Monday, December 29, 2008

Driving Down Western Australia

I know this is out of order and overdue, but I'm still trying to catch up. The first part of our trip to Australia we drove down the West coast of Australia from Broome to Perth. Google says it's 2638 km. We put over 4000 km on the odometer. Good thing we had unlimited mileage on our rental car! It was a great drive - not too many tourists and lots of great country. Here are more pictures from this part of the trip. Sorry, there are quite a few, I got tired of whittling them down.

2008 Australia West Coast

And here's a map of our route:

View Larger Map

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Distrust of Movements

This article by Wendell Berry makes for interesting reading. I have to say I've had my own doubts about "movements". My question has always been what the alternative is.

* Thanks to Tim O'Reilly for the pointer to this article.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ktrak Christmas Gift

My business partner gave me an interesting Christmas present - a Ktrak add-on for my mountain bike. I think this is what you'd need in Vancouver right now if you wanted to ride your bike!

It was relatively easy to install. The only real problem was that I didn't have the right tool to move my brake disc so I ended up with no brakes. The front ski is optional, for downhill. You can ride uphill with it, but it's hard work!

Here's a video of one of my first test runs:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Recurring Mouse

Notice the tracks leading to the bottom of the tree.

The mouse obviously likes the bird feeder. She* seems to take up residence most afternoons now.

Now I'm reluctant to fill up the feeder because she won't be able to get inside, and obviously she likes it inside!

Those of you that have spent time and energy trying to eradicate mice will no doubt think I'm crazy.

* I have no idea if the mouse is male or female, but "it" sounds too impersonal.

Friday, December 19, 2008


If you're a climber it's hard not to be inspired by Fred Beckey. Check out the story and especially the video (better full screen) from the New York Times. I wish I could say I'd devoted as much energy to climbing (or anything, for that matter) as Fred. I can only hope that I'll be a fraction as active when I'm his age.

My first contact with Fred Beckey was through his guidebooks. As much as we appreciated having the guidebooks, we always ended up cursing them (and him) as an innocent sounding single sentence in the guidebook routinely turned into hours (if not days) of horrendous bushwhacking or tricky climbing.

I remember some years ago we were in the parking lot at Skaha (a climbing area near Penticton) and my friend Ian Marsh suddenly started pointing at a car in the parking lot and saying "that's Fred Beckey's car!". It was a nondescript car so I couldn't figure out how he would know. The answer was that there had been a picture of Fred and his car in one of the climbing catalogs that we used to spend our time poring over when we weren't climbing. Sure enough, Fred and an entourage of much younger climbers were at Skaha that day.

Second Class Citizens

Walking or riding my bicycle I often feel like a second class citizen. The first class citizens, of course, being the cars. Even when they do add sidewalks or bicycle lanes, there doesn't seem to be any consideration that they have to connect, and actually go where you might want to go. And then there are all the places where the "freeways" (funny choice of name when you think about it) virtually block any foot or bicycle access to large areas.

It's nice to see signs of this improving, like this article on WorldChanging:

Copenhagen, Melbourne & The Reconquest of the City

I wonder how some of these approaches could be adjusted for cold climates like Saskatoon. No one is sitting at sidewalk cafes at -30. Maybe we could design our malls using some of these ideas. (Not that I'm a big fan of our current malls.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Climbing Mouse

I went out to fill up the bird feeder the other day. As I walked up, I could see something inside the feeder, which seemed odd. It turned out to be a mouse! He sat inside, looking back at me through the Plexiglas side. He didn't seem too afraid of me. I left him alone and didn't fill the feeder.

It's been really cold here lately (-30c) and I wondered if it was looking for shelter. But thinking about it, it's got to be warmer under the snow. I guess he was just getting a free meal. But even that doesn't quite make sense because the birds scatter lots of seed on the ground, so there shouldn't be any need to climb the tree to get to the feeder. Maybe it's safer (e.g. from cats) in the feeder rather than on the ground.

I wasn't quite sure how he got inside. The gap that the seed comes out is quite narrow, only half an inch or so. That night I worried that it might have been trapped in there and maybe I should have let it out. I was afraid I'd find a frozen mouse in the morning. But it was gone in the morning, so obviously it can get in and out on its own.

Sorry, no picture - it was getting dark and it's hard to see inside the feeder. Instead, here's one from Flickr by yeimaya.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

2008 in Photographs

Amazing photos on The Big Picture, although it's sad to see the violence.

Sometimes I think I take some decent photos, but it's hard to compare to the best of the best.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

More Michael Pollan on Food

I recently mentioned a New York Times article by Michael Pollan on food. This video of John Battelle interviewing Michael Pollan is from the Web 2.0 Summit talks about that article and more.

They touch on lower gas prices and wonder, as I have recently, if lower gas prices are a move by the oil industry to sabotage the environmental advances that have been driven by high gas prices.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Week in Cuba

We just spent a week (Dec. 3 to 10) in Cuba. We usually try to get away for a week or so around our anniversary. Since we hadn't done as much diving in Australia as we'd hoped we wanted to go do some more. A package trip to an all-inclusive resort in Cuba was the cheapest, easiest option we could find. There was a dive place right in the resort and from all reports the diving was good there. And it was a direct flight from Saskatoon to Cuba, which was a definite bonus.

We were a little nervous about the "all-inclusive resort" part. The idea of hanging out with a bunch of people who were primarily there to eat, drink, and lie around just didn't seem very appealing. But we'd never been to one and we figured we could try it at least once.

We went diving every chance we could, two dives a day, except Sunday when they were closed, and the first day when we only got in one, for a total of 9 dives. The people at the dive shop were great, except for one guide (Carlos) who didn't seem very safety conscious. He didn't keep an eye on his clients, and each of the three times we went out with him he ended up having to share his air with a client to make it back to the boat. He seemed to think it was fine to end the dive with no air. (You're supposed to always have a safety reserve.)

We had our own mask, fins, snorkel, and wetsuits. The BCD's and regulators they supplied were ok but obviously old and well used. Many of them had minor leaks or issues. One morning Shelley went through 3 regulators before getting one that didn't have any leaks. Of course, the leaking ones went back on the wall to be handed out to the next person! I think if we came back to Cuba to dive I'd want to have my own regulator at least.

The resort (Sol Rio Luna y Mares) was near several other resorts, but otherwise there was nothing much around except farmland. You could take a horse buggy or taxi to the nearby town of Guardalavaca but there wasn't much there. On the Sunday when we couldn't dive we took a taxi to the nearby city of Holguin. (where the airport is.) It was nice to wander around and see a little of Cuba. Everything seemed pretty poor and run down. Most buildings had peeling paint.

There aren't very many tourists in Cuba outside the resorts. We only saw one or two in Holguin. Perhaps because of this (and the poverty) there aren't many restaurants or tourist shops. We stood in line for an hour to eat at a place called Venecia. The food was ok in the end, but nothing special. We thought the $60 bill was pretty steep but it turned out to be in local pesos, not "convertible" (tourist) pesos, so it only ended up costing $25 which was pretty good considering it included 4 glasses of wine. (a result of slow service!)

The resort itself was quite nice. They're still recovering from the recent hurricanes but most things are back to normal. The main buffet was ok but not inspiring. There was a reasonable selection but it wasn't exceptional to start, and then it sat there for hours. You could reserve at the a la carte restaurant or sign up for "special" dinners which were better. We ended up eating lunches at the snack bar despite their limited selection, just to avoid the buffet.

The drinking and partying didn't seem too offensive. Of course, after diving we were tired and tended to go to bed early. The music seemed to continue all night but didn't bother us too much.

The weather could have been better (and typically is this time of the year). It was cloudy much of the time and rained almost every day. The temperature was comfortable, but not hot. It didn't matter too much for diving (other than a few rough boat trips from the wind) but if you'd come to lie in the sun it wouldn't have been ideal.

We'd go back to Cuba again, to dive or maybe to see Havana, but I don't think we'll be rushing to go to another all-inclusive. It was ok, but just not our style.

2008 Cuba

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


I just listened to a podcast by Amory Lovins. It's so nice to hear someone strike a positive note. He makes it sound so simple and easy to solve our energy problems. And his solutions don't depend on government intervention or sweeping social change - just good business. Unlike most other optimists, he doesn't just retell the same few endlessly repeated anecdotes. (I'm never quite sure what these anecdotes are supposed to prove. So there's some little business in Nowhere, USA that's gone green. Sorry, but that aint gonna save us!)

As much as I'd love to be optimistic, my nagging doubt with what Amory preaches, is that people aren't rational. Even if all his science and economics are absolutely correct, that doesn't mean people will adopt them. Amory has been preaching his ideas for over 30 years and adoption seems painfully slow. However, there are positive signs like his work with Walmart to reduce energy consumption by their trucking fleet.

For more about Amory Lovins ideas, check out his Rocky Mountain Institute or his books or additional podcasts on the Conversations Network.