Pyramid Tents at Philmont

I brought my Mountain Laurel Designs Speedmid to Philmont and my son brought his brand-new Black Diamond Betamid. The Betamid is interesting because it is decently light and probably the least expensive high-quality shelter you can find. A Scout is Thrifty.

We didn’t get a lot of rain, but we did get one good nighttime thunderstorm. Everybody stayed nice and dry.

Here is Mike (on the right) and his Betamid at Apache Springs:


A Betamid is $99, weighs 2 pounds 4 ounces, and uses two trekking poles for setup. The seams are already taped, so you don’t need to seam seal it. Add in a pair of Gossamer Gear Polycryo ground sheets (3 ounces, $8), and seven titanium skewer stakes (10 for $20, 2 ounces), and you have a two person shelter for two and a half pounds and less than $150, even with tax and shipping. Not bad at all.

The titanium stakes may seem like a silly extravagance, but they are precisely the right gear for Philmont. The campsites were either hard packed dirt or dirt mixed with rocks. The thin, strong skewers could penetrate the packed dirt and could sneak between the rocks. The bare, grey titanium is really hard to see after you drop a stake, so get some orange nail polish and paint the tops or spend a bit more for pre-painted ones.

The Betamid is made of durable urethane-coated nylon, just right for Scouts and it doesn’t need adjustment when it gets wet. Black Diamond also makes a Beta Light, using silnylon. It is 12 ounces lighter at 1.5 pounds and costs $180. For that price, I’d get a Supermid instead ($170, 18 ounces). Look for sales, I’ve seen the Betamid for $80 and the Beta Light for $140.

This is our crew campsite at Wild Horse Meadow trail camp. The Betamid is the circus tent in the foreground and the Speedmid is the grey pyramid at the back.


The only thing I’d change on the Betamid is the tieout lines. Adjusters or just lines with a tautline hitch might make it easier to get a tight pitch. On the other hand, Mike seemed to always get a nice, tight pitch, so maybe it works fine without any changes.

Reading: What I Saw And How I Lied, with a rant on technology-ignorant authors

I wanted to like What I Saw And How I Lied, not because of the National Book Award, but because of reviews from people I respect, and also the really fine 40’s, George Hurrell-style cover photo. How could a cover that good be bad?

Hmm. I guess the whole thing is edgy and noir, and the time and place are drawn decently. The hurricane section did not remind me of the hurricanes I was in while growing up in Baton Rouge, it sounded more like the news reports from Hurricane Andrew. There is an odd oscillation between foreboding and surprises, but it is told from the viewpoint of a 16 year old girl, and she isn’t catching on to everything that she sees. So maybe that works.

The end (no spoilers here) seems a bit over done. I can see how Evie would think to do that, but it is really abrupt, and I can’t see how she could do it without standing up to everyone and burning every bridge with her family forever. Yes, all that stuff before was traumatic, but enough for her to betray her mom and dad then still live with them? That’s cold. And it doesn’t fit with her new-found sensitivity to other people.

Thinking further, we see what Evie sees for the whole book, then at the last, we’re divorced from that, and what she is thinking and planning is the surprise twist. Because we aren’t part of it, we don’t believe it. That is a big structural problem that weakens the ending.

But there is one thing that just pisses me off. Why don’t writers and editors think it matters to get technology right? At the end of chapter three, we have this dramatic flourish:

Sounds cozy. But it was just like buzz bombs—the V-2 rockets the Germans launched at London near the end of the war. You couldn’t hear them, not even a whistle. Until your house blew up.

Read the whole page here.

Dramatic, but painfully ignorant. The buzz bomb was the V-1 and you could hear it. It was a pulse jet, sub-sonic and loud, coming in at a low altitude, an early version of our modern cruise missiles. You could hear it coming, though often with not enough time to get to shelter. Almost 23,000 people were killed by the V-1. The V-2 was a rocket. It was launched with a boost phase, then inscribed a silent parabola across the sky, as Pynchon put it, “gravity’s rainbow”. The silence of the V-2 was truly terrifying, specifically because it was not a “buzz bomb.”

It is really clear that neither the author or the editor actually understood what a buzz bomb or a V-2 was. How did they think a “buzz bomb” was silent?

No one in 1947 would have made this mistake. Why isn’t it important to Judy Blundell (the author) and David Levithan (her editor) to look this up? Is it because technology just doesn’t matter to East Coast writers and editors? Is it something that doesn’t matter because only fleece-wearing West Coast nerds care about it?

The acknowledgements describe her research on the period with thanks to lots of people. But no research on technical stuff. Not even a suggestion about why the boat motor might have died. Bad gas? Clogged fuel filter? Can we get someone who cares? Joe would have made a stab at an explanation, I know that.

This isn’t an isolated problem, it’s a pattern. In Infinite Jest, a book about detail if any book is about detail, David Foster Wallace spells RISC computer as “RISK” and goes on about how a few megabytes are some humongous amount of storage for video (holding “the Entertainment”, the film somewhere near the center of the novel). Ten years before Infinite Jest was published, a CD-ROM could store hundreds of megabytes. RISC processors upended the industry and (arguably) put DEC out of business. But clearly, neither the author nor his editors cared to check that, despite being precise about the shape and color of an OxyContin pill.

I remember reading an introduction to the best short stories of some year, and a well-known writer was cited on factual accuracy. I don’t remember exactly who it was, but she observed that if a writer didn’t care to get the capital of New Hampshire right, then she didn’t care to read them. I feel the same way about technology mistakes. If they don’t respect the reader enough to check that stuff, it isn’t worth my time to read their book. Next time, I stop reading right there, National Book Award or not.

Bone and Blood is the Price of Coal

At Cypher’s Mine camp at Philmont Scout Ranch, they sang a lot of mining songs, including 16 Tons, but the one that came to my mind was Ballad of Springhill about the Springhill mining disaster in 1958. It was written by Peggy Seeger, with some help from Ewan McColl.

Luckily, I could only remember a few lines, because it probably would have caused some sleepless nights for our Scouts. Maybe for me, too. The words alone are enough, but when you hear the verse end on that unresolved chord …

In the town of Springhill you don’t sleep easy
sometimes the earth will tremble and roll
when the earth is restless, miners die
bone and blood is the price of coal,
bone and blood is the price of coal

Or the this verse:

Eight days passed and some were rescued,
leaving the rest to lie alone.
All their days, they dug a grave,
two miles of earth for a marking stone,
two miles of earth for a marking stone.

I remember it from Peter, Paul & Mary, but they trimmed a few verses. Here are two full versions, one from The Dubliners, which I think works better overall, and one from Peggy Seeger and Ewan McColl, more spare with better phrasing and harmonies. You choose. But don’t forget the cost.

Two YouTube links:

The Ballad of Springhill by The Dubliners

The Ballad of Springhill by Peggy Seeger & Ewan McColl

And thinking of 16 Tons, is there anyone today who sounds like Tennessee Ernie Ford? Listen to Shenandoah or Children Go Where I Send Thee.