Monday, October 31, 2016

Hiking Most of Buzzard Rock, Enjoying the Whole Trail

This past weekend we tackled most of the Buzzard Rock hike found in the George Washington National Forest. I say 'most' because as will become apparent below, we spent a bit too much time exploring the area around the trail head and didn't leave ourselves enough time for the actual hike itself. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First off, I'm amazed at how easy it was to get to the Elizabeth Furnace Day Area, which not only hosts the hike to Buzzard Rock, but a handful of others as well. So not only did we get a great hike in, but we learned about a jumping off point for even more hikes. Bonus!

Second of all, the day's weather was beyond glorious. We had fall foliage with springtime temperatures, who could ask for more?

And finally, we did the hike with friends who brought along their dog. It's the first time I've done anything resembling a back country hike with a dog, and the results were surprising. The dog was equipped with a GPS collar so she could go off leash, and our friends would know where she was.

We pulled into the Elizabth Furnace Day Use Area, picked what appeared to the be the correct trail and started on our way. Within a half mile (through perfect scenery), we realized we were heading the wrong direction. D'oh. Back to the parking lot. This time we found the trail and proceeded to follow it. Again, another half mile in and we realized we'd again taken the wrong trail.

The confusion: the directions we were following referred to a parking lot, but the day use area was closed so we had to park in an outer parking lot. Further more, the instructions refer to the trail in the "top left side," of the parking lot, which isn't especially helpful considering that's a relative direction. Here's the thing, finding the trail isn't especially hard. Here's what you do:

You're going to turn off Fort Valley Road into an outer parking lot. Then, you may proceed over a bridge into a larger parking lot, or in our case, you won't be able to. Either way, don't sweat it. When you turn off Fort Valley Road into the outer parking lot start looking for Orange and Blue blazes. There will be some in the outer parking lot.

At this point you'll have two options: follow the blue and orange blazes across Fort Valley Road and climb into the woods, or follow the blue and orange blazes over the bridge and towards the main parking area. Take the latter option. As long as you follow blue and orange and don't cross Fort Valley Road, you're good to go.

If you're going to get lost disoriented around a trail head, I'd very much recommend doing it in the Elizabeth Furnace Day Area. The trails around it follow a picturesque stream, tramp through beautiful woods, take you across an impressive looking bridge and drop you off into a historic area. Not to mention the Furnace area itself, which takes you through the ruins of the Furnace and give you a sense of how it operated.

When we were finally on our way, the hike was well marked and a pleasurable one. The first two miles are through tree cover and the second two miles are along a ridge. While we didn't make it to Buzzard Rock itself, we did still take in spectacular views on the ridge. And as I mentioned above, the fall foliage was a an absolute sight to see, with bright orange, reds and greens abounding.

The leaves weren't the only thing keeping me and my camera busy. Our friends pup was quite the photography bonus. It's like bringing along a precious little kid; everything the doggie did was cute and she didn't mind one bit when I snapped photo after photo of her. I've got no experience with dogs in the wilderness, but man, did she have perfect behavior. When we saw other hikers, she had no problem going back on leash. And when we had the place to our self, the dog ran with such wild abandon it was hard not to just smile at the sight of it all. As a non-dog person, I've got to say, I was really impressed with the whole experience.

I do look forward to coming back and completing the whole hike. But the section we did was the perfect way to a spend a fall Sunday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

On Pain

I don't suffer from chronic pain. In fact, I don't really know anyone who does. None the less, I found that after reading these articles I couldn't get them out of my head:

The second article reminds me a bit of the Four Burners Theory, which also tries to explain the limitations we face in life through a simple metaphor. Though I do think the Four Burners Theory is a bit more general.

While none of this is light reading, it's absolutely worth your time.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The M5 Cell Phone: Compact, Cheap, Dumb and Awesome

But why?

One of my weekly little pleasures happens every Friday afternoon: I turn off the monitors on my work computers, swap my Pebble Smart watch for the old school analog one Shira bought me in college and plug in my Galaxy Note 5. If all goes as planned, the computers, smart watch and phone remain untouched from Friday night to Saturday night; the duration of Shabbat. I'm not nearly as strict about observing Shabbat as some of my fellow Jews are, but I do relish the experience of being unplugged and mostly unreachable.

Usually this disconnected status is rejuvenating, but on rare occasions it can be frustrating or even downright unsafe. Emergencies do happen, and being able to send and receive calls can easily go from a nuisance to an absolute necessity.

Over the years Shira and I have debated the risks and benefits of not carrying a phone on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays and we finally arrived at potential solution. My plan: pick up a dumb phone that she, and only she, has the number to. This covers the emergency side of things, and if done right, avoids adding a gadget which will be yet another distraction.

The Provider

After much research we finally settled on simply adding a 3rd line to our T-mobile account. I looked at various pre-paid and non-contract options, but none were as cheap as the $9.99/mo that T-mobile charges us for the additional phone number. Ideally, I would have added a Verizon number, as they have the largest network and so my Shabbat-phone would also double as a works-when-T-mobile-doesn't-phone. However, I couldn't find an economical way to do this, and would have almost certainly ended up with exactly the kind of Android phone I'm trying to avoid using.

I ordered the service with T-mobile and 24 hours later I had a SIM card ready to drop into a GSM capable phone.

The Phone

Off to Amazon I went in search of a compact and bare bones phone. I could hardly believe luck when I found the AEKU M5 phone. It's marketed as a ultra thin, credit card sized phone. At $19.39, it appeared to be compact, cheap and dumb, exactly what I was looking for. A few YouTube reviews later I was convinced that this was just what I was looking for and hit the buy button.

The next day the phone arrived and I popped it out. My gosh, it was wonderfully compact! Here's how it compares to a stack of 4 credit cards, a 4 function calculator and a 3x5" notebook:

It does have nearly the exact width and height of a standard credit card, though it's clearly much thicker than one card. I doubt you'd want to put this in a guys wallet, though it would certainly fit into a larger ladies wallet.

The comparison between the phone and calculator is almost staggering: the phone is noticeably smaller in all dimensions.

OK, so it's small. But does it work? Indeed it does. I had no problem figuring out how to make and accept calls, add to the address book and even send off an SMS to Shira. You might assume that all dumb phones are easy to use, but you'd be wrong on this. Last year, I used a Verizon dumb phone which had horrendous usability issues. Even after owning the phone for months I still couldn't tell you which button you needed to press to answer a call.

As I started to play with the M5 I kept waiting for the missing features to pop-up. Did it have vibration? Sure does. Oh, does it have a speakerphone? Yes, sir. What about the ability to easily put the phone in silent mode? The M5 has this covered, too. In fact, it has the classic 'profiles' setup that anyone over the age of 40 will no doubt remember from the good old days. You can select between General (ringing), Meeting (vibration), Outdoor (ringing + vibration) and Silent. The M5 allows you to customize these profiles and offers method for quickly switching between profiles. While I haven't tried it yet, the phone appears to have support for 3 way calling, muting a call and putting someone on hold. The phone offers alarms, a calendar and a calculator.

The build quality is OK. For a few more bucks you can pick up a credit card sized phone which appears to have more polish to it. But the M5 is totally functional and considering the price tag, well made.

The battery is tiny (320mAh), but a phone like this sips battery juice. After 24 hours the phone was down from 3 bars to 2 bars of battery. The phone uses the same USB plug as my Galaxy Note 5 to charge, so charging it is effortless.

In terms of the issues, I've only noticed two. First, the earphone speaker isn't especially loud. This means that when I want to chat with Shira and I need to find quiet place to do so. The other issue: the phone offers an FM radio, but requires that you plug in a headset for it to work. Alas, there is no headset jack. That appears to be the only feature the software provides that the hardware fails at. Speaking of earphones, the phone appear to support Bluetooth, though I've yet to try it out.

When you factor in size, cost (under $20!) and features, the M5 has to be one of the most remarkable phones I've ever owned.

Do you need one?

After carrying (and mostly forgetting about the phone) during the last set of Jewish Holidays, I can say that it's absolutely doing it's job. The phone disappears into any pocket, remains in vibration mode, and just stays out of the way.

But do you need one? That's debatable. As a backup phone, I suppose it could be handy. I can also see it working for kids; perhaps if you want them to be connected but don't want the distraction of a Smart Phone. It's basically the modern day equivalent of a pager, where quick and simple communication is prized above everything else. If you need this, then the M5 is definitely the way to go.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Undisputed Fishing Champion - Dad!

Last Sunday, My Dad, brother and I hit Fletcher's Cove for a bit of fishing. As usual, my Dad had the first and only fish of the day. He does it so dang effortlessly, pulling out a large mouth bass out of the C&O Canal as though it was no big deal. He followed it up with a few small sunfish.

I for enjoyed the picturesque scenery, and while I caught no fish, I did enjoy catching a few memorable photographs.

My brother and I also got a first hand lesson in how to spool new line on a reel. Who knew there ways to learn new skills without watching them on YouTube?