The escape is real!

Matier as seen from the hut. The long snow ridge is roughly northward and a lovely hike (mostly) from the hut to the start of the gnarly rock bits -- highly recommended.
Matier as seen from the hut. The long snow ridge is roughly northward and a lovely hike (mostly) from the hut to the start of the gnarly rock bits — highly recommended.

Before heading out, admittedly, there was a lot of stress. How much food will I need? Can I carry it all? What about weather, animals, bugs, loneliness? And how much TP (=toilet paper) does a person need eating primarily a reconstituted diet (of goodness, thanks again mom!) and drinking oh so fresh water straight off the glacier? Well, I’m back to refill (mostly for lack of TP, aka, whatever I brought, the answer was more) in Pemberton.

It’s not stressful up there. There’s no alarm, just the sun streaking through the peaked windows at dawn and beckoning with the reflections off the glacier beyond. There’s a carefully trodden path to the outhouse, to the stream where I get my water (two streams and two muddy patches over to the coolest water straight from that same glacier above), that I’m taking in flip flops (somewhat flippantly, giddy but with no shortage of respect) at a fast clip to outrun the mosquitoes and biting black things (flies, no-see-ums, something like a midge…). Every second or third day, whenever I feel like it, I take a hike/scramble/climb to somewhere new (Vantage has a great ‘vantage’ of the northeast side of Matier; then the 2km long snowy arm of Matier reaching northward offered another day’s escape; next: Duke? Twin One lake?). 

There’s so much freedom in going it solo in the wilderness. The first few days were unreal. It truly hit me when I was hiking in past sunset and my nerves were tweaked against upcoming night but the forest glowed in this amazing light and the sun just never seemed to set. I felt confident finally and giddy with the freedom it delivered. 

For the writing, the biggest change has been the time and space to think. People are wonderful at letting me work when it looks like I’m actually working (aka, writing actively). But writing a novel, it turns out, required ample time just spaced out. For me, there can be no better place for that than staring down a glacier, familiar as an old friend and yet always mysterious.

A few more days of this, then a proper people-filled recharge in the city next week. Mountains to all!

First foray and into the next!

Me on the summit of Matier. A wonderful day!
Me on the summit of Matier. A wonderful day!

It’s been five days in the mountains below the majestic Matier and Joffre. And another week to come. The atmosphere is peaceful (if a little buggy!) and there’s lots of space to think.

So far so good, just a fast update courtesy of BC tourism internet in Pemberton. More next week after more of the same!

e-ink writing 201: NST 1.2.1 rooted with usb host

May 31, 2015: I have updated the root + usb host enabling once again! Please visit my new blog site for the newer instructions and a few awesome app recommendations that I’ve missed all this time.


La Push's 2nd Beach all to ourselves as the sun sets.
La Push’s 2nd Beach all to ourselves as the sun sets.

With mysterious charging issues I decided to try upgrading my Nook Simple Touch (NST) to the latest OS (1.2.1) before rooting. Now there exists a graphical program to root the Nook, making it easier than ever to do. NookManager is loaded onto a microSD that the Nook (upgraded to 1.2.1) will boot from. A few straightforward prompts later and the Nook is rooted (with optional backing up, advised as always).

Steps to re-root:

  1. Restore Nook to factory settings, through Settings in the Nook OS, or using NookManager’s Restore (“Restore Factory.zip”).
  2. Boot with NookManager on microSD in the Nook.
  3. Optional: Backup.
  4. Root.
  5. Next: to get the keyboard working again. Connect via ADB as in my instructions in my first post (e-ink writing 101), to install USBMode 1.7 and Jota (this time I installed from the apk directly), and to push the modified uImage and uRamdisk binary files.

So far, the keyboard input to Jota is smooth. Saving is mysteriously only to microSD card, but that’s alright since I just repurposed the install card. The charging issues are at bay but possibly that’s because I threatened to replace my Nook with a new one.

Big tree in Hoh Rainforest.
Big tree in Hoh Rainforest.

Plans are meant to be changed

Great Sand Dunes NP, 2013. Looks like a painting but I assure that it’s real.

After a few days of intense research into a late spring tour of the SW National Parks, just two days into the road trip and the heat had us Canadians fleeing northward from the forest fires in Colorado and the intense heat of Utah. That brought us early in Seattle with time to tour the Olympics, the Cascades and surrounding area. 

route
As planned.
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As executed (so far).

Home-sewn rain poncho

Photo on 6-7-13 at 3.01 PM #2
I bought waterproof-breathable vinyl-coated nylon fabric in Vancouver at a shop specializing in fabric etc for outdoor gear, Outdoor Innovations. Finally, many years later, I’ve sewn in into an extremely lightweight poncho (See & Sew B4266 with a longer back). Sewing with this fabric was both wonderful and awful: wonderful for keeping a fold briefly pressed just with my fingers but awful for being so thin that I had to hold it until tension to help the sewing machine feed properly. Worth it and I’ll definitely look for more projects with it (tarp tent maybe?).

For waterproofness, I tested the fabric against my North Face Hyvent fabric jacket (unfairly really — hyvent is roughly three or more times heavier than my poncho fabric) by sitting a cup of water in a synched pocket of fabric. After half an hour, the lightweight fabric let through a small puddle of water while the hyvent was just starting to think about sweating (not damp feeling quite). Still, after seam sealing, I figure since the poncho can sit above the backpack straps — the pressure of the straps makes water leak through my hyvent jacket — it may still keep me dryer in a long hike in the rain. Reports to come after some in the field testing!

…and other projects including a stretchy jean jacket (so comfy! but I’m not sewing with thick and stretchy fabric until I forget how annoying it was to work with — worse than silk), my first ever shorts (so cute! again stretchy fabric is more comfy) and a somewhat more formal dress in stretchy gray that let me skip the zipper (not sure when I’ll get to wear it though!).

sewed 2

Local-ish coffee

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As a decently picky coffee snob, here’s my take of the small coffee roasters I’ve tried from my St Louis base. These are variously available from Whole Foods, Schnucks and Dierbergs (the last being my best recommendation for price and availability). Before I discuss the beans, remember that these are just my personal tastes that lean toward a medium roast with tasty acidic notes, good acidity that is — memories of fruits, berries, etc — not especially bitter, so-called chocolate flavours being good too. 

As much as I love coffee my caffeine tolerance is limited to one cup of caffeinated coffee at best so there’s a mix of decaf in here. My natural inclination is to dismiss them altogether for lacking flavour, smell certainly, but I’ve discovered a good decaf can more than compete with the caffeinated ones (shocking, I know). On to the coffees!

Culinaria: My personal favourite from around here is the Costa Rica medium roast, but the decaf Sumatra beans are among the best decaf beans available here. Culinaria coffee is roasted in St Louis and distributed by Schnucks.

Metropolis: I have to highlight their Xeno’s Decaf that makes me think exclamations like “I can’t believe it’s not …” caffeinated. Really, this decaf is amazing and brewed nearby in Chicago (where other great coffees come from, though don’t make our regular rotation). I’ve only tried their Redline Espresso which is pretty good, but I’ll be looking for a good medium roast to try from them before I go.

Papa Nicolas Coffee: We keep getting more of Papa Nicolas decaf not because it is especially phenomenal, but for the price (around half the cost of the others), it’s amazing value. This workhorse decaf is for the half-caf days (that unfortunately must happen sometimes) because it manages to cut the best caffeinated beans without changing their flavour much. Their special reserve peaks from the background: I don’t recommend.

Goshen Coffee Company: Roasted in nearby Edwardsville, IL, I’ve only tried their Moka Java Blend and it fulfills the promise of “classic full flavor with delicate chocolate notes” beautifully. This coffee probably comes in a close second among the caffeinated beans for me. I’d like to try their Old-School Tattoo which looks closer to my favourite medium roasts.

Kaldi’s Coffee: Roasting right here in St Louis, we’ve had their decaf Terra Linda shown here, and a caffeinated one I can’t recall. Nothing special here. Ditto for Kuva Coffee

Caribou is everywhere around here. Hailing from Minneapolis, MN, I can’t recommend them, especially given the premium coffee price attached. 

We’ve probably tried others, but they were forgettable. For the price (sub-$10) I definitely recommend the Culinaria’s Costa Rica: you can’t do much better for more. None of the coffees I’ve tried around here really compare to the beans I got based in Cambridge, MA (the local Barismo that introduced me to a whole different tier of good coffee, and the nearby Gimme! coffee in Ithica, NY — holy good coffee), but they come close enough. 

Happy coffeenation!

Procrastinations (aka I’ve been busy!)

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It’s been a whopping month+ since I’ve blogged and I’m back to recount the multitude of diversions.

1) Vipassana retreat. I waffled over writing a post about my meditation retreat, before, during and after it was over, but finally, in all seriousness, a blog is no place to share that (for me anyway). For those interested, by all means look at dhamma.org  for locations and specifics about joining a retreat, or www.pariyatti.org/ for publications and lectures (many free) about it. 

2) Sewing! The photo montage is only a selection (maybe half) of my projects in May/June — forgive the poor photobooth quality. The missing ones are mostly missing buttons since I only got the crazy glue to fix the “automatic button hole foot” recently. More photos to come with buttons. Every one of the dresses/shirts above come from the “Built by Wendy Dresses” basic patterns with personalized modifications/embellishments. These showcase various projects from the book. I highly recommend them since the fitting is casual and loose and easy to adjust for a nice fit. I have a few jackets from her Jackets & Coats book to showcase after more buttoning. 

3) Road trip planning!!! In just over two weeks, my mom and I leave for a road trip tour of the National Parks in Colorado (en route) and Southern Utah covering in three glorious weeks: Great Sand Dunes NP, Black Canyon of Gunnison NP, Island in the Sky of Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Needles District of Canyonlands NP, the Valley of the Gods, Natural Bridges NP, Monument Valley, Navajo NM, the Page end of the Grand Canyon (perhaps dipping into Antelope Canyon), the Grand Canyon NP North rim, Zion NP (oh how I love that place since climbing there last spring), Bryce Canyon NP, culminating in a multiple night leisurely exploration along Hole in the Rock Rd of Glen Canyon NP before driving up the Seattle. After much frustration faffing in google maps (it’s buggy after ~10 stops in map planning),  I discovered this wonderful road trip optimizer to plan our route. After inputting coordinates, it ordered our stops to minimize driving time, and spat the route out direct to google maps for saving/directions/etc (5698km in roughly 2 d, 22h, 31m).

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Besides that, lots of Heroes reruns (while sewing), reading (for fun, reviewing and my own novel too), and house renos still (deck work is more fun that installing toilets/cupboards/etc). Next step is packing for the road trip and my entire summer in the mountains. In just two weeks, my new home will be my roving tent, my mom’s hyundai (on loan all summer! have I mentioned how awesome my mom is lately? I will again, surely) and my hopefully-trusty wood-burning usb-powering Biolite stove keeping me writing. 

Writing habits

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I’m done draft 2, aka, I can shower, finish taxes, pack for a meditation retreat.

There seem to be two prevalent stereotypes of the “writer”: one that seems to be based on merging the beats, the writers in Paris in Gertrude Stein’s circles and whatever the indie-cool is becoming these days; and the other, messier, smellier, in much need of reminding of the aspects of living (that is, all of them) they’ve forgotten while focussing on their writing.

Using camp nanowrimo’s 50k wordcount and a looming retreat from everything (including coffee, speech and dinner), I finished draft two of ‘With a Chance of Tomorrow’ (still a working title until I find something catchier). The last week was lacking in things like fresh air, lunch, reading, showering, but if I didn’t bend over suddenly I couldn’t smell myself and I got the last 25k done (the last 3k a few times even).

Now, I didn’t focus so much on writing that I didn’t have time for the basic luxuries. Nor really did I wake with such singular focus that I couldn’t see past my computer and coffee to the world beyond. Maybe it’s like the baseball players and their unshaven faces and stinky socks, but simple things like staying hydrated threatened telling the world that I did have time for it and it would suck me back to reality and gone would be the regular 5-10k days of productivity. Whatever the strategy, it seems to have worked well and I’m dazed to be back in the real world (just to leave it again!).

Taxes are done and I’m off to meditate for 10 days. Hopefully I don’t obsess over edits the whole time I’m there! See you on the other side.

Thoughts about MIT and Boston

Waiting for 4th of July fireworks in the rain on the roof of the climbing building at MIT.
Waiting for 4th of July fireworks in the rain on the roof of the climbing building at MIT.

All the terrible news about Boston and now MIT hitting far too close to home killing a campus security guard that I took hiking on a winter school trip just a few months ago, makes me reminiscent about the good times there.

I miss Cambridge and MIT and all the friends I made in my two years there. They were my introduction to US living and one of the highest reputed Universities in the world. Cambridge is a beautiful town full of ivy covered stone masonry, winding roads that are a heartache to navigate even with GPS (but still oh so much easier than across the river in Boston!), and some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. Random conversations on public transit were kind and insightful (in Van, mostly only the crazies talk) and I even made a good friend through a repeat ‘hey, that jacket’s from la cordee in Montreal!’ introduction before recognizing each other.

White Mountains in the fall.cannon
White Mountains in the fall; an “easy” climb on Cannon.

I’m an outdoor fanatic and I got involved in MIT’s outdoor club, MITOC, and after I got used to the almost anal safeguarding and liability wavers (ah, the USA) compared to my old club, the VOC at UBC, I found a club with so much energy to teach and share, to spread the love of the outdoors and how to safe in them. Like a good west coasters, I mocked their so-called mountains but, honestly, the Whites are gorgeous. In the fall, the colours are astounding and the peaks, for the little that they rise above sea level, offer ruggedly rocky, exposed and weather beaten summits that’s hard to beat. And the rock climbing walls could be as epic as the best out West!

MIT was not the stuck up academia that I thought it would be. My group was composed of some famous physicists but they were down to earth and friendly. Our lunches were notorious for going on forever with joking and ridiculous tangents (that sometimes led to good ideas!). The campus was connected, physically, so one could literally walk from engineering, through physics, to chemistry, math, and architecture with a little zig zagging up and down the levels. 

Some people ask why I left physics, how I knew, what I had planned. In the back of my mind I always intended on leaving physics — I just had to get that phD first for some reason. I hadn’t intended on the postdoc but I’m so incredibly grateful I did it anyway. 

I’m sending positive thoughts and memories about MIT, Cambridge and it’s big friendly neighbour Boston to all. I hope we get through these rough times quickly. 

Writing on a Mac

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For drafting a novel, you’d think finding a free little text editor would be a cinch. Unfortunately, there seem to glitches to all of them. Between file size limits, unstable behaviour, and missing word counts or basic formatting, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect (free!) text editor out there. Yes I’m being picky: I want smart quotes, word counts and italics and I don’t want the program to start crashing when my file gets to near novel lengths. Here are the text apps I’ve tried.

  • Textedit Maximum file size? I wasn’t even a third finished my draft and the program stopped autosaving. At least it warned me.

  • Textwrangler This simple text editor is a staple on my laptop, but it’s better at parsing code than composing in.

  • Celtx This is a powerful little app for formatting and organization. It separates chapters and stores index cards by project. Also intended for scriptwriter, the formatting is truly superb. Unfortunately, to show a word count one must awkwardly select the text and right click (the word count shows at the bottom of the drop down menu). I’m compusively motivated by an increasing word count so seeing it live is important (chipping away at my first million).

  • Ommwriter Beautiful backgrounds and sounds, chimes for each keypress, this little app feels like a trip to a yoga studio. Unfortunately it’s full screen and plaintext only. Sometimes, text just has to emphasized.

  • Bean Bean is quite the ideal little app (word count, full screen, customizable views) except that the screen freaks out (all squiggly lines and dots) like it’s about the crash every once in a while. Scary. 

  • Texts This program is a little different. It’s a markup text, that is, it saves in plain text but embeds style tags and can output to a variety of formats including rtf and html. As opposed to other markup editors though, the style tags are hidden and the view is formatted output. Very nifty. There’s a live word counter in the upper right hand corner so it seems ideal. Unfortunately, it uses the Mac’s overly aggressive autocorrect and a partially finished word can morph into something unintentional and a change undone is liable to remade the next time the space bar is hit. When all you want to do is blaze ahead with a semblance of the intended word (and no, not a word vaguely spelled correctly but with a wholly different meaning), stopping and correcting the autocorrect all the time is more infuriating than autocorrect on a smartphone. It can’t be turned off within the app, but at least I can disable autocorrect Mac-wide (drastic, but works). Other text editors seem to manage to reign in the Mac’s autocorrect making it usable.

I’m still using Texts with my OS-wide autocorrect disabled.

Anyone else on a Mac working with similar text files have other suggestions?