Burn the Passwords

At a party this weekend, a friend mentioned in passing the mechanism in which she regularly gives her password to a co-worker.  When I dramatically cringed, she regaled us with stories of the post-it note on her desk that contains the password of a system device that she needs to log into once every 4 months, but is changed every quarter – she calls up the manager of that box, who tells her it’s the same password as last time, except add 1 to the number – apparently they’ve been counting up the quarters – which doesn’t necessarily give her the password, depending on when it changed, which therefore continues to interrupt her workflow.

I somehow have been in a security bubble, where I assume everyone has modern password habits, rather than bragging about getting around them over beer.

Oh, I understand the quandary many systems users face:  IT puts so many obstacles in front of the systems that the individuals need to circumvent them simply to be able to do their jobs.  It happens, and then after a breach, the security folks tend to find out what circumvention holes they didn’t plug, and then set up more obstacles.

It feels like Oroborus eating his tail, from both sides of this loop.

Right now, the current how-to-do-it-right includes several explainable steps:

  • Passphrase rather than password for anything you *have* to remember – longer being better, and a sentence including digits and punctuation does tend to be easier to type then the computer generated random items.
  • Password vaults – if the office doesn’t supply one, get your own.  You can use that to store and log into all the various systems you need.  They can even generate the long, difficult passwords for you. Each system can easily have different passwords and you don’t have to either remember them or type them in.  (Don’t put your primary login into your vault – no sense it putting ALL the eggs in one basket).  Consider having one vault for home stuff and one for work, so you can share or shed the work vault when you move up in the world, but still have your home stuff separate.
  • Never share passwords – With an enterprise or team vault, you can “share” access without the secondary person ever seeing the password – great for delegating the office instacart ordering while you are on vacation.  How does this solve the problem, as no you have multiple people using the same login?  Well, as seen by the party discussion, that was happening anyway.  This just formalizes it, one knows who has access to it, and yet can revoke it at any time without even having to change it.  Hey, you can even do this with the Netflix account and your kids, and revoke access during finals week.

Then burn all the post-it passwords.

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On Salvage Logging

One thing I learned at last night’s Eagle Creek Fire Forum was that people still have some misperceptions about salvage logging. There is logic that says that after a forest fire, salvaging the standing dead helps the area recover, and when I’ve asked specifics, I hear about thinning such that there isn’t another fire and vaguely that scientists say so.
Folks, economics is a science, and it isn’t about forest health.
From the perspective of making cash, salvage logging in an area you can’t normally log is going to make you more money than having not harvested timber. If you need to have people working in burned property, salvaging the standing dead will make it safer for humans who don’t want to watch for falling trees.
But it’s not good for the ecosystem.
Recall the ecosystem was burning from lightning strikes during dry, windy seasons long before humans started managing the land (also with fire). After the burn, insects went after the dead trees, birds went after the insects, fire-evolved plants grew in the new meadows that were a habitat for small mammals, resin-hardened pine cones opened and seedling trees grew in the partial protection of the old guard scorched trees, while fallen dead slowly decompose into soil -each different species of tree returning a different set of building blocks. “Forest” isn’t a noun, it’s a process.
That’s the logic piece I’m really missing. If the dead trees aren’t allowed to rot in place, how are the minerals supposed to return to the soil for the next cohort of young trees?
In tree farms, they deal with this by adding nutrients when they plant the young trees (one hopes). In salvage logging, particularly in national public spaces like our Gorge, they can’t do that – really, the rains would wash the chemical fertilizers into the Columbia River more or less immediately, and they’d need to keep unprotected hikers out of the landscape even if it was flat.
So salvage logging is good for the pocketbook and steals from the future of the forest.
They’s a bill proposed to allow salvage logging not only in the Gorge,but in National Parks and other public land without those pesky environmental studies or public input, getting some value out of a natural disaster (which somehow includes not only fire, but rainstorms and windstorms -we get those for 5 months every year here). I’m opposed to it because Science.
And also because I love the forests of the Gorge. The Eagle Creek Fire was a mosaic within a 49k acre boundary, less than 15% actually burned. That means there are patches of burn among healthy trees -in 3-5 years, those will be meadows in the woods. As opposed to eroded cliff faces.
This might warrant a call to a senator.

sources of interest:




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SoT: Concussions, and What Youth Get The Most?

Last week, Dr Larry Sherman spoke at Science on Tap about concussions, and should humans play football. Yesterday, the Thorns won the WNSL championship in a very physical game.

Soccer fans collect special scarves, as cheering mechanisms, and there’s one that repeats some commentary about the adult content of the fans cheering: “That isn’t very ladylike, think of the children.”

So children, according to Larry, haven’t developed all their myelination yet. This is the stuff that speeds up the signals along neurons – the insulation on the wiring of the brain. In a developing brain, the neurons are still finding connections, and once they’ve got them, the myelin grows in and protects the young adults. However, a concussion is really a brain bruise – the head whips back and forth, and the brain sloshes inside and hits the skull, damaging this covering.

This heals, an a manner comparable to but different from a bruised calf afternoon a rough tackle on the soccer pitch. Pathways are rebuilt or damaged areas are routed around. But just like repeated strikes to a leg, persistent infringement will get you a yellow card – too many concussions will cause CTE, at which point the myelin isn’t there doing its job, and some of the brain repair mechanisms have in fact defected to the other side.

This cumulative issue starts the clock in childhood, when kids don’t know how to protect their heads, yet the myelin isn’t there to help out. Helmets in football, by the way, have protected from skull shattering problems, but increased these concussive events, partially because the helmet wearer has that feeling of being protected and plays harder, more aggressively.

And not all sports use helmets. Data collected shows boys playing American football are in 4th place in sports related kid concussion injuries.

Number one was girls soccer.

When asked why that was, Larry mentioned something vague about headballs and differently shaped skulls, which doesn’t mesh with lectures from Niki Vance, Oregon’s State Forensic Anthropologist. She had noted that skeletal evidence can easily mistake a large female child for a small adult man, unless you have certain bones around the pelvic region and some evidence of age. There may be some braincase development that happens at different times, but the numbers weren’t drilling down by age.

After the lecture, this topic came up amongst a handful of attendees – including a former professional women’s American football player. Our conclusion was simply that the ladies were more willing to get hurt to be there. Women have fought so long to be recognized, to be allowed to play, that something as little as a collarbone injury isn’t going to keep us off the field.

Case in point: the NC Courage player Taylor Smith who was the first to hit the field in a tussle with Portland’s Tobin Heath during the championship match. She was obviously in a lot of pain, as her shoulder took the weight of both athletes hitting the turf, but after being checked out by the team doc, tried to stay on the pitch. She managed a few more plays, but was pulled off the field and put into a sling. She’d had an AC joint separation,and would be out of action for weeks.

It’s nearly a running joke that an opposing player running too close can cause a defender to dive to the ground and writhe in agony, hoping the ref will stop play…in the men’s games. That sort of drama doesn’t really appear on the women’s pitch. The gals had to prove their toughness to play competitively, and continue to battle it out every game.

And so the Thorns played aggressively to bring home the championship. It was a little ugly at times, but no one bit another players ear (which has happened in men’s soccer. More than once.). This wasn’t a tea party attended by frail grandparents, nor a puppet show for the children, but a professional league finale competition.

Of course the ladies take more head balls and collisions and concussions.

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YNP: In Memory of Trees

As we left on vacation, I called my mom, and mentioned we were driving to Yellowstone again.
“But you’ve been there before” she asked.
Yes, many times. We’ve been going every six years or so.
Well, in 1988, you may recall, much of the park burned. The fires were in the news all summer. We’ve been watching the forest grow back.
“It’s been 30 years, love, I’m sure it just looks like forest now.”

My mom has traveled, but her home ecosystem is the farmlands and the white & jack pine forests with oak savannah meadows. An awful lot of the ‘forest’ is paper mill lands growing pines in rows for easy harvest. This is what “normal” looks like to her, and a mature forest is ready to be removed and replanted in 15 years. Of course there are wilder lands, with under brush and more of a mixture of trees, but the difference from the Midwestern highway is slight.

In 1988, the western wildfires hit during a perfect storm. The west was in a major drought. Little rain fell in July, and it was hot, hot, hot. Smokey the Bear was still making his point of fires being unnatural and must be stopped. Human suppression of all fires meant that there was a plethora of twiggy fuel just laying around everywhere. And the normal fire season started, and just kept going. Thousands of wildfire crews and hot shots turned out to combat it, but by the time the cool weather hit in the fall, 63% of the park had burned.


The fires can roughly be divided into

  • ‘Regular wildfire’, in which the undergrowth and lowest dead branches burn, along with downed trees and the occasional live one. Normally, after these fires, fireweed and other post burn plants burst forth.
  • ‘Canopy burn’, where the fire has walked up the ladder of lower dead branches to take the upper treetop, and can quickly spread across the tops in the wind. And did, as the various fires generated their own updrafts.
  • ‘Sterilizing burn’, where the fire was so hot that the ground was cooked.

Note that these are my categories, I’m sure the foresters have more technical terms.

Sterile burn

Baked clay from hot fires

A third of the park was in the devastating sterilizing burn category. Nothing grew where the fires had touched. No fire weed sprung up from the moistened ground in the spring, it was dust over kiln dried clay.

Scott did his first cross country trek to the park in 1987. He wasn’t taking photos then, at least not that survived to today. But he saw the tall mature lodgepole forests and the laughing brook of the Kepler cascades and oh so many bison.

He returned again in 1989. And it was barren, dusty, dirty, dead. The remaining live parts of the park were where the wild things were, and the ashy mud holes were just beginning to get the microbial stew going again. He enjoyed the thermal features, and even with 63% in ash, the park had trails in unburned regions, where the lodgepoles still had their hold.

I joined him in this pilgrimage in 1994. By this point, there was some life. Fireweed is a generic name for a number of plants in different ecosystems, and its the first plant that can process the ashy soil. As it dies back in the winter, its seeds spread in the wind for future burnt bounty, the stalks become mulch for the next year’s growth. I recall meadows of the stuff, purple flowers with yellowing grasses about, growing under branchless black trunks. For acres and acres. Pretty, in a stark way, but you didn’t want to hike through those areas, as the widowmakers were likely to drop at any time.



In the late 90’s, Scott, Doug and I headed out there, and backpacked near Lone Star and Shoshone Lake, which was a mostly unburned portion of the park, and had lodgepole pines consistently 75 feet tall. At the backwoods geyser basin, post eruption, as other tourists began to hike back to the road and we rounded he thermal area to head towards the lake, a woman had given us the hairy eyeball, finally saying “don’t step on that Buffalo” which made us all freeze in place and look around. Tall tree, not a bison. Gravel path, check. Geyserite covered boulder, right. Then the boulder shuddered and turned to look at Doug. We backed away slowly. After a couple overnights in the old growth forest, we returned to the roads and the tiny pines – knee high, for the most part. But they were growing.


Scott & Doug on trail

Lodgepole are serotinous, having two types of pine cones. The average cone opens up in the fall and disperses seeds that become new trees (soil, water, and sun permitting) the next year. These all burned in the hot fires. However, the other type of cone stays shut on a normal year, sealed with resin. If it gets hot enough, they will open up to do post-fire dispersal. So natural reseeding was happening as soon as there was soil to support it.

Indeed, the aspen started moving in. They are sessionary species, which the lodgepole will outcompete, but grow faster than the pine, and therefore got a toehold. When aspen turn color in the fall, the entire grove goes at once, because it’s all really one tree, connected by the roots.

But the winters are harsh in Yellowstone, with wind and deep snow and lots of elk trying to eat leaves and needles when available. Their chewing patterns, after five decades of human managed landscape, had changed to sit still and eat it all, particularly in the riparian zones, wateredge succulents. However, humans being learning monkeys, we’d implemented a couple changes.

The one most relevant to the elk, though they wouldn’t know it yet, was the reintroduction of wolves. Being a prey species again means the elk have to look around more, and move more, which changes where the browse happens.

The most relevant to the ecosystem was the recognition that fire happens, even in a human free wilderness, and it’s a renewing agent of change. Smokey the Bear still wants you to douse your campfire and not toss lit cigarettes out the window, but if a lightning caused fire happens in wild lands, it mostly gets to burn itself out (infrastructure and lives being protected). This means no massive build up of dry fuels on the forest floor, and even when a fire happens, its more the regular fire than the sterilizing version.

So smaller fires happened, and the baby lodgepoles grew. Slowly.

And cone dispersal happened, reseeding areas further into the burns.


Kepler falls after fire

When we returned again in 2005, as part of our Walkabout tour of the continent, the bare patches were all young forest deep enough to hide a standing bison, and the Grant Village museum had been dusting off their “10 years after the fire” exhibit for 6 years. The park had signs at viewpoints describing the wonder of the natural cycle of fire. Most of the widowmakers were down, blown over during winter storms, with the remaining standing dead were bleached white and presiding over the smaller trees.


Kepler 2016

And here we are in 2016. Scott’s camera gear has certainly evolved, shooting RAW on professional digital SLR. We again did a hike out to Shoshone Lake, and strolled beneath the 75ft lodgepole forest, with its mature ecosystem and dappled sunlight. A peregrine swooped down the trail corridor and was very surprised to find us in its route.


Shoshone Lake

But now when we scan across burn to non-burn areas, we see mature trees, and…less mature trees. The burn areas are still obvious.

On a hike near Canyon called Cascade Lakes with Jessica, we noted that the trees are still much shorter, about 15 feet tall, and more cramped together. Not only could a bison hide behind these stands of trees, he’d have a hard time stampeding . Ok, no, nothing shy of a freight train stops a charging bison, but for even a maneuverable human, picking your way through trees that close together is near impossible. Competition is about to thin them out, as they can’t just keep growing like this. I was reminded of the thicket back in the Midwest that grew up after a tornado had devastated the land – trunks inches apart, no understory room for an ecosystem.


Jessica overlooks partial burn from lookout

One later sunset, across the meadow just south of this trail, we saw four wolves skirting the woods, finding it easier to put up with those humans and their binoculars than to shoulder their way through the thicket. When they found a hole in the dense wood, they quickly disappeared.

The aspen are retreating, outcompeted by the stands of lodgepole, which do turn into an interesting monoculture in this climate.



Some areas still have black widowmakers and tiny pines and fireweed beneath them, and I assume those are from more recent burns. My map from ’93 shows the burns in light grey (regular) and dark grey (sterilizing) shading – ideally want to overlay *all* the burns since 1988 and see what parts of the park have thus far been spared, vs which parts have been hit and re hit with fire.

A new map, bought this year to find trail updates, doesn’t mention the fires. The roadside signage is still up if you know where to search for it, and if you head to Grant Village, the museum still has the same “10 years after” exhibit – though, as Mom pointed out, it’s now 30 years after. The forest is still in recovery, though it’s making great progress.

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ScienceOnTap: It hurts!

Science hurts. Well, last week’s lecture was all about pain. Not only was it uncomfortably hot, and the Gorge on fire, but this was our last scheduled night at the Clinton St Theater, unairconditioned yet cozy in the SE neighborhood.

Pain, as Dr.Micheal Morgan, professor of psychology at WSU,  said, can be a good thing. It lets you know when something is wrong, so that you can fix it. Children born with a rare condition where they don’t feel pain are happy but short lived – they not only don’t learn to not touch the flame, they also don’t notice when they’ve been leaning on one butt cheek too long, and will damage hips – even your sense of balance comes from noticing tiny sensations.

Amongst examples of how one learns from good pain was a soccer player writhing in agony. That one is easily fixed, he said, it just takes the ref applying a red card to the opposing team, and they player is as right as rain.

See that afternoon’s USMNT vs Honduras for examples.

This makes me wonder about the ‘good pain’ of bad puns, but I can stare out the window til the thought goes away.

Alas, those with chronic pain don’t have that choice (as does any of us who hang out with punsters Paul & Amanda). More than 10 million Americans have pain that lasts for 3 months or longer, and it tends to be for unknown causes, or else the docs would fix it. 20 years ago, if you came to an MD with all over body pain, and they couldn’t find a cause, they’d send you to a shrink, and say it’s all in your head, you are imagining things.

All pain is really in your head and the interpretation of the signals given through the nervous system. The brain doesn’t have that sort of receptor. “You can poke at the brain as much as you want; you might kill them, but they wont feel it,” said our speaker.

Now, they can diagnose Fibromyalgia, and admit it is in your head, but it’s physiological, not imagined. Somewhere in the chain from brain, to spinal column, to nerve cells, to skin & joints, there’s an abnormality, and that is causing the brain to interpret as pain, and fires off the body reactions like inflammation and cellular defense, which saps body energy.

But pain medications were destigmatized in the ’90s, doctors re-educated to prescribe for quality of life, and due to a variety of predicable factors, the number of people dependent on those opioids also rose, and therefore the number of overdoses as well, bringing us to the ugly part of pain. While the opioids allow the patient to feel but not be in pain because the neuroreceptors are blocked, the patient may develop a tolerance, and require more of the drug for the same effect. Eventual removal the opioid means the withdrawal symptoms set in, and the patient has a burning *need* to get back on the drug. It’s a physiological change happening, not a willpower issue, and a perfect, one size fits most solution certainly doesn’t exist.

Discussing medical marijuana, it seems to be a palliative for some people, preventing the need for more addictive drugs, but it’s still classified by the Feds as class 1, and therefore we not only can’t prescribe it to vets, researchers need to jump through hoops to study it. Our researcher “had to by a $300 safe to store 50mg, and wade through a 7 mo process for studying marijuana and rats , but i could walk 10 blocks from my house, buy a ton & spread it all over my lawn.”

The portland crowd reacted exactly as you imagine.

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Books and moods

“Ain’t it funny how a melody
Can bring back a memory
Take you to another place and time
Completely change your state of mind”

I’ve been reading the “Laundry Files” by Charles Stross, which is an anti-James Bond, Lovecraft meets Office Space with technobabble. I’d been finding it hilarious in spots, partially because I recognized all the technobabble – Charlie is a real-life sysadmin, and his characters do magic with period-specific computing power – complete with blue screens of death and kernel panics. But it’s also a group of people holding off Cthulhu like creatures as long as they can, knowing it’s a loosing battle. So it’s also got existential angst and nihilist depression by the boatloads.

But I’ve had a rough week – they kind where you can’t even look back and say “at least nobody died” -and I really know better than to plug myself into an escapist world where demons are winning the war, even if we patch up after a battle here or there. I mean, why volunteer for more depression?

So with bittersweet page turning. I head to Pratchett. Bittersweet because there are no more Discworlds coming, as Sir Terry has too soon quit this earthy shell and rather recently his friends steamrolled over the remaining hard drives of unfinished works (per Sir Terry’s requests).

But instead of Discworld, I pulled out Nation, which is a Victorian era south seas alternative history, which starts when a native island boy is paddling back to his island, when a tidal wave rolls through and kills off his entire tribe (and most of neighboring peoples as well). Mau is depressed, alone, suicidal, hallucinating.

Uh, and I choose this over the Stross?

Well, yes, because the Stross dread is all pervasive – it’s still there after the current battle is resolved. But the Pratchett book drops the apocalypse on our young hero’s shoulders, and then follows him take a step, and then a next step. Things still suck, but time marches on.

Everyone has heard the eastern proverb “Before zen, chop wood, carry water. After zen, chop wood, carry water.” Actions have a meditation value all their own, not to mention that tasks still have to get done. Back in the Midwest, the sentiment is expressed as “the cow doesn’t care if it’s Christmas, she still wants to be milked.”

A story by Lois McMaster Bujold has a character, suddenly bereft and in dangerous waters, decide the best thing she can do spiritually is endure, like all matter. In the Pratchett, the endurance takes a more proactive approach. As survivors gather, rebuilding has to happen, decisions need to be made. Of course, our author puts more stumbling blocks and emotional landmines in the hero’s path, and while we get fits and starts, it’s not the paralysis of despair.

And so, having concluded the book – which does not end exactly as a boy meets girl book is supposed to – I’m a little better at looking at how to fix what can be fixed, deal with fallout, and take steps.

Chop wood, carry water.

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ScienceOnTap: Microbiome and You

Occasionally, we get a scientist drunk. We put them on stage, put a beer in one hand and a microphone in the other and see what happens. Then we take questions from the bar crowd. This week’s victim was Dr Lisa Sardinian, who knows all about what we don’t know about the gut.

And the lecture was informative, and funny, and included new information since the last time we had Dr Sardinian in the hot seat (and she actually wanted ice water this time, so it wasn’t quite a regular SOT). But a couple of the points got me thinking.
FIrst, why does Massachusetts do all the gut and poo research? I mean really, most of the studies were from there. I think they are a little obsessed.
Ok, then, the normal method of gaining a healthy, varied gut biome is that as you leave the sterile womb (which, how do they know it’s sterile? Anything the push into there would contaminate, right?), you squeeze out a tunnel with a light at the end, and in the process swallow some vaginal biome. This multiplies and thus mom gives you your starter pack – unless you were C-sectioned, at which point your gut bacterial more closely resembles what is found on the skin of health care workers. (Note: they’re experimenting with giving c-sec kids a swab from mom’s privates, in Massachusetts of course, but studies are early).
As you grow and experience, your gut bacteria change until about 3 years of age when you have developed your adult base biome. Unless you were malnourished, famine like, in which case it takes longer.
Oddly though, breast fed babies have a less varied gut than formula babies.
And now we get into the co-evolution.
Seams that mothers milk has a couple complex sugars that mammals can’t metabolize. When formula milk was developed, they left these out, thinking wtf dude, why bother? But it turns out that those sugars feed gut bacteria on the mucus side, and pass nutrients through to the cells, and that without this process the babies aren’t developing quite the same digestion, or at least not at the same rate. These bacteria have been living in our guts since our tiny vertebrate stage, they in no small sense made us what we are today.
I’m not sure who is farming whom.
Note that when you eat chocolate, you are feeding certain bacteria that secrete dopamine, one of the only 2 things you ever enjoy (the other is serotonin). These brain chemicals, originating from your gut, give you that pleasurable sensation, And it’s all for you – those bacteria don’t even have a nervous system. This is the carrot that gets us to eat what the biome wants.
So bacteria is necessary to us and in a bit of control of us…and then we develop antibiotics and overuse them for growing meat animals larger or attempting to treat upper respiratory illnesses (spoiler: antibiotics do nothing against a virus), and thus we are selecting for antibiotic resistant strains of …everything. Uh oh.
And then there was the FMT conversation. Not delivered in smoothie form, thank you very much, this is a means to transport biome from a healthy gut to an unhealthy gut and does a bang up job of curing c.dif and other ailments in a way that makes modern humans shudder. At least it’s a pill form.
Hmm. When dogs do team grooming and close encounters of the butt kind, are they getting a booster biome?
For further reading , we are suggested to read anything by Michael Pollan (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html) and Missing Microbe by Blaser. (http://www.powells.com/book/missing-microbes-how-the-overuse-of-antibiotics-is-fueling-our-modern-plagues-9780805098105)

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John Day & The Marquis de Lafayette on a Roadtrip

Exploring eastern Oregon has not been higher on our list of adventures because
* There’s so much to do in Cascadia
* There isn’t a lot of information on it
* The high desert.
Really, we have several ecosystems in which to bike, hike, and kayak within 2 hours from home, why would we drive 6 hours often? We read a lot, and very little had surfaced about why to visit the eastern part of the state worth crossing the high desert – which is a hardship for me. I like gloomy portland, with its regular 5 months of cloud cover every year, and sun and I do not get along.

However, after this past winter running much longer than usual, even I was ready for the dry climate of the western steppes. So we started researching for the trip, and found…incredibly little. Oh, there were great backpacking trails, none of which tend to be snow free before July on a normal year, but little on the lower set. We figured that meant more modest trails, which we’d have to find out about locally, once we’d crossed the barren central state.

So Saturday morning we rolled backwards along the Oregon Trail, or its modern equivalent of I-84 towards Pendleton, then turning south onto the Blue Mountain Scenic Byway. It didn’t start scenic – dusty farms and grasslands, but eventually growing lodgepole pine as well as mountains in the Umatilla National Forest. We rose to 5400 feet, and turned down a gravel road for a 16 mile journey to Potomus Point, which I was certain was named after the local hippos. Scott disagreed.

Strolling through the meadow on the bald, we found balsem, lupin, ladyslippers and Indian paintbrush as well as grasses that tickled our knees. The hike was short, but did show us the distant layers of blue mountains in the distance.

Pretty, but I’m not sure we’d recommend the potholed forest road to anyone with a lesser vehicle. I like my van.

Back on the main highway, we descended to the tiny berg of Ukiah, which we knew from Wen Spenser’s novels about a PI who’d been found feral in the area, after being raised by wolves – and then the series got weird. Ukiah is only 250 people, which we noted as we stopped at the Gas Station That Time Forgot, meant the residents probably drove 50 miles into Pendleton for groceries. Bantering with the crop topped gal filling the tank, found that the motorcyclists enjoying the byways stopped at her gravel lot but not really anywhere else in town, and the proprietor won’t stock maps of the mountain trails, because he’d have to pay the national forest for them.

Continuing up into the hills while listening to Sarah Vowell reading “Lafayette and these not so United States”, we found ourselves in a forest of identically sized young trees, packed uncomfortably close together like troops in a bayonet charge. Or maybe that’s the audio influencing perception. But there had obviously been a burn here some 10-15 years ago, and the forest was now on the advance.

When we passed into older growth, we decided it was dinner time and stopped at Big Creek campground to create a rice, chicken and broccoli dish, then decided to read near the babbling creek & sleep in our dining spot rather than continue on. The local mosquitos, in need of their own dinner, welcomed us.

Come morning, and after our daily gruel, we drove just a little further and geared up to hike along the North Fork of the John Day River. This was mining country, and historically the creek was used to hydraulically wash the gold out of the gravel bars, and many little mining cabins dot the trail. Some of them were private property and in summer use, most were in ruins. The trail was pretty and noisy – the stream was boisterous from snowmelt, and made conversation difficult, but gave us some nice views on the otherwise forested stroll.

Having worn our shoe leather in the hills, we descended to the town of Sumpter, which was having a town wide fleamarket that was attracting strollers to its dirt streets and untidy yards. It seemed like it was a well known big deal for the town, but I noticed that few of the people returning to their cars on the crowded secondary street seemed to have any purchases in their arms beyond the occasional snocone. We regretted stopping (and of course not finding trail maps) and got back on the road.

Turning off the Byways we knew of on hwy 7, we discovered this was also a “Journey Through Time” scenic byway. No tardi were harmed in the making of this highway. The forest on either side was nice, but as we broke out of it, we could see last Tuesday – all the way to the foot of the Strawberry Mountains.

We crossed that valley, passing the ghost town of Whitney and oh so many dry ranches, and attained the town of John Day, where we tipped the guy refueling our van as he went above and beyond the call of duty to deal with our bug encrusted windshield. There was a National Forest Ranger Station – closed and without any external trail information. The town itself, while much larger than Ukiah or Sumpter, seemed tidily deserted – no one is out walking the streets in the heat of the afternoon. I posited that no one left anything out in the yard in this town, where as like Hood River, it would blow away from regular gusts through the long valley. This is a guess, as the air was actually still and oppressive.

Driving up into the Strawberry Mountains, we entered another former burn – probably not as hot, as many tall trees survived with scorched trunks, and the homes on the hillside didn’t look brand spanking new. Salvage logging was still going on though. We kept climbing but never did get out of the blackened trunks.

Parking the van off the beaten track, we carried gear out for a “test run” of a backpacking set up. If this didn’t work, we could easily get up in the middle of the night and go sleep in the van. As it was, we both lasted til morning, though Scott headed back early to make coffee and get a warmer shirt, and I packed up the tent.


Fortified with pancakes and bacon, we zipped back through the town of John Day and crossed the high desert while the sun was still low and swung into the John Day Fossil Bed National Monument. This trip should be titled the John Day trip, since it seems that everything is named after the trapper. We were amused at the various descriptions we saw of him, most referencing an incident at the mouth of the river that now bears his name but in wildly different tones, from “he was robbed and rescued” to “found stripped naked and tied up” depending on the character of the sign creator and desire to venerate historical figures. Anyway, from all accounts, he was never anywhere near here, but getting that river named after him caused all sorts of things along the river and its several forks to bare his shame.

We toured the paleontology museum and saw fossils from a multitude of layers, from the Clano Nut Beds (which would be a good name for a candy bar) to Haystack Assembly, running from leaf matter through a variety of mammals, including a giraffe necked horse and a tiny deer with fangs that used to roam the humid marshes that used to make up the climate of the region.

But before the day got too hot, we headed off to hike around a few formations. All of our hikes were less than 2 miles, because while winter lasted on and on, summer is wedging its way in with 90degree days in this dry desert, which is getting close to the melting point of Ritas. It being spring, there was a surprising amount of green on the slopes as well as in the irrigated valleys.

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The Building Is On Fire And It’s Not My Fault

I read a lot, and I surround myself with friends with similar tastes – how else am I going to find new books? This occasionally leads to ridiculousness, such as what *others* thought of as an early Halloween party.

Nope. Literature groupies.


Well, “literature,” in some people’s eyes. A fantasy set in modern Chicago with a detective noir wizard, written by a guy who wanted to do the Great American Novel, but was hounded by his writing teacher to do a pulp because his talents apparently lay in snark. Welcome to JIm Butcher‘s Dresden Files, because that writing assignment sold, as did the next 15 books, the short stories, the comic books, and the card game. And he’s not done writing the series.

The new books come out every year or three, so about every three or five years someone in my household re-reads the series. This year, we conned a largish group into reading along. It wasn’t much of a trick, as we mostly just posted the funny or snarky bits on Facebook with the hashtag #EverybodyReadsDresden and watched like minded readers come out of the woodwork.

We all read at different paces, but the eventual participants were invited into a party at my house.


“Where’s Bob?”

“Over there on the stack of porn.”

“Duh. Where else would he be.”

(Bob is a spirit of intellect, which alas does not mean he has good taste in reading material. He lives in a human skull, and is bribed in the series with cheap erotica when he needs to be cajoled.)

Mac was making steak sandwiches on the griddle while the vegetarian pizza was baking, and others begin eyeing the white frosted donuts (with sprinkles). I had a strong dark ale in a steampunky growler, and Mab also brought mulled wine. These foodstuffs make all attendees laugh, as they have particular importance or at least repetition over the 15 books. Or are part of a good one-liner:

What do you want on your vegetarian pizza?” asks a throwaway character in book 3.

“Dead cows and dead pigs. What? They are vegetarians!” says the titular character, Harry Copperfield Dresden.

Harry is a smart ass. He’s rarely evenly matched and gets beat up a lot, but that doesn’t stop him from Doing What’s Right. Luckily, he has managed to gather an ensemble of characters who put up with him, including

Luccio the Warden in her grey cloak,


a blond cop named Karin Murphy, often described as “tiny but fierce”,


several knights of the cross like Micheal (“My faith protects me. My Kevlar helps”) and Shiro from Japan,



Lara, a vampire of sorts, who only helps when family matters convince her,


Ivy, who embodies a magical construct call The Archive, but is also a little girl,

Mab, the fae who embodies Winter, and has her own plans within plans

Mac, a barkeeper who keeps a neutral bar for the supernatural folks to come for good steaks and great beer.


Mr. Vaddurung, who eventually is known as a Norse being of some import


In the books, there are many other reoccurring characters, but these are the ones that showed up at my house, swords, staffs, bar aprons and all. Well, Vaddurung actually appeared as a bottle of scotch with Odin on the label, but I’m not going to complain. We had some duplication of costuming, but people discussing the plot line thus far occasionally fell into character in hilarious ways. Obviously, we like the snark.



A tall man with a wizard staff and duster stands in the living room, reading from a scroll I handed him:

Things that I, Harry Dresden, am not allowed to do:

1. Sing ‘we’re off to see the wizard’ on the way to White Council Meetings.

2. Correct the Harry Potter books. From the library. In red pen.

3. ‘Klaatu Baraja Nikto’ is not an appropriate spell. Regardless of whether or not I say it correctly. Even though it did work.

4. Quoting Labyrinth to the faeries is just asking for trouble.

5. Answer questions I don’t know the answer to with ‘A wizard did it’. It was not funny the first time, nor the subsequent 17 times. Even if a wizard did do it. Especially if it was me.”

The scroll goes on for pages, many of the funnier items referencing actions from the books that will make no sense to folks who haven’t read the series, but had us rolling in laughter. (This is a homage to Skippy’s List, if you hadn’t hear of it, go read it – but the items on Dresden’s list were collected from several forums and many fans. I’ll add the whole thing below, but recommend only people who’ve read the series dig through it.)

The group chatted about who their favorite villain was. We made in-character jokes. We discussed pet theories about Mac, conspiracies, and what’s going to happen in the next book. (At this point, the nextbook will be called “Peace Talks” and we have *no idea* when it will be out, though the subreddit on the topic is slavering for it.)

I had printed out a bunch of phrases and off color in jokes and cut them up into 20 black cards and 60 white cards, and we had a tiny game of Cards Against Dresden. Some combos were reaching for it & missing, but some actually worked. Alas, we played sitting on a hardwood floor, and most of us are too old for that.


Late in the evening, everyone took the Ways home. I think it was fun, and am happy to have so many bookwormish friends.



*Title references the number of time Harry has burned something down. He utters this phrase at one point, but no one believes him.




Again, if you have’t read the books, most of these will make no sense, but it’s been requested, so….

Things Harry Copperfield Dresden is not allowed to do

– Sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” on the way to Council meetings

– Use Fideliacchius as a letter opener

– Ask Ancient Mai how her sister’s doing after Dorothy dropped that house on her

– Laugh at Luccio when she gets carded

– Hum “Like a Virgin” around Ramirez

– Set out milk-bones as snacks when the Alphas come to visit

-Refer to Lasciel’s coin as “my precious”

Especially around Michael!

– Use Bob to recreate scenes from Hamlet

– Emphasize everything I say to Donar Vadderung with “By Odin’s Beard!”

– Refer to Maeve as “Princess Elsa”

– Ask Denarians if they have any spare change

– Wear a T-shirt proclaiming “Save a broom; ride a Wizard”

– Threaten to sic Aslan on Mab

– Challenge Nicodemus to a dance off

– Buy salt, play-do, markers, rope, chalk, dogfood, pirate items, and romance books in bulk, at the same time – next time send Molly

– Call Murphy “Agent Scully”

– Put on glasses, draw a scar on my forehead and tell Molly I changed my name to avoid the death eaters

– Refer to Demonreach as Groot

– Ask Molly if Thomas is in fact too sexy for his shirt

– Buy Toot and Lacuna a Barbie Dream House

– Create a new imaginary friend to replace Lash

– Refer to The Merlin as “Dumbledore”

– Encourage Toot and Ze Guard to try using Mister as a mechanical bull

– I am not allowed to ask elder Council members if they’ve ever parted the Red Sea.

– I will never label another bottle “Love Potion #9,” even if it is factually accurate.

– I am not allowed to get drunk and serenade the entire tavern with a rousing rendition of “A Wizard’s Staff Has A Knob On The End.”

a) Or Murphy.

b) Or anyone.

c) Especially Murphy. She can hurt me.

– Bob’s skull is not to be used to practice ventriloquism.

a) or to re-enact scenes from Hamlet.

– Under no circumstances am I to even contemplate asking the faeries if they offer a dating service as well.

– I am not allowed to attend a vampire ball dressed as movie Dracula ever again, no matter how funny it seems at the time

– I will never let Amanda Carpenter talk me into being her Show and Tell project again, no matter how cute her puppy-dog eyes are.

– Just because something is bleeping disturbing doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

– I am not allowed to “correct” Harry Potter books.

a) From the library.

b) In red pen.

– Twice-divorced women are not wooed by the mantra “Third time’s the charm!”

– My hand may eventually heal. I am not allowed to consider prosthetic chainsaw attachments.

– My blasting rod is not my “boomstick.”

– “Klaatu barada nikto!” is not an appropriate spell.

a) Regardless of whether or not I say it correctly.

b) Even though it did work.

– Similarly, “Eta Kooram Nah Smech” will not make an enraged Murphy fall asleep.

– Referring to Lasciel’s coin as “My Precious” in Michael’s presence is not funny and will probably only get me killed.

– I may not make “your mom” jokes to Thomas. It only encourages him and is counterproductive.

– I may not tell the Merlin to pull the sword out of his stone.

a) I may not tell this to Morgan either.

– Whether or not I had any intention of following up on them, trying bad pickup lines on Murphy will get me shot.

a) Likewise Lara.

b) Also Miss Gard.

– I may not call Marcone “Scarface.”

– I may no longer lurk around elementary schools, even if there are monsters on the playground.

a) Having lurked, I will not laugh at the cop who’s come to ‘talk’ to me.

b) Having laughed, I will not suggest he call Murphy.

c) Having suggested, I will at least be glad that I brightened her day, judging from the hysterical laughter.

– I may no longer tell vampires to “bite me,” as that joke is dead and rotting.

a) Similarly, if I say “fuck you” to a White Court vampire, I deserve what I get.

– Quoting Labyrinth at the faeries is just asking for trouble.

– A flea collar is not an appropriate gift for a werewolf.

a) Unless I’ve suddenly developed a death wish.

– I will not use my pentacle amulet to ward off Jehovah’s Witnesses.

– I can no longer tell impressionable young children that my dog is part wolf.

a) Or Sirius Black.

– Changing the tagline on my ad to read “Who ya gonna call?” is a violation of good taste as well as copyright laws.

– The Dresden Dolls were not named after me.

a) Nor are they my personal fan club.

– I am not permitted to address the Council in Pig Latin.

a) Even if it is easier than real Latin. Stupid correspondence course.

I will not pitch my life story to Peter Jackson.

a) Viggo Mortensen isn’t nearly tall enough to play me, anyway.

-It is culturally insensitive to refer to the incident that maimed my hand as “the firebombing of Dresden.”

a) Nor should I respond to condolences by commenting “So it goes. Po-tee-weet?”

-I will not poke people with my stick.

a) If I must poke people with my stick, it will in fact be my stick, and not my…stick.

– I must no longer answer questions I don’t know the answer to with “A wizard did it”. It was not funny the first time, nor was it funny the subsequent seventeen times.

a) Even if a wizard did do it.

b) Especially if it was me.

– While wearing my wizard robes, I must not Jedi wave ‘this is not the house you are looking for’ at visiting Mormons, vacuume-cleaner salesmen or Avon ladies.

a) Or Jedi wave ‘These cookies are free’ as visiting Girl Scouts.

– As tempting as it might be to show off, I must not demonstrate ‘Jedi powers’ to the geeks at the gaming shop.

a) Or as Sci-Fi conventions.

b) Especially not to prove Star Wars over Star Trek to Trekkers.

c) My sword cane is NOT a lightsaber. Even with the noises.

– I will not attempt to break Mister of his Cola addiction.

a.1) without sufficient protection.

a.2) ever

– It is never a good idea to refer to Murph as “Sweetcheeks”.

a) Even if she did land butt first on the Sugar Plum Fairy.

b) Blaming the fact that I landed on my head, will only get me hit on the head harder.

c) Alcohol isn’t an excuse either.

– Stercus Caput is not a valid title of address at council meetings.

a) Even if it did make Ebenezer shoot whisky out his nose.

– Asking Billy and Georgia “When is the litter due?” will not get me out of any future babysitting duty.

– I will not encourage the other pixies to sing “Don’t mess with my Toot Toot” if Toot doesn’t come through with the information. It only gives him a swelled head.

– I will not borrow Mac’s Car….

– I will not open doors of Big Jim’s door with my staff

– I will not refer to Marcone as Padrino. I will not refer to Lea as fairy Padrina. And I will never, ever, introduce them.

– I may not introduce myself as Gandalf the White, Radagast the Brown, or Manfred the Slightly Ecru.

-I will not shout “Fire!” in a crowded White Council meeting. Or in a crowded theatre, for that matter.

-I will not mop the White Council HQ’s floor with Morgan’s grey cloak.

a) Even if it won’t leave a stain. It’s the principle of the thing, I suppose.

– I am not to let Bob out anywhere near Butters’ Accordian;

a) No matter how much he whines about his Kielbasa Sausage and it’s need to perform.

b) Again.

-When asked my name, I will not answer “There are some who call me… Tim?”

– I must not ask Murphy to “Sit on my Magic lap” Again.

– Under no circumstances am I to make any references to performing spells “skyclad.”

a) Especially if Morgan is within earshot.

b) Yes, it’s funny to watch his head explode. It is still Wrong.

c) Anyway, he who makes the Warden’s head explode cleans up debris from said explosion, and blood is so hard to get out of carpet.

tell nursery stories to some kinds of Faeries.

– I REALLY shouldn’t compliment Mab on her great ass

– Selling the swords on Ebay is not a good way to raise money

– Likewise for selling Bob

– I am not allowed to piss of magical beings that can crush me with a thought

a) Unless I’m well prepared

b) Or just plain suicidal

c) Or I’m really really angry

– I am not allowed to martyr myself while uttering the lines “Thall Shall Not Pass”

a) No matter how apt

b) Or the fact that they would have to sue my corpse

– I am not allowed to sing “We’re Off to See the Wizard” when it’s time to go to a council meeting.

– I am not allowed to ask Ancient Mai if a house ever fell on her sister.

– I am not allowed to call the Merlin “Professor Dumbledore”

a) or Gandalf

– I will not send in photos of creatures from the Nevernever to the National Enquirer, no matter how much money it can make me

a) not even when the rent is due

– I will not attempt to enchant a vacuum cleaner to fly

a) not even while drunk

b) no, I did not almost succeed with a broom that one time

– I will never again wear in public the t-shirt that says “Save a broomstick; Ride a Wizard!”

– Pig Latin will not suffice as a substitute for actual Latin

-I will not sing along to “Invisible Touch” when Michael is around.

a) It takes control and slowly tears you apart. And though she will mess up your life, you want her just the same.

-I will not ask a Denarian for change.

-I will not do magic shows for kids.

a) Unless of course Ivy wants to see me pull a bunny out of a hat.

-I will not go drinking with Sanya and try to use magic the next day.

a) Or to do anything else.

-I will not try to eBay my new copy of The Two Towers.

a) In general, I think it best I try to avoid eBay altogether.

-I will not tell Luccio that she looks pretty good for two hundred.

a) On a similar note, if she has trouble getting into bars, I will not laugh at her.

b) No matter how long the argument with the bouncer goes.

– i will not use Denarian coins in the parking meter

a) even if the meter does think they’re nickles

-I will not hum “Bark at the Moon” when the Alphas are around

-i will not ask Molly about the recreational use of Whartonburg Pinwheels before my date with Luccio

a) even if it seems a good idea

b) ESPECIALLY if it seems like a good idea

No matter how much Bob begs, I will never take bob to an adult Novelty store again. Ever.

I will not make hissing sounds or Lord Voldemort jokes to Cowl’s back anymore

a) Only to his front

b) when I am ready to dodge the incoming flying projectiles

I will never make jokes about a possible online fan base someday, who knows? Stranger things have happened.

I will not ever turn my back on Michael’s Tree House again unless I am the one up there

a) Its just so damn popular

I will not ever make comments about Tinkerbell, you never know, size is often disceptive. Yoda for instance.

I will not ever let anyone borrow my coat again, no matter how short term. Bad shit happens to me.

I will avoid riding in Murphy’s car as much as possible. Her car insurance premiums cannot take much more.

The Blue Man Group is not “The Blue Court”, and I will stop phoning in “tips” to the Warden hotline about their activities.


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Bears and bikes and flame, oh my

So here I am cleaning the bear's ears with isopropyl alcohol and an paper towel, and reminded of mountain biking.

Our potted ficus tree apparently has scales, which makes all the items under it sticky, and I really don't want to think about why, but I do have to clean it up, so I spent an hour scrubbing a cushion, the floor, and the 4' tall teddy bear Scott got for me some 20 years ago, which had been hanging out in the shade. The furry skin takes a lot of scrubbing, and a lot of paper towels soaked in rubbing alcohol, and I'm slowing getting stoned from the fumes.


And I'm put to mind a different stuffed animal, soaked in alcohol.


A large group of mountain bikers had descended on the Berryman Trail in the Ozarks, which was an eight hour drive from Madison, a little less from Chicago, and of course the locals who were only coming from their own state. One of these local riders had come to the event having stopped at his grandmother's place for an early Easter dinner, and had been passing around the treats from the humongous basket he'd giving him to the crowd, who returned the kindness by strapping the large purple stuffed bunny to his handlebars. We camped, did the morning scramble to eat and lube chains and find that last glove and pedaled off for a 26 mile loop with 3500 feet of climbing, which was an awful lot for midwesterners. There was mud, there was roots, there was a friend getting a new nickname after running his bike into an downed tree at 30 mph.


(Note: he bent his frame. By rights, he shoulda flown off the bike and broke a collarbone. I'm still impressed that he never left the bike.)


After rolling back into the camp, having dinner, and playing party games while drinking around a bonfire, the bunny's owner let it slip that the bunny was heading for the trash can. Well, it had been such an enjoyable part of our trip so far, we couldn't just let it have a regular burial.


Picture thirty drunk mountain bikers singing “Here comes Peter Cottontail”, as the stuffed critter was tied to a long stick, doused in Everclear, and bounced down the bunny trail and into the fire.


There are times I'm surprised we lived through our 20's, but it was a lot of fun.


Setting the hopefully now clean Bear out to evaporate far from open flames.


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