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Thursday, 4 April 2019

Early spring hiking

Now that ski season is almost winding down, my ski posts over at will slow, and I'll be back posting here.


More on that as we progress.

Spring has sorta sprung here, with limited new snow in the valley and temps in the teens (Celsius) some days. That opens up some hiking opportunities that are NOT climbs of my local mountains. Those are still mostly under a lot of snow, and often, subject to unpredictable wet avalanches. My version of mountain climbing generally doesn't start until June-ish.

On the bright side, there are a gazillion kilometres of valley-type trails with spectacular vistas that are cool in my 'hood, and I love the fact that all the "commercial" bloggers ignore most of them. The forecast (which ended up being wrong, as usual) was for sun and warm today, so we decided to start getting our summer hiking butts into shape.

We headed to a little-explored part of Kananaskis Country, the Yamnuska Natural Area. In truth, it's not a Natural Area any more, but is now part of Bow Valley Wildland Park. It's a large area of rolling, glaciated terrain, full of little ponds and lakes, and surrounded on 2 sides by big mountains. Most of the trails in here are either routes to climbing areas, or routes used by local horse outfitters for trail rides (and they are all unofficial and unsigned). And they are NOT well used. We used to have research cameras in here, but it was a waste, as so few folks walked by them.

We started our day at the garbage dump. Yep, there's a Class 3 landfill next to the park, and stuff (mostly plastic) blows out of the place and into the park -- but they have a guy whose full time job is to collect it. It was nice running into him; he advised that the expansion of the landfill changed the trails a bit. That meant the map & trail directions in Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis Country Trail Guide, Volume 3, page 125 was wrong.

Following his advice, we followed a weak trail along the new fenceline north, then east, then south, where we intercepted the old trail and could head on our way. We wandered through the "Hidden Valley" area, pleasant (if gravelly) walking near the base of the mountains.
The Hidden Valley's typical trail 
Mt. Yamnuska comes into view
The trail in here was mostly but not entirely snow free. On the bright side, someone had left tracks in the snow, so where the snow was deep (up to 2'), finding the trail and walking in it was easy.
Ice & snow here 
Yam dominates
There are some cool BIG trees in this area, but didn't feel like exploring for them.

There's no height gain of consequence in here, so the walking was fast. After about 90 minutes, we got to our first lake.
Crescent Lake appears 
Looking southwest to Mt. McGillivray 
Looking west to the Goat buttresses, a popular climbing area 
Our lunch view
The ice on the lake wouldn't hold the weight of a stone I threw onto it.

After a peaceful lunch, we continued east a ways, looking for the access to the beaver ponds. Suddenly, "used horse food" started appearing on the trail, and we found a large meadow I bet is used by Kananaskis Guest Ranch to do trail rides to. It's just above the beaver ponds, and a lovely spot for a picnic, I bet. The trail to the beaver ponds was obvious and not where the guidebook said it would be, so maybe there are multiple trails. There are a few large ponds that are very photogenic.
The first sight of the ponds 
At the water's edge 
An interesting perspective to Heart Mountain 
Dead trees have such style 
Looking back at Karen, looking up at Yam
I would like to come back to this spot with Karen's niece Llisa, who is a better photographer than me.

We backtracked to Crescent Lake again...
Still frozen
...went past Hilltop Pond, which really is on a hilltop...
Yates Mountain, with Barrier Lookout on the top
Pretty west view, too
...and descended to Reed Lake, one of the larger lakes in the area.
Dropping down off the hilltop to (frozen) Reed Lake
Not a small lake at all. No, I have no idea about fishing in these lakes.
Around here, "bad things" happened.

Short story, my foot started to hurt.

Long story, I have arthritis. Three years ago, it started to affect a toe in my right foot. That got worse, and made walking painful. In January 2018, I had surgery on my toe to fix the problem. I did one hike, in June 2018, and it hurt like he%& (I never even wrote about that). Turns out that surgery "didn't work" (a complicated story), needed re-doing, and I couldn't hike at all for the entire summer. I had a second surgery in September 2018 to fix the surgery that didn't work. Today was my first "real" hike since that surgery.

And 8 km into this hike, I was almost crippled. About every 50 paces, I got stabbing pain in my (twice operated on) toe. The farther I went, the worse it got. Shit. Here's hoping I can get it fixed, or my hiking in 2019 will be as limited as 2018.

We soldiered on. On the bright side, it was only 3 km back to the car. 

We took a side trip (on a VERY ill-used trail, but at least one marked with a cairn where we started) to yet another pair of lakes, called Twin Lakes.
Two lakes separated by a small isthmus 
The west lake 
The east lake
A quick jaunt between them got us to a powerline, where it was just 1.5 (very painful) kilometres back to the car.

This area is FULL of exploration opportunities. There aren't any "official" trails; there are a small set of ill-used "unofficial" trails, lots of off-trail wandering that can be done to explore things, and lots of cool lakes, fens, springs, bogs and other things to find. We did find a small grove of endangered Limber Pine trees in the Hidden Valley (there are more I am aware of on the west side of the landfill) so tread carefully.

None of these trails are hard. All offer beautiful vistas, solitude (I promise you will basically have them to yourself) and should be on hiker's lists of "things to do" -- especially when the peaks aren't climb-worthy.

What did surprise us was a lack of wildlife or wildlife sign. Aspen forests without elk gnaws, very few poop piles, few tracks, not one squirrel, and only a few interesting birds, like this Three-toed Woodpecker.
Making a mess, as usual 
Very cute
We did see this, and still have no idea who's poop it is. Best guess? Black bear.
Looks like partially digested pine cones
Visit the Yamnuska Natural Area section of Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park. You'll be glad you did. Read more about it on Gillean Daffern's Kananaskis blog here.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

An open letter to Tim Cook

I sent the following to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, yesterday.

Dear Tim;

I love Apple products. My first was a Mac 128, and I had a Mac SE on my office desk in 1989. I have owned a PowerBook 1400, an original blue clamshell iBook, a slate gray iMac, several MacBooks and MacBook Pros, and my beloved iPhone 4. My current slate includes a 2012 MacBook Pro (probably the best laptop you’ve ever made, your current claims notwithstanding), a 2011 MacBook Air, a 2008 iMac (still happily running OS 10.5), an iPad Mini 2, and a 2018 iPad 9.7.

My current iPhone is a 128 Gb 6, and while I like a lot of things about it, it is just flatly too big for my hand. I can’t operate it with one hand, which is critical for me; I am always dropping it or fumbling with it. I loved my iPhone 4, until it got so slow and so unable to run current apps that I had to retire it. I had high hopes for my 6 but... I hate it. It’s just too big for me.

Let me say that again: I, an Apple fan since the beginning, HATE an Apple product. I never thought I would say that. And the only reason I hate it is that it’s just way too big.

The 4” form factor on a phone is awesome for me; I can not use a bigger size. I appreciate that you try to continuously improve the customer experiennce, security and provide other features. But the short answer is that, as you make your phones bigger, my reluctance to use them increases.

Today, you announced a whole new range of iPhones in a bunch of X forms. Good for you. As an Apple shareholder, I appreciate you trying to improve the company.

But you discontinued the 4” form factor of the iPhone SE.

I was SO hoping you would continue it, and improve it. I would have been the first to buy one. But you didn’t. Now, the smallest phone you make is bigger, physically, than my iPhone 6, which is already too big for me. It would have taken nothing for you to introduce an iPhone SE based on the 7’s innards (much as it would be nothing for you to upgrade the pathetic processor and 7 year old technology in the Mac Mini — but that’s another conversation). You didn’t. You didn’t introduce a highly profitable, slightly better, moderately hobbled 4” iPhone for those of us who can’t stand bigger screens that make a phone impossible to use with one hand (your “double tap to cause the screen to move down” is a joke, you’ll have to admit). I cannot, and will not, buy a larger phone. From you, from Samsung, from anyone. 

So tonight, with the big announcement of your new XS, XR and others, do you know what I did?

I went on eBay and bought a 128 Gb SE. That’s practically no upgrade from my iPhone 6.  I bought it on eBay because, as of today, you stopped selling them. I would have happily bought a new iPhone SE 2 from you (or my local carrier) at some inflated Apple price. It is, after all, what I have been doing since the 1980’s.

But not today. As of today, you no longer make a phone I can use or now want. I would sooner have 6S technology in a form factor I can hold in my hand, than your state of the art technology, because the XS/7/XR/8 technology you offer doesn’t fit in my hand. Kinda basic.

I remain a shareholder. I think you will do well. After all, there’s more billlions to be made.

But, if I may make a suggestion or two: bring back the form factor of the SE and make it better. Upgrade the Mac Mini, finally. Keep the MacBook Air and make it better. Don’t take 3 years to make a Mac Pro. These are things that are SO simple, SO basic, and would be SO profitable, shareholders like me would appreciate them a bit. And users like me would appreciate them a lot.

Thanks for listening.

Monday, 3 September 2018

The Death of Greatness

As I wrote a while ago, I own a few watches. One of my faves that I have been using since I bought it in 1994 is my Avocet Vertech Alpin hiking/ski watch.

My trusty Vertech
As I wrote in that post:
When I moved to Houston in 1994, I took up flying ultralights, since the nearest gliding club was so far away. No ultralight I flew had any instruments, so I bought this watch on a lark: a Avocet Vertech Alpin, about $250 US when I bought it. It has an aircraft grade altimeter in it, and I flew with it for a year. It turns out this watch was designed for skiing and hiking, not flying. And it turns out I'm a skier and hiker. The watch records elevation, elevation gained, ski runs, and a bunch of other stuff. I have used it faithfully since I bought it 22 years ago. It's on it's second case and it's 4th set of straps (there's a strap for for winter and one for summer). Every 2 years I have to splurge ~$75 Canadian to send it to California for service and to put a new battery in it (it's gone for 4-6 weeks at a time when I do that). So since 1994, I've probably spent $800 keeping this watch running. Vertech sort of does but sort of doesn't make these anymore, so it's kind of irreplaceable. And besides, no other ski or hiking watch does what this one does.
My Vertech's battery died this year near the start of the hiking season (on the "bright" side, I'm not hiking these days because I'm broken, which is the subject of a separate post. So in July, I did what I always do when I needed a battery replacement: went to the Vertech website to download the latest info and form to send my watch in for service. Except...

Vertech is now officially out of business. As I type this, Vertech's website is now down completely. At least in late July, it was still shutting down. The repair dude -- Craig Maynard -- retired, and that was the end of the company.

I was lucky enough to get to Craig just before they disappeared. Here's what he told me:
Since I decided to retire, Avocet Service has closed it’s doors. Yet I am still servicing Vertechs for many long term customers.  The new ship to is:
Craig Maynard, PO Box 2288, Menlo Park, CA. 94026
Assuming you need just the basic service of a new battery, caseback o-ring and recalibration, the basic service is as before, $25 for USA residents* Cash or Check payable to me, which includes postage back to you. No credit card. Be sure to include your contact info including your ship to address, phone number, etc.  Also, let me know if you want it set for hiking or downhill skiing mode. 
*International customers, add $13.00. Canadian customers, add $10.00
The trick I see is that, as of this moment, if you're a "long term Vertech customer", you can't find Craig. All attempts I made today to find out how to get a new Vertech battery do not lead you to Craig, but to HTTP 404 Page Not Found errors. This is an issue, because to properly initializing and calibrating the altimeter, only Craig should be the one putting a battery in your Vertech.

Maybe you have a Vertech that just died and needs a battery. My hope in making this post is that it helps you find Craig, whom you can reach at vertechcraig[at]

I understand why Vertech ceased to be. As killer an altimeter and watch the Vertech was, its technology has been significantly usurped by various GPS based wrist devices including Apple Watch. That having been said, my brother's Apple Watch barely has battery life to track a whole ski day, never mind 2 years like my Vertech.

I hope this helps other Vertech owners.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

A Story of Friendship

When I was last in the Netherlands in 2011, I took the opportunity to catch a basketball game. You can read about it here.

It wasn't just any basketball game; two folks I knew from my Calgary Dinos team were playing pro in the Dutch league, and it was their two teams (Leiden & Groningen) playing in a playoff match. Our tickets were comped because we were crazy Canadians who came all the way to Leiden to see a game, Karen and I got interviewed and were on TV -- and that game was the indirect start of a wonderful friendship.

The next day, I blogged about groceries and houses and using pulleys to get things to upper windows -- all that normal stuff I blog about when I'm on vacation, that's only of interest to about 45-60 of you. On that post, I got a comment out of the blue from someone named Edwin.

Apparently, he heard about my blog from another Dutch basketball fan who somehow found and read my first blog about the Groningan game -- because Edwin's possibly Groningen basketball's biggest fan. Edwin said he liked my blog, and he started following me, providing really interesting insight to some of our Netherland questions and experiences.

For some reason, Edwin kept reading my blog after our vacation was over and we got home -- long after we got home. For the last 7 years, he's been one of my most faithful readers. I only occasionally post about basketball, so that hasn't kept us connected. Somewhere along the way, we also connected on Facebook (and Instagram and Twitter, too) -- there's more basketball stuff there, but not that much.

I started following his adventures with his young family. I learned of his two young sons (who were very young in 2011), and have watched him post his "proud papa" moments. I learned a little bit about his business of supplying bar coding & RFID equipment for businesses. We traded thoughts on politics from time to time, sometimes Trump and sometimes Brexit and sometimes just how the world was coming out. When I wrote my book in 2016, I autographed and sent one of my 10 free copies to Edwin. Social media created, and helped two people who had never met, cement a friendship.

Edwin was thrilled when he heard that my daughter was going to study in Groningen. Even though he lives ~2.5 hrs drive from there, Groningen's still his team, he still has season's tickets, and he gets up there all the time. He surprised her this spring and took her to a basketball game, much to her delight.

So meeting Edwin -- my dear friend of the last 7 years -- for the first time was a critical "must do" for us this trip. We arranged a day as soon as we arrived, one that worked around his family's camping trip to Tuscany (A CAMPING TRIP TO TUSCANY! I was SO jealous!). Edwin ever so kindly invited us to visit him at his home in Dinxperlo, a small town on the German border east of Arnhem. Karen and I were both pretty excited heading down on the train... but how would we find him?

I had seen many pictures on Facebook of Edwin, so kinda knew who I was looking for. But I'm not very photogenic and avoid posting pictures of myself wherever I can. We were less than 30 minutes away, and trading texts. I told Edwin that both Karen and I were dressed in pink. He texted back this from the train platform:
Edwin and his awesome son, Tim
Did I mention Edwin always looks cool? And I think Tim's looking even cooler.

Our day was wonderful. In addition to Edwin and Tim, we loved our time with Pelle and his wife Esther -- who was born and raised in Dinxperlo, and they live just a few doors down from where she grew up, surrounded by her family who also live in the town.

On our way from Dotinchem -- the closest train station -- to Dinxperlo, we passed a house flying a Canadian flag for some reason.
Dinxperlo sits on the German border. I didn't get any photos of it, but the border runs right down some streets and it marked with yellow X's. Street names and signs in Germany are in German, in the Netherlands in Dutch, but other than that, this is about as seamless as a border gets.

We enjoyed a genuine Dutch dining staple for lunch: chocolate sprinkles. You laugh. Tim and Pelle had to teach us how to make chocolate sprinkle sandwiches (they're called hagelslag). This is serious Dutch eats.
A photo stolen from the internet
Tim's technique is to take a crusty bun, poke a hole in it with a knife, swirl the knife around to make a hole inside, then pour in the chocolate sprinkles; Esther frowns on this. Edwin's more a "spread butter then pour on the sprinkles" kinda guy. Pelle liked milk chocolate, Edwin liked dark. Who knew there could be so many ways to eat this stuff?

It's a wonder the Dutch don't all weigh 300 lbs.

Tim showed us an exceptionally cool contraption that I have never seen here. He has a hoverboard; they're fairly common here. But he had this seat attachment for it that just looks wicked.
You can pull wheelies 
Boppin' at 40 km/hr...
I was tempted to try it, but let's face it -- I'm an old fart who breaks easily.

Edwin thought it would be fun to spend the day in Germany. First stop was the Schloss Watterburg in Anholt, an old castle turning into a high end hotel and private museum (all of 1 km as the crow flies from the border).
Entering the castle gates 
Let's hope those guns don't work 
The front door 
Edwin proving the original guards were not that tall 
Pelle doing his best guard impression
Next stop was the Rhine. In the Netherlands -- in reality, a country built on the Rhine delta -- the Rhine splits into 4-5 large rivers. Here, at Rees, just before the border, it's just one fast flowing megariver.
The promenade
I learned that the Rhine is not dammed all the way to it's source in the Swiss alps. Big snow or big rain can result in the river flooding, which it has done fairly often. There's a river gauge on the promenade, and a small plaque showing just one of the many flood heights. Even though I lived through a flood of epic proportions, I had trouble imagining the river being this high.
The water got to the little plaque to Pelle's left. That's 10 m above the river this day
Rees has very funky art scattered through town.
A bench on the promenade 
Just makes you wonder what he's looking at 
In a pond 
Pelle wondering what he's looking at
We had ice cream -- because it was a perfect day for ice cream, and why not -- and then, the ever handsome Pelle and Tim...
Cool dudes
... had to jump off a wall (and why not?).
Tim: Good height. Excellent arm placement. Judges rating: 9.6 
Pelle: More conservative. Safely executed. Judges rating: 9.7
Our final stop for the afternoon was Xantan (X is not a common letter in either Dutch or German). We were headed there to see the spectacular church and possibly the Roman ruins... but unexpectedly found the town a bit of a zoo, hosting a medieval festival. There were folks walking around wearing medieval garb...
Not typical Saturday wear
...on their way to jousting matches. Seriously. Right out of "A Knight's Tale".

The Church (St. Viktor's) was beautiful and a bit of peace in a town otherwise a little crazy. It's a biggie; the biggest north of Cologne, and was started in 1263, taking 281 years to build. 
The facade 
Exterior detailing 
Vaulted Gothic ceilings 
One of several alters 
Alter detailing 
The apse 
More of the cool ceiling
Tim had to take us to a candy store where he once bought a giant jawbreaker -- then proceeded to choke on it. His mom saved his life with the Heimlich manoeuvre.

Esther's not a fan of jawbreakers any more.

The candy store didn't just sell candy; it also was a duck store (what is with duck stores?).
The town is pretty and had interesting fortification walls and towers.
Nifty architecture 
We don't do pedestrian malls like this 
Town towers 

The other side. Imposing. 
Wall fortifications
They also have a windmill.
Very Dutch in Germany
Edwin told me that this area of Germany used to be part of the Netherlands hundreds of years ago, and shows lots of Dutch history.

We ran out of time to see the Roman ruins, but seeing Roman ruins wasn't why we came to Dinxperlo, so it didn't matter. We finished our day with a wonderful Mexican dinner (Mexican food in the Netherlands? Why not) with even better company.

Edwin, Esther, Tim and Pelle are wonderful folks; kind, gentle, generous, friendly, and pretty much everything else I've come to know about the Dutch. Edwin speaks something like 6 languages (I'm sure Mandarin's next), Pelle's, Tim's and Esther's English is excellent (seriously, Esther: take Italian lessons just for fun!), so we had a lot of fun trying to improve our pathetic Dutch pronunciation (no, Tim, I'm convinced we will never pronounce Scheveningen correctly. Groningen's hard enough!).

If I am very lucky, we will have convinced them to come visit me and my mountains sometime soon. It would be an honour to take them hiking or maybe see dinosaur bones.

I'm proud to call Edwin my friend.