Metric Side Effects

A recent thread on Mountain Project caught my interest, when someone asked why US guidebooks give the length of rappels in feet but ropes are sold in metres.  At the time of writing the thread has just reached seven pages of debate on the merits of U.S. customary units vs. the SI units.  While the thread title mentioned “imperial units”, it’s worth noting that the imperial units are actually different from the U.S. units.  This is why the British pint of 20 fluid ounces is larger than the American pint of 16 fluid ounces.  (Of note, those fluid ounces also differ by about 4%.)  Just to kick a little more sand at the U.S. system, I’ll mention the odd bit of trivia that the international foot and the U.S. survey foot are also very slightly different.  (Only some U.S. states use the survey foot.)

But I digress… the argument online rather quickly diverted into a debate about the merits of decimalization, with at least one poster very much attached to inches divided into halves, quarters, and eighths.  While decimalization is not strictly the same as metrication (or “going metric”), it certainly is strongly associated with it!  It occurred to me that a few other concepts also come along with metrication, which is what this post is about.  I suspect many non-metric folk are largely unaware of these side benefits, so this post is for them. Continue reading

Chamonix 2015, Days 1 and 2

In July of 2015 I found myself in Basel on business.  Only 4.5 hours by train from the Chamonix valley, and desirous to escape the heat wave made worse by the Swiss aversion to air conditioning (it’s not strictly illegal, just rather onerous to obtain the necessary permits), I took a few vacation days to fit in some alpine climbing.  By happy coincidence the mountain guide Mark Houston had an opening in his schedule and I was able to obtain his services for the adventure.

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Helmets: My Two Cents

Earlier this summer a question on the Great Outdoors StackExchange site led me to look further into the standards for climbing helmets.  The question itself, a basic “can I use my bicycle helmet for climbing”, was fairly simple and has been asked many times in many places.  The development of lightweight foam climbing helmets has also caused some confusion in this area, with even experienced people confused as to where these new designs sit on the spectrum from traditional hard-shell climbing helmets and ultra-ventilated bicycling helmets.

For example, one person wrote: “there are helmets sold as climbing helmets which are basically one-hit-wonders. Those are constructed similar to bike helmets that are meant to crack as they absorb the force of an impact. Once they are so compromised they are pretty much useless. A proper mountaineering helmet would be one built with high impact plastics and other shock absorbing features that allows them to absorb multiple impacts and keep on ticking.

My immediate thought was this writer has rather unrealistic expectations about both types of helmets.  As you’ll see at the end of this post, the relevant climbing (and cycling) helmet standards call for each test helmet to receive impacts in a few different spots (e.g. two on the crown, one on each side, etc.).  Contrary to many expectations, the bicycle helmet standards seem to have just as much emphasis on these “multiple impacts” as do the climbing helmet standards!  Additionally, most “hardshells” currently on the market are actually single-impact hybrid designs.  So, let’s dig into this a bit more…

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Shoulder Season

Lake Aloha

California’s Desolation Wilderness has far more trees than the name would suggest.  The choice of photo is purely coincidental.

To reach Aloha Lake from the Echo Lakes trailhead one passes through an area marked “mosquito pass” (at least according to one trail marker).  At the time we visited, snow still covered the higher elevations, though patches of broad-leafed plants gave hints to the insectile clouds summer would bring.  Hiking in autumn, or at least after the first snow, provides a welcome escape from mosquitos, and gear also stays much cleaner with a few inches of snow covering the ground.

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The Party is On

For a quick update, the following:

  • Yes, I am still alive, and back in the States.
  • If you haven’t been paying attention to Europe, now’s a good time to grab some popcorn.

Now for the longer thoughts.  For some time (well, since the March 2009 bottom) there had been a general sense on the web that many traditional technical analysis methods weren’t behaving correctly.  The market just continued a slow grind upward, mostly due, as Zerohedge put it, to a pair of computers trading shares back and forth to each other.   Now, those signals are working again.

There’s also other good news; the civil suit against Goldman Sachs, and a Bloomberg story about Wall Street banks’ massive fleecing of taxpayers in the municipal bond market.  The stories aren’t the news; as is usual the details have generally been known for years in advance.  The news is that someone in authority seems finally willing to take notice of the problem.

Ob Griechenland über die Zeit wirklich in der Lage ist, diese Leistungskraft aufzubringen, das wage ich zu bezweifeln.

– Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann, 2010-05-13

As for Europe, most of the resolutions over Greece have been largely hand-waving. As in the U.S., leaders are still preoccupied with blaming speculators and trying to assure investors that everything is perfectly fine.  While my earlier expectations of a European “summer of rage” have been delayed, I think the season is now upon us.

In the end, cash flow is what matters.  The greatest threat to Greece, and to the rest of the EU, is that promised bailout monies are unable to be had.  Accounting standards may be adjusted, GDP can be gamed, but eventually payments must be made.  Failed bond auctions, like Spain encountered yesterday, will only add to the pressure.