On Da Boat to New Yawk

Just a few days into my New York trip; the first leg was a drive down from Boston to Bridgeport, CT, to catch the Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry. I normally drive all the way (no ferry), because my folks are pretty close to the Queens side of Long Island--it doesn't make too much sense to cut across the sound. But I was headed to a class on hydronic/radiator/boiler heating in Smithtown, so this route made sense. I have to say, there's something intrinsically neat about driving onto ferries, I think.

A nice relaxing ride across the sound; there was a bit of drizzle, so I had the outdoor top deck mostly to myself. Stared into the waves for a while.

One amusing tidbit: I got into my car on the lower ferry deck, and powered up my GPS (a Mio, based on Jofish's recommendation)--and it told me that--indeed--I was on the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry (as opposed to freaking out--"Aaaaahhhh!!! You're not on a road!! You're not on a road!!! Aaaaaahhh!") Okay... color me impressed. Although I wonder what the icon of "boat with red slash through it" means. Perhaps: "Don't drive, don't make any turns. No, really."

Anyway, a short drive over to the seminar. If I had any worries if I was in the right place for a boiler heating seminar--check out the collection of plumbers' vans:

Um, yeah. Right place. Made it home to my folks' place that night around 10ish.


More Water Heaters... and Busybusybusy

Okay, my weekend? Doing a water heater anode replacement for Judy, my (and Bird's, and Grendel's) former landlady. In case you missed it the first time, here are all the geeky reasons to replace water heater anodes, so that those suckers last longer than their warranty period.

It's always fun and useful data to get feedback on how these modifications behave in service. This replacement anode was installed in July 2002, and this is how it looks seven years later. Looks kinda barnacle-sea-life-encrusted-licious, don't it?

I'm guessing that it could go for a bit more, but five to seven years is probably a good safe cycle for replacement. The bottom six inches or so of magnesium is completely gone, as is a chunk of the top. Also, Judy reported that there wasn't much sediment during flushings--sounds like the curved dip tube works!

But ample leverage and foul language (and assistance from the first floor tenant) was required to break the anode free. Man, that frakker was stuck.

"Yeah, well there's yer problem, lady!"

Also, I got to hang out with Grendel, as well as Anna, who was visiting from Pittsburgh.

Anyway, the reason I took case of this job this past weekend is because my next four weeks are going to explode into busyness. Between now and August 25th, I will be in the office 3-1/2 days. Not a problem though, a lot of it is fun, vacation, and travel.

  • The tail end of this week, and upcoming weekend: heading to New York to go to a hydronic (boiler) heating class on Long Island--the same guy did the steam heat class in Western Mass. Will also see the family, and go see jazz at the Village Vanguard (!!!!)
  • Next week: summer camp (my company's big seminar series/party; occupies three or four days of my life completely)--learning, socializing, drinking, eating, repeat.
  • Friday of that week--off to the Bay Area, spending the weekend seeing folks--my schedule is already getting packed for the weekend.
  • Working in the Bay Area for three days, flying back across the country
  • And then flying out to Minneapolis (seeing psycho security guard), and then an Alaska vacation with Ouija and Drea!
  • And then back on August 25th. Whoah.

Well, I'll try to send postcards at least while I'm running around!


The 30,000 Foot Tourist

I just created a new photo set on Flickr, that I'm calling The 30,000 Foot Tourist--it follows a pattern that I have long established on this blog:

I realize that I habitally book the window seat when I'm travelling by plane, and I snap some photos when I'm flying over something interesting. Here's a collection of what I've shot over the years. Natural and man-made features, interesting stuff at airports, stuff like that.

Anyway, I keep on wondering if I ever end up in a plane crash, whether I might have the presence of mind to keep snapping pictures on the way down. Hey... it might turn out useful to the crash investigators, right? ("at 18:22, shows that flaps were fully extended..."). If you can identify my body by the Brass Rat + Iron Ring combination, and find the associated SD card, be sure that somebody downloads the card to check. As a warning, I might put the SD card in my wallet--seems like a few more layers might give it a slightly better chance in the fire.


Last Weekend Con't: North Conway

While I was at that Wilderness First Aid course, I took an evening to check out North Conway.

First of all, I stayed at a hostel--not a hotel--on this trip. I thought that I might be getting old for hostels, but there were guests both older and younger than me there. Also, I have always been offended at the concept of paying $100+/night for a place to sleep, while I'd actually prefer to crash on a friend's couch, in exchange for buying them dinner or say, a Tsukemono Japanese Pickle Press. Hotel rooms are far more than what I require--a private room, and a private bath. So I ended up in a six-man shared bunk room, for $24... worked out just fine.

I drove in to North Conway in the early evening; the first part of town that you come through is parking lot chain store hell--Staples, Home Depot, Macaroni Grill, repeat. I was afraid that this was the entire town--it looks like they dropped Burlington, MA at the foot of the beautiful White Mountains... a bit depressing. Stuff that made me think of that line from The Matrix:

"You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet."

However, I quickly rolled into downtown, which is the original, historical part of North Conway. You might dismiss it as being a little bit too "cutesy quaint" or something, or perhaps designed to painlessly separate yuppie tourists from their money. But not a bad place to hang out, overall. I managed to just buy postcards, dinner, and dessert.

Anyway.... I like town haz snowcatz!

It's a retired one, put out on display in front of the museum for the Mount Washington Observatory (weather station). Technically, it's a Thiokol Spryte, but "snowcat" is a good enough generic term, I think.

In my wandering around town, I found a huge house that they were in the process of moving to another site. I geeked out for about half an hour, taking pictures of the details and equipment. For instance, it seems like the house was too big to move in one piece--so they chainsawed off the rear wing/addition, to move separately. They were in the process of demolishing the original foundation, it seems.

I probably hang out with too many Economist readers, but when I hear "Bretton Woods," I think of a system of monetary management, as opposed to a zip line park--thus my bemusement when I saw this brochure.

After dinner, I ended up at Met Coffee House--a small independent place with great desserts in a former bank building. A coffeehouse, tiramisu, and postcards... a perfect way to wrap up an evening.

I'll have to keep the White Mountains in mind for future camping and hiking--getting up there is only about 2 hours from Bird & Jen's. For reference, for future trips--there is a scenic railway that leaves from North Conway, and heads up to the White Mountains.

Need to try that out sometime.


Last Weekend: Wilderness First Aid

One of the rationales for my solo camping trip was to figure out the gaps in my wilderness knowledge, when I didn't have other people to rely on. One thing that I realized I only had minimal training in was first aid/medicine. Also, in general, basic first aid is up there on my list of "general life skills for making myself into a more useful human being" (there are loads of others on that list that I'm not making any headway on, but hey).

So I finally raised my activation energy to do something about this, and went to a two-day weekend class on Wilderness First Aid offered by SOLO School in Conway, NH:

Accidents happen. People get hurt, sick, or lost. The temperature drops, the wind picks up, and it starts to rain. Would you know what to do? Many backcountry emergencies are preventable, and even when bad things happen, sometimes the wrong care can make things worse. By learning a few basic skills, you can make the difference between a good outcome and a bad oneā€”and maybe even save a life.

The school has a great campus (a few buildings off the main road), and the instructors did a great job of mixing classroom instruction with outdoor demonstrations and "scenarios"--a portion of the class playing injured patients who we would have to diagnose and treat.

Our instructor was utterly fantastic--an outdoorsy, rock climbing, working EMT/firefighter... who was also a seriously cute blonde woman. Yep... afraid it was quite easy to pay attention in class ;). But seriously--she was a great instructor--very dynamic, funny (plenty of EMT-style black humor), and experienced. She did a good job making us realize the limitations that we will have in the backcountry--she would describe a set of circumstances that a patient might present with, and then say, with a pixieish smile, "... and then they'll die. It's sad. But there's not really anything you can do."

The course had far too much information to talk about in detail. A few interesting points:
  • They gave guidance in judging relative priorities--e.g., a patient looks like they might have suffered a neck and spine injury, and the head needs to be immobilized in the neutral/rest position... but obviously, if the airway is blocked, duh--you gotta do something, or they will die very soon... so move that head. The usual airway, breathing, circulation checks.

  • One of the priorities in wilderness first aid is that you're not going to be treating most problems out in the woods--so the priority is to figure out what is going on with the patient, record all the important information, and get that to folks who can do the medevac. Such as--judging whether there was a spinal injury (need to bring in enough rescuers to carry somebody out in a neck immobilization rig), time of injury, responsiveness, number of people in the party left at the site and their condition (cold, tired, hungry), etc.

  • New limits in personal space discomfort! One of the intial tests you ought to do is called a "chunk check"--hand-checking the head, torso (including spine), hips, and thighs for signs of major, immediately life-threatening injuries. There's the risk that if you don't go through systematically, you might be missing a major injury on the underside of a patient, if you're concentrating on that broken arm. So we needed to do a full "squeeze/prod/feel" on a partner (a complete stranger... although it made me grin when the instructor described the procedure as, "it should feel a bit like a massage.") A bit outside my personal comfort zone, but good practice for sure.

  • One of the things when doing a secondary assessment is called a, "Last In and Out"--last meal/drink, and last bowel movement. This actually has some pretty real-world applications--stories of kids in group camping trips who came down with abdominal pains serious enough to require medevac, because they were unable/unwilling to use the primitive facilities. It reminds me of a story from a David Sedaris' books on his childhood Greek-American summer camp experience:

    Camp lasted a month, during which time I never once had a bowel movement. I was used to having a semiprivate bathroom and could not bring myself to occupy one of the men's room stalls, fearful that someone might recognize my shoes or, even worse, not see my shoes at all and walk in on me. Sitting down three times a day for a heavy Greek meal became an exercise akin to packing a musket. I told myself I'd sneak off during one of our field trips, but those toilets were nothing more than a hole in the floor, a hole I could have filled with no problem whatsoever.

  • A Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad makes a pretty neat improvised splint:

    One thing the instructors suggested we pay attention to--set up the inflation valve near the person's ankle. Unless you're really comfortable with putting your mouth into their crotch and blowing.

They disabused us of any grandiose ideas of working medical miracles with a pocketknife, paracord, and a Nalgene bottle out in the backcountry--i.e., "...great, then you'll be stuck on the side of a mountain with a corpse with a few pen barrels sticking out of his throat." She sought to keep us on a realistic footing--"Mostly, you're going to see cuts, scrapes, breaks, allergic reactions... maybe hypothermia or heat stroke... stuff like that."

Most students were there to meet requirements for becoming a camp counsellor/scouting group leader, or continuing re-certification. But the folks who were there of their own accord were some pretty interesting characters. Such as an electrical generator operator at Beth Israel Deaconess hospital who is having a go at making a living working in the wilderness, instead of a 120 degree boiler room. Or a car-free woman who biked in from Portland, ME, who was in the process of bailing from a 9-to-5 job to go lead cycling tours for a living (nope, not single, in case you were about to needle me about that).

It was interesting to note that many of the topics we covered in class are things I am personally familiar with, just from my life experiences:
  • Seeing a friend go into a diabetic hypoglycemic state (and seeing how he behaved), and how they got him out of it
  • Seeing a coworker have a seizure, rolling him on his side to keep him from choking on his vomit, and then running to go summon medical help
  • Having a friend who had his neck broken (hangman's fracture), walked away only reporting a sore neck, and then had to spend six months in a halo neck brace
  • Knowing somebody whose torso was run over by a truck and lived to tell about it--they informed us that the torso can withstand 2000 lbs of compression

Anyway, if anybody has an opportunity to take this class, I'd strongly recommend it. I'm considering going back for the week-long Wilderness First Responder class. And in general, getting further down my list of "general life skills for making myself into a more useful human being" would be awesome too. Perhaps the motorcycle safety course...