Category: Life

My First Patagonia Catalog

[NOTE: This post is restored from the Wayback Machine. It was initially published December 22 2016 and lost during a database transfer sometime in the past. ]

I can’t remember the exact year, but I know it was in the late 1980s, when I got my first Patagonia Catalogue (I am Canadian after all). It opened my eyes to some amazing outdoor adventures, as well as introducing me to the history of the company – there was a long company history article among the pages.

The product I remember the most from the catalogue? The Ironworker Climbing Pants. The concept of these have stuck with me for nearly 30 years. Pants so tough that they could survive the abuse of an ironworker and a climber on Half Dome.

But also remember the crazy sailing and fishing products that they had. It impressed me that the people who worked for Patagonia and designed the products weren’t just crazy stonewallers, but wanted to be a part of the outdoors, no matter where the outdoors were.

I have never owned anything from Patagonia. My kids wore Patagonia, when they were younger, as we had a fantastic Goodwill store when we lived in San Mateo and people were dropping off some amazing stuff during the crazy years of the boom.

As I have gotten older and more sedentary, I likely can’t fit into any of their products with my spreading middle-aged frame. I could buy some knock-off or one of the amazing brands that has appeared in the intervening years (I see The North Face everywhere right now – is this a hot brand or just better marketing?).

But this has not stopped my love of (and lust for) Patagonia products. Why would I desire something I could never get into or have any need for?

For the same reason I appreciate anything: the love Patagonia puts into their designs, the simplicity of their complexity, and the pride people have who wear their products not just as a fashion statement, but because they understand what Patagonia stands for.

Covid Daily Stats and the Question of China

One of my favorite places to get Covid stats from is the Our World In Data data explorer. They aggregate all the stats into a number of great visualizations that you can share with friends.

In this data are nuggets of information that get lost when you are surrounded by North American media. For example, did you in North America know that France and Germany are centers of a new European Covid wave in April 2022?

In this cascade of data are some interesting signs of how our world really uses and abuses information. The NY Times reported on some of the weird Covid data emerging from China (Shanghai’s Low Covid Death Toll Revives Questions About China’s Numbers). The Our World In Data charts show just how unusual this information is.

Covid Case Counts – China

Covid Daily Deaths – China

While I believe that the methods used to control Covid in China are aggressive, they cannot be this successful. Full stop. The case counts are far lower than anywhere else in the world and the confirmed deaths are, well, remarkably low.

Unbelievably low, upon sober thought.

The battle that democratic India is waging to control the release of statistical models of their actual mortality rate change during Covid (India Is Stalling the W.H.O.’s Efforts to Make Global Covid Death Toll Public) shines a brighter light on a country with tighter controls that is able to bury the actual mortality rate more effectively.

Throughout the Pandemic, there have been two battles: one to control the disease; the other to control the facts about the disease. In North America, the disinformation campaign has been incredibly strong; in China, it pales besides the no information campaign

Taking this data, anyone can shape a narrative that reflects their world view. But what narrative can you shape about no data?

Hüsker Dü’s Newest Industry and The World Today

This blog used to have a different name, but a few years ago, I let the registration of the domain lapse and someone else snapped it up. It was based around a Hüsker Dü song from Zen Arcade.

I’ve been listening to that album a lot lately, and this song keeps standing out as a timeless reminder of what we will do to ourselves if things get out of hand.

Listen carefully; these lyrics from 1982/3 still have a deep meaning.

9/11 – Where were you?

On that Tuesday morning, I was in the air, on a flight from San Francisco to Denver, the first leg of a trip to Boston on business. I was excited – it was a client I had been looking forward to working with, and it seemed like an exciting opportunity. The flight was mostly empty and I had the luxury of a Bulkhead seat on a 777 – the middle section of my row was my kingdom to command, at least until Denver.

I don’t know where we were (probably near Tahoe) when the plane made a hard and very sudden turn away from the direction we should have been traveling in. All the passengers on this mostly empty flight (remember those flights?) seemed to get a quizzical look on there faces. This turned to concerned looks on our faces when the pilot came on the intercom to announce that the flight had been diverted to Sacramento in response to a “National Security request”.

Through the remainder of the short flight to Sacramento, it was clear that the flight attendants were visibly shaken (it was a United flight) and were having a hard time holding it together. Professional to a fault, they graciously brought me an extra yogurt when I asked. I had no clue.

The landing in Sacramento, an airport that was just barely long enough to accept a 777, is one that I remember to this day. As soon as the wheel touched the tarmac, the brakes screamed and reverse thrusters howled, the pilots trying to bring a “heavy” plane to a stop on a runway that was nominally rated for the beast they were bringing in.

We were still unsure what had happened, but the few of us who had the limited Web available on our phones were reading very conflicting and inaccurate news items. The flight attendants asked us to put them away, but for once they were doing it for optics, knowing full well we wanted to know what was going on as much as they did.

Outside the windows, planes of all stripes and sizes, from airlines I had never heard of or only seen in the air on approach to SFO. And clearly, there were two problems.

  1. There were no gates for us to pull up to.
  2. When we pulled to stop, the ground crew looked at us with dazed looks, going “How the hell do we offload a 777?”

We finally staggered off the plane, via a 60s style airplane ladder. By this time, the flight attendants were crying and holding each other. It wasn’t until later that I realized that they had all lost friends on the planes.

After this process, the few of us streamed into the Sacramento terminal, headed for the baggage carousels. It was then that we saw the first tvs.

The line of passengers briefly stopped in shock. A few of them peeled off to the bar, where it was clear that the drinks were on the owner. The rest of us grabbed our bags and shuffled out of the terminal.

I called my wife and got through to our house on the second or third try. My mother-in-law, who was visiting, picked up the phone. I said I was alright, and asked to speak to my wife. SJE picked up and I told her I was on the ground in Sacramento and I was alright.

She was clearly confused and asked why I was calling. Our youngest was only a few months old, and sleep was at a bit of a premium. I knew she would have had no clue, and told her to go turn on the tv. Five minutes later, she called back and, in a clear but very stressed voice, told me that she was going to come and get me.

By that time, I told her that it was completely unnecessary. By an act of organization that has amazed me and endeared me to United until this day, they had arranged for a bus to come to the Sacramento terminal and take us back to SFO.

The bus ride was surreal. Completely quiet, except CNN radio. No one spoke. No one spoke on cell phones. We were all processing what we thought had happened, as CNN Radio tried to do the same.

The bus arrived back at SFO, making us some of the few who at least got back to where we had started our day. We gathered our bags, and shuffled off to wherever we were going to go. In an eerie silence.

Coming down the stairs from the top level of the airport, I saw the pandemonium at the ticketing counters as thousands of people desperately sought a way to get somewhere – home, away, flee. I was lucky. I got to go down to the arrivals area and wait.

I was picked up by SJE about 20 minutes after I got off the bus. As we headed home, south on 101, we watched a lonely aircraft descend out of the crystal blue (ok, it’s the Bay Area – gray brown) sky. It was clearly one of the final flights to land at SFO that day. The 747, a plane from one of the major Asian national carriers was a glorious sight as it approached. But then we noticed the frightening parentheses that summed up the day – this glorious feat of engineering was bringing its passengers in accompanied by two F-16s.

We heard the roar of the fighters peeling off as the 747 put its wheels down behind us. And, as we drove, the great silence began.

The Rocky Mountain Parks: A Privilege Unappreciated

Ken Burns’ tale of the US National Parks reminds me of a heritage that I have, for most of my life, taken for granted. It was in another country, but it is a heritage that I have assumed will always be there.

I grew up amongst the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks. Dead center amongst them you might say. Within two hours drive, there were five spectacular parks – Yoho, Banff, Jasper, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mt. Revelstoke.

All of these parks played a part in my childhood, adolescence, and young adult life. It has been nearly 20 years since I spent any time in these parks, but the experience I had there have shaped how I see the world around me. But only now can I really appreciate what these parks mean to us all, in all places.

The parks are a powerful reminder of the transitory effect that man has. Each of them contains some amount of ruins as a visible reminder of man’s failed attempts to exploit and tame the parks. The carcasses of hotels, remains of viaducts, the skeletons of towns litter these refuges.

A part of that failed heritage is something I carry with me, as I am descended from one of the last group permanent residents of an industrial town in a Canadian National Park, as my grandfather lived for a time in the now abandoned town of Bankhead Alberta. My family took me to this place as a child and told me that ‘Grandpa lived here’, a concept I could not understand, as I was in a National Park, wasn’t I? I had no idea of the conflict over what it meant to be a Canadian National Park at the time, as I saw them as the refuges and preserves they had become.

Growing up surrounded by these special places has left with a certain jaded perspective on beauty in the world. Yosemite does not awe the way it does others, as I was raised surrounded by beauty comparable to Yosemite, and perhaps exceeding it. But now I give my unrestrained thanks to those who made the effort to preserve, protect, and conserve these places.

Within the gently protective walls of the Canadian Mountain Parks, I have seen the sublime and the ridiculous. The commercial and the ethereal. Untouched wilderness and unabashed capitalism. And despite protests on both sides, it is clear that they work together, for without the treasure and largesse of one type of visitor, the other would not have a place to go.

Banff is the greatest eyesore amongst those who see the parks as the preserve of untrammeled wilderness. However, if Banff had not existed, the desire and initiative needed to protect the other four parks would not have gained ground. So a commercial pit keeps the wilderness protected, a balance that we can accept in a day of far greater compromises.

So though the idea of a National Park may have been originated in the US, Canada has done well to develop the idea on its own terms. Only now that I am many thousands of miles removed from them, can I appreciate what they have done to to shape me. These memories leave me breathless in the realization of the great privilege I have taken for granted for all of these years.

Canada: Home? What Happened While I Was Out of Town?

I will have been in the US for a decade as of July 27 2009. The first move saw me take my family 1,000 miles south to the Bay Area and then 3,500 miles east to the Boston area.

When I left Canada, I always assumed that my stay in the Excited States would be short. I was in the country to learn, grow, take advantage of the experience that the giant next door would give me. Then we would return to Canada and settle into a quiet life.

Ten years on, I have a Green Card (don’t ask about that nightmare) and when I come home to Canada, I realize how far I have wandered from the country that I still refer to as home.

Add to that the fact that most of the visits we make are to one of the fastest growing and most expensive cities in the country and every trip out to places I once knew brings ‘Where the hell did that come from?’ moments.

I wax nostalgic for this place, this city near the mountains, surrounded by the sea. It is the city of my young adult life, where I learned the skills I needed to get on in life; where I met my wife; where I felt at home.

What a difference ten years makes. We have placed our roots in another place, a very different place. A place that couldn’t be more different than here.

I joke that I am legally prevented from voting in two countries. As a transplant I will never be completely at home in the place where I live. The country of my birth is an interesting and lovely place, a stranger that I rediscover a little bit on every visit.
When we travel back to the country of my birth, I realize that the move to the US saved me, saved from being trapped by narrow goals and shortened horizons. But the move came with a price.

As someone who lives with a gardener, I know the value of a plant in the right place. Often you don’t discover that a plant is in the wrong spot until you have had it for a few years. Then, one season, you transplant it, and, with some more sun and a little more water, it blossoms, it thrives.

The gardener who does that is always pleased with the results, but is frustrated by the time lost by having a wonderful plant fight for life, wasting its its energy and effort to survive rather than to thrive.

To thrive, I had to leave. But I left a piece of me behind.

On the persistence of family – William A Kinnear

The call came this morning.

It really wasn’t unexpected. Whenever I get one of those rare calls from my mother, I half expected the reason was to tell me that he had passed. It’s that aching feeling of tension that the ringing phone was going to tell me that he was gone.

My grandfather and I were from very different worlds. He spent too much of his life underground. His knees, shoulders, hearing all showed that.

His world was experienced through the muscles, the bones. His world was wrenched from the earth, shaped by his hands, pulled from the grime of machines.

It was a world of men, a world that is as incomprehensible to me as mine was to him.

I knew he was a ladies man. You know the one: Dashing, attractive with a strong temper and a brooding, unpredictable temperament. The man of mystery that all ladies ask about.

He was faithful to one woman, my grandmother, until the day she died. Their relationship was a war between personalities, that explosive combination of friction and passion that made it one of the strongest bonds I have ever seen.
He mourned her until the day he died. Whenever I visited, the discussion eventually drifted around to his Nettie. That distant look came over his failing blue eyes, the panorama of memory clearly playing on his face.

My grandfather and I shared one thing: The powerful mood swings that were fueled by the same catastrophic failure of our brains to handle the world in a reasonable way.

I found peace through medication. Grandpa started with the numbing power of rye to help take the edge of his mental anguish. And when he was forced to make a choice between the drink and his life, he chose his life and left the drink behind.

He took the restless energy that drove him to drink and channeled it into the furniture he restored.

People from far and wide brought him pieces that were lost, beaten, destroyed. In his hands, their inner beauty was exposed.

Each piece of furniture was a piece of his life that he was atoning for. A mistake that he was trying to repair. A memory he was sharing. Those memories are scattered now, among family, friends, strangers. And with each memory shared, he ensured that he would live on.

His best gift to me was to help me realize that the mistakes of youth can be restored, repaired, but memory reminds us that they can never be undone.

I miss you grandpa. Travel in peace.

William A. Kinnear – 1919-2009.

To dream…yeah, right

Well, back to dreaming.

It (very briefly) looked like I might be able to get my MacBook Pro (a constant whining theme here). But, again, it fell through. Reality kicked in and the money went to where it was really needed.

Maybe I’ll score a consulting gig or something to help with this…

Leads on cheap MacBook Pros appreciated.

And remember, I will work/blog/twitter/pimp for geek cred computing style.

The music of Iceland

I don’t often (ever) talk about my musical taste. It is unremarkable for the most part, with flights into madness and impulsiveness.

Lately, I have discovered Icelandic music. Mainly Sigur Ros, Mum, Apparat Organ Quartet, Aniima, and (of course) Bjork. Apparently Icelandic music is all the rage, with people trying to understand how such a small country can produce such a wide range of artists.

These artists provide a soothing background to my jangled, often confused, mental state. I played it as I slept while I was on my latest trip, and while I was on the plane returning from Chicago.

However, my deep feelings and desire to visit Iceland has its roots back in my very early teens. A Hardy Boys mystery and a Clive Cussler novel brought it to my attention. It’s a nation of extremes, of wonder, isolation, and survival.It is among one of the few places I feel I have to visit at least once in my life. I cannot explain this desire. Perhaps it is the latent Viking in me.

But the music draws me as much as the place does.

Japanese Racism: Some further thoughts

I’ve been sitting on these thoughts for a while now. It takes a while to walk out to the end of the pier and stare into a sensitive issue that is likely to provoke a very strong reaction from so many people.

On February 3, Joi Ito published a snippet that opened some people’s eyes to racism in Japan. [here]

My in-laws are more than familiar with this. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, they spent a year and a half living in Japan while my father-in-law covered the World’s Fair for the Globe and Mail.

My brother-in-law was born in Japan. But before they allowed my mother-in-law into the delivery room, they made her sign a form stating that the child that was about to be born would never claim to be Japanese and would never seek any of the benefits of Japanese citizenship.

From Joi’s article, things haven’t improved much in 40 years.

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