Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Planning Madness.

The idea of Information Architecture sounds pompous. Or daunting. Or impressive. Or stupid. Or something.

The truth is that the name doesn't matter, but the concepts do. Or maybe not so much the concepts but their application. So can we apply concepts without knowing about them? Sure. Performance counts. Ideas come from life and not the other way around.

Better to do something right without knowing exactly why, or even exactly what you're doing than to know all sorts of things and never do anything. Concepts always come after expertise, after people have tried things various ways, after finding that some things work and others don't. Eventually someone stops, takes a breath or two, and begins to sort things out. That's where concepts come from.

So you can go at it hammer and tongs and bang around, and get something or other done. Maybe even something that works. You have to actually do things to get work done, and doing it does it. But on the other hand you can do much better if you know the theory and apply it well.

So knowing about information architecture can help.

The term comes from Richard Saul Wurman, an architect and graphic designer concerned with presenting information, especially information about urban environments and what goes on in them.
These days the term describes ways to organize information in general. How to define it, store it, retrieve it, and then use it efficiently. Information Architecture is the idea underlying good web sites.

The number one reason a web site fails to meet its mission is because that mission is never defined. Information Architecture can help. Think first, then do. That's the idea.

Sounds pretty simple but too many people prefer to fly blind. What usually happens is more like "I like this picture. Let's try building around it and see what happens." Then, later "Let's try something a little more blue." Then, later, more of the same. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the herd gets restless.

This can go on for years. I've seen it.

When computing was done on the backs of whales, in rooms the size of football fields, and cables lay on the floor like dead pythons, programming was slow and painful. Expensive. One small mistake brought everything to a halt and those warehouses full of hot vacuum tubes sat burning away millions. People learned the hard way. They developed ways to think. Ways to plan. Plans showed how to get from Start to Finish before people actually had to hit the road. They could think first, then act decisively. But there was still much flailing.

Free as birds. When desktop computers came along people figured they could wing it. No thinking needed. Just act. Try one thing and then another, unlike those old creepy guys in white shirts and ties in the glass room. Computer time was cheap.

But programmer time became expensive. And a lot of things never got finished. Because people didn't know where they were or what the destination looked like. More mess. More waste. Time and money. Gone.

Then the web. You didn't need programmers any more. Yay! Just try stuff. Anyone. Everyone. Build a web page and see how it looks. Try another. Tweak it a little until you get it right. Add fonts. More blue. More blinky stuff, maybe. You'll get it right eventually if you try enough times. For sure, dude.

I've worked on projects that ran blindly for years before being thrown away. Cost? Only a few hundred thousand, maybe a million wasted. I've known others who were on bigger projects. Thirty, forty, ninety million down the hole.

Mainframe or web site doesn't matter. Standalone desktop system deployed to several thousand users. Client server app. Web site. All the same.

Think first, then act. Define your purpose, define your goal, then proceed with caution. If you are smart and good and careful you can get the job done. If not you won't. The project will collapse, and if your business is based on success of the project, well bye-bye.

Information Architecture helps. And it isn't even special. No secret sauce. No insider information. No special handshake needed. It is nothing new.

Way back in the old days, long ago, back in the dim 1950s and 1960s people were coming up with ways to plan. A few decided that there must be a right way to do things. People like Grady Booch, Ivar Jacobson, Bertrand Meyer and others. Booch and Jacobson merged their methods into the Rational Unified Process, and Meyer is a fundamental thinker in object orientation who invented design by contract.

Information Architecture is the term that web designers use but it isn't unique. Maybe the web is a bit more like magazine publishing or motion picture producing than traditional software development. A bit more varied in the elements needed. But the basics are the same. Think first, then act. Get things done. Well. Completely. The first time.

From the table of contents of "Getting Real", 37Signals' book on the approach they use, their priorities are:

  1. What's the big idea?: Explicitly define the one-point vision for your app.
  2. Ignore Details Early On: Work from large to small.
  3. It's a Problem When It's a Problem: Don't waste time on problems you don't have yet.
  4. Hire the Right Customers: Find the core market for your application and focus solely on them.
  5. Scale Later: You don't have a scaling problem yet.
  6. Make Opinionated Software: Your app should take sides.

At first glance this looks like a seat of the pants approach but it's not. The idea, the main idea, the big idea, is to decide what you want to do and then do it. After deciding what to do you decide how, and then you do it, and when you are done you stop. And then decide if you've done it well enough.

But nowhere in their process is there any notion of "we'll just try this and see if maybe it works out somehow". The point is to have a destination, produce a map, then follow the map.

One project I was on had to take over a paper form and bring it alive in software. A committee had met for two years. To determine what questions were needed on that form. Finally, knowing that the development team was ready to go, the committee wrapped up work. "Good enough," they decided.

Then they started meeting again. They had no idea what they were up to. Didn't know where they were going or when they were done. Otherwise they could have finished the job in two weeks.

So web people call it Information Architecture. Other people use different words. But the important thing is not to waste time or money or opportunity messing around when what you really need is a plan.

Define your goal. Survey your resources. Pick your team. Build the simplest possible solution. Test it. Review it. Deploy it. Repeat as often as needed. Keep the goal and the plan and the system synchronized. Don't wander around with your mouth open.

You'll come out ahead.

I've chosen to call myself an Information Architect. I mean architect as in the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something that informs because it is clear. I use the word information in its truest sense. I call things information only if they inform me, not if they are just collections of data, of stuff. -- Richard Saul Wurman

Getting Real: The Book by 37signals
Richard Saul Wurman
Ivar Jacobson
Ivar Jacobson
Grady Booch
Bertrand Meyer

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Generally Speaking

It's hard being right, it really is.

Not so hard as being wrong, but people who are often wrong usually don't know it. Most of them aren't bright enough. So maybe overall it's easier being wrong a lot. Maybe even most of the time. Because if you are you can't tell anyway.

Can't tell left from right, up from down, inside from outside, fur from feathers. Notice the worst singers auditioning for "American Idol". Or the worst of anyone trying to do anything. They can't tell how bad they are because part of being bad is being so bad that you have no clue whatsoever. It's been proven by science.

Being right is frustrating but satisfying.

Frustrating because people don't give a flying fork. Tell someone where they're wrong and they'll turn on you faster than a pit bull on a baby. No perspective. Except the one that says my idea is right because it floated through my brain and if you prove it's wrong then I will have to hate you. Because you are wrong to tell me something like that. Where are your manners, fool?

So cool.

In that vein I recently heard a brief interview with a Hispanic woman who was virulently against Barack Obama. Her reasoning was that he had repudiated the statements of a longtime pastor and had parted ways with the man. Therefore, in her mind, he was faithless since she stood by the Roman Catholic Church no matter what evil might be perpetrated by some of its staff, and he wasn't doing the same.

OK so far, if she really wants to go there. None of my business. But then she said that if he would do a thing like that he would also lie about his true religion and therefore he was really an anti-American terrorist Muslim. In secret. And she hated him for that. Which is a prime example of both being wrong and being stupid.

I'm really not political. At all. It's part of being right.

If you are political then you are about power. About having power, or wanting it, or wanting to be near it, or wanting someone you think deserves it to then have it. But you don't get to be right. Because being right gets in the way. Being right means that you have to work to understand things, think them through, and often rule against yourself. In politics you never give an inch. Unless you give an inch today to become a snake in the grass and take a mile tomorrow.

The only power I really want is over my own life, and that starts with understanding it. With understanding me, myself and I. And my context. And understanding it turns out to be a lot more important than having power. Because you can't have any power at all of any kind if you're stupid and ignorant and keep your mind closed.

You don't get to be powerful and wealthy (two views of the same puppet show) if you are stupid and ignorant and keep your mind closed, or if you do you can't hold onto either one for long. You don't necessarily get to be either powerful or wealthy if you are smart, or well educated, or think a lot. But you do come to some conclusions. And can do whatever you want with some real chance of success.

And a lot of those conclusions are right.

No one is right all the time. Ever. But if you pay attention and stay honest with yourself you get close.

Way back when was when I started asking myself questions. Like "Why is that?" or "How does that work?" And so on. Way back. In my teens. And after the question I'd arrive at an answer. Most often it would pop into my head. I imagine that it happens that way with most everyone. First a question and then an answer, out of particularly nowhere.

And then I'd ask myself why the answer was right. Sometimes I had to change my answer. Because the answer wasn't right, it was only something that I felt good about or liked or wanted to be right or was prejudiced in favor of. Only because it floated through my head.

And I'm still not right all the time, and you aren't either. Though I do like people who are right about things, especially if they're more right than I am. Because then I can learn how to think better. Quicker, more deeply, more imaginatively, more honestly.

The hard part is really the honesty.

If you keep hacking at something you'll eventually get through the crusty old useless parts. Your habits, your preferences, your desires, the way people around you think, what's good for your finances, or what's consistent with what you said or thought or did yesterday. Once you get through to the soft tender sensitive parts underneath, then you can do some real work.

But you have to be honest. Until it hurts, and then some. Until it bleeds. Honesty will take you places you've never been. Sometimes it's surprising. Most always. Because honesty and a little clear thinking will make you pry up stone after stone until you finally do find the real answer.

The fun part is adapting to it. It can be hard.

I was on a hike with someone once who said she didn't want to know the names of plants and trees because it would take away the magic. I've had that idea too. About a lot of things. It doesn't work. Knowing is much more fun, and more magical too.

Not knowing is easier in some ways, but it's being ignorant. And being ignorant is a lot like being stupid, which is a lot like being wrong. Which is a lot like waking up in the morning with bad breath, flat greasy hair and gummy eyes. It's better to have a fresh, awake mind in full possession of the facts. And have non-gummy eyes.

Learning things is hard but you don't have to learn everything. And you can't anyway. You can at least learn a lot. And when you do learn you start understanding things. Everything suddenly gets a face and a story The world becomes bigger, not smaller. And you find doorways leading places you could not have imagined before.

I've always been a generalist. A friend once described himself as a dilettante. Sort of proudly. In a way. Normally that's something you don't brag about. It doesn't sound great, like saying in public that when you're eating at home you spill so much food that you just eat off the floor. But he said it. Sort of proudly. He was doing a little tail pulling but he meant it.

He worked for many years as a newspaper reporter and did it well. Being a generalist was good, even if someone might call him a dilettante in a not nice way. He knew a lot. He was on top of it.

Generalists generally are. The real ones.

You get to be a generalist by paying attention. Because you can't help it. You like stuff. You like ideas, and people, and events. You do different jobs in different parts of the country in different decades. Your bookshelves at home look like a cross section of the public library. No one can figure out who you are by the books. You see more possibilities and have wider tastes that way. You end up knowing more. Hands down.

There are lots of people out there who are absolute screaming experts at blade thin areas of knowledge and most of them are bright. And true dullards.

Duds. Dorks. Stupes. Dolts. Bores. Spores. Pod people.

Being an expert can do that to you. Being a generalist will not, though mostly the specialists get paid better. Too bad for me, eh? Blame my English degree.

I couldn't have gotten to be as good a generalist and as clear a thinker without the English degree. I got it because I couldn't decide what to be when I grew up. So 30 years later, plus one, I still have the degree and still can't decide, but I learned a lot along the way.

The next time they give you all that civic bullshit about voting, keep in mind that Hitler was elected in a full, free democratic election. -- George Carlin

You can learn a lot from writers. If you don't believe that then turn on your TV set. See a movie. Watch a play. Read a book. It's all about writers. I suspect few know. Even reality shows ("reality" shows) have writers. Writers run everything. Without a plan you have bunches of people running around and bumping into each other. And mumbling a lot.

Writers weave it.

Writing and reading and thinking about writing and reading have ways of honing thought. You find ideas and take pleasure in them. You can come home with pockets full of them and sit in the sun and endlessly turn them over, and over again, and again. And sort them and stack them and play, and decide which are the real and good and true. And from that learn to make your own.

Like math without the math. Also pure thought but accessible to everyone. Open ended. You grow big invisible feelers that sound warnings when things aren't right. Sometimes people call these B.S. detectors. Handy. When they are in "off" position they will often turn their gaze back toward you, and that's one way you learn to think better. You think a thought and arrive at a conclusion and then you hear this funny buzzing sound, and that's when you know you have more work to do. Your feelers tap dance on your head until you catch on.

That's your next step into the world of honesty.

You may adapt but not everyone will love you. Because you'll want to share. Honesty is hard to accept. And people will feel threatened. Because (a) they haven't thought at all, or (b) they have a vested interest in how things are.

It was like that on my last job. They were rebuilding a computer system. I came in at iteration three. After a year of working in good faith it became clear that it was a waste of time. They were only working on an extended failure. My feelers were aching. All day and all night. I started talking. No one wanted that.

They carried on for another four years or so and finally threw out six years of work. After deciding it was really was a failure. And then they started over and threw that one out too. And now I hear they're at it again.

It's hard being right, it really is. But it's wrong to be willfully stupid.

I'm still mad about that one. Two of us, with help from three or four carefully chosen others, could have built a bare bones version of the system that was needed. Solid, rock solid and reliable. Squeaky clean. Bare bones but rock solid, and a good platform for extension. We could have finished it by early 2004, maybe sooner.


They didn't want to be right. Everyone made more money from extending the gig than I did, but I have my integrity, such as it is. It's hard though. And most of them, if they remember me at all, hate me. Because for them it hurt too much to think. And hurt too much to change. Even though they eventually were allowed to change their minds. When management said it was the new policy.

So what's the right answer, then?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Escape From Microsoft

This hasn't been easy. Nothing is. But it has been worth it.

No, wait.

It has been easy. Easier than I had imagined. But a lot of work. Maybe the way to say it is "simple but hard". Not easy but simple.

But not so simple either. Life is hard. Words fall short. These will do for now.

So, back at the ranch we were juggling two Windows XP Professional installations that had both gotten wobbly. I call my computers Bob and Ray. Bob is one I built myself, using a case and power supply already on hand (cannibalized from its predecessor, along with a CD drive and a DVD drive). Bob has been quite good. I was surprised when it fired up the first time and actually ran without exploding into a fireball of death. Even though I originally bought the wrong processor for it and had to reorder. Got the right parts, put them together, and everything was peachy.

Until Windows XP Service Pack 3.

Let me count the ways.

I downloaded this and burned it to a CD, then applied it to both Bob and Ray. Bob got upset right away. Bob has an AMD processor, and that seems to have been a problem for Microsoft. The story is that computers which had gotten the wrong installation of XP reacted badly to the service pack. But I installed from an official Microsoft CD, not from a ghosted disk image, so it should have worked. But.

Maybe that's it. "It should have worked." I believe that every Microsoft building and product now displays this disclaimer in huge letters. "Not our fault." "Don't bother us." "We don't care. Go away already."

Yeah, anyway that didn't help me a whole lot. Bob started soiling himself.

Then Ray, the HP/Compaq computer I bought in a rush when the original Bob crashed, well Ray started having problems too. Worse. Began rebooting occasionally. Suddenly. With no warning. And I couldn't start OpenOffice anymore, or use Opera for downloads. Everything else about Opera continued to function flawlessly but not the down loads. Oh, and opening stored web pages by clicking on the file names.

And the command window wouldn't open any more. And a couple of other things.

Part of this seemed to be due to ZoneAlarm, which I had installed on both Bob and Ray. ZoneAlarm included in an upgrade a subsystem that kept crashing. That's what the Web said. Duh. So switching to Comodo Firewall got rid of ZoneAlarm but the system was already mucked up. Using a registry cleaner actually made things worse. And then there was all this sudden rebooting, sometimes several times a day, sometimes not at all. That started after the previous problems.

Come the long July 4 weekend and I decided to reinstall. Which I did. Over and over.

For some reason Windows now wanted to be network-aware, and if it became network aware immediately dropped my internet connection. Permanently. Reinstall needed. OK.

Some of this may have been due to the Comodo Firewall. Don't know for sure, but I had to install three or four times on each computer before getting things right. The operating system and basic applications. Ow.

This takes about half a day at best, but things seemed to be pretty well settled. I had my new, separate Kubuntu PC working fine as it had from the beginning, and Bob set up with a dual boot into Linux Mint, and Ray with Windows alone.

Then Ray started getting squirrely again, needed one more reinstall, and would hang partway through it all. Several tries all ended the same way.

So, dang.

I decided to try straight Linux, but one version after another did not install. Finally Linux Mint worked. By default it loads itself as a live CD version and then offers the choice of an install from there, and that worked. And then it didn't work no more after I thought it was all set up.

As a last resort I pulled the 1 GB of new memory (about four months old) and reinstalled the three-year-old 512 MB that the box had come with, and had no more problems. Hmmm. So I could have done that at the beginning and gotten Windows working, then? Is that what I'm saying?

Yeah. Probably. But.

But I had Linux Mint installed and updated by then. The update alone takes hours -- another thing I found out is that though my DSL connection is rated at 256 kb/sec, I actually get 28 kb/sec, with an occasional blip a bit higher. Anyway, after several days of this I realized that I didn't have continuous interruptions from the ever-vigilant firewall, and no daily updates from the anti-virus software, and no constant harassment from Windows warning me that automatic updates were off, or that the anti-virus software might be out of date, or the firewall, and it was nice.

The silence. So nice.

Finally. Some peace.

So I decided to stop there. And I tuned my new Linux box, which meant a reinstall there too, because I finally realized that they (ZaReason) sent it to me with Ubuntu installed and not Kubuntu (I'm a slow learner, OK?). But now that's all right too. Bob has a dual Windows XP/Linux Mint setup, and Ray is pure Kubuntu, and so is Kubi, my new box. All systems are fully patched and loaded, except that Bob is not going to get any Windows updates. Bob is at Service Pack 2, which is as far as my OEM installation CD goes. Microsoft will get no more chances to screw me up. I'll switch Bob over when I'm ready, by reinstalling Linux and then I'll be off Microsoft forever.

So this only took me four or five days. Most of that time I was either installing an operating system, updating a new installation, or getting Windows to work. Or reinstalling. Or reformatting a drive. Or banging my head against a wall.

I have a few impressions.

Linux is much easier to install than Windows, and faster to install too, except on Bob. Bob has an NVIDIA graphics card, and that is hard for Linux to swallow, but I eventually got it working. The other two boxes both have basic Intel graphics chips, and they play nice. Not fast, not flashy, but pliable.

I started with Linux in 1995, stayed with it for about 15 months, and gave up after I had no more hair left to pull out. Things are different today. Many people at many companies have been working, and now installing Linux is much easier than installing Windows. Luckily I know nothing about Windows Vista except what I've read, and that sounds like a true horror.

With Linux you pop the CD in and fire it up. You can get it running off the CD, play with it, and then click an icon to do a permanent install. Once you choose that Linux will ask you how you want to partition your hard drive. If you have something else installed already Linux's default choice will be to take half the disk (and install a dual boot menu for you). So nice. So polite. So easy.

A lot of credit has to go to Mark Shuttleworth and the people at Ubuntu. And the people of the Debian Linux project which Ubuntu is based on. Debian is significant because from its beginnings it has had a way of managing software installations which is intelligent about what is already installed. So once you choose to install a piece of software the system checks to see what other pieces are needed, and will go out and grab all of them. By itself.

When I dropped Linux in 1997 the decider for me was having spent a month or so trying to upgrade the Gnome desktop. I got the main packages OK, but they needed another software package (a "dependency") to work. I found that, but it in turn needed something else, and I never did find that third piece. I knew what it was called but could never figure out where to get it. That was it. End of the friggin' road, Joe.

I'm glad to say that those days are gone.

But I still have a lot to learn. All three of my computers are working, and working well, but there are a lot of differences with my old Windows setup. I had a nice backup system I'd written as batch files, using WinZip and WinZip's command-line add on package, and that's gone. External USB drives work, and I can read from and write to NTFS partitions and files, but not just by switching the drives on and off anymore. That's trickier. And some other things like that. But basically things are working. I'll learn.

Some observations.

Kubuntu is nice. Really nice. There are lots of options, lots of little utilities (editors and an office suite, and even a web browser, and so on). Gnome is OK but for me not so nice. Ubuntu is Gnome, Kubuntu is KDE (the K Desktop Environment). Linux Mint is a nicer variety of Gnome, well thought out and consistent, but still Gnome. The Gnome world seems to want to hide more things, and to offer fewer options and utilities by default. I still have Linux Mint running in a second partition on Bob but will eventually replace both it and Windows with Kubuntu. Gnome feels too stuffy for me. It boxes me in. Kubuntu has more options.

Meanwhile, I'm pretty well set up in Kubuntu. The one real shortcoming is Opera, my hands-down favorite web browser. It doesn't run well on Linux in general. I had it installed but it took several minutes to open a web page. It seemed to work well under Linux Mint, and some people report that a newer version than I was able to get for Kubuntu does work well. I'm sure that eventually it will come along, and I'll go back to it.

I haven't yet tried Wine to get a couple handy Windows applications running under Linux. That's pretty much the whole story. Con: Opera and some video cards are tricky. Pro: Everything else works. And I no longer have a firewall or anti-virus software running in the background, constantly bugging me, all day. And the operating system doesn't bug me either. When there are updates I see a little icon on the control panel bar thingie and click on it when I have time to let the system update itself.


Oh. Yeah. One more thing. To get my Samsung ML2510 laser printer to work, I plugged in a USB cable and turned it on. No drivers, no CDs, no configuration. Just plug in the cable.


How To Forge.
Kubuntu home.
Kubuntu documentation.
Kubuntu wiki.
Linux Mint.
The Perfect Desktop - Kubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron).
The Perfect Desktop - Linux Mint 5 Elyssa R1.
The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu 8.04 LTS (Hardy Heron).
The Perfect Desktop - Ubuntu Studio 8.04.
Ubuntu Studio.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Where's My Hike?

I'm going nuts here. This is not a good year.

Washed out roads. Snow all over.

Given that today is July 2, this might seem odd. That's OK. Life is odd, and odder in some corners than others. This is one of them.

Back in 1980 and 1981 when I first began backpacking I hit the Monte Cristo area a couple hours northeast of Seattle pretty hard. Glacier Basin to the north. Poodle Dog Pass, Silver Lake, and Twin Lakes to the south. And the stupendous Gothic Basin to the southwest. That area is served by a gravel loop drive called the "mountain loop road" by most, or the "Mountain Loop Scenic Highway" by the bureaucrats.

Anyway it gave access to several nice backpacks pretty close to Seattle, where I was living at the time. That didn't last long. After my first season we had a hard year and the road to the Monte Cristo resort washed out, but hiking a mile or two more was irrelevant.

Then we had another hard year and the main road was cut. I went back to college anyway and stopped backpacking for a long time. And there were other hard years besides. Time passed.

Here it is so much later and the National Forest Service has an announcement: "Mountain Loop Road Reopened: After a four-year effort to repair more than $10 million in damaged roads and bridges, Mountain Loop Scenic Highway reopened October 26, 2007 to give outdoor enthusiasts access to many of their favorite trails and roads Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest."

That's the way it goes in wet mountain country. About three years after I began exploring the Mt. St. Helens area we had huge winter rains. Six bridges went out. Not wobbly wooden ones nailed together over backcountry trickles but highway bridges. And the roads that went with them.

In November 2006 Mt. Rainier National Park was hit with 18 inches of rain in 24 hours. It had effects.

By last August (2007) the Wonderland Trail around the mountain had been reopened and I realized late but not too late that this was a great opportunity. Not all of the camp sites would have been reserved as they usually are. So I went, starting on Labor Day.

Seven terrific days of backpacking, including an interesting stretch the first day when I misread the detour sign and went down the part of the trail I was supposed to avoid. Not too bad though. Several years of bushwhacking at St. Helens had prepared me for most anything and I got through with only a small amount of fuss and swearing. And avoided six miles of road walking.

Now this year.

It is late, way late. I haven't been out yet.

We had a huge amount of snow over the winter, and lots of heavy rain again right ahead of that. Local flooding. Interstate 5 was under 10 feet for a week and a half, at least.

On my first big year at St. Helens the roads were so new and clean and black that they looked like a huge long tray of brownie dough lovingly laid down by a baker wielding a careful spatula. On April 30 of that year I was out there tramping around, fine as could be. The weather of subsequent years has ripped and clawed the landscape, the roads and bridges so that now many of the trails are not even approachable, and not hikeable anyway. Many trails are cut by deep aggressive arroyos, and bordered by soil that when dry is powder. It can't hold a boot. Life is tougher lately.

But still I got out some last year.

You can't fight snow though. When it falls deep over winter it is reluctant to leave again, and this is one of those years. Most trails are still many feet under, and many roads are still wounded by the floods of six months past.

In 2003 I started a 100-mile backpack on July 3. The second day I crossed my first pass, still under some snow. As I stepped over a small bent tree with its tip stuck in the soft snow it broke free. And caught me between the legs as it sprang skyward, lifting me and my pack into the air, and then dumping me on my head. Life can be interesting.

Conditions can make things so. This year things are more interesting than usual. This year I can't even get to the point where I started that trip five years ago. The news has been vague. A forest road out, and the stretch the national park owns after that. Just today I see that "The Staircase Road will reopen on July 3, 2008." OK by me. Now if I can afford gas to get there I'll be fine. When the snow goes.

But really that's the point. Not the snow but the distance. The drive is 55 miles. Out and back again for let's say three gallons, with a one or two week backpack in between each driving leg. That's why it's important to me. In 2003 I did 100 miles from there, out and back. In 2005 I did a 200 mile loop with only five miles of overlap. I like that kind of story.

Other places are too far to get to any more. Gas just costs too much, so it's important to use what's near, and the snow is making me itchy.

But that's why I like living here too.

During my last big trip in 1981, before leaving backpacking for 15 years, I drove that route north and east. From Seattle to Everett, through Granite Falls, and then hiking down that washed out road leading to Monte Cristo.

The next day I got up high and onto the snow, above 5000 feet. Fourth of July weekend then too. The sun was out, I was young and strong, and the day was cool and calm. I slathered myself with sunscreen, had a hat and sunglasses, and was sweating. So warm I had to remove my shirt. Overall it was a great three day trip. It was summer and I was in snow. That's the right way to have snow. When the weather is warm. You choose your day and location, then go tramp in it until you get tired. Back home again it's summer again.

It wasn't until I got home. That I realized. How sunburned I was.

Worst ever. Despite the sunscreen. Deadly. Evil. Intense pain.

It took a year for the skin of my chest and shoulders to become human again. I've decided not to do that again. Ever.

But I still want to go hiking and this year, so far, is all anticipation and waiting. The snow waits. I wait. Which one of us will win?


Flooding at Centralia and over I-5.

Monte Cristo: Visit to gold ghost town pans out for hikers, historians and families.

Olympic National Park Road Conditions and Closures.

Mount Rainier National Park Images of the Flood of 2006.

Hurricane Ridge web cam.

Mt. Rainier web cam.

Mt. Rainier time lapse web cam.