April 9, 2015

Backpacking Joshua Tree National Park, with photos

We planned a short trip for Ethan's last spring break as a high school student. Just the two of us, in the desert somewhere. Never been to Joshua Tree, so a few google searches and we had our plan.

The Original Plan
We started in Vegas, visiting my mom over Easter. So we planned to drive the four hours from Las Vegas to Joshua Tree and hike in that same day. We could do 7.5 miles the first day to Upper Covington Flats, right? Then another 10 miles on Day Two to Ryan Campground, then 10 miles back to Covington, finishing with the 7.5 miles out on Day Four with the eight hour drive home to Walnut Creek the same day.

Then I read that the trail has no water and, in the desert, you should plan to carry a gallon per person per day, just for hydration. More if you want to cook, brush your teeth, or anything else.

You know how much a gallon of water weighs? A little over eight pounds. I thought about what it might be like adding 30 pounds of water to our packs.

The Revised Plan
I cut a day off the trip. We would hike in the 7.5 miles to Covington Flats, then hike to Quail Peak and back to the same campsite, then out the third day. Less water to carry, especially if we left Day Three's water in the car to drink when we get out. And only 25 or so miles over three days. We'd done 30 miles in three days last summer, so seemed achievable, if a little ambitious.

Unfortunately, we left Vegas two hours late so we arrived at Black Rock Campground at 4 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. Still, we had done a 3 mph pace before, so we geared up and headed out with 40+ pound packs.

Ethan with his pack, at the trailhead.
(Note to self: A 40 pound pack feels WAY heavier than a 28 pound pack. WAY heavier.)

The Actual Event
I should back up. We planned on hiking the California Riding and Hiking Trail, but we couldn't through-hike because we had only one car and just the two of us. We acquired our topo map at REI in Vegas, but we knew very little beyond the couple of web sites I'd seen and this map.
Covington Flats was our original destination for Day One.

What I didn't realize was that the first 6 miles of this trail is uphill and also like walking on a very soft beach... deep, soft sand apparently groomed for horseback riding tours. So keeping a pace of three miles per hour with 40+ pound packs uphill in the sand is kind of tough. If you didn't know it.

We got about this far
We got a little farther than this on Day One.

and started feeling pretty exhausted. Additionally, the wind was whipping around and it was getting toward twilight. So we decided not to try to get all the way to 7.5 miles, and we started looking for a place to spend the night. We tried a ravine off to the right of the trail about 4.5 miles in, and it turned out to give us a perfect site, slightly sheltered from the wind and not in a wash, just over 500 feet from the trail (i.e. a legal site). So we set up there. Short of our destination, but early enough to feel confident and prep for bed while it was still light.
Our tents, with our Nepali peace flags strung between.
Yes, they really are from Nepal.

Chilly morning selfie before breaking down camp.
Turns out that was a good thing because even though the forecasts called for the temperature to drop into the mid 40s (which we were prepared for), we actually enjoyed biblical winds and temperatures below freezing. This last part we calculated by observing the frost on our tents and the ice in our water bottles the next morning.

Before getting on the trail, we bushwhacked to the top of a peak next to our ravine to check out the views and see if we could get a cell signal (we couldn't). But the views were worth it.
This really was a view from our little peak

And we could see some random snowcapped mountain in the distance.

I really was there. These aren't just stock photos.

Hey, there's the trail, way down there, heading uphill. Wait. More uphill? Damn.
Our Revised Plan (see above) was to try to make it to the peak of Quail Mountain and back to a campsite in one day. After consulting the map and doing a quick calculation, we realized there was no way in hell we'd make it that far. So we revised the plan again, deciding to get to Covington Flats and see how we felt.

The trail kept going uphill for like a bajillion miles. And I swear the rangers put the mile markers at like 8,000 feet apart instead of the standard 5,280. But we enjoyed more desert scenery, including lots of wildflowers, over the next three miles to Covington Flats. There, we decided we'd go on to mile marker 9 and turn around, coming back for lunch. So instead of going 18 miles into the park and up to the peak, we were going 9 miles in. Fine. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?

A log on which we snacked, about 7 miles in.

Ethan hiking. Typical of the trail from mile 6 to mile 8.

A different random snow-capped mountain in the distance, framed by Joshua trees.

We made it to the Covington Flats trailhead! Someone was parked here, and someone left some water jugs free for the taking. We did not need it because we had plenty, but it was nice to see the generosity of strangers here.

Wildflowers!

Hard to see, but the trail is framed by wildflowers here.

Typical of the trail in the Covington Flats area.
Turns out we chose our route well because mile marker 9 is just at the beginning of a long, steep descent into a valley. We assessed the hill and our enthusiasm level, and we found ourselves very enthusiastic about not coming back up that hill, so we decided not to go down it. Instead, we turned around and headed back to Covington Flats trailhead where we paused for a half hour for lunch. It was warm when the wind stopped, which happened for a few seconds. Otherwise, it was kind of chilly. But still nice to sit on the rocks and rest.

Around mile 7 you cross an access road,
so there's a trail marker.
We began walking back toward our ravine where we had camped the night before, assuming we'd set up camp there again. When we got there, though, it was still only 2:30 p.m. and we were feeling very good after a hearty lunch and some preventative Advil. We'd made good time (nearly 3 mph) back from Covington Flats to the 4.5 mile mark, so I suggested we consider hiking all the way out and camping at Black Rock car camp instead of suffering through another freezing night in the wilderness. (I'd stop short of calling it "miserable," but it wasn't exactly enjoyable.)

So we double-timed it down to the car.

Interesting thing, hiking. The downhill seemed much less steep than the uphill had seemed the night before. And the sand was no less difficult to walk through downhill than uphill. So keeping a 2.5 mph pace was still a challenge. But we did it, after already doing 9 miles earlier.

We made it to Black Rock Campground about 4:30 p.m, only to find that all the campsites were reserved for the night. Maria, back at the mother ship, did some Trip Advisor searching to find a cheap rate at the Country Inn. A phone call and a short drive later, we were enjoying hot showers and comfy beds and indoor heating and no wind. Which I really appreciate tonight as I type this post since the drive home the next day was nine hours long. Maybe I'm a wimp, but I'd rather do that drive after a night in a comfy motel than after a freezing night on the ground and a five mile hike.

Plus, the motel had complimentary breakfast.
I've had better, but the coffee was pretty good.
Overall, I'd say it was a terrific trip. It would be a beautiful through-hike if you cache water at the trailheads. We didn't see a single other person after the first mile, and the land was really very pretty. If you plan on doing this hike, you'll be tempted to skimp on the water. You'll say to yourself, "A gallon per person per day? That's over-planning. I bet I can get away with three liters. Probably even two!" Don't do it. By lunch on the second day (less than 24 hours into our trip), I'd already drunk four liters, and I don't tend to drink a lot when I'm hiking. AND the temperature never got over the mid 60s. So don't skimp on the water. Seriously.

I also wish we'd arrived a few hours earlier and were able to hike farther in on the first day, and that we'd been prepared for colder nights. I am a little disappointed we didn't camp both nights, but I do think we pushed ourselves. A 14 mile day with full packs is nothing to sneeze at for people who do one trip a year, right?

Finally: No backcountry travelogue is complete without a Blair Witch selfie:

March 14, 2015

Musings about Pi and Pi Day

Not so much about Pi Day but about Pi itself. I just watched the online World Clock turn over to 3/14/15 9:26:53, and it was... less moving than I expected. But I did take a screen capture to commemorate the occasion.

But all day I've been thinking, on and off, about Pi. Because I've been thinking a lot about life, and about spirituality, and about infinity. About religion and Religion, about God and god, about the connectedness of all things.

I have a theory that religious people and atheists differ only in semantics. Both are trying, in our finite and flawed human way, to get a grip on infinity.

Pi is an especially interesting representation of something that we mostly believe to be both infinity and perfection. Take a perfect circle and bisect it perfectly. Then divide the length of the bisecting segment into the circumference of the circle. You'll get this magical number that never repeats yet goes on indefinitely. It really is a beautiful number.

Now, of circles and bisecting them:

Circles figure prominently in our legends and lore, in our metaphors and our rituals. We use rings to symbolize union in marriage, we have family circles and circles of friends, we discuss the circle of life.

Division and union also figure prominently in our lives. Two hands that oppose and complement each other. Two sexes, required to unite for procreation. Yin and Yang, black and white, attract and repel. Marriage and divorce.

Pi has this sort of magical place in, around, and through all of this. Pi is sort of the God number. It is perfect and infinite, yet patternless.

I know Pi can be calculated in other number bases, but I'm too lazy to look up whether anyone has really studied those to see if they have the same mystical properties as Pi. I assume they do, since conversion from one base to another is pretty straightforward.

So it's not the number itself that intrigues me. It's the perfection of the ratio of the circle to the straight line that bisects it, in a perfectly mathematical world. But we do not live in a perfectly mathematical world. Our world is imperfect. Our perception is finite. We live in more than two dimensions. In our world, the perfect circle does not actually exist; it exists only in the theoretical, as described by mathematics. I suppose I would say that the same is surely true for the perfect being: a perfect being can only exist in the theoretical, as described by theology.

Pi exists where the theoretical touches the physical. We can't ever know the full extent of Pi because it is perfect and infinite, and therefore in its full and true form it can't exist in our finite and flawed world. But we take comfort in its existence and wonder at its majesty. We know in our hearts that it is there, that it is bigger than we can comprehend.

February 19, 2015

Adventures in formalwear

This weekend I'm attending my first black tie event in... many, many years. So of course I have to rent a tuxedo. Ever since I moved to California back in 1985, the place to rent your tux was Selix Formalwear. I remember for my fraternity formal, a bunch of us went to the one in Oakland and laughed about the Miami Vice pastels, ultimately settling (of course) on basic black.

So I sought out Selix and found one just a few miles away in Pleasant Hill, three weeks ago. Went in, got fitted, left a deposit, arranged to pick up the tux on Wednesday, February 18. Since we're flying to Los Angeles on Friday the 20th, this would cleverly give us one day for adjustments if necessary.

Wednesday the 18th comes. It's been a busy week. We rush over to Selix after work, arriving at 6:30 a full half hour before their closing time of 7 p.m. But they're closed. With a sign saying they'd be back at 10 a.m.

WTF?

So of course I did what any rational, angry person would: I tweeted about it.

It says 7 p.m. closing time RIGHT THERE.
I googled them and called the number that came up in the search results, but of course it was a fax machine. What the Fax, google. Seriously.

Then I went to the Selix web site and found this lovely note:


Um.

Wut.

We have less than 48 hours before our flight to Los Angeles, and the place that has my deposit and measurements is now in receivership. Lovely.

Long story short, Orlando at Men's Wearhouse in Walnut Creek set me up in under an hour. I ended up buying a tux for not that much more than a rental. Now all I have to do is either find more formal events to attend, or join the British Secret Service.

Walther PPK not included in base model.

February 1, 2015

Scientology, clearly you know nothing about science or religion.

Of all the Superbowl ads I saw today, one just keeps coming back to me and making me shake my head in wonder.


At about 13 seconds in, the narrator says, "Imagine an age in which the predictability of science and the wisdom of religion combine."

This is like saying, "Imagine an energy source in which the efficiency of gerbils on treadmills, and the cleanliness of burning coal, combine." W. T. F. Seriously.

Scientology, you just proved in one sentence that you actually know nothing about either science or religion.

The best scientists know that science is not predictable. If it were predictable, it would be called engineering because you'd already know the outcome of the calculations. Science is the work of trying things to see what will happen. We make guesses at what might happen, but we actually try it to see if we're right. And at the most interesting of times, we aren't.

As to religion: Religion is faith. Faith is the absolute conviction that something is true, without needing evidence to prove it. This is not wisdom; wisdom relies on knowledge and discernment, based on experience and thoughtful analysis. Faith relies only on conviction, frequently discarding both knowledge and discernment.

If you are paying attention, you will notice that science is the source of wisdom while religion enjoys complete predictability.

I don't know anything about Scientology, and I don't intend to find out. But seriously. If you are trying to attract smart people into your cult, you should at least try not to destroy your own arguments in your own ads with one single sentence.

December 19, 2014

The privilege of driving a stick shift in suburbia, and being able to laugh about it

My younger son recently got his learner's permit, and he's been eager to get out and drive as often as possible. He's only had four hours behind the wheel, and he's already almost--not quite, but almost--mastered the stick shift.

This is the car.
Last night he took me out for a practice drive. Fifteen minutes of warmup through our suburban neighborhood with broad, sparsely trafficked streets; gentle curves with good visibility and a few stop signs; and the mildest of hills. Christmas lights ranged from simple elegance to the most garish displays of electrical overindulgence I've seen anywhere. He almost missed one stop sign. Almost.

After the warmup, we went out on the bigger streets. Multiple turn lanes at stoplights, crossing major intersections, a lot more traffic. He was nervous but had done this once before and handled the vehicle well. Another stint through another suburban neighborhood... then:

He made a good start from a stop sign into a tight left turn despite the headlights of an SUV close behind. He got into second gear, then went to shift into third but missed and hit first again.

Have you ever accidentally downshifted when you meant to shift up? The car bucks like crazy, the engine fighting against momentum and slowing like you slammed the brakes. To his credit, he got it back to neutral and then found third gear almost immediately. He was flustered but not panicked.

Until the SUV behind us turned on its red and blue flashing lights. Yup, a cop. A cop at 9:30 p.m. on a Thursday night during the height of holiday party season. My son smoothly glided to a stop on the shoulder with a little coaching from me. The cop pulled up behind. My son was now very flustered as I retrieved his permit from the glove box and handed it over.

"Can I see your license, please?" The cop shined his flashlight into the car but stood behind the driver's window. I couldn't see him. My son handed out the permit, and I leaned forward into the light and asked if he wanted my license, too.

The cop's face broke into a big, knowing smile when he looked at the permit. "That explains it," he said. He said he was just making sure "we got home safely because from the sudden deceleration in the middle of the street, he wasn't sure we would." I.e. he though he'd spied a drunk driver. But it was just a kid, learning to drive a stick shift. A few more seconds of kind and gentle banter between us, with my son explaining the mis-shift, and he went on his way. My son did an excellent job of recovering, pulling away cleanly, and finishing the last 20 minutes of our drive without any mistakes.

For me, that is a great story, a funny anecdote, a memory I'll enjoy for decades. For my son, it's a great learning experience.

It wasn't until this morning that I realized it could have been a very different kind of story, a very different kind of learning experience.

If we hadn't been white.

I don't know the officer we met, and he was absolutely right to stop us to check us out. And he was right to be cautious as he approached the car. Once he saw us, though, everything changed. If we hadn't been white, would he have so easily dropped his caution? Maybe he would have. Maybe another guy wouldn't. With us, he was professional, kind, understanding, and efficient. If we'd been black, would we have gotten the same quick and cheerful dismissal?

I like to think in our town, yes. I like to think that our town is somehow more enlightened about diversity than the towns we've read about so often in the news recently. But I don't know. That's probably what the white people who live in those towns like to think, too.

For me, this is still a great story, a funny anecdote, a memory I'll enjoy for decades. And for my son, it's still a great learning experience. For him, the lesson is that he doesn't have to fear cops or be nervous if he ever gets pulled over again.

I wish that were the lesson that all 15 year old boys could get when pulled over for a simple shifting mistake while out learning to drive with their dads.

But I understand that's not the case.

Yet.

Some day. Some day.

December 10, 2014

I registered peterdudley.com before this year's high school graduating class was born

Geoworks Ensemble, Signature Edition
and GEOS Software Development Kit
I recently checked the whois entry on my personal domain, peterdudley.com, and I discovered that I first registered it on December 9, 1997. Seventeen years ago. That was when domain names were still free to register and hosting services essentially gave you space on a Unix server. The rest was up to you.

I was also still working at Geoworks back then. The GEOS software still lives on at www.breadbox.com, it seems, which is a wonderful and curious thing to me. I still think the engineers that developed that software were among the smartest and cleverest people I have ever known.

I was Product Manager and
all I got was this certificate.
I had many jobs at Geoworks. I was hired as a technical writer and got my start in management there; I was product manager for software and content development tools, and I think I still have my product requirements document from Geoworks Bindery, a WYSIWYG content editor that made it (relatively) easy to create hyperlinked documents for the desktop systems and mobile devices we were deploying.

It was a fun time, and a difficult uphill climb in a brand new market. Our CEO coined the term "Personal Digital Assistant" (PDA).

I still have some of the products we developed, including the Signature Edition of Geoworks Ensemble and the Software Development Kit, in their shrinkwrap. Also Geoworks Writer, the standalone release of the word processor which is still better than Microsoft Word (okay maybe not after 17 years). And I have three pieces of hardware our operating system ran on:

Casio Zoomer/Z-PDA

The Zoomer came out in 1992, at basically the same time as the Apple Newton. Together, these handheld computers led the way into the future we have today. The handwriting recognition was spotty at best--Zoomer used true handwriting recognition, and Newton used "graffiti," a specially designed stroke set that worked better but took some learning. Both were market flops but huge technological and societal successes.

Zoomer with its top open and its stylus beside it.

HP OmniGo

This HP handheld computer was, I believe, the first to have a screen that rotated, allowing you to use it in different situations. It was designed with field use in mind, and at least a couple of prototype applications were developed for medical and fleet use. This was supposed to be an extension of the existing successful HP product line, and it accomplished many of HP's goals but never sold enough to get HP to invest in further models.
Closed!

Open!

Proof that I was there!

Nokia 9000i

Not long after the Nokia 9000 was launched in Europe and the Nokia 9000i was developed for the United States, I was laid off from Geoworks and Nokia hired me as a contractor for a year to help them promote the product and support software developers around the world. Part of my contract work was to build one of my first corporate web sites. Unfortunately, if I wanted to keep working for Nokia after my contract was up, I had to move to Irving, Texas, and that was not going to happen. Anyway, the Nokia 9000 featured in the movie The Saint with Val Kilmer (and more notably Elisabeth Shue), and I got to travel to some pretty cool places in my work for Nokia including Tampere, Finland. The Nokia people were incredibly nice. The Nokia product was groundbreaking in its own way, combining real computing power with a phone. Pretty incredible for the time, even though we take it for granted today.
It's a phone!

It's a computer!

Proof that I was there!
It was a great time and a lot of fun. I imagine the people who are in the 3D printing industry have a similar feeling of unlimited future potential right now. And well they should. After all, look at those products of just 20 years ago and imagine where 3D printing could be in 20 years. That's not so far off.

October 31, 2014

Rereading a book I wrote four years ago, and a bear

Something drew me to open up the first chapter of Semper and reread it this morning. Having just completed writing the trilogy (which is discounted/free this week), I thought it would be fun to revisit the chapter that began the story.

Did I stay true to the original characters as I first introduced them? Did the first chapter, written four years ago, properly set up the full story of the trilogy?

I think so, if I can be my own judge. In fact, I did better than I expected.

In that first chapter, Dane at one point thinks to himself,

I do not want to be the one that brings home the epidemic that destroys all of civilization.
I didn't realize it at the time, but that one sentence holds a tremendous amount of both foreshadowing and irony.

Also, that first chapter ends with a question that is never explicitly answered but which is the perfect first question in a discussion guide for the series.

Maybe it's just that I was looking for connections as I read. Or maybe those connections were already in my subconscious, even before I'd detailed the quarter million words in the story. Or maybe it's just luck or coincidence. In any case, it's satisfying.

FREDA will be free on Kindle November 1 through 5. The first two books, Semper and Forsada, are just 99 cents to celebrate completion of the trilogy.

And here is a picture of a bear I took, not far from the actual physical location where that first chapter occurs.


October 28, 2014

"I had grand plans."

That was a primary point in my sister's keynote speech at Boston's ALS walk this past Saturday. Cathy was diagnosed with ALS only a few months ago, just weeks after retiring from a demanding and very successful career. The last time we saw each other, about two months before the diagnosis, she told me she had grand plans for the next chapters in her life; although she was still figuring out the specifics, "helping others" figured prominently in her ideas. Those plans have changed.

The last time I saw my sister, I saw no hint of ALS. Nothing to make me think anything like this could be coming. We talked about her pending knee surgery and retirement, our kids' college tours, plans for a long future filled with activity. Those plans have changed.

This past weekend I joined scores of others to support Cathy in the ALS Walk in Boston (we flew in from California Thursday night). Family I hadn't seen in decades were there. The morning was glorious, clear and warm after a week of terrible wind and torrential rain (so I'm told), and the location was beautiful. Cathy was honored with the keynote speech in part because in the couple of months since she was diagnosed, she assembled a huge team for the walk and became the Boston walk's top fundraiser.

My family and I also participated the previous weekend in our local walk in Northern California, which was much smaller but eye-opening. I've walked in several fundraisers for ACS, LLS, AHA, etc., but the ALS walk had a different feel. It wasn't until I started writing this blog post that I realized what the subtle difference was. Other walks are all organized around the survivors. This walk was entirely about finding a cure.

It's strange and difficult to return to normal everyday life after two weekends like the past two. I know my sister and thousands of others who are diagnosed with ALS every year don't even have that option, so I'm going to try to take advantage of the time I have. I don't know exactly what that means yet. There are things I want to achieve. There are places I want to see. There are people I love who I want to spend more time with. And I don't want to be so busy that I miss the countless moments of beauty around me all the time.

Photos from the two walks are posted below.

WALNUT CREEK, CA - October 19, 2014

With some Wells Fargo colleagues



Pretty long stream of people along the canal trail.

BOSTON, MA - October 25, 2014

The setting near Dorchester Heights along Old Harbor was gorgeous.

Boston financial district in the background.


Sis & me





Giving the keynote address to 1,500 walkers





The paparazzi taking family photos