Monday, November 24, 2008

Jugging Out of Hidden Cave

Here's another photo from my caving trip a couple of weeks ago. Jimmy Williamson took it as I was climbing the rope on mechanical ascenders to get out of Hidden Cave. "Jugging" up a rope is a pretty strenuous exercise no matter what technique one uses, but we use the "frog" setup, employing one handled ascender, attached to a foot loop (with a safety line attached to the harness), in tandem with a non-handled ascender, attached directly to the harness and held flat against the chest by an improvised "chest harness." The "frog" setup is a simple but efficient system -- read more about it here:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

I'm sort of a compulsive list-maker, and periodically I like to list my favorite things by category. For what it's worth, here are a few of my favorites:
Food: Steak. (Sirloin will do, generally.)
Beverage: Vanilla Pepsi from Blake's Lotaburger (I love to eat the ice as I'm downing the drink, so I ask for extra ice), followed by Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew. (I sure wish these drinks were [more] available in non-caffeinated versions!)
Snack: Yoplait yogurt (peach or strawberry).
Musical Group: The Who (I'm more song-oriented now than when I was younger, but if I have to choose a favorite group, it's the Who).
Song: "Typical" by Mutemath. (These days, I really don't have a favorite song as such, but I really like "Typical.")
Book: (nonfiction) Camp 4: Recollections of a Yosemite Rockclimber, by Steve Roper; (fiction) Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall.
Movie: The Sting (1973).
TV Show: MXC, SportsCenter. (I don't get to watch MXC much anymore, since it's been consigned to a late-night slot on Spike TV, but I still find the show's innuendo-laced English commentary, dubbed onto video from the old Japanese television show Takeshi's Castle, to be absolutely hilarious. As for SportsCenter, well, I may not like to watch many actual sporting events on TV anymore, but I still like to watch the highlights.)
Place: Ruidoso (NM), Pinegrove Cabin (CO), Sandia Mountains (NM). (For years, I practically lived for my trips to Las Vegas, but it's pretty much fallen out of my life now.)
Sport: Soccer. (I especially like to watch the English Premier League and the Italian "Serie A," although our satellite TV package doesn't include any channels that regularly show European soccer.)
Team: The U.S. men's soccer team. (The U.S. isn't in the upper echelon of national sides, but I still root for them and watch them every chance I get.)
Clothes: Jeans, long-sleeve t-shirt, trail-runners, ball cap.
Camping Spot: Oliver Lee Memorial State Park (NM), Villanueva State Park (NM), Sentinel Camp (Guadalupe Mountains, NM), Deer Pass (Sandia Mountains, NM).
Video Game: Dr. Mario. (We still have "Dr. Mario" for the old Nintendo system, but I'd have to learn to hook it up to play it.)
Cereal: Cocoa Pebbles.
Flavor of Gatorade: Glacier Freeze.
Scripture: Ether 12:27.
Website: National Review Online.
Car: Mitsubishi Eclipse.
Guitar: Fender Stratocaster. (I'm starting to lust after the Gretsch Electromatic Double Jet, however -- check it out:
Decadent Meal: Fried eggs and sausage. (Just thinking about them starts my arteries to harden.)
Genre of Music: Mid-60s "Garage Punk." (1966 was a watershed year -- tons of cool music came out then.)
Temple: Albuquerque. (Of course -- but I still have fond memories of going to the aesthetically pleasing Las Vegas Temple, with all its woodwork and almost-complete lack of interior right angles.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sleeping In Limbo

I've now been off sleep meds for 14 weeks, but my sleep habits haven't improved noticeably in the interim, despite the fact that I do feel I've become more accustomed to the various physical discomforts or environmental issues that I've discussed in previous posts. In other words, I don't think the bulk of the problem lies in my sleep environment, nor do I believe it's primarily a psychological issue, as I don't have any particularly crushing psychological concerns or burdens at present. All of which leaves me wondering if my "VPAP Adapt SV" breathing machine really is fully remedying my problems with complex sleep apnea.

Adding weight to my suspicions is the fact that the results of my last sleep study indicated that I might do better with increased minimum/maximum pressure settings on my machine. However, when I tried to enter those settings, I quickly discovered that the unit I have is an older model that won't go above the levels at which it was originally set when I got it in February. (In contrast, the machine I used at the lab for the sleep study was a newer "Enhanced" model that provides higher pressure levels.) That obviously could be a major problem, given that my insurance company and I have already made payments for ten or eleven months on the thing: (1) the medical-supply company wouldn't simply hand me a new "Enhanced" unit out of inventory; (2) my insurance company won't start all over, paying for a new machine from scratch; and (3) the manufacturer, Resmed, might not accept a trade-in, with or without additional consideration.

I'm informed, however, that the doctor's office and the medical-supply company are negotiating with Resmed to try to get it to trade out my machine for an "Enhanced" unit. They seem pretty optimistic that it will happen, although I don't yet know if any strings will be attached. I can't say for certain that the "Enhanced" model will solve my residual night-time breathing problems, but at this point it looks like my only chance to start sleeping all night without resuming regular use of hypnotic medications; thus, right now I'm in wait-and-see mode. However, something has to happen soon, because I'm actually feeling more run-down and miserable now than when I was taking combinations of prescription and OTC sleep meds every night!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

November Caving Trip to the Guads

I took my long-anticipated caving trip to the Guadalupe Mountains (in southeastern New Mexico) on November 7-9, 2008 with Rod Williamson, Jimmy Williamson (Rod's son), and Brett Colter (a friend of Rod's and the son of Craig Colter, a member of our ward). Our friend Jim Rasmussen had planned to go, but finally he was too busy at work to get away; consequently we ended up being a party of four. (Taking only four people was a little bit of a waste in that the USFS caving permits were, as usual, for six people, but at least it enabled us to travel down in one vehicle -- Rod's four-seat Toyota Tacoma.) We left Albuquerque at about 10:00 am on Friday the 7th and stopped to eat lunch at Chili's in Roswell; it was already starting to get dark by the time we made it up to the high Guads, so we decided to pitch tents first at Texas Camp and then walk back up the road to go see our first cave, the entrance passage of Cottonwood Cave. Cottonwood Cave has some huge, very beautiful formations, although the entrance passage (as opposed to the second parallel passage, the entrance to which is gated and kept locked) isn't much of an adventure. Later we fixed dinner (I had decided to eat well on this trip, so I had stir-fry with chicken chunks), lit a campfire, and shot the bull before retiring.

The next day we planned to do Black Cave first and then come back up the hill to Hidden Cave; however, I was a little unclear how to get to Black Cave, and we ended up on the fork in the road that goes to the trail to get to Hidden Cave. Rather than backtrack and have to come back later, we decided to do Hidden first. A combined 80' rappel is required to get from the entrance to the "lower" half of the cave, which is about all the adventure on a rope that I can handle these days. (A second cave entrance to the northwest has now been blocked off.) We had a lot of fun scrambling around in the "lower" half of the cave, and in the end we didn't even bother going to see the "upper" half. At one point I jugged out of the cave to fetch a second rope so that the other guys could do a short rappel at the end of the longest passage. Unfortunately, as I was rapping back into the cave, Dorine's camera fell out of my pocket and dropped about 40'; needless to say, it didn't work too well after that! (I bought a replacement camera at Wal-Mart in Roswell on the way home.)

Later, we ate lunch back at the truck and then set out to find Black Cave, which Rod and I had already visited twice on previous trips. I thought had a pretty good idea how to find it without using the step-log provided by the USFS, but if there was a constant on this trip, it was that my memory of dimensions and distances was often way off. We did, finally, find the cave, but not before Rod had a few doubts about my cave-finding skills! All of the caves we saw were pretty moist, but Black Cave was sopping wet -- slippery and quite treacherous. By that time of the day I didn't really care much about seeing the whole cave, but we did slip-slide our way down to the end, poking around a little in one of the parallel passages before heading back out. We were hoping to get back to camp before dark, and we succeeded, but unfortunately, one of Rod's tires suffered a sidewall puncture on the way back. We put the spare tire on back at camp, but our not having a spare tire pretty well killed the idea of making the rough drive up to the "Pink" parking area the next day (Sunday) and hiking to Pink Dragon Cave.

That night I had an excellent sirloin steak -- medium-rare with Montreal seasoning -- for dinner, along with mixed veggies and a couple of hashbrown patties. Rod and I later walked down to the Dark Canyon Lookout (which has a decent privy) and had a nice talk on the way. We camped out again, then packed up and headed back the next morning. I'd like to go back sometime in the next year, but only if we can get permits to some different caves (hopefully not Sentinel Cave, which is still the stuff of my nightmares). It might be worth going on a cave-restoration trip just to see other caves -- Hell Below Cave, Three Fingers Cave, the lower part of Cottonwood Cave, maybe the Cave of the Madonna, etc. We'll see.

[The photos above show (a) the "Chinese Wall" formation in Hidden Cave, (b) Brett, Rod, and Jimmy in Hidden Cave; (c) a view out over the Guads from the Dark Canyon Lookout tower; and (d) our campsite at Texas Camp (a favorite caver's hangout). The video embed below shows me doing the first 25' or so of the drop into Hidden Cave.]

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Ready to Join the Grateful Dead

We had a Halloween party at work on Thursday, October 30, and this is how I dressed for it. I look at this picture and think "Yikes!" (The guitar is a Squier "Affinity" Telecaster, with a great neck and extremely low string action, that I picked up on eBay several years ago.)

[Update 7/7/10: This picture was taken in Conference Room B9 in Building 880 at Sandia, which no longer exists. Facilities, in its infinite wisdom, commandeered the space this spring and tore out what was one of the best conference rooms in the company. It will probably end up as part of another cubicle farm.]

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Postmortem

Well, the election went about as badly as I feared it might, with the Republican Party getting waxed at every level. I'm afraid of what Barack Obama will do as president, but there is a bright side: the election of an African-American (which I view as an extremely positive notion in the abstract) should lead to the "descendancy" of professional grievance-mongers and racketeering race-baiters like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. As Stuart Taylor noted in the National Journal, the question remains which Obama will show up in January to be sworn in: the left-wing ideologue that his record indicates he has always been, or the post-partisan, post-racial "agent of hope and change" that he campaigned as. I agree with Taylor that if Obama pursues a purely leftist agenda, he will be a complete failure as president (Jimmy Carter II!), but, unlike Taylor, I have little confidence that Obama knows how to be anything but a left-wing ideologue. I think we'll know for certain early on, when Obama is faced with decisions such as: (a) whether or not to reinstate the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" (which would be clearly aimed at censoring conservative talk radio); (b) whether or not to repeal the Patriot Act and other legislation enacted to fight the War on Terror; (c) whether or not to close down the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and (d) whether or not to end the U.S.'s military involvement in Iraq in general. However Obama chooses to govern, he will almost certainly disappoint either his DailyKos base or the millions of moderates who voted for him in the expectation that he will be president of the entire country, not just one extreme sector of it. (As Jonah Goldberg observed this morning, if Obama governs to the center, it will be good for the country, and if he governs to the left, it will be good for the Republican Party.)

What enabled Obama to win the election? Clearly, the majority of the country wants to take a different course, and, just as clearly, George W. Bush's unpopularity has created tremendous ill will toward the Republican brand. Yet the polls seemed to indicate that the ongoing financial crisis was what finally turned the tide inexorably in the Democrats' favor. The meltdown was caused primarily by the subprime mortgage crisis, yet it was the Dems who fomented dubious mortgage-lending practices, first by enacting legislation such as the Community Reinvestment Act and then by fiercely resisting heightened regulation of FNMA and FHLMC at a time when it was obvious to most people in Washington that things were going very wrong in the home-loan markets. That they were then able, in a classic case of projection, to direct blame at the Bush Administration -- and all those greedy capitalists on Wall Street -- is ironic in the extreme. (The mainstream media assisted them greatly in that endeavor, which underscores the fact that, contrary to the wishful thinking in one of my earlier posts, they still have great power to influence public opinion, or at least the opinions of the squishy swing voters who decide elections in this country. The sad thing is that the media obviously have come to see that as their raison d'ĂȘtre, becoming the de facto propaganda arm of the Democratic Party.)

John McCain, then, was the victim of a "perfect storm" in which fate and chance repeatedly conspired to kill his chances of winning. In the end, he was left throwing various pieces of poop at his opponent in the futile hope that something would stick, which is never a position in which a candidate for office wants to find himself. It could also be argued that Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, wasn't ready for the national stage, although I still believe otherwise. She failed to help McCain capture the moderate middle, but, with the unfair, relentless battering she received at the hands of the media -- which highlighted their boundless capacity for seeking to achieve the destruction of women and minorities who dare to stray from the liberal plantation -- it's difficult to see now how any running mate could have done that. I hope, moving forward, that she stays in the national spotlight, as I have no doubt she'll prove her critics wrong over time.

As far as New Mexico goes, we ended up with a congressional delegation composed entirely of Democrats, which makes it hard to dispute that we are now a solidly "blue" state. Unfortunately, Tom Udall as senator will be no Pete Domenici -- he's more like a featherweight version of the already-lightweight Jeff Bingaman -- suggesting that our two senators will wield very little influence in Washington. That doesn't bode well for New Mexico's national labs, and, honestly, I'm not sure either Bingaman or Udall really cares, notwithstanding the tremendous economic impact that federal spending has in this state. Our new congressman in the First District will be Martin Heinrich, a former city councilor who might not have defeated Heather Wilson (our departing congresswoman, who decided to vacate her seat to run in the senate primary election), given even the current political environment.

In closing, I wanted to say something about the Bush presidency. Although he will be leaving office as one of the most unpopular presidents of all time, I tend to believe that historians will be kind to George W. Bush, and for three simple reasons: (1) after 9/11, his policies prevented further large-scale terrorist attacks against America or its interests abroad; (2) the establishment of a middle-eastern democratic beachhead in Iraq may still serve to quell the fascistic sort of fervor that gives rise to terrorist impulses in the rest of the Islamic world; and (3) his humanitarian initiatives in Africa have already done much good for a continent about which the rest of the world has largely forgotten. In four years, I think we could easily be looking back with great nostalgia for the Bush administration.