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Pyrrhic Victory (aka Monty Smith Memorial Wildwood in a Day)

Friday, November 26, 2010
The Wildwood Trail, in Forest Park, is, at 30.5-ish miles, a long trail. It's hard to imagine such a trail in and near Portland, but it's there. It's been a goal of mine for a while to hike the whole thing.

As soon as I found out about the Wildwood-In-A-Day hike with the Mazamas (the group that does the rambles I participate in), I wanted to do it. Last year I missed my opportunity, but this year I was able to go on the Monty Smith Memorial Wildwood-In-A-Day hike. (Monty Smith used to lead them, until his death this past year.)

So this year I was up with the Black Friday shoppers and met up with the group at the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial (near the Oregon Zoo) at 6:30 AM, just as the sun was about to come up. From there, after a brief misunderstanding about where we were all supposed to meet the hike leader, we scrambled and carpooled over to Newberry Road, to the end of the Wildwood Trail.

After getting everyone signed in, we were off at about 7:25 AM. Though we'd all brought flashlights, we didn't need them because we were a little behind in getting going; there was already enough light. The ramble leader set a demanding pace right from the start, with the result that I was breathing hard after just the first few minutes. I knew I wasn't alone in that, though, as others around me remarked how fast we were going.

With 20 of us on the trail, and all with slightly different speeds for hiking, we tended to cluster in groups of people going the same speed. The hike leader did something I appreciated: every 2-3 miles or so, the people in front would take a quick break and allow the group to compress. He'd wait until the person in the back (the "sweeper", making sure we didn't lose anyone) was caught up and then, after a moment, we'd get going again.

And it was muddy. It wasn't raining hard, just frequent big drops and a fine Portland mist that, combined with the melting ice, left the trail a quagmire of mud that we slogged through. It was only and inch or so deep, but it was enough that every step my foot would slide an inch or two downhill.

My muddy shoes are down there somewhere...

After the first 14 miles, we reached a convenient halfway point (near Saltzman Road's winding path) and that was the first bailout-point. We met up with a replacement hike leader (and sweeper), gained a few last-half hikers, lost a few more of the first-half ones, and took a quick break with water and donut holes.

At this point I briefly considered calling my hike over. I was already a little tired, and I'd mentally established that I'd do the first half, then see how I felt for the second half. I knew, standing there, that the second half was going to be hard. It was steeper. My legs were already starting to feel the use after 14 miles. Yet I realized that, if I didn't finish it, this hike would still be out there, taunting me. So I decided that, damn the consequences, I was going to finish it.

The interesting thing about picking up a new hike leader is that, after hiking almost 15 miles, many of us were tired and he was not. Also, his habits were slightly different. For instance, if we got used to having a short breather every 2 miles and compressing the group with the first hike leader, we needed to get out of that habit with the new one.

So we took off again, at a relentless pace led by a fresh leader. I started off toward the back of the group after helping a fellow hiker. From there, I barely saw the rest of the group for a couple hours. Every time we, at the back of the group, would almost catch up, they'd take off at a pace I couldn't keep up with. It was like that for 6 miles - we'd almost see them, then the five of us (including the sweeper) at the back of the pack would be on our own again, hustling to keep up in the slippery mud. Finally, with only 10 miles left - having gone 20.5 miles so far - we rebelled. The back of the group needed a break. The sweeper radioed to the leader to call a break for everyone else and I sat down to change my socks, my boots having long ago given up being "waterproof".

We took off again after everyone was ready and, at mark that said we had just 7.5 miles left, the whole group finally compressed and we took an actual break. It was nice to catch up with the group and have a chance to mingle again, even with the rain dripping down around us.

And then, yet again, we were off, not stopping until the stone house with 5.5 miles left. We took a quick break and pressed on. At this point, I knew the trail, hard already for me, was going to get worse. I'd hiked the 1.5 mile segment from the stone house up to the Pittock Mansion many times before; it's a steepest segment of the Wildwood Trail. The difference is, I'd never done it 25 miles into a hike before. This was my first time for that.

Usually I can charge my way up that hill; 1.5 miles is not a long hike, even on a steep hill. This time, I was beyond tired. I had stopped hiking long ago and, like those around me, had instead adopted a trudge. It was only "I think I can" that got me up that hill. I will mention, though, that there were other hikers out doing much shorter segments and several along this part recognized us and quietly cheered us on. That part was nice.

Shortly after the Pittock Mansion, as the we descended into the Hoyt Arboretum, the group stopped again for a meeting. While it was still light out, the hike leader was content to let us trudge along at our own pace. It was approaching 4:30 PM by this time, however, and the sky was growing dimmer. He wanted us to be in groups and to have our flashlights ready. Mine was.

With my little group I made my way the last three miles to the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial parking lot by the zoo. I turned on my flashlight permanently after a point; slipping in the mud was jarring but by this point I was used to it; still, we were all starting to stumble over tree branches and the light helped save us from that. As we approached the end our spirits picked up considerably. Yes, we were muddy. Yes, we were all exhausted. But yes, we were also all thrilled to be done.

And done we were, as I rolled up to my car just shy of 5:20 PM. Little in the world has seemed as wonderful to me as dragging myself along a 30.5 mile hike and just seeing my car in the parking lot waiting for me at the end.

Landing at 5:20 PM meant that it took only a few minutes under 10 hours for me to hike the Wildwood Trail. My average pace, then, was a hair over 3 mph, even including breaks. I was beyond exhausted at the end. I was so tired, in fact, and my legs felt so dead, that for the first time ever, I wished my car was an automatic. (Only for a few minutes, of course.) Even on the drive home, after briefly stretching in the parking lot, I could feel my legs start to tighten up.

I was going to be sore.

First World Problems

Thursday, November 25, 2010
Today is Thanksgiving Day, and, it occurred to me the other day that, even in a bad moment, I don't have a lot to complain about. You see, there's a Twitter hashtage "#firstworldproblem" that both amuses me and puts things into perspective. While some of the remarks there are flippant, they really do highlight what problems we don't have to face.

This last Tuesday, it was bitterly cold outside, probably about 20 degree Fahrenheit (or -6 Celsius). I was at home, working on my PC, when it bluescreened on me. I stood up, restarted it, and walked out of the room while it booted. As I looked out the window in the hallway, I was struck by the fact that it was very cold out and there were those in my city who didn't have a place to stay. In my house, where it was nice and warm, I was getting frustrated because my gaming PC bluescreened? Truly, I am fortunate to even have to worry about this problem. I live in the first world.

So on Thanksgiving, I'm thankful that I live in the first world.

The Cloud

Wednesday, November 10, 2010
So for the second time in two weeks, I'm sitting on hold with Comcast trying to report that my "high speed cable" internet service is down. This is a stark example of why I think that, on a large scale, we (the First World) still aren't ready to adopt the cloud and move our data from our homes and businesses out into the far off reaches of the web.

After sitting on hold waiting to talk to Comcast for about 15 minutes, I was told that there was a phone and internet outage right now due to maintenance. (For the record, it's just after midnight as I'm writing this.) Good thing I don't rely on their phone service; I'm guessing that, in an emergency, I'd be out of luck. Being the kind of person who likes proactive communication, I asked if there was a way to be notified of upcoming outages. I was told that this was a frequent request, but no, there's no way currently to be notified. Finally, I asked if, were I to have a business connection versus a residential one, I would be experiencing the same outage. I was told yes.

Reliability is still important, and it's still fleeting. The point of having programs or data is to have access to my stuff when I need or want access to my stuff, not in the 95% of the time that service availabilities line up. Internet connections, while fast and generally reliable, aren't quite to the level of a "utility" yet.

When I think of a utility, I think of the power company. PGE does a pretty good job of keeping the lights on. Here in neglected North Portland, I've had a couple power outages since I bought my house 8 months ago. At least one was due to a fire and they shut off the power for safety reasons. So do you know what I've done? I've started investing in uninterruptible power supplies so as to keep some of my more delicate electronic equipment from being damaged (or turning off.)

From a cloud standpoint, an uninterruptible power supply would be a local data cache that ensured that, should upstream service be unavailable, I'd still have core functionality. In the Steam gaming platform, that would mean that I could still launch my games even if my connection were down (without advance notice, I don't believe that I can.) In Google Docs, that would mean that I could still access and edit my documents with my connection on the fritz (again, without having upcoming knowledge of an outage, I don't believe I can.) In essence, for the cloud to work I need it to not 100% depend on the wiring between me and it. And right now, that seems to be the case.


Saturday, November 06, 2010
I read an article over at Ars Technica, my longtime favorite technical haunt, that made me smile. In an article about the worldwide Windows market share and how it divided between Windows XP, Vista, and 7, the second half of the article was what piqued my interest.
"At 59.26 percent, Internet Explorer has hit a new low point. This drop comes despite public IE9 builds and for the first time, help from IE8. Although Microsoft told Ars that over 900 partners have built Jump Lists for their sites (an IE9-only feature), the beta isn't being used as widely as it could be. IE9 last month grew to 0.28 percent (0.32 percent if you count compatibility mode). IE8, meanwhile, for the first time fell to 29.01 percent (32.04 with compatibility mode), but it's still the world's most popular browser."
Check out this related article on browser speed. See, there was a time, just after the first browser wars, when Microsoft dominated the web browser market and innovation dropped to zero. IE was slow, bloated, buggy, and insecure - but it was the only real choice. Fast forward to the present, however, and we'll see that the fierce competition of the second browser war that we're in has led to a tighter adherence to web standard, much faster rendering speeds, better load times, rainbows, unicorns, etc.

The point of this post is simple: competition - that drive to be first - is what shapes greatness. Being the biggest is not the same as being the best, and in a fair market it's going to be the best that will survive - and even thrive. These are glorious times we live in, and it's exciting to see the competition and where it will take us.

And, for the record, most of my browsing is done with Google Chrome and Camino, though I have to use Internet Explorer 8 for a few things at work, too. As for the visitors to my site, it would seem that Firefox is the most common browser used over the past few months.

Browser share for the past few months on my site



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