Friday, January 26, 2018

Anatomy of what goes into our digital presentations - example Caminos Norte & Primitivo for REI

People sometimes ask me what software we use, why not Powerpoint, etc. so I'm going to log my thoughts and progress in building our presentation for REI.

First of all, the software. Back in the late 90s when I was dealing with Powerpoint in a business setting, it was really kludgy, a typical Microsoft product of the time. So, I am biased against Powerpoint, probably unwarranted for the current product. I Googled images on bad Powerpoint presentations - actually a lot of very good info on presentations there, but no ugly image I could insert here.

When we started doing presentations around 2003, I needed some digital software that would do dissolves, play music, integrate video clips, etc. and found WnSoft's PicturesToExe, very inexpensive. It didn't do everything I wanted but the projected image was far better than anything I had seen. I've stuck with that product ever since. Judging from its forum participants, it seems to be mostly used by high end photography clubs.

In addition to our periodic shows, I would usually put a YouTube video out whenever we completed a long distance hike, to give people a quick and entertaining overview. Checkout my youtube channel and click on the videos tab to see them. Googling for ralph alcorn youtube videos works.

For the current show on Caminos Norte and Primitivo, I made a framework show with about 10 images, using map images from Healing Miles, and slightly tweaked first image and ending image slides.

 After building the skeleton, I paused for about a week, finishing up the Kindle edition of Healing Miles. When I got back to this project, I couldn't find the file I had just made. However, in searching through my files by name, I got a hit on almost the identical name, and realized I had made a YouTube show immediately after finishing the Norte in 2015. Camino Norte 2015.  It was a good show, but stopped at Vilalba, as that was as far as we got in 2015. It also had music, and a fast pace. Other than that, a good basis for the current show, so I made a copy, added the maps and titles in the proper locations and started from there, leaving the music in, though normally our in person presentations don't have music and progress based on Susan's clicking the remote mouse button.

Jan 26, 2018 At this point I've added images for the rest of the Norte and Primitivo, as well as the appropriate maps. The total is 312 images, which is way to much for a manual presentation. When I run it through with the existing music (about 9 minutes), it does work, and works even better if I add more music so total is about 15 minutes. For YouTube it would be a good video, but best there to stick with one trail per video. For a manual presentation on both, I'm going to delete about half the images so total will be about 150. We may try with music and Susan hitting pause when she has something to add.

Feb 7, With Susan's help the show is down to about 205 images, music is gone, and it looks good to go, with a little more tweaking.  The first presentation will be after the first Saturday of the month pilgrim walk around Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. See Ongoing events in . After that, the local REI stores. See our calendar in

Friday, January 5, 2018

Kindle Revisted again - this time for Healing Miles

Dec 2017 and I am putting Susan's new book, Healing Miles, out to Kindle. I assume things will have changed again in the Kindle world since the last book (in 2012), so I'm logging my steps for my benefit and maybe yours.

First step was to copy the Indesign file that represented the final version sent to Createspace and Lightning Source (print on design companies). Indesign puts out a PDF file that would to to a conventional printer, or a POD company such as CS or LS. Indesign also can put out an epub file that is the raw material for the Kindle version of a book. I work with a new copy of the ID file, as some tweaks are made for Kindle. One is that some Kindles, and certainly most Kindle Readers read color, so all the black and white images and illustrations in the book have to be replaced by color versions.

I'm setting the book up as text reflowable. This was the only method on the 1st kindles. Now you can do fixed format, comics, etc. But for a mostly text based book, reflowable works better, as viewing devices can vary from tablet size to phone size, to e-reader size.

For those of you unfamiliar with epubs and ebooks, An epub is quite literally, a zip file with a prescribed set of contents. I take the epub from Indesign, rename it to be a zip file, and unzip all of the contents into a folder I call zippedandunzipped:
12/19/2017  03:42 PM

12/30/2017  03:52 PM

12/29/2017  02:54 PM             6,064 content.opf
12/18/2017  04:45 PM               306 CoverImage.xhtml
12/31/2017  05:14 PM             2,917 NortePrimitivoV3Kindle1-1.xhtml
12/28/2017  04:38 PM           138,317 NortePrimitivoV3Kindle1-10.xhtml
12/28/2017  03:50 PM           188,890 NortePrimitivoV3Kindle1-8.xhtml
12/30/2017  02:59 PM            13,821 NortePrimitivoV3Kindle1-9.xhtml
12/31/2017  11:00 AM               839 NortePrimitivoV3Kindle1.xhtml
01/01/2018  10:08 AM        36,061,592
12/18/2017  04:45 PM             3,785 toc.ncx

The CSS folder at the top contains the styles,
the image folder has all images,
and the xhtml files contain all the text.

The creation of the Kindle version involves correcting the styles and going into the text and making required changes there, such as spacing, margins, etc. To test a change, you double click the zip file at the bottom, drag any changes to the zip file and then closing the zip archive, which incorporates your changes. I then copy that zip file to the outer folder, NPKindleFinal, and rename it there to an epub.

Then, I open Kindle Previewer 3 (which I downloaded earlier). That shows a blank simulated Kindle screen. I drag my new epub to that blank screen, and in a couple of minutes the cover of the book pops up. I can then step thru the book looking for problems. This is an iterative process, and will take me a couple of weeks to get it right. You got the idea from my earlier posts so won't elaborate.

1/5/18 Still at it. I will publish this post today and update as it continues. My last major Kindle effort was in 2012 with Patagonia Chronicle. I did a minor update in 2016.  One Kindle change I've noted. They are moving more towards more current HTML and CSS standards. Anchors are the way I mark a spot that I want to be able to link to, say from the table of contents, or from an index entry. I used to the format . That is no longer valid. I have to use id="your name here" inside of any element I want to reference, such as
paragraph data

I've had some fairly major effort changing my images for the new Kindle standards.  They used to want fairly small images. Now they want all full page images to be twice as large as the largest Kindle device, and defined as 300 ppi (pixels per inch). So 3200 pixels wide and 300ppi. That is publishing quality. Web quality is 72 ppi. Photos were not a problem as originals were larger than that anyway. I did have to crop any photo used, as they had to leave room for a legend underneath. 3200 x 4195px. They wanted photos as jpgs and line art (illustrator) as png files.

The maps had different problems. They were made with Adobe Illustrator, as I always do. However, in the past I would export the maps from illustrator as tif files and place those in the final product. I was not happy with the sharpness of the final product. Illustrator files are vector based, i.e. everything you see is a computed value so scaling has no effect on the quality. Tif or jpg files are bitmaps, and scaling an image has drastic quality effects. The maps were produced at the exact size the book needed, but after going through the printing process, were not quite as good as the Illustrator originals. This time I placed the Illustrator files themselves into Indesign, and the printed results were much better.

On the Kindle, maps are displayed on devices from phone to tablet to desktop size, so I did some tests to see how various map options scaled. Kindle wanted a 3200 px width. The original book size map was 1193 px. Normal Export from Illustrator allowed me to specify the ppi - 300, but the width was 1193. That was test case one png. Illustrator has an option to save for web which allows the final pixel width to be specified for the png. That let me save it at 3200 px wide but had no ppi option. It did have a new option. For the png file, it wanted to know 8 bits or 24 bits, the number of bits to define a color. I did one test using 8, which allows 256 colors, and one using 24, which allows a lot more. I looked at the Web saved mode files with Photoshop to see the actual image size. In all cases it had a ppi of 72. Normally the only definition that matters is pixel dimensions, so I used Photoshop to change the ppi from 72 to 300 with no re-sampling so pixel dimensions did not change. The first one is 3200 at  72 ppi with a bit depth of 8. Second is 3200-300-24, Third is 1163-300-24, Fourth is 3200-72-24. The first one has a color defect in the ocean color at top right. This is the only image with 8 bit png depth. 24 worked fine. The color intensity is slightly weaker on the third one, which has a smaller pixel width - 1163. So moral is go with 3200 px and 24 bits.

The above images are from when I display a test kindle book on an actual Kindle device, or load it into Kindle Reader for windows. When I look at the images with the Kindle Previewer, the quality is much worse.

One little note re Amazon. These image size increases do improve the viewing for those with the largest devices. It also benefits Amazon in that Amazon charges about 15 cents per Mbyte in transmission fees back to the publisher and deducts it from their royalties. Larger file, more money to Amazon, assuming they make a profit on delivery fees.

Time to post and to back to work. A welcome rainy day here in Northern California. Susan off to physical therapy in her ongoing effort to heal.

1/7/18 Year end a busy period. The state wants its sales tax for last year, so I need to bring the business books up to date. We have presentations on the Norte - Primitivo scheduled for about 7 REI stores starting in March, so need to get that underway. Kindle is now looking good to me, but I just started to do the index. For Kindle, each entry in the index no longer points to page numbers, but must be a direct link to the appropriate paragraph. That means I make a change to each index page number reference, and create a corresponding name entry to link to back in the text. I worked about six hours on that and have not got all the way thru the "B"s yet. Maybe a week or so to finish

1/8/18 Did get through the Bs. Filed state sales tax. Started presentation project. So far just the maps from the book like above.

Note to anyone doing a similar thing using Notepad++. It has two optional plugins that I added. One is an XML syntax checker. If I run it and get a syntax error, I have unbalanced syntax items such as a start paragraph and no end paragraph, or in my typical case I left out a closing " on an item name. That just tells me I have an error, not where it is. The other plugin: Compare resolves that. I just have to have a copy of the original around when I start making changes.

January 16 - an update for you. I've finally made all of the index changes, and got an error free return when I checked the book with epubcheck. Now I can get back to moving the file to the Kindle previewer and seeing how it looks. Just a note about Kindle indexes. As you might have guessed, a huge amount of work to do manually. Maybe the newest Indesign puts out an index that is easily converted. However, I just finished reading - the Kindle version of the Trump White House story. Fascinating and horrifying, but that is another story.

At the end of the book, when I got to the index, there were no links, just the list of entries that were in the print version of the book, and a comment saying use the Kindle search function to look up any of the entries.

1/18/18 Did a publish to Kindle today, so it should be available on Amazon in 72 hours. Now on to the presentation for REI.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Rum Cake - A rediscovered recipe

I picked up my James Beard Cookbook the other day, looking for his curry sauce recipe, which I had not made for several years. In the fold of the book was this piece of yellow lined paper with a handwritten recipe for rum cake. The last time I had made this recipe was maybe 30 years ago, and origin of the recipe long forgotten.

We had a need for dessert to share in a couple of days, and on seeing this recipe I was fixated on preparing it. This is not something you want to share with anyone who might be fighting an alcohol problem, but outside of that, delicious, though calorie laden. I was asked to share the recipe, so here it is: No photo - we ate it before I thought of memorializing it.

Rum Cake:

The cake:

1 cup chopped pecans (optional)
1 package yellow cake mix
1 package instant vanilla pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup Meyers Rum (any strong flavored dark rum will do)

The Glaze:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup rum
1 cup sugar


Preheat Oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit
Grease and flour 10 inch tube pan
Sprinkle pecans on bottom of pan
Mix all cake ingredients together
 Bake 1 hour. Invert, Fork top to make multiple holes for rum
pour on glaze

For the Glaze, melt butter, stir in water
add sugar, Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in rum at the last.

Serve to your delighted guests.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Camino Norte trip report - spring and fall 2015 - the logistics

Guemes Albergue
Camino trails have been an almost annual event for us, but in 2014 a mysterious period of severe leg pains struck Susan, limiting her walking to a hundred yards or so for a while. Throughout 2014 and early this year, she has gradually been extending her distance, more thru ibuprofen and walking through the pain than anything else. When she was able to do nine miles, we decided we were ready to attempt another camino trip, with no commitment as to how far each day, or how far we would get. Camino Norte looked possible, with short enough stages so that we keep most days at 20 km or less, and a max of 25 km. Rest days would be taken when ever we thought appropriate. That's the background. This post is about the facts of the trip you might need to know. The experiences will have to be another story.

The spring trip was in May - June from Irun to Bilbao.
The fall trip was in Sept - Oct from Bilbao to Vilalba.

On the plane trip into Bilbao for the 2nd trip, our checked luggage with hiking poles, swiss army knifes and tent stakes never arrived. We found an excellent store Decathlon Capital in Bilbao that had the exact poles Susan needed, plus the knives, and I found a pole along the way. We never had to use our tent, so got by without stakes.

Perazzoli and Whitson's Northern Caminos was our primary guide, though we had the Wise Pilgrim Norte app on our android cell phone. We also had an iPad Mini with the Camino app. We had a Kindle Reader on both devices, and that was very useful when part way thru the 2nd trip, we accidentally left our guidebook behind. I had also gotten the Kindle version of the guide, so at that point we would transcribe the guide to paper each night to have the next day's walk in hand, and the device was available in case we needed to zoom in on a map. The Wise Pilgrim Norte app was useful in one instance in that its where to sleep revealed a place to stay that was not in Northern Caminos. The Kindle Reader did a very good job on the phone, presenting the guidebook in useful chunks. I didn't use it constantly out of concern for the battery.We sometimes looked at The routes might vary from our guide, but it sometimes had more accommodations. We would try to follow the yellow arrows unless our guide specifically said to do something different and we agreed with the reasoning. In some cases the yellow arrows led to PUDs - pointless ups and downs.

We had an android LG 8 Gig phone and an iPad Mini 2. 1st, 8G is not large enough for an android phone. I would like to add a few more apps, and don't have enough storage. I've got a big SD card, but internal storage is what counts for storing apps. 

2nd, the iPad had trouble getting wifi coverage. usually ok, but sometimes I would have no problem getting wifi on the phone, but the ipad would not even show the network. Also, I got a vpn app (Tunnelbear) and it would have more problems connecting on the iPad than the phone. The iPad was great once it had a connection, but the wifi was an issue. I was really glad I had an iPad with cellular service, as that would work when the wifi would not. That required a Spain sim card. We had a Tuenti card we got from Movistar, and topped up at the post office.

We found the terrain the most difficult of all the routes we have been on (Arles, Le Puy, Geneva, Mozarabe, Porto, French (the traditional) route.) While our plan was for 20 to 25 km days, in practice, 17 to 22 was what we could do. We booked ahead with when we could, as we couldn't walk further if nothing available. It was stressful and time consuming to do the booking each evening. If your Spanish is good you could call the place directly and save maybe 10 to 15 euros per night. Based on what others said, things were not really that crowded. They would walk into town and find something. However I still suggest reserving Saturday nights if you can, and checking for Spanish holidays. This was Sept-Oct and hunting season, so in one village, the place we booked ahead was full of hunters, and another place there was closed, so other pilgrims without reservations had to walk back to the albergue in the town before - fortunately only a half kilometer back. The albergue at Guemes had 50 people registered the night we were there, so we were a little spooked about the number of people on the trail. Later we learned that quite a few people spend multiple days there, healing up or helping, so of that 50 people maybe 15 or so were new that day. A must do experience, by the way.

We stayed in albergues several times, and that is where we met most of the people that we saw on the trail. However, it wasn't too restful for us, and I got a bad bedbug attack, we think from one of the albergues.

Re the bedbugs. It took a couple of days before I was sure they were bedbugs, not fleas or mosquitoes. We use a lot of inner bags - turkey bags, etc., so most things are tightly sealed. As soon as we suspected bedbugs, we inspected everything on a white sheet and found no signs of bedbugs. My sleeping bag was the most suspect, and I had it in a dry bag when not in use. Once the attack happened (30 bites), I didn't want to get that bag out again until I had it treated, so there it stayed, and no more albergues the rest of the trip. Susan had no problems. (post trip note - I inspected it again at home, treated it, saw no sign of bedbugs, so assume my attackers moved back to their original hiding place).

This is a spectacularly beautiful route, from coastal town up over the ridges and around the inlets down to the next town. Much of the time, the ocean is in sight. One pilgrim, on his first Camino, said "when I see the ocean, I'm happy. When I don't see it, I'm not." I definitely would not suggest this as a first Camino. You do not get the sense of history that you get walking on the Camino Francis, through the towns that grew up around and because of the Camino. On the Norte, it is about fishing. There are glimpses of the original camino times, but that was not the reason for the towns.

Primitivo Norte split
The waymark quality varies. Usually fine, but sometimes there are competing markers. We carried our phone and iPad devices, but I tried to not use them for navigation, just for email, etc. at the end of the day. However, on a couple of instances, we got lost enough to need Google Maps to get back to the right point. Usually when we strayed off course, a local realized it, and warned us. We found that Google Maps is often wrong on exact locations. The pin representing a town may be at an intersection a half mile away. A street address may be 100 yards away from the actual location.

Trails - Most of the time - 80 to 90% - we were walking on hard or paved surfaces - quiet country roads mostly, but sometimes busy. Portugal roads would be a breeze after the Norte. However, after a few weeks our feet adapted, and after a few miles of rocky dirt paths, we were happy to again place our feet on pavement.
From not so good to worse

Language - for the most part, we had to rely on our Spanish, which is very basic. Also, in the Norte regions, Spanish is the 2nd language. Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia each have their own language, so when you hear Spanish, it is with an accent of the underlying language, and was sometimes difficult for us to understand. We did learn towards the end of the trip about Google Translate, microphone mode. It will listen and translate both sides of the conversation to text on your device, and also speak the translated phrase. It works fairly well if you can keep your sentences short and pause between, so both of you understand.

Food - the food is perfect for someone doing hard manual labor, lots of meat, fat, carbohydrates, and a bottle of wine. It tastes wonderful for a while, but we did get desperate for fruit and fresh vegetables. One one occasion we were served a fresh fruit salad, tomatoes, lettuce, kiwis, oranges, apples, balsamic vinegar, and more - best thing I have ever had in Spain. You do see fruit for sale in the groceries, so we would frequently get some to carry with us. Later in the trip we found that if you look closely at the a la carte menu they will frequently have a mixed grilled vegetable plate. That plus one of the lighter appetizers and the house wine equals the menu del dia in cost, and is a good change. In most cases, there was a bar at an appropriate location for lunch, so only a couple of times did we carry sandwich material, and some of that got tossed, because there was an undocumented bar discovered along the way.

Weather - On the May - June segment - Irun to Bilbao, we wore full raingear maybe six days, but only light intermittent rain. On the Bilbao to Vilalba segment in Sept - Oct I think we started out with full rain gear on (pants, Packa) three different days. Again, just light and intermittent rain. I carried a bag labeled Cold Weather with fleece pants, midweight Smartwool top, fleece socks. I only used the socks, and those to sleep in. Some of the nights were cold, and they do not turn the heat on until November in your lower star dwellings.

Peter Robins geolocate website was very useful at times. If you are not aware of Peter Robins map website, you should be. Google for peter robins camino, and you will find it. However, if you have a device that knows its location, such as an iPad, then go to peter robins geolocate page and click both IGN maps and pilgrim routes. That will bring up a topographic map centered exactly where you are and it can be zoomed by touch, like any other touch device.  Our iPad mini had cellular service - t-mobile in the US, but I got a tuenti sim card for spain from the Movistar store at the start of the spring trip for about 25 euros, and it was still good for the 2nd trip. Turns out that if it is topped up within six months, its use is extended for another six months. I topped it up at a Movistar store at the beginning of the fall trip, and then again at a post office about 4 weeks later. (You must know the phone number, which is only available from the purchase documentation or tuenti emails since the iPad is not a phone).

There is a very useful map/document on Camino Norte that we got from the tourist bureau in Ribadeo in the region of Galicia. This has the route through Galicia, including the profiles for each stage. I think this is also available for the other regions (Asturias, Cantabria, Basque Country).

We were not as doctrinaire as usual in walking every inch, and if the guide book said the metro ran to the edge of town, we would take it if possible.  We used taxis a couple of times to drop us at the start of the day a few kilometers out of town if that day's would be too far for us otherwise. This bus - metro - taxi aid was also used by other pilgrims. Along the coast until Ribadeo, bus transport is easily available. At Ribadeo, the trail turns inland, heading for Arzua on the Camino Francís. There the buses and trains go off to the side, and only taxis can be used to move towards the next trail town.

Training - minor comment. Everything is in kilometers, and I think it would be helpful to train converting all your distances to kilometers, so that I walked 25 kilometers doesn't require a mental conversion to miles on your part. Also, 25 km is a good training distance to strive for, with a pack. Once you can do that on any terrain, with your pack, you can handle anything in Spain. a very useful transportation website for looking for options on getting from one city to another, considers and combines multiple options - bus, train, rental car. The link is an example: options on getting to Villaviciosa (start of Primitivo) from Madrid. - With our slightly reduced daily distance from the plan, we found that we would not make Santiago, so decided to go out to Lugo, where transport to Madrid and our flight home would be available. A local bus line would take us to Lugo, and ALSA bus or the train would take us on. The trip from Lugo to Madrid was six or seven hours and the schedules made it longer so we looked at an alternative.

A few days earlier, someone told us about - sort of a formalized casual carpool. You signup on the website. Takes about five minutes. There are driver and passenger ratings as in We posted our desire: Baamonde to Madrid on Oct 13. Drivers independently post where and when they are going. Blablacar notifies us of anyone doing a trip nearby. We saw a number of drivers going from Lugo to Madrid at different times of day. One was leaving at 9:30am and would pickup at the Lugo bus station, and drop at Atocha station in Madrid. He had two places at 24 euros each. I bid on those, he accepted a couple of hours later. The only problem was that it was all in Spanish, and had to be paid for by credit card before I could communicate useful info with the driver. So did all that but wasn't sure it would all work out. There was always the train or bus if it didn't. Thru use of copy paste and google translate I found that had set me a code in the payment email, that I was to give to the driver only after I arrived in Madrid. Otherwise the driver wouldn't be paid. It all worked. nice ride, nice car, fast. Afterwords he rates us as passengers, we rated him as driver.

Music - on all of our trips I try to listen to local music, or more correctly, what the locals are listening to. I ask taxi drivers what the song is on the radio, in a restaurant or bar I will ask someone what is playing, and when I get home I will get out my notebook and try to lookup the things I heard. On the Norte I noted several songs or events:
Festival of the Children in Santander: (Unless you are into folk dancing, way more than you want to hear).
Juan Pardo & Amacio Prada: Probiña da Tola:
Loreena McKennitt: The Bonny Swans - this excerpt is in English - I would swear when I heard it in Spain, it was in Spanish.
Lole y Manuel: Tu Mira:
Lila Downs: Justicia:
Festival of San Froilán: Two different groups, mostly Orquesta Costa Dorada performance, but also an unknown chorale and percussion group.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

New Orleans - Once Again

Walking through the French Quarter
A few posts ago I wrote of This Ain't No Mouse Music and our Louisiana addiction that was displaced by long distance hiking. We've been restless this year, grounded from hiking, no walks through Spain or France. When we spotted a cheap flight to New Orleans, that old obsession beckoned. Five days. Arrive Weds midnight and return Monday afternoon. Our plan was a musical pilgrimage with days to be determined. A 3 day Jazzy Pass for $9 gave us unlimited trips on buses and streetcars (provided they came).

Thurs 8:30pm Rock & bowl Chubby Carrier - did this
 Fri 6pm dba Tuba Skinny
      8pm Snug Harbor Maria Muldaur 8 and 10pm - did the 8pm
Sat 6pm Three Muses Hot Club of New Orleans - did this
    10pm Tipitinas Art Neville and Treme Brass Band - did Mulates instead
Sun 5:30 Rock & bowl Bruce Daigrepont fais do do. - did this
This all coincided with a few days of sun and an arctic blast of wind and cold. Indoor anything got priority. We learned some things. Our stamina is not what it was twenty years ago. Music really gets going about 10:30 at night and goes to 2 or 3 am. We were fading by 11pm. **update** decided to add how to info - links for music, etc. at the end after images.

New Orleans seems whiter that it was before Katrina. Maybe a false impression. A lot of gentrification going on, and the new faces are white. On to images.
World War II Museum

Battle of the Bulge - a critical last offensive by the retreating Nazis in 1944. Have a friend who was there, as an eighteen year old medic. His orders to me: "Go to the World War II Museum". It is a sobering and well worth visit for those of us who remember some of those times, or remember our parent's history back then. For kids of today, only if they like airplanes. It's well done, movie clips, photos, a tremendous oral history collection, with stations where you choose which personal recollection to hear. The sight of an old white haired guy in a wheelchair, listening to personal accounts of Omaha Beach is hard to see, no matter how blase I try to be.
German individual bomb shelter

Maria Muldaur venue

Louisiana in general and New Orleans in particular, takes its drinking and partying seriously, and music is a close runner-up. Sunday was pro football at the Superdome - Saints vs Bengals, and as we walked through that area around 9:30 am, assaulting the eye were tailgate parties, full pint sized cups of beer, sidewalk stands selling zombies, grenades, etc. high alcohol high volume beverages  and indescribable apparitions in the two teams colors.

I digress. What I want you to remember is that Bourbon St. focuses on the partying and drinking, though the music is also there. More visitors than locals partake. For venues where music comes first, venture out of the French Quarter.

To orient you, the French Quarter is on the North bank of the Mississippi. Just west of it is Canal St. and downtown. Our hotel, as well as many others are there, just a couple of blocks from the Quarter. On the east side of the Quarter is Esplanade Ave. Near the base of Esplanade, running northeast is Frenchman St., a 25 minute walk across the Quarter from our hotel, or a $10 taxi ride. Frenchman St. is where we saw Maria Muldaur, and those same few blocks have maybe a dozen other music venues, loud and local. Tipatina's, RocknBowl and Maple Leaf Bar are other places to hear local music, but too far to walk. $15 to $20 by taxi. This was first time we used taxis instead of rental car. Costs add up fast, and we did one venue a night when with a car we might have done several. Mulates is west on Julia St. about 6 blocks from our hotel, and a good place for Cajun food, music and dancing between 7 and 10pm.
Mural at Central City Festival site

lots of construction going on
Anytime we were in the hotel room, on went the Weather Channel. Again we learned new things. A massive cold front had swept down from Canada and across the Great Lakes for "lake effect snow", one of the new terms. Arctic air hits warm mosture laden air rising from the lakes. Result: A wide band of snow starting just south of the Great Lakes and running their entire length. If you saw pictures of snow in Buffalo, New York recently, that was lake effect snow.

The other term "thundersnow". Just what it seems. Thunder and lightning strikes, accompanied not by torrential rains, but blizzard blasts of snow.
Brown Cow Dairy

music nightly, Zydeco on Thursdays, Cajun on Sundays

There are three free street magazines for finding out food and music options. I can only remember the name of two, but they are the best. Offbeat Magazine is the best source, and their online site looks excellent - didn't find the site till we got home.

The other magazine is Gambit, and they also have a website:

The streetcar bus Jazzy Pass is a good deal, but they are a little flaky as to schedule. Also on St. Charles line, frequently so full they do not stop. Check schedules before depending on them. Buses look more reliable, but didn't make much use of them.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A long, familiar walk, but always some new images

When Susan and I are training, or these days, when Susan is still recovering and my body needs to walk, we have a local walk of about ten miles. The incentive is a local bakery, five miles away. A croissant and a coffee primes us for the return. The bakery is at 300 feet elevation, we are at 1100, so mostly down for the first half, and up all the way back. This is a two or three times a week trip, so we seek out little variations, always keeping in mind the distance to the nearest restroom. That means keeping tabs on any construction going on midway either direction, and the associated porta-potty.

One of the variants goes down the bear route, where three wood sculptured bears are to be along the way.


This last walk was my day for yards with character or at least interest:
They continue up the driveway, representing many happy hours
We are having a drought year, so this brown metal sculpture blends right in.
A block or two further on
This route variation sent me down a commercial street.
Bakery reached, now on the return trip through different streets.
Deliberate or a forgetful child?
As I said, things are dry here, and this sign was miles from any water:
I cut off the phone number for privacy considerations
For some reason there is fresh growth in some shrubs, even though it is fall.
And finally, on the trip up the hill, nearing home, wildlife.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hot weather hiking affliction: Golfer's Vasculitis

This sock had elasticized top
Chances are, you hot weather hikers have seen something like this. That's my leg you're looking at, yesterday's view, and not much of a concern to me since I knew what it was.

The first encounter was a scare - on Susan's leg while hiking in France, and we had no idea what it was. Just it came on while hiking in very hot weather, and was right under the elasticized band of her sock, warm to the touch and puffy, but not painful. A wider, more brilliant band than you see here on my leg.

A few days later, the whole foot started swelling in a major way, all the way from toes to half way up the shin, and extremely painful. That ended up with us going to emergency, where a severe infection was diagnosed, treatable with antibiotics, but we had to cancel the trip and it took two weeks for the swelling to subside. The doctors were unable to determine point of entry for the infection. They did x-rays for hairline fractures - none. Final thought was that hiking had generated invisible cracks in the feet where some infection could have gained entry. This was all very stressful and we totally forgot about the earlier red band around her leg.

Zoom of top image

I also did a lot of Googling, and learned that the usual cause of this is a condition called Golfer's Vasculitis, according to internet comments, unknown to a lot of doctors.

A good link on the subject:

It is usually just on the inner side of the leg. The best treatment is avoidance, no pressure at all on the leg in the sock area during hot weather. Stop, remove socks, let leg cool, wipe with water if necessary. Wear very light un-elasticized socks if you can find them, cut or fold down the elasticized part if you have to. Once it occurs, remove socks and get out of the hot conditions and it will be gone in two or three days.

This sock was loose but pulled up
Susan has been ordered not to hike the last few months, to cure severe pain caused by strain of muscle sheathing over a large band of muscle going down the outer leg, so I've been doing hikes in the local area, to maintain conditioning (with notable lack of success). The last ten days have peaked in the 90's F each day - the normal is 60s to low seventies. One night Susan looked at my leg as it rested on the coffee table while we watched The Good Wife. "What's that?" Me: "What's what?".

That prompted me to take these pictures. The final picture is of socks. I only wear liner socks. The rightmost is an REI liner sock from about 10 years ago. It is very comfortable, and does not have an elasticized top. After 10 years it is nice and loose. Unfortunately, the dozen or so I had of these are now wearing out, and are no longer made. All liner socks now have elasticized tops. Your only choice is how elastic. I find any elasticizing at all is too much if the sock is pulled up to full height. The leftmost sock is typical and ok if I fold the top down to the top of my running shoes. The center sock is one that was severely elasticized, so I made a field repair, using my Swiss Army Knife scissors to cut through the elasticized part.

Almost forgot my conclusion. The this weeks incident of me getting the symptoms reminded me of Susan's incident in France. When the infection was occurring, we totally forgot about the two days earlier Golfer's Vasculitis incident. My current thought is that the two days of hiking with this condition created some cracks, minor wounds so that the infection got started there. If you get a GV incident, be sure to keep it clean, and try not to aggravate it further.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Galapagos - Experience of a Lifetime

I love hiking and traveling. Each trip brings experiences I want to remember forever. I'm sort of shy though, about assuming others will share the same feelings. Galapagos is the exception, and possibly Torres del Paine. If a trip to the Galapagos Islands is in your realm of possibilities, do your best to make it happen. The Galapagos part of our expedition was an organized two week trip by Wilderness Travel. We added on Otavalo and Quito, Ecuador on our own, since we had gone so far anyway.

Since we've got back, I've looked at a number of Galapagos trip offerings from various companies. There is a huge range of content, and I'll make some comments later on what to look for in a trip. But... first look at a video I put together that is just a series of images from the trip, set to music. Watch it and then decide whether to read further:

Galapagos 2014 - two weeks on the Mary Anne

Almost the entire Galapagos Islands are in the National Park, and tourism is strictly controlled to avoid damaging the resource. Each ship must have a local guide. The islands are currently divided into some 70 different visitor zones. Access to the zones are limited by time of day and number of visitors. Every tour vessel or private ship must have a permit for a specific time and day for each zone it visits. We never saw more than two other vessels at a site. Itineraries are sometimes changed at the last minute because they couldn't get a permit for the exact time and day they wanted.

Most flights are into Baltra, which is roughly in the center of the islands. From Baltra some tours do the Eastern Islands, some the Western, and some both. On our tour we lived on the boat, but there are many hotels, and some tours operate out of the hotels with day trips.

Our trip covered both the Western and Eastern Islands and we lived on the Mary Anne, a three masted barkentine. Almost every day we had short (a mile or two?) walks on the islands, snorkeling, sometimes sea kayaking, sometimes zodiac trips around the edge of the islands. I found the Eastern Islands a little more interesting if I had to choose, but some favorite moments were in the Western Islands.

Things to look for in a tour:

First, look at days on the mainland (Ecuador) vs days in the Galapagos. I've seen some with three mainland days and four Galapagos days. Get as many Galapagos days as you can. Ecuador is fine, but ordinary South America travel. Galapagos is unique. We had two mainland days, 15 Galapagos days. The current REI tour has eight days, all in the Western Islands except for the mainland airport time at Guayaquil.

Second, if you only have a week, do the Eastern Islands, and be sure the tour includes Tower (Genovesa) Island. I don't see how a hotel based tour would have time to get out to the remote islands, but don't know for sure.

Third, it is mandatory that your trip include lots of snorkeling opportunities and land hikes. One of the most impressive things is the sheer biomass of the fish in the sea. Sometimes the clarity is not great, but the numbers of fish are staggering. The occasional large shark is a sobering sight. If you cannot snorkel or hike, the zodiac cruises around the islands still allow you to see a great deal.

Last, if your airport time includes a day in Guayaquil, be sure to take in the Museum of Anthropology , right along the edge of the waterfront. Go in and straight to the back where the oldest objects are. Some magnificent pottery whistles for example.

At the end of the trip we made our own arrangements and flew to Quito and then went directly to Otavalo to the Ali Shungu lodge. This is an incredible place to stay, and will get a separate post in a day or two. After several days there, we went to Quito for two days and then flew home.

Doing Quito last was a bad idea. Going to Otavalo and Ali Shungu is an excellent way to decompress from the Galapagos experience, but Quito was a traumatic culture shock. It is a huge, busy city. Worth visiting, but do it BEFORE going to the Galapagos.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Of mammals, mostly, travels and a snake glimpse

More tales from grounded hikers. Susan can walk a few blocks but our normal long distance treks are temporarily on hold. So... our meantime activities.

Take my word for it, youngster rats are sort of cute. They're also pretty fast, so don't have a photo to prove it. Roof rats are endemic in this area, at least since the white man arrived. The city even has a department to help control them - vector control. I used to be fairly tolerant if I saw evidence of rats outside. However a number of years ago we got back from a trip and found them inside our house, happily co-existing with our two cats, and sleeping in our bed under the pillow. Susan was definitely not happy. I was not pleased either. That was the end of tolerance. Vector Control came out, pointed out my failings, but gave me instruction. I've thoroughly rat-proofed the house, and rigorously inspect it several times a year for any evidence of rats.

This year the neighbors report rat resurgence. Our compost pile, a large covered hard plastic bin, frequently has rat burrows. I completely cover the top surface of the compost with snap traps, get one rat, and one rat tail, but the burrowing continues. Finally we order a raised rotating compost bin from Amazon, and that so far seems rat proof.

Re the cuteness. Deer, raccoons, skunks, squirrels, cats and other critters roam our neighborhood and as much of our yard as they can get to. We've got a fence that encloses the sides and back of the house and in that area we can grow deer appetizers (roses, etc.) without them being sampled. In front things are "deer tolerant", but we've learned how that really goes. Each year, that year's crop of deer discover our yard. They don't read. Deer tolerant is determined by take a bite, see if you like it. Always plant enough to survive sample nibbling.

We've got lots of birds, so have a bird feeder near the window at the side of the house in the fenced off area. Vector Control didn't like that. Feed the birds, the rats come. I could see this myself. Looking out the window where I am was the bird feeder, and one day I noticed the cute little rats, eating the spilled seeds directly beneath the feeder. So we stopped feeding for a couple of months, then resumed. The rats resumed. Finally I moved the feeder to the middle of the front yard, far enough away from shelter so that any rat beneath it was likely to be snatched by the owls at night or the hawks by day. Problem solved, but there is that phrase, unintended consequences.
Not Unexpected

Unintended Consequence
This was one afternoon a few days ago. Hold that last image in your mind. The next day Susan had to write all day, so I took off to circle a local reservoir on watershed land. We are in a high fire danger area, and things are very dry, so goats are in demand to reduce vegetation on public lands. This day they were on my hiking route, standing to graze if needed.

Contained by the wire
I was tempted to touch the fence but resisted.

The day went on with turkeys, cows and a water snake.
The goatherder's trailer
Yesterday's was too fast to snap, but similar

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

This Ain't No Mouse Music!

Susan and I have been together twenty-seven years now, and since 2001 have been almost obsessively caught up in long-distance hiking, writing about it, doing it. All these twenty-seven years though, we have had a shadow life, caught up in Cajun music, later in Zydeco, and have always loved the way music is embedded in the culture of Louisiana. In 1987 we took Cajun dance lessons from Diana Castillo and Irene Tenney in the SF Bay Area. Irene founded the Cajun Creole Cultural Center. That organization gave us insider information and in our early years together Susan and I made many trips to Louisiana, seeking out the dance and music events in those little French speaking communities in the  Lafayette area.
Those events were hard to find sometimes, particularly when looking for Zydeco music. In 1990 forget about checking with town tourist bureaus. Their response was "we wouldn't know about that. You need to ask the black folks."

Once we got to the dance halls, white or black, it was fine. We just watched the locals and danced as they did, though not as well, I admit. Our west coast lessons had included a lot of open swing style moves, but we didn't see that in the early Louisiana years, just two-steps and waltzes. The Zydeco was two-step with full body contact a la Tango--in my mind just about as good a dance position as could be imagined. Anyhow, in the darkened Zydeco dance halls, we kept a low profile, just out there with everyone else, loving the music and the experience. Slim's Y Ki-Ki was one of those dance halls: Lawtell Playboys at Slim's Y Ki-Ki

I'm getting to This Ain't No Mouse Music! Most of our trips back there were during non-festival times, when tourists were scarce. However, we did go back during Festivals Acadiens et Créoles one year and ran into Irene Tenney who introduced us to Chris Strachwitz. Since that time we've encountered him many times on our musical travels. The just-released documentary on his life was a wonderful surprise to us. We knew so many of the faces in the film that for us it was a documentary of our life as well. We recognized some of the musicians in the film from when we had first seen them performing as small children with their parents.

This is truly a magnificent, one of a kind film, thanks to directors/producers Chris Simon and Maureen Gosling. If you care for authentic American music, see it!

For the performance near you, check - Kurt, this is for you: Los Angeles, CA
October 1-7, 2014
Downtown Independent

I'm almost done, but take time to see and hear the film trailer: