Be Careful Out There

It’s been a couple months since I rolled up the hem of my shirt and did some serious blog-related navel-gazing. Yet today is meta-Monday and the last day of May and the day after I posted my one-hundred-and fiftieth daily blog post and just one of those days when I got to thinking about all the bits of good or bad advice online and has me wondering if I’m contributing to that in a meaningful, positive way.

Consider this photo.

Someone influenced us to go hiking there last summer. I don’t remember who. A guidebook or a blog or something we’d read in the news or maybe just a friend.

We do that. We are inspired by others and then inspire in turn.

I took this photo while standing part way on the ascent of the Wilcox pass and had turned my camera towards this mountain range vista that included the Athabasca Glacier, Hilda Peak, and Mount Andromeda. Another photo from this trip has shown up as fodder for a different blog post. Yet another pic is the profile photo on my Twitter account.

The well-trod trail served as a picturesque vantage for a collection of other peaks I’ll likely never climb but, perhaps, aspire to someday have the inclination to visit.

A couple of people who I don’t know and likely did not inspire were otherwise inspired to climb one of those pictured peaks. They got caught in an avalanche over the weekend and didn’t make it home to post their photos or inspire others to follow.

It was just one more story among a multitude of sad news over the weekend, but one that tweaked in my mind given that every day I’ve been writing words that may have the secondary effect of encouraging people to go out hiking and running into the trails, build roaring fires in their backyards, cook with blisteringly hot slabs of iron, and generally be adventurous.

That’s a big part of why I write these things.

I assume it’s a big part of why others read those words.

Inspiring each other: while none of us is fully responsible for the actions of others, whether those actions cause you to burn your hand on a hot grill, trip on a root while you’re running and bruise your arm, or climb a dangerous mountain and get buried in an avalanche, we do have a responsibility to give each other information that is correct and careful. We also have a moral obligation to remind each other to participate safely no matter what you’re up to.

One hundred and fifty posts into a daily blog has amounted to one hundred and fifty ideas, notions, thoughts, curiosities, and (I hope) inspirations for living a slightly more interesting life. I’ve probably got at least another hundred and fifty left in me right now, so as you read and ponder and lace up or light those coals or season your cast iron, just remember: be careful out there.

Reminder: Blogs are not a replacement for professional advice. Please read my note on safety and safe participation.

Tech Help: Fixing a Photographer’s Nightmare

I turned on my computer this meta Monday morning and was greeted with the following message in the black and white boot screen:

WARNING: Please back-up your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent and cause unpredictable fail.

It seems that my life never fails to present me with timely topics to write about.

But you ask, why am I writing about computer tech problems on a cast iron blog?

If you are an outdoors guy like me or just love to take photos and video of your travel adventures, chances are you too have gigabytes of media stored in fragile spaces.

Yet, all of this epic computer fail wasn’t necessarily a surprise.

When I built myself a new computer a few years ago I had salvaged my data backup drive from my old machine. It was a two terabyte drive that also happened to be where I stored all my photos and my music library. I popped it out of the old and dropped it into the new, and voila… all my media were on the new computer. Yet over the last couple weeks, working from home from this machine, some odd noises have been emitting from the big black box and I’ve been a terrible techie and basically ignored the early warning signs.

Imminent hard drive failure warnings are something like a stage four cancer diagnosis for your computer. You don’t deal with that stuff tomorrow… you act. Today.

Now, to be clear, I do have a cloud backup of all those photos in case of an epic emergency like a fire or a flood, and local backups scattered across old hard drives and such, but my core library is… well, was this drive.

I write “was” because as of this morning that first action step was to immediately start to move all that data to a newer drive…. all seven hundred plus gigabytes of what I hadn’t copied already. (The music files are up next and that’s also nearly a terabyte of data I need to contend with!) All in all, I’m looking at about six hours of data migration today in a race against the ticking timebomb of my hard drive giving up and deciding not to work anymore. A race against a fragile piece of equipment which I need to push to its very limits by copying every last byte of data it has stored inside it. A recipe for a technical nightmare.

Cue the epic action movie soundtrack:

Hard Drives are not Cast Iron…

They are the exact opposite actually… temporary, fragile, and mysterious in their operation. Even so, I use the former every day to share my love of the latter.

So, if you got here by Googling and are mid-panic and wondering how to deal with this kind of error yourself, here’s my advice:

First, stop whatever else you are doing and get that data off the failing hard drive. Put it on another hard disk in your machine. Put it on an external drive. Drag it onto another computer. Move it to memory cards. Push it to USB sticks. Write it onto recordable media like DVDs or even CDs if that’s what you have handy. Whatever you can do to save all those precious files, particularly files you don’t have other copies of, cannot replace, or would be time consuming or expensive to restore. Save as much data as you can first.

Second, figure out a backup solution (or two). Backup external hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days and even a hundred bucks to store a decade worth of photos and video is a relatively small investment to protect your memories and work. Free cloud storage products are hard to find anymore, but if you don’t mind paying a hundred bucks a year you can store a lot of data with Apple or Google or Dropbox or any of a dozen reputable companies who will keep your data safe in their datacentres. Watch for fees for things often called “data egress” which means you pay extra to download those files when you need them back.

Third, don’t mess around with broken drives. Get that old hard drive out of your system and replace it. There are lots of software programs that claim to fix or restore failing drives, but too often these are temporary fixes at best, fixes that give you time to nab your data before it’s done for good.

Focus: Low Angle Perspectives Bring Visual Interest to Snapshots

Regular readers may have noticed that I often include my own photos with many of my daily blog posts. It’s not an accident that I often have a pretty great shot to accompany something that I’m writing about, or have actually just sat down and written about a photo that I liked.

This is because I count photography among the most consistent of my hobbies.

There are so many tips and tricks that photographer use to make their shots more visually interesting, and many of those do not require any special equipment. On this meta Monday I thought I’d dig a little deeper into that.

One example of a simple trick is just this: adjusting your perspective.

How often have you come back from vacation and sorted through the hundreds of photos you’ve taken and, while you may have many beautiful shots, you also felt a little blah about the snapshot style that you stuck with for the whole trip?

The thing about cameras is that whether you are using something with an eyepiece or a screen, we so often hold them up to our face-level to snap.

But hot tip: your face is not actually part of the photo-taking process. In fact, it may be contributing to that underwhelmed feeling that comes with mundane snapshots.

I think as humans we tend to find engaging things that seem familiar but are just a little bit askew. When you take a snapshot, the scene, angles, perspectives are all familiar, but the photo isn’t as engaging as it could be because it’s almost too normal.

When the scene seems a little bit too normal, I often find myself crouching down, setting my camera on or close to the ground, or even just holding the camera near a hip, A simple change of the angle of the photo can create a photo with an unusual line of sight into a scene that is something our eyes are used to seeing all the time.

This off-kilter perspective can make visual interest and that can often lead you to a great photograph.

Two Months of Blogging Lessons

The thing about writing a daily blog is that you’ve got to, well… write daily. I’m not looking for pity or sympathy. In fact, I signed up for this and I’m loving it as a way to start my weekdays or settle into a weekend.

It does often take effort to figure out my topic, though.

Today is the start of month three of daily blogging, and this post is number sixty.

Yes, sixty!

I’m not looking to ramp up my traffic. Obviously I’m not making money from more traffic. (No ads!) But I am interested in why people are visiting. Two months of data and fifty-nine previous posts are not much data to go on for a tried and true analysis of what people are interested in reading about, but it might be enough to give me an insight or two into coming up with some new topic ideas.

According to my internal stats, my top five posts of the last two months are:

1. Comics: Backpacking with Kids, a post where I shared some of my old comic strips recalling the deep woods inspiration and the struggles of parenting in the wilderness.

2. Snowshoes on a Frozen Suburban Creek, a fairly long “adventure journal” post about an afternoon spent snowshoeing on a local frozen creek, and had some pretty photos to go along with it.

3. Honey Brown Sourdough (Part Two), a post detailing the results of my honey brown been sourdough experiment, and a post I dropped into the daily thread of a local morning radio show conversation about bread giving me lots of new visitors.

4. Backpacking: Foggy Mountain Bridges, a post talking about a multi-day backpacking adventure, the experience of hiking with kids, and with a pretty nice photo to accompany it.

5. Guinness Sourdough (Part Two), another post detailing beer bread and the results of my Guinness beer sourdough experiment, and not unintentionally dropping the name of a famous stout into the title.

Yet none of this makes much sense when it comes to what people are actually searching for and clicking on. Based on my Google Search Console results, the searches that castironguy.ca appeared in most were:

chasing waterfalls iceland
backyardultra
cookout cast
rome waffle iron
campfire waffle iron

The only reasonable conclusion I can make from these bits of data is to mash this all together and generate some random blog posts I should probably write.

Right?

For example:

Backyard Ultra Race Comics could be a series of dramatic cartoons detailing the epic story of an underdog runner training for an ultra-marathon but then ultimately settling for the disappointment of an online-only virtual event hosted on Zoom during a pandemic where instead of traversing the wilds of Canada on foot, he does laps around his suburban neighbourhood. I could probably re-use a lot of my background scenery art.

Backpacking Beer Bread for Kids could be a deeply researched article on the effects of the family spending a week in the woods with a bag of flour, a sourdough starter, a case of beer, and two teenagers who are still too young to consume alcohol (at least in Canada!) The premise of this writing would be that since kids complain about nearly everything they eat (unless it’s chicken fingers and french fries) eventually, far from civilization, they would come to love and cherish the nutty flavour of campfire baking.

Icelandic Sourdough Campfire Waffles could be an article (or a series of articles) about a weeklong trek to a remote Icelandic waterfall under which I will set up a campsite, make some batter from a blend of fresh glacial water and my sourdough starter, and then cook waffles in a hot cast iron. The photos will be spectacular. I’m currently open to a sponsor to pay for this trip after the pandemic ends.

…or, maybe I’ll just stick to my regular, simpler topics.