Beautiful Rainy Weekend

colorful umbrellas at tunnel view
Hanging Out In The Rain At Tunnel View

A friend of mine really wanted to take advantage of the new moon tonight to test drive a new fancy camera. Another friend I haven’t seen in many months is coming for a weekend visit with her two boys. And it’s going to be raining. And that’s really, in the overall scheme of things, a great thing.

California still really needs the rain. It will be interesting to see the result of the April snow survey, but we’re hovering right around average now but with a big water deficit to make up for. You only need to look around at all the dead trees to see that lack of water is affecting the local ecology.

The forecast is for rain in Yosemite Valley and at our house in Yosemite West, but it’s still going to be cool enough that there will snow up at the higher elevations – snow that is going to be stored up for later on this summer when the weather get drier.

It’s getting warmer and it’s hard not to get ahead of the seasons, anticipating warm weather activities, but there are still some inspirational people going out and getting some great skiing at higher elevations.

Rain makes for some pretty dramatic scenery too. When the sky is a cloudless blue, there are masses of people out taking pictures with their phones and point and shoot cameras. When the storms roll in, that’s when you see the serious photographers with their big cameras come out. The clouds swirl around the Yosemite cliffs making them seem even bigger and lending a feeling of mystery about what lies beyond.

Rain also makes puddles. Don’t  underestimate those! Puddles are great for photography too, creating beautiful mirrors of the landscape everywhere. They are also great for splashing in. I’ve had great fun in the last year hunting puddles to splash in with a friend’s toddler.

And finally, I circle around to a Tim Ferriss Show podcast that I listened to recently where he interviewed Josh Waitzken. Josh is the chess prodigy who inspired the movie Searching for Bobby Fischer, and who has since that time won national and world championships in martial arts, and now has a successful business coaching elite mental performers – currently mostly in the world of finance. He has lots of interesting things to say in that podcast, but the one that is relevant here, is that he started noticing that people put value judgments on the weather. “The weather is bad,” means it is raining. But actually, that’s arbitrary. Josh made a point of going outside to play with his son in every storm that comes through. When she visited us, my own Aunt Jaq would get up in the morning, walk outside to sniff the air, and stretch her arms up and say “Ah… it’s a beautiful day.” When we questioned that because it was raining, she said, “Oh, Honey, I decide before I get up that it’s going to be a beautiful day.”

That’s it. I’m fully planning to enjoy the beautiful weather in Yosemite this weekend. I’ll do some puddle splashing with my friend and her boys, take some photos, and revel in the great reason to curl up with some hot chocolate afterwards.

Plastic into Oil

We have a problem with plastic trash, and a fuel shortage. What if we could just take all that trash and turn it back into fuel?

Akinori Ito from the Blest Corporation has figured out a way to turn plastics back into oil, using a tabletop machine that allows you to feed plastics from the trash into one end and get burnable fuel out the other. At one point in the video, Akinori Ito is holding a bag of what looks to me like plastic recycling, and tells us that he doesn’t see garbage, he sees treasure.

It got me wondering if suddenly the North Pacific Gyre (aka Great Pacific Garbage Patch) is suddenly the new Saudi Arabia. And if the people and organizations trying to clean up that mess are buying up these machines left and right. (Did you know that you could take a working cruise to see and help clean up the North Pacific Gyre with Algalita?)

And if, like me, you wondered if this was too good to be true, Steve Machan, mentions in his blog and in an article for Technorati, a second machine that does the same thing – the Environ Oil Generator.

Is there hope for us (and our environment) yet?

Learning Interpretation

New things are so interesting!

Because Tom is planning to throw his hat in the ring for a seasonal interp ranger position this summer, and I’m doing this NPS volunteer gig at the visitor center, we’ve both gotten exposed to the Interpretation classes provided at Eppley.org. In park parlance, interpretation isn’t translating from one language into another. It’s translating an understanding of the amazing things around us, into terms that other people can understand and appreciate – in Interpretive terms: Connecting the visitor with the resource.

I’ve been kicking this idea of “Interpretation” around in my head since I was first exposed to it back when I was still working at the Mountaineering School, but even though Interpretation is supposed to be all about answering the question, “So what?”, I had trouble putting my finger on the answer when it came to Interpretation or Interpretive Themes themselves. How was it valuable?

The Interpretive Process

One of the things I really liked from the Eppley course was this idea of highlighting emotional connections and meanings from something physical that you experience in the park.

1. You start with the thing, the tangible resource – say, El Cap.
2. Then you look for its intangible properties, some of the qualities or emotions it might provoke (adventure, friendship, exploration, overcoming challenges, fear… whatever), and then
3. try to figure out which of those are universal – something that almost everyone will connect to or have experience with.
4. After taking who your audience is into account you then,
5. Come up with a theme that includes some of those universal concepts that you figured out (something like: The challenges of climbing El Cap forges trust in yourself and your partner.)
6. Develop that theme with information about how tall El Cap is, what the challenges might be, how those climbers get up there in the first place, the skills they need, the communication and cooperation between partners etc. using various techniques to make those facts easy to relate to.

This process is more formalized, but essentially the same in principle as what I learned in my Conversion Optimization online marketing course about tailoring a message to appeal to people who are looking for a certain feeling or emotion, as well those who are looking for facts. In Interpretation, you’re selling people on the idea that this big chunk of granite is important, relevant, and meaningful. Very similar.

One Central Idea or Many Themes in Harmony?

But what if you have a 2-hour walk/talk/program/tour, or something even longer? Is that really a one-theme experience?

One ranger explained that when planning a walk or talk, you want to have a central idea that you return to again and again, something people can take home with them, something that will sink into their minds and become part of the way they see the world, long after they forget how to tell a sequoia tree from a cedar. OK, so I can see the benefit there.

On the other hand, if the Interpretive Process starts from the tangible thing, and then expands into a theme, are you limited to choosing only those tangible resources that are going to be universal across your entire tour? El Cap provokes a different subset of intangible associations than the terminal moraine. Do you have to choose only from those intangibles that overlap them both? Does the requirement of a single theme encourage Interpreters to favor the story that fits the theme over the most powerful stories?

Or, from a different perspective, if I develop a sound interpretive theme about El Cap, and then the tour bus moves on and I develop another sound interpretive theme around the eroded banks of the river, is that any less Interpretive than the single theme which would apply to both?

Pumpkin Prince

With Halloween coming up, with the ever-looming prospect of kids with too much candy on their hands, I thought I’d share a brilliant idea that a co-worker told me about. When she was growing up, she and her brother were allowed to eat as much candy as they wanted Halloween night, but then, all the left-overs went to into giant pumpkin shaped bowls to be left for the Pumpkin Prince.

In the morning, the candy would be gone – taken by the Pumpkin Prince – and, magically, in its place would be some amazing, and much-desired present. The kids thought this was fantastic – new basketball shoes, toys, whatever – and felt like gloating when the other kids had only their paltry daily ration of Halloween candy in their lunches. And the advantages to the parents? After the one-night candy-fest, the kids were happily back to eating healthy food. And then, of course, there is the Pumpkin Prince, who makes out like a bandit with all the kids’ candy, which can then be generously re-distributed at events or throughout the year.

Happy Halloween!

Laughter at Work

Today I read a post from an instructor at Where There Be Dragons about 68 reasons that she loves her job. It was a great way to share her love and enjoyment of the places she went, and the people she traveled with. It also made me think of the pictures that I could share about Yosemite and the people here. Someday.

I received an email today from my boss that had the whole office giggling out loud. We had people wandering in from the hallway to tell us that we all seemed to be having too much fun. Really, some funny emails are just worth sharing. If I had a pic of KK crying with laughter, I would put it into my list of reasons why I love my job. It happens pretty often – I’ll get that pic one of these days.

I wish I could figure out who the original author/editor is. The contents of the email is all over the internet, mostly from blogs (like this one) that are posting it up to share, but I have found an attribution. (Interestingly, I usually see it on the internet titled “Random Thoughts” but it has morphed along the way, and by the time we got it, it was “Observations of a modernist on post-modern life”.) Anyway, I hope you enjoy…

Observations of a modernist on post-modern life…

I wish Google Maps had an “Avoid Ghetto” routing option.

More often than not, when someone is telling me a story all I can think about is that I can’t wait for them to finish so that I can tell my own story that’s not only better, but also more directly involves me.

Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you’re wrong.

I don’t understand the purpose of the line, “I don’t need to drink to have fun.” Great, no one does. But why start a fire with flint and sticks when they’ve invented the lighter?

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The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle boils down to a book about a boy and his dogs. Edgar is born mute, to a family of passionate dog breeders, dedicated to breeding the perfect companions – selecting dogs for certain elusive qualities that make them soulmates – or something else that is just beyond defining. Trouble starts when Edgar’s uncle, Claude, returns to town. Edgar’s father, Gar, dies mysteriously, and then Claude starts to manuver into his place, capturing his mother’s (Trudy) affections. Edgar is forced to run away into the Chequamagon with 3 of his dogs – learning to survive in the woods on his own.

It’s a good read, not the kind of book that I can’t put down at night, but it moved along quickly and easily for a volume or its size. I finished the book tonight, was surprised by the ending, and am still trying to make sense of it. It will be a good book to discuss at our book club, whenever we get around to officially reading that one.

Spoiler Alert: if you don’t care

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Great images.

I get an occasional tip here and there on how to use Photoshop from the amazing and creative in-house graphic designer in our office, but just in case I get to thinking that I know how to do a thing or two… there are images like these which are in a completely different league.

It’s not that I can’t start to figure out now, how someone would start to put an image like that together, but coming up with the ideas, planning the shot out, taking different images and figuring out how to put them together. Truly cool.

And while you’re there, check out some cool wildlife pics. I’m not sure some of them aren’t also examples of very clever Photoshop-ery, but they are neat anway.

Thinking about bears

Yosemite's Bears
Yosemite’s Bears

JeffreyTrust.com is a great read – and not just because I know him. One of the articles that particularly caught my mind was Jeffrey’s musings about what a solution for managing bears would be. He talks about some of the things that they’ve tried – things that haven’t worked, like trying to condition bears to avoid human food, or putting up yet another bloody sign next to the ones that are already up, and things that have worked (to a degree), like improved food storage and ‘hazing’ bears with rubber bullets and loud noisemakers. It’s helping – but it’s hard to see and count the number of bears that remain wild that wouldn’t have otherwise, while dealing with the one bear that becomes dangerous, who has run out of other solutions, is a heart-breaker. Bringing us back to the questions: What else can we do? What is the solution?

Just as it’s in a bear’s nature to get the most calories for the least effort, it’s in a person’s nature to keep their food where it is convenient (not necessarily in a properly shut bear box) and to be lazy about walking the trash to the dumpster.

Idea 1. Make the lazy option OK. People may already be investigating different mechanisms that automatically lock and close without any additional effort from the people using them. Trouble is, bears seem to be shockingly good at figuring out how to open things, so this automated mechanism has to be complicated enough to foil clever bears, who have years to figure it out, but not so complicated as to confuse non-clever people who drove in late and just want to get to bed. Hm – now that I think of it, those could be overlapping sets. Tough problem.

Idea 2. Make the consequences more severe. The one solution/non-solution, that Jeffrey promises (I hope) to return to at some later date, is the option of issuing more/bigger citations for improper food storage. I hope he does, because his perspective would be interesting. I’m sure increasing the consequences for improper food storage isn’t a new idea for Jeffrey, or the others who have been working for years with Yosemite’s bears, but here are my thoughts anyway, since I’m thinking them.

It seems that the way to make that effective, is to do it in a way that makes it remarkable. Make the consequences for getting caught severe. Get a few headlines: “Yosemite NPS is cracking down on illegal food storage. $5000 fine for a forgotten sandwich…” Recruit travel writers like Tom Stienstra or Marek Warszawski to write articles. Issue a Press Release. Make the new policy big enough to make NEWS.

Not that you could EVER do this, but if we hazed people for leaving food out the same way we haze bears for getting close, people would take notice and start telling their friends. Nothing like a little hostile fire to encourage me to get that food into the locked bear box – pronto. Plus, it would be cathartic for rangers to open up with paintball guns on repeat offenders, wouldn’t it? (Joking! …kind of)

I don’t know. If there was an easy solution someone would have done it already, wouldn’t they? I’m sure there is no magic bullet. So, we creep up on a solution, one tracking collar, rubber bullet, sign, citation and heartbreaking bear story at a time. Thanks for the writing, Jeffrey. I hope we can figure it out.

[PS. Thanks to Loyd over at YosemiteBlog for pointing Jeffrey’s new site out to me.]

Optical Illusions: Seeing isn’t believing

Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
Optical Illusion from Kitaoka
It’s often amazing to me the kinds of shortcuts that our minds take when interpreting the world around us. For the lazy, who won’t click through to the wonderful article in Discover Magazine, the greenish spirals are actually the same color as the bluish spirals. What changes is the color that surrounds it. You can see other illusions like it on Kitaoka’s page.

We see different colors when they are exactly the same, less food on a large plate than on a small plate even though it’s exactly the same amount, and feel full based on what we’ve seen rather than what we’ve eaten (from Mindless Eating). We have confirmation bias – the tendency to see and attend to things that confirm our pre-existing theories. Sometimes it’s amazing how well we get around in our world.

Types of Stories

I’ve been thinking about storytelling lately – to the point that I’m ready to commit to writing a NaNoWriMo novel in November (although who knows how committed I’ll be by the time November actually rolls around). So, I was especially interested when a conversation with an accomplished film-maker turned to story archetypes.

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