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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Facebook and Google

A few months ago, I wrote Tips for Nooglers. That post became far more widely read than I expected, and one of my friends at Facebook, Steven Grimm said that the next time I visited Facebook Michael Schroepfer would like to speak with me about some of the background behind that blog post. Since I'm terrible at off-the-cuff remarks, I prepared a presentation. I further modified the presentation tonight because the original presentation relied on me being around to elaborate on the details (think of it as "talking points"), while obviously, I'm not about to elaborate and answer questions on my blog interactively.

Since everything on the internet gets misunderstood, I will emphasize a few things (repeated from the slide because it should be):
  • Google is an incredibly successful business and organization.
  • Google was far more agile at 1500 people than most 200 person startups.
  • At every point in its growth, Google was/is the best in its class as an employer for engineers.
  • Many consider Google's #1 mistake to be having a tech ladder in the first place. I covered that topic in my post on Promotion Systems, so did not feel the need to belabor the point.
I will admit to thinking long and hard before putting up this presentation. Everything on the internet gets mis-represented, and I'm already dangerously close to being persona non grata on Google campus. On the other hand, with all the recent flap about high profile defections from Google to Facebook, I thought this would lend some much needed context.
Before, during, and after my presentation, I spoke with various Facebook employees. I was very impressed by a few things:
  • Facebook has deliberately throttled its growth in the engineering organization. While Facebook could afford to double every year, its deliberately maintained its growth at well below that rate because of acculturation problems otherwise. In 2004, a senior manager at Google begged the founders to reconsider doubling every year. Google probably would be very different if that manager had successfully won that political battle.
  • Every manager I talked to spoke about the need to balance different contributions to Facebook's engineering efforts. In particular, many people echoed Yishan Wong's statements on Quora:
    There is a part of Facebook culture that is actually against the "we're only here to work on innovative, ground-breaking, glory-seeking projects" that grew out of a reaction against the perceived Google culture[1] of the time (approx. 2006 - 2008), as well as a recognition that long-term, sustainable success is built far more on hard, thankless grinding than brilliant innovation.

    As a result, Facebook actively respects people who do the "thankless, dirty work," like rewriting spaghetti code, making build systems, crushing annoying bugs, etc (obviously, it ends up being much less thankless in that case). High-profile projects at Facebook get respect from the press and the outside world, but "doing the dirty work" gets you respect from your peers and management. At least while I was there, we had a tendency to prefer engineers for advancement who had spent considerable time "grinding it out" and supporting their peers.

    Lastly, the occasional notable innovation or well-executed project is made possible because one's peers have put in the time to ensure that all the mundane groundwork is done well (i.e so that critical subsystems do not fail on you when you are trying to launch something new and risky). This is appreciated on a peer-to-peer basis and, while I was there, most everyone took their turn doing "the dirty work."
  • Facebook's engineering organization is much smaller than Google's. Even better, people are mostly compensated with stock. This makes it easier to ignore "what's best for me" and do "what's best for the organization."
  • Sanjeev Singh (who has a deep knowledge of both organizations) said to me, "Facebook has done a far better job of promoting from within than Google did at the same size."
  • Facebook is much more engineering constrained than Google was. Part of this is deliberate, but the other part of it is that Facebook had a much tougher time recruiting than Google did.
Now, how much of this is true, and how much of this is true only because I'm given a rosy picture, I don't know. For instance, you could work around the "growth throttling" by hiring lots of contractors (Google certainly did that). In case you're wondering, I own a heck of a lot more Google stock than I do Facebook stock, so in at least one way, I wished that everything I'm saying here was not true. On the other hand, it's a good thing that big companies screw up. Otherwise, there would not be room for startups to succeed. And no, I was not paid for the presentation, unless you consider free food payment. The life of a struggling author continues.

A Perfect Pigeon Point Edition

From Screen Captures
From Screen Captures
Pigeon Point Halloween 2010

In the past few years, I've been using Pigeon Point hostel as a qualifier for my annual tours. This has gotten to the point where I had forgotten why I started doing these trips: to enjoy a wonderful location that's not very well known even amongst locals and just to get away from it all. I noted that this year, Halloween fell on a weekend, and guess that it was very likely that the place would be less busy than usual, making it possible to do just a fun (i.e., not a qualifier) trip. I sent e-mail to the usual suspects, but nobody bit except Phil. The forecast was for 30% chance of rain on Saturday, but it was supposed to clear up in the afternoon, so we decided to risk it and go anyway.

Phil met me at my place at 9:30am, and we headed towards Page Mill road. As we approached Altamont road, however, I felt a few sprinkles and saw that while the top of Page Mill road was shrouded with fog, there was blue sky to the north. Never being one to pick a fight with mother nature I suggested to Phil that we changed direction and head for Old La Honda road instead and he assented. Phil hadn't been riding for a while, so he went quite slowly.
From Pigeon Point Halloween 2010

The bottom of Old La Honda road was clear, but as I approached the top it became quite foggy, and I started seeing the trees alongside the rode through the fog in a misty beautiful light. I had seen this before on Mt. Tam but never on Old La Honda road and became quite enchanted. At the top, while waiting for Phil I stuck up a conversation with a woman cyclist named Eva. Eva wanted to tour the Pacific Coast with some friends next year, and knowing that Phil wanted the same, I introduced the two of them and gave Eva one of my cards.

We quickly descended West Old La Honda road and then 84. Unlike my previous visit to the area, no pickup trucks buzzed us this time. At Applejack's we made a left and turned into one of the minor roads I loved. Phil was quite hungry and I advised him that we would stop for a water and snack break at Sam MacDonald park. Phil wondered why he was feeling so hungry and after a little bit we realized that his recent vegetarian diet must have been the cause.

Once past Sam MacDonald park, the rest of Haskins hill was pretty. Surprisingly enough, the fog had lifted and I did not see any chance for it to return. We were even getting occasional bits of sunshine through the trees. The descent from the top of Haskins hill is gorgeous: I am constantly reminded why Pescadero road is easily one of my favorite roads anywhere. There are enough rollers to keep you on your toes and keep you from getting cold, but the descent is fast and manageable. The scenery is ever changing, and until you get near Pescadero proper, there's enough shelter from the wind that it's never bothersome.

We rolled into Pescadero downtown at 1:30pm and grabbed fresh artichoke/garlic bread piping hot out of the oven. After lunch, we bought food supplies and rolled backwards towards Cloverdale road, which would drop us onto Gazos Creek road. At Gazos Creek road, I started to feel sprinkles and we turned on the speed towards Pigeon Point, with a tail-wind pushing us along on highway 1. The sky was grey and I did not have much hope for a good sunset.

We arrived at the hostel at 3:30pm, the earliest I've ever made it there in recent years. What a difference not riding a tandem and having just a party of 2 makes! The hostel manager was named Sparrow, and unlike the man she replaced, Sparrow was bright and alert and chatty. We had a lot of fun chit-chatting with her while we checked in. I had cleverly looked up the sunset time before I left Sunnyvale and grabbed the sunset spot on the timetable for the hot tub. I had never seen the timetable so empty before, either! In fact, Sparrow gave us a room with 6 bunk beds but we effectively had the room all to ourselves.

We moved our stuff in, took showers, and started eating, as cyclists are wont to do. At 5:45, I visited Sparrow and got the key to the hot tub and Phil and I sat in it. The colors started out drab but by the time sunset came around at 6:12 it had become absolutely brilliant:
From Pigeon Point Halloween 2010
From Pigeon Point Halloween 2010

After our hot tub/photography session, we went back to our building and made dinner. Over dinner, we found out why the place was even more empty than past Halloween. Apparently there was a baseball game going on involving the Giants! Thank you SF Giants!

The next morning it was calm and beautiful when I woke up at 7:20am. I quickly made breakfast, then walked around a bit while Phil got himself revved up for the ride home. We rolled out again around 9:00am. Phil wanted to see the dead whale carcass at Bean Hollow State Beach. We quickly rode to the Bean Hollow road turnoff and there I spied the sign for the state beach. The whale carcass stunk, but it was huge and clearly it would take the birds at least another month to eat all of it.
From Pigeon Point Halloween 2010

I continued feeling frisky, so when we got onto Stage road I took off and rode both hills in good time. At San Gregorio Phil caught up to me and we kept going. Someone riding a Landshark rode by and I hopped onto his wheel, and we chatted a bit about Landshark. When we got to Tunitas Creek, I waited some time for Phil again. When he showed up, he said he had been taking photos of the cliffs, which are very pretty but also situated on a fast descent which I was not about to give up for the sake of a mid-day photo!

We proceeded up Tunitas Creek road, after a quick stop at the bike hut for some water. I don't think I have seen Tunitas Creek so pretty. Deep in the redwood forests, the road parallels a creek and winds around a canyon far away from the sun. In the quiet of the day when all you can hear is yourself breathing, the atmosphere takes on that of a church run by nature. It is all you can do to keep from whispering as you ride amongst the giant trees, with an occasional sunbeam penetrating through the trees, here lighting up a branch, there lighting up a trunk. I rode up at a steady pace reverently, as befits that of a Sunday worshiper in attendance.

Halfway up, an unloaded cyclist caught up to me, and that broke the spell. We took turns pulling each other, and I gladly matched him attack for attack. I was having fun on my brand new frame and even the load did not feel very much. "You're strong!" he gasped between breaths as I responded to yet another attack. It did not take too long before we got to the top and I waited for Phil again while eating from a bag of cashews we had bought. I was exactly halfway through the bag when he arrived and took over the eating. Phil finished the bag, then went on to finish a bag of Clif bloks, then some Clif bars. He ate and ate and ate. Clearly the sausages and beans I had done my best to pump into him yesterday was insufficient.

I was getting cold so I descended Kings Mountain Road so I could wait at the Tripp water stop. There, we decided to ride 84 to Sand Hill road and Foothill Express way. On Foothill, an unloaded cyclist pulled me along at 24mph, dropping Phil, but he was going almost all the way to Sunnyvale and I ended up getting home before 3:00pm. What a great ride.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Review: The Fuller Memorandum

The Fuller Memorandum is the latest in Charles Stross' Laundry Novels, the first two being The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue. While having read the previous two books will catch you up with the characters in double quick time, it is not necessary to read either of those books to enjoy this one.

If The Atrocity Archives was about HP Lovecraft meets Charles Babbage, and Jennifer Morgue was James Bond meets Cthulhu, then this novel is Allan Quartermain meets Le Carre. Another novel with a similar theme is Tim Power's excellent Declare.

I fully expected to enjoy this novel as much as the others. Unfortunately, I think this novel was a case of over-reach by the author. Stross cannot do the cloak and dagger stuff well. So instead of methodical deduction, investigation, and a gradual unveiling of mysteries, we get treated to one dose and another of Raymond Chandler's prescription: When in doubt have a man walk in through the door with a gun. Even the villain's motivation is not fleshed out, and we never do get a good idea of what the plot really was.

Nevertheless, long time fans of the series will be treated to answers to a few questions that they might never have thought to ask. For instance, who is Angleton? And what is the nature of Mo's violin? Unfortunately, it seems as though Stross is also bored with the characters, so we never do get a sense of character development. In at least one case, even the foreshadowing fails.

Worse, the physical binding of the hardcover version of this book is terrible. After cracking the spine a few times so it would lay flat, the pages started falling apart! All in all, I would have bought this novel at $9.99 from the Kindle store, but the publisher set the price at $12, causing me to wait for the library to deliver it to me. After reading it, I'm glad I waited. It wouldn't even have been worth $9.99. Not recommended except to die hard fans of the series.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Review: The God Engines

The God Engines is John Scalzi's novella set in a fantasy world where gods are captured and used to drive starships.

Sounds whacky? Yes it is, but the premise is all backed up by an interesting theological background, and the ideas are fun, if not completely fleshed out. As with most short stories, there's one little twist at the end, but the novella stands on its own. As becomes obvious, there's no easy way for there to be a sequel to this book.

The story evolves around a starship Captain. At first we think this is going to be another Star-Trek type deal, as the character-focused plots revolves around his crew, his management of it, and the various people who aren't easy to deal with. As the scope of the plot expands, we gradually learn more and more about the milieu, and the stakes get higher and higher until we get to the explosive climax.

While not really his best work, the book is not a waste of time. I would not pay full price for it, however. Either buy the Kindle edition at $5, or get the DRM-free version over at Baen Books. I'm just happy I got it out of the library.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Review: Astro City: The Dark Age

The Astro City series is a series about the reconstruction of superheroes. In other words, we get to see them as they would be created today, but with all the styles of yesteryear. What I like about the series is that it usually tells the story from the man in the street, with the superhero stuff being used as background. In fact, you are expected to pick up the superhero plot points as matter of deduction.

The Dark Age: Book 1 is told from the story of two (non-superhero) brothers who had a traumatic event in their childhood turn them towards different paths. The plot is unfortunately predictable: Busiek telegraphs what's going to happen between them early on, and so you're not surprised when the twists happen. The superhero plot points however are highly obscured, picking up from threads earlier in the series as obscure as that of a tombstone on a character's grave but not mentioned otherwise.

Busiek clearly enjoyed plotting the storyline in the 1960s and 1970s. New characters clearly inspired by old silver-age models show up. We don't see a lot of action, however, so I feel this book is sub-par compared to the others. I hope the next book picks up the pace a bit. Perhaps Busiek is getting stale. In particular, the man in the street angle is starting to wear a bit thin. Not recommended unless you're a fan.

Review: More Money Than God

If I had to summarize More Money Than God in two words it would be "survivorship bias." Mallaby spends the first two thirds of the book describing the rise of hedge funds and their successes. This is interesting historically. While I had heard George Soros called "the man who broke the bank of England", I had no idea how it happened and what the story behind it was. Well, here it is in all its glory.

The last half of the book covers the recent financial crisis and the hedge fund responses to it. Mallaby might have spent a bit too much time wining and dining with hedge fund managers, since here he rises to their defense against regulation. His defense:
  • Most hedge fund managers have their own skin in the game, investing much of their assets into the funds
  • Many hedge funds have high water marks, where the partners don't get paid if the fund underperforms the benchmarks
  • Most hedge funds are not too big to fail, and the hedge fund industry has managed to salvage most failures at investor's expense, not based on taxpayer bailouts
If you took most of the book at face value, you'd be rushing out to invest in hedge funds. The numbers returned are phenomenal. The problem is selection: how do you know a priory which funds are going to do really well? Mallaby is of no help here since he only covers the successful ones and don't provide data on the ones that fail. I remember David Swenson talking about Hedge Funds in his book Unconventional Success, and he basically thinks that they are not a good choice for individual investor because the individual investor has no negotiating leverage over the fund, while the Yale Endowment Portfolio, for instance, could (and did) negotiate favorable terms on an equal basis with them. All in all, if you're curious about Hedge funds, how they work, why they make their managers so much money, and how their trading strategies work, the book comes highly recommended. For myself I read the book and shake my head at how much human ingenuity goes into shuffling bits around on disk to no real productive effort. The folks who invented statistical machine translation (the basis for Google translate), for instance, abandoned their work in research to join a hedge fund. Maybe they would have revolutionalized another field if only research paid better than being a hedge fund lacky. Just ignore the last half of the book where Mallaby defends Hedge funds and repeats every line ever spoken by a hedge fund manager without critically thinking about it.

Old accounts haunt you...

Last night I had a police officer from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's office come by my house at 11:00pm. It led to an extremely long night. Some 12 years ago, I abandoned an e-mail address which made it impossible for me to use my old ebay account, since I had forgotten the user name and password. The officer showed up with printouts of auctions of some very expensive antiques being sold under my name on ebay, on that old account. It had been hacked! Surprisingly enough, the thief had not thought to change the password on the account, though he had changed the e-mail address to point to him.

I logged into the account by guessing my own password from 12 years ago and together with the officer we worked through what had been happening. The perpetrator would auction off imaginary goods by stealing pictures from other ebay auctions, and then tell the user that his paypal account was hacked, so he could only take payment by wire transfer. (Yes, we wrote down all the details behind the information he provided: the perpetrator did not go in and delete all the correspondence between him and the victims, so we had a full e-mail trail on the ebay account)

I then spent 3 hours with ebay's customer service deleting existing auctions and closing out the account. I hope this was enough to catch the bad guys. At the very least, those bank accounts that got wire transferred into will be frozen. Just goes to show, even if you've abandoned an old account, it can still come back and haunt you years later. I've gone and changed all my passwords now as a result of this, and while that's a pain, it's better than having a knock on your door around midnight by the police.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Strong Frame #2

Strong Frame Returns!

Carl has sent me a replacement frame, and I built it up today! The changes from the previous frames were:
  • 72 degree seat tube angle (instead of 72.5)
  • no more spoke holders (the last ones didn't work out)
  • no 3rd water bottle cage (one of the cracks might have initiated from the holes drilled for it)
  • 54mm brake reach. The last 57mm brake reach required us to file down brake slots. I'd like not to do it again.
  • The cable stops got placed on the downtube instead of the head tube. That's because I asked for slotted cable stops so I can run both STI and bar-end shifters with a bar swap.
  • Straight gauge Ti tubing. Carl no longer offers a lifetime warranty on double-butted tubing.

After riding the Fuji for two weeks, the new Carl Strong frame feels right in a way the Fuji didn't. It's amazing how I've gotten used to it! In any case, I hope this new frame lasts a lot more than 17,000 miles!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Review: The Social Network

Between Scott Adams' review of the movie and Steve Grimm telling me that teenagers were considering becoming computer scientists because of the movie, I had to see it in the theaters. Unlike other movies based on books, I did not read The Accidental Billionaires since the book had so many negative reviews.

Well, the movie should also be considered fiction, and most likely the real story wouldn't be as exciting to tell, but what the heck. I enjoyed the depiction of someone who could (and did) flout social convention and hacked his way into greatness. I certainly didn't think the movie was wholly negative about Facebook (if anything, I think Facebook will probably get more signups because of the movie), and the plot was at least interesting, if not quite "edge of your seat" gripping.

There is one section of the movie that does ring true though, which is to come to Silicon Valley if you're a geek and building a startup. Earlier this year someone asked me for advice, since he was contemplating a move to China. I told him in no uncertain terms that it would be a mistake for his career. Sure enough, by the time the summer approached, he had quadrupled his income, gotten a job he was much happier with, and things had dramatically improved. If you're a computer scientist/software engineer, being anywhere else is probably a mistake. The movie does a good job of depicting this as one of the Facebook co-founders chose to go to New York instead of moving out to Silicon Valley with everyone else.

Regardless, I thought the movie did do a good job of at least showing perl code. And seriously, I don't think it's any worse a portrayal of geeks/engineers than The Big Bang Theory. I would feel sorry for anyone who does become a computer scientist because of the parties as depicted in the movie though! I wouldn't call the movie a total waste of time, but I certainly wouldn't be as glowing about it as Scott Adams was. I'm glad I did not pay full price and saw it on a rainy day.

Berkeley Presentation

I was over at Cal on Friday to give a talk at the CSUA general meeting. Before that, I spent some time visiting with friends. Berkeley is always a special place, and I wish I had spent more time there, but as always I am surprised by how busy I am now compared to what my original vision of retirement would be.

We raffled off 3 copies of my startup book, and I gave a presentation that was specialized for students who would be graduating over the next year or so. The amount of activity around startups at Berkeley is quite amazing, since I don't remember that being a big part of undergraduate life 18 years ago.

I've provided most of the presentation below. Sharp-eyed CSUAers will notice some modifications and a couple of slides missing. That's because I provide real names and numbers in the presentation, and I would rather not have that out on the open internet. Think of it as an extra bonus for those of you who did show up on a Friday night to hear a boring old fogey talk.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Review: Psych Yourself Rich

(Disclaimer: I got my Kindle copy of the book for free)
In September, someone asked me for basic financial advice: should she contribute to an after-tax Roth IRA, or should she give the money to her foundation which would be matched by her generous employer? I gave what I thought was a cogent answer at that time, but afterwards realized that I had made a fundamental error. I neglected to ask if the person had a 6 month cushion of savings and living expenses, and if not should have recommend that course of action. Fortunately, I was dealing with an intelligent and responsible person so I think that the assumption was valid.

Nevertheless, that's the kind of thing that someone like me tends to overlook. I regularly work with and talk to people who have no debt (other than a mortgage), have financial dilemmas such as the one described above, and who have no problem functioning day to day, that I forget that there's a whole discipline of financial planning that deals with getting motivated to even get to that basic level of financial discipline! Psych Yourself Rich: Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life belongs to this class of books. You will most likely find it uninteresting if you have no problems dealing with cash flow and don't have any credit card debt. If that's your case, the books on asset allocation, etc., will be far more interesting to you.

A great section of the book is aimed at persuading the reader to behave like an adult with regards to finances. The author was the host of Bank of Mom and Dad, a reality TV show about the debt ridden, which explains why her case studies are so pathetic. Most of my friends who ask me for financial advice would never be interesting case studies on her show. Some of these people would get bills in the mill and promptly file it away rather than actually pay it.

I do have her issues with some of her advice. For instance, studies show that looking at your portfolio more often actually reduces your portfolio performance (because you're usually tempted to do something foolish with your money). Examining it more than once a year is proabably overkill for the kind of people who needs Torabi's advice. Then there's the section advocating that you start working a second job part time. I think it's far more important to be really good at your day job than to work a second job part time, unless your day job is a completely uninteresting profession to you, in which case your biggest goal should be to get a day job that's interesting to you and that rewards being good at it. One of her alternative income plans for instance is to become a travel blogger. I have a relatively high page rank web site, and I blog about my travels, but I can assure you that the kind of money that generates is in the pennies per day. The big money posts are the ones about technology, and my guess is someone who can be a credible blogger about technology is definitely someone who really would get a better pay off from being better at his day job than at blogging. She also encourages some risky get-rich-quick schemes like Private Equity or listening to Jim Cramer (whom she used to work for).

All in all, I think the book could be a much needed read for some people. Unfortunately, my guess is the kind of people who need the advice in this book won't read it (just as the people who need the most help in classes are the least likely to actually show up for them). If you're anyone else, this book is not useful, and some of the advice is actually harmful. I therefore cannot recommend this book.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Canadian Rockies: Epilogue and Conclusions

The flight home was uneventful, though as some of you know, the aftermath of the return was anything but.

I feel that I'm bragging when I declare the trip to be a success. I had several goals for the trip:
  1. To see how much skill loss I had suffered from 8 years of neglecting my photography hobby.
  2. To do a solo trip, something I had not done for 10 years, since the second half of the New England bike trip.
  3. To get used to shooting in digital format, and learn what differences in my work style and work flow I had to make in order to best take advantage of the digital medium.
The answer to #1 was that I did not suffer any apparent skill loss. This really surprised me. My brother, who's normally very critical of my work said, "This is the best shoot you've done since you acquired the 5D2." While I've had other serious shoots (for instance in Australia), none of them came close to producing this much good work. I did get rusty in a few areas: I was slow at first with the tripod and I'm still ham-fisted when it comes to my filter rings. One of my filters has a small chip in an unimportant area as a result. But that improved dramatically during the trip. At one point one of the hikers I met said, "Did you notice how fast he set that up and tore that down?" The other part of it is that during the past 8 years, I've made myself a better outdoors person. I'm more comfortable now hiking in the dark. I'm more able to anticipate where the light will be, and have better hunches about the weather. That's happened so slowly that I never even noticed or paid attention to it, but it shows up in the photos I make.

Traveling solo turned out to be great for me. There was no one to second guess me or whine about yet another 6:00am start. OK, I whined to myself a little bit. That contributed to better photos as well, since not being screamed at for an early start makes me more willing to start early. I met so many people, and made so many new friends. Janice and I were discussing this and we agreed that the trick is to be open to new experiences and new people. If she had not waited for me and smiled, we wouldn't have had company for the day, and it would have been our loss. Women in particular have to be more careful when solo, but when I asked Eungshin why she accepted my invite to chat, she said, "You were obviously shooting with expensive equipment and you knew how to use it. I decided then that you couldn't be dangerous!" So being a photographer does help in your social life (it's usually a hindrance as girlfriends and wives get impatient with you), just not in any way I would have imagined. In any case, I rediscovered that meeting and talking to strangers was something I wasn't shy about, and that was a big confidence builder. Every time I proposed a trip, someone would ask me, "Would you really have gone alone if no one wanted to go with you?" And now I can truly say the answer is "Yes. I've done so recently, and thoroughly enjoyed it!" In fact, I suspect that for nature photography I really have no choice but to do solo trips or trips with other photographers. There is no easy way to get quality time otherwise.

An intriguing idea that occurred to me would be to travel with another photographer, go for morning and evening shoots, and swap memory cards for post-processing/culling and selection. That's a great way to eliminate the photo-shooter's bias, which is to include shots that had a lot of work put into them even if they aren't as good. Plus, I always like seeing what other photographers do to pictures, and seeing how someone else crops or manipulates your image has got to be educational no matter what. For this, of course, you couldn't leave your laptop at home like I did!

I've written about the digital transition before in two articles: about "cheap film" and no need for 81b filters, and how some things stay the same. There are some dramatic improvements. For instance, there was a dust speck in one of my lenses, and Photoshop cleaned that right up. Thank you context-aware fill! With slide film I would have been stuck with one ruined slide after another. The flip side of that is that with slide film I was putting a new "sensor" behind every exposure. Pengtoh looked at one of my photos and told me that my sensor needs cleaning (despite the self-cleaning nature of the sensor)! Obviously, I need to send my camera in for a cleaning before the next major trip. Nature photography is naturally hard on equipment. Wind and rain and switching lenses in less than totally clean conditions is something that every nature photographer has to do, and very few portrait/wedding photographers have to face on a regular basis.

One unexpected delight: with my ultra-fast PC post-processing, selection, and culling is extra-ordinarily fast. Lightroom 3 with 2 24-inch monitors really takes the cake. It felt like having an infinitely large light-table, and while I think the program could use a speedup, it's quite clear that the latest version is significantly faster. In the film days, the turnaround time for slides was at least 1 week! Then the culling would have taken another, just because the physical process of loading slides into a slide page and then laying it down on a slide table was tougher. Cropping, color correction, dust removal, and even post-editing with ND grad. filters is fast and produces amazing results. Not to mention to shoot as much film as I did, I would have had to carry 100 rolls, which was $1,000 in film. That's an extra-ordinary amount of money for a 2 week shoot, and I would have curtailed my shooting rather than carry 100 rolls. My old standard was 30 rolls for a 2 week trip. Making as many exposures as a National Geographic photographer makes in the field cannot help but improve your photography.

It was clear to me that the choice to stay with full frame cameras was the right thing for me. I liked using my wide angles like wide angles, and I think my desire for longer than 200mm lens can be satisfied with tele-converters in the future. I wish I had brought my laptop with me, because then I would have spotted dust on the lens, etc. The display on the 5D2 is good, but not so good that I can spot little dust specs. All in all, this trip has re-kindled my love of photography, and re-injected confidence that yes, I am capable of using the $2500 piece of gear I bought to the maximum extent. The Canon 5D Mk 2 is certainly the most expensive piece of equipment I've bought, but it easily justifies every penny of the price. And obviously if I shoot enough with it the savings in film alone would make it eventually the cheapest camera I've ever bought.


Thursday, October 07, 2010

2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors Trip

2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

When my family and I started exploring the Canadian Rockies in 1994, 1995, and 1996, I wasn't much of a photographer, so we spent a lot of our time hiking, backpacking, and enjoying the back-country. I became a somewhat decent photographer by the 2000, but for one reason or another, never did visit the Canadian Rockies since.

Since my retirement from Google in April, I've decided that I should take a trip dedicated to photography. A photography trip is very different from any other kind of trip: you effectively spend most of your time looking for sunrises and sunsets, and non-photographers get annoyed by the amount of time spent shooting. None of my other photographer friends could join me, however, so I had to do the trip alone. That made this my first solo trip in 10 years or so as well! Note that while Glacier National Park is in the U.S., from a geological point of view it's part of the Canadian Rockies.

In the past, I've had issues with putting together photo albums: there's a fundamental conflict between including only the good shots and good trip reporting. This time, I'm trying a different tack: the good shots are in the album above, and I'll create a different photo album for photojournalism entries. During the trip, I shot about 3399 exposures, and selected 71 photos to be included in the above "best of" album. That's an abysmal hit rate: for the Grand Tetons trip, I exposed about 900 frames and got about 80 usable slides out of it. Nevertheless, many of those 80 slides were photojournalism shots, and looking at the album I have up, I don't think the number of strong photos have gone down.

Over the next few days, a full trip report will follow, and then I really do have to get back to my next book.

Trip Report

Review: Chasing Stars

I've always maintained that performance is extremely contextual: treating performance as an individual issue, not as a team effort is misleading, because we don't know how important the kind of support other people on the team goes into making a star valuable. Chasing Stars is the first book that examines performance in context, and therefore I consider it a very important book, and very much worth your time if you work in a highly intellectual profession.

The context in question is that of star stock analysts. Groysberg picks this field because stock analyst performance (as rated by customers) is widely publicized in an industry standard fashion. As a highly intellectual profession, such ranked analysts are easily compared with each other, and analysts consider themselves as having highly portable skills. It is also tempting for analyst departments in various corporations to raid each other for talented employees, since having a top analyst would presumably be valuable in attracting customers.

Groysberg analyzes a 15 year period of such poaching, and approaches the data in all the directions you would think of. He looks at ranking before and after a move. He looks at ranking if an entire team moves (known as a "liftout") versus an individual moving. He segments analysts by gender. He even takes into account investor sentiment (i.e., what happens to the acquiring company's stock price after the star analyst acquisition was announced). His thoroughness lends a lot of credibility to the conclusions he draws.

The first distinction he makes is the difference between corporations that spend a lot of time training and acculturating new hires and coaching existing employees and corporations that focus on generic job training. It turns out, for instance, that the corporations that do invest in training and the acculturation process do get something for their efforts: not only are they better at creating new star analysts, they also pay a reduced cost of retention: they pay about 5% less than market for the talent that they do hang on to. Furthermore, it is harder to hire star analysts from such departments, and even when they do move, they frequently discover that their skills are not as portable as they thought: performance (as measured by analyst rankings) deteriorates for a year or two after such a move. This is quite a result.

Secondly, Groysberg also distinguishes between corporations with a lot of resources to devote to the analysts in the form of IT support, staffing help, and other networking help and corporations that don't have such resources. It turns out that analyst performance improves (as expected) when moving to corporations with a richer set of resources, but not by as much as you would expect, because the overhead of building relationships to gain access to such resources takes time.

Entire team moves seem to be extremely favorable: performance hardly ever drops, and all the employees in the team already can work together. Groysberg does note that there's also a big difference between a team brought in to exploit an existing market that the corporation always works in, and to explore a new market opportunity. The latter induces much worse performance than the former, probably because of the interaction with the sales team to educate them as well as the learning curve involved in exploring a new market.

Finally, Groysberg covers women. As in engineering, women analysts were rare on Wall Street, and had a hard time breaking into the cozy old-boy's network. Because of this effect, women analysts learned to build relationships and access resources outside of the corporation they worked in, which allows them to have the most portable skill sets --- women who switched companies did the best amongst the switchers. It also turned out that women were more likely to consider whether the culture of the new company they were joining was conducive to high performance, rather than just jumping ship for higher pay.

The big question mark here is whether any of Groysberg's findings apply to software. I certainly think that the current big company trend of buying small startups in one fell swoop and integrating the engineering team is reflective of the understanding that keeping a winning team together is important. (Though just how important is still frequently under-recognized: some companies are bought only to have their team members split apart) The "nurture" versus "nature" debate as far as engineering culture is concerned appears to also have been lost amongst many firms: many companies devote relatively little time to training and acculturation, and pay the price with reduced performance of its engineers.

All in all, this is an excellent book, and very much worth your time and money. Highly recommended, and definitely one of the few books that will be short-listed for the book of the year.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Day 14: Many Glacier to Kalispell

I woke up in the morning to the sound of rain drops on the roof of my van and groaned. This did not bode well at all. And in fact, as I drove out to the hotel things were drab drab drab. Hoping for better light outside the park, I drove out and found everything gray as well. This was not a good day for photography.

I visited the St. Mary's Park HQ and got talking to Sarah, one of the park rangers who was very experienced with the back-country. She recommended that I come back in the summer for a backpacking trip, including one which would lead all the way across to Waterton Lakes from Glacier National Park's customs border, take the ferry across into Canada, and then a shuttle back to the U.S. border where we could walk back to pick up the car. That sounded fantastic. She pointed me at several other backpacks as well, and said that there was always something held in reserve for walk-ins, so advanced booking was not necessary if I didn't want to spend the $50 reservation fee.

The rangers were so nice to me (on a rainy day they did not get much visitor) they bucked the schedule and put on a movie just for me while I was there. It was a good visit for a rainy day. The drive back to Kalispell was un-eventful. I had gotten a response to my couch-surfing request (my very first couch surf), and discovered that not only were Alan and Sarah friendly and putting me up, their roommate Joan was also making dinner that night! I was pretty sick of my own cooking and so was happy to help gather produce from their garden for the meal.

I repacked my car so that the next day I could simply put all my bags in it and drive to the airport. Dinner with Sarah, Alan, and Joan was fun and the conversation was entertaining. We then took a walk after dinner and visited one of their neighbors: Gina and Greg Nelson. They were affiliated with Stanford and spent part of the evening quizzing me about Silicon Valley matters. I guess if I wanted a transition back to Silicon Valley this was definitely a smooth one!

We had to find our way back in the dark and I set my alarm clock for 4:15am so I could make my 6:00am flight. My photography vacation, the first one since my 2002 Grand Tetons and Yellowstone trip was over.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Day 13: Banff to Many Glacier

I woke up in the morning and made breakfast in the kitchen. I heard two women talking about driving to Glacier National Park en route to Minnesota. I asked if they knew that Logan Pass was closed. "No!" "Well, yes it is. On the East side you can drive all the way to Logan Pass but you won't be allowed to go over. On the West side you get to Avalanche Creek and then it's game over." "Well, that settles it. We're going to go to the East side then." They were on a road trip from their summer jobs in Alaska, and highly recommended that I visit Alaska one of these days, preferably during the summer. I knew what I wanted to do next summer, but maybe the summer after that I'll visit Alaska.

It was drizzling as I pulled out of the parking lot for my morning shoot. I wanted to see if Two Jacks would be better and that maybe I would see a rainbow, but no luck at all this morning. With a sigh, I pulled out and started driving towards Kananaski Provincial Park. In the cloudy morning like Kananaski Provincial Park was gorgeous. With clouds blowing in and out of the road I felt like in the dream world.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The kicker, though was the amount of wildlife seen on the road! Because the road was so isolated and deserted, wildlife was frequently seen on the road. In fact, the first time I saw a pair of Moose on the road side I thought they must have been plastic reproductions, since they were so big and did not move even though I was approaching. When I saw they were real I stopped and put on the 200mm lens. The lesson I've been learning on the entire trip is that when I'm driving I just need to run the longest lens I've got in case I spot wildlife.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

He was quite an animal, and I was very impressed. Less than a mile later I ran across a group of goats who were happy to have me shoot them while they went all over the road. These animals were not at all afraid of humans and cars, and I could even drive up next to them if I wanted to. It was an amazing sight.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Driving out of the park, the GPS unit navigated me onto a dirt road. I thought about turning back but I've never denied myself the chance to ride an obscure dirt road on a bicycle, so why stop just because I had a mini-van? One of my favorite song quotes was from the Cowboy Junkie's Anniversary Song:
Have you ever satisfied a gut feeling
to follow a dry dirt road that's beckoning you
to the heart of a shimmering summer's day?
So I indulged myself and followed the road. At first it drove through foreboding country: obviously the land here had been logged and/or burned, with big patches of empty hill side and long stretches of blackened tree stumps. But in a little bit I was rewarded by the sight of a cowboy, his partner, and two dogs at work herding some cattle into a field. I shot pictures from the car and tried not to disturb their work or the cattle.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

It was with no little relief, however, when I drove back onto pavement near Waterton Lakes National Park, and saw the fall colors still present in neat little clumbs near farmland.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I had intended to detour into Waterton Lakes for a quick look on the way to the US border, but a signboard informed me that the Chief Mountain customs office was closed for the season. I reprogrammed the GPS to point me towards Cardston, which was the other customs location nearby. On the way there I saw a farm that looked pretty to my eyes and pulled in for a quickie shoot.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

I stopped by Cardston's tourist information center to ask about the weather and use the rest room. The lady there was familiar with the Cobblestone Manor and told me it had changed management recently. That made me feel a bit better about missing them twice. They were still closed today because it was a Monday. Maybe some day when I return for a summer backpacking trip I can still visit.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The drive across the border happened in the rain, but that meant there was so little traffic that the U.S. customs official felt obliged to justify his pay by looking into my van to make sure I didn't have any undeclared merchandise. I drove into Babb and gassed up my car (cheap American gasoline!), and then drove into Many Glacier to find a picnic table to make an early dinner so I could shoot the sunset. I met another camper and we agreed to share a campground. That turned out to be only $5 each, which was a good deal since I did not want to use that gravel parking lot in St. Mary's after the bad memories.

Driving out of Many Glacier, I spotted in my rear view mirror a gorgeous sight --- Lake Sherburn had clouds that looked beautiful, and lent the place a ghostly light.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

I shot several shots and worked the angles a bit and then moved on, hoping against hope that I was not too late. It turned out that over the past two weeks the sunset time had shifted until I was pretty much too late. The cloud cover had also caused the sunset to be early, and as I drove back and forth the Chief Mountain International Highway I cursed myself for not being attentive enough to the weather conditions and missing what was a great shoot. I salvaged the situation in time by returning to an old familiar spot and getting two final glorious shots of the Montana Sky in action.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

I did not know it then, but it was to be my last good shoot of the trip.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Day 12: Wilcox Pass Trailhead campground to Banff

I woke up bright and early and ready to hit the trail. Well, actually, I dithered a bit because I was in no hurry to get up to the ridge and then spend my time walking back and forth trying to stay warm. Nevertheless, it was 6:10 when I hit the trail, which was plenty of time to get to where I wanted to go.

Right on schedule, I hit what I considered to be a good spot at 6:50am. What's interesting was that I had made no notice of where I wanted to be the day before. I was simply making a consistent decision vis-a-vis photography from day to day, which was a good thing. I had forgotten my android phone, so I could not make ultra-long exposures consistently, but I immediately set up my tripod and got something that looked pretty good to me.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Note that it was dark enough and 30s was long enough that the stars were beginning to produce star-trails in the photograph. I shot several exposures, and started bringing out the 200mm to capture what looked like a beautiful sunrise from behind the mountains. Yes, the very mountains that were frustrating my photography.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Moments later, the sun finally started hitting the clouds and the snowscapes, and I started getting interesting alpenglow colors.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

The light was changing rapidly and I worked at a furious pace, knowing that I had at most 20 minutes to capture this amazing light. I was right. By 8:20am the lightshow as over and the only thing I had left to do was to shoot a picture of myself in front of the mountains in the morning light.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

I got back to the car where I met another hiker who told me that she'd been staying near the Cline River, off the Sasketchewan crossing. I made a note to look it up, knowing that I would be unlikely to find time to do it on this trip. I had 2 days left, and it was time to start driving South.

I headed South once again along the Icefield Parkway. Petra had mentioned that the Path of the Six Glaciers was worth checking out, and had said that it was only a 4 hour walk. I could definitely manage a 4 hour walk on top of Wilcox pass. Then after that I could head down to Banff in search of more sunset beauty. The drive was uneventful. I stopped at the Sasketchewan crossing for breakfast and to charge some batteries, and then later on I stopped several times for pictures but in the later morning light it really was futile. I ended up with pictures with muddy washed out colors that wouldn't be interesting at all to anyone else.

I arrived at the Banff Visitor Information center, confirmed everything Petra had said, and proceeded to drive up to Lake Louise to start the hike. What a contrast Lake Louise was to earlier visits in the morning. The place was packed with tourists and visitors walking along the lake shore. Boats were on the water, and it looked like everyone was out. It was an overcast day, and I set a furious pace along the flat section so I could get away from the mass of tourists.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

At the end of the lake, the stream feeding the lake became a delta, and the path started climbing up towards the Swiss-style tea house at the end of the trail. I learned from signboards posted on the walk that Swiss mountain guides had built the trail and the teahouse in the 1920s, which explained why everything was so well engineered and pretty. As the trail steepened I spied another hiker in front of me. She was going about the same pace I was, except that once in a while she would stop. At one of her stops she turned around and spied me, and waited for me to catch up before we started walking together. That was how I met Janice Belliveau.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Janice and I were kindred spirits, for we immediately hit it off and had great conversation that went the length of the hike. She was from Nova Scotia, from Belliveau Cove, one of the great wooden ship building centers of the 19th and 20th century. Her father was restoring a great wooden ship for fun, even though he was not a sailor. She was here for a conference that would start tomorrow, and decided to do the hike alone because she had started hiking only a year ago. She was clearly a highly self-motivated person because she was clearly pushing the pace even though I was content to go at whatever speed she chose.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

At the tea house, we stopped for some tea and chocolate cake. Intrigued by the menu item which listed ice wine tea, I ordered some and it turned out to be exquisite. I resolved to order some as soon as I got home. Our table was next to another couple from San Francisco. Janice and I were both the kind of person who made friends easily, and soon enough all 4 of us were talking. It turned out that 3 out of the 4 of us were the same age. We enjoyed chatting with each other and exchanged information. I was delighted to see the kind of thing that Richard Wiseman talked about in The Luck Factor used and applied directly by Janice. She would attend conferences with the goal of meeting specific people and engaging them. This was someone who took charge of her destiny and was able to seize opportunities as they came up.

Speaking of opportunities, we saw that there was a way to turn the walk into a loop instead of an out and back hike, so we took it. The return loop took us high up above the lake, where we got to see the hotel at the edge of the lake as well as the turquoise that was characteristic of a glacier fed lake. All the way down from the mountain, Janice would tell people how far they were from the summit or the tea house, all without skipping a beat in our conversation, which revolved around her business, her kids, photography, hiking, and how we chose to spend our time. At the pace she set, we were done with the hike in 4 hours, and said goodbye to each other at Lake Louise.

I drove down to the visitor center to use the washroom, and there met two cyclists who were planning to ride to Argentina (they had already finished with the Ice Field Parkway that day, and I saw them riding earlier in the day while driving down the parkway).
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Justin and Nathan had not started riding together, but they were riding together for this segment. They spoke of carrying enough food to last for days, lots of great weather and good cycling. The trip was clearly to their taste and they were enjoying themselves, even though once on the coast they would likely face headwinds if the La Nina year brought early storms to the Pacific North West. We exchanged stories about touring and then I headed South for Banff.

At Banff, I stopped by the Safeway to restock for the last 2 days worth of food, more chocolate, and then went to the youth hostel to use my newly acquired hosteling international membership. At $29.70 a night it was a pretty good deal for me to get my batteries charged, a warm shower, and some indoor cooking. The weather was extremely cloudy, which led me to be pessimistic about the chances of a good photo. I moved into my room quickly and then made dinner, chatting with other random strangers in the kitchen, including a biologist who quit his job to work as a hostel manager part of the year. He managed 3 wilderness hostels, and enjoyed having the free time to relax between the rest of the year.

After dinner, I drove to Mt. Norquay in the hopes of getting a sunset, but the gray clouds were persistent. Hoping to make the best of a bad situation, I decided to aim for dusk shot of Banff.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

After the shot I returned to the hostel to find that my bed had been moved. I needed a lower bunk because otherwise the power cord would not reach my CPAP machine. I moved back to the bunk and moved my stuff in. My other roommate, a woman from Sydney, told me that she'd never seen anything so rude! Well, I needed a shower so I ran off and took a shower. Unlike the shower in Jasper, the shower here was slow and only a little bit warm. I took a shower, brushed my teeth, and then headed back to my room to find my other roommates there. It turned out that it was two women traveling with Moose Travel Network, a popular travel agency made famous by Lonely Planet. Since I didn't read Lonely Planet, I didn't know about them. Stella and Naoko (they were not traveling together, but had some itinerary in common) apologized for not understanding the etiquette of moving people around in shared accommodations, and with that the dark cloud over my hostel stay was over.

Stella was from Canton, and Naoko was from Japan but was studying in Canada. It was amusing because I speak Japanese quite a lot better than I speak Cantonese, so Naoko and I could converse a little bit while Stella and I would speak in our respective Chinese dialects. "How many other languages do you speak," asked Stella. "German and French too?" said Naoko. I said, "Just enough to get by." "I was only joking!" "Awesome!" Stella was quite a traveler, and told me a few stories of her travels in China (still a country I have yet to visit). The stories told of someone with plenty of self-confidence and resourcefulness. I usually disliked these bus tours as being dragged around by the nose, but it was clear that Stella found a way to make them work for her, as well as working around the limitations in ways I did not imagine. I showed Naoko photos from last year's Tour of Hokkaido. She loved the look of Yubari Youth Hostel and said she would try to visit there.

The forecast did not bode well for the next day, but as always, I had to try. The tourist information office told me to drive through Kananaski Provincial Park on the way back to Glacier National Park (I was hoping for one more full sunset and sunrise there), but if you don't get up at 6:00am, you don't get to see rainbows and other nice things. So I committed to getting up again at that hour.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Day 11: Jasper to Wilcox Pass Trailhead Campground

The morning found me downing a quick breakfast of ramen, tea, and sneaking out of the youth hostel by 6:30am. I started worrying about getting to the Mt. Christy lookout by first light, but I needn't have worried. The mountains kept Mt. Christy and others in shadow, which meant that I had plenty of time with which to shoot the sky prior to the anticipated alpenglow.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

When the actual alpenglow arrived, it was quick. I estimate the time of the start of the colors and the time of the finish was no more than 15 minutes. This was to be anticipated: it took till 8:00am before the light started to show, which meant that our golden hour was cut short by at least 20 minutes. I worked furiously at the Mount Christy lookout, and then drove quickly to the next site North to work it as well.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

Afterwards, I found out that other photographers were congregated at another site just a little further north, at a designated lookout point. If I had more time I would have tried that as well. I then headed towards Mt. Edith Cavell, which turned out to be on the road leading to the Athabasca Falls. I vaguely remember this set of Falls from 15 years ago, and paused for several pictures and some video.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

I then stopped by a road-side picnic area to make a bigger breakfast (brunch, if you choose to call it that), eating some bread, eggs, and then my eyes fell upon some expired freeze-dried food I had packed just to see whether expired freeze-dried food was edible. The food had been acquired from ages ago when Lisa was still eating seafood, and I didn't find it particularly palatable then, and it was even worse now. I quickly threw away the rest of the expired food after an initial tasting. I supposed that if I was stuck away from other food sources for 3 days I would find it palatable, but I figured that I would save my future self from such misery by tossing it away now while I still had my head screwed on straight.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Mt. Edith Cavell's glacier walk started in a Canyon that's pretty much obscured from the sun during most of the day. Definitely some place to visit for a sunrise shoot one of these days, since even by mid-morning when I had started, the place was already nearly covered by shadows from the surrounding mountains. I walked up the trail rapidly, catching up to a group of Michigan hikers whom I enjoyed a conversation with, so chose to walk with them for a while. They mentioned that they were in the rockies for a week, hiking twice a day, but Michigan did not have any hills, so they struggled a bit on the climbs. This gave me plenty of time to do photography though!
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Kenneth was a cyclist, so I pointed him at my cycle touring web-site, and told him about the 2007 tour, since he was headed to that area of Switzerland next year. Since Ken was a CPA as well as a cyclist, we enjoyed a conversation about the kind of people who needed financial advice, the kind of people who ignored advice, and what the consequences turned out to be. Some of his stories were truly mortifying, but having similar stories of my own, I was not too surprised. The hardest part about investing is emotional control, and it's one factor that has no relation whatsoever to how smart you are. It's not a surprise at all that even the smartest people I've met have trouble overcoming their own greed and short-sightedness.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

We got to the part of the trail where the easy walk ended and the strenuous uphill climb and scramble would start. We said goodbye to each other and I began the climb in earnest. The trail was barely defined and steep. More than once I wish I had had the foresight to bring my hiking poles. To my surprise about 45 minutes into this section I ran into two familiar faces. I recognized them from the hostel last night: they were two German speaking girls. Apparently the hostel manager had given them the same advice he'd given me (probably sans the sunrise location). "It's much longer than it looks," one warned me. (Never mistake a clear view for a short distance is one of my favorite quotes from Beyond Entrepreneurship, a book Reed Hastings talked me into reading years and years ago) The other said, "It gets quite slippery at the top with a lot of loose rock." Well, I had water, I had food, and I was used to pain, so I pressed on after asking the two girls for a photo of myself.

They were not kidding about the steepness and the climb, and in fact, at the start of the scramble I was forced to drop my backpack full of photo gear and my tripod in favor of going light with one lens, the SLR, and of course, my backup camera. I figured my photo gear was safe because if anyone actually tried to steal it while I was scrambling, by the time I came down I'd have a very easy time catching him on the downhill and without a load. The top of the scramble was spectacular, not only lending a great view of Mt. Edith Cavell, but on the other side, an amazing view of the ice field parkway. The wind was very strong and there was no one else around, causing me to have to pile rocks together to make a tripod with which to get pictures.

From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

You should ignore the GPS coordinates for most of those pictures, since the GPS unit was abandoned along with the rest of the camera bag. The descent was a little sketchy, causing me to fall at one point, but fortunately it was a "sit down suddenly" type of fall, so there were no bruises except to my self-confidence. My camera bag was still waiting for me when I arrived, so I strapped it on and started hiking down, which was a much faster descent than the climb up. I started meeting lots of people, and then realized that I was encountering day visits, including the outdoors club from Prince George University. I had a brief conversation with them and then headed on my way to finish the rest of the easy walk.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Journalism

Mt. Edith Cavell's glacier was pretty, with lots of waterfalls flowing off it overhanging a cave. The park ranger told me not to go there, even though there were lots of tourists standing under the glacier getting photos. "The glacier can calve multiple times a day, sometimes with no warning. If you're standing right under it when it does..." She did not have to finish the sentence.

It was mid-afternoon by the time I got off the trail, but I wanted to check out the Columbia Icefield the next day. I was told to stop by the Beauty Creek Youth Hostel to speak to the manager there, whose name was Tim. I arrived around 4:00pm, and he took the time to tell me about possible places to go, one of which I was probably going to use, Wilcox Pass. He mentioned a bush-whack that could get me a better view, but I was dubious about making the trek in the dark. "You do have time to scout it out now, you know." That was a good point. So I hurriedly ate dinner using the hostel's stove, and then drove out, passing what looked like a good Falls for sunset on the way to the start of Wilcox Pass.

I was pretty tired from one already strenuous hike that day, but that meant that my pace would be similar to what I could manage in the dark. I started the hike in shadow but after about 40 minutes made it to the ridge of the pass. From the ridge I could tell that it would be a long walk to get to the mountain in front of the ice field, but furthermore, from a photographic point of view, it would not be necessary. The big glaciers were right in front of the Wilcox Pass trail, and with a telephoto I could reach all the areas that would be hit by Alpenglow. Even the ridge line in front of me could be useful, and not necessarily be a hindrance.

With that bit of responsibility done, I hiked back down to see what I could make of the fading light. As I drove past the ice-field, the remaining bit of evening light caught my eye and I drove to the ice field's parking lot and made several exposures with the mountains and snow against the changing light.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

The limited extent of the light meant that I had to use the 200mm lens, which is a continual source of wonder to me. Fully open it is beautiful and sharp, but stopped down and aimed at a mountain top it has a magical quality that impressed me.

I kept driving into the twilight to verify that Wilcox pass was the best place to be. In photography, the amount of effort put into the photo has nothing to do with the results, and sometimes the road is a better place to shoot. I thought I had found a better place until I checked the compass and realized that it would be entirely back-lit by sunrise. So Wilcox pass it was. I decided against staying at Beauty Creek hostel: it had no power or showers, so I might as well camp out at the Wilcox Pass trailhead, which conveniently had a shower. On my way back there, however, I saw a pair of mountain goats, and snapped several shots with my 200mm wide open. The camera was set at ISO 3200, which meant that I would be lucky to get anything at all, but to my surprise my Canon once again came through with a shot that I would never have expected from my days of shooting chemical film.
From 2010 Canadian Rockies Fall Colors

I arrived at the campground around 8:00pm, brushed my teeth, set up my sleeping bag for sleeping in the van, and set my alarm clock at 6:00am again. Not having to drive far the next morning allowed me to sleep in.