Sunday, June 21, 2009

Pimp my Scooter

It's quite an odd thing to lose one's job. For a while, it's exciting, liberating and most of all it seems as if there are so many doors yet to be opened. Unemployment Insurance seems to be the safety net you clumsily stand on until you can find a new ladder to climb. Sure, the net isn't as stable as you once were and sometimes your foot falls through here and there but all in all you live instead of perish because of this net and you just hope it will keep you safe until you can find something new.

This feeling of tentative happiness fades rather quickly, however, when the state of the economy that you now find yourself in is nothing short of catastrophic. Yes, I eat meals every day and yes I still pay my bills. Yet when the third month in a row shows its face having yielded not one single phone call or interview, it becomes harder nay near impossible to see the light. To stymie off this feeling of inadequacy one looks to feel fulfilled, skilled and even resourceful. My personal panic room usually consists of little projects that are just a tad beyond my current skill set and propose a sufficient challenge for me to both learn and be proud of my work.

For months, nearly a year to be honest, UGOBE spun its wheels quite literally producing nothing. In retrospect, it explains why near the end I was so unhappy. I felt like I was contributing nothing because I wasn't. I couldn't. No matter the project, direction or goal we were set off to accomplish, inevitably mid-way through the project our focus was shifted to something new and shiny. We were a company of goldfish, really. In the end, my job became null and void- I had no team to manage, no project to see completed, and most of all, no confidence that my efforts would ever amount to anything tangible anyway. Thus- I needed to once again feel as though my hours of work would net a return. I began to eye my scooter curiously asking myself- what can be done to improve you, sir?

I landed on the only possible solution- I had to pimp my scooter. It actually turned out quite nicely- you know, for a total cheesy underglow effect type of "nicely." The actual process of making said cheese happen was not trivial by any means. It required me to gain a new understanding of electrical diagrams, power consumption and wiring. After some drilling, zip ties, running electrical cable, laying in the dirt, swearing, trial and error and a whole lot of reading- I arrived at a destination I so adamantly sought... satisfaction.

Something I did, some effort I placed into the universe came back to me in physical return. For once, in a very long time, the conservation of energy remained true in my life. Ahhh- it feels good. Physics in motion.

Adventures in Geocaching

This past christmas, one of the gifts I received was a handheld GPS. The whole point of this gift, in addition to aiding me from getting lost in the woods, was to experiment with a phenomenon known as Geocaching. The general idea is that someone, anyone, hides a small cache somewhere in the world. A website,, is the default registry for these caches- it allows you to find them locally. Most of these caches are just a logbook where you write down your name and date that you found the cache- the idea is not to take something from a hidden location so much as it is taking the journey to find it.

Rachel and I decided to actually seek out a few of these caches in the Boise area. Our first was inside a park not but two blocks from our apartment. We found the cache by Rachel almost tripping on it. We thought it was a neat adventure so she decided to look up the location of some more caches near to where we live. Low and behold, there was a cache hidden along an irrigation canal where we always take the dog on walks. We have passed it probably twenty or thirty times and never knew it was there. Quite an interesting concept when you stop to think about it- how many things are there in the world that you pass by each and every day and never notice?

Rachel found this cache- it was hidden in a rusted piece of metal that, to me, looked pretty normal to the area. She found it odd so flipped it over and discovered the cache. It was sealed in a pill bottle and contained a log book. Bender joined in on the search but was preoccupied with trying to get away and sniff whatever he decided needed sniffing at the time.

In the end- we've found a neat new hobby that I hope to take with me on my upcoming trip to Yellowstone. I imagine there are some pretty neat caches to be found out in the massive forest.

If you haven't tried it- I suggest you do. You don't need any kind of fancy GPS- even the most basic will do. The only option you need is the ability to enter GPS coordinates and even that is mostly automated by an plug-in on the Geocaching website. It's pretty much a no-brainer but a good adventure for a day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Eep the Bird

Rachel and I were taking the dog out for a quick walk to go potty, as we do many times throughout the day when Rachel nearly stepped on something that caught her by surprise. Her first response was, "Oh no- a baby bird," insinuating that the bird she discovered was killed by either the fall or from laying out on the concrete for as long as he had. With us as always, was a bag destined to pick up after the dog as he was out to do his business. She equipped the bag as a glove and gently picked the bird up hoping to bury him and at the very least get the poor thing off of the concrete before somebody really did step on it.

What happened next was quite surprising- somehow, the little guy was still alive, but just barely. She cradled him in her hand until we got inside where we promptly made a makeshift nest out of towels and a heating pad. He was very cold to the touch and we both knew this was no good for such a young bird. With no feathers to speak of and being mostly translucent, we guessed he was less than a week old. After we bundled him up we went in search of his nest of origin so that we could replace him with his family. The whole notion of "don't put a baby bird back if you touch it with your hands" is a complete farce. There is no truth in the fact that a bird will be shunned if the smell of humans is present. A bird will take care of it no matter. Unfortunately, we never did find a nest in any of the trees near where we found him. It was, apparently, up to us. We didn't, however, expect him to live out the night, let alone long enough for us to worry about caring for him.

Much to our surprise, by the end of the night, only six hours after rescuing him, he was showing signs of regained strength and was asking to be fed. Tiny bits of bread soaked in water was all that we dared feed him before doing a little homework and understanding what was best to give him regularly. His strength grew and before we went to sleep that first night, the little bird was chirping.

By the next day, he was alert, chirping loudly for food and craning his neck high above his body. He was still not strong enough to hold his own body but he was definitely not on death's door. Rachel and I decided he just might make it. We concocted a baby bird food out of dry dog food soaked in water mixed with a little bit of strawberry. This is, from what we've read, a good mix of protein and fruits to supply mostly what a baby bird needs. He ate this mixture regularly all throughout the day nearly every 30 minutes from a toothpick. Rachel thought it would be a good idea to get him a surrogate mother figure to cuddle with- we found a tiny stuffed tiger at the dollar store and it seemed to do the job quite nicely. He would often cuddle up next to it or even under it and sleep.

As the days went on, we decided to name him Eep for the wonderful eeping noise he would often make when he would hear one of us talking or moving around the apartment. He grew in strength and actually was able to hold himself up after learning to spread his legs really wide and rock back on his butt. It was quite extraordinary to see how fast these creatures grow. When we found him, he was nothing but skin and by day six he had sprouted spikes which contained the beginnings of feathers on the ends. He was going strong, chirping loudly, spreading his wings and even strong enough to hold on to the toothpick when we tried to feed him. Things were looking great.

This morning, however, Rachel woke to find Eep very silent, cold and hardly moving. By 8 o'clock, Eep had passed away. Both of us were quite devastated and arguably, I took it harder than Rachel. She came into the bedroom this morning to report his condition to me and I arrogantly thought he would be fine and did not wake up to check on him myself. I find myself believing that had I woken up and taken the time to cradle the little guy in my hands I could have warmed him and once again sprout life back in him. Of course, many people have tried to reassure us that usually baby birds don't make it, the rate of survival outside of the nest is quite low- even in professional care. The guilt still weighs heavy, even with the knowledge of these terrible statistics and I cannot escape the fact that my laziness and arrogance caused an innocent little bird to die cold and alone inside a shoe box.

Eep is buried in our flower box under a memorial layer of river rock. Rachel wrote on one of these rocks forming a gravestone that says "Here rests Eep... a good little bird." Maybe it's not my fault, maybe we did the best that we could, but in the end, when someone or something leaves us, we will always be left with our doubts and regrets first and foremost. For a long time it's hard not to forget what you could have done differently to make the end best for everyone and although Eep was a small thing, that I knew for a small time, he had a large impact on me. So in some way, I hope this lets me find peace with my regrets- I'm sorry for not being there in the end; I'm sorry for not holding him, even if there was nothing I could have done. I will miss him. Goodbye little birdy- rest peacefully.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

An early gift

Rachel surprised me with an early christmas present. Before unveiling the surprise she explained that she didn't think she could hide it for the next several months and that it was not returnable. She asked if it would be alright if I received such an early gift- admittedly the prospect of something 'impossible to hide' was too intriguing to remain unclaimed for so long. I walked out to the car with her to find my very own vintage typewriter sitting on the front seat of her car.

About a month ago, Rachel and I decided to check out a local Antique store, at the time, to see if they had any vintage razors that I could buy and recondition. They did not, however, they did have an extremely large warehouse of just about everything else including this typewriter, in perfect working condition, sitting alone on a table just waiting for someone to take it home and start using it once again. I didn't have the money to spend at the time but we both made an oath that we would somehow get our hands on a beautiful machine such as this at some point in the future. Little did I know that Rachel had started saving money from that day forth in order to get it for me as a gift- tricksy hobbit, that one.

With the exception of a few minor quirks, like the 'I' key double tapping and sometimes the carriage not advancing after hammering a letter, it works like a dream. I've already typed a letter or two both littered with typos that I affectionately refer to as 'character.'

It's a wonderful gift and should you wish to receive such a barely legible letter, please let me know and I will clickety clack one out and send it your way.

Thank you Rachel.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Mr. Fix-it

Or, Mr. Build-it-from-funky-materials is perhaps a more appropriate title. What you see here is an authentic metal box that used to contain "I have no idea," but my best guess is some kind of conductor or light sensitive device. The whole thing probably weighs between 20 and 30 pounds and has a hinged top and two handles on either side. We came across this behemoth while perusing one of our favorite Boise haunts- the Reuseum. Mostly they sell surplus and/or obsolete electronics and other mechanical whoo-za-whatzits but I spotted this behind the store in the salvage yard. Ten bucks later and I was on my way home with a new project box project on the horizon. 

The first step of the frankensteining was to remove the hinged lid. This involved much swearing related to the smashing of thumbs with a hammer, a small nail aimed strategically at the hinge pins and a LOT of noise. The last hinge pin was a bit of a stubborn hermit so we had to cajole it from its happy home with a bit of back and forth hammering and a spot of mineral oil. For those at home looking for an eco-friendly and wallet-friendly tip, Mineral Oil is a SUPER cheap lubricant. I use it to sharpen knives, remove hinge pins apparently and even give my wooden (and bamboo) cutting boards a renewal of life. Simply squirt a little on some paper towel, rub the oil into the wood, let it set and you've got a rejuvinated, longer-lasting wooden cutting board that also stands up to knives more readily. A thoroughly moisturized wood cutting board will 'shed' less with frequent knife action. Seriously- Mineral Oil- it rocks face. 

Anyhoo- once the top was off it was measuring and drilling time. I didn't have a punch on hand so I had to drill small pilot holes to keep the relatively massive 3/8" drill bit from dancing on the metal. I must say, with a hand-held drill I hit the mark dead-on for all four holes- quite pleased with myself. The whole thing made quite the mess but I managed to keep it confined to either on or inside the box and not on the floor. 

When I first spotted this box sitting out in the elements I knew exactly how I wanted to hang it. Bolt some kind of hook to the outsides and literally just hang it from the deck off of my apartment. What I didn't know, however, was what kind of hardware I needed to do this foreseen 'hanging.' The man at Lowe's was of no help- upon asking if I needed assistance whilst I scanned both vertically and horizontally in his designated aisle, I explained my project and desired impelement as best I could. I believe it was the phrase, "some kind of hook or bracket or something to bolt to the outside of a flower box," that left him speechless. He gazed off into the distance as if hoping, nay, praying, for some divine providence to grant him a solution to my quest. He received no such intervention- his suggestion of "well you could always see what they've got outside in the chain-link fence stuff," proved fruitless. I managed to obtain my personal ark in some corner of the store at the end of an aisle appropriately titled "hooks." Go figure. 

The hardware in question is meant for someone whom is, shall we say, basic construction skills-challenged. The two hooks come with four massive screws meant to dig straight in to drywall with no prep-work. Supposedly this removes the need for wall anchors to keep the hooks from ripping holes in your wall when a load is applied. They also, to my surprise when opening the package, had 1/2" spikes on the back of the wall plate to, or so I guess, anchor it to the wall without moving while you attach it to the wall. A quick turn of the Dremel tool and those spikes were history. Once attached to the box- I knew we were in business. A couple of machine bolts did the trick to secure both hooks nice and tight and there we are. Project finished! 

We haven't quite decided on what will actually be planted in the dirt, once said dirt is placed in box. I'm thinking mostly herbs and perhaps some small vegetable plants- we are taking suggestions so please, do suggest. 

Monday, June 8, 2009

The hike out

I awoke in my tent after a long and hearty sleep sweetened mostly by the new camping mat that I purchased a few months back with my REI Dividend check. It cost roughly 70 bucks and I was quite worried that it would offer little to no improvement over the foam job I had used on the previous backpacking excursion. I could not have been more mistaken- absolutely worth the purchase. So much so in fact that I shamelessly plug the product for free here on my blog to all ten of my anxious readers. Without delay, here's to you Therm-a-Rest BaseCamp, size large, and keeping me warm and comfortable for a wonderful nights sleep. Shameless plug- complete.

I was surprised to find that not 30 feet or so from our selected campsite ran a very tranquil, slow-moving river. I suppose in my haste to both construct my tent and ensure we had a sufficient cooking fire before the fade of daylight, I had missed some crucial details about the surrounding environment. The river itself was quite small and laden with large rocks as far as I could see both up and down-river. Standing next to it was the only way to actually hear that familiar babble that rock-littered rivers always make. I stood on the riverbank for quite some time with fresh (black) coffee in hand brewed by the expert camp-coffee hands of Eric Laun. It was then, while all of us stood gazing that the guys noticed something odd and called my attention to it. 

For reasons that not one of us could explain with the only possible solution of, "well, it's mating season," we found a disturbingly large amount of either Ladybugs or those Japanese Beetles we have all heard so much about. On the tops of all the large rocks, at the ends of fallen logs were quite literally hundreds of these things just hanging out. 

For 50 yards in either direction of where we were standing, every few rocks were covered it these things. It was quite the sight to see- definitely something neither of us had ever seen before. The enterprising gentlemen that they are, both Jeremy and Eric took a large mug full of the bugs home to their garden to control their aphid population. Take that over-priced gardening store. 

The hike out was just as wonderful as the hike in. Not nearly as much 'up' as the hike in but it was a close match. I tell you this mountain is magical with its up-ness. As always there were scenic vistas at every turn and by the end we were all sweating under the hazy humidity that is June Gloom. 

It was a little longer hiking out than in- we took a different route out which was, even though longer, a nice way to hike out. New scenery, new terrain, new things to look at and distract you from the burning sensation in your thighs and butt. 

Once out we congratulated ourselves with a trip to In-N-Out Burger, my first time there, actually. I was surprised at the quality of such a notorious fast food establishment. The potatoes used to make the fries are freshly cut every day, the meat is never frozen, the tomatoes are on par with ones I would use at home and the lettuce is nice and crisp. Seriously- A+ for In-N-Out Burger. Great trip, great friends, great workout. Thanks Jeremy and Laun. 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Hike in to Angeles

Today was truly a dichotomy day. It began prowling the booming and blinking floors of E3- the veritable modern day El Dorado of technology and entertainment. Where ever you looked it was flashing screens and loud music. It seemed that around every corner someone from Game Design Corp. was being interviewed by a reporter from Media Mogul Inc.

It ended with backpacking in the Angeles National Forest. Our planned destination was Spruce Grove, a mere four miles into the woods, where we planned to set up camp for one night and rough it like real men. 

The day itself had been gloomy- apparently, those that live in the area refer to this time of year as 'June Gloom.' It seems that, like clockwork every year, a thick haze blankets the entire metropolitan area of greater Los Angeles. The mountains trap this 'gloom' in the valleys that which the city lay. If you get high enough, though, you can get above the ceiling of this haze. We were just high enough to see the top but weren't quite above it. This meant that during our hike in, when we would come to a clearing, we could occasionally see this haze moving through the valleys- it made for quite a view. 

As we set off on our journey, I was not made aware that we were venturing into a territory that I now refer to as a never-ending-up trail. From the moment the dirt trail began until the moment we stopped to drop our gear on the ground, we were going up. Granted- it was not a steep enough grade to feel dangerous but after a while, I began to wonder if we hadn't accidentally stumbled upon a New Everest. 

Alongside the trail, Jeremy gave me a brief history of the path we were taking. Apparently sometime in the 1800's- backpacking and hiking really began to take off as a popular outdoor sport. During that time, no such law existed that protected lands or prohibited building upon them. So- as people started adventuring out on this very trail, they decided to take out 100-year leases on certain spots and build tiny cabins right against the train and the river that runs near it. As we were hiking past these cabins, I couldn't help but think how much it looked like The Shire- cabins made out of stone and half-built into the ground. It was actually quite cool, though I am glad the lands are now protected for fear that the buildings would soon overtake the natural landscape. 

When we finally arrived at the Spruce Grove campsite I was, needless to say, quite sweaty. It was a great hike in but now was the time to do the true nature-man stuff. It had rained lightly throughout the day and we were all a little worried that starting a fire might prove to be the bane of the trip. After a few attempts with laundry lint, twigs and a random piece of paper we found from a previous adventurer, my tried-and-true method of 'just blow on it,' made the tiny fire start to crackle. It wasn't too long before we had a cook-worthy fire and so began a feast of the ages. 

The decision was made quite early on that we should pack in some nice steaks and potatoes to cook on the campfire. Jeremy was kind enough to pick up some Ribeye steaks and prep some potatoes in foil that we could chuck on the hot coals. Each campsite is outfitted with a nice metal grate that is perfect for open-fire cooking. Bish whipped up a dry rub that we could bathe the steaks in once we were set up and out we went. I can, with a high amount of confidence, say that this was the best campfire meal ever. The steak was great, the potatoes were great and we were all ravenous from the work of getting to the campsite and getting tents up and fires going. 

All in all- a great day at E3, a great hike into the mountains, a great night with good food and good company. Adventure had.