Go-Lite Packs on Skyline to the Sea

I borrowed a couple of early frameless Go-Lite backpacks for our Skyline to the Sea trek. A bit risky to try new packs on a thirty-two mile trek, but we did load them and take them around the block once. It seemed worth it to drop eight and a half pounds from our combined pack weights.

The packs are really light, but not all that comfortable. On the last day, I put the pack on after lunch and had to stop and repack because it was fitting so oddly. I didn’t really get it right, but it was good enough. When you are carrying under twenty pounds, “not bad” is usually good enough.

My pack weighed 1.75 pounds, my son’s was 1 pound. Our starting weights (with water) were 30 pounds (plus 3.25 pounds of camera over my shoulder) and 20 pounds. We came off the trail three days later with 15 and 14 pounds (dry weight, add the camera).

The heavier pack is bigger, has mesh side pockets, a hydration bladder pocket, a top cap/pocket, and five compression straps instead of two. I’m used to packing a “black hole” pack, since I normally use a 1980’s Lowe Expedition, with no outside pockets, a top flap/pocket, two custom-bent aluminum straps for a frame, and ten compression straps. The big difference? When the Go-Lite is half full and you crank on the (few)compression straps, it turns into a cylinder with lumps where ever the stuff inside happens to be. Do the same to the Lowe, and it turns into a lumpy half-cylinder with a nice smooth S-curve where your back goes. Guess which one is more comfortable.

Since the Lowe is over four pounds heavier at six pounds, the Go-Lite mostly comes out ahead. The biggest annoyance (besides needing to pack carefully) was the pack carrying a bit heavy on the shoulder straps and requiring more back muscle. This gets worse when the pack is less full. I seriously considered jamming a couple of sticks into my pack as a frame, but I didn’t think it would really transfer weight to the hips. The last afternoon, my back and my son’s neck were a bit sore. That shouldn’t happen with such a light load.

I think the right setup (and what you’ll find from several manufacturers now) is something a lot like the 1980s Lowe, but built out of modern lightweight materials so it weighs only two or three pounds. I would have gladly carried an extra pound to get a frame and there is a good selection at that weight (2 pounds 12 ounces). Now all I need is some extra cash and another backpacking trek. And a lighter camera.

Colin Fletcher

I just read in Tom Mangan’s blog that Colin Fletcher died June 12th. There is a heart-felt obit at Backpacker.com.

Colin Fletcher’s gift to us was to bring us into his own solo hiking world. His walks and his gear were totally personal, which encouraged us to think for ourselves, make our own choices, and then get out in the woods or deserts or mountains.

Last week, my son received The Thousand Mile Summer and The Man Who Walked Through Time as birthday gifts. They were from my dad (his grandfather) at my suggestion. My dad and I read those when I was my son’s age, before our backpacking trips in the Pecos Wilderness. Now my son can read them before our Skyline to the Sea father-son backpacking trip. I think I’ll re-read them myself.

Colin Fletcher was a solo hiker to the end, with no children of his own, but his walks are part of our family tradition, now to the third generation. Thanks, Colin.

Mac Software That I Run

Since Marc Andreeson posted his Killer Mac OS X apps for 2007 and someone just asked me, I’ll post some of my favorites.

NetNewsWire: go ahead and pay the $30 for the non-Lite version. This is a great newsreader. Do this and you’ll understand why websites carrying any sort of news (and ads) are effectively dead.

MenuMeters: for some reason, I just can’t live without a CPU graph in the menu bar. I’ve been that way every since I fired up xload in X10R3. MenuMeters also can show a handy Tx/Rx network traffic meter. That lets me know when my DSL has down-shifted. Again.

MarcoPolo: is an automatic location switcher, a better-thean-before replacement for the OS 9 Location Manager. After only six years. It is supposed to switch my default printer, but that isn’t working for me. There are some other tools like this, and the MarcoPolo home page lists them with a chart showing their features.

SQLGrinder: I use this for running Oracle queries. Not a lot of features, but it works fine. Like other tools, it is pretty clueless about CSV format, so I use keyboard macros in the next tool to quote text strings that contain commas.

Emacs: either you need this or you don’t know you need it. I’ve tried AquaMacs, but it was too Aqua and not enough Emacs. I’m running Carbon Emacs.

Fire: this is my multi-protocol IM tool. Everyone else seems to like Adium, but I found it too pixel-greedy, too cute, and too quacky. They are both free, so make your own choice. Hmm, according to Wikipedia (it must be true!), there will be no more versions of Fire. It still works for me, so I’ll wait until I must switch.

Fetch: an FTP client. Fetch goes back to the early days of Mac shareware. When I got a Windows machine at work, I figured that Windows shareware was as good as the Mac stuff. I never found a Windows FTP client nearly as good as Fetch, either free or commercial. There are plenty of good Mac FTP clients, but Fetch hasn’t failed me in over a dozen years, so there is no point in changing now. Yes, it is all rewritten to be OS X native.

MarsEdit: if you post to a blog, consider getting a client. It is way faster than dealing with the web posting interface. MarsEdit is a good one, it is on Andreeson’s list, too. Ecto also has fans and seems to have a better UI for uploading images.

GraphicConverter: kinda old school, but iPhoto drives me up a wall and GraphicConverter does what I need. Plus, I’m set if I ever need to read images in Amiga HAM or LuraWave or Meteosat 5 or X-Face (see list of supported formats).

MouseposĂ©: perhaps the most focused app I’ve ever used, this puts a spotlight around your cursor for doing demos on a projector. That’s all it does and it works great. They’ve gone payware and added some other features. Next time I do a demo, I’ll spend the $14.95.

SubEthaEdit: a multi-user text editor. I don’t use it that much, but it is so ideal for distributed note-taking that I bought it.

Ten Pounds Matters

I’ve been walking for an hour at lunch to get prepared for our Skyline to the Sea trek (32 miles in three days). The Los Gatos Creek Trail goes behind our office, a mostly flat asphalt path along the creek. After a couple of weeks, I was walking more than three and a half miles in that hour. Last week, I started walking with a 22 pound pack and found that I was walking nearly as far as before.

Yesterday, I increased the weight to 32 pounds and I could feel my stride shorten and my pace slow. Just a little, but enough to cut my distance down to three miles, about a 20% drop. I was also taking more care with where I put my feet, working on a straight rock forward on the left foot (tore up that ankle in high school, trying to catch 400 pounds of plywood).

I noticed that I was tensing my shoulders, hunching them up, so I practiced keeping them down and loose. Hunching up your shoulders seems to be bad form in every sport or activity I’ve tried. I first figured that out in fencing, but it holds for rifle, cycling, canoeing, and, apparently, backpacking.

I’ll stick with the 32 pound pack for workouts, but I think I’ll shoot for 20-25 for the trek. The difference between 22 and 32 seems a lot bigger than between 12 and 22. I begin to understand how the ultralight backpacking folk can walk 25 miles in a day with a 15 pound pack.

This all makes me wonder how fast I could walk if I dropped 32 pounds of fat.

Doing Math for Money

My son has been doing worksheets for the final 7th grade math test, and, almost as a joke, we offered him fifty cents for each problem he finished. He immediately finished 36 problems in about ten minutes. We don’t do “dollars for A’s” or any other sort of direct rewards for grades, so this was a new experience for him.

Of course we teased him that he’d really spent two hours whining about it and ten minutes working, and he fully realized that he was doing it for the money.

A bit later, at bedtime, it hit him, “You guys do math at work and get paid!”

I explained that a lot of the math I do was far more boring than reducing quadratic equations to standard form. My “math” tends to be adding up the search page result clicks from varying sources, divide by the total search attempts, express as a percentage, and repeat for the next day. Whee!

Taking Away “The Doughnuts” (Little Basin)

HP is selling off Little Basin, their company-owned campground near Big Basin State Park. It is sad, but completely predictable. Little Basin summed up a simple, crazy idea, that execs and employees might enjoy spending time together.

I haven’t seen much reaction that this is a blow to the HP Way. It is more like the last throes. HP has been losing the HP Way tradition for nearly twenty years. HP had the strongest culture of any place I’ve worked and they’ve done the least to maintain it.

When I started at HP in 1985, we had “the doughnuts”. They weren’t actually doughnuts, but cookies and fruit brought up from the cafeteria at 9am every morning and put out in a couple of central places on each floor. The story was that either Flora Hewlett or Lucille Packard (I forget which) had started out baking cookies for her husband and co-workers and that the tradition had just stuck.

It wasn’t extravagant, the cookies ran out in about ten minutes, but it was enough to get my twenty-something butt to work by 9:00. More importantly, it was often a quick stand-up meeting for the group and it was a chance to meet people from other groups. If you wanted to talk to someone, you had a pretty good chance of doing that if you hung out by the doughnuts for ten minutes.

The doughnuts were a cultural tradition with a rich and useful social function. Giving food and sharing food is powerful — it is an ancient tradition of hospitality and a sacred duty in some religions. It was the caring hand of Bill and Dave’s family extended to every employee in every division of HP. We were all family.

We used to joke, “You’ll know it’s over when they take away the doughnuts.” Some time around 1990, it was over. It was supposed to be a temporary austerity measure, but there wasn’t a time limit, and the doughnuts came back as a Friday-only thing and as a special thank you. Or maybe a Monday-only thing, I don’t remember and it didn’t matter, the tradition was broken. It was especially clueless to take them away as a “we’re all in this together” symbolic sacrifice, then bring them back as a paternal treat.

The hard part of culture building had been done. We had a daily ceremony, useful to the organization and grounded in corporate myth. But the execs blew it. They killed it for a reason that everyone knew was lame, then brought it back in a way that severed the connection. Now it was just doughnuts, not The Doughnuts. How could they be that dense?

It wasn’t just the doughnuts, it was a hundred clueless things, one after the other. Canceling picnics, switching from engraved clip-on name badges worn where you could read them to laminated cards worn backwards on a string, restricting flex time, the list goes on.

Even then, long before Carly Fiorina, the execs had lost touch with what employees really did. Bill & Dave’s offices were right up against the cubicles in Building 3U, but the new execs had their own isolated Mahogany Row on one side of a floor in Building 20. The execs had already stopped doing “management by wandering around”.

At one point there was a crash project to build a PA-RISC processor in ECL (Blackbird) and the prototype, with really loud fans (ECL uses lots of power) was in some regular cubes right across from Bill & Dave’s old offices. I doubt that they would have minded having real engineering going on across the aisle, even if if it was noisy. The might have joined us at the doughnuts to see how it was going.

Today, HP seems to have given up on even maintaining the pretense of the culture. The HP Way has disappeared from the current HP website, leaving only the Corporate Objectives as the “philosophy and objectives” of the company. The phrasing in this 1992 copy of The HP Way is all about the people, “earn the trust and loyalty of others … passed from one generation of employees to another … shared among all HP people.” The objectives were what we did, the HP Way was how we did it.

As Mike Cassidy said, HP is doing “the wrong thing the right way.” They are selling Little Basin to an open space trust with the plans to add it to Big Basin. They are selling it cheap at $4M, but honestly, that is in the noise when you have $100B in revenue. Why not just give it away? “Citizenship” is still on the Corporate Objectives, I just checked.

If HP has lost its way so seriously that selling off Little Basin is the right thing to do, then I can’t argue with the decision. Making some coin on the deal just removes all doubt.

If you don’t have time to read Ellen Gilchrist …

If you don’t have time to read Ellen Gilchrist, well, you do have time, really, she’s that good, but if you don’t think you have time, then you should read Chris Rose’s short article, Can’t stop loving New Orleans. I read the article in the San Jose Mercury News, but they often make things disappear behind a regwall, so I’d recommend the original. On the other hand, the Merc version is edited to be just a bit shorter and still works, so if you really, really don’t have time, try that one.

I’d like to quote a bit of it, but mise en scène doesn’t seem to be very quotable. Still, I’ll give it a shot, with a bit from the tightened up SJ Merc version:

I was in the French Quarter one night last week, trying to get to a movie, but it never happened. I was 40 minutes early, so I crawled around the neighborhood looking for a cup of coffee, and I came upon a guy who was singing while he cleaned the streets.

His name is Melvin Holmes. He was singing a Luther Vandross torch song, the kind that makes women love you for a lifetime. And he was nailing the song, just killing it, just calling out the doves and stars and blooming jasmine of the night.

The version from the Times-Picayune takes three paragraphs to get to roughly the same place. New Orleans is not about being crisp and punchy. As the excised portion says, “classically New Orleans, getting it all wrong in just the right way.”

I grew up in Baton Rouge, not New Orleans, but the two cities aren’t that far apart — fifty miles by road, a hundred by river — and the live oaks give off the same musty smell in both places. Both cities are crossroads, New Orleans is a port and Baton Rouge is the state capitol. Louis Armstrong or Huey Long, take your pick (think twice, which one built roads and schools?).

Like Chris Rose, I can’t stop loving south Louisiana. I won’t be moving back, but I know what he feels.