Monday, March 31, 2014

San Diego Adventure - Sunday

Our super short visit to San Diego is just about done. I'm tapping out this blog post from the departure gate, waiting to board.

On Saturday, we took a hike up a nearby mountain. Our friends brought their 3 1/2 year old and 5 month old along for the adventure. I was amazed at how much hiking the 3 1/2 year old did; he managed to summit a peak that would have been a stretch for many adults.

Along the way, we hit a number of Geocaches. These San Diego'ians don't mess around when it comes to Geocaching. There must have been almost 20 caches to hit between the house we were staying at and the top of the mountain.

While I took a Shabbos Nap, one of our friends took Shira up in his plane for a tour of the area. You can see a number of excellent aerial shots that she was able to grab. Apparently, as they landed, so did an F18 on a parallel runway. That's so cool.

Today was spent exploring more of Cabrillo National Monument and hanging with friends. As if we weren't enjoying ourselves enough, we received a weather report from back home: yes, it was snowing again. By us, it's been 3 perfect days of sunshine.

Enjoy the photos! Tomorrow, they'll be the closest we can get to weather perfection.

View Photos

San Diego Adventure - Friday

I love jet lag. At least I love it when it works to my advantage. Thursday night we flew into San Diego and after taking care of a small server issue I hit the sack around 1am. But, thanks to jet lag, I was wide awake at 5:30am PST, and ready to start our mini California vacation! (By the way, Shira was not amused and made me go back to bed.)

We got our little trip off to an excellent start with a run along Harbor Drive, where I soaked up the sunshine as best I could. After the run, I had Huevos Rancheros at Grand Central Cafe, in downtown San Diego. Between the run, sun and breakfast, our trip was already a massive success.

After getting cleaned up, we met our friends at Balboa Park for a terrific stroll through the area. With the various gardens and other scenery to photograph, I was like a kid in a candy store. My favorite, though, had to be the cactus garden. These plants are just amazing, it's like they're from another planet.

Never one to give up the chance to Over Do It, I dragged Shira to the Cabrillo National Monument. The views from this point of land are most excellent. But the coolest part by far were the tide pools. These little puddles are filled with tiny creepy crawly things just waiting to be discovered. It was tons of fun playing Jr. Marine Biologist.

View Photos

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Why Scalabilty is Overrated, and the Postmortem Of a Startup

I've spent much time looking back at the 2000 era Dot-Com roller coaster I was part of, know as Amazing Media. The idea of user controlled ads, as we know thanks to Google AdWords, is a bazillion dollar idea. Yet, even with millions of dollars in funding, and a top notch team (if I do say so myself), we couldn't get the idea to fly. Why?

I think Seth Godin's recent blog post, Not even one note, hit the nail on the head:

Starting at the age of nine, I played the clarinet for eight years.

Actually, that's not true. I took clarinet lessons for eight years when I was a kid, but I'm not sure I ever actually played it.

Eventually, I heard a symphony orchestra member play a clarinet solo. It began with a sustained middle C, and I am 100% certain that never once did I play a note that sounded even close to the way his sounded.

And yet...

And yet the lessons I was given were all about fingerings and songs and techniques. They were about playing higher or lower or longer notes, or playing more complex rhythms. At no point did someone sit me down and say, "wait, none of this matters if you can't play a single note that actually sounds good."

In other words, we had an arguably excellent idea, but, we never stopped to make sure it actually worked on a small scale. We never got that one note to sound right.

The talk was always about making the idea scalable. How could we have the software do more for more customers with more sales people selling it. And to some degree, that's fine. But, before we talked about more, before we wrote a single line of code, we should have made sure the idea could actually work. The premise, in the case of Amazing Media, was that any old business could benefit from designing and running an Internet ad campaign.

If we had done this manually; just gotten 5 of our favorite businesses and hand made banners and run them on the web, we'd quickly realize that it simply didn't work. The problem we would have discovered was that for an arbitrary business the ROI wasn't there. Sure, we could show Bob's Flower Shop ad 100,000 times. But, digging deeper, we'd see that were probably showing it mainly on an Auto Repair Forum frequented by folks on the West Coast, when Bob's was in DC. Would it be any shock that Bob's phone didn't ring off the hook? (Over time, we added various targeting features to the system to correct this, but they never quite solved the ROI problem.)

What Google AdWords got right (among other things) is the whole question of relevancy: I'm searching for "flowers in DC" so showing me Bob's Flower Shop is a good thing.

Had we tested the model on a small scale, we would have seen this flaw. We were smart folks, so I'm convinced that we could have figured out a solution. And then all that investment money would have gone to building something that actually works. Instead, we spent time and energy building something that looked good, but never actually delivered on its promise.

I'd like to think that I've taken this lesson to heart. And you can, too. Before you go off and build that million dollar idea, or add that million dollar feature, ask yourself: how can I test this out on a small scale? How can I see if the idea actually works? You probably won't need anything more than a spreadsheet or a notebook to do this. But what you'll learn should shape your plans immeasurably.

NOTE: Please don't take the above analysis of Amazing Media too seriously. I'm sure I've forgotten important details over the years, and I'm sure there were behind the scenes goings on I knew nothing about. Still, I think the take away above is at least one critical reason the start-up never really started up.

eMailDodo.com - Painless E-mail Lists for Small Groups

There's a regular group of us that attend Thursday Morning Minyan at my shul, and one of the members smartly attempted to connect us all via an e-mail list (or Listserv, for all you old schoolers out there). This would allow 15 or 20 of us to be notified of an upcoming special yahrtzeit or the like.

The obvious way to do this, which I've done in the past, is to hop over to Yahoo Groups and create a new group. Which he did. Except, getting everyone attached to this group turned out to be non-trivial. First of all, Yahoo discourages, if not makes completely impossible the simple act of explicitly adding people to a group. Instead, people need to be invited. And then they need a Yahoo account. And to create a Yahoo account they need to enter their cell phone number or address or promise a first born. In other words, it's a headache.

I realize, of course, this isn't exactly all Yahoo's fault. Sure, some of this process may be made more complicated by Yahoo's marketing department's wish to have as much data as possible on each member. But I suspect most of the headache is caused by the fact that for every little group like ours that's created to follow the rules, many more are created to do nasty things like SPAM the heck out of the Internet.

Anyway, Yahoo Groups was a bust. Google also has a groups platform, but again, I suspected that if you don't have a Google account everything gets hairy, quickly.

I Googled around for Alternatives to Yahoo Groups and was surprised to see how many people kvetch about the system, yet continue to stick with it.

After a couple of false starts; I found the curiously named eMailDodo.com. It promised free and easy access.

And I'm happy to say, they deliver. It is indeed free to create and manage a group with less than 50 folks in it. And best of all, you simply add in the e-mail addresses you want on the list. There's even a "Spreadsheet" and CSV entry that allowed me to copy and paste my list of e-mails into. The members of the group had to do nothing, zilch, to have access to the group.

I added folks, and sent a message to group_name@emaildodo.com and everyone got it. To send an e-mail to the group, folks just need to email group_name@emaildodo.com, like you would expect.

As list manager, I have the ability to tweak a number of settings on the group, most of which are "locked" until I upgrade to a paid plan (which is as expensive as $25/yr; quite the bargain). For now, the free setup seems to more than do the job.

I know e-mail is far from the most sexy platform to implement. But the ability to make a group e-mail list in just a few minutes is definitely handy, and one I'm glad a I have a solution to. I love the technology that Google and Yahoo offer, but I've got to say, this is one case where using the little guy means I don't have to deal with all the big guy's problems (of SPAM, abuse and fraud) and the workarounds that go with them.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How a Firefighter Sees The World vs. How You See The World

Yesterday I stumbled over Firefighter Paulie Capo's YouTube feed, and it's simply awesome. Capo provides some demonstration videos that show just how clever and skilled firefighters can be. I just love how he sees the world.

Consider, for example, the escape route Capo creates from a basement:

And when Capo needs to put a tool down, does he do so by laying it on the ground? Uh, no. He's got a much better place to store it:

Take something seemingly obviously, like an internal door. Firefighters remove them to get to a room, right? Well, that's only part of the story. Consider all the clever uses Capo has for said door:

And check out this clever hack. It's not as destructive as say, knocking a door off its hinges, but it's still mighty clever. By doing something as simple as carefully marking his tools, Capo adds a bunch off functionality to said tools. I'm thinking I can put this same trick to use for myself, though in a slightly different context.

OK, here's one more I can't resist sharing. Check out this repelling setup. I can almost hear you scoffing, you've been repelling since your Boy Scout days. But watch the whole sequence closely. He reppels to a flat section of building, yanks on the rope to free it. Then re-ties the rope. Then reppels. Then yanks on it again to retrieve it. Wrap your brain around that: he's tied a knot that's secure enough to hold his weight, yet can be untied with the flick of the wrist. We didn't learn that trick in Boy Scouts.

You can check out the rest of Capo's videos here. Definitely brilliant stuff.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

White on White

Sure enough, the snow is still coming down.

I'm loving the big, fluffy flakes.

Luckily, the roads are warm enough that it doesn't appear to be sticking. Hopefully that will help the evening commute run a little more smoothly.

Of Course It's Snowing

It's DC in late March, why wouldn't it be snowing?

So far, we've got a dusting going:

It's Summer Shoe Time -- Giving A New Minimalist Shoe A Chance

They may be calling for snow today, but that doesn't change the fact that it's Spring and time to thinking about changing over from cold to hot running gear.

Last Season

Last Spring, as I was walking through Potomac Mills Outlet Mall and I randomly stopped in a Sketchers store where I happened to pick up one of their running shoes. It was noticeably lightweight. I tried them on and could immediately feel the strange shape of the shoe which biased one towards a front/mid foot strike. I hemmed and hawed over it a bit, and for about $40, walked out of the store with a pair of Sketcher GoRun Shoes.

The first few runs with these shoes weren't pretty. My calves ached from the new running position, and poor little toe got a blister. But, I stuck with it. And before I knew it, they were my go to shoes. On a really hot day, I enjoyed running in them without socks; the whole setup was nice and lightweight.

Sure, I'd occasionally run over stones that I'd feel poking the bottom of my feet, but all in all, I loved the shoes.

By the end of the Summer, they were a smelly, beat up mess. I'd got my money's worth and was pleased to retire them.

This Season

As this season rolled around, I assumed I'd make the same play: pick up a pair of GoRun's and be on my way. Sketchers is now on the 3rd generation of the shoe, and they offer a number of variations including the Ride, the Ultra and The Ultra LT, the Pace and the Sprint.

All this choice left me fairly confused as to my best option, and the fact that there were no longer bargain priced at $40, didn't help either.

As I poked around Amazon for a good price on the Sketchers I came across Vivobarefoot Men's Ultra Running Shoe. The funky mesh design caught my eye, and the reviews basically sold me on them.

Brace yourself, here's how they look on my feet:

And here's how they look off:

They are molded plastic and weight almost nothing. While my Sketchers promoted a front foot strike, these guys absolutely require it. They provide the smallest amount of support / protection that a shoe can provide. Perfect if you want to go the barefoot route, horrifying if you're not into silly crazes like barefoot running.

Yes, these are essentially running Crocs.

There are actually two models of these shoes: one is the regular and the other is the Pure. They are the same exact shell, the non-Pure model happens to come with a removable sock liner which gives them a hair more protection.

A word about sizing: I originally purchased the Pure model in size 45/11.5. They were comically large. The best deal available to me was to buy the regular model, which I did in 44/10.5-11. With the sock liner in, these were comically small. However, taking out the sock liner, the 44's fit me perfectly. So, it looks like with the sock liner, you should buy these at the 'normal' size. If you're buying the Pure model, buy the size down.

My first run with these guys was a 7.5 miler. The results, just like my Sketchers, was sore calves and a big 'ol blister on my little toe. I was actually surprised I wasn't worse off.

It's too early to declare these guys a running success or failure. They do seem like they will be handy alternatives to flip flops or water shoes, as they should have no problem getting dunked in water. And they are absolutely ultra-lightweight, which means they may offer slightly more utility than a regular old running shoe.

On the other hand, I did feel every stone that I ran over during my first run. And the large mesh design of the shoe that's useful for venting heat and water is also the perfect place for stones to enter. I did have to stop once on my test run to fish out a stone.

Still, I'm excited to give them a try.

For a first pair of barefoot running shoes, I'd highly recommend some flavor of the Sketcher's GoRun over a hard core shoe like the Vivobarefoot. The shoes are physically lightweight, and they will help promote the running style you need to avoid destroying your knees. Just expect sore calves.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rocking Horse? That's so Mainstream.

Let's lighten the mood around here, shall we?

To achieve baby hipster status, your little one totally needs a Rocking Vespa. Seriously, these are so adorable:

Via: RecycleArt.org.

The plans can be found here, so build one today.

In Defense of Today's Parent

Kottke.org pointed me to The Overprotected Kid, a recent story in the Atlantic.

It seemed to me the usual parenting lament: kids have lost the freedom that we had as children, and are worse off for it.

While my parenting experience is pretty dang thin, it didn't stop me from wanting to chime in on a number of points:

When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.

Whoa. I suppose I put this in the "life is full of choices" category. Children benefit from structured (read: supervised) activities and unstructured activities. As a parent, I suppose you've got to find that balance for them. Kudos to the author's husband for detecting that something was out of whack.

It is no longer easy to find a playground that has an element of surprise, no matter how far you travel. Kids can find the same slides at the same heights and angles as the ones in their own neighborhood, with many of the same accessories. I live in Washington, D.C., near a section of Rock Creek Park, and during my first year in the neighborhood, a remote corner of the park dead-ended into what our neighbors called the forgotten playground. The slide had wooden steps, and was at such a steep angle that kids had to practice controlling their speed so they wouldn’t land too hard on the dirt.

I hear this argument all the time and I'm not buying it. We live across the river in (the liberal bastion known as) Arlington, and while the playgrounds are filled with the plastic molded apparatuses the author describe, they seem a lot more interesting than the playgrounds I remember growing up. Seriously, check out the climbing structure in Butler Holmes Park. This photo of it simply doesn't do it justice. How it's considered safe to allow kids to climb to the top of it, is beyond me. We we took some friends kids there a couple weeks ago and they loved it. I'm far too afraid of heights to even go up past the lowest level. And keep an eye on Rocky Run Park, the playground going in there looks like it should be a fun one.

Or better yet, skip the playground altogether and explore places like Donaldson Run or Windy Run. They are as close by as any local playground, but are of the natural variety. The stream crossing and steep rock climbs should give a thrill to any kid.

It’s still morning, but someone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires.

I'm all for kids learning to start fires. And play with knives. And wield axes. And shoot bows and arrows. And fire rifles. But I'm also convinced that learning these activities in a structured environment is a good thing. For me, Boy Scouts was the ticket to learning all this, and I can't recommend it enough.

Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting.

OK, you got me on the walking to school part. When I was talking to Shira about this article, and mentioning how I was fine with letting our 7 year old play in his room with a friend doing, gosh knows what; and I was fine with taking him backpacking and playing with fire, she stumped me with this question. "But would you let him walk alone to playground, and play there unsupervised?"

I suppose the answer is no. I wouldn't be OK with sending a 7 year old out into the neighborhood and expect him to return when the street lights came on, like I did when we were kids. But, in my defense, the neighborhood of my youth had two important things going for it. First, there was a high density of children. Literally every other house had kids in it, so it was hardly a stretch to find a group to play with. And second, there was a range of ages all playing together. So sure, my 4 year old brother may have been out playing "alone", but he was doing so with me as a 7 year old, my older brother as a 10 year old and possibly older kids in the neighborhood.

If there was a posse of kids around like that, I'd have much fewer reservations about letting our (now hypothetical) 7 year old roam around with them.

I'm not sure why this sort of article fires me up so much. Heck, I'm not even a parent (at the moment), so why should I even care? I think it boils down to the fact that there may have been a noticeable shift to overprotected parenting, but we should know better now. And not only that, but there are resources out there to make that happen. Or maybe it's just my general unease with any article that paints the past as purely rose colored. Sure, the playgrounds of years past were terrific, unless of course you were in a wheelchair. Then yeah, good luck with that.

A Behind The Scenes Shot

From our mystery video:

Shira just looks so official, I couldn't help but share.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Took The Makeup

Somewhere, someone gave me this nugget of wisdom about makeup and appearing in a video.

"If someone offers you makeup, take it."

And because we are appearing in a video, and because someone offered me makeup, I took it. I patiently sat there as a kind young lady slathered various creams on my face The result, I have to say is pretty solid. I look like me, minus my various red splotches and such.

Apparently, this is useful advice.

Of course, my wife looks stunning. But she hardly needs makeup to accomplish this.

As for this "video" we are appearing in, more on that when I have some details to share.

See what I mean about my wife?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review: Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story

I like a book that teaches me something, and Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story by Maarten Troost taught me plenty. Like any good travelogue, Troost exposed me to a part of the world (the South Seas) that I had no familiarity with, and he did so with humor and wit. He also gave me quite the education on Robert Louis Stevenson, the personality Troost uses to inspire his adventure.

Not surprisingly, Troost confirmed one of my hardest learned lessons about traveling: your trip becomes much enjoyable when you think of it as a story. For example, Troost shows up at a tiny island airport for an 8am flight (or thereabouts) only to find out that the pilot left at 5:45am and he'll have to wait till tomorrow to catch the next one. If he was trying to have the "perfect" trip, this would be massively frustrating. But, because he's writing humor, this is comedy gold. I've learned that you can adopt this same perspective while traveling, and thanks to the world of blogging, you can even record your story for all to read. No book contract necessary. Bottom line: it's amazing how a change in perspective can influence your view on a travel crisis.

But mostly, I learned that Alcoholism is a disease not to be trifled with. That's right, as Troost is taking us island hopping, swimming with the sharks and meeting the locals, he's also telling the story of how booze nearly destroyed him. He takes us through the whole process, from the casual drinking, to the out of control drinking, through rehab and into the day to day steps he goes through to keep from relapsing. And he manages to do it in a way that's both humorous to read and deadly serious. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to put all that out there, but I'm thankful he did.

After reading the book, I've downloaded a number of Robert Louis Stevenson's books to my Android, including In The South Seas. Thanks to the long expired copyright, Project Gutenberg has this title and many others ready for you to grab and read.

All in all, Headhunters on My Doorstep is a fun, easy to read travel book that should stretch your mind in ways you didn't expect.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Does Banning a Word Work?

We're supposed to ban the word Bossy from our vocabulary. The Girl Scouts say so, and for a few days, so did the bottom of my Google home page (which I didn't grab a screen shot of). Sure, there are discenting opinions on the topic (as well as haters being haters), but I wasn't strongly convinced by either side.

And then I realized that growing up my parents banned the word Boring from our vocabulary. It essentially became a cuss word and was not to be spoken. People were boring, my parents would remark, not situations. If you've run out of things to do, it's your responsibility to get creative and find something new to tackle.

This philosophy definitely became embedded in my life, and to this day I cringe when people say they are bored. When we were foster parents to a 7 year old, he quickly learned that the B-word was off limits.

More importantly, the ban forced me to change the way I view circumstances. There's always something new and interesting to do and explore, even if its not obvious. It's a wonderful perspective, and one I'm glad my parents taught me.

So yes, banning a word does work. And while I can't think of an experience where someone was labeled 'bossy,' I can see how it could be one of the crutch words that hold us back. Just like that other B word ('boring' people, I'm talking about the word 'boring').

#BanBossy? I'm in. Mostly.

There's one big catch to my reasoning above: I think banning a word is especially useful for children, not less so adults. The benefits I received from banning 'boring' from my childhood vocabulary were triggered only because it forced me to adopt some new habits. So yeah, BanBossy on the playground and in daycare, and help produce those new habits. But I'm not less convinced this is useful exercise for the boardroom and water cooler.

Update: Thinking more about this, what about the terms Geek and Nerd? At one point, these were clearly hurtful labels, and yet, at some point their definition turned into a badge of honor. If I was a self-proclaimed Fashion Geek or Reality TV Nerd (which I'm most definitely not either of these), you'd understand that I was a master of these topics.

Perhaps bossy needs the same treatment? We've already got the Like a Boss (careful, that link contains some sketchy stuff) meme, how much of a leap is it to turn bossy into a good thing?

I have no idea how you do this. I just know that language matters, and I'm all for having parents, educators and others shape the way kids use it.

Running with a side order of (stream) hopping

Hard to believe that it's nearing the end of March, and yet last night I tackled a run through snowy woods. I incorporated Potomac Overlook Park and Donaldson Run (along with Windy Run) into my evening jog, and the results were pretty awesome.

With all the recent snow, the stream crossings were quite a bit more challenging than they are in the summer (though not nearly as challenging as they could be). I'm proud to report that I managed to hop from rock to rock without ending up on my butt. Yes, both feet got drenched, but I managed to stay vertical.

Here's the route I took, which you can see is mostly on city streets, with a dose of trail running for good measure:


View Military Road to Donaldson Run to Windy Run in a larger map

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Dumbarton Oaks Park - A Little Trail Running Right In Georgetown

This last Sunday I was delighted to run through a new (for me) green space in Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Park. In the past, I've run by the Dumbarton House, but I'd never explored the large park nearby.

Sure enough, it's a mini chunk of wilderness, right off city streets. The trail, especially around sunset, felt very much like the real deal. There were birds to listen to, interesting plants to poke around, and various features to explore. The space isn't huge, but neither is it an itty bitty park.

At the trail head, it mentions that Glover-Archbold Trail is a mile away. That means that I should be able to string together that run and this one to create a nice trail run right through DC proper.


View Dumbarton Oaks Park in a larger map

In the mood for a little control - listening to Air Traffic Control

Depending on my mood, and the task I'm working on, I might want to listen to ambient beats, bird song or just whatever Pandora wants to serve up. Heck, there are times when I'll just rock out to the latest popular music (whatever that is) on YouTube.

Other times, music doesn't do it for me. Sometimes, when I'm working late at night I'll tune into Arlington's police band, so I can listen to what shenanigans my neighbors are up to.

This weekend, I thought of a new audio source: why not listen to the local air traffic control tower? The scanner app I use didn't list airports in the directory, but with a quick Google search I was able to find liveatc.net.

After just a few clicks, I found my way to DCA's tower audio streams. The audio stream has been working quite reliably.

Listening to air traffic control is like overhearing a vastly different dialect than my own. Sure, the words may be English, but I've got(almost) no idea what they are talking about. But there's something calming about the whole thing, as I imagine planes are being sent too and fro at the request of an anonymous voice.

Click here to give a listen and see what I mean.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Show Your Botanical Skillz: What the heck are these?

At the base of this tree there are various "growths" protruding from the ground. Try as I might, I can't get Google to reveal what they are. Do you know? If so, please share in the comments.

My guess is that they are some sort of growth from the main tree. But there's got to be more to it than that. Surely they have a name and a function. Right?

Update And I've got my answer! They are apparently Cypress knees. And their use? Apparently, we don't know. Cool!

Thanks to Luther and an anonymous commenter that shed light on the mystery. I had no idea the question would yield an answer so quickly.

Surprise! Winter is Back. Again.

What's surprising about today's Snow Day isn't that two days ago it was 70°F. And it's not that it's March 17th, long after Winter in this area is supposed to be through. No, what's surprising about today's Snow Day is how unsurprising it is. This just seems to be our trend: against all logic the weather people predict a snow storm, and then Sunday evening it materializes. Tomorrow things should be pretty much back to normal.

And who knows, maybe next Monday will be another Snow Day?

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Little Offline Tweeting

I took a short stroll through Theodore Roosevelt Island with my zoom lens at the ready, in a clumsy attempt to capture some of the birds on the island. While the results were far from Earth shattering, the process was fun. I focused on covering less ground, and doing more listening.

At first, the woods seem deserted, but given a little time, they do indeed come to life.

This female North American Cardinal was my first sighting, and while they are common around here, they're still pretty dang exotic looking.





And here's a Black Capped Chickadee. He's a feisty one.



When I first tried to ID this little ball of fuzz, I thought I had come across a Brown Thrasher. That would have been sweet, as they have the largest song vocabulary (over 1000) of any North America bird. Alas, I'm fairly certain he's a Carolina Wren. He's still cute.



And here's a woodpecker. Like the Cardinal above, he's common enough around here, and yet whenever I see one I feel like I've discovered something truly unique.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ben: 0, KT Tape: 2 - The Battle Continues

On our last two runs, I've applied KT Tape to Shira's knee for support, rather than having her use a bulky brace. The brace is hot in the winter, and almost unbearable in the summer heat, so tape is a nice option. I've been diligently following the instructions on the pamphlet that came with the tape, yet the KT Tape keeps peeling off her skin. My solution of just adding more tape to the pile doesn't really work.

After doing just a little research, I've realized I've been making a number of critical errors:

  • I was peeling the backing off wrong. This video shows a technique for peeling off the backing without ever touching the adhesive; the secret involves tearing the backing off versus just peeling it off.
  • I didn't realize that the ends of the tape always need to be applied with zero stretch. Again, this video clearly shows this.
  • I caught that I needed to rub the tape after it was applied, but I didn't realize why. The goal is to generate a little heat so that the adhesive kicks in. Apparently rubbing a piece of the backing against the tape is a good way to generate some heat.
  • I was misjudging the diagram in the pamphlet as to where the tape should be a applied for a knee. This video shows it quite clearly.

Finally, here's advice from the folks at KT to getting the tape to properly stick. This article repeats the same advice, but does so with a bit more detail as to why you're doing what you're doing.

Now I'm reading for a taping re-match!

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Arrr! Think Like a Pirate and Save Ye Night Vision

Quick: list essential parts of a pirate costume. How many items did it take before you arrived at eye patch? Not many, right? To my surprise, there may be more value to that eye patch than, well, meets the eye. ITS Tactical, in an article on preserving your night vision explains:

Now we come to the most historically debated method of retaining your night vision, eye patches. I say “most debated” because of the lore surrounding Pirates using Eye Patches to aid them in adjusting to darkness when moving below the deck of a ship. There was typically no light below deck other than ambient light and these sailors would need to quickly adjust during battle, etc.

And one of the comments on the article corroborates this claim (and so do myth busters):

As a retired submarine officer, I can tell you the eye patch solution works but, with a minor loss of depth perception because you are looking through only one eye (need two eyes for good depth perception). In many submarine movies you see officers at night wearing red lens glasses or goggles. While, promoting night vision, red lenses have a short coming. Anything in red cannot be seen, since the red wave lengths blank out anything in red. This means that you cannot see out of specification readings which are written and circled in red, your red soundings and other critical features on charts cannot be seen, and you cannot differentiate wires, leads, valves, or signs in red, unless you remove the red goggles or glasses-- which when removed ruins your night vision. Since submarine OODs have to night vision adapted between nautical sunset and nautical sunrise I wore an eye patch. This allowed me to see everything in normal light-- including items in red--while maintaining night vision in the other eye. If the sub had to come Periscope Depth (PD) you could maintain your night vision in the patch covered eye until the control room was rigged for black and you were ready to put that single eye to the raised periscope eye piece. You see when " dancing with mother Kollmorgen" you only need to use one night adapted eye.

For non-boat sailors: mother Kollmorgen is another name for the periscope which was manufactured by Kollmorgen. Dancing with Kollmorgen is based on how sometimes you looked with your arms around the periscope manipulating it--it sort of looked like how you would your mother or grandmother if you were dancing with them in public.

Not a bad for a $3.00, indestructible hack.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Running Through A Glimpse of Spring

Yesterday it got up to 70°F! It was the perfect day to take in a run, and I managed to pull Shira and Dawn away from the gym to do so. The result was about a 7 miler that started in Rosslyn and made our way up the Capital Crescent Trail and back down the C&O Canal Path. It was glorious!

A few pictures from the run.

First, a moment of Geek Pride. Yes, that's my wife's wrists -- she was running with not one, but *two* smart watches:

At our turn around point (Fletcher's Cove), Shira even managed to grab a picture of me. A rarity on my runs:

But mostly, nature was on display:

I got my little taste of Spring, and I'm ready for it to begin. Alas, "little" in the previous sentence is the operative word, by tomorrow the high should be 35°F. This has been the Winter that just doesn't want to let go.

Proudly Made in China

Like it or not, when someone mention's a piece of gear is made in China it's almost always a dig at its quality. But, apparently that's not true for at least bit of kit: their military Entrenching Tool (or E-tool). Yep, apparently the Chinese don't mess around when it comes to tiny shovel like implements.

For proof, look no further than this YouTube video:

It slices, it dices! Grappling hook? But of course. And for some reason, the music reminds me of John Wayne, what could be more authentic than that?

People actually pay upwards of $80 for one of these (versus $45 for the US Military version or $12 for the Coghlan's version).

China isn't your only source when it comes to slick E-tools; the Russians get in on the action too. Cold Steel makes their Spetnaz Special Forces Shovel, which means you've got not just one, but two major Communist countries to choose from when it comes to digging implements. And while the Russian version is quite badass, the Chinese version gets more points due to both utility and marketing.

Personally, both shovels are too heavy for me to justify schleping through the woods. Though, I suppose putting one in the back of the car isn't a terrible idea.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Brief Sail Aboard the SS Simon

My Sister-in-Law gave me quite the treat today: she had me read to her 3rd grade students for Read Across America. Her classroom follows a nautical theme, and is appropriately marked as the SS Simon:

The children endured my reading of some of my favorite kids material: Me Jane, On Beyond Bugs and a few poems, including The Dentist and the Crocodile and About the Teeth of Sharks. We had time for one more, so she had me read one of the classroom favorites: Chester. The kids were kind enough to explain it to me.

I walked away from the experience quite impressed with the tight ship my she runs. It's not just that the kids are brilliant and well behaved, it's little things like allowing me to pick from a list of 'claps' the kids can perform to show their appreciation for my visit, or the fact that the tables are known by their NATO phonetic alphabet name (to go with the nautical theme). All in all, very impressive.

At the end of reading session she asked the kids which book character they most identified with. I struggled to think of an answer, and finally decided to embrace the kids theme. I chose the Blue Engine from the Little Engine That Could. Push forward and you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Also, I love trains.

More Mason Neck State Park

This past weekend we returned to Mason Neck State Park to run the other long'ish trail the park offers. The weather couldn't have been more perfect and when we arrived at the bird blind at the terminus of the trail, we found a Great Blue Heron hanging out within view. After some running, we searched for and found one of the Geocaches in the park. It all made for a most delightful little trail running adventure.

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