Bubble in the desert

A blog I started whilst on a GE "Bubble" assignment in Nevada. I'm back in Cambridge (UK) now but still miss the desert and my friends out there.

Monday, November 28, 2005


We've got snow outside (4,750ft) ! Possible skiing this weekend!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanks Giving with Dave and Kathy and family

Throughout the week I'd been pretty well briefed on Thanks Giving by Dave and Scott. The idea is to eat and chill out (and take a moment to be generally thankful). I must say I liked the idea of it very much, and the reality of it too - I think this is a holiday we should adopt in England too. People here get the last Thursday and Friday of November off, though they must spend some hours cooking, some moments being thankful and then the rest of 4 days chilling out (often watching sport, sometimes shopping; likely a male/female split on that one).

I arrived a bit late, around 3pm and the bird had already left the oven. Wow, a big bird too but that's because Dave and Kathy have hundreds of children. A very friendly bunch too and very enjoyable to join the family for the occasion.

Aside from the excellent food there were some great stories from kids (well adults really) telling of their not inconsiderable misdeeds from the past; and adults striving to counter with embarrassing stories about the kids. I'm not sure who came out worst but I think the parents won, they at least won some sympathy from me for some of the horrific stories (they ultimately resorted to old photo albums to ensure they won the day). Certainly the stories seemed to validate the idea of spending a moment giving thanks!

Great toys too. Mike showed me his new 60Gb iPod, really impressive, I didn't know you could play whole movies on them! Dave insisted I try the 'automatic massage chair' which inflicted pain for what felt like more than the programmed 8 minutes - clever thing though. Also interesting to see a fascinating electronic piano which has a tutorial mode where the keys light up to teach you how to play and show you where to put your hands. Very clever. All this stuff I have never seen on my home planet.

Great to spend my first ever thanks giving with such a friendly and talented bunch.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Late night cooking

Kathryn gave me an excellent Nut Roast receipe, my contribution for Thanks Giving at Dave's.

While the over was warming up I made some cheese and tomato tarts, a favourite of my Gran's!

I managed to get everything chopped and mixed together by 23:45 before noticing the instructions on cooking time 2.5 hours! Well, I did that but high altitude cooking again put a spanner in the works and it wasn't very well cooked so I had to do another 30 minutes!

The end result still didn't look cooked but tasted ok.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Amy and Scott fed me

Late Monday night Amy caught me shopping having not managed to eat yet. She was so horried that she insisted I go for dinner on tuesday.

Most excellent food as usual - Butternut Squash soup etc. Good beer too!

Monday, November 21, 2005

little run - Kingsbury Rim Trail

I'd planned to run the 13 miles from Kingsbury to Spooner and cycle back but ran out of time. Instead I just drove up Kingsbury and went for a little trot, probably 5 or 6 miles. Very nice up there. Peaceful but more people about than you usually see on the Rim Trail, I think this is the easiest section of all.

Still keen to do the whole 13 miles! Snow may defeat that ambition now.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Cooper training and evening with BayChi (Alan Cooper and Philip Greenspun talking)

Had some fun getting some training at Cooper.com today (in Design Communication). Sorry Dave wasn't with us.

In the evening dragged Scott to Palo Alto to a BayChi presentation. Alan Cooper was doing a presentation to a packed auditorium and ran somewhat over time (Philip Greenspun's Blog 1 hour over time! - actually Philip has written quite a long view on Alan's talk which is interesting in itself).

I've seen Alan speak before on a similar subject but this 'Death March' talk was excellent. I had been keen to hear Philip talk since his published stuff on the web about how to build websites is great, like Philip and Alex's guide to web publishing. However, Philip was a little disappointing. He was trying to share an idea with the crowd. Very genuine of him to toss an idea out there for others but I didn't like it that much.

Driving back to town late didnt give us the opportunity to get any food. I hope my employer is taking not of just how much i spend for food when on expenses - zero!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Kathryn's hols - day 9 - San Francisco, ride the cable car, bike the bridge and flight home

Trying to figure out how to 'do' San Francisco in a day is a bit much. We opted for quite an early start.

To start with with headed for the cable car. To me, 'cable car' conjours up something hanging from a cable in the air destined for a mountain top. Not so with these. They are the classic San Francisco trams. Well, they look like trams but are in fact pulled along on cables - a system which owes its existence to mining technology. Quite a nice way to experience the sights of the town and hit fisherman's wharf.
san francisco cable car
Next stop was the excellent Blazing Saddles company who run an excellent 'bike the bridge' operation. In short order we were on the bikes and away, though not before a complex sounding map briefing. The operation was very slick indeed, helmets available, bike pump and repair kit, little bag for your sandwiches and a map case on the bike. Even ferry tickets back which you could return if you didnt need them.

So, off we went in the direction of the Golden Gate Bridge. After only about 100m things got a little tricky since there was a marathon being run over the bridge and along the path we were planning to use. On balance though not too bad. We crossed the bridge in pretty poor weather with little visibility.
golden gate bridge
Then on to Marin and Sausalito, Redwood forest (the world's tallest trees), then Tiburon. That's a short sentence which belies the complexity of the route. Because of Kathryn's flight we had to be on the 12.00 ferry back from Tiburon so we didn't hang about. After a bit of faff finding the Redwood forest, where we didnt have time to scout out the really big trees, we headed for Tiburon and the legendary 'Sam's Cafe'. Problem was our map was appalling. It became clear why we had a 10 minute map briefing at the start. We got lost a few times, which under normal circumstances would've been fine but today we had to catch a ferry.
Cycling around the Marin Redwoods
We finally slogged it into Tiburon and got to the ferry with 5 minutes to spare. Except that, the ferry schedule had changed that day and we had another 30 minutes. Just in time for an excellent feed at a local deli/cafe.

Ferry back was impressive though had more stops than we hoped and time was pressing. Eventually got back to blazing saddles and gave up our mounts, complained about the map (I think they get that a lot) and headed back to the car. We tried to catch a cabble car but after 20 minutes of standing in line we gave up and got a cab (as cheap as cable car).

Then on to the airport and yet another farewell through airport security.

I headed back to San Francisco alone and just about managed to navigate to my $80 a night hotel - Cathedral Hill. I think the girl at the desk was horrified with how cheap I got my room so turned on some surley service since that was all I'd paid for. Other staff at the hotel very nice and the room great. For the price, fantastic. They even switched my room for me to one with an ethernet connection because my crappy work laptop doesn't have a wireless card. Neat!

For dinner I had an excellent feed in the Maharani. It wasn't until I was seated I noticed some flyers on the table declaring it the "10th most romatic place to eat in San Francisco". Oh well, I think the romance was going on around the back with their foofy seating. Food, beer and service excellent. Harry Potter is a good dinner companion!

The next morning I called Cooper to ask for directions to their office and got a "honey, you don't wanna walk from there". I ended up walking of course, less than 2 miles!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Kathryn's Hols- Day 8 - San Francisco

Ann Marie made us a splendid breakfast at the Blackberry Inn. Vegetarians and wheat free diets all easily catered for. Very interesting retired couple at breakfast too. They had travelled all over the place and told us a lot about Butan and a load of other exotic destinations. They must have been very wealthy but regardless, were very interesting.

On leaving for our 4 hour drive to San Francisco we asked our prolific outdoors author for interesting stopping places between here and San Francisco. She said, "there is NOTHING but a boring drive". She mentioned a cowboy museum as the only potential entertainment.

Sure enough it was a boring drive but we swung into a town for some Starbucks action and had quite a nice chat with some of the staff there. One explained that California sunshine is great for people who get a bit depressed (we think she was speaking from personal experience having moved here from New York).

Driving around San Francisco was not terrible until we hit one of those infamous steep hills, at which the traffic light turned red as we pulled up to it. From the drivers seat it was so steep I could see NOTHING in front of the car at all, only sky (later a cabbie told me they generally park a bit over the slope). A hill start in a stick shift is difficult for some people to get their head around, for me, a hill start in an automatic was very counter intuitive and nearly went badly wrong. I've never felt an automatic plumet backwards in 'D' quiet so fast. My second attempt involved using what i would normally call the handbrake but in my car is operated with a foot pedal. This was not a neat solution! Very glad to survive that without redecorating the front of the VW Beetle behind us, we moved on intact but for my sense of humour.

We eventually pulled over and started phoning around hotels. Most of them were full but we got in at the Adagio for $179 + $35 for parking. Phoning around is not the way to get a hotel in San Francisco. The next day, using the Adagio's internet I used priceline.com and expedia.com to find other deals. I could've got a room at the savoy for $76 but in the end went for Cathedral Hill Hotel for $79 including parking! COOL.

We got quickly settled in our room and went for a walk towards lower haytlower haight, the colourful part of san francisco. After lots of walking we descended upon a busy coffee shop and had a bustled coffee. Whilst we were planning what to do next the guy at the next table decided to impart some advice to us for about 30 minutes. We found lots of San Franciscans very much like this, very willing to stop and give you ideas of what to do, even people that at first seemed grumpy.

That night we ate at The Millenium resturant in the Savoy, a surperb veggie restaurant. We thought we'd not get in but we were told we could sit at the bar. Our bit of bar was more like a booth with it's own waiter behind a BAR! Excellent! Food GREAT and waiter/barman absolutely brilliant too. A much needed quality feed!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Kathryn's Hols- Day 7 - Wawona (Yosemite) for Giant Sequoias

We didn't bother with an early start but had a casual breakfast at the Wawona Hotel somewhat disturbed by the workman under the building drilling and banging so much so you could feel it. Unsurprisingly as we left we found them taking a break. Work like that must only be fun when you are jarring people who have paid a fortune for a hotel room as they eat their expensive breakfast. I recommend camping around here, the local shop is very geared up to supporting camping and even sells coffee!
giant girlfriend and bigger tree
Glad to see the back of that place we headed toward Mariposa Grove to see the largest living thing on earth (by volume), the amazing sequoias. Again, this place is amazingly accessible and you can see most of the big trees by car if you want to. We took the less obvious route and walked, away from the people. The trees are very impressive and some nearly 3,000 years old.

They survived early gold rush logging because the wood wasnt great and it didnt burn that well. Lucky that. In fact the sequoias are trees that really need fire to survive as the cones need to drop on clear soil. The re-growth of other trees at Yosemite has not helped the Sequoias and not only that, they new trees are a significant fire risk. That's why we drove through fires yesterday - the rangers have lots of management fires at this time of year.

My camera failed but this pic from the web gives the idea...

The trees are really huge and don't decay real quick either. We saw this tree, called, The Fallen Monach looking much as it did when the photo below was taken in 1899. This shows about 40 members of the US 6th Cavalry Troop F mounted on or around the tree.

After a longer walk than we expected we headed north towards The Blackberry Inn, a really nice B&B. As we were getting settled in we found our excellent room well stocked with books by Ann Marie Brown. Kathryn wondered if it was her B&B and indeed, the next morning we discovered out host was the author of our Yosemite Moon Guide and a bunch of other recent books. We ate local that night which was an amusing roadside diner thing with pleasant but slightly odd service and ok food. There are other places to eat near here but we were a bit pooped and didnt want to drive (and a beer sounded appealing). The walk along the road to the diner was a bit more pitch black than we had expected, the darkness of course filled with wild animals.

Kathryn's Hols- Day 6 - hiking in Yosemite, glacier point, sentinal dome, taft point

Despite the best intentions we got up a bit late and wandered down for an ok breakfast at the food court of the lodge. We bought a few supplies for our day hike and then gave a lot of thought to hiking up The 4 Mile Trail to Glacier point. It is apparently a bit of a trudge up 3,000ft on asphalt. Our waiter from the evening before had said in rather camp fashion, "why walk when you can drive?". We had dismissed this thought but with one thing and another we decided to take a relaxed drive up to Glacier point.

Getting back to the car we were pleased we'd been diligent about getting all the food out of there as two cars along a bear had smashed its way into a car.

The drive up to Glacier point is fantastic with loads to see and lots of photo opportunities.

yosemite valley with el capitan

fall colours in yosemite

routine burn results

Right from the car park you can get some awesome views of Yosemite without hiking for hours. I hadn't realised that Yosemite was quite so accessible. Of course this makes it a bit crowded but on balance it is nice that there is a spot like this which anyone can easily get to.

half dome

half doma, liberty cap, nevada falls,

The last photo shows Liberty Cap on the right about Nevada falls. I think an excellent hike would be from Glacier Point (catching the bus to get there) along the Panorama Trail and down by Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls. Potentially some excellent camping there too. Apparently this is a strenuous 6 hour hike (8.5 miles) though I'm sure it must be mostly downhill, so one for the trekking poles.

Having mostly meandered and driven today we decided to hike a bike. Sentinal Dome is a couple of miles from the car park and gave really nice views of the park (and an opportunity for a bit of Yoga).

half dome from sentinal dome

only 1 tree on sentinal dome

yoga on sentinal dome

The whole week Kathryn had been seeing shapes in the rocks in her mind's eye (did you notice the dog in the rock outside wild cat cabin?). Well, from the top of sentinal dome I finally spotted one for myself...

north dome and quarter dome ?

Sentinal Dome is rightly a popular walk but we'd been advised to go on to the less popular Taft Point (a 6 mile loop in all). The way there was a typical Yosemite walk in the woods with lots of potential for running into wildlife. When the path passed among big rocks I couldn't help checking for wildcats up there. This was a lovely walk ending in the unusual Taft Point, a rocky outcrop with some awesome fissues in the rocks on the way to the edge. As you followed the path, looking down the various hollows on the right, what looked like shallow dips were actually huge fissures in the rock dropping down thousands of feet!

From here we got amazing views of The Three Brothers, the topmost of which is Eagle Peak where I'd hiked before; as well as the top of Yosemite Falls, at the top of which I'd camped before and more recently so had Doug and Alex (it's where they saw the bear).
3 brothers - eagle peak from taft point

top of yosemite falls

Getting dark by now and worrying a bit about bears playing with the car, we trudged back. We then headed south to Wawona to for the night, ready to see the Giant Sequoias. It was a smokey old drive because the rangers were burning off parts of the forest at the edge of the road (which looked dodgey) but the sunset was impressive...


We stayed in the Wawona Hotel which was quite historic but expensive. Food is ok (not as good as the Mountain Lodge) and service during the meal was ok. However, after paying the bill we got a knock on the hotel room door claiming we had run out without paying! They'd lost the credit card paperwork and decided that was our doing. Pretty unimpressive so memorable for the wrong reasons.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Kathryn's Hols - Day 5 - Onwards to Yosemite!

Not much time to chill out before we had to pack for the rest of our journey, leaving minden now. We had a breakfast at Bently and I introduced Kathryn to my workplace (I think she was impressed, especially with the breakfast).

So, after some faff (on my part) we eventually got our stuff together and rushed for Yosemite Lodge, 3 hours down the road. We had heard that Tioga Pass would shut at 5pm and had to move it to get there for then. We got there at 4.45 - 15 minutes later and we would have needed to retrace our steps for 2 hours and then do another 4 hours of driving!

We were a little late going across the high passes of northern yosemite to really enjoy them but we were glad to eventually get to Yosemite Lodge and get checked in (though even during this low season it was hard to park). We had a nice meal at The Mountain Room restaurant at Yosemite Lodge. Not cheap but excellent food and really good service and hiking advice from our waiter. In fact, several unlikely people gave us lots of good hiking advice (the guy running the gift shop was similar).

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Kathryn's Hols- Day 4 (Evening) - The Bucket of Blood

On the way back from Wildcat cabin we decided to go back to Virginia City for another look around. Mark Twain worked there for a while on the local newspaper of this goldrush town and there is a museum in his honor there. Although it had loads of interesting stuff there, nothing much was labelled and very little attempt was made at telling a story, quite disappointing.

We went for a beer at the famous Bucket of Blood saloon. Quite an odd place. Clearly a very historic building but now extremely touristy, though some strange cowboy touristy types. And in common with everywhere, this vintage saloon was crammed full of slot machines.

We took a look at The Suicide Table a famously cursed gambling table where a number of unfortunates gave up on life after their extreme losses. It would be easy to imagine the same fate befalling some of the people we saw in The Atlantis in Reno too, some very desperate people wandering amind the slot empire (Sushi there amaazing though!).

Virginia City is disappointing because it is a genuinely historic place and they could do so much more with it. I've been watching HBO's Deadwood series which conveys some impression of what places like Virginia City would've been like (although the real Deadwood was entirely lawless). Being in Virginia City completes the picture a bit.

It's not exactly high season in this gold rush town so we struggled to find somewhere to eat. We ended up in the Gold Hill Hotel (1859). We figured that if we stayed for the historical lecture that night we could eat more cheaply and might learn something. Well, the food was good but the lecture by Calamity Jan was dreadful. It was posted as the story of Wild Ghost Horses (we have wild horses around here) but it was really just the author's life story. We escaped at half-time. Kathryn claims to have liked the talk but I think she was just be contrary, or perhaps it was interesting from a human perspective or something.

Kathryn's Hols - Day 4 - Wild Cat Cabin and around

We hiked from the cabin somewhat east until, after some scrambling, scratched legs and doubts of where we were (and what lives amongst those rocks up ahead), we eventually came upon the rim trail. Glorious views from up here...

view from nearby cabin

We hiked on until we came upon some snow and eventually, still in our shorts in 4 inches of snow, we crested Snow Valley Peak. Not a very nice peak in itself due to loads of telecoms masts and junk up there but lovely views!


Snow Valley Peak with Mount Rose behind
snow valley peak

We hadn't seen much wildlife during our little stay at Wild Cat Cabin, apart from a few chipmunks, but had a very relaxing time there. It has no running water, no sink, no electricty and a composting toilet but if you cope with that kind of thing you will probably find this as close to paradise as you will find. We could sun bath on the deck in the morning (in fact it was too hot for me) and then be hiking in the snow in the afternoon. But as we returned in the chill of early evening we found the hut still warm from the days sun. What a treasure this place is. Like previous visitors we were pretty sorry to leave.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Kathryn's Hols - Day 3 - Wild Cat Cabin

wild cat cabin at spooner lake

We awoke early (no curtains) and went out to check on our cabin. It is quite impossible to express quite how nice this cabin is. It's well away from people (we didn't see anyone around the cabin for the 2 days we were there and very few people whilst hiking around).

Well, here's the view that greeted us...
view from cabin