Lightweight Camping & San Jacinto Inventory

I went backpacking again after a two year lull.  Twins will do that to you.  Over the years I’ve turned into one of those crazy ultra-light people, looking for any way to trim the pounds and ounces.  I’m trying to keep better track of what I bring, what was useful, and what I need to bring next time.  Here is the packing list for this trip (weight order) with a few comments.

  • Water: two full Nalgenes, one full 70 oz. (2L) bladder – 10 lbs, 8oz.  Fortunately we found water on the trail, otherwise this would have been far too little.  I forgot to bring a little extra water for cooking and cleaning.  One more Nalgene would have been good.
  • Sleeping gear: one Thermarest, sleeping bag (20F synthetic), and footprint – 4 lbs 14 oz.  The footprint was probably unnecessary and I could look into a 3/4 Thermarest to trim weight.  A mosquito cover for the sleeping bag would have been useful.
  • Backpack: 30L capacity – 3 lbs.  This was a new pack, smaller than my Gregory and much better for a one/two night trip.
  • Cooking equipment: one pot with handle and lid, Whisper-lite stove, fuel – 2 lbs 13 oz.  I could have trimmed the fuel by half, but wanted to be safe.  The salt shaker would have been useful for not much extra weight.  A one-cup measure would be good for the MREs.
  • Toys: GPS, camera, binoculars – 2 lbs 3 oz.  The GPS and camera are a must.  The binocs are frivolous but nice to have; I guarantee if you leave them at home, you’ll end up wanting them.
  • Survival: knife, headlamp, flashlight, compass, map, rope – 1 lb 7oz.  I used the knife, headlamp, and map.  The other stuff needs to come along every time.  A basic first aid kit would be good to have.
  • Food: one dinner and dessert, oatmeal packet, raisins, two bars, Ultima powder – 1 lb 6 oz.  .  This turned out to be the right amount of food for two days / one night, but I should bring more treats next time.  Nothing like some Skittles or gummy bears to raise the spirits during a long hike.  Mark had the right idea with some popcorn in salt and oil.
  • Water purification: filter and water drops – 1 lb 2 oz.  The drops are a must, even if there is well water.  We used the filter but turns out we didn’t need it.  If we didn’t find running water at Wellman Cienega, it would have been very useful.
  • Hiking poles – 1 lb 1oz.  Must have every time.
  • Personal items: toothbrush and paste, glasses, wallet, watch, bug spray / sunscreen, suds – 15 oz.  I don’t think there’s any way around bringing this stuff.  The next step is drilling holes in the toothbrush handle, but I don’t think I’m that crazy yet.  Bug spray / sunscreen combo was vital for keeping mosquitoes at bay.
  • Extra clothing: one long sleeve t-shirt and extra socks – 12 oz.  The t-shirt was invaluable.  Extra socks were unnecessary but nice to have.

Total weight this time was 30 lbs 1 oz.  Next time I can probably drop the extra socks, binoculars, some of the fuel, the water filter if there is running water, and decrease the size of my personal care items.  Must haves for next time are better snacks, a small pillow, one extra Nalgene, one-cup measure, salt shaker, and a first aid kit.

Cash for Clunkers

Is the program almost out of money?

I briefly considered participating in this, but I’m too cheap to spend more than $10k on a new car. Seeing news on how popular this program is got me thinking about unintended consequences, though. Conventional wisdom says that the most economical car is the one sitting in your driveway. How many folks out there just took on a car payment that they can’t really afford? The MPG improvement with the new car is likely canceled out by the environmental cost of the energy and raw materials used to create the new car.

Wouldn’t it be nice if people would use their down payment to maintain their existing car and plow the would-be car payment into the stock market as a contingency fund or for a future all-cash car purchase in a few years?

Bookmooch Update

Last year I published some thoughts on the future of Bookmooch and some graphs that seemed to support my experiences using the site. Almost another year has passed and I thought I would update the chart again.  I don’t have much time these days to analyze in more detail, so I’ll only give a few thoughts and comments about my latest experiences.

In the past six months I have consistently added more books to my wishlist, but have seen an abrupt decline in the number of wishlist books becoming available. This may have something to do with books being reserved for others without ever being available to the general public. It may also just be an indication that I desire popular books people aren’t willing to give away.  I did find my recent experiences with Bookmooch summed up nicely by this quote from the recent survey:

When I first joined Bookmooch a couple of years ago, wishlisted books were much more readily available and I was constantly mooching and sending. With all of the changes, I very rarely get notification for any books on my wishlist. Often when I do get a notification, the book is already reserved for someone else or it is no longer available.

The graph below is an update of the one I published on 9/24/08, showing points, inventory, # of wishlist books, and number of mooches over time.  All of these have been normalized to the number of members listing at least one book in inventory, with the last one per 100 users.

As expected, points and wishlist books are rising while inventory is falling. I suspect there is a lot of unsatisfied demand out there, or too many points chasing too few books. The mooches / 100 users trend is showing some interesting behavior.  I did expect this to level off somewhere below 100 mooches / 100 users.  There have been a couple of periods of declining activity recently and I’m not sure what to make of that. There was also a sudden spike – maybe a purging of bad accounts?

As I mentioned before, I love the Bookmooch concept. However, I’ve recently started donating books to the library again because I find myself sitting on a pile of points with nothing to mooch and I don’t want to spend money shipping books to accumulate points I probably won’t be able to use.  That mentality certainly isn’t helping increase the availability of books.

Helping People Win at Work

Last week I attended a local PMI chapter meeting. The speaker for the evening was Garry Ridge, CEO of WD-40 Company, giving a talk on “Helping People Win at Work” and how he’s shaped the culture at WD-40 and inspired people to perform their very best. Garry was one of the best speakers I’ve heard in a long time; by the end I was ready to drop everything and go work for the guy, even if it meant pushing papers in the mail room.  During his talk you got the sense that you would never have a dull moment with Garry, and that he was loving life and wanted everyone around him to love theirs as well.

There were so many good sound bites out of the 60 minute talk, but I’ll try to share a few that I remember.  And I’ll completely butcher this, he was way more inspiring than I’ll be in my retelling.

Garry started off with an amusing anectode about an around-the-world trip capped off with what was suppose to be a quiet night in a London hotel room.  Alarm bells start going off, and after delaying for a bit,  Garry eventually finds himself in the cold night wearing only his underwear and slippers. The episode caused him to reevaluate his standing in the world; how many other ‘alarm bells’ were going off in his head that he was not paying attention to and that would leave him ill-prepared for the future?

I really liked his beliefs on mentoring and the proper context of the manager / subordinate relationship.  To paraphrase his analogy, the shepard is there on behalf the sheep; the sheep are not there on behalf of the shepard. The people you manage need your guidance and leadership to understand how to perform at a higher level, not your threats, criticism, and scorn. You are there to help them succeed; they are not there to do your bidding. This is also referred to as a Servant Leadership model.

There are no mistakes, only “learning moments”.   A learning moment occurs when you review an outcome, which may be positive or negative but never bad, and act on that to make yourself better. Of course, according to Garry, if you experience the same learning moment multiple times, “we’ll have to share you with a competitor”.

An organization needs a hierarchical set of values to drive behavior, otherwise people won’t know what to do when faced with difficult choices.

I haven’t had a chance to check out Garry’s book yet, but based on what I heard during the presentation, I’ll definitely pick it up soon.

Apollo Trivia

I’ve been completely sucked in to the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which you can follow along in real-time here.  I have to keep reminding myself that there aren’t three astronauts halfway to the moon right now.

I’ve been reading annotated mission transcripts yesterday and today, and in honor of the mission I thought I’d share a few interesting facts I’ve found.

1) The astronauts were given off-the-street Omega Speedmaster wristwatches with Velcro straps to wear during the mission. Omega has always been very proud of this fact, with numerous advertisements touting that they made the first and only watch on the moon.  The watch passed all of NASA’s rigorous testing, whereas other models from Rolex, Heuer, Breitling, etc. failed, so Omega has definitely earned bragging rights.  However, Buzz Aldrin had a different opinion of the watch, one that you certainly won’t see Omega publishing anytime soon.

It was a lousy watch to have on the surface. It just didn’t give good numbers as far as a stopwatch type thing. To have gone to all that expense and then to have crews out on the surface with just an ordinary watch, in retrospect, is a mistaken priority somewhere.

Neil Armstrong also left his watch behind in the lunar module during his first moon walk, as a backup mission timer.

2) I’ve always felt bad for Michael Collins missing out on the moon walk, but felt even worse today when I found out that he was on the far side of the moon during Neil’s and Buzz’s first steps on the surface.  As Collins orbits the moon, there is a period of about 45 minutes when the moon is between his spacecraft and the earth, blocking out all radio signals.  An estimated 500 million people watched Neil Armstrong step on the moon.  Collins was the closest man to the action but he couldn’t even hear it take place.

3) Photos of Playboy playmates accompanied the astronauts of Apollo 12.  Someone snuck in a few scanned images into the lunar surface checklists.  Check out Miss December 1968 and Miss January 1969!  Pete Conrad and Al Bean didn’t flip to those pages until a little over two hours into their moon walk.

Work Teams Concepts and Skills

In July 2005, I took an excellent class at UCSD called Work Teams Concepts and Skills.  It was one of my required classes for my project management certification.  I wasn’t expecting much out of it, but was surprised to find it very informative and applicable to many aspects of life.

In preparation for a move in a few months, I was about to throw out my notes, so I decided to copy them here for future reference before tossing them.  This is one of those posts that will be more useful for me than it will be for you, I suspect.


  • Characterizations are a form of assessment that you place on other people.  They ascribe a property to a person, like “John can’t manage a project”.  We hold these as unchangeable facts and we listen to others through our characterizations.  It can be very hard to strip these away.
  • The skills that got you the promotion are not the skills you’ll need in your new role/job.
  • Assertions are stated facts without evidence.  These will cause you to lose trust.  When you treat assessments as facts, you are viewed as opinionated and not open to new ideas.  When you make assessments without grounding them, you are seen as a windbag, someone who has an opinion about everything.
  • Transparent judgments are equivalent to invisible judgments.  You don’t have transparent judgments, they have you.  They drive your life and you have no choice in the matter.
  • Who has authority to judge you?  You need to give authority to the people you trust to make assessments about you in the domains you are concerned about.
  • An assessment is based on past events, made in the present, which shape the future.  A declaration is a stand taken in the present that shapes the future, with no historical background.
  • With a declaration, the world follows the word.  It immediately changes the future and creates a new reality.  The declaration can be valid or invalid depending on the authority of the speaker.  You create life with your declarations.
  • Expressives are a psychological state, an expression of feelings or emotions.  Interpretations can be disguised as feelings, but they shouldn’t interfere with them.  Whether I feel this or that is not subject to interpretation.
  • Conversation for Action – a request or promise or offer.  Nothing happens until a request is made.  Once the request is made, the world is changed.  There are new possibilities.  Hold people accountable for requests that aren’t made – this is a breakdown in the preparation phase.
  • A request will solve a current problem, once fulfilled.  You need to understand the context behind the request.  This opens up alternatives and opportunities.  Requests bring about action: I request [what] by [when].  A request can never be specified 100%.  There is some shared background or understanding that lets you make the request with less than 100% information.  In evaluating a request, passive resistance is not acceptable, such as not responding to the person making the request.
  • People must have the ability to say no.
  • Only the customer can declare satisfaction.
  • When promises are broken, morale decreases and people are no longer motivated to keep their own promises.  An offer is a conditional promise.
  • Anger: You hold me responsible for failed activities and projects when I don’t have the capabilities to change the core problems.  I’m held accountable for problems that I’ve inherited and you don’t listen to my problems.
  • Fear: I fear that you will view my performance as unacceptable because we are unable to deliver to our customers.
  • Resolution/Resolve: I know this better than anyone at the company and I resolve to make things better for myself and my team and meet all customer expectations.
  • Confidence: I know what needs to be done and I have been through more difficult times in the past.

Something About Myself That I Don’t Understand

In 1996, I took a flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong.  I had a window seat on a United 747.  For the bums in coach (including me), the seat configuration was 3-4-3.  There was someone in the aisle seat but no one between us.

The flight time was probably a bit longer than 14 hours.

I remember almost nothing about that flight except for this: I got out of that seat only twice, and both times only after my aisle companion got up first.

How in the hell did I survive a 14 hour flight with only two trips to stretch my legs and hit the lav?  Today the thought of a five hour cross country trip makes me curl into the fetal position and whimper.  I’m chalking it up to either a trance-like state or a complete lack of food and beverage 24 hours prior to the flight.

Million Dollar Ideas

In no particular order, here is a list of money making schemes I’ve had at various points in my life.  Feel free to steal any of these; I haven’t had much success with any of them yet.

  • Turn my personal book collection into a lending library for friends and family.  Charge them a nickel for each day the book is late.
  • Develop a website where users can import their iTunes XML file and run fancy reports on which artists, genres, etc. they like based on their star ratings.  Charge per file upload or a yearly fee for unlimited uploads.
  • In the summertime, hike a cooler of ice cold beverages to the top of your local mountain and charge $2 a pop.
  • A dead simple “I’m reading” widget in Facebook with a link to Amazon allowing me to earn sweet, sweet referral fees.
  • A wall calendar called “The Bikes of Mission Beach.”  Each month would feature a different type of funky beach cruiser and the people that ride them (this is more interesting than you might imagine).
  • A cheap but high quality real estate photography service.  Have you seen some of the pictures out there in the MLS?
  • A web identity photography package; basically, a way for people to get semi-professional photos for, Myspace, etc.

The Future of Bookmooch

For the past year or so I’ve been using Bookmooch, a great free book swapping service. After signing up, you list books you are willing to give away, gaining 0.1 points per book.  Once you have a full point, you can spend that point by requesting a book from another member.  If you send a book to someone else, you gain a point.  You also earn 0.1 points by posting feedback about the swapping experience.  Finally, if you send a book to a foreign country, you earn three points (the requester spends two points).

I love the service, but lately it is getting harder to find books to spend my points on.  I have a feeling it’s related to the points system, but I’m not sure how to best demonstrate that.  Over the long term, the points system doesn’t seem to be sustainable because of inflation.  For example, the transaction nets +1.1 points for the giver and -0.9 points for the receiver, for a net gain of 0.2 points; this gain is due to the 0.1 for adding the book and the 0.1 for posting feedback.  The foreign country book exchange results in even more inflation, +1.2 for the transaction.

I decided to look through some of the publicly available stats to see if there were any trends to back up my hunch.  There were a few metrics I found interesting: total number of points in the system, total # of books saved in wishlists, and total # of books available in the system (inventory).  I normalized all these over the total number of users and graphed the result below (x-axis is time from 8/18/06 to today).

What does this imply?

  • The number of books in wishlists is growing while inventory is falling.  With the price of a book fixed at one point, I think this is creating a supply / demand imbalance.
  • Note that the inventory curve started positive and seemed to outpace the wishlist curve, but then the inventory peaked and started declining.  Part of this may be explained by users signing up to check out Bookmooch, but not adding any inventory.  I think this relationship also shows that point inflation is taking effect; users are finding themselves with more points and are slowly stripping away inventory in the system.
  • All the while, points per user is continuing to climb.

What can we expect if we fast-forward a couple of years?  Existing users will have a large number of points to spend, dozens (hundreds?) of books in their wishlist, but very little inventory to meet that demand.  When a new user joins and posts their valuable inventory, existing users will snap it up very quickly, thanks to wishlist notifications.  That new user will find themselves flush with points but very little to spend those points on.  They proceed to add dozens of books to the wishlist.  The cycle continues.

I don’t even know if the system truly is broken; an economist could do a much better job of analyzing the data and would probably prove me wrong on many points.  But, I have a few ideas that may improve the points system.

  • Eliminate the 0.1 points for adding a new book.  Either require new users to give a book before they can receive one, or give them one point for free after signing up to encourage future trading.  Or, give the 0.1 point for listing the book and the remaining 0.9 points when the book is mooched.
  • Likewise, remove the 0.1 points for providing feedback.  Users will want to give feedback for free in order to clear out their “Waiting to Receive” listing.  This combined with the first idea will help eliminate point inflation.
  • Continue to reward users for sending books internationally, but give only two points instead of three.  For the receiver, continue to deduct two points; I’d consider raising this to three points to create some downward pressure on # of total points.
  • For wishlist books, introduce the concept of advanced notification for the price of one point.  For example, two points will give you the opportunity to view and mooch a wishlist book 24 hours before other users who are willing to spend only one point.  As the transaction happens, make that extra point vanish rather than transferring it to the giver.  I think reducing the total number of points will help encourage existing users to list more books.
  • To create a true market without an artificially set price of one point per book, allow users to enter bids for a book.  Some of the extra points could be transferred to the giver, but bleed off at least one point per transaction.  This type of system would make it nearly impossible for new users to obtain in-demand books, so I don’t think this would match with the founder’s goals for Bookmooch.

My gut tells me there are too many points in the system, with too many users chasing too few books.  Removing point inflation and introducing some mechanisms for burning up points may help, but there may be some long term effects that I’m not considering.

As I said before, I love the site and these are just some thoughts about the underlying market dynamics and not criticisms by any means.  I’m really interesting if anyone else out there has thought about these issues and would care to refine / correct some of my thoughts.

Update – 9/23/08: As expected, there have been a few discussions on the Bookmooch site about point inflation.  This post recognizes that inflation exists in the system and the end result may be that “everyone will eventually end up with a bunch of points they can’t use.”  And, this comment captures the inflation issue as well; lots of other good ideas in that thread, including limiting the 0.1 point gain for the first 20 books added.

Update – 9/24/08:  John Buckman from Bookmooch posted a comment with some good insights into the system.  Based on the feedback in his first point, I’ve updated the chart to normalize all values over total users who have listed books to give, whereas previously the values were over all total users.  This method should remove users with inactive accounts, but will ignore those users who are active but have no inventory.  Still not perfect, but maybe slightly improved.  The total # of points line (blue) is still skewed higher because points of inactive users are still being counted.

Looks like the biggest change is with the inventory / member line, which shows a plateau with gradual decline rather than the peak and drop off in the original graph.

I also added in a new measurement, number of current mooches per 100 users who are listing books to give (green line).  This validates point #4, that mooching activity is on the rise, not just in total, but also on a per user basis and contradicts my hypothesis that users are finding less mooching opportunities out there.  It will be interesting to see if this line ever crosses the 100 mooches / 100 users mark.