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Climbing wall etiquette for beginners

As a service to those new to indoor climbing walls, I have collected together the following rules as a guide to contemporary de rigueur behaviour:

1. Save time and impress other wall users by arriving with your harness already on. Keep it on when you leave, too, as this will provide endless opportunities to for conversations with people you meet on your journey home.

2. If you’re climbing in the trainers you arrived in, rather than using old-style rock shoes, any mud or grit on the soles will provide valuable additional friction as it sticks to all but the the smallest holds.

3. The machines that let you climb on your own are called “The Pulleys”. The term “auto-belay” is regarded as rather old-fashioned.

4. When climbing indoors, it is important to carry appropriate safety equipment. This means as couple of prusik loops and a screwgate. Some experienced indoor climbers choose to add a spare belay device, pulley, slings and/or Mini Traxion.

5. If carrying a smartphone to take selfies, videos, or phone calls when on a route, remember to tuck the phone into the back of your harness when it is not in use. This is called “racking”. Pro tip: marking your phone with coloured tape will help make sure you get it back if you need to share your “rack” with other people.

The following apply mainly to bouldering:

6. For safety reasons, when bouldering,  it is important not to climb below another climber – as they may fall on you. However, climbing above another climber is considered perfectly safe.

7. Easy V0 or V1-grade bouldering problems are a perfect opportunity for your friends/family/colleagues/club to film you with a smartphone or video camera. Background sounds add interest to any video, so be sure to encourage them to cheer loudly as you jump down.

8. Stand out from the crowd while bouldering by wearing your harness. To really get noticed, consider wearing a chest harness and/or jumars.

9. Help other wall users to keep cool in hot weather by shaking excess sweat onto them from your arms, legs and/or hair as you climb. Bouldering topless makes this considerably easier, and you will quickly notice the gratitude of the people around you.

 

Disclaimer: Really, really, really don’t do any of the things above. Some of them are very unsafe and can get you killed or injured, or can kill or injure other wall users (or annoy them, which may also get you killed or injured). Just don’t do any of these things.

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An Editorial

[A couple of evenings ago I read Yonatan Zunger’s blog post “Trial Balloon for a Coup? Analyzing the news of the past 24 hours“. The next morning I woke at 2:47 am from a strange dream. The following is fiction.]

 

Editorial

[draft / evening eds. mtg.]

A little over a day has now passed since the Trump administration’s announcement of the suspension of the US constitution. A day of nervous waiting.  The announcement by Mr Trump — surely few now refer to him as President — of the uncovering of a “secret liberal plot” to “frustrate the will of the American voter” has been watched and re-watched and dissected. But the uncomfortable truth is that, apart from the brief statement of “watchful neutrality” issued by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, we know little more than we did yesterday.

And so we go about our lives. Thinking perhaps of loved ones in the US, who are no doubt thinking of us. We glance over our shoulders; skittish. Many who lived through the Cuban missile crisis remember this feeling well, and never thought they would experience it again.

For the time being the world’s conversation is stilled. Twitter is suspended, despite the efforts of its engineers in Toronto and London to take control of its servers. Facebook is blocked in North America, and unreliable across the rest of the world. Their main offices and data centres are reported to be guarded by the same men in unmarked uniforms who were earlier observed surrounding the headquarters of the US State and Justice departments. Web connections time-out and telephone calls fail to connect. Perhaps surprisingly, email and text messages continue to leak out of the country, but the fragmented stories that they bring — street protests met by force, panic buying of food, disappearances, and convoys of unmarked vehicles arriving at sports stadiums in major cities — provide no reassurance. Only anguish.

Global financial markets remain closed. The skies over the US are clear of aircraft for the first time since September 2001, and tens of thousands of passengers find themselves unexpectedly deposited in Canada and Mexico. The governments of those countries remain tight-lipped: perhaps nervous of a repeat of yesterday’s lethal events at Niagara Falls. And the irony of US borders that are finally impassible to migrants is unlikely to be lost on anyone.

Since it seems clear that the US federal government has been largely suborned, and the its military will not intervene, all now depends on the response of the individual states. With the exception of Hawaii, Virginia and Texas, we do not know how the state governors have reacted, or whether Trump’s unprecedented nationwide federalisation of national guard units has been obeyed. The widely publicised eyewitness statements of the Queen Mary 2 passengers and crew demonstrate that the plans of Trump and his backers were well executed, at least in major cities such as New York. On the other hand,  the film of open battles at Shreveport and Oklahoma City, and the rumoured siege at Portland, suggest that not all is going their way.

It is clear that the US has experienced a coup d’etat. It may even be that, after two hundred and forty years, the great American Experiment has failed. What is certain is that in these dark days the world needs cool leadership and more than a little good fortune.

[ends]

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Decision Time

Tomorrow I will be voting for the UK to remain a member of the European Union. While I find the economic and political arguments for Remain persuasive, ultimately I’ll be doing this because peace and cooperation are necessary preconditions for progress and our collective futures.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote. But, if you find yourself genuinely undecided, I offer a suggestion: don’t abstain. Instead, ask a child or young person in your life how they would vote if they were able, and then vote for them and their future. And vote with hope for that future.

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Windows 10 display driver headaches

Some notes on upgrading a not-very-new laptop to Windows 10. Only even potentially interesting to people with a computer that has a Radeon 4xxx GPU.

Over the weekend I finally upgraded my laptop, a Toshiba Satellite L505-144, to Windows 10. I bought it about five years ago and, with just a 8GB memory upgrade, it still does everything I need – and reasonably speedily. Nevertheless, this is legacy hardware. The Windows 10 upgrade assistant said that it was compatible, but I anticipated problems. I still remember upgrading to NT4.0.

My suspicion was almost misplaced. The upgrade process itself was very smooth and I fairly soon had a machine running Windows 10. Smart looking too. Fairly quickly, though, I realised that there was a black border around the visible display area, which wasn’t using the full surface of the HDMI monitor (a 1920×1080 Iiyama). In this case the graphics hardware was an AMD Mobility Radeon 4500. Some quick googling revealed that this is a relatively common problem with some GPUs, which default to an underscan mode which is visible as a black border around the screen, and a poor quality image. The easiest way to change the underscan is to use AMD’s Catalyst Control Center software to tweak the GPU. Unfortunately, Catalyst Control Center doesn’t work on Widows 10. It just doesn’t. Believe me, I tried everything.

In the best Windows tradition, the solution turned out to involve hacking the registry as described here in the AMD forums. I found a whole lot of maybe solutions, almost solutions, and just plain wrong solutions before I found that forum post – and so this blog post is mostly just an attempt to give it a bit more Google juice for those Radeon 4xxx users who come after me. And some notes for myself in case I ever have to do this again.

Also, if you’re upgrading from Windows 7 I would strongly advise using the Display Driver Uninstaller to revert to using the Microsoft Basic Display Adapter. Then download and install 4xxx drivers for Windows 8 (which has a similar enough driver model to work on Windows 8). I used this one for x64. And if you read the release notes you may be amused to learn that AMD doesn’t even support the Radeon 4xxx on Windows 10. So no new drivers for you. Ever. Someone should tell Microsoft.

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Cape Wrath Trail: Ullapool to Sandwood Bay

Herein some words and photos of a recent walk from Ullapool to Sandwood Bay, in the far north of Scotland.

—–

Back in September 2003 I walked from Shiel Bridge to Ullapool, following the route described by Denis Brook and Phil Hinchliffe in their book North to the Cape. The book described a long-distance walking route from Fort William to Cape Wrath. I’d already walked from Glenfinnan to Shiel Bridge – roughly the first third of their route – and wanted to go further north. After an epic week walking through Torridon and Fisherfield I ended-up at Ullapool, crossing Loch Broom via the small Altnaharrie ferry in its last season of operation. A truly excellent week that I still look back on twelve years later.

The next day was Sunday, and, as there were no ferries to Stornoway on that day back then, there were no buses out either and I had a day to kill. I walked up one of the woodland paths behind the village, up the side of Maol Calaisceig and looked north. More mountains. Cul Mor, the Cromalt Hills, Cul Beag and Meall Dearg, maybe Quinaig. Not as high as the hills I’d passed through, but it looked very remote and romantic. I decided I’d come back and walk up to the Cape.

—–

This Summer, twelve years and twelve Summer walking trips later, I went back to Ullapool and went North. North to the Cape had evolved into the Cape Wrath Trail – a mostly better route that seemed to be getting increasing amounts of attention – and the gear I was carrying was substantially lighter than twelve years before. The hills were still there, waiting for me.

My route called for about fifteen miles per day; with stops at Duag Bridge, Benmore Forest, Inchnadamph, Glendhu Bothy, a loch near Arkle, and Sandwood Bay. Setting-off on Sunday, my plan was to reach the Cape the following Saturday, leaving the following day to travel home. The total milage would be just short of 100 miles over seven days. I had originally planned to finish at Sandwood Bay as I couldn’t find a way to get back from Cape Wrath within my time constraints. However, late in the planning process, I found a combination of minibus, ferry, and scheduled bus that would work. The timing was tight, so I decided to put off the decision and just see how things worked out.

I’m not going to narrate the walk in detail – solo long-distance walks are rarely exciting in that way – but the first three days went to plan. Here are some pics:

Loch Broom from Ullapool

Loch Broom from Ullapool

Loch Achall

Loch Achall

Loch Achall, looking West to Coire Dearg and Beinn Ghobhlach

Loch Achall, looking West to Coire Dearg and Beinn Ghobhlach

View East from Knockdamph Bothy

View East from Knockdamph Bothy

Riverbank, Glen Oykel

Riverbank, Glen Oykel

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Camp at junction of River Oykel and Allt Sail an Ruathair

Evening sky

Evening sky

At Breabag Tarsuinn

At Breabag Tarsuinn

Gleann Dubh and Loch Assynt

Gleann Dubh and Loch Assynt

Inchnadamph

Inchnadamph

I arrived at Inchnadamph late on Tuesday afternoon. Curtains of rain were blowing in off Loch Assynt, and it rained hard all night. Fortunately I was staying in the Inchnadamph Hotel – my mid-walk reward – so I kept dry in the bar.

Next morning the hills were obscured by fog, and a strong easterly wind was bringing the still heavy rain in horizontally from the west. A dreich day. Reluctantly, I decided to take a alternative route to Glendhu bothy: following the road to Ardvreck Castle, a path from Acmore Farm to Loch na Gainmhich, the road again to Kylesku, and then the loch-side path to the bothy. After three days I was tired, and the prospect of a day on rough paths in the fog just didn’t appeal to me.

More pics:

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Achmore Farm

Deer near Kylestrome

Deer near Kylestrome

Camping at Glendhu Bothy

Camping at Glendhu Bothy

Leaving Glendhu Bothy

Leaving Glendhu Bothy

Glendhu Bothy is in an amazing setting – fjords and “Wagnerian” come to mind. The bothy was empty when I arrived, and I camped outside as I tend to do. Later three Danish students arrived and we got a fire going using some driftwood I’d carried-in from down the loch. We talked late into the night.

Loch Inchard from Badcall

Loch Inchard from Badcall

At Kinlochbervie I attempted without success to contact the Cape Wrath minibus. My “plan” called for me to leave Sandwood Bay at first light and walk eleven miles over pathless  terrain to get to the Cape Wrath lighthouse in time to meet the second and last minibus back to the ferry at West Keoldale. I knew that the second minibus only ran on request, and if there were enough passengers making the round-trip – which seemed unlikely given the poor weather conditions. Since I couldn’t guarantee not to end-up stranded at Cape Wrath I decided that the walk would end at Sandwood Bay.

And it turned out that Sandwood was a fitting end:

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Am Buachaille sea stack, Sandwood Bay

Am Buachaille sea stack, Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

All in all, a magnificent week of walking that was more varied than I’d expected. I still regret detouring in the middle of the week, but on balance I think it was the right decision given the conditions and circumstances. It is possible that staying in accommodation at Inchnadamph, instead of camping, led to me making the decision too easily – but I see no point in second-guessing myself. I was there and I walked the miles. I have some great memories. And I’ll be going back to the far north next year.

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Aftermath

Now that the result is known, some thoughts about the Scottish independence referendum:

1. I consider myself a friend of Scotland. I go there at least one a year, to walk and backpack in its beautiful landscape, and as a nation it feels to me like a better place than England. Going there is not like “going home”, because it isn’t my home, but it has something of that quality about it. This probably shows how easily Scotland is romanticised, but its also how I feel about the place.

2. I was, and still am, broadly in favour of Independence for Scotland. Which puts me in the company of just over one and a half million Scots – a place I’m happy to be. Independence would likely have been a tough ride, economically, for a decade or so. But the referendum was a decision for centuries, not the near future, and I think it would have turned out well in the end.

3. But we are where we are, and politics continues because it never goes away. Around half of the adult population of Scotland, and four percent of the population of the UK, felt and still feel that the UK is no longer their home. Something has to change. A significant proportion of those voting no did so because the Prime Minister promised further constitutional change. Without it, it seems fairly clear to me, the result would have been yes. Constitutional change has to happen, and it is going to have to be a bit more than-who-gets-to-vote-for-what in the London parliament. If serious change doesn’t happen, the UK government loses its legitimacy and authority over Scotland. Totally.

4. There will be a UK parliamentary election in on 7th May 2015. The legislative programme is no doubt already full of measures to charm the voters, and Tory MPs are pushing back against the Prime Minister’s promises. Combine this with the fact that many Scottish Labour supporters will have voted yes and may be feeling rather let down by Labour’s opposition to independence, and we could be seeing a lot more SNP MPs in the Westminster parliament next year. Making Alex Salmond a potential kingmaker in the (likely) event that no party has an overall majority.

5. Anecdotal evidence suggests that younger people made up a large part of of the Yes vote. For some, particularly sixteen and seventeen year-olds, it will have been the first time that they voted. Many have been politicised to some degree by the intense and emotional nature of the campaign. I don’t know how they are feeling this morning, but I suspect that a large number feel let-down not only by politicians but also the older generation – who they may feel voted No out of fear. Whether they turn to anger, political activism, or apathy is too early to say. But the Westminster political system has become optimised for a largely apathetic population, and it will not welcome change.

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On Oracle

Bryan Cantrill on Oracle:

As you know people, as you learn about things, you realize that these generalizations we have are, virtually to a generalization, false. Well, except for this one, as it turns out. What you think of Oracle, is even truer than you think it is. There has been no entity in human history with less complexity or nuance to it than Oracle. And I gotta say, as someone who has seen that complexity for my entire life, it’s very hard to get used to that idea. It’s like, ‘surely this is more complicated!’ but it’s like: Wow, this is really simple! This company is very straightforward, in its defense. This company is about one man, his alter-ego, and what he wants to inflict upon humanity — that’s it! …Ship mediocrity, inflict misery, lie our asses off, screw our customers, and make a whole shitload of money. Yeah… you talk to Oracle, it’s like, ‘no, we don’t fucking make dreams happen — we make money!’ …You need to think of Larry Ellison the way you think of a lawnmower. You don’t anthropomorphize your lawnmower, the lawnmower just mows the lawn, you stick your hand in there and it’ll chop it off, the end. You don’t think ‘oh, the lawnmower hates me’ — lawnmower doesn’t give a shit about you, lawnmower can’t hate you. Don’t anthropomorphize the lawnmower. Don’t fall into that trap about Oracle.

Source

That is all.

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Ten years

Just over ten years ago, on 31st July 2002, I hit the publish button on the first post for this blog. Lots of things have changed in that time, but I still find it amazing that I can put some words onto a screen and make it potentially readable by a large proportion of the population of the planet. I wonder what the next ten years will bring.

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A weekend in the Lakes

Late last night I got back from three days backpacking in the Eastern Lake District. This was my first trip out this year, and anticipating decent weather I had planned a fairly ambitious four-day route. This didn’t survive contact with the actual conditions on the hills though.

My intention was to follow the High Street roman road to Kidstey Pike and camp at Angle Tarn above Patterdale. From there I’d follow Grisedale to Grisedale Tarn, down into Grasmere, and camp in Easedale. From there to Greenup Edge, High Raise, Rosset Pike, and down camp at Wasdale Head. On the final day I intended to take the magnificent path over Eskdale Fell to Boot in Eskdale.

Due to public transport delays I didn’t leave Pooley Bridge until nearly 1pm. It was very hot, but by the time I got onto high street the mist had come down, the wind was blowing hard, and it was raining intermittently. This was the start of five hours of walking into the wind, either on a compass bearing or following walls, with visibility that was (at best) about 50 feet. Basically, it was like this:

On High Street in poor weather

On High Street in poor weather

Camping on exposed ground at Angle Tarn seemed a bit riskly, so in the end I descended to Hayeswater and camped near the dam. It was very wet and blustery. Despite pitching behind a rise to shield me from the wind, about every fifteen minutes an enormous gist would hit the tent and I’d have to sit up and grab the tent’s single hoop to stop it being flattened. By morning I was pretty tired, and although the wind had dropped it was raining steadily.

Feeling somewhat dejected I plodded down to the valley and walked to Patterdale arriving at about midday. After some food at the pub I decided to walk down Grisedale as planned, and camp at the end of the valley.

Grisedale was lovely. My first visit, but not the last. There was a reasonable amount flat-ish land at the end of the valley.

Camp at the end of Grisedale

Camp at the end of Grisedale

The next day was sunny and breezy, and I climbed up to Grisedale tarn and then descended to Grasmere. Due to the Jubilee celebrations it was swarming with people. At this point to decided to finish the walk. There wasn’t time to continue with my planned route, and the weather forecast for the next day included phrases like “heavy showers”. This seemed like an ending, so I tllk the easy path around the lakes to Rydel to meet the bus to Windermere train station and home.

So. Not really what I’d planned, but a nice three days fully used in some wonderful countryside. And a reminder that plans sometimes have to be changed.

New gear on this trip was a North Face venture jacket and a pair of Salomon Exit Peak Mid boots. Both were very light and performed well. I also took a firesteel for lighting my stove, but this proved to be almost impossible in even a light breeze so I used a cheap butane lighted instead.

All the photos are here.