Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spycraft, The Book

I recently finished the new book "Spycraft" by Robert Wallace and H. Keith Melton. It's about the real world spy gadgets developed and used by the CIA. The book currently has 5 (out of 5) stars from 20 Amazon reviewers. Wallace is the former head of the CIA's Office of Technical Services (OTS), so he certainly is an authoritative voice on the topic.

Knowing that the CIA has approved every word in the book, I was worried that it would be filled with information that was horribly old and dated about things so far in the past that I would be bored and lose interest. I was pleasantly surprised. It held my attention and was actually very interesting. I recommend this book for anyone with a voyeuristic interest in espionage or spy gadgetry.

As usual, I bought the audiobook, which is almost 20 hours long. It's good that it was packaged as 2 MP3 CDs, since it would have required many many audio CDs for that long of a book. The CDs also include all the photographs from the book.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

F4 Crash Site

This past March, I visited the crash site of an F-4 in the Mojave Desert. I read about it in Bill Mann's "Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave Vol 2". That book has many interesting places to visit out in the desert. I recommend it (and Vol 1) to anybody who spends any time in the Mojave desert. There are only 3 Amazon reviews, but they're all very positive. I've even seen Mann's guide books at the Interagency Visitor centers at Lone Pine and Kelso.

Bill reports that the plane crashed on New Years day 1964. The crash is located near Sleeping Beauty mountain, in the Cady Mountains, right off I-40 across from Pisgah crater. There's a surprisingly large amount of debris at the site, making for a lot of curious wondering about what various parts might be.

I was with Mark and his dad on this adventure. The road there was easy enough for almost any car. Up the wash there was a steep sandy hill that I decided to not attempt in my MDX. I plan on returning this summer to try that hill with my new Land Rover. Dave's Ridgeline went up it, so it's not terribly hard.

The debris was scattered over a very large area. I walked over 50 yards away from the large engine parts and was still finding pieces. I won't attepmt to identify the parts in these photos. It was, however, interesting to note the differences in weight for various pieces, and the varying states of decay/corrosion. I suspect that some are steel and some are aluminum, or maybe it's much more complicated than that.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Petroglyphs and Dry Lakes North of Barstow

Yesterday I toured some great desert roads north of Barstow. I wanted to test the new Land Rover in some deep sand, but never found anything very challenging. Mark came along in his VW Thing, which has amazing ground clearance. We started at the small town of Hinkley, just west of Barstow. Hinkley is famous for being the home of Erin Brockovich, the legal clerk who sued PG&E and later became famous from the movie about her.

We drove north toward Harper Dry Lake. It actually was dry, so it was safe to drive across it. We could see the SEGS VIII and IX solar power plants off to the west. They are included in this CA government site list of solar power plants. Here's a useful page from the CLUI about that area.

From there we tried to locate an alleged old F-15 crash site in that area. That was a bust. Then we drove off for Black Canyon to view the petroglyphs there. The last time I was there, the sand was too deep for my Acura MDX and I turned back. This time the sand wasn't bad at all and any AWD vechicle could easily drive up the wash. We continued on to Inscription Canyon, which is reported to have more than 10,000 petroglyphs. It wasn't too hot (my car thermometer read 107F) so we walked up the short canyon to view the petroglyphs.

Then we tried to locate an alleged B-26 crash site that's nearby. That was also a bust, so we drove off to Superior Dry Lake. When we got there, I decided to try out my new kite. The wind was very flaky and would often die down to nothing. I was lucky to get a couple pics with both kites in the air.

We drove south to find the famous XB-70 crash site. It took some patience to find our way around a habitat restoration area that was fenced off, but we found it. A small memorial has been placed there, including a cross, plaque, information sheets, and sundry offerings. My favorite model airplane when I was a kid was of an XB-70. I really liked that design. It's too bad this one crashed, and worse that the pilots died. This site has some details and several photos of the crash site debris.

I made a couple comic sheets from photos I took.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Black Widow Spider Bite

I'm amazed that my black widow spider bite is not yet 100% healed! I was bitten 18 days ago and the redness still has't gone away. I don't blame the girl, I think she fell into the cuff of my hiking boot as I walked through her web and then probably bit me defensively as she was caught in there. My garage has several black widows, as do most of my trash cans. Although they don't bother me, I do get rid of egg sacs I find.

I was unloading the car after returning from a hiking/camping trip. One spider (probably this one) spins a web across the side doorway to my garage each night. I've walked through it many times. The spider always gets clear before I smash through. I was carrying a load of gear into the house and felt a very sharp pain in my ankle after getting a few feet beyond that doorway. I couldn't drop my gear, so I bore the pain until I could bend down and dislodge the presumed twig or plant burr from my sock (I assumed that was causing the pain).

I thought nothing of it until the next day when I had lots of swelling, odd patchy redness (erythema), and a red spot in the middle of a blanched circle centered on the swelling. It itched horribly. I packed up for my trip to Yosemite where I endured the constant itching. It felt good that my hiking socks seemed to rub against the skin there offering some relief. It wasn't until I returned home again when I googled to confirm that it was a black widow spider. I hadn't experienced any of the systemic symptoms and, luckily, only had the local symptoms. At its peak, I had a hard time relieving the itch. Maximum strength Lanacane (20% benzocaine) and ice were the most helpful. The itching and swelling are gone now. I'm still waiting for the redness to go away.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Climbing Domes Near Tuolumne Meadows

My trip to Yosemite over the holiday was very pleasant. Here's one of my adventures.

After deciding that I was too out of shape to hike up Tenaya Peak, I decided to hike around on some domes on the west side of Tuolumne Meadows. I started with the ever popular Pothole Dome. But I decided to not take the easy route that the tourists use. I just walked right up the front side. It's not very steep and I didn't need to use my sticky shoes.

Then I looked back down on the small parking area. It wasn't very crowded that day.

In the next shot showing Tuolumne Meadows, you can see the tourists walking down the easy route on the east side.

In the distance to the south east, I could also see snow up on the base of Unicorn Peak, Mount Althuski and Cockscomb. Some day I might climb up Unicorn.

Then I looked to the northwest and saw another dome. It looked easy enough to climb, so I later drove a quarter mile west and walked through the woods to find it. It was a little more difficult with one short class 3 section and I did use my sticky shoes.

Here's the view from the top, looking back over Pothole Dome toward Unicorn Peak.

But then I turned west and saw an even bigger dome! It looked to be an easy hike to the top, if I approached from the northeast side.

Here's the view from the top to the south east across the previous 2 domes. After checking all my maps and googling, I could not find names for this or the other dome.

Here's a beautiful meadow that's to the northeast.

This shot is looking south. From left to right, you can see Fairview Dome, Cathedral Peak, Tressider Peak, Tenaya Peak, and Medlicott Dome. I sat there for a while, enjoying the view and solitude.

Cleghorn Ridge Road

Yesterday morning I drove Cleghorn Ridge Road, an OHV area in the mountains east of Cajon Pass between San Bernadino and Victorville. Here's the Dirtopia page for it. My first photo is looking west after about a half mile from starting off I-15.

I learned of the road from the book Backcountry Adventures: Southern California by Massey and Wilson. It also mentioned that the ridge is named after Mathew Cleghorn and his son John, who operated a lumber business in the region in the 1870s. That book gave it a difficulty rating of "2, 4 to 8". The range is because the main road is a 2, but many alternate sections are much more difficult. The next two photos show the typical road conditions on the main road.

Since it was a Saturday, I went early to avoid the crowds because I'd seen many posts, photos and even videos online. I enjoyed driving this road - it was fun. More fun than my usual get-away-from-the-masses road: Santa Clara Divide Road. The next photo shows one of the difficult alternate sections. I want to return and drive some of those alternates.

The last photo shows Silverwood Lake in the distance. The road ends at Highway 138 on the west side of the lake.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book: Change You Brain, Change Your Life

I just finished the audiobook version of "Change Your Brain, Change Your Life," by Dr. Daniel Amen. It currently has 4 (out of 5) stars from 97 Amazon reviewers. I enjoyed it. In fact, I found myself taking my time on my drive to/from Zion NP just so I could listen to more of it.

Dr. Amen is a clinical neuroscientist and psychiatrist who has revolutionized the use of SPECT scan imagery to uncover potential underlying biological bases for many behavioral disorders such as ADD, anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior, schizophrenia, and more. SPECT stands for single photon emission computed tomography and is a nuclear imaging test that involves injecting a person with a slightly radioactive tracer in a chemical that is taken up by their brain. About 15 minutes later a gamma radiation camera is used to take multiple 2D images that are then used to construct a 3D model of the brain function. Here's a little more info from the Mayo Clinic. The gamma emitting tracer used in functional brain scans is hexamethylpropylene amine oxime, which has a half-life of 6 hours.

Dr. Amen has a website dedicated to this work. The website even offers recommended diet and nutritional supplements (as well as medications) that might benefit people who suffer from various disorders. Here's the page for ADHD. Although I would question the sensibility of posting information that promotes self-medication by visitors who might be better served if they were to seek help from their doctor, or even from Dr. Amen's clinics.

Amen suggests that the medical community has taken our brains for granted, practically assuming that everybody's brain is the same. He's found by scanning thousands of people that everybody's brain is different, just like our ears, hearts, eyes, etc. We should address this in the same manner. For example, being nearsighted is not stigmatizing and we have treatments for this condition. Likewise, our brains develop and perform differently and suffer from injury like other organs, and these conditions can also often be treated.

I thought the book was fascinating. For example, one of the disorders that he's been able to correlate with particular brain scan features is called ODD (oppositional defiant disorder). I had never heard of this before, and yet when he described it, I recognized it from several people I've met who behave in exactly that way. ODD is exhibited as a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior lasting at least 6 months. For example, a person who seems to choose to defy others solely for the purpose of being defiant, even when it's unmistakable that nondefiance is in their best interest. Brief periods of this are sometimes seen in children.

I recommend this book to anybody who might be interested in learning a little about the brain and open to hearing Dr. Amen's controversial ideas.

Monday, July 07, 2008

12,000 Laptops Lost Every Week by U.S. Travelers

I spurred quite a discussion among friends by emailing this to them earlier today, so I'll post it here also.

Gizmodo is reporting on (as is almost everybody now) a Dell sponsored study that found that 12,000 laptops are lost every week by U.S. travelers. 1,200 per week are lost at LAX alone!

Here's some text from the executive summary:

Executive Summary
Dell and the Ponemon Institute are pleased to release the findings of the first lost laptop and business traveler study of its kind. In the first half of 2008, the Ponemon Institute surveyed 106 United States airports and over 800 business travelers to understand the frequency with which laptops are lost in airports and the steps business travelers are taking to protect sensitive information on corporate systems. The results of the report are staggering:

  • Up to 12,000 laptops are lost in United States airports each week
  • Between 65 and 70 percent of lost laptops are never reclaimed
  • Most laptops are lost at security checkpoints
  • 53 percent of business travelers surveyed carry sensitive corporate information on their laptop
  • 65 percent of those who carry confidential information have not taken steps to protect it while traveling
  • 42 percent of respondents say they do not back up their data

Here's a link to the actual study on Dell's site.

BLM Reverses Itself

The Green Wombat reports that the BLM has reversed its recent decision to halt the acceptance of new proposals for solar power projects, and has succumbed to the strong interest in this field. They will continue to accept new proposals while proceeding with their programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) preparation. Here is a link to the PDF press release furnished by the Green Wombat, which is curiously hosted by the ANL (Argonne National Laboratory). They also host a site dedicated to this PEIS activity.

This is, indeed, good news.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tuolumne Meadows is Alive with Mosquitos!

I just returned from several days camping up at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite NP. It was great! But more about that in some future post. The meadows region is chock full of mosquitos right now. I was warned of this by Joe, who was up in that area a week ago and apparently became a walking buffet for the little bugs!

The first sign of mosquitos appeared while waiting the 3 minutes in line at the entrance booth at Tioga Pass. I had the windows open (hey, it was a great day) and within a minute I had many buzzing guests trying to light on my arms. But thanks to Joe, I was prepared, and set upon a daily ritual of slathering on the insect repellant. It was clear that I didn't have enough of my Deep Woods Off wipes, so I bought some Cutter mosquito wipes at the TM store. They were doing a brisk business in that product, and it also contains DEET, but not as much as the OFF product.

I'm please to report that I have a grand total of 5 mosquito bites. My ritual bathing in DEET made me start to think ... since it's supposed to be toxic, I was hoping for some mutant super powers. Unfortunately, the wikipedia page fails to mention super powers among the toxic side effects, only seizures and death. ... Swell.