Category Archives: Tech

Blog Action Day – Climate Change

Climate Change is undisputedly upon us, and while the exact future ramifications are uncertain – some of the predictions are scary. If they hold true – some amazing coastal hikes like the West Coast Trail simple won't be there for future generations to enjoy?

The wilderness forests that we walk in when backpacking not only give us immense visual and environmental pleasure, but are working hard to pull Carbon Dioxide out of the atmosphere and pump Oxygen back in, but we're cranking out way more CO2 than is fair for them to cope with. So what small things can we do to help combat the emission of CO2 into our environment?

One thing I looked at recently was my desktop computer. We have two of them in our home – and they are energy hogs. With the advent of broadband, it's convenient to be able to walk up-to a computer and search for answers – so they stay on. 24×7, 365 days a year. Even when we sleep. Laptops are less of an issue as they go into low-power mode, but desktops are hogs.

I admire the disciplined people in the world that turn on and off their PCs each morning and evening – but I'm just not that structured 🙂 So I dug in a little to figure out how I could automate things, and I thought I would share my findings with others on Blog Action Day.

The idea is simple – automatically turn off my computer when I go to sleep, and turn it on again in the morning before I am out of bed. This way, I never experience my computer being ˜off' – and it's always on when I want it. So what are the steps? Read on and find out:

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Nigels Real-Time TGO Trip

My friend Nigel leaves for the UK to start his TGO trip next week. He's planning on taking a SPOT communicator with him and having real-time updates of his progress available at his blog.

Check out Nigels TGO Map page for real-time progress.

It shows his 'planned' route, and all points checked-in by the Spot. If you zoom out of the UK and into Seattle, you can see Nigel has been wandering between Redmond and downtown Seattle over the last few days, and either he swam across Lake Washington or the SPOT isn't all that accurate 😉

I for one, will be watching like a hawk and living my life vicariously through Nigel and Lynn, while getting fat eating donuts & coffee at my desk at Cisco. 😉

Flip Mino HD


The company I work for (Cisco), just announced the intent to acquire Pure Digital – makers of the Flip, for a whopping $590m. The CEO of Pure Digital, Jonathan Kaplan, was in Seattle and spoke at our company meeting yesterday.

The flip is a very cool product. I'm not sure my backpacking trips are ever entertaining enough to want to shoot video – but I'm sure some readers might find the idea interesting.

If you haven't heard of it before (living under a rock?) then it's a tiny Digital Video Camera – about 4  x 2  and weighs a ridiculous 3.3 oz. It has built-in storage, but it's elegance it truly in it's simplicity.

Jonathan was a humble yet inspiring guy – his tenacity on simplicity really shows in the Flip. I've wrestled with camcorders, codecs, video problems, fire-wire connections and all sorts of mess in the past. The flip – is insanely easy – you just flip a switch on the side and up pops a USB connector. Plug it into your PC, some simple software runs automatically and hey presto – your video is on YouTube or off to your friends and family via a link in email.

It is truly in the league of an Apple product – something all consumer companies aspire to – but very few can ever achieve.

More info at

Live Writer 2009 Released

Windows Live Writer (which I use to post and edit my blog), shipped it's Release Candidate today as the official 2009 release. After the Vista fiasco, I was starting to loose faith in MSFTs ability to ship decent software. The Live Writer team has given me hope again – it's been a solid product from the start (with a good plugin-SDK backing it up), but it keeps getting better – especially with this release.

Cool new features?

  • They have made my Polaroid Plugin add-on obsolete, by integrating new Polaroid style borders and tilt-effect abilities directly into Live Writer, here's an example of their instant photo  effect. Although, I find the ˜tilt' function buried a little too deep to be useful.


  • They fixed their annoying bug where you can now click on a photo and center it vs. having to select beyond the photo.
  • The added a wicked-cool photo album effect  where you can upload multiple photos and LW will auto-generate a ˜collage' effect for you with a bunch of different layout options. For example, here's little Chester munching away on his first ever spoonful of solid food at 4 months old:
  • The only annoying part is that it forces you to link to Windows Live Photo Gallery vs. your own blog. However, I've used effects like this on some of my trip reports before – but it's been a bunch of work to generate them in Photoshop, so atleast LW now does all the heavy lifting for me.
  • They also added the ability to filter your blog posts when inserting links to previous blog articles, together with an ˜auto-link this word' feature. Both of these are really useful and will save a ton of time.

Kudo's to the Live Writer team on a great release – I look forward to using it more.

A Backpackers Dream

OK… first of all I have to introduce the man behind this amazing creation.

None other than Mr. Bill Snead. I was fortunate enough to get to hike (and double-turtle) with Bill on our WCT trip last year.

Bill currently works at Microsoft and is a very talented developer. While he may blow off his creation as "no big deal", I'm blown away every time I use it and am excited to see it stable enough that he's willing to share it with others.

So what is this "creation" I speak of?

Bill took the Windows Live mapping engine and overlayed on it, USGS trail maps.

Yeah yeah, big deal… Google has been doing this for a while, right?

Bill one-upped them.

The Windows Live guys didn't just stop at building a simple GPS satellite view mapping service, they integrated with the Microsoft Flight Simulator Engine which allows you to get very detailed 3-D style views of supported terrain.

Bill's mapping data has altitude information that allows for an incredible 3-D experience when viewing hiking trails and terrain.

Remember the topo-style pictures in my recent post about Little Annapurna? This is the tool I used to take those snapshots.

It now supports both FireFox and Internet Explorer (Windows Only, no Mac), and you can check it out for yourself at:

Usage Hints:

– Make sure you put the map in "3D mode" and download the necessary plugins.

– Hold down the CTRL key and LEFT mouse button and move the mouse around the rotate the image.

– Use the mouse-wheel to zoom in/out.

– Hold down the SHIFT key and LEFT mouse button and move the mouse around the pan the image.

– Depending on how "Zoomed-in" you are, different scale maps will load, over the topography.

IMHO – the results are staggering. Find your favourite trail and zoom right in and follow the contours and enjoy.

Great job Bill!

Mountain Desktop 1.0

Inspired by a recent post by Sarah on the new High-Def Mt. St. Helens web camera,

I jimmied up a little windows application that downloads the camera feed image every half hour and sets your desktop background.

Announcing "Mountain Desktop 1.0".

I will say, after running it for a week where you could actually see the mountain (it's pretty socked in these days), it kind of made me happy.

Hour by hour, I got to see shifts in the clouds, and watch the sunset over St. Helens, and what I was watching on my desktop was consistent with the weather outside my window in downtown Seattle.

It's a pretty simple application right now, but if anyone other than me ends up using it I'm happy to add support for more camera feed etc. Although it really works best with high-def images.

Download Mountain Desktop here.

You need the .NET 2.0 Runtime installed in order to run it.

Google Maps Terrain

Google just recently launched their "Terrain" overlay. Microsoft has had one for

a while over at, but I like Googles version better. It's cleaner and more detailed.

I wonder if someone will create a website where hikers can start plotting out trails using a combination of the Google My Maps and Terrain features.

Here's a quick sample one I whipped up for Copper Ridge Loop: Copper Ridge Loop Map.

Something like this for all the hikes in the US, with clickable pushpins showing photos at that view point. How cool would that be?

Heck – I'd even go a step further and allow people to collaborate photos taken from the same view point, combined with Photosynth to give a 360 degree view.

Gear List Management – what do you use?

I would love to hear from people who stumble on my site what software they use to manage their gear lists.

For day-day management, I simply have an Excel spreadsheet with stuff in. Then for my blog, I wrote a bunch of custom php code to allow me to easily edit my gear list page without dealing with HTML formatting issues.

What does everyone else do? Any one use Google Docs spreadsheets? Anyone found a gear-list management application that they like? Anyone found a web-based list application that can be used for gear-list management?

I'm noodling on the idea of adapting my php/wordpress code into something that could be used by others.

Anyone out there? Hello? …

Polaroid Style Thumbnails

I've had several folks ask me how I do the 'tilted' Polaroid effect on my image thumbnails, including a popup for the larger version.

Until today the answer was somewhat complicated: "using some tools and scripts I wrote that run manually on the server".

I exchanged some email on Friday with an old friend Greg Friedman – who is the Development Manager for several Windows Live products and who has Windows Live Writer under his command. He inadvertently prompted me to think about using Live Writer for editing.

Live Writer is a very cool WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editor that allows people to author blog posts seeing them in the style of their site. I use WordPress as my blog platform – which I love – but often the editor and the 'published' view differ quite a lot.

Last night, I downloaded the Live Writer SDK and hacked up a plugin that allows me to compose Polaroid images on the fly.

To get the 'popup' style, I added the Thumbnail Viewer WordPress plugin. With this technique any images that are marked with rel="thumbnail", get automatically lightboxed. My Live Writer Plugin sets this attribute for you, so you don't have to do a thing. It also generates an 800×600 sized image to go in the lightbox automatically. So you can shoot big photos, and publish them in seconds.

If you use WordPress and are interested in trying this out, do the following:

1. Download and install the WordPress Thumbnail Viewer.

2. Download and install Windows Live Writer.

3. Download and install my Polaroid Plugin from the Live Writer Gallery.

4. Run Live Writer, and there should now be an "Insert Polaroid" option.

Oh… and I made a few upgrades while I was at it – a new drop-shadow effect, and also the option to put a caption on the Polaroid.

I'm sure there are bugs – so if anyone uses it let me know and I'll fix 'em.

OK – enough geeking out – I did promise myself I'd try not to post any tech-related articles and so far I'm doing pretty good.


Update Version 1.6:

– options dialog to configure defaults

– added support for transparent backgrounds

– transparent backgrounds don't work if your blog is hosted on windows live. the windows live blogs don't allow uploads of PNG files that support alpha-blended transparency needed for the drop-shadow. you can change to a different solid background if you use windows live – or complain to MSFT 🙂

– support for some border styles


Update Version 1.7:

just bug fixes, including:

– improved performance when tilting images by caching last image

– reduced temp-files generated

– resize-bug fixed

– fixed some weird font-measurements where the captions were taking up more vertical space than they should with some fonts.