Photo Friday: A Farewell to Mozzie

Mozzie and K

About a week ago, a Facebook message caught our eye. It was from the Friends of Animals adoption center, Furburbia, a classy operation up in Park City run by diehard dog lovers. The message said that a litter of Aussie shepherd puppies had come in unexpectedly, and they all needed to be moved out of the center and away from other dogs while their vaccinations took effect.

K– and I have a dog already. His name is Bodhi. He’s an intelligent blue heeler with resource guarding and other issues. Still, we’ve long wondered what would happen if we got a second dog, so we decided to foster one of the pups from Furburbia as an experiment.

We picked up the puppy on a sunny afternoon and brought her home. From the start she was sweet and mellow. A little nervous, but happy to snuggle in anyone’s lap. She was painfully cute. The prototypical puppy, with soft fur, floppy ears, and a happy little yap that came out during playtime. We named her Mozzie and spent the week getting acquainted, knowing all the while we weren’t going to keep her. It was hard though. She won over everyone she met with her excess of cute. Every once in a while, we crossed into the “what if” territory, but always pulled back. Our hands are full as it is, and our little rented bungalow is pretty well at capacity, too.

As for the Bodhi experiment, things went better than expected. The two would play for hours on end, Bodhi, at two years old, acting every bit as goofy and puppy-like as the ten week old Mozzie. A good sign for a future when we might be more ready to bring a second dog into the house.

Today we will say goodbye to Mozzie. A friend of a friend has already vowed to meet us at Furburbia when we drop her off in the afternoon, so they can be sure to get her before anyone else. It’s not easy to give her up, as she’s already managed to tangle herself up in our heartstrings, but it’s the way it must be. With that, I dedicate this Photo Friday to Mozzie the dog. May she have a long and happy life.

Climbing Narc: Harbinger of a Post Mag Era?

The Climbing Narcissist, aka Brian Runnels
The Climbing Narcissist, aka Brian Runnells. Photo courtesy of Brian Runnells.

Climbing Magazine was founded in 1970, and for most of the forty-two years since, print media has been the primary means of tracking the people, places, gear, and ascents of the climbing world. But no longer.

Today, print magazines are just another source amidst a rising flood of climbing media. The Internet is positively awash with information by climbers, about climbers, and for climbers, to the extent that, if one is so inclined, one can consume thousands of words, hundreds of pictures, and dozens of videos every week. For free. (In the months and maybe even years to come, this is one topic I’ll be returning to.)

But is it quality? you’d be wise to ask. The answer is the same here as with the Web in general: Some of it is, and some of it ain’t. Either way, it’s all out there, and you can search it, share it, comment on it, and more. There are videos, photos, podcasts. There are gear junkies, training nuts, and high-on-their horse pontificators. There are perspectives from pros, companies, moms, and everyone else in between. (Some people are excited by the diversity; others, not so much.) Thanks to the communicative powers of the Internet, climbing, like every other topic, is now displayed and picked apart in minute detail from a hundred different angles on a constant basis.

In this brave new world of climbing media, an unlikely hero has come to the fore: The Climbing Narcissist.

When he’s not wearing his blogging cape, the Climbing Narcissist is known as Brian Runnells, a twenty-eight year old software developer born and raised in Wisconsin. He started climbing twelve years ago and started his blog five years ago. In the beginning, says Runnells, he never expected the blog to take off the way it has. Today, he estimates his blog receives around four-thousand visits on any given weekday. Recently, Brian was named the number-one climbing blogger by Outside Magazine.

And as a surefire sign that The Climbing Narcissist has moved beyond the realm of pet project, the Narc has recently launched his very own iOS app. Below a quick Q&A with the Narc himself, a brilliant yet reclusive computer dork (that’s how I imagine him, anyway) with his finger on the pulse of the climbing world.

It looks like your new iOS app is basically a slicker way for people on an iPhone or iPad to get their climbingnarc.com updates. Is that correct?
That sounds about right.

Is there anything about the app that really changes the experience of browsing your site’s content?
As a native app, I think it provides a much more responsive experience and it makes it easier to really dive in to all the content I’ve built up over the years.

What was the motivating factor behind the app?
The main impetus behind doing it in the first place was a desire to broaden my skill set as a software developer.  I actually started working on the app over a year ago, but various factors led to it taking much longer than I initially expected.

Do you have middle/long-term plans for the app? Features and functionality you’d like to add?
I have a pretty long list of things I’d like to do with the app, but it’s difficult to come up with content for the site and work on the app at the same time, so we’ll see how that goes.

Who actually developed the app?
Much like the website itself, I did all the work myself.

Do you think this app will increase feedback on your site, since people will be able to read from anywhere (the bathroom for example, where there’s nothing better to do than weigh in on a climbing debate)?
I’m actually curious to see how that goes. I would hope that it would increase interaction, but typing on smartphones tends to lend itself to shorter responses. And commenting on the internet is already a perilous experience for moderators (me), so I’ll be keeping a close eye on that.

You’ve been voted Outside Magazine’s No. 1 Climbing Blog; how do you keep stardom from going to your head?
I whisper the words “stay brave and humble” to myself one hundred times each night before bed.

But seriously, how do you feel about that designation? Do you feel that you deserve it? Do you think the idea of a “top climbing blog” makes sense yet? Have we come that far?
I do put a lot of energy and passion into the site, so it feels good to have people recognize that in any manner. I think the idea makes sense, but like any good list one could argue endlessly about who/what deserves to be included. That’s ninety-five percent the point of those things anyway, isn’t it?

Since you are No. 1, does that mean you make enough money off of ads to quit your day job?
If the topic of my site were anything other than climbing, that might be true. If you know anyone that might want to advertise or needs help working on a web-related climbing project that pays actual money, please inquire within. Have computer, will travel.

Does your blogging ever interfere with your day job?
Almost certainly, but I’m a pretty good at multitasking.

Writing is painfully difficult for the Narc, as is climbing...yet he does a lot of both.
Writing is painfully difficult for the Narc, as is climbing...yet he does a lot of both. Photo courtesy of Brian Runnells.

I assume you started your blog out of personal passion — did you ever expect it to grow into something bigger like it has?
Not for a second.  I still remember the early days when I was super psyched to get ten, twenty and then one hundred visits in a day (even if eighty percent of them were me refreshing the page).  Even though the readership of my site is still small in relative terms, I do feel very grateful that it has grown the way it has.

What do you see as your role in the climbing media world? What are you offering that the climbing mags and their websites do not?
My main focus has always been to provide a personal perspective on what’s happening in the climbing world. Through that effort, I think I’ve been able to capture something many people identify with, which is why the site has achieved some modicum of success.

Do you think that print magazines are becoming less relevent as blogs grow in number and popularity?
Magazines everywhere have been marginalized by the internet — climbing mags are no different. I’m not sure what they need to do to keep up with the times, but I know I will be closely following what they do end up doing.  I do think they will always have a place though, but probably not as many of them as there are right now.

Have you encountered any issues with image-use rights? I have had several discussions about what constitutes acceptable use in the age of embedding and linking, and there are a lot of different perspectives. For example, do you feel there is anything wrong with citing a climber’s blog and embedding an image (that they did not take) from their blog in one of your posts?
I actually spend a lot of time thinking about this and I don’t know what the right answer is. I could go on about this for a while, but in general I try to limit my use of other people’s images, crediting them as much as possible when I do.  Whether it’s right or wrong I think most people recognize at this point that if they put a picture online, it’s likely to be used anywhere and everywhere. It sort of turns into one of these “everybody’s doing it” scenarios…

How do you keep track of all the news out there? Personally, I use RSS feeds, among other things, like IFTT.
RSS feeds are obviously a big tool, but social media has increasingly been a place where people are talking about climbing, so I spend a lot of time perusing those outlets as well.

Which of these terms/roles do you most closely identify with: Journalist, Aggregator, Blogger? And why…?
I don’t know what would be a good term, but the one I am most uncomfortable with is “journalist.” I’ve never pretended that what I’m doing abides by any tenets of journalism, and the reality is that little of what happens in the online climbing news sphere has much to do with actual journalism.

Having seen a ton of climbing news come and go in the past couple of years, where do you think the “sport” is headed? Climbing in the Olympics, for example…
The more I read about it, the more unlikely it seems that climbing will make it in the Olympics, but that would certainly be an interesting development on multiple fronts. Otherwise, I think there will likely be a lot of changes with regard to access issues, kids crushing, consolidation of gear companies and the like that should be very interesting to follow.

What do you see as the future of the Climbing Narc blog? Do you see it growing to include other writers, kind of like an Adventure Journal for climbing? Or will it always be you and you alone?
I think about the future of the site all the time, but I haven’t really come to any conclusions as to where it should go. I think the fact that the site has always been a solo venture has given it a lot of flexibility, but this has also limited the kinds of things I can do because one person can only do so much.  Do I try to press ahead and make the site into something more, do I keep the status quo or do I move onto something else?

Do you think it makes sense for bloggers like you to band together and sell ads across multiple sites, as a way to increase advertiser interest and reach a wider audience? Is this a direction you find interesting?
I’ve had discussions about this sort of thing with a few people over the years, but not much has come from it as of yet. I do think there is a lot of value a site like mine (and others) can offer to potential advertisers out there, but trying to frame the message and reach the right people in the industry has been difficult. The Internet in particular is a place where the industry is a bit behind the times in how content creators and companies can work together to create value for both parties.

What blogs and sites do you frequent most?
It’s hard to make a list since I actually visit very few sites directly on a daily basis. I try have as much information as possible pushed directly to me in one fashion or another. 8a.nu is probably the only site I actually go to regularly, although that might change if they make it any harder to browse their site. 

Anything else you’d like to add?
I think people might find it ironic how much I dislike writing given how much of it I’ve done the past five years. It’s almost painfully difficult for me and I’m not very good at it, yet I keep on doing it. Sounds kind of like my climbing career now that I think about it…

The Climbing Narc Now Has An iOS App

I, for one, am excited to check out the Climbing Narc’s new iOS app. Looks like climbing blogs are growing more and more advanced. I spoke to The Narc (aka Brian) about it and his blog the other day. I’ll be posting an interview shortly. Stay tuned…

[Video] How to Make Iced Coffee that Doesn’t Suck With the Toddy System

Among the many things I’m snobby about, coffee is pretty high up on the list, right next to booze, food, and writing. Coffee, though, is special. I can enjoy a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a meal at White Castle, or a page-turning schlocky sci-fi novel, but I will not stand for bad coffee. What do I mean by bad coffee? I mean Folgers, flavored coffees, coffee brewed (read: burned) in a cheap coffee maker and then left to turn lukewarm and acrid. I mean coffee that’s been watered down, polluted with non-dairy creamers, posioned with carcinogenic sweeteners… the list goes on. But today, I’m going to show you one way to make iced coffee that doesn’t suck: the Toddy Cold Brew System.

A lot of people make iced coffee by first boiling water, then hot-brewing coffee, and then pouring that over ice. This can be done properly (i.e., you must brew the coffee at double strength, as it will be watered down instantly when you add ice), but even then, it leaves the coffee tasting a bit acidic and sour. To make a tastier cup of iced coffee, I learned from my friend JD, founder of the Brooklyn-based Oslo Coffee, one needs to cold brew it. A misnomer, in that it actually takes place at room temperature, cold brewing is basically a long steeping of coarsely ground coffee in water. This method reduces bitterness and and acidity greatly, to the extent that the coffee becomes so mild in taste you can easily drink it without sugar or milk. Cold-brewed iced coffee is very tasty, but also dangerous — you might drink yourself into a state of uncontrolled vibration if given too much of the stuff. I know this from experience, dude.

The method JD used to make iced coffee in the shop was scaled for commercial purposes, but the Toddy is basically a consumer-grade version. The system is stupid-simple. You really could make one yourself were you so inclined to dig up the individual components. Then again, you can spend the extra twenty bucks and save hours of your life if you just buy the Toddy  System straight from the toddycafe.com. It’s also available on Amazon and other online retailers. The full instructions for using the system are here; I’ve based the times and measurements in the video, above, on these. They work well enough, though I haven’t experimented.

When you cold brew a batch of coffee in the Toddy system, it makes a large carafe of concentrated liquid. Unless you’re a hardcore addict, you must water it down before you drink it. The concentrate can be stashed in the fridge for a week or two. You can also heat it up in the microwave with respectable results — it’s certainly not as rich or complex as a hot-brewed coffee, but if you’re sensitive to acid, it’s much easier on the stomach. When it’s hot, I’ve noticed Toddy coffee tends to have a more herbal, tea like flavor profile, which might turn off some coffee drinkers, especially those used to dark roasts. According to the packaging, you can also make iced tea with the system, but I have not tried this, as tea is not my thang.

The video is both a way for me to communicate the use of the Toddy system, which I dig, and to practice the complex arts of shooting and editing video. Like most things on this blog (or in my life, for that matter), it’s an experiment. If you have comments or questions, please leave them below. I <3 your feedback.

No Time To Waste: Memories of Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith on the airport shuttle
Garrett (left) on the airport shuttle with his friend Dustin during the first leg of a long trip to Mexico.

We meet a lot of people in a lifetime. Most of them we forget within hours or even minutes of a first encounter. Those who stick with us are woven into our neurons by repetition, over the course of years, through shared experience — a parent, a significant other, a best friend from childhood, for example. But there is another sort of person, those with whom we share much shorter, simpler relationships, who leave unexpected impressions on us, too. Their presence sticks in our subconscious like a fine cactus needle unwittingly picked up on a desert walk. Only a brief encounter, but then, later — sometimes much later — we touch the spot where the needle has nestled and feel its sting. To me, Garrett Smith was one of these people.

Garrett died a year ago today in an avalanche. He we swept away in the backcountry, ironically and unbearably while testing snowpack stability. He was with his wife and several of his friends, experienced and cautious backcountry skiers.  His loss was particularly painful, because Garrett was only twenty-six years old. He was young and driven. He followed his passions — photography, skiing, and climbing, among many others — with an intensity few would or could match. It is cliché to say someone was taken in their prime, but here it is hard to avoid the expression. Married less than a year, just coming into his own creatively and professionally, Garrett seemed poised on the cusp of great things. But in the end he found himself on the wrong side of the line when that slope fractured and gave way. When his friends dug him out fifteen minutes later, he was already unconscious, unbreathing, without a pulse. They performed CPR enough to bring his heart back online, but his brain never followed. When his body arrived at the hospital, it had just enough life left in it to offer a final gift to the world of the living; his organs were given to others in need.

Garrett at the Hammers Inc. Art Festival
Garrett at the Hammers Inc. Art Festival, which he founded. The festival was another one of those things that a lot of people talk about doing, but that Garrett actually did.

Looking back, I didn’t know Garrett that well. Mostly, he was my co-worker. Less than a year after I was hired he passed. Our encounters were limited. We both went for pho lunches on Mondays with a small crew of co-workers, we both went to Mexico for an international climbing festival hosted by our employer, and I once participated in a photography workshop that he led in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Other than that, we spoke briefly around the office and nodded to each other on the train when commuting to work. Our conversations were never exceptionally personal, mostly snippets of camera and climbing chat. But still, his memory sticks with me. I feel its sudden twinge from time to time. I felt it just the other day.

*   *   *

Garrett was six foot seven, bass-voiced, with a ruddy nose that seemed always to be running, and a rotating selection of facial-hair configurations. He wore unorthodox outfits — Hawaiian shirts and sandals with socks, colorful scarves from the Middle East. After pre-dawn ski runs, he’d come into the office and work in his thermal underwear, one long-boned leg pronged unabashedly up on the desk, much to the chagrin of his co-wokers in neighboring cubicles. He was expansive in both physical form and in his passions.

Garrett bouldering in the distance
Garrett in the distance, climbing as my model during his photo workshop up Big Cottonwood Canyon.

One of the first times I encountered Garrett was on a northbound train, heading from Salt Lake City to Clearfield, where our office is located. On the bench seat, his knees came up towards his chest, like an adult sitting in a child’s chair. His bike rested next to mine at the end of the train car. He was quiet, and we didn’t speak. When we got off the train and mounted up, I started to pedal hard, interested to see how this lanky introvert would keep up. Within seconds, he had opened a large gap between us. I eased off a few blocks later, realizing I’d have to go all out just to catch him. Clearly, I was outgunned. Later, I learned he biked miles to and from the train every day, through rain and heat and the slushy Salt Lake City winter, all in an effort to save up for a car. But that was his way: he had plans and refused to compromise. At the time, I didn’t think much of encounters like these, but, it turns out, they were leaving impressions in my subconscious.

Now, Garrett’s memory needles me, inspires me not to just kick back in front of the TV with a beer at the end of the day, but to create something. He is one of the reasons I started writing this blog, taking photography more seriously, and believing that there is no time to waste when it comes to going after what you want in this world. The fact that he died while in the thick of this pursuit only makes me want to work harder, write faster, think bigger thoughts.

*   *   *

I went up into the foothills surrounding Salt Lake City the other day. It had snowed at elevation, but the valley was dry. I chugged up the steep, rocky path with my camera bag, my blue heeler Bodhi out in front. After a while, I arrived at the snow line. The cover was thin and muddy at first, but soon grew thick, until I was breaking trail shin deep. On the high ridges, the snow was up past my knees and every step was a battle. Even Bodhi, hyper-active by breed, looked exhausted by the slow, damp progress.

Salt Lake Valley panorama
The panorama I shot while hiking up in the foothills above Salt Lake City. Whenever I carry my camera gear into some remote or scenic location, I remember Garrett. (Click to magnify the image.)

Heart hammering and quadriceps burning, something triggered my memories of Garrett: flying away from me on his bike; in Mexico, loaded like a burro with bags of camera gear; in Big Cottonwood during his photo clinic, bounding over teetering granite blocks in search of the perfect composition. He was perpetually kinetic, happiest when he was moving forward, constantly working towards something. My bag felt lighter at the memory. I pressed higher, to a peak with a view of the entire valley. The whole of downtown was just a little pile of rectangles, with the Great Salt Lake laid out like an old, tarnished mirror beyond and the snow-capped Oquirrh mountains beside it.

I remembered some of the landscape photos Garrett had taken, which I hadn’t really appreciated until after his death, probably blinded by a stubborn sense of competitiveness. I stood in the snow with my camera and starting snapping, changing lenses and snapping some more, letting the snow melt and soak my pants and shoes. My fingers went numb but I kept shooting. Cold, wet, it was no problem; I’d be warm again as soon as I started moving. It wouldn’t have stopped Garrett. The light wasn’t perfect, and I knew the difference between me and Garrett is that he would have been up here hours earlier, just as the morning was igniting the valley in its first, golden light. He would have gone the extra step to get the shot.

I told myself next time I’d do it that way, too.

Click here for Garrett Smith’s portfolio on the Hammers Inc. Photography website

Click here for a nice post from the Adventure Journal on Garrett

Photo Friday: Seven Utah Bouldering Spots

This is actually a belated Photo Friday post. You’ll have to excuse me, as I was in Joe’s Valley bouldering yesterday and didn’t get around to putting it together. On the up side, I grabbed one more photo to add to the gallery. Unfortunately, I also grabbed a nice sunburn.

Every spot pictured below is worth a visit except Stansbury island. That area has very little good bouldering and is also home to an active shooting range. The geniuses who were shooting there during our visit did not seem particularly concerned with safety; from up on the hillside, we could see their bullets sending up dust plumes less than fifty feet from where we parked, seemingly outside the island’s loosely designated shooting areas. Of course, no one stopped shooting in our direction as we walked back to the vehicle, very visible in our brightly colored clothing and with a massive crashpad sticking up in the air. The constant echoing report of the bigger guns alone was enough to put us on edge for the few hours we were there.  Proceed with caution.

…And I guess I wouldn’t drive too far to go to the Ogden Boulders, either, although they do offer some good lines and are perfectly climbable on a sunny winter day.

One classic granite bouldering spot I frequent that’s not represented here is Little Cottonwood Canyon. Maybe I’ll get a LLC-specific gallery together for a future Photo Friday post. Until then…

Andrew B. working Resident Evil
Andrew B. working Resident Evil (V10), New Joe's, Joe's Valley, UT.
Nate W. warming up at the Ogden Boulders
Nate W. warming up at the Ogden Boulders, Ogden, UT.
An unknown climber on Golden, at the Triassic Boulders
An unknown climber on the moderate classic Golden (V1), at the Triassic Boulders, UT.
The Blockhead Lord posing down on some unknown hard problem in Moe's Valley
The Blockhead Lord posing down on some unknown hard problem in Moe's Valley, UT. Photo: K. Marine
Chris S. sending Ju (V7), on the Big Red Monster Boulder
Chris S. sending Ju (V7), on the Big Red Monster Boulder, Ibex, UT.
The Blockhead Lord on a random slab on Stansbury Island.
The Blockhead Lord on a random slab on Stansbury Island, UT. Photo: K. Marine.
The Blockhead Lord on an unkonwn arete problem outside of Moab.
The Blockhead Lord on an unknown arete problem near the Big Bend Boulders, outside of Moab, UT. Photo: K. Marine

Brendan Leonard Is More Than Just Semi-Rad

Brendan Leonard
Brendan Leonard: semi-rad, or all-the-way rad? You be the judge.

Brendan Leonard, writer and creator of the blog semi-rad.com, recently penned a very smart guest post on the Outdoor Research blog about the nature of sponsorship in the outdoor industry. His basic premise is that people passionate about the outdoors can be valuable as “influencers” and brand ambassadors, even if they are not totally rad at their activity of choice. In the article, he explains that Outdoor Research actually did make him a sponsored athlete — “The Least-Talented Sponsored Athlete in the Outdoor Industry,” as he puts it. Leonard’s article, like his blog, is well written and insightful, but there’s one very important thing he’s leaving out. He actually is rad, just not at the things that normally garner sponsored-athlete status.

First, it’s important to know that Leonard’s whole blog revolves around passionate people who do cool things that aren’t going to make the covers of “the mags” any time soon. The blog’s tagline is: “The Relentless Pursuit of the Everyman’s (and Everywoman’s) Adventure.” It’s as if Leonard looked at all the outdoor media, with all the faster/stronger/bolder pro-athlete profiles, and asked “What am I, chopped liver?” He isn’t the first person to feel that the things that inspire him about the outdoors aren’t the things he’s finding in the established media. But he is one of the few who are actually doing something about that disconnect. And he’s doing it well.

As a former magazine editor and current outdoor industry minion, I’ve fielded many article pitches and seen many sponsorship requests from people who are “semi-rad” (or even not-at-all-rad, which is something else entirely). The thing that makes one semi-rad person really exciting and another not, however, is storytelling. Can they write a paragraph, take a picture, or shoot a video that makes us feel the way they feel when their passions are up? That, for most people, is the missing ingredient. It’s easy to forget, but passions are like asses and elbows; everyone has ’em. To inspire — now that’s another trick altogether.

So getting back to Leonard’s article, yes, the semi-rad can be worthy of attention and even some level of sponsorship, but not just because they have passion. What Leonard is omitting in his own modest self-appraisal is that he is rad, just not necessarily at climbing or skiing or biking or whatever. He is a fully rad writer whose stories make people feel his passion. He’s published a lot of work and is a Contributing Editor for the website Adventure Journal and the Media Editor for Mountain Gazette. A great example of his rad writing can be found here, in this very personal post about the value of climbing as a replacement for other, really dangerous lifestyles, like alcoholism.

The truth is, having passion is great if you’re the passionate one, but if you can’t share it with the rest of us, that value can only spread so far. Luckily, there’s Brendan Leonard — a rad writer making a strong case for the semi-rad climbers of the world.


The Rise of the Anti-Ad


In the age of information overload, in the capitalist society of the United States of America, we citizens have become experts at blocking out unwanted messaging and detecting cleverly disguised sales pitches. Like an attractive woman at a bar, we are accustomed to being hit on, both crassly and creatively. Our evolving cynicism is matched only by the marketing world’s ever-growing arsenal of tactics.

We are locked in an arms race that will some day become so intense we will question the motives of every conversation we have or piece of media we consume. Was that chatty guy at the Starbucks™ really a guerilla marketing agent? Was that catchy song on Pandora developed by a mega-corporation to include subliminal messaging? It might seem extreme, until you consider the extent to which product placement has already infiltrated our wold. Brandspotters.com is dedicated to following this phenomenon. One of my favorite programs of the moment, Fringe, is a major offender, with whole scenes shot around the Nissan Leaf and then followed by ads for the Nissan Leaf.  In print media, it’s common for brands to create ads that mimic the editorial content surrounding them. In Wired, for example, ads tend to feature techy infographics, slick graphic design, and photos of technogadgets. I often get a paragraph into such sneaky advertorial before realizing what’s happened. It makes sense to do things this way, but it can also turn off a reader, make them feel they’ve been duped.

As a way around this, some advertisers have taken an entirely different tack, turning their ads inside out. Ads are being developed that at once call attention to their “adness” while simultaneously mocking the very idea of an ad: “Hey, this is an AD!!! Isn’t that ridiculous?! Aren’t ads lame? Isn’t the world crazy? Let’s all laugh…” This is the latest method savvy agencies have adopted to circumvent our bullshit detectors. Not only do we not tune these ads out, we welcome them into our homes, share them with our friends via Facebook, Twitter, and email. We quote them ironically in meetings or at lunch. Here, marketers serve us a tiny nugget of a brand message wrapped in an irresistible candy coating of entertainment.

The video anti-ads in this blog are, to me, much more interesting than the products they sell (body spray, mail-order razors, crap beer…). Their genius is in their irreverence and their focus on entertainment. The companies’ messages are pushed to the background (though still present, in an ironic way), so that we accept the ad as a piece of entertainment worth watching multiple times or sharing, as I am doing here. There is no escape.

So is this newest wave of anti-ads engineered for the social media age better or worse than the other forms that already saturate the world around us? I don’t have an answer, but at least we can all have a good laugh in the meantime.

[Video] Corey Rich – Deep North

This very cool video, set in far northern Alaska, features photographer Corey Rich and was shot almost entirely with Nikon D7000s. Amazing what can be done with a relatively affordable camera (and three pricey lenses…).

After you watch it, you should check out this post in which Corey shares his thoughts on the new Nikon D800 and why it has him psyched. I should be getting mine any day now (fingers crossed).

Telling A Story With Video — A Work In Progress

To practice rapid-fire shooting and editing, I made the above short video of my fiancée, Kristin, at work on a new painting. Kristin earned an MFA at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Art, in Philadelphia. Today, she works full time as a graphic designer, but tries to get some painting in after hours. Like me, she faces a constant struggle to remain creatively active, but I think we have both managed to find a tolerable balance. It’s better some weeks than others, but, as always, it’s a work in progress…

I took the basic order for the shots from a handy little article by University of Florida Journalism Professor Mindy McAdams. She describes a simple method for capturing a scene in just five shots. I’m fairly certain she didn’t devise this method (I’ve heard of similar approaches from other sources — in fact, there’s a nice BBC video on the “five-shot rule” here), but she does a nice job explaining it.

If you decided not to click the link, I’ll distill McAdams exercise here:

[In the case of a subject who is relatively stationary and using her hands]

  1. Shoot the hands up close (tight)
  2. Shoot the face up close (tight)
  3. Pull back and get a shot showing hands and face together (medium)
  4. Shoot over the shoulder (medium)
  5. Shoot “something else,” typically from a wider perspective

In making the short video above, which would typically be  just one scene in a longer documentary-style piece, I considered this approach and tweaked it a little based mostly on my own gut. I do not believe in any hard and fast “rules” about communicating, whether it be via video or the written word, or any other form or medium. We can get our point across in many different ways, and strict adherence to rules or formulas, although it can save time and effort, is a good way to bleed the life out of a story. That said, starting with a solid understanding of the basics is really a must for any aspiring creative.

As you can see in the stills below, I used more than five shots, but the basic ideas were covered:

1. Close-up of hands at work.

2. Medium shot showing hands and face (notice I skipped the suggested tight shot of the face — that comes in later).

3. Vertical pan on the painting. Again, this is not in keeping with the suggested five-shot order, but I felt it made sense to show the piece up front, for context.

4. Back on track, here’s the sometimes-tricky “over the shoulder” shot. I think it works well enough.

5. Because mixing paint was the first tight shot, I figured it would make sense to do a second, this one focused on the act of painting. I like the precision with which Kristin paints.

6. This shot falls between tight and medium, in my estimation, but it’s probably closest to what McAdams identifies as “something else,” a creative shot that adds visual interest to the edit. Kristin was interested to see it, as she didn’t realize she held the brush so high up. “It looks like Japanese brush painting,” she said. It’s her favorite shot and mine.

7. Here, I decided to go back to the face (what would be the second shot in the McAdam’s method). Not sure why, really… In retrospect, it may in fact have made more sense to put it up front.

8. A quick cut to an even tighter face shot. If I could lose any of the shots in the piece, it would be this one, as I don’t think it adds any information that shot No. 7 didn’t already convey.

9. To close out, I decided to give the contextualizing wide shot, which is how McAdams suggests finishing the a sequence. It’s not the most interesting image, and informationally it overlaps with the pan in my third shot, but I like how it gives a sense of scale — this is quite a large painting!

In the end, I used nine shots instead of five, although I’ll admit that for this very basic sequence, eight or even seven would have sufficed. I have shot and edited much longer, more complex videos, but as I’m self-taught, I try to go back and brush up on basics regularly. Like a lot of media makers in the digital age, I learned quick-and-dirty at the U of Hard Knocks. Without going back and practicing fundamentals, it’s easy to get caught in a big project with shaky foundations.

Always curious to hear what rules of thumb you use when telling a story with a video.

Photo Friday: 11 Shots from Oz

Years ago, I took a trip to Australia for my friend’s wedding. I took a month for the trip, so I’d have time to go climbing and exploring the countryside. I rented a Subaru in Sydney, learned to drive stick and drive on the wrong side of the road, and went on a mini-walkabout. It ended up being one of the greatest trips of my life. (Up there with the trip where I proposed to my fiancée in Paris, a trip to Greece with my parents when I was in my teens, and the RocTrip China trip.) I could easily write a five-thousand word travelogue about my time in Oz, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. Instead, I’ll share a few selected photos of the thousands I took. Happy Photo Friday!

A view of Sydney Harbor
So first I flew to Australia and got a hotel in Sydney. I was sure to find one with a nice view of Sydney Harbor and its famous bridge, which offers tours up on top of the arched supports.
Roos on the horizon
Then I drove out to the countryside for my mate's (that's Aussie slang for friend -- "G'doy, moite!") wedding which was at a nice country club. On the way, I passed a lot of roos. That's Aussie shortspeak for Kangaroos. Roo bangers are not people with a kangaroo fetish, but sausages made out of kangaroo meat. (Think: bangers and mash, the British dish... Australians are descended from British stock, you know!)
Wallaby and wallababy
Here's a shot of a roo and its joey (joey means offspring -- love it!). These were plucking around country club. They're as common as deer on the East Coast of the US, but much cooler to watch. I mean seriously, they jump to get around. Crazy!
Taipan wall in the Grampians
This is the Taipan wall, a climbing area in the Grampians, which is a National Park. (If you look closely, you'll find a climber in a red shirt hanging on rope somewhere on the wall.) Taipan may be the single raddest sport climbing crag in the world. The routes are long (150 feet or more), runout (in Aussie fashion), and ascend gorgeous lines on perfect sandstone pockets, edges, and slopers. I traded belays with some locals and a nice Austrian couple who were on an around-the-world climbing trip. Lucky there were there, as I was all flying solo on this trip.
Taipan under moonlight
Taipan under moonlight.
Herpin' at Hollow Mountain
Herpin' at Hollow Mountain. Here, Klaus, one of the Austrians mentioned above, holds one of the Grampians-area lizards, of which there were many. We found this one just around the Hollow Mountain Cave area (see below). No reptiles were harmed in the making of this photo.
Klaus goin' for it in the Hollow Mountain Cave
Here we find Klaus goin' for it in the Hollow Mountain Cave. This V8 sat at the very lip of the 40-foot deep cave and guards the end of the famous Wheel of Life, which is boulder problem / route that was originally graded V16 by Japanese climber Dai Koyomada. I think Klaus sent this rig. I can't remember.
Chris Webb Parsons gunning for Wheel of Life
Here's a shot of one of the locals I climbed with. His name Chris Webb Parsons. While I was in the Grampians, he was very close to sending Wheel of Life (pictured here). When I had to head back to Sydney, he handed me the keys to his house in Sydney and told me I could crash a few days until my flight left. He was going to stay and work on Wheel, he explained. I did, and he did, and then he sent the Wheel, which was, I think, its second ascent. Helluva nice guy and really very strong, too.
Flower field
After a week in a tent at the Grampians, I started to get a little funky. On the way to find some showers in town, I drove past this nice little scene. Australia is full of vistas like this. Because the population density is so low, it's not uncommon to get a view without any man-made structures. Oh wait, there's a barn there in the distance. Never mind.
The climber's life
Another one of the nice locals who made me feel at home. This fellow had a nicely appointed climber's road-trip van and a plucky pup to go along with it.
Syndey Aquarium
Before heading back to the States, I decided to take advantage of my time in Sydney and hit the aquarium there. I haven't been to many aquariums, but this one seemed excellent. Here, the sharks get to watch the people watching them, thanks to a handy glassed-in walkway.

Couch Crushers to Widgeteers: 10 Climbing Personality Types Identified

Society has long applied the blanket label “climber” to a motley assortment of vertically inclined souls. Indeed, “climbers” have been so often lumped together, despite deep and obvious differences, that it’s easy to forget just how many types and subtypes there really are.

There are the obvious categories, of course — alpinists, sport climbers, trad daddies, blocanistas, and so forth. But if you climb long enough, you will start to notice another layer of divisions beneath these divisions — personality profiles that cut across climbing-style lines.

Here, an abridged and alphabetical list of ten common climber personality profiles. Pay attention, as you will encounter these personalities at the crag or the gym, at the coffee shop and the campground. They will mystify and amuse you. You might even recognize yourself in one or a couple of these groupings. In the end, they are loose categories certainly in need of refinement. If you have noticed some personality types not listed here, please help make this a living document and add them in the comments.

Couch crusher
The Couch Crusher can hardly be bothered to get up… unless it’s time to take a dump on your project.

Couch Crushers (aka Naturals) — This rare breed’s strength and skill are unaffected by a lack of practice, fitness, or sound diet. No one is more envied than the Couch Crusher, who can often send the Self-Worther’s project after a six-month break from climbing during which the Self-Worther cross-trained, lived off of kale and unsweetened yogurt, and took expensive dietary supplements of dubious origin. Perhaps because it comes all too easily for the Couch Crusher, this type is easily distracted from climbing by career developments, romantic relationships, drugs, or even other sports.

Elites — Elites focus their efforts on the hardest climbs and rarely deign to interact with other types at the crag or gym. Though they pretend otherwise, Elite’s believe in the inherent value of their status and view the climbing world as a meritocracy centered around finger strength. They band together and share stories of hard climbs, secret areas, and the injuries that keep them from reaching their full potential. If complemented on their performance on a difficult climb by a non-Elite, an Elite will downplay their own achievement in a show of false modesty while secretly feeling a sense of validation, powerful fuel for the Elite climber’s ego fire.

High Rollers — High Rollers are middle-of-the-road climbers with high-end incomes. Their interest in climbing is genuine, but they often seek shortcuts to improvement, such as paying exorbitant fees to Elites for private climbing lessons. Because their careers, relationships, and other interests keep their calendars well inked, they rarely stick to a climbing schedule long enough to truly excel. They are often sought after as investors for start-up rock gyms, climbing apparel companies, or climbing magazines. They can be found in luxurious accommodations near popular climbing areas with Elite climbers as their guests. One interesting subset of the High Roller group is the Industry Maven — the owner or head of a successful climbing company — who is, perhaps, the highest ranking character in the perceived hierarchy.

IKEs — An acronym for “I Know Everything”, IKEs can recite move-by-move Beta for every route you’ve ever climbed, thought about climbing, or read about in a magazine. They are supremely self-confident in their grasp of training techniques, performance diets, as well as climbing history and gossip. Strangely, IKEs themselves are rarely accomplished climbers and tend to spend much of their crag time hanging out on the ground and proffering unsolicited factoids to anyone within earshot.

Original Climbing Gangsta
You can’t pull one over on the Original Climbing Gangsta! Chalk hadn’t been invented when he started climbing. They used dirt, and they liked it that way.

Original Climbing Gangstas (OCGs) — OCGs are climbers who take great pride in their long climbing careers, the inordinate length of time they’ve been able to maintain dirtbag status, and their (often apocryphal) connections to well-known climbers of bygone eras. They can be heard declaring that “new” routes or problems in their local areas were actually done years ago, without the aid of chalk, sticky rubber, or boar’s hair brushes. Many OCGs, despite their relatively advanced age, enjoy pontificating on Internet forums on topics such as “The Decline Of Climbing’s Moral Fibre In The Age Of Gyms,” “The Dangers Of Locking Assisted Belay Devices And Other Spawns Of Laziness,” and “Barbarians At The Gate: Roustabout Youths Are Ruining My Crag.” They also enjoy posting grainy, scanned black-and-white photos of themselves in proximity to real-deal OG climbers, i.e., Fred Beckey, Henry Barber, Jim Bridwell, etc.

Purists — With upturned nose, Purists look down on some types of climbing (typically sport climbing, gym climbing, and bouldering), while holding up certain other types as high expressions of the sport (light-and-fast alpinism, bold traditional climbing, ground-up new-routing with a hand drill, rack of nuts, and hobnailed boots). Purists, however, come in many forms. Less common variants include sport climbing Purists, who eschew the use of stick clips or knee pads, and even chop bolts or remove “permadraws” when they deem them unnecessary. Bouldering purists believe that short, un-roped, exceedingly difficult climbs are the most direct means to experience climbing. Habitual free-soloists are, de facto, Purists, and come in three forms: 1) Zen-like in their acceptance of death, 2) compulsively drawn to the brink of self-annihilation, or 3) willfully ignorant of the deadly stakes of their activity.

Self-Worthers — These climbers base their personal worth on their prowess on the rocks or in the mountains. The result: severe frustration when faced with a climb that “isn’t their style,” competitiveness when encountering a climber of similar skill level, dismissiveness upon hearing of other strong climbers, and depression when injured or otherwise unable to climb. Self-Worthers, basically climbing addicts, are unable to experience more than fleeting moments of joy when climbing. It has been observed that Self-Worthers are incapable of holding anything more than a passing conversation without identifying, by number grade, how hard they have climbed. When under-performing in public, the Self-Worther will compulsively generate excuses, such as, “This is my fifth day on,” “I’m still recovering from a blown tendon,” or “I ate a cookie yesterday and I feel fat.” On bad days, they will share these excuses before climbing. These “prescuses” help relieve the pressure they feel at climbing in front of others. Another close relative of the Self-Worther is the climbing addict, who may or may not base their happiness on climbing, but nonetheless cannot moderate the impulse to climb. The end result is typically injury, career suicide, and relationship meltdown.

Soul Climbers (aka Unicorns) — Like the hover board from Back To The Future, everyone wants to believe that Soul Climbers are real. Alas, little hard evidence exists to support this belief. Several reported sightings have later been revealed to be climbing addicts with outwardly mellow demeanors and dreadlocks.

The Trainer in action
The Trainer, seen here getting “ripped” for “climbing”.

Trainers — These muscle-bound souls can be seen obsessively pushing their physical limits at the gym or the crag, climbing with weight vests, pumping iron, campusing, and strapping in to semi-legal electrical muscle stimulation devices imported through Eastern Europe’s grey market. They drink protein shakes and pop glucosamine chondroitin, vita-packs, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories to keep their bodies going past the point of exhaustion. Trainers ostensibly train in order to climb harder, but can lose sight of climbing and become obsessed with the cleansing act of self-mortification through extreme physical activity. This subtype is common amongst mountaineers and alpinists, as masochistic tendencies is integral to these types of climbing.

Widgeteers — Obsessed with the gear of climbing as much, or more, than with climbing itself, the Widgeteer will routinely divert the majority of his or her paycheck to the purchase of draws, cams, stickclips, Big Bros, prismatic belay glasses, Ball Nuts, grip strengthening devices, crampons, rope bags, and so on. Ironically, though Widgeteers are well-versed in the intricacies of load distribution, impact force, and lobe geometry, they rarely have as keen a grasp of the physiological techniques of climbing itself.


First Encounters With the iPen: A Real Stylus for the iPad. Or Is It?

The iPen with its receiver and a "refill" nib

The iPad is undoubtedly the king of pads (a dubious title if I’ve ever heard one). Although it certainly wasn’t the first tablet, it was the first tablet to achieve widespread acceptance. The iPad’s simple, “just works” interface (Apple’s hallmark and greatest asset) has enabled users to… to… well, I suppose it’s allowed them to “surf” the “net,” check email, watch videos, listen to music (and more!), all from the palm of their hands. Both hands. Or more realistically, their laps. Their laps where their laptops used to go.

Hm.

Well, iPads do have touch screens and killer battery life. At any rate, I have one, and I’m pretty psyched on it, even if it doesn’t do all that much that my laptop, desktop, and even my Android phone can’t do. Now that I think about it, it’s weird how much I like it, considering it’s almost completely redundant. (It does really shine when I’m traveling. And I like reading books on it.) But there’s one thing I always felt would add a lot to the iPad, and that’s a real stylus.

iPen with iPad
The "active" stylus setup: a battery powered pen with a receiver that plugs into your iPad and pics up the pen's location.

I bought one of those crappy capacitive stlyli from the Internets about a year ago. My fiancée sighed when she found out. “What’d you get that for?” she asked. I explained how fat and dumb my finger felt when taking notes or making sketches on the iPad. I explained the need for a finer point and better control. “How cool would it be if I could use the iPad like a pad of paper — you know, to take notes in a meeting or edit PDFs onscreen. It would make the iPad, like, nearly perfect!” She rolled her eyes, which was the correct response. I’ve hardly used the thing. Every time Ido use it I’m amazed at how litte demonstrable improvement it offers over my fingertip.

So when I came across the Cregle iPen on Kickstarter and watched the compelling video, I scrambled to place the order. (Well, my fiancée placed the order, as it was to be a Christmas gift. I guess I convinced her the iPen was better than the other stylus I bought.) At the time, the fundraising goal had already been more than tripled. (At close, the project raised $162,333, more than 500% to goal.) I pledged my $70, was excited for about fifteen minutes, and then forgot all about it. Until I started getting the emails.

Over the next three and a half months, I received seventeen thirty-two emails from Cregle. There were delays. Problems with Apple. Talk of refunds. Talk of which apps the iPen would work with. About a week ago, I started inquiring about a refund myself, thinking perhaps the whole project was taking on water. There was this disheartening post on theverge.com about Cregle not really being a start-up, the iPen not really being the first active stylus for the iPad, and other shady business. In fact, there may be shady business going on, but I no longer care, because today I got my iPen.

The tip of the stylus
The tip of the stylus

Just so you understand the theory, the iPen is an “active” stylus, meaning it feeds additional information about its location to the iPad, rather than just interacting with the iPad’s capacitive touch screen, like the above-mention crappy stylus. To make the iPen active, Cregle employs a two-part system. The stylus itself is battery powered and holds at its tip a nib that moves slightly in and out with pressure. The second component is the receiver, which is a rectangular block about the size of a pack of gum that slots into the the UART port (the charging port) on the bottom of the iPad. The receiver picks up on the pen’s location and relays that information to the iPad. In theory, this should offer a very fine-grained location awareness and, thus, a more accurate stylus experience.

I’m looking forward to putting the iPen through its paces and writing in more detail, but having played with it for ten minutes, I can already make a few observations.

  • The stylus itself is stylish and comfortable to hold.
  • The iPen works, but it is not a perfect or seamless experience. Sometimes it will stop writing, or loose sensitivity and need to be re calibrated.
  • However, when it does work, the sensitivity and accuracy are much better than with capacitive styli or a fingertip.
  • For truly taking notes, as with a pen and paper, the iPen is still not there. It reminds me of writing with a ballpoint pen that periodically stops writing and then starts flowing again; it’s not impossible to write with, but it is hard to get into the rhythm of it.
  • Something strange: the iPen came with two “refill” nibs that go into the end of the pen, and a little metal tweezer to extract them. What happens to these nibs that requires them to be replaced, I can only imagine.
  • Due to the “active” stylus design, the iPen is only compatible with a few apps. Cregle claims to be working with developers to get support for more apps, the most exciting of which is probably Procreate. Autodesk SketchBook Pro and Brushes support would be great, too. But at the moment, the only compatible apps are GhostWriter NotesGood Notes, and iWriteWords.
  • I get the sense that GhostWriter Notes, which is the only one of the compatible programs I have, is not the best. UPad seems better, and I’d love to try the iPen with another app, as it may be that some of my issues are software and not hardware related
  • Probably the best thing about GhostWriter Notes is the Evernote compatibility. I depend on this app for my day to day writing and thought storage.
The receiver
The receiver, which picks up the pen's location and relays it to the iPad. Unfortunately, this approach means that only apps specifically made to work with the iPen will know what to do with the signal.

At this point, I couldn’t rightfully say whether the iPen is worth the money. (One doesn’t, or shouldn’t, go in on a Kickstarter project expecting perfection.) But I think the iPen is a very interesting concept that’s relatively well executed. My guess is that additional and more-advanced app support will improve the experience greatly. And the next generation iPen will probably offer improvements in accuracy, consistency, and maybe even some additional features, like pressure sensitivity.

I’ll write and doodle with the iPen for a while and then report back. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions or hear from others who get early release versions of the iPen from Cregle.

Daniel Woods Crunches Numbers at the Rock Rodeo and Comes up with 76… AGAIN!

Daniel Woods – Hueco – 76 V-Points from Louder Than 11 on Vimeo.

This video gives a clear picture of what cutting-edge bouldering looks like in 2012. The formerly bleeding edge of difficulty is now just a stop on a circuit. This is the way of progression — nothing new, really — but it somehow it never grows old. In the vid, you’ll see Woods send the following:

  • Nagual (v13)
  • The Machinist (v14)
  • Crook by the Book (V14)
  • Phantom Limb V12)
  • Full Monty (V12)
  • Two Days With Gene (V11)

Worth noting is the fact that Daniel scored the same amount of points when he won the Hueco Rock Rodeo last year, though with five V13s and one V11. He increased his peak difficulty, but not his average. In the 2011 Rock Rodeo, Woods sent these problems:

  • Li (V13)
  • Liane (V13)
  • Mo Mojo (V11)
  • Evangelion (V13)
  • Slashface (V13)
  • Crown Royale (V13)
Daniel Woods, Champion
Daniel Woods, champion once again. Photo: © J.Roth

Oh, and in 2010, Woods ALSO scored 76 points, but with a higher high point than even this year. (Oddly consistent, isn’t he?) Here’s his ticklist from that comp:

  • Desperanza (V15)
  • Alma Blanca (V13)
  • Tequila Sunrise (V12)
  • Loaded Direct (V12)
  • Barefoot on Sacred Ground (V12)
  • Diaphanous Sea (V12)

And while we’re one the topic of Daniel Woods and his incredible powers of crush, it appears he recently declared his intent to climb Jumbo Love  (5.15b; unconfirmed, since no one has yet repeated it), Chris Sharma’s king of the king lines. How do seventy-six V-points translate to a monster 250-foot 5.15b? I, for one, am excited to find out…

What’s for Breakfast? Sunday Super Sandwich

what's for breakfast?

A brief commentary on the state of eating habits in America:

The more I cook, the more ridiculous I find the idea of going to a restaurant to purchase an egg sandwich or a hamburger. If you’re at a sit-down spot, you’ll almost certainly pay four or five times more than you would just making it yourself. Plus, if you put any effort into cooking at all, you’ll probably make something better (or more to your liking, at least) than what they’re charging a premium for at a restaurant.

Not to mention the fact that cooking is an art form and an activity that brings family members together.

Do you have kids? Get them involved. Teach them what real food looks like, where it comes from. This is the topic that food crusader Jamie Oliver has been hammering away at for years now. (Skip to 11:15 in the video link preceding, if you want to see how much some kids know about real food.) If you cook with fresh ingredients (stuff that doesn’t come in boxes and last for months or years without being frozen), you’ll be hard pressed to make food as bad for you as an average fast food meal. Plus, the more time you spend doing something creative that doesn’t involve watching a screen with your kids… well, I don’t even have kids and it seems obvious to me how important this is.

And if you have a significant other, cooking is a great way to spend time together. Shopping for fresh ingredients, cooking, and eating are all sensual acts. The texture and smell of aromatic vegetables and herbs being diced and chopped on a cutting board. The synthesis of flavors that a well-prepared meal offers — each one standing alone and yet complimenting the others. The intimate moment of eating in your own home something you worked to create together. It’s far less pretentious and stuffy than a meal at Del Posto, and far more affordable, too. It’s the simple acts, really, that are the most profound. Cooking is one those basic human actions that have shaped and defined cultures and families for millenia. For god’s sake, just do it.

And while you’re at it, read this book, before it’s too late.

Now, the answer to the question: What’s for Breakfast?

Today, my fiancée and I constructed a luxurious breakfast sandwich (see picture at top). Not healthy, per se, but a nice Sunday morning indulgence after a long work week of yogurt, oatmeal, turkey sandwiches, salads… Today’s sandwich was a play off of the classic bodega bacon, egg, and cheese I ate three days a week while living in New York City. I thought it would be nice to mix in some Southwest flavors (guacamole and jalapeno). Only after we finished making it did I realize how much it resembled The Southside Walnut Café’s Sunrise Sandwich, which we ate regularly while living in Boulder, Colorado.

Making this sandwich was simple (as sandwiches tend to be!). Here, step-by-step instructions to get your through the first time:

  1. Make or buy guacamole. We happened to have a container of Whole Food guac in the fridge and we wanted to use it up before it went brown
  2. Start some dry rubbed, thick cut, nitrate free bacon in a skillet over medium heat
  3. Warm another skillet over medium and coat with butter or oil, depending on your taste (careful not to burn!)
  4. Slice as much good, sharp cheddar cheese as you think you’ll want on your sandwich
  5. Put two slices of your favorite bread in the toaster, but don’t push them down yet… (We used slices of a French boule, which is an airy, crusty white bread)
  6. Crack some eggs (I had two on my sandwich) into the buttered or oiled pan, which should be hot by now. I broke the egg yolks to get more even coverage, mixing them around in the whites with the corner of my spatula.
  7. Flip your bacon, if it’s ready.
  8. When the tops of the eggs are starting to firm up, but well before they are dry, fold them in half, so you have semi-circular shapes in the pan… like mini omelets.
  9. Wait a minute and then place your cheese slices atop the egg semi-circles
  10. Push down the bread in the toaster
  11. Check the bacon. If it’s done, put it on a plate lined with a paper towel, to absorb a little of the excess grease
  12. When the cheese is melted, put one of your eggs onto the bread (it has popped up by now, hasn’t it?)
  13. Then break a slice of bacon in two and put the pieces on to of the egg on the bread
  14. Slide the other egg on top of the bread, egg, cheese, and bacon stack
  15. Put another slice of bacon on top of all this
  16. Coat the other piece of bread with guacamole (freshly sliced avocado will do, too)
  17. Embed the guac with as many jalapenos as you see fit (their bright, spicy flavor really balances out the sandwich!)
  18. Put the two halves together, serve and enjoy.

We ate ours sans sides… just some coffee and some seltzer with lemon. Nearing the limits of sandwich perfection! What about you? What do you love to make for breakfast?

Photo Friday: Get Thee To Antelope Island

A view of Antelope Island from the entrance before the causeway
A colorful view of Antelope Island from the entrance area before the causeway, which bridges a pungent expanse of the Great Salt Lake.

It is a strange phenomenon when people who live very near to something extraordinary pay it no mind. I call it local’s apathy. I myself have suffered from local’s apathy. I lived in New York City for eight years and never once visited the Empire State Building or the Statue of Liberty. I went to the Natural History Museum and Times Square twice each.

Now that I live in Salt Lake City, I make it a point to check out as many of the cool parks and preserves as possible, from the Shoreline Bonneville Trail to Arches National Park. In part because I’m new here and apathy hasn’t yet settled in. But also because I keep encountering people who have been here their entire lives without visiting the amazing natural places Utah has to offer. Antelope Island is one of those places.

My fiancée holds a romanticized vision of the American West close to her heart, so Antelope Island is a fantasy land for her. There are rolling vistas textured with decomposing stone outcrops dating back to the dinosaur age, an unlikely herd of America Bison nearly 800 strong, an old settlers’ farmhouse kept up for educational purposes, and a wild view of the Great Salt Lake, one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water. (And yes, there are also Antelope on the island.)

And all of this is just thirty miles from downtown Salt Lake City. Thirty miles! You can actually see Salt Lake City from the Antelope Island. Other than the funky Salt Lake smell and buggy summers, I can think of no reason not to go. Salt Lakers who haven’t been here yet are suffering from the worst kind of locals’ apathy.

Below are a few photos from Antelope Island to help you motivate to make the trip. More info on this unique State Park here and here.

American Bison on Antelope Island
An American Bison in repose amongst the dry grasses of Antelope Island.
The view from atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point.
Atop Frary Peak, Antelope Island's high point, looking out across the Great Salt Lake towards the southern end of the island. The hike to this spot is about three and a half miles each way, with two thousand feet of vertical gain.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail.
A view of rolling hills from the start of Frary Peak Trail, hikers in the distance.
My special lady atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island.
Kristin M. atop Dooly Knob, a lesser peak on Antelope Island. A beautiful storm was rolling in as I set up some strobes and snapped this shot. We made it back to the car just before the rain started.

[Updated] Belkin AirCast Auto: Car Bluetooth on the Cheap

AirCast Auto header image

*** Updated January 6, 2013 – scroll to the bottom of the page for my thoughts after 10 months of use, including impressions of the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree and the iPhone 5 ***

THE PROBLEM
[No duh] Music technology moves fast. [/No duh] Depending on the product, a reasonable upgrade cycle can be anywhere from a two to four years. Any piece of high-tech gadgetry more than five years old, even if it’s still working, is in danger of becoming a paperweight. Most people, however, upgrade their cars a lot less frequently than they do their music players. (In the past fifteen years, I’ve owned a Walkman, two or three portable CD players, a MiniDisk player, thee iPods and three smart phones with music capabilities.) The result is a car / music technology gap that fuels a whole industry for quick-fix products.

The first such “gap product” I owned was the infamous tape-deck adapter. You probably had one, too. I used it in my ten-year-old Honda Accord hatchback in the CD era. I remember popping the fake cassette into the dashboard, plugging the trailing wire into my DiscMan, and then trying not to hit any bumps on the way to school, to minimize skipping. My next car had an in-dash CD player (hurrah!), but before long, I had to buy an FM transmitter so I could listen to my iPod while cruising for honeys.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. Today my car has an AUX input, but now I want Bluetooth, so I can play my music, sans annoying wires, and make hands-free phone calls. Some modern / luxury cars come with Bluetooth capabilities, and you can buy after-market in-dash stereos with this functionality, but those solutions are too involved for me. To again cheaply and easily bridge the car / technology gap, I began searching for an add-on Bluetooth solution.

THE SOLUTION – THE BELKIN AIRCAST AUTO HANDSFREE
When I started poking around, I assumed there would be many established automotive Bluetooth devices on the market. Strangely, I found only a handful of items. Further, the available information (reviews, product specs) was thin. I Googled, and read, and Googled some more, eventually landing on the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree.

The AirCast Auto product video, although cheesy, was relatively clear. The AirCast seemed to offer the functionality I was looking for. With it, I would be able to:

  • Play music from my phone wirelessly, via Bluetooth, through my car stereo
  • Control my phone wirelessly — play and pause music and skip songs, plus initiate voice dialing
  • Conduct in-car, hands-free phone calls via built-in microphone
  • Keep my phone charged on long rides via a powered USB port

I went to BustBuy to pick one up, but the sales guy knew of no such device. He checked the system and found they didn’t have any in stock, so I went home and logged on to the Internet, where I was able to order one no problem. It cost $57 before shipping.

Belkin AirCast Auto
The Belkin AirCast Auto, via Belkin’s webpage

When the AirCast Auto arrived at my door three days later, the box was so light, I thought they’d forgotten to enclose the product. On opening, however, I found the device. Simple and cleanly designed, the AirCast is composed of a round, half-dollar-sized button/microphone; a mounting plate for the button/mic, which is simply a disk with stick-um on one side and a magnet on the other; a thin wire connecting the button/mic to a 12-volt plug, which goes into what used to be known as the cigarette lighter port; and another cable terminating in a 3.5mm headphone plug that goes into the AUX port.

I glanced at the minimal instructions and then ran giddily to my car to set up the AirCast.

SETTING UP AND USING THE AIRCAST AUTO
The first thing you should do is plug in the AUX cable and the 12-volt plug. Then, find a flat spot on your dashboard facing you and as close as possible to your head, making sure the cable will reach and not get in the way of any important stuff, like your gear shifter. Once you have a good spot for the button/mic selected, un-peel the backing on the sticky mounting disk and press it firmly down. When you hold the button/mic to the mounting plate, it should attach itself via the mysterious force known as magnetism.

Belkin on the dash
The Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree button/mic mounted on the dash. Via the Belkin website.

Finally, you’ll need to pair the AirCast with your phone, which takes a little doing. I won’t go into it here, but refer to the instructions. Also be aware that the AirCast isn’t necessarily compatible with all Bluetooth phones. My phone, the HTC Inspire, wasn’t listed on the packaging as one of the compatible devices. It works anyway, so I’m not sure how Belkin came up with the list.

Once you’ve successfully paired your phone to the AirCast, every time you get in your car, you should be able to push the AirCast’s single button to re-establish the connection. The lighted ring on the button’s face will go from red to blue when the pairing is made. Wait a few seconds and then press the button again to begin playing your music. When music is playing, a single press will pause the song. Press again to resume. Two presses in quick succession will skip to the next track. Hold and press for two or three seconds to activate your phone’s voice dialing (“Call: Kings of Grillz,” for example). When making a call, simply speak into the air as if you were talking to a passenger and the mic will pick up your voice.

THE VERDICT
The Belkin AirCast does a great job of adding very basic Bluetooth functionality to a vehicle for a reasonable price. I’d definitely recommend it, with the caveat that it’s not fancy. It lets you play music, make calls, and charge your phone. You cannot switch between playlists or otherwise control your phone.

I love being able to get into my car, phone in pocket, push the dashboard-mounted button, and have my whole MP3 library rolling on shuffle, loud and clear through the car stereo. When I get a call, I just press the button to answer. After the caller hangs up, my music kicks back in where it left off. Sweet.

The sound quality is actually better than when I used a 3.5mm audio cable to plug my phone directly into the AUX port. My theory on this is that there is one less connection for the signal to travel through, as the Bluetooth stream is digital and, therefore, without interference or quality degradation. Someone who knows better than I do should correct me in the comments, below, if this doesn’t make sense…

The quality of the calls is pretty solid, too. I have been told by the folks on the other end that I sound a little faint, but relatively clear. I think things would probably be even clearer and louder if I had a better place to mount the mic. Right now, it’s pretty far down and to the right of me when I’m seated behind the wheel. (See update, below, for my new take on this topic.)

The biggest problem I have encountered with the Belkin AirCast Auto is the interface with my phone’s various music player apps. I have three apps for playing music — a Android stock player, Poweramp, and doubleTwist. I’m not sure how to dictate which of these the Bluetooth music connection automatically activates. When I’m using Power Amp, and I do the long press to initiate a voice call, for some reason the music starts to play through my phone speakers and not the car speakers. At the same time, the voice dialer kicks in, but the phone is no longer connected to the AirCast, so I can’t hear what’s going on. I have to manually cancel the voice dial on the phone and reconnect with the AirCast. If your phone was in your bag or pocket, this would be very inconvenient, and you might have to wait until you pull over to get the music playing again. I think this issue is more with my phone than with the player, but it’s still an issue. Maybe when I replace my Inspire with an iPhone, things will work a bit more smoothly.

Anybody else out there try this thing? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

*** UPDATE January 6, 2013 ***

I have been using the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree for about 10 months now. For most of that time, I was using it with an Android phone, the HTC Inspire (which, on the whole, was a crappy phone). The combo worked tolerably well, but it had a few problems: First, it took a while (10-15 seconds) to pair whenever I go in my car (I know, big deal, right?). Worse, I couldn’t find a way to set the default music player app that my phone used with the device. When using anything other than the stock Android music app, the voice dialing capability of the phone didn’t work. In addition, I couldn’t figure out how to use Android’s voice command functionality to do things like play a particular song or playlist. All I could do was play, pause, and skip songs. Basic, but still a nice set up.

But about two months ago I got an iPhone 5 and it’s been a major improvement.

aircast_heart_iphone5

The iPhone 5 seems to work better with the AirCast Auto HandsFree in every regard. It pairs almost instantly and it works like a charm with Siri, allowing me to verbally initiate phone calls, select songs, albums, artists, or playlists to play, and more. Unfortunately, it does not let me do things like request turn-by-turn driving directions, which would be an excellent addition. “Siri, give me directions to the Johnny Kolache’s, Salt Lake City, Utah,” yields the following response: “Sorry, Justin, I can’t help you with that.” Ah well, maybe in the next update…

A note on call quality through the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree: After using the device to make calls from the road for several months, I’ve decided it’s not worth the convenience. The quality on both ends is just a little too low. When talking to my parents, they’ll often remark that it sounds like I’m calling from a tin can, and the road noise (I drive a Honda Element — maybe your Lexus would be better in this department) is overpowering. Instead, I plug in the headphones with in-line mic that came with my iPhone and chat that way. It’s easier for both parties to hear the conversation.

So, after 10 months, my verdict remains the same: for a low-cost Bluetooth add-on solution, the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree is great, especially with the iPhone 5 (and, I’m assuming, the 4 and 4s, too). If you want something that will allow you to visually control your phone’s music player, you’ll probably need to pony up for an in-dash system with LCD display, but that’s a whole other ball of wax. If all you want is to play your tunes through your car stereo system sans wires, this is a killer little solution.

Top 10 Posts From February

thestonemind.com screenshotThis blog has only been around for a month and has been publicized almost entirely via my Facebook and Twitter accounts, but it already has over four thousand hits. I have no frame of reference, but I’m going to go ahead and tell myself that’s pretty good anyway. A few of the thirty-odd posts I’ve made thus far have had a lot more traffic that the others, so I figured I’d make a post dedicated to them. Kind of an “in case you missed it” for my own blog. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the most popular ones weren’t always my personal favorites. So if you like the Top 10 listed below, be sure to scan through some of the other posts, too — hopefully, you’ll find something else that strikes your fancy.

  1. Bullshit Lowball Choss: Climbing Irony from East to West
  2. Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 3
  3. The DOSE energy drink will make you So Ill
  4. WTF: Fitness Equipment and Hostess Sale
  5. About A Blog: Splitter Choss on Cerro Torre
  6. Open House: Art On Iowa
  7. Pro-spective: Who is the Nikon D800 for? Part 1
  8. Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 2
  9. Bros on A Rope and Other Swingers
  10. You haven’t heard of Jonah Lehrer?!

10 Reasons to Work From Home

home-office

Working from home can be valuable for employee and employer alike. Employers should consider extending this benefit to their employees where possible, and employees should consider requesting it where reasonable. However, it’s important to keep in mind the potential pitfalls. Some people don’t work well from home, as they see their domicile as an escape from work. Know thyself, as the saying goes. Also important is the need to treat working from home the same way you would working from the office. If you take advantage of your employer’s flexibility and slack, you’ll likely find the privilege rescinded. (Or, worse, you could even get yourself canned.) So if you do get the chance to work from home, make a list of tasks as big or bigger than you would for a day in the office, and then get it all done by the end of the day. With fewer interruptions, this should be no problem. It will allevate any fears your boss might have about the concept and help open the door for others who might want to try it. Personally, I enjoy and appreciate being able to work from home every once in a while. Below, ten big reasons why. (And if you have any reasons for or against, leave ’em in the comments!)

10. Access quality coffee, snacks – Most offices brew up crap coffee like Folgers in crappy coffee makers that burn the coffee within ten minutes of brewing. (Call me a snob — it’s OK, I can take it.) Then they give you free powdered creamer and bleached sugar, with which you can almost mask the bitter, acrid taste. Yum! For sensitive liberals who can’t stomach swill, access to a good drip system or French press and a fresh bag of specialty coffee is like a little ray of black, caffeine-rich sunshine. Plus, you can access on all manner of foods you love when the ol’ rumble-stomach starts to distract you from the tasks at hand. Chips and hummus with sriracha sauce is my snack of choice.

9. Get some exercise – I work for an outdoor company that understands the importance of an active lifestyle. We have a workout area and a bouldering wall on the premises. Pretty sweet. But most people don’t have this luxury, and busting a cross-fit routine in your cubicle will probably get you strange looks or worse. At home, however, you can take ten minutes here and there to do some highly effective exercises. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, some light weights, or even a run around the ‘hood at lunch — all of these can help make the long day in a chair a little less destructive to your physical and mental health.

8. Spend quality time with your pet(s) – It has been shown that interacting with dogs is good for your health. A recent study even found that playing with your dog helps your body release oxytocin. Plus, there’s the matter of being a good pet owner. I have a blue heeler named Bodhisattva (Bodhi for short). He is representative of his breed in that he’s smart, hyper, and a real pain in the ass. Because my fiancée and I both work desk jobs, he sits at home all day. I feel less like a bad parent when I work from home, as I can give him attention and a little play time. On winter days, I can watch him “get the zoomies” in the fresh snow out back. Priceless.

Snowdhi gets the zoomies
"Snowdhi" gets the zoomies

7. Spend quality time with the house/apartment – If you hate where you live, this isn’t a good reason for you. But I quite like the little bungalow we rent in Salt Lake City’s Sugar House neighborhood.  I pay a fair chunk of my income in rent, so it’s nice to spend a little extra time in this space. The sun shines in the window behind my desk. My fiancée’s new painting lies half-finished on the floor. The sounds of the heater blowing and the fish tank filter trickling are preferable to the fluorescent-light buzz of the office.

6. Listen to the sounds of silence – If you have small children, this might not be a good reason for you. But for the rest of us, real quiet time is often enough to increase productivity significantly. The “open office” design of most of today’s workplaces, mine included, is conducive to information exchange with co-workers, but it’s also highly frustrating when you’re on a short deadline and concentration is required. At that point, the best thing to do is don your headphones. But for some reason this always leads to co-workers coming up and pantomiming their requests, or that universal signal for “take off your headphones”, which is even more annoying than their chatter when you’re not wearing headphones. Of course, if you want to listen to music, you can do so with impunity when you work at home, sans headphones. There’s something so nice about not having a big pair of cans strapped to your earholes when you’re jammin’ out to Skrillex or Llana Del Rey. More comfortable and easier to hear the phone ringing, the ice cream truck jingling, and yourself thinking.

5. Save the planet – My commute is thirty-five miles each way. Every single day I don’t have to make that drive is a win for my wallet and the air quality in the already obscenely polluted Salt Lake City Valley.

Picture of Earth
Earf

4. Save time Commuters, again, win out when working from home. Thirty, forty-five, fifty minutes each way every day? It’s rough. If you drive alone, you can do what I do and dictate ideas for stories and blogs into your phone’s voice recorder like a nerd. But then you’re burning all that gas just to haul one body to the office. If you carpool, you’re pretty well resigned to doing nothing for over an hour each day. If you ride public transportation, you might get something done, or you might get someone’s coffee spilled on your laptop. A better option is to work from home and spend zero minutes commuting. Then you can use your precious hour saved to exercise, call your mother, or finish that diorama you’ve been working on.

3. Get “other stuff” done – At home, you can accomplish a variety of household tasks without interrupting your work flow too much. In the office, everyone takes periodic breaks to use the restroom, talk to co-workers, get coffee, or eat a snack. At home, with the same amount of break time, you can get all the laundry done, do the dishes, or pick up your messy living room. It doesn’t take long and it saves you from having to do it over your two precious days of weekend.

2. Increase productivity – In my workplace there are two common reasons that things don’t get done as quickly as they should. One is the constant flow of email requests. Working from home won’t change that. But the other big work killer is the drop-ins that happen throughout the day. “The modern workplace is structured completely wrong. It’s really optimized for interruptions,” says Jason Fried, founder of 37 Signals. “And interruptions are the enemy of work. They are the enemy of productivity, they are the enemy of creativity, they are the enemy of everything.” (Watch a video of Fried’s very interesting talk on this topic here.) Granted, some of these drop-ins are important — hot items that need attention ASAP — but most of the time, they’re not, and the main thing they accomplish is a twenty-minute disruption that can take even longer to recover from. Assuming you don’t have screaming kids at home, you should be able to clear out a few of those attention-intensive projects that have been dragging on for days or weeks.

1. Maintain morale – According to a study by Jessica Pryce-Jones, author of Happiness at Work“The happiest employees are 180% more energized than their less content colleagues, 155% happier with their jobs, 150% happier with life, 108% more engaged and 50% more motivated. Most staggeringly, they are 50% more productive too.” (Source: Forbes online.) Most of this probably seems redundant (happy workers are happier with their jobs? Who could’ve guessed?!), but the productivity thing is a major point. And working from home, for most of us, increases happiness with one’s job. It is a benefit, like good health care or a public transportation stipend. Employers should considering offering work-from-home days to employees who don’t need to be in the office every single day in order to do their jobs. It’s one of those things business people like to call a “win/win.”

Photo Friday: Art & Architecture in LA

On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and took a walk by the Disney Opera House, part of the LA Philharmonic complex and designed by the inimitable Frank Gehry. The following photos are from those two spots. Happy Friday!

For more photos from our trip to LA, click here.

For a write up of some of the great food we found in LA, click here.