Archive 2007

December 13, 2007 - Moving Pictures

Winter Morning Pictures website ( was completely revamped and is now live. You'll find much news about the current production, Trapped, including a trailer just posted today and link off to Gavin's blog for details on the activities surrounding the production. Short story: it's 3 weeks into post-production, with a lot of focus on editing and expected public release of Spring 2008.

Pam Neill has a passion for photography that she's turned into a profession since departing her corporate career. Her work has been matured so rapidly it looks as though she's been doing this for decades. Samples of her wonderful work can be found on her website She's based in Greensburg, PA, so spread the word.

As always, the creative spaces of people like these can be found on my Family and Friends page.

November 25, 2007 - Furniture, Accountants, and Lawyers Don't Mix

Well, it's official. I received a refund check for sales tax paid in error. Wahoo! Right? Wrong.

See, way back in say 2000/2001, I purchased a sectional sofa from Roomful Express. Yup, I know it's just the old Freight Liquidators rebranded, but they happened to have the only sofa out of dozens I test lounged that passed my requirements. Card swiped, price paid, couch delivered.

Somehow they accidently charged me sales tax in the amount of $178.21, which I guess is not applicable. Furniture is a "necessity", ya know. The companies CPAs, McNaughton Company, discover the error. But, oops, it's a bit late. Past the statute of limitations if we go through the normal process of refund. So...brilliant plan (they are "pleased to report") to hire counsel to marshal a class action to file a claim and get it done for us. Thank you very much.

Here's the math:

178.21 My money held inappropriately for nearly 7 years (you do the compounding interest calculation)

Somehow after a multi-page letter, it still isn't clear how 75% of the money is not being considered for refund. 50% is mentioned, and then some additional 25% disappears through a mysterious black hole since I'm only entitled to 25% Order Relieve in the end.

44.55 is what's left to refund to me. 25% of the original amount. Sick yet? Wait...

And now, less 35% for the lawyers, 15% for poor Roomful's "administrative burden".

Balance due raped customer: $26.37.

14.8% of MY money back.

Go Team USA. I love this country.

October 25, 2007 - Boo!

Tis the season of ghosts and goblins. A time to enjoy a few spooky movies, haunted houses, late night walks though the cemetery, or a few scary stories told around a campfire.

As has become tradition, I’m screening 13 “spooky movies” throughout the month (which means sometimes friends join me, and sometimes I sit alone in the dark). It’s often easy to put quite the fright into a nearby engrossed watcher.

Recently I managed to pull off some supreme scares, but not of the spooky kind – more of the startling nature. First was the old tried and true “pull a car up behind somebody and honk the horn”. But, I must say, this was possibly a personal best. Mike Hamilton really didn’t not have the faintest clue my car was there…just 3 feet behind him. Plus it was a semi-busy street, and his car was parked right on it. As he emerged from the trunk, and was turning just in time for the sigh of my hood to provide the extra visual impact, the blast was delivered. It was the all over body seizure type of reaction. Why oh why is a full-scale hysterical fear response such a supremely humorous thing to witness?

Just this past Monday I arrive back to the town of my office late enough that simply staying over the night at he office made more sense than driving back and forth to the house. A nice long sheet of bubble wrap spread on the floor of my cube makes an almost passable bed for 5 hours of sleep. Well, poor Richard had come into what he believed to be the typical early morning, quiet, vacant office and settled in. I think around 15-minutes later as he was walking by my cube, I just so happened to be stirring. A few bubble wrap pops put him right on edge in the split second before seeing my body rise from the floor. I was still half asleep, but I’m fairly certain the stream of verbal mumblings and curses was his form of venting the sudden surge of adrenaline.

And finally, in spirit of this post, and since Glen seemed to enjoy this one as I retold it recently…my own possibly worst fright. I used to have a card table set up in the basement of my previous house where I had dragged out my old (really old) computer and hooked it up. I guess I was playing through some text adventure game one night, late into the night. The house was dead still for hours as I punched away surrounded in complete darkness except for the glow of the computer monitor. My cat, like many cats, has a way of rising up putting forepaws onto the edge of a chair and tapping at your leg when they want attention. Well, for some crazy reason that night she came up from behind the chair and was able to stretch up with her paws on the backrest and then reach up higher and tap me on the back. Holy jump out of your skin, I think I lost a couple years of my life to a mini myocardial infarction!

October 9, 2007 - ECP is 60

The successful, impressive and sentimental 60th anniversary of the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh (ECP) took place on October 6. See the pictures from the event by our Editor and a history of the club.

I was asked to be one of the speakers...representing the latest (read: youngest) "generation" of the six decades of membership. The problem is, it was mentioned to me 3 days earlier at the END of the Mountaineering School Intro Party I was hosting. Too much activity, lack of sleep, and a few beers took that casual mention on the fast train to my memory dump. It wasn't until the second speaker was on stage Saturday night that I caught a glance of my name, fourth on the list, under formal presenters on the program. Holy crap, I'm typed on the program! Oops. Time to wing it - and wing it I did. No one cried or threw food. A lot of kind souls made comments of "nice speech" afterwards, but I have not idea of their sincerity. I think I'm safe as it wasn't video taped and there was a lot of open bar time prior to all of this.

Most importantly, I didn't forget to give recognition to Dr. Ivan Jirak, our founder, and made sure to spend some time with him and his family afterwards to share my heartfelt thanks.

September 18, 2007 - Trapped in the Fall

Time is flying so fast...can't believe it's been 1 month since last post! A quick rundown of notable events:

Labor Day weekend was spent at the Gunks -- trip report coming soon.

Congratulations to Jenny on obtaining her SCUBA certification! Diver down!

A big happy birthday to my dear mother who claims to have turned 65, but still looks, acts, and lives as a teenager.

Alexis also ticked another year off and, of course, won't let me forget that I'm a lousy friend and missed it in order to go to the Gunks.

Ten fine friends (old and new) had a wonderful time at Seneca this past weekend where many a tree was burned to give us light, heat, and central point to gather around to share drinks, stories, and great times. Joe and Jen2 did their first rock climbing in superb style - climbing the first pitch of Skyline Traverse (5.3) a total of 80 feet to a small rock ledge perched almost 200 feet above the valley below.

Trapped began principal photography in September, is a ton of work to keep on top of (I'm serving on the film crew), and starting to look very impressive after six days of shooting. This past weekend were some big scenes involving lots of extras and a name actor. News report is here.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first Genesis concert. Long time fan, first time concert-goer. News review here.

August 18, 2007 - Mountaineering School Underway Soon

I've decided to take my turn as Director of the ECP Mountaineering School this coming year. We've been using the tactic of co-directing the schools for the past several years in order to lighten the load since directing is a tremendous amount of work. I was luck enough to draw Sid Wiesner as a co-director this year, willing to serve for his second term. Sid is organized, responsible, a heck of a mountaineer (see his team bivy site, featured on my Family & Friends page, for more), and a bright guy. Everything you want in a partner on adventures...outdoors or in the classrooms.

He's completely reworked the school's website giving it a clean flow and fresh look:

I've looked forward to this role with trepidation for years. I now look forward to it with comfort knowing Sid is at my side.

August 11, 2007 - A Burning Desire

A hundred congratulations to David Micklo finished the Burning River race, an ultra marathon of 100 miles! OK, officially 102.7 miles (he's getting cocky). (Or 104.19, or 150.3...they're still measuring and re-measuring the course -- suspiciously, AFTER David his insistence. :) He finished in 28:10:47. Yes folks, that's 28 HOURS of straight running!

David has been a fine climbing and mountaineering partner on some of my past adventures such as Katahdin, Whitney, and El Capitan to name a few. (See David's Climbing Resume for more details of his exploits.) He has been a key figure in the ECP Mountaineering School since my first days, and continues to inspire with his highly focused and seemingly endless energy. Some people set the bar high...David pushes it nearly out of sight.

It's a test of ultimate will / The heartbreak climb uphill

Got to pick up the pace / If you want to stay in the race

More than just blind ambition / More than just simple greed

More than just a finish line / Must feed this burning need

In the long run... -Marathon (N. Peart)

August 10, 2007 - Waterlogged

A wicked storm wracked the area yesterday, overflowing stream and river banks, spilling over levies, and flooding out not only the usual low-lying homes, but also those on high ground. Including myself.

Finally regaining power after 32 hours, I have reloaded the refrigerator and have windows open to air out the stench and help dry things out. Outside can be heard the steady sounds of sirens, generators, and chainsaws that have been ongoing since yesterday.

After the "first wave" - note the 2 outlets - there was water pouring out of them as from a garden hose:

After bailing the first wave:

During bailing of the second wave, water about 4" deep:

August 3, 2007 - I'm just a tiny bit famous...

Climbers find spots that rock

By Karen Price


Friday, August 3, 2007

"It's kind of a strange thing, because Pennsylvania isn't known for outstanding rock climbing, but what I sometimes think is that those two places may be enough of a spark that gets the interest going here in Pittsburgh," said R o n _ E d w a r d s, the climbing coordinator for the Explorer's Club of Pittsburgh.

E d w a r d s said the Explorer's Club has a strong contingent of climbers, and they meet at McConnell's Mill at 6 p.m. every Wednesday with nice weather. Beginners and experienced climbers are welcome.

Full Story:

August 3, 2007 - I know someone famous!!!

Look who has been accepted and added to IMDB (Internet Movie Database - Earth's biggest movie database)!

Congratulations to Gavin Rapp (blog) and best of luck on imminent production of Trapped! Stop by Winter Morning Pictures for more details or check out the production listing of TRAPPED on Variety Magazine Online.

July 4, 2007 - Tempest Update

Well, it's been a month since Tempest arrived. Besides playing for hours, inching up my high score (about 320,000 now), I've been busy becoming a hobbyist in order to repair and restore the system. Glen suggested I document the evolution here, and so here it is...

I've collected tons of information from the web to supplement the manuals that came with the system. The best way to troubleshoot or quickly resolve a problem is to swap out parts, so I've acquired some spares of some of the main components:

Next, I found the test switch and volume knob just lying inside, and the volume not really working. A bit of studying and rewiring (now with disconnects!) had the volume control restored:

And mounted in the proper place:

The power supply cleaned up nicely, and I replaced one burned out and one improper fuse (F5 and F6 on the lower left):

I had some problems with the "spot killer" coming on...this causes the screen to go dark mid-game. So, a few more hours of learning about the entire video monitor system (highly complex with a design that haunts every owner to this day), I started the daunting task of troubleshooting. I lucked out early in the process and found a corroded fuse and holder (F101 on the lower right). After some cleaning and replacing with the latest recommended upgraded fuses, this is what the "deflector PCB" looks like now (notice the burned areas under a couple of the resistors that indicate the former owner had fried which is a common occurrence):

I have a replacement coin door en route to replace the current one which is missing one of the coin mechs and a meter, the other is a token mech, and has burned out bulbs. I hope to get it to working (coin-accepting) status eventually.

I now have a Tempest Tubes ROM chip which I installed in the backup Main PCB and can swap boards in about 2 minutes to play this fine, but harder, follow-up game to the original Tempest. I've ordered a dual ROM chip with both games burned on it, and hope to modify it with a switching system once it arrives so that I don't need to swap boards in the future.

I have a list of planned refurbs, some of which involve serious surgeries to the circuit boards. My soldering iron is just warming up...

July 4, 2007 - Trapped Moving Along

Gavin has signed professional actors Tom Atkins and Corbin Bernsen for his next featurette, Trapped. If you haven't been keeping track of these exciting details, you should be! Visit, just one of the many intriguing sites of Family and Friends.

June 26, 2007 - Baby Boom cont...

Due mainly to the mutual friendship with Jason (see previous item) that we all shared, it has brought on a renewal of communications with, and long overdue news from, Jennifer (Crable) Wilson. Her an Anthony are doing well and have a new joy in their lives as of April...Anthony Charles Wilson:

June 25, 2007 - A Sad Loss

Over the weekend I was told today of the tragic early end of Jason Ahlers' life on April 28 of this year. You can view the obituary and friend's memorial.

Jason came into my life about 10 years ago as a friend of a friend. He attended a couple of S. Side bar crawls with us, and a couple of my annual parties. I recall visiting his house in Johnstown, meeting his pet albino snake, and sharing many laughs with him. We are all shocked and will miss him much.

Jason, though your outward life was filled with fun, we will never know what inner demons you fought. Though we all selfishly feel you left us too early, we hope you are finally and fully at peace...

June 25, 2007 - Snakes and Arrows

What a fantastic show Rush put on tonight at Star Lake Amphitheater (it has some new corporate name, that changes whenever the agreement expires and they get a higher bid, but I refuse to kowtow to those marketing schemes). They played from 7:45 until nearly 11pm, with a 20-minute intermission. 28 songs all told. As always, I spectated in utter amazement, air-drummed audaciously, sang along passionately, and clapped, yelled, and "woo-hooed" along with all the other rabid fans. I won't bother to try and explain the experience -- it's a lot like mountaineering -- you just can't explain it to those that don't feel it, and don't need to for those that do.

There's a very favorable review of the Pittsburgh show. The review ("Rush quick to show love for local fans") appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and focused on the long-standing relationship of the band and their Pittsburgh fan base.

Clearly, local fans have formed a bond with the Canadian rock trio Rush over these 30-plus years. It seems the feeling may be mutual. "I think I always say this, but I think we've played Pittsburgh more than any other city," bassist Geddy Lee told the Post-Gazette Pavilion crowd Monday night.

June 15, 2007 - Baby Boom

A couple of baby announcements. Congratulations to the proud parents!

Emily Anne - born 6/14 at 4:25am (6lb.14oz) to Dan and Liz

Dannica Rayne – born May 22 to Christina and Mike

June 8, 2007 - Where in the World is Ralph!?

Ralph has been quietly breeding away in Boston (with wife Katie, I assume). He finally unveiled a picture of his manly brood -- these guys look like trouble! - like father, like sons 8~)

{image file misplaced - sorry!}

Aidan, Spencer, and Luke (left to right)

June 4, 2007 - "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep"

A perfect quote from The Tempest, to describe, well, Operation: Tempest. And the dreams that have been laid upon me, this year in particular, during this time of the year when folks note a particular number of earth rotations around the sun since the day of my birth.

I don't recall ever having a finer time, all due to the kindness and thoughtfulness of friends and family that are the stuff heroes are made of, form the fabric of my life, and are treasured more than they know. No, they're not for sale and you can't borrow them!

Too all involved with Operation: Tempest, I expect to come, stay, and play.

June 3, 2007 - What's four of a trifecta!?

Just returned from the most exhausting, but exhilarating mountaineering trip to the Canadian Rockies. Four successful mountains in eight days - absolutely unbelievable! Perfect weather. Stellar views (and photos). Keep watch on my Excursions page for the link to go live for a Trip Page and related Photos.

May 22, 2007 - Happy BIRTHday

Congratulations to Christina and Mike on their first born, a daughter I have no name or picture of. Christina? Helloooo? (Stay tuned while I try and raise the happy couple for further details...)

May 22, 2007 - Happy Anniversary

Congratulations to Glen Green dot Com on the sixth anniversary of the site. A source of insightful musings on the state of the world, and generous personal views on the personal side should you be lucky enough to score a password there.

May 19, 2007 - Diver Down!

Wahoo, I'm now Advanced Open Water certified for SCUBA diving.

May 16, 2007 - Lights, Camera, Action!

Cousin Donnie, graduating from high school this year, has been quietly racking up some movie making projects. Look out Sundance!

#1 - first movie ever filmed/edited

#2 - school project (Spanish)

#3 - school project

May 12, 2007 - Presidential Traverse Video

Tom Prigg composed this very nice short film (13 min) on our 2007 winter Presidential Traverse:

You can also view it Full Size on GoogleVideo

May 9, 2007 - Bitch & Moan Part I

All personal pain, financial burden, and basic bitching aside…I’m simply shocked at the implications here.

In West Virginia, a 13 MPH over the speed limit violation is $10. I restate…TEN dollars. EIGHT additional causes, funds and bureaucratic tack-ons are added on to the tune of $160.50. A $10 fine turns into a $170.50 fine.

So that means that six percent of the total charge is the fine for the violation and the other ninety-four percent are surcharges. Surcharges that have gotten so numerous and ridiculous that they don’t have the space or the gumption to put them on the forms any longer and the clerks don’t even know them all.

These have supposedly increased 266% over the last seven years. Something has gone terribly wrong in the DMV. How can we citizens revolt? We have truly lost control.

It’s time to admit the truth to the slogan. “To Serve (our greedy interests) and Protect (our expanding power and bloated bottom lines)”

UPDATE - Here's the breakdown:

$10 fine (, here's the actual charge for the violation)

$10 court costs

$10 crime victim's compensation (what the hell is this!?)

$2 law enforcement training fund (gee, I sort of thought my taxes already paid to train them troopers)

$40 Regional Jail - Criminal

$5 Court Security Fund (read: America's state of constant fear fee)

$48.50 Jail Per Diem Fee (hmmm...I didn't go, so why am I paying? Maybe it's a minimum 1-night stay)

$10 Community Correction Assessment (starting to sense there's a lot of jailing and correction going in WV)

$5 Courthouse Facility Impound Fund

$30 Regional Jail Operation Fund (gotta visit this place, must be posh with all the cash it requires)

May 4, 2007 - Snakes & Arrows: A Personal Experience

I decided to capture my experience in my journal. After a reading the results I decided it was safe enough for public consumption. So, though wordy, written in a personal tone (not polished and clean for external readers, for better or for worse, my full and personal notes…

I finally received the new Rush CD: Snakes and Arrows yesterday and have reached a time to settle in to my first listen.

A generous portion of banana rum over ice imported from Bermuda accompanies me on this audible journey. Perhaps it’s too strong for the occasion, I’m not certain yet. It’s been five years since Vapor Trails and I don’t remember the specifics of that first listen-through. I do remember some aspects…the high emotions on my behalf – a sort of finality to the anxiety -- since it was sort of the crown jewel in their triumph after a long journey out of tragedy and a period of doubt if they’d ever play together as a band. I was happy for them and anxious to hear the product of a hard, long birth. I remember mixed reactions, and thinking that I was thinking the same way as I had on the previous albums...not utterly convinced it was a masterwork, unimpressed and upset to be so over certain tracks, but aware of certain shining qualities. I remember it felt like a freight train nearly all the way through with only a few breaths along the way, and that underscored all and pushed hard against any doubt.

Anyway, the multi-year anticipation, multi-month windup, and power that these three put out, and the usual high-level production, coupled with foreign and taunting new lyrics can be too much for me to take in all at once. Thirteen tracks on this new album is overload to listen straight through, so I’m taking a break after the first six. Give time for the eardrums to stop thrumming, the brain to assimilate its first impressions already turning to memory, and the affect of the liquor to subside a bit.

Time to reflect…

Far Cry. The first ten seconds were the first I heard of anything from the forthcoming work several months back. It was the first and only full track to be released on the web and first radio single (which doesn’t affect me since I no longer listen to broadcast radio). I didn’t want to overdose (I knew I could easily), remembering the time I did with Big Money off Power Windows which resulted in my skipping the first track for the next year and some sort of imbalance ever since. However, it was very tempting because I liked the track a lot after only the second listen. I’ve heard it perhaps five times total before getting the CD. This first time with the full fidelity of the CD and headphones I found myself pretty much grooving to it and liking it a lot. This tune is very approachable with a strong chorus that anyone has to be able to identify with. It resonates with me and I expect a nice long love affair with it.

Armor and Sword. I recall it being a bit soft and perhaps clunky in lyric match to music. The concept seemed intriguing but it didn’t strike me right off. This one will take some warming up to.

Workin’ Them Angels. I stared at the artwork throughout and really like it. So much that my attention was split. Again it didn’t stand out to me and will take some warming up to. By now I’m sensing the common strengths of Rush’s music: the full sound, masterful performances on their respective instruments – a tightness to everything, top-notch engineering and production, and overall polish that comes from decades of making music together. I’m torn by a sense of too much structure though…desiring radical breaks from traditional song structure, and perhaps new sounds or something a bit off-formula. Which comes next in…

The Larger Bowl. Ahh. This one strikes me as different. Something special. An instant warmth and impact. Rarely do I like what I hear the first time, but this one resonated with me.

Spindrift. I thought “wow, this is a wall of sound”. Not particularly heavy, or too much of a departure from the course, but there’s a lot in there and while not really impressed by it, I expect I’ll dive deeper and uncover more as time goes on.

The Main Monkey Business. First instrumental. Always an extra high expectation with these. They used to be so rare…sometimes an album would have one, sometimes not. Some of their best of all time are instrumentals…YYZ, La Villa Strangiato, to name a couple. But this new CD has THREE instrumentals. Have they lost some luster by becoming commonplace? Anxiety grips me. Again, pretty full musically with a lot of effects. Not a “raw” revelry. However, very enjoyable. I’m smiling as it draws to a close. Six tracks in and I’m already warmed up to half of them.

Intermission is over. Fresh liquor is poured. Time to return to the sound chamber…

The Way the Wind Blows. As hard as I try to not have my focus pulled to any one instrument, and especially the drums, this one starts out with masterful percussion…solo, so there’s no avoiding it. Can’t wait to hear that again and again. Then some bluesy stuff and jamming. Wow…nice variety all the way through. The song unfolds and leaves me very satisfied. It just felt good all the way through. It’s at this time that cringe a bit listening to Geddy’s voice…I’m inured to it and it works well for me, but I know, and always have known, that with a different voice Rush may have been so much more approachable than they are to most. Such a seemingly strong song upon a first listen such as this one always makes me aware that.

Hope. Well, Alex has certainly composed a very listenable instrumental. A very nice uplifting piece amongst some of the growing weight of this CD.

Faithless. About as overt as Neil gets with personal views on faith. Feels like a final surfacing of what’s been written in his novels and essays. It’ll take some time to see if he was successful at succinctness in a song or if it feels trite after a few listens. Still, a really nice blend musically, pulling significantly different genres into this one track. Very interesting.

Another break. Sun has set, and it’s time to move indoors. Track by track commenting now…

Bravest Face. Very cool guitar bits by Alex. It’s apparent at this point that Neil has become a master at verse. Fitting well in the songs is something I’ve felt has not been perfect in the past albums, but like Geddy’s voice, I’m only usually aware on these first listens and then I desensitize.

Overall, this one doesn’t stand out to me.

Good News First. Again, this one doesn’t stand out yet. In fact, it seemed the most bland of all tracks so far.

Malignant Narcissism. I remember seeing this as a track title and being skeptical as to how you could write any kind of lyrics that aren’t laughable that include “malignant narcissism”. I sighed with relief when I later found out it was an instrumental. The boys haven’t lost their marbles after all. Heavy, driving, and short! Cool bass and drum exchanges. This one should be fun.

We Hold On. Felt like what’s become the typical final track. Nothing too different. Driving with a kind of all-enveloping theme underscoring the CD’s theme. Powerful, yet not too engaging.

Well, that concludes the first listen through. Not too different from the past several experiences. It’ll take some warming up to and some tracks will quickly rise to the top for me I’m sure. I’m now free to listen with laser sharp sense to the drums…and then a couple times through focusing on the guitars, and bass, and lyrics in turn. Before long I’ll be ten times in and feeling very different than I do at this point I’m sure, history tells.

Brought to you by the letter “ssssss”…bloody brilliant.

May 1, 2007 - Snakes & Arrows Arrives!!!

After a five year wait, Snakes & Arrows, the 19th studio album by Rush is now available. The 13-track CD, which sports 3 instrumentals and the smash-hit "Far Cry", has already been met with critical acclaim. is the official site and for more information on the album including lyrics and liner notes, click on Cygnus-X1.Net's official Snakes & Arrows page.

My copy will be in my mailbox when I arrive home from work. After evening obligations I shall settle in for a back to back listening session at 9:30pm. My neighbors be damned - the time is now, the sounds pour out, and the world expands. This deserves a massive lyrical quote:

The snakes and arrows a child is heir to

Are enough to leave a thousand cuts

We build our defenses, a place of safety

And leave the darker places unexplored

Sometimes the fortress is too strong

Or the love is too weak

What should have been our armor

Becomes a sharp and angry sword

Our better natures seek elevation

A refuge for the coming night

No one gets to their heaven without a fight

April 25, 2007 - My Cousin the Grant Wrangler

Recently featured on

Wondering what makes a grant application stand out from the rest? We asked Julie Mancuso, a grant manager at Youth Service America (YSA), what she looks for in potential grantees.

Julie is responsible for 9 programs and $270,000 a year in donations. She develops grant applications, evaluates grantees, administers grants, and takes part in the selection process.

Read the rest at: My dear cousin Julie also recently spent the weekend laying on the White House lawn in protest for civil rights in Africa. She's always making a difference, smiling as in her pic, and making the world is a better place with her in it.

April 15, 2007 - Up, up, and away

Adam reports in the following:

I'm leaving Amazon on the 23rd to be a consultant at Leviathan Security Group ( I'll be breaking into systems, doing software review, and threat modeling.

And, the balloon reached 109,242 feet!!!

Adam will be in his glory as Leviathan seems to be the dream job he was born to do. He's failed at Amazon as far as I'm concerned...I still have that stinkin' Gold Box!

April 11, 2007 - From Bulgaria, With Love

Spas B. reporting in from the motherland:

Hello ECP-ers,

It's been 6 moths since I am back home in Bulgaria. A lot of things have changed - I work as a ski instructor at Bulgaria's best resort:

The mountain is awesome - a small version of the Alps. Lots of off-piste skiing and ski touring routes. Work is generally a lot of fun but can also make you hate skiing sometimes with the "right" clients. Next year I'll work on getting an international certificate and try to get work in the Alps but that's still a long shot. For the summer, I hope to find work as mountain guide and get back to climbing again. A nice resource for climbing in Bulgaria is

In the end, I want to sincerely thank all of you guys from ECP for getting me on the outdoor track and eventually inspiring me to make this change in my life. I must say I start to miss Pittsburgh - really bummed for missing this year's mountaineering school!

Spas was a student in the 2005-06 ECP Mountaineering School and invites all his comrades to visit on any trip destined for Bulgaria. Unity Makes Strength! We miss ya, buddy!

April 4, 2007 - Balloon Launch II / Phone Message Rant

Keep an eye on Adam's project taking flight again this coming weekend:

Phone Message Rant: What is up with the voice mail systems these days? The routine should be simple: 1) enter password 2) retrieve message(s). But the voice goes like this: "you have x unheard messages. x messages have not been heard. The first message received on such and such a date/time has not been heard..." and only then does it begin to play. Why why why is there so much redundancy!? I GET it. The messages have not been heard. That's why I'm here! Play 'em! Jeesh. I'm telling's upwards of 30 seconds before the crazy lady gets to the point we all know we want to be. Somebody fix this!

Equally frustrating is the verbose greeting for leaving a message..."so and so is not available to take your call..." Then directions on how to leave a message, how to page them, what to do when you're done (uh...hang up? Gee, I'm glad you told me! I once stood frozen for 45 minutes not knowing what to do!), how to get instructions in Spanish. What about French? Finnish? And don't tell me that you can just hit 1 to skip all this...half the time that isn't the right key for the message service and you get tossed into a login sequence that you can't get out of and then need to hang up and redial, and wait again through the entire sequence. I don't know about you, but I view that 1 key as a if it has a thousand volts running through it these days. Don't touch anything! Wait for the crazy lady to finish her harangue, then finally...I get 30 seconds to say my piece. Somebody fix this too.

Until then, I'm rebelling. I start speaking as soon as I hear the greeting start. So, you may only get "...tant. OK? Bye." as a message.

April 1, 2007 - Sad But True News

A few important headlines today, courtesy of (and reprinted without the prior approval of) the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

RIAA to Parents: Pay When They're Toddlers and Save the Bother Later

The RIAA today sent a "settlement letter" to all parents of children under 3 years old offering a toddler settlement rate for online copyright infringement if they simply send payment to major record labels before their children learn to read.

"Our goal is to make this easier for parents," said RIAA President Cary Sherman. "Everyone knows that in this era of increasing hard drive capacity and new digital media technologies, it is inevitable that every child in America will infringe copyright sooner or later. With our 'toddler settlement' rate, parents can avoid those pesky lawsuits. Consider it a way to invest your child's future."

The toddler settlement requires parents to log everything their child ever does online and to make those logs available to the RIAA at regular intervals. "It can just become a part of every birthday celebration," added RIAA's counsel at Holme, Roberts and Owen. "Blow out the candles and send your Internet logs to Uncle RIAA!"

Dungeon Masters, Guild Members to Testify on Chaotic Neutrality in Congress Next Week

Twenty-sided dice to decide legislation's fate.

NSA, FBI Debut Search Engine to Compete with Google

"We had so much of this data just layin' around, we figured 'why not monetize it?'" says agency official.

March 31, 2007 Cruisin' to Cumberland

Headed to Cumberland, MD (midpoint) to meet up with DC friend Carol L. who I've not had a chance to see for over a year. Teresa G., Michelle D., and Rick G. were also in on the gathering. We ate nearly ever appetizer at the Flying Pig, walked the town, had drinks at The Manhattan, and then settled in for dinner at a country-style Steak restaurant. A great way to spend the day and enjoy each other's company.

Cumberland is a strange town, filled with historic buildings with a strong attempt at a quaint town central promenade for local shops and arts. However, it's barely holding onto life. Most storefronts closed and for lease, those that were in business were closed up early on a Saturday. Two stores remained open...both Dollar stores, and one is going out of business!

Fun on the ride down: I've never been above 125 MPH in any car but have ridden and driven at 125 MPH several times, and this weekend I again got a chance to hit my record. I must admit, it's slightly frightening, but, I'd not hesitate to push to 130 the next chance I get.

Pics: Teresa

March 28, 2007 - Mt. Washington Cleanup

Lot's of high quality pics courtesy of Umair Lateef:

More by Phil Sidel:

April 4, 2004 Update

Volunteers Fight Litter In Mount Washington (March 31, 2007)

PITTSBURGH, Pa. -- Volunteers helped clean up Mount Washington Saturday and found some interesting stuff. The Explorers Club of Pittsburgh has helped clean the hillsides leading up to Mount Washington every year for the Grandview Clean Up. The volunteers said they had to take care to avoid the crack pipes, hypodermic needles and mounds of other litter that covers the sides of Mount Washington.

"Champaign bottles, scooters, cameras, tripods, we actually found an engagement ring, which we assumed was from some spurned lover who's proposal didn't go so well up here on top of Mount Washington," said Matt Tolbert, of the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, along with others, signed a pledge not to be a litterbug and to keep junk off the side of Mount Washington, among other places.

"It's very important on all of our hillsides, not just this one on Mount Washington, but all over the city tend to have debris dumped over them so it's a challenge we face throughout the city because of our hillsides," said Ravenstahl. "We want to make sure people are aware of it, we want to make sure people don't litter."

Report by WTAE News:

Volunteers, Mayor Team Up For Litter Clean-Up (March 31, 2007)

(KDKA) MT. WASHINGTON Several local volunteers teamed up with one local official this morning to help make Mount Washington a more beautiful place. The clean-up was organized by the Explorer’s Club of Pittsburgh along with the Mount Washington Development Corporation, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl also took part in the event.

The clean-up lasted throughout the morning and Ravenstahl started working around 10am. This year the volunteers cleaned the steep hillside below McArdle Roadway. Volunteers were expected to rappel down the hillside in order to pick up the trash. Officials say some of the most common types of trash found on the hillside include cans, bottles, cigarette butts, and plastic bags. But in previous years volunteers have also found a La-z-boy chair, refrigerators, and even a diamond engagement ring while they were cleaning.

Report by CBS/KDKA news:

Report by WPXI news:

March 27, 2007 - Revoked! (or...Vacations Make You Smile)

My friend and frequent climbing partner, Jim, took a wicked fall on a climb named Revoked (5.5) at Red Rocks. Yes, it doesn't get more ironic than that, folks. No helmet, foot hold broke, and this is what you get. He's lucky to be only bruised and scraped. (And to have dentures instead of real teeth to break!)

March 19, 2007 - Donnie Cleans Up The Ice Like a Turbo-driven Zamboni

Congratulations to my cousin Donnie Halinka! For those that don't know, he's been a devoted ice hockey player for years, also roller hockey, and referees in his off time. This year he graduates from high school, and may or may not continue his long-time commitment to the sport at Slippery Rock University. But he's certainly wrapping up this phase with a bang. A few stats from this season:

His team won the regular season by a margin of 8 points and a record of 16-2-2 (34 points). (They lost in the finals of playoffs.)

Took 1st place at the Mt Lebanon Tournament over the MLK holiday weekend.

Finished 2nd of 6 teams at a season ending tourney in Voorhees, NJ.

Team season record was 24-4-3 including playoffs and tournaments.

They scored 171 goals (average of 5.5 goals per game)

Donnie had his best year ever with 10 goals and 23 assists for 33 points. Simply awesome!

March 17, 2007 - Catching Up with the Borriellos

I was invited to the family gathering of the Borriellos (including the Kikels and Martinellis) to celebrate Mr. Borriello's and Terry's birthdays from last week. Mr. B was up from Florida to catch up on sleep (I mean "check on the property").

Being lifelong friends, I had earned my seat at this exclusive table. Or Albert begged on my behalf, I'm not sure. Lisa's first ever attempt at homemade ravioli was a superb one -- I happen to be a ravioli aficionado, so I should know! The homemade "Dago red" wine was smooth, and homemade lemon cake was a tasty treat.

All of the kids have grown way to fast and too smart. I might have started to feel old, but as it turned out I knew more stupid human tricks than they did. So phtttpt. (I also go the last laugh in with the shoes in the snow, Matthew! Hah!) My deepest thanks for their endearment and hospitality.

The kind, talented, and inspiring Borriello Family (sans Rosa who's keeping warm in Florida)

March 16, 2007 - Jenny's Surprise B-day Party

A big (we won't say how big) happy birthday to Jenny!

See more pictures of this auspicious occasion at Jenny's 360 Site. All friends' sites are listed on my Family and Friends page.

March 15, 2007 - "Tick, tick, ticktick, tick..."

In reviewing my past 4 years of Social Security Statements I notice a disturbing trend:

2004: " just 15 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without change, by 2042 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."

2005: " just 14 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without change, by 2042 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."

2006: " just 11 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without change, by 2041 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."

2007: " just 10 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes. Without change, by 2040 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted."

Now, I've long ago given up the expectation of drawing on Social Security - I figure each several generations inhabit the legacies, good and bad, of the previous group. My generation has certainly done our duty with national debt, environmental impact, etc. If you look at it as a trust fund, well, sometimes you just don't collect. Yes, we paid in, but stop fooling yourself that you have a sense of entitlement. Future generations will pay to clean up our mess, trust me. However, the government created it and they need to address it. Either apply a patch or set an expiration date; stop ignoring it. We people need to plan you know! Perhaps our next president wont begin with his/her head in the sand. Until then, the countdown continues...tick, tickticktick (hey!)

March 13, 2007 - Aloha from Jennifer in Hawai'i

Jennifer Merwick (reporting in from Hawai'i - the big island)

I attached a few photos of our apartment and lanai [back porch, pittsburgheese, :) ] and of course a few sunsets. Enjoy!

Keauhou Bay - About 2 miles south of Kailua-Kona towards Captain Cook. This bay is near an old hawaiian burial ground. Excellent cliffs with pounding surf shaping the lava rocks with its point of contact so energizing. It's like watching the Steelers line ram into their opponent. It is just fun to sit and watch and hear the surf pound against the cliff as well as waiting to see how high the ocean water will spray into the sky past the height of the nearest palm.

This is our guard gekko. The colors are quite amazing. He is a wonderful attraction to our home. He keeps the bugs away.

The sloping of the land of the Big Island is much more gradual than the Jurassic Park like peaks of Oahu (the last island we lived on) Kealakekua Bay is close to the site of one of the major battles between the Hawaiians and Captain Cook that happened years ago. Not too long ago in many of the Hawaiian's minds unfortunately for the Haoles or the white man.

Kealakekua Bay is about 7 miles south of Kailua-Kona towards Captain Cook along the coastline of fertile papaya trees and robust coffee plantations. This bay is excellent for kayaking to small remote areas of the coast as well as kayaking near and swimming with the dolphins that make their home in this region. Our neighbors who are artists from Boston offered their kayak to use if we desired someday. We are anticipating the day to take them up on this one. I have only Kayaked one time on Oahu and it was one of the best things I could have done while living there. A definite must if you come to visit.

The Hilton Rhino...This was the day we were tourists and walked around the Hilton in Waikaloa Village. (north of Kailua-Kona about 25 miles) It is a very fast growing community on the island. This hotel has a similiar tram system like Disney World as well as a system of jungle boats that tour you around the grounds. I have never seen a hotel quite like it.

Venturing to the lanai to the watch the sunset is a local [and possibly elsewhere in Hawaii] tradition; many locals have mentioned that they too enjoy this event along with the tourists. This event seems to never grow old with its spectacular and varied colors. Kailu-Kona or Kona is positioned perfectly along the "gradual sloping " mountain coast on the west side of the Big Island which allows for everyone to see the ocean and the sunsets at all times. I am sure there are other towns on the other islands that are positioned in the same manner...however the coastline may not have the contoured "sloping terrain" which would then make it impossible for everyone to see the horizon unless you were directly on the shore or at least close to it.

So that is why it is such an event in Kona-town, because almost everyone here has a view of the ocean without having to be at a certain place along the coast. You just have to take the time to look up because it is right there in front of you...every evening. What a concept yeah?

This is the sunset from our lanai. The horizontal line is the horizon of the ocean. You are now looking toward Indo.

Other thumbnails (click to enlarge):

Hope you enjoyed your vacation to Hawaii. I hope you can come again soon. Thanks again for chatting. And ALOHA to all of yuns guys!

Jennifer and her husband John are starting a new business together: Kona Solar Service. They, and all their fellow island inhabitants, stop whatever they are doing every day and head to the lanai (porch) to watch the sunset - something we all should do in one form or another.

March 12, 2007 - Susy Stops in Costa Rica for 3 Months

Susy Altamura (reporting in from Costa Rica)

Hi everybody!

Hope you are doing well. It's almost one week I'm here in El Coco, in Costa Rica and I like this place more and more!!! Last Saturday I've finally found a great place to stay. It's a beautiful house about 45 seconds from the beach. I'm renting it from an Italian lady who is leaving soon to go back to Italy. She is a lot of fun and likes colors like me :) her house is great and perfect for me. There are two rooms so in case you decide to visit me, you'll be able to stay there. I've found also a job. not totally sure yet about it but it seems pretty good. It will be in a tour operator. They organize tour in Costa Rica for Italian people....that's actually pretty perfect for me. Hopefully I'll be able to take advantage of that and travel Costa Rica.

Going now. The playa is waiting for me :)))))) muchos besos Susy

March 05, 2007 - Space-bound Balloon

Reposted with permission from Adam Cecchetti's Blog:

Weather Balloon

Yar after a week of all nighters and well more Redbull that I care to think about. We launched Ahab, due to weather we had to limit the ceiling from 70k feet to 200 feet. Fog + 100% cloud cover does not good flight conditions make. I wrote the make controller code that took temperature readings, took pictures, and would have cut the device down when it hit 70,000 feet.

Pictures = 1000 cliches so here are some links. Pre Launch Video | Results

Photos of setup 1 2 3

Project details.

Keep on floating...

Ps. Looks like we've hit Make, BoingBoing, and Rocketboom

Adam is living the west coast dream: working at by day, and prowling the Seattle scene by night. Ever the experimentalist, this is only one of many cool "projects" he spends free time on. Keep watch on this project and find more about his happenings on his Blog and

A list of Adam's and all friends' sites is always available on my Family and Friends page.

February 13, 2007 - Local Featurette "The Shaft" Nears Completion

Reposted with permission from Gavin Rapp's OccaBoccaBlog:

Thanks again for visiting.

Here are some pictures from our shooting of The Shaft.

I am still editing, should be done in a couple of weeks. when I am i will post a trailer.

spread the word.


talk to you soon

Welcome to The Shaft

Gavin is driving hard towards the eventual production of Since I Don't Have You. Along the way, he wrote, directed, and edited this "short". Find all the details at the various sites devoted to his film passions: on his Blog and

A list of Gavin's and all friends' sites is always available on my Family and Friends page.

February 4, 2007 - Pittsburgh Does the Presi in Winter!

I set the Explorers Club of Pittsburgh (ECP) the following communiqué:

All are now back down out of the White Mountains, and have returned to Pittsburgh. By 1pm on Saturday, Feb 3, all of the teams (14 people total) had arrived at the southern point, successfully finishing a winter traverse of the Presidential Mountain Range.

An unPrezidented (had to use it) weather window opened for our mini-expedition, and for one and a half days we had clear conditions and kind weather conditions. The last segment presented more standard conditions for the season, but perseverance, immaculate orientation planning, headlamps, snowshoes, warm layers, and Pittsburgh Pride provided enough to push through.

Not officially confirmed, but have no indications to the contrary that this was the first ever Mountaineering School winter traverse attempt and success. A huge thanks to the "ground crew", Suzanne and Brian W., who watched over us and helped with transportation, and immediate re-hydration (coffee and whiskey). A big congratulations to the students on this extraordinary school grad trip, and to all those that went through this year's school. And of course those not directly involved in the school may not know that this year's school was under the deft co-direction of Sid and David M.

We'll now attempt to sober up, pay off our credit purchases from the gear stores, and return to the regularly scheduled program already in progress: ice season!


An Excursion page should be coming soon, including pictures and trip report(s).

January 30, 2007

Reposted with edits and permission from Glen's site:

Over a long weekend, I celebrated by 40th birthday with the joyful company of my friends Ron, Jenny, Alexis, Beth, RJ and Leslie.

We rented a cabin (house) in Holiday Valley Ellicottville, New York. We didn't have conditions for skiing as originally planned, but it didn't stop us from having a great time.

The glow the our cabin lights illuminate the (relatively) warm, foggy and rainy Saturday night

Thanks to my friends (and my family who called with well-wishes) I had the best birthday that I can recall and at a time when I needed it the most.

My custom birthday cake

If you have people in your life who care for you, getting older isn't a pain, it's a pleasure. - I only curled into a fetal position and wept a few times.

Stop by Glen's most excellent site: Make sure to drop him a comment and ask for access to the exclusive Friends section if you really want the goods!

A list of Glen's and all friends' sites is always available on my Family and Friends page.