Friday, April 30, 2010

Execution

I listened to the audiobook "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done," by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. This is a well read book in the business world and I thought I'd have a look. It was interesting and had a lot of real-life stories about effective practices in the corporate world. Unfortunately, most of those practices apply only to the very few at the top of an organization; those who have the authority to change corporate practices that govern them. And so, this book would be more useful to executives or people leading large organizations or people leading startups or small companies. Having said that, there are some gems that apply to all people, notably in the area of hiring staff.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Otis Cemetery

Beside I-15, sitting on a small hill just above the agricultural inspection station at Yermo, CA, (just east of Barstow) is a very small cemetery from the early 1900s.

This is the cemetery for the old town of Otis, which was subsequently renamed Yermo. Here's a google map centered on the cemetery. You can see several dirt roads that will get you there. The one I chose definitely required high clearance.

Since this place is on the edge of something called the Yarrow Ravine Rattlesnake Habitat Area, I was extremely careful to watch where I was stepping.

The town of Otis was named after Harrison Gray Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times. Otis volunteered for the Union army during the Civil War, starting as a private and eventually making Brigadier General. I learned about this site from Bill Mann's "Guide to 50 Interesting and Mysterious Sites in the Mojave" Vol 1.

The cemetery was a short stop off on my way back to Pasadena. I was driving a powerline road that happened to cross I-15 at that spot so it all worked out nicely.

I've now driven that particular powerline road from Primm, NV to Yermo (but not all at once). The map below shows the section I drove on this day.

This was the most crowded I've ever seen a powerline road. Multiple ATVs and several pickups, including two with college age women using hand-held directional antennas. I guessed that they were tracking tagged animals for research purposes.

That big dry lake is Coyote Dry Lake and is used (among other places) by researchers to spot and count meteorites that hit Earth. Here's a list of the Meteoritical Bulletin collection areas. And here's a SETI page about it. I drove onto that dry lake several years ago but didn't find a meteorite.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kingston Wash OHV Trail

Yesterday I drove the Kingston Wash OHV Trail. This is a published BLM trail that winds through the Kingston Range Wilderness Area.

This is an easy scenic trail with a variety of conditions. Even though I say it's easy, I never went above 20 mph due to the embedded boulders and curves around brush.

The drive took about 2.5 hours, unlike Massey's book that said it takes 4 hours. Mitchell's book warns about missing the sharp turn to exit the wash, but that's not a problem now because the BLM has blocked the wash there and signed the turn well.



The trail is well signed with 2 different types of markers, both of which are shown in this photo.

Here's a few more photos of the road conditions.



The wash is wide but the trail wanders around in it.

I got confused twice. Once was just before the mailbox. The tracks went right and I could see other tracks headed left. After pondering my choices, I continued to the right and quickly came to the mailbox.





Once out of the wash, the trail gets even easier.

The best part of this trip was coming upon a pair of golden eagles. Before the mailbox, after I turned a corner I saw aa huge bird takeoff from the ground beside the trail. I stopped and got out, then another one launched from the same spot. Then I got my camera. (yup, i'm not the most prepared for such treats) So I got some shots of the eagles sitting on rocks 80 yards away. Here's a couple pairs of pics (full frame, then zoomed/cropped on the bird).



In this one, the eagle just jumped off the rocks.



I recommend this trail as a scenic alternate route for those returning from Vegas, provided you have 4wd and high clearance. The BLM has a 4.3 MB PDF brochure for the trail.

Friday, April 23, 2010

59 Seconds - Think a Little, Change a Lot

I finished the new book "59 Seconds - Think a Little, Change a Lot" by Richard Wiseman. Here's the book's website. Here are a few of the tips he offers in the book:

Develop the gratitude attitude
List three things a day that you are grateful for. It can increase your happiness, optimism and health.

Buy a potted plant for the office
It can increase creativity by 15%!

Visualise yourself doing, not achieving
Visualising yourself having achieved your goal can lessen your chance of succeeding, whereas visualising doing what you can do to achieve your goal can increase your chances.

Touch people lightly on the upper arm
Touching on the upper arm can demonstrate high status. When tested on the street, this strategy increased the success of getting telephone numbers from total strangers by 10%.

More tips can be obtained from following the stream of pages beginning here.

I wasn't very impressed with the book. I've come across almost all of the tips in other books. This is probably because the book seems to present a pile of tips collected from various people's research and other sources. I got the book primarily because I've read good things about Wiseman's other books: Quirkology and The Luck Factor (which are not available in audiobook format).

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Michael Lewis Interview

If you'd like to hear an overview of what's in Michael Lewis' book "The Big Short" (see my blog entry about this book), then I recommend you listen to this interview of Lewis. [RadioOpenSource Interview of Michael Lewis] It was recorded on April 12, and is pretty interesting. It lasts 43 minutes.

And if you find that interesting, then you might enjoy their interview 2 days later (April 14) of James Kwak, co-author of "13 Bankers" (see my blog entry about this book). [RadioOpenSource Interview of James Kwak] It lasts 41 minutes.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rework

I recently read the new book Rework by the founders of 37Signals. It's a short book meant to give guidance to those wanting to start a business or launch a new product/service and similarly challenged people. The authors describe many of the daring methods that they actually use in their business.

I didn't find too much new content here. I've encountered the same guidance in other books. The difference here is that these guys actually practice what they preach. Regardless, it's still a very useful read as it reminds the reader of the core essentials to any startup endeavor, and how to focus on the areas that truly need the focus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I Need a Photography Lesson

Upon looking at the photos I've taken on a trip, I often notice that some of the shots don't adequately convey the conditions that I was trying to photograph. This happens a lot when I take photos of very rugged or steep or dangerous terrain. I surely need some kind of lesson on photographing those conditions. I'll use the washed out road I encountered on my last trip as an example. Hopefully, somebody will kindly offer some tips.

Here's two photos that I took of the washout. The first is from 20 yards away, and the second is much closer.





I am disappointed that the photos don't seem to convey the hazard the way I saw it when I was standing there. Maybe it would help if I were to place something into the shot to give a scale reference. I could have placed my backpack or a nalgene 1L bottle in the bottom of the washout. Likewise, the photos don't show how narrow the uphill edge is, preventing me from driving along it hugging the uphill incline. Maybe I should lay a trekking pole there? Maybe I should find a way to shoot it from farther away - to the side? Maybe it helps to shoot this from a higher or lower perspective?

If you've got any suggestions, please leave a comment. I'll probably try them on my next trip. Thanks.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Pisgaw to Sands to Kelbaker

Saturday I drove a fun powerline road across part of the Mojave Desert. I've been wanting to drive this road and decided to do it before the summer heat set in. Here's a map with my route crudely penciled in.



This was a very scenic drive. Even though it was much easier than I imagined, it's absolutely not for street cars. I had to literally go off road and use low range to get around a big washout. At another spot, the sand was so deep, my 3 ton Land Rover was swimming side-to-side as I slogged through it. Cool!



[click the above image for more detail]

I started at the Pisgaw region of I-40 and drove north east returning to pavement at Kelbaker Road. Here's a shot crossing the RR tracks near Pisgaw.



This shot shows the very northern end of Broadwell Dry Lake from a couple miles west of the washout.



The road northwest of Broadwell Dry Lake is still washed out, but there's an alternate route being used. Unfortunately that alternate has a lot of side camber to it. I put it in low gear and drove just to the right of the alternate with much greater traction and ease.

A shiny object drew my attention. It was an old aluminized mylar balloon. I picked it up and trashed it at a gas station.




After stopping to take some photos (in the middle of nowhere), I almost stepped on a small rattlesnake. The little guy expressed his unhappiness by rattling quite loudly. It was about a foot long. In the first shot, he's looking at me.



In this shot, he's squared off against my Land Rover. LOL



The sandy sections would have been easier if I'd gone the opposite direction. As it was, I hit each one going up hill. There were 3 sandy sections. The one just southwest of Old Dad Mountain is short and I'd describe it as deep sand (maybe 8 inches). This is the same spot I played in a week ago (see my post below). A few miles further toward (and north of) the old town of Sands, is a longer stretch of very deep sand (10+ inches deep). Here's a pic of the very deep sand, uphill with Old Dad Mountain on the horizon.



Then there's a section of very very deep sand that's west of Sands. I really did not want to drive through that and was happy to find an alternate route. I've marked that on the map.

Here's a shot of the road condition, about 10 miles SW of Sands, looking toward Sands.



I didn't spend much time at Sands. I'm not that strong of a history buff. It looked like a desolate place, although the wildflowers are in bloom. I don't think I'd enjoy living there.





Just north of Sands, the NPS has signed the roads as they enter the Mojave National Preserve.



If you have any interest in driving to Sands, now is a fine time to do it. The weather isn't too hot. The sand isn't too deep. And Jackass Canyon is in great condition.

Videos
Here's a few videos. I deleted the audiotracks because my GoPro camera's audio is hosed and really noisy. This first one is when I crossed the very deep sand north of Sands. You can see Old Dad Mountain off in the distance to the north.



The second video is going through the deep sand west of Old Dad heading toward Jackass Canyon. I didn't use a running start for this so I got bogged down a bit, but made it through without a problem.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Checklist Manifesto

I just finished the bestselling book The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande. I bought it largely because I enjoyed his other books: Better - A Surgeon's Notes on Performance and Complications - A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science. Here's the author's web site for the book.

I enjoyed the book. I didn't need to be converted, since I'm a fan of checklists and have used them even before I got my pilots license many years ago. He describes his discussions with the man at Boeing who's responsible for developing the checklists that Boeing distributes to all their aircraft operators. That was fascinating, as was his description of the ego-ridden surgical theaters around the world and their dislike of checklists or anything else that might threaten the status quo.

Much of the book is about his efforts to develop a surgical checklist for the WHO for use in hospitals around the world, but primarily in impoverished settings. He was shocked at the success it appeared to have after they analyzed the data his team collected. I was surprised at his surprise. One of the biggest sources of problems in all industries is human error. Any rigor in reducing those mistakes will obviously result in performance improvements.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Fun in the Desert

The sand in Jackass Canyon is the easiest i've seen it in years. I was experimenting with my GoPro camera. Here I mounted it with the suction cup to the inside of the sunroof. Later I flipped/rotated the video using QuickTime Pro. I could have used the GoPro ability to record video upside down, but I didn't want to pull out the manual and figure it out.



Then I wanted to see how deep my tires sink into the sand. I decided to do some runs on the deep soft sand covering the powerline road west of Jackass Canyon headed toward the old raiload town of Sands. This google map is centered on that section of road. This area is aptly named the Devil's Playground.

The sand wasn't as deep as I thought. I learned that if I don't get the speed up initially, the rover bogs down pretty fast. It didn't bog so much that it stopped. I think I'll make the drive to Sands in the coming weeks.

Later, at home while viewing the video, I learned something important. When the camera is on the shaded side of the truck, the contrast is too much and I can't see the tire/sand very well at all.



While hiking around in the area I was being watched by a trio of golden eagles. It looked like two adults and one juvenile. At one point, they were very close to me and it was obvious that the adults' wingspans were over 6 feet.



I decided to drive the powerline roads east of Old Dad Mountain again. This time I drove up the steep hill, instead of down. It's not that steep. My inclinometer said it was about 17 deg. Here's a shot near the top, on the steep section. This spot is centered in this google map.

Here's a shot I took from the top of the hill, looking toward the Kelso Dunes to the south west.

It was a great day. Clear skies and about 80F with a slight breeze.

Here's a shot of the roller coaster gas pipeline service road near Foshay Pass. Some of the hills are kinda steep. That's Kelso Dunes off to the west.