mark… but I’d much rather spend two hours on a great hike for a single well-placed cache than do 15 parking lot drive-bys in the same amount of time. The key is to remain process-oriented, rather than goal-oriented, and never let the drive for numbers outweigh the joy of the great outdoors and honest exercise.

Wrapped day with a well-earned dinner of Full Sail and raw / BBQ’d oysters at Tony’s. BBQ’d is nice, but IMO the only way to show an oyster your full respect and attention is to eat it raw. Heaven.

Completely fried by end of day. Showered, fell onto couch, and watched the fantastic but campy 1971 eco-disaster sci-fi flick Silent Running ’till I passed out.

Animated route from GPS (combined driving/hiking):

(click Replay to view)

Not That Kind of Guy

Miles-Headphones If you’ve been following my geocaching rants for a while, you’ll know that my son Miles (6) has been my constant caching companion for the past couple of years. Since he was 4 1/2, I’ve been able to blurt out “Let’s go grab a cache!” and he’s been ready to hit the trail at the drop of a hat. Rain or shine, urban or deep woods, he’s been game to go. When he got old enough to realize that most geocache prizes were more like geo-crap than actual hidden treasure, it didn’t matter – he knew it would still be an opportunity to climb trees, get muddy, play with sticks, find bugs, vault fences and run scrambling down a dirt track, getting his ya-yas out.

A few months ago, all of that started to change. Somewhere along the way, he began to realize that every hour out hiking was an hour not building Legos or making stories at home. And while he was good for five-milers from a very early age, at some point he figured out he could claim to be “tired” after the first 200 yards, and even that passive resistance (laying down in the middle of the trail) was an effective way of brining an excellent afternoon outing to a grinding halt. I’m not positive, but think he learned this from watching other kids do it on group outings. Big ears, and alla that.

It’s a drag. What for the past couple of years had seemed like the perfect father-son bonding activity had often become a wrestling match when it came to getting out of the house. Of course, he usually had fun once he hit the trail, but his little power plays to resist the very idea of going out have become both more strident and more devious. Along the way we mutually recognized that a certain amount of negotiations would do the trick: “If I go geocaching with you today will you play Lego Star Wars with me tonight?” (an excellent deal for me, since I secretly love playing Lego Star Wars).

But even that tactic may be losing its effectiveness. After Amy informed him that we were going to do a big hike tomorrow, he apparently complained: “The last day of Thanksgiving vacation, ruined by a hike? Why do you guys even think I like it? I’m not even an outdoors kind of guy!”

Ouch. Why don’t you just put me in a resting home right now, little squirt? Our Ultimate Bonding Activity, totally up-ended. OK, so you’re not into geocaching anymore. I can live with that. But “Not an outdoors kind of guy?” Where did you even learn an expression like that? And is that an example of genuine self-knowledge, or just an extension of increasingly sophisticated rhetorical ploys to let you stay home and play? And how can I make hiking feel more like play to you?

Well, Sid the Science Kid recently told you all about the importance of getting a good dose of cardio daily, and you seemed to buy that. But Sid or no Sid, just don’t wound your dear old dad like that, eh? Ouch.

Music: The Fall :: Before the Moon Falls