Archive for July, 2008

montgomery woods fire report

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

The fire situation has calmed nicely around Mendocino County. The roads are open, the evacuations have been called off, the fires are contained or out. On the Coast, we hadn’t seen the sun for a week or so, so I thought I’d go inland to Montgomery Woods for an afternoon.
There were several fires near Montgomery Woods, a nearby hot spring resort—Orr Springs—had been evacuated, and the road through the area had been closed. Since the main old growth grove at Montgomery Woods is in a low, damp drainage, it seemed likely that the grove had been spared. When I got there, I found signs saying the park was closed. So, I loaned my camera to my evil twin Skippy and sent him into the main grove. He filed this report.
From the road, there is no sign of fire. As soon as you start up the trail to the grove, though, you encounter a whole burned hillside. More specifically, the understory is burned. The larger trees look OK. (For those of you unfamiliar with the biology of redwood trees, it’s worth noting that they have thick, fire resistant bark.)
In the main Montgomery Grove, some areas are just fine, lush and green and healthy:

 

In much of the grove, the ground had been burned and ash covered the ground, making it look like it had been snowing:

Some places had oases of lush greenery surrounded by scorched earth:

In a few areas, the devastation is terrible:

Some places were still smoldering:

A few downed logs were glowing red hot:

Through it all, there is still lots of bird life in the grove. I heard a normal amount of sounds from chickadees, wrens, thrushes, etc. I even saw this (I’m pretty sure it’s a) juvenile northern spotted owl:

I’m not sure if this owl was terribly stressed by the fire or not. Did its nest burn? Did it get any barbequed mouse treats from the fire?

Over all, it’s very sad to see the beautiful treasure of Montgomery Woods in such a charred state. The good news is that the big trees are almost all ok, and the understory should recover fairly quickly. It will be interesting to watch the recovery process over the next few years.

the stampede of technological progress, part 5

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

After my days at Palmer’s Camera in Berkeley, I moved to Mendocino and [tried to] make a living as a photographer/custom photo printer. This was in ye olde days of the mid 1990s, and photo printing still involved a wet darkroom. I had pretty much the only custom color darkroom in the area, so I had a viable, if weird, little market niche. Doing my own printing was also an advantage when it came to selling my nature photography.

I enrolled in a desktop publishing class at my friendly neighborhood community college (CRMC, College of the Redwoods, Mendocino Coast). My immediate goal was to learn how to make brochures to promote my little business. Pagemaker led inevitably to PhotoShop, and PhotoShop led in several directions at once, changing my business and my entire life.

Compared to the abomination I’d used at Palmer’s, the Windows 95 machines at CRMC seemed positively sci-fi in their sophistication, at least they did when we were just running Pagemaker. During my second semester at CRMC, we tackled PhotoShop, and the consumer-grade Windows machines proved laughably inadequate. This was version 3 of PhotoShop, without RAM-snarfing features like layers.

After a few weeks of banging our heads into the wall trying to use PhotoShop on machines that crashed every few minutes, our class moved to the graphics lab, where we had more sophisticated computers with a then-whopping 128MB of RAM.  The graphics lab also offered another improvement: it had Macs in addition to Stupid Windows Machines.

It didn’t take me long to switch to the Macs. Not only did they out perform the SWMs, but they were less in demand. Most of the other students had SWMs at home, so they didn’t want to clutter up their brains by learning a different operating system. So I could always get a Mac while others were duking it out over the SWMs.

Digital photo technology was in a weird state at that point in space and time. I didn’t even want a digital camera then. The ones I had used took pictures that were unsharp and toooo contrasty. Furthermore, they had very bad layout of the controls. The shooter had to navigate through dozens of bells and whistles to get to the useful features. Even if I did want one, they were frightfully expensive, and I was financially challenged.

Scanning film images was another option, but film scanners were exotic, expensive, cantankerous contraptions back then. Print scanners were good, but you needed a good print to scan. Since I had my own darkroom, that wasn’t a problem for me. For several years, my photo workflow involved making a 7x10ish print in the darkroom and scanning it.

Once you had a digital image file to work with, adjusting or manipulating it in PhotoShop was easy and fun. While PS has continued to improve since then, it was already fabulous. Its abilities to adjust  brightness, contrast, and color locally or throughout an image were already far beyond anything I could have fantasized about in the wet darkroom.

But, once the image files were adjusted/manipulated, I still had to print them. CRMC had pretty typical inkjet printers for the time. They produced prints which were vibrant, saturated, surreal, and ephemeral. Their hyper-saturation was OK for some graphic design projects, where vibrancy was more important than accuracy, but for landscapes the hyper-fluorescent saturation was unacceptable. But then, the prints only lasted a few months before the colors turned to goo, so they were useless for fine art photography anyway.

the lost coast: an overview

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Note: This is a rough draft of content for my future Lost Coast website. I’ll do research and stuff later.

California Highway 1 runs along the Pacific Coast from the border with Mexico northward. A few miles north of the tiny town of Westport—roughly 180 miles north of San Francisco—Hwy. 1 suddenly veers inland, intersects with US 101 at the town of Leggett, and ends. Hwy 101 doesn’t hit the coast until near the Humboldt Bay, leaving an 80 mile stretch of the California Coast highway-free. This no-highway zone is the Lost Coast.

From a viewpoint near Juan Creek, just before Hwy. 1 turns inland, you can get a view to the north which explains why the highway builders opted not to continue along the coast: mountains rise abruptly from the ocean two, or even three, thousand feet high. If you look to the south from this point, you’ll see a considerably gentler coast; it’s still fairly rugged, but there’s a flat terrace about a hundred feet above sea level which makes a great place to put a highway. To the north, there’s no sign of terraces, only cliffs, and high cliffs made of crumbly stuff at that.

This photo doesn’t really do justice to the cliffs or the abrupt change of geology, but it’s kinda pretty, so I’ll use it for now:

view north from juan creek

The Loast Coast is divisible into three regions: in the south, there’s public access through the Sinkyone Widerness State Park; in the central zone the Bureau of Land Management owns most of the land, and administers it as the King Range Natural Conservation Area; the northern section is nearly all privately owned, but there is some public access to beaches near Cape Mendocino.

To a purist, the Lost Coast is not truly wilderness. Europeans have been logging tanoak, douglas fir, and redwood in the region since the late nineteenth century. There are only a few groves remaining of the original forest. There are old mill sites, and even old town sites, scattered throughout the region. Still, the remoteness, the ruggedness, the current land use practices, and the low human population of the area make it feel pretty gosh darned wild. And if you get injured out here, help is a long, long ways away.

There are only two towns of any significance in the Lost Coast region. Shelter Cove is a resort community at the end of a thirty-mile paved—but narrow, steep, and twisty—road from Hwy 101 at Garberville. It can also be reached by air or sea. Petrolia, near the mouth of the Mattole River, is a more traditional town servicing the local farmers and ranchers.

The view from one of the rooms at an inn in Shelter Cove:

shelter cove deck view

For hikers, there are many places to explore in the region. The most popular backpacking trip in the area is a forty-mile beach stretch of the California Coastal Trail, from the mouth of the Mattole to Shelter Cove.

The beach near the mouth of the Mattole:

beach near mouth of mattole river

The other end of the great wilderness beach backpack, Black Sands Beach:

black sands beach

South from the Shelter Cove Road, there’s another excellent stretch of the Coastal Trail, running over Chamise Mountain, down steeply into the Sinkyone at Whale Gulch, and then up and down and up and down through a series of gulches to Usal Campground. There are also plentiful options for day hikes in the region.

Needle Rock in the Sinkyone:

needle rock

Looking down to Usal Beach from the Coastal Trail:

usal beach from coastal trail

lost coast site

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

A couple of years ago, on a camping trip to the Needle Rock area, I was ruminating on my various trips to the Lost Coast region. I realized that it was the twentieth anniversary of my first trip to the area, give or take a week or two. Over the years, I’ve done a fairly thorough job of exploring and photographing the place.

Today, I registered a new domain, lostcoast.info. Eventually, I’ll create a substantial site for that domain, with a trail guide, information about the natural and human history of the area, my photos, user-submitted photos, links to web resources about the area, etc.

In the short term, I’m planning to use this blog to post drafts of content for the long-term project. The discipline of creating regular blog posts should help me actually get this thing done.

Here’s a photo taken from the Coastal Trail looking south (and down) to Usal Beach:

Lost Coast Evening

fourth of july on the lost coast

Monday, July 7th, 2008

California’s Lost Coast is a fifty-or-so mile stretch of the northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt coast which has no highway near it. It’s a remote and rugged region, and one of my favorite places for hiking, photography, and exploration. While I usually stay home during the major Summer holidaze, this year my girlfriend and I found ourselves at Wailaki Campground, near the Shelter Cove Road.

The drive up was my first trip away from the Mendocino Village-Fort Bragg coastal zone since the fires began. Many of those fires are out or controlled now, so the conditions were not bad. The only place we were close to a recent fire was near the “town” of Rockport. There, a ground fire had burned right next to Highway 1. The larger trees appeared to be unharmed. There were a few fires still burning on nearby hills and the smoke was pretty bad in this area.

Our camp was about ten miles from the Paradise Ridge Fire in southern Humboldt County. That fire appeared to be out, although we did see a helicopter making repeated passes over the site, presumably looking for hot spots.

One local we talked to in the area relayed a tale from the week before of just how bizarre the priorities of our current federal government are. During the height of the fire, with the local volunteer fire department toiling away to protect their homes, in comes the feds. Four hundred feds in a caravan of black vehicles. Were they there to help? Nope. They were there to bust pot farms. Many of the firefighters had to leave the lines to make sure their partners hadn’t gotten busted.

The air was pretty clear during our stay, and the weather was fabulous. While there were quite a few people in our camp, the trails were remarkably free from crowds. In fact, in three days of hiking we saw exactly eight other people on the trails. I did a little, not-so-serious photography on this trip, but wound up getting a few ok shots.

Here’s the Coast Trail through the Smeaton Chase Grove:

Trail through Smeaton Chase Gove

Here I am in the same grove (photo by Andi Corsick)

Garth at Smeaton Chase Grove

Here’s Momma Elk and Junior at the end of the road near Bear Harbor:

elk at bear harbor

The Smeaton Chase Grove:

smeaton chase grove

From the top of King’s Peak, looking south toward Chmise Mountain:

south from kings peak

The ridges north of King’s Peak:

ridges north from king\'s peak

A distant fire in the east, probably the Kettenpom Fire:

kettenpom fire

Fog creeping up a gulch NW of King’s Peak:

fog and ridges from King\'s Peak

the stampede of technological progress, part 4

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008

After my brief flirtation with a Computer Science major, I plunged headlong into impractical artsy-fartsiness, and wound up with a degree in Dramatic Art. For twenty-some years, I had very little contact with computers. Somehow, technology managed to continue stampeding without me.

I caught a few glimpses of the herd along the way. It wasn’t always pretty. For a couple of years I worked for The Nature Company, when they were a relatively small business with a few stores around the SF Bay Area. Legend has it that the owner met somebody at a party who sold claimed he could painlessly set up a computer system which would track the inventory and ordering for the whole enterprise. We wound up with a woefully inadequate system which was a nightmare for all involved.

I worked in the warehouse, receiving books from the publishers and sending them to the stores. Before the computer, we had a paper-based inventory system which worked pretty well. As the computer system started up (in 1985), we wound up with two separate systems at the same time: the old system, and the computer data sheets. We didn’t get computers or terminals at our work stations, that would have been too expensive. Instead, in addition to a whole new set of paperwork, we had to individually mark each book with the price and a sku number. Since most books came with pre-printed prices, they didn’t need to be marked at all before. That was a lot of extra work. The new computer sheets went to the computer people while the rest of us used the old system.

During my tenure there, I saw no sign that the computer system might possibly ever work. From my perspective, it was just a lot of extra stupid work with no discernable benefit.

Later, I had another experience computerizing a retail store’s inventory system. This was at Palmer’s Camera in Berkeley. This was technically a simpler project—it was only one store—and technology had had another eight years or so to stampede along. This time, the technology sorta kinda worked.

I checked Google, and sure enough, the company that produced the software, The General Store, is still in business. It’s been many years, and TGS has no doubt improved through many versions. I assume/hope the TGS of 1992  bears little or no resemblance to the TGS of 2008.

TGS was the first time I had intimate congress with a database. I was doing all of the receiving and a good chunk of the purchasing for Palmer’s at the time, so I spent an awful lot of time dealing with the new system. We did get it to work well enough that it started to save work time, but it was a struggle. Part of the struggle was with TGS, part of it was with our own budget, and part of it was with technophobic staff members.

One of the TGS problems was that it couldn’t handle some of the complexities of our ordering. There were hundreds of items we got from more than one supplier, often at different prices. There were hundreds of items for which we got case lot discounts when we ordered in even case lots. There were other items for which we got discounts when we ordered more than a certain minimum number. TGS couldn’t handle the variables and never gave reliable wholsale amounts for our orders. If I needed to now, I could create a database system that could handle all of those variables, but it would be a pretty big job.

The basic relational database structure has been around since the late 1960s, and even with several thousand widgets to track, a system like this wouldn’t require all that much computing power. The computers and software of the day should have been able to work better than this—in fact, they could—but we had the econo models of both hard- and software.


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