More yak bell

Lots of people ask me how the Everest trip was. I don’t have a short answer. One word superlatives could just as easily describe an Eric Clapton concert or a cheeseburger.

One thing I have figured out. Nepal is a very strange place.

I went to Australia awhile back and it struck me that after 24 hours in the air, halfway around the world and in the other hemisphere, I was in a country more like the USA than any country on earth. (You might argue about Canada, but a big part of that country speaks French.) I felt a little cheated.

On the other hand, Nepal is every bit as weird as you would expect having traveled that far. Spectacularly so. Now I don’t bring back many things from trips other than photographs.  For the most part you can buy whatever is sold around the world here, and it’s cheaper. And I’ve been really boring in recent posts about wanting to have less stuff. But how can you pass up a yak bell? I bought it in Namche Bazaar. It has an incredibly soft sound that goes so well with the gentle but brutally strong animals that carry the loads on the Himalayan trails. Yaks are the semi-trucks of high altitude. While they appear gentle, they also have large, sharp horns and wide bodies and when you hear the yak bells you quickly find a spot to get small in on the inside of the trail so you don’t accidentally get gored or pushed off the mountain.

I love my yak bell. And I like the metaphor.


the help, travel edition


back in the summer rachel told me i should read the help. told her it wasn’t my kind of book. went to see the movie…it was pretty good after all.

was at dinner in namche bazaar whining that i hadn’t brought anything to read. tara offered part of her book which turned out to be…the help. she said i could rip off the first section while she finished the last part. it was only slightly less a sanity~saver than my ipod.

just finished the second section last night. it’s become a friend. i kind of hate to part with it.

it also reminds me not to get so stuck in my preconceptions.

Yak dung on the trail

The trail to Everest is littered with yak dung. You could spend all your time trying to avoid it and lose sight of the destination. But you realize that when you’re on the trail making headway you’re occasionally going to step in it.

I stepped in it Friday night with a member of the extended family when I suggested that holiday meals work slightly differently. A seemingly minor change that would give families a small measure of identity and move into the future.

The emotional reaction seems out of proportion. It’s taking longer to clean my boots than I would have thought possible.


Wow. Where to start? I’ve been pretty focused on Everest for most of this year. I still have photos to cull and organize into a photo book. A video to put together. They don’t all have to be done at once.

Last weekend was really the first one since early spring that I wasn’t off hiking in the local or distant mountains. It was a relief to putter around the house and take care of some of things that haven’t gotten done. This weekend I did the same. It wasn’t as relaxing as last weekend. I started realizing what a mountain of things I’ve deferred. It also brought back into focus how many things need to be downsized so they don’t take this much time. Not a new thought. I see my last post in August was about this same thing, just in the form of data. Git ‘er up.

What to do with all that DATA

Driving back from a business meeting yesterday I caught up on a series of great podcasts from one of my favorite radio program guys, Kojo Nnamdi. He’s on NPR and does a lot of local politics shows, which do not usually interest me, but he does a weekly technology-oriented show which is excellent. The most fun is a monthly show called the Computer Guys & Gal. I listened to three weeks of his shows in a row and they dealt with data backup, power consumption/waste of all the different devices we have in the house, and some other things. The result was an overwhelming validation of how complicated I’ve allowed our house to get in the technology domain. It also costs/wastes a lot of money and more importantly time.

This is happened in part because I’ve always been an early adopter. I also don’t like to throw away things that are still useful. And I have a lot of creative pursuits that are linked to computer files and devices. Rachel keeps very good records. Between Rachel and I we currently have 4 desktop computers, three laptop computers, two smartphones, and they all do something. That doesn’t count IPODS, TVs, digital cameras, a Kindle and some other stuff I know I’m leaving out. Let’s not even talk about remotes. Some of the computers have multiple drives. I have an external drive, and a couple of cloud storage accounts along with a self-hosted set of email accounts and a gmail account. This is a subject worthy of the ‘too many directions’ tag; in this case it is “too many digital directions”. A subtitle would be something like ” are more choices and more options really more better?”  I say no. Discipline in this sense will set us free.

Last month I started thinking about a big part of this problem, namely, what we use each computer for and if we really need it. One is on it’s way out the door already. That was an easy sacrifice…not like the Abraham/Isaac situation that’s probably coming. Next came some rules on what data gets stored where. We have a network, so that is easy. (By the way we have three wireless routers and four wired switches throughout the house.)  Only two computers will be “allowed” to store data. Business/financial goes on one (Rachel’s desktop) and media goes on another (my fast desktop with the big disk in the basement). By “allowed” I mean if it goes anywhere else it does not get backed up. I’ve pretty much finished moving things around. The third PC (my study PC) will manage all the backup.  Do we really need three desktops? Probably yes, until we get some better heating in the study and Rachel doesn’t mind me working with headphones on, but that’s a subject for another day.

This morning I’ve been swinging the mental scythe against what data gets backed up where. I’m considering data that gets saved somewhere against the chance of a home disaster as well as what data gets saved somewhere so we can get to it from a laptop.  I’m also considering why I have this problem and other people don’t seem to. Or at least why I spend time thinking about it and they don’t. I decided I could avoid this if 1) I didn’t do creative things with music, photography and movies, 2) we didn’t keep good financial records, 3) I didn’t want to follow my pursuits from anywhere in the world or 4) I could accept the outcome of losing all the information if/when any of a handful of bad things happens to my house or my hard drive. I’m 0-for-4 on the previous points. That can also be the subject for another day.

So it was an eventful drive home. It got me going in another new direction, but in this case it is good. It takes effort to simplify. This partially a Sherman-march-to-the-sea approach and partially a thoughtful deconstruction. I’m willing to leave a few burned fields in my wake knowing that the new grass will appear quickly.

Blog Spam

blog spam

‘Disheartening’ is too strong a word. ‘Annoying’ makes it sound like something I should just get over. Maybe ‘disappointing’ is the best word although there’s probably a better one out there if it was worth the time to keep thinking about it.

I just spent a couple of minutes deleting 72 spam comments from this site from email addresses like ‘cialas’, ‘viagra’ and about 10 other drugs. It’s not that big a deal but it’s just sad how people take advantage of everything trying to make a quick buck. Their bots know how to find blogs and automatically post comments and links to their cruddy products.

Ok, I’m over it.


My first eBay sale!

Wow – that was easy!  My first eBay sale. Like shouting into the mountains expecting maybe an echo, or maybe nothing at all, and instead hearing someone answer back. It wasn’t much (an old antenna I’d bought years ago for the Passat) but it proved the process works.

Why mess with eBay?  I’d bought a couple of things before and it had turned out well. Note the 100% positive rating (which frankly isn’t very hard to get as a buyer) which made me a potentially viable seller as well.  Dan told me how Elise’s dad sold most of his household junk that way and that seemed like an interesting way to get rid of lots of the junk I have lying around the house. It’s junk in the sense I don’t need it, but it’s perfectly good and it seems wrong to throw it away. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Maybe that should be eBay’s motto.

But the main reason is this extra Droid phone I have. Brand new. Dan bought his and Verizon had a ‘buy one get one free’ sale. How can a geek pass that up?  So the free phone cost me using my early upgrade, changing my contract so that all my future upgrades aren’t worth as much, and adding a $30/month data plan, and that’s not to mention all the time it would take fiddling with it.  That was two months ago and I have spent a grand total of about 5 minutes with it. The screen protector is still on.  At $30+$30 = $60 for two months of unlimited internet service, that’s $12./minute for the privilege of learning how to unlock it and send a text or two.

So I throw in the flag. Dan told me Droids sell for around $300. on eBay but I wasn’t about to risk screwing something up in my maiden sale of an expensive item so the antenna was a dry run. I set the auction at .99 so the listing would be free, chose a $5 ‘buy it now’ price after careful deliberation, went outside and snapped a couple of pictures using a beige tupperware cake carrier bottom for an attractive background, applied my new photoshop skills on making a collage (avoiding the $.50 charge for an extra picture), waded through a long set of options including choosing a $5 shipping charge and excluding sales from any country other than USA or Canada, and submitted it, hoping for a quick sale. I set the sale for 3 days, not really thinking about it, and then did some checking and found out the overwhelming opinion is that sales should end on a Sunday. Mine was ending on a Thursday. Tried to change the listing but found out I could only withdraw the item unless there had been bids on it, in which case I had to sell to the highest bidder. These and a couple of other realizations were all the reasons I put the antenna, not the Droid up for sale first.

I checked the listing every 10 minutes for the first hour before getting on to the next task for my day off, namely, replacing the toilet (see ‘My Champion’ below). After returning from Home Despot I ran over to the computer to find out that the item had sold! Some guy in Indiana just couldn’t resist. Now, I had to get it out to him fast so he would give me a favorable rating and so other people will think I am reputable and buy my Droid. An hour later it was boxed and mailed. I even made an extra $2.59 since shipping only cost $2.41.

So if the USPS does it’s job this momentous chapter will be complete. My college classmate Meg Whitman would be proud – maybe I’ll tell her if I see her at our 35th reunion. Or maybe not. She used her Princeton education to become CEO of eBay and possibly the next governor of California. I used mine to sell old antennas for $5. But I’m *her* customer now.

My Champion

I’ve heard it said that you should spend at least as much time researching a stock as you would a refrigerator.  That’s probably good advice. I’d add the same thought to looking for a new toilet. While this isn’t a subject many people write about (with good reason) there are lots of good things about having a great toilet. I’m not going to belabor this but in spending a couple of hours this weekend scouring Consumer Reports, Home Despot, and Lowes’ websites I’ve made my choice…the American Standard Champion 4. It’s a good height, is low flow, low noise, but my number 1 and number 2 reasons were that it apparently does it’s main job well. But the best part of my thankless product research was this review:

Overall Rating:
5 out of  5
5 out of 5
Mother-In-Law Trouble,
April 20, 2010
By MikeBrenMan from Atlanta

“I love my wife. And she loves her mother. And so when my mother-in-law is in town, we treat her as we would any guest and let her use the bathroom. Over a 7 year period, she has clogged the toilet no fewer than 30 times (often twice in a day) No, this is not a letter to WebMD but rather a note of acknowledgment that the Champion 4 has not only saved my marriage but possibly a woman’s life.
It was after her last visit to my house to offload what I can only assume is a steady diet of broccoli, cabbage and gravel that I decided to take matter in my own hands. Vowing to solve the problem once and for all, I strode in to the local Home Depot and after pausing to price the cost of a tarp, a shovel, a large bag of lye and 7-10 years in federal prison I spoke with a nice man in plumbing. After letting me vent and shed a few tears, he directed me to the Champion 4 toilet. You know those moments in your life when the world slows down and all the ambient noise gives way and you are filled with a calm feeling of fulfillment? The birth of my children, hitting the game winning double in the state quarterfinals, college graduation and now this. The Champion 4. Read the other reviews that talk about ease of installation, water flow and seat height–they are all true. It is a great toilet and has operated flawlessly for sometime now but to me it is much more. It is so much more.”

High (and low) Points from Living in the Lake District

Bridge House, Ambleside

For Marty and Elaine, in advance of their visit:

Sticky Toffee Pudding (of course)

Grasmere gingerbread (only from the little store in Grasmere)

Kendal Mint Cake (only the original kind, from any of the hiking stores in Ambleside or Coniston)

Boddington’s (with the widget in the can)

Bridge house in Ambleside (tiny little house built on the tiny little bridge)

Breakfast or a snack in the little bakery in Ambleside at the north corner of Ambleside, just up the road from the bridge house

Pay & Display parking stickers

A walk around Tarn Hows

Fish & Chips from Lakeland Continental in Ulverston (carry it out wrapped in newpaper)

Diggles in Barrow in Furness

Gammon & chips or Cumberland sausage & chips, with an egg on top

Mushy Peas

Coniston Old Man

Ordnance Survey Maps

Taking the car ferry from Bowness across Windermere

A relaxing walk and views up Gummers How (the one Rachel was talking about…a very favorite of the locals)’s_How

Hot and cold water, never from the same faucet

Traffic circles & proper signaling

A view of the Langdales from Bowness on Windermere

John Ruskin’s house on the east side of Coniston Water

Zeffirelli’s pizza, jazz bar and/or movie in Ambleside

Remembering that 2 pints of ale is 40oz

Kirkstone Pass + highest pub in England

Wrynose Pass + old Roman fort (on a really small road with a spectacular view at the top)

Angler’s Arms pub (ask the bartender to see the spider)

Tipping a pound to reward spectacular service at a fine restaurant

Ordering your meal from the bar at the pub before you sit down

Not referring to the thing your wife wears around her waist as her fanny pack

Not referring to your khaki pants as your khaki pants

Not referring to any of your trousers as your pants

I’m sure there are more

Patience, Drip Fed

I fix things. That’s kind of who I am. Not like Jack on ‘Lost’, who keeps trying to fix things and just makes them worse or postpones the reckoning. Jack is impulsive and only looks at what’s right in front of his nose. It was odd when Sawyer recently claimed to see the big picture. I never thought of him that way but he might have a point. Oh and as far as what’s right in front of his nose Jack was also blind enough to not see that both Kate and Juliet were right there for the taking lots of times. But he blew it. That’s kind of who he is. A big puppy dog that keeps coming back for more. He’s sincere though.

How did I get onto a Lost train of thought? Oh, fixing things. I don’t fix human things, I fix THING things. Projects, light fixtures, dead computers, old porches, leaking roofs, and tired landscapes. I also improve things, like putting pickups into acoustic guitars, painting rooms, adding internet connections. And I make things, like beer.  Except for a few disasters with plumbing, everything pretty much always works.  Really. My dad was a fixer and I learned a lot from him.  Making beer, however I learned with Bob.

So this is really frustrating. 20 inches of snow over the weekend was fun and beautiful. I didn’t do any shoveling on account of my shoulder. My back alley neighbor Chris saw the Explorer stuck in the driveway and came over to help me out. Not only that, he used his little mini-Bobcat to dig out a trail to the alley so we could drive out and go to the blizzard party Saturday night. (I bought him a couple of bottles of wine today.)  There were a few short power failures but other than that everything was fine. Until I was sitting in the great room Sunday afternoon and noticed something dripping. After an hour or so we had half a dozen buckets catching drips from the ceiling and they got worse as the evening went on.  We watched the Super Bowl to the accompaniment of what sounded to be the tail end of a summer thunderstorm.  This morning, I pulled all the sofa sections to the outer walls of the room, took up the rug, spread out a big plastic sheet, and put industrial sized buckets on the floor. We literally have gallons of water in each.

It’s coming from somewhere up there. That foot or so of remaining snow on the roof is turning to water and it’s taking some circuitous path down walls and across beams and it comes down along a 10 foot line in the middle of the room. I was foolishly out on the lower roof this morning shoveling snow to both get weight off it and get a clue as to the problem. No luck. I climbed to the nether reaches of the attic over air conditioning units, under wires, tiptoeing on the rafters to very front of the house but learned nothing there either. I bought a rubber mallet and struck (with my left hand) the underside of the roof to try to make the big dam of snow slide off. Some of it did, and took down the FIOS cable with it. It is lying in the snow now, but fortunately our tv, phone and internet service still works. I tried another few ideas and frankly I’m beat. I don’t know where the water is coming from, and even if I did the top of the roof is too high and too covered with snow to inspect. I can’t raise a ladder up that high with my bad shoulder and frankly it would be foolhardy even by my standards to try to go up even if I were fully healed.  And another 10-20 inches is coming in the next few days.

So, it’s a matter of survival. Stress, or relax. I choose life. The inside air is usually way too dry in the winter, so dry it hurts your sinuses. So now we have a natural humidifier. Many people buy fancy indoor waterfalls to make a calming noise. We have ours for free.   We’d been meaning to move the sofas and clean under them for awhile and now that’s  done. The rug had some stains from the last party so now it will be easier to take it out to be cleaned. I’m sure there are many more things to be thankful about related to having a few dozen gallons of water drip down from your ceiling every day. We will just have to discover these over the next week when the new snow adds its contribution to the water symphony. When it all finally melts, I’ll find the problem and get somebody to fix it. That’s what everyone else does. If parts of the ceiling need to be replaced we’ll replace them. People do that too.  Someday, with a little, luck, I’ll be old (not just temporarily disabled) and will have do to a very good job at being patient. It will be a survival skill.

I’ll focus my talents on things I can fix, like that light fixture in the laundry room. I did that tonight after dinner. It only took 30 minutes and now it works. I’m well on my way back to mental health.