Thursday, June 28, 2007

Multi-Domain Solutions Design

This is an interesting post by Adam Greenfield that talks about the emergence of "experience design" and the realization among businesses that successful consumer solutions increasingly do not confine themselves to a single bucket of product, website or service.

The challenges he speaks of are very reminiscent of the ones I faced at Sony (and that they continue to face). Its ironic that Sony has been operating in multiple domains (Electronics, Music, Movies, Games) for years even though it continues to struggle to offer consumer experiences that span the domains of product, Internet and service.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Hoods in the Haight

Just saw the new Panhandle Bandshell for the first time... a small stage and bandshell made out of reclaimed car hoods. It looks cool both inside and out and the use of junked, reclaimed parts is totally appropriate for a neighborhood known for things like the "Free Store," the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic and spontaneous free concerts by the likes of the Grateful Dead within feet of the new bandshell. Rock on.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

William's Windmill

This post by White African has a great summary of William Kamkwamba's amazing accomplishment and public introduction at this month's TEDGlobal event in Arusha Tanzania. Although he built a windmill from scratch and on his own, William was so quiet and reserved on stage that his story might never have been known were it not for everyone else singing his praises. But you can tell from the photo that William is proud of what he's done. Judging from the response he got at TED his future is looking quite bright. William got one of the many standing ovations at the conference and made many in the audience (including myself) cry in amazement and joy. And thanks to the support of the TED community, he now has an email address, a computer, and at least one angel investor for his future. I think he's going to need a bigger windmill!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Anne at Uhuru Peak

Anne at the top of Mt. Kilimanajaro. It took us about 9 hours to climb the last 4000 feet to the summit. "Pole Pole" as they say in Swahili.

Mt. Kilimanjaro from Shira Camp

This is a view of the top of Kilimanjaro from the Shira Campsite. Of the 5 places we camped, Shira Camp was by far my favorite. The views up to the peak and down towards "Shira Cathedral" were amazing. It was also the one camp where it was warm enough to walk around in sandals and relax outside in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Summit Night: Night 4 into Day 5

The porters woke us up around 11:30 at night. We scrambled into our boots and gaitors and up to the mess tent for some oatmeal and hot tea. Then we went back outside and saddled up for the climb. Headlamps were key as we started out for the summit at 12:30 AM. I'm amazed that the lead guide could follow a trail as you see almost nothing except the rock at your feet and the person in front of you. If you are summiting from Karanga Camp then the hike will start by climbing up on a huge rock lava flow. It’s good that it’s dark because out of the corner of your eyes, you can tell that the drop off on either side of the lava flow is steep and fast. Once off that, the hike turns into a long, increasingly steep climb on dirt, scree and a few patches of ice. Its all frozen on the way up so the footing is firm.

This is where it gets tough. I really struggled on summit day. My heart was racing perhaps as much from the diamox as from the steepness and thin air. Breathing feels the same as when you are at sea level, you just don't get the energy you need from each breath. I have asthma and while I was on Kilimanjaro I never got that gasping for air feeling asthma gives you... only an absence of stamina. At one point, I had been struggling... breath, step, pause, breath, step, etc. and then I felt like I was getting my "second wind". I felt energized and set out with new found strength. But the second wind literally lasted about 4 steps before I was right back in a mental struggle.

Around 4:30 or 5, you start to see the sun coming up. It's silhouetted against the horizon and Mewenzi Peak... the mountain's sub-peak / crater. This gives you something new to look at and lets you know that you're making progress. The peak is still another four hours away so even though you’ve been hiking all night you’re only 1/2 way up.

As the sun comes up, the switchbacks get tighter and more frequent and you can see the rim of the crater above you. Feeling the altitude fully for the first time, it all started to look like something I was watching on TV. You see people above you and remember later that they were in your group but at that time, they seem like strangers in a TV movie. I also remember thinking that they looked so far ahead of us and doing so much better. But they were just a few minutes ahead and struggling just as much as us. You just feel a bit clueless. Alan, one of the climbers in our group was also struggling. He and I were bonding without anything more than looking at each other. We were both too tired to talk. Anne on the other hand was strong, lucid and focused. She had toppled slightly once or twice (as we all did) but was now really strong. She became my coach and without her I might not have made it to the rim. She was strong enough to also be attentive to me. She got me my water bottle when we stopped to drink, made me eat some energy gel and gave me words of encouragement.

Every adventure we've ever been on has exposed the strengths and weaknesses of the group. What is usually nice about this is that everyone becomes a coach one minute and the coached the next. This is definitely true of my relationship with Anne. Anne was an inspiration and my lead guide in getting to the top. Her friends know that she is stronger than she seems at first. She is a fighter and a true adventurer.

Its 8:15 and we are just below the rim. The trail is getting incredibly steep but we’re so close to the top. It looks like the top of a steep bowl at a ski resort. One that you would never think of climbing back up once you had dropped in. A final hard push and we are up and over the rim. I'm feeling really bad at the rim. I get some hot tea from one of the porters which I force down. I sit down and crash. Traci from our team is asleep in Alan's jacket which he had given her halfway up. She was cold and couldn't stop shivering. Evan was up or came up with us, not sure.

After about 10 minutes, Jonas starts to rally the group for the final push to the summit. I knew that I was done climbing. My heart had been beating so fast that I was worried that I had reached my limit. My head was in a fog and I was dehydrated so I told Anne that I was done. In hindsight, I question my decision. The crater rim still counts as a successful climb but I regret not continuing to the summit. At the time, I was really certain that I was in bad shape and needed to get down. But everyone felt like crap and yet most continued except for the 3 of us who stopped at the rim. You also recover relatively quickly as you descend that it becomes hard to recollect how bad you were at the summit. I was so close and most likely won't be back. I'm very proud of Anne for making it but I'm jealous at the same time. I also wish we could have made the final push together. In that sense, our story is probably fairly typical. In every group... some make it and some don't. I felt great everyday but the final day and that is really the nature of hiking at such altitudes. Kilimanjaro is much easier than Everest but I suspect that Everest climbers are also much more fit and experienced. Yet every year some make it and some don't... often some of the fittest. It must weigh on them too... especially when you get so close and have to turn back. Anne continued on with Jonas and four others and made it to the summit about 45 minutes later.

The descent was relatively easy but not without its drama. A few of us were hanging at the top when the first group to summit came back to the rim. We took some photos and then all decided to go down with the one guide that was available. This descent is probably the one time you need gaitors. The dirt and scree free up with the sunrise and become loose. Plus the fastest way down is to run and slide down through the scree. We started down as a group but quickly separated. The whole trip, Stefan seemed to seek out one-on-one attention from the guides. He seemed to have trouble understanding that with a group trip there are fewer guides than climbers and you have to work as a group, not an individual. So Stefan, in his rush to get back to the camp to see his wife (who had to be taken back to camp ½ way to the summit) kept urging the guide to rush, leaving the majority of the group behind. The guide should have known better but he was a very junior guide / porter and allowed himself to be swayed by Stefan. What made this more frustrating is that since his wife Joy had been taken back to camp by another guide. That meant that we had already lost 2 of the guides for the summit so he should have been able to see the importance of allowing the 2 remaining guides (the other went with the second summit team) to work with a group. Luckily this doesn't happen too often and I think most guides know to look out for this behavior. We see it happen at a summer camp that we volunteer at. But if you are reading this and planning a trip, I would watch for signs of this happening and let a guide know of your concerns. Later, when we were hiking to the next camp, Stefan tried it again and I let him know he needed to choose between hiking ahead of us alone or with us and the guide and he finally got the message.

The trail down from the summit back to camp takes about 3 hours. It’s a braided trail that continually divides and reconnects. So as Evan and I descended without a guide, we were never sure if the fork we were taking was headed to a different destination or not. A third of the way down it got very hot. We had been walking continually and still had warm clothes on so I finally realized we needed to stop, drink and shed some layers. We finally made it back down and went immediately to our tents and crashed. I knew I was still dehydrated so I got my camelback out and forced myself to sip water for the next hour even though I didn't feel thirsty. Anne finally got back about 2 hours after me. She was still looking strong but was tired too. None of us wanted to make the remaining 4 hour hike down to the next camp. It just felt like chaos at camp... there were still 3 or 4 climbers on their way down, we were all feeling weak and tired and there was no radio or lead guides around to clarify the plan. I never slept but Anne crashed for about an hour. After that, we grabbed a light lunch in the mess tent, packed up our stuff and then started down for Mweka Camp. It was long and tiring but you feel better and better as you go down. You don’t really notice the air getting thinner going up but you definitely notice it going down… and it feels good. Your energy comes back and you brain comes back online. We arrived at camp just after dusk about 7:30PM. We had been hiking about 28 of the last 36 hours. I passed out in our tent before dinner. Despite the fact the camp was crowded and noisy, I fell asleep shortly after climbing into the tent. I would have slept through the night if Anne hadn’t woken me for dinner. In the morning we would start to appreciate our accomplishment but right now, we were just tired.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Day 4

We had an awesome night sleep and we were feeling energized and ready for the Baranco Wall. We started out around 8:30. It was actually an enjoyable climb. A steep rocky trail intermixed with sections requiring hands and feet scrambling. An hour and half later we were at the top of the wall and were greeted by a Mars-like landscape. The landscape seems to change both as a factor of altitude and which side of the mountain you're on. The Machame Route moves almost 180 degrees around the top peak before the final ascent so even though we had already been at this altitude, the terrain was decidedly different on this side of the mountain.

The trail profile for Day Four is like a roller coaster. We had climbed to the top of the Baranco Wall but then immediately proceeded to descend into two more valleys before lunch and then another two after that. I realized after producing the map of our climb that we were essentially moving up and down the flutes at the base of the summit peak. On Mount Tamalpais in the Bay Area, the comparable trails typically stay at the same altitude and go in and out of the drainages… here we sort of traveling in a straight line vertically but going up and down. It was definitely more of workout. If you use trekking poles, you end up putting them away a lot as they definitely get in the way when you need your hands or are on the edge of something steep. But the variety of ups and downs makes the day go faster. The last ascent before camp is a long gradual up hill capped off by a final steep climb to 15,200 feet and one of the stranger campsites I've camped in.

Karanga camp is defined by a bunch of small, tent-sized clearings scattered on a hill that would otherwise be strewn evenly by large rocks. It would be a scree field if the rocks were a bit smaller. In one direction, you see the long side of the peak stretching away from you. In the other, at the far edge of the camp, you see Mewenza Peak, another eruption point of Kilimanjaro. It reminded me a bit of a much larger version of the Pinnacles in California with its strongly defines jagged peak and lava flow lines.

Day Four's hike is a long one so we got to camp late... just shy of sundown. We had about an hour and a half to get washed up and organized for the final climb to the summit. One key tip if you are reading this as advice for your own climb... lighten your load for the push to the summit. If you've ben carrying extra stuff that you really don't need on summit day, put it into your duffel bag so you climb as light as possible. I had our big camera, a small but still unnecessary first aid kit, poncho, travel insurance forms, etc. Collectively it probably added to more than 5 pounds. That's a lot for what may likely be the toughest day of your life. They tell you in terms of training that every extra pound you can get rid of will help on summit day and the same is true for equipment. Also, if you are not a serious camera buff and others in your group are, leave the big camera in camp. If I had the trip to do over again, I would have taken only a small point and shoot camera. They're lighter and easier to keep handy for candid shots on the trail which have proved to be may favorites for telling the story of the climb.

After getting organized, we had dinner. Most of us ate but some had lost their appetite. You tell yourself to eat anyway because you need the fuel. After dinner, Jonus our lead guide briefed us on what to expect for the final climb.

Here's my advice on optimizing for success on summit day…
Water: have 2 Nalgene bottles of water with you for the summit ascent… preferable both filled with hot water when you start. The temperature bottoms out around 4:30 in the morning and when its that cold you don't want to drink really cold water. I had 1 Nalgene bottle and a camelback. You probably will hear that camelbacks will freeze on summit day. This is true (actually, the hoze freezes). The Nalgene bottles can be stored upside down and insulated with a wool sock on summit day. I drank out of the camelback for the 1st hour and then switched to the Nalgene bottle. But the struggle I had was that after drinking out of a camelback all week, I was struggling to hydrate with the Nalgene since it was inaccessible and difficult to open with mittens. So if you are switching hydration methods on summit day, pay special attention to your hydration... its key the whole climb but never more than on summit day.

After dinner, we changed into our clothes for the summit save out boots, gaitors and shell. We laid down and slept for perhaps an hour or two.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro: Day 3

Day three saw our first real taste of life at altitude. Anne felt it almost as soon as we left camp but was generally fine once we slowed our pace a bit. The scenery also transitioned from scattered shrubs, flowers and lichens to almost nothing but rocks. Anne commented that as we got higher and higher, the cover for bathroom breaks on the trail got fewer and smaller. Luckily, this coincided with all of us getting comfortable with each other. This was accompanied by more talk of bodily functions.

I was also starting to feel like the summit was very achievable. Seeing the summit from our first camp made it look distant, stormy and intimidating. This continued on day 2 but by the time we got to Shira Camp on Day 2 it seemed approachable. Like a reasonable day hike... something it probably would be if it were 15,000 fett lower. After lunch we hiked up to Lava Tower at 15,200 feet for an hour of acclimatizing before descending to our next camp at 12,600 feet. Lava Tower is at the base of the summit peak so by the time we got there the summit felt very close. It feels like you could just walk up the last hill and be there by dusk but there was still another 4000 feet above us and with it a dramatic change in how your body feels. But where we were at Lava Tower, we could all feel the altitude but it was very manageable... you just feel slightly off.
After an hour we started down to Baranco Camp. A steep but manageable trail with new sights and vegetation along the way. As we got down into the Baranco Valley, I got my first sight of the Baranco Wall... our starting point for the next day's hike. This was what I was most worried about leading up to the trip. The guidebook described it as very steep and cliff like. I don't mind steep or high but what makes me nervous is being in a situation where one slip up means death. The few times I've been in this situation (Half Dome in Yosemite and a canyon hike in the Grand Canyon come to mind) I've always marveled at how much of it is a mental game. If the physical challenge were 6 inches off the ground you wouldn't give it a second thought. But take that very same challenge and put it 70 feet up and it feels completely different. Fortunately, the majority of Baranco Wall is not like this. As I got my first site of the wall, I could see that although it was steep and high it also had enough of a slant that you would rarely be on the edge of a cliff. My intimidation subsided and I was ready for the next day's challenge.

Anne's nausea had been getting better steadily as we descended and she was now feeling pretty good. There was another trail across the ravine and on it we could see Cyndi and another guide. Cyndi had been throwing up all morning and was having a tough time. After lunch she decided that she couldn't continue and headed directly to camp via another trail. Although we had continued climbing after lunch and had sat around for an hour, we were still getting into camp around the same time as Cyndi. The two keys to a successful Kilimanjaro ascent are water and a slow pace. Lose the benefit of either one and your health diminishes quickly. Being sick makes you lose water and then makes it hard to drink so it quickly becomes a losing battle at altitude. The next morning, Cyndi and Jonas, our lead guide made the decision that she needed to hike out. I don't know if a helicopter rescue is possible at that altitude but short of a life and death situation, you are forced to hike out on your own. She was accompanied by one of our guides and a mountain ranger... one in front of her and one behind her. That morning, as we were doing our scramble up the Baranco Wall, Cyndi was essentially descending it. Going down a steep cliff is usually harder and scarier than going up one. Doing it while you're weak, dizzy and dehydrated must have been really tough!

Sleeping well at 12,600 feet would normally be a problem. But after going up to 15,200 and then descending to camp, your body feels better. So we all slept well that night. Many of us woke up feeling the best we'd felt since we started (except poor Cyndi). We were ready for the Baranco Wall.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Day 2

The second day was my favorite day on the mountain. We started out at 10,000 feet and hiked to 12,600 feet… our shortest hike of the 6 days and with breath-taking scenery the whole way. We started out at the forest’s edge in the Moreland zone and made our way into the Heather zone defined by smaller, moss covered trees and eventually just shrubs. We had lunch at a great spot and the weather was pleasantly warm all day. But the real treat was coming into the beautiful Shira Camp while it was still warm and with several hours of daylight left. The sun was shining and it was warm enough to walk around in sandals (the last time I wore them until we were down.

As we came into camp, there were 4 porters hanging out on some rocks singing a song about Kilimanjaro in perfect four-part harmony. It was beautiful even though they mainly seemed to be doing it to relax and pass the time. I was glad to see that they get some downtime too after seeing them carry everything they do for two days.

Shira camp is also beautiful because the views up and down are beautiful. You have a clear view of the summit looking up and the clouds that had partially covered it when we arrived kept clearing until the peak was unobstructed. Looking downward, you see Shira Cathedral, the camp’s namesake. The Shira ridge used to be as tall as Kibo Peak (the name of Kilimanjaro’s Summit). The glaciers used to end close to Shira Ridge, 1000s of feet below where they are now. Day 2 was a dream all around. The hiking was beautiful and not that strenuous and the camp was one of those places that makes camping so amazing. Even though we were already above 12,000 feet, we wouldn't start to feel the altitude until Day 3.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Mt. Kilimanjaro; Day 1

Day 1 started at the Kigongoni Lodge in Arusha where we had our briefing the night before. The lodge is located at the top of a hill with the individual bungalows scattered along the steep hillside. It was our first encounter with porters carrying our bags in what was to become a daily pattern on the mountain. But were already at a bit of altitude and as Sunny, one of the trekkers commented, "its hard to watch but not as hard as carrying them yourself."

We drove to the Machame Gate at 6000 feet, the starting point of our climb. There we signed in and handed off our bags to the mountain porters already busy loading up the rest of the supplies. We had heard the night before that there would be 45 porters supporting the 14 climbers and 6 guides but when you finally see them, the scale of the effort (and guilt) sets in. We reminded ourselves that it's good work for the porters and the returned to our more personal worries at the trek ahead.

Although we had been in Tanzania for 5 days, we had yet to have a good view of the mountain. Today was no different as there was a thick fog that had settled around the gate for the start of the trek. So, suited up in our gaters, rain shells and technical wear, we started hiking. This was also our first experience of, "Pole Pole"... "slowly" in Swahili. We had heard about it but now that were finally experiencing it first-hand we were amazed at just how slowly "pole pole" really is. Little did we know how hard it would be to do anything other than pole pole on summit day.

The truly amazing thing about the trek to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro is that the scenery changes dramatically every day. Today, we started in a dense rain forest... full of fog and inhabited by colobus and blue monkeys. Five or six hours later, you arrive at Camp 1 just at the edge of the rain forest and the beginning of the moreland zone marked by fewer, thinner, moss covered trees and our first view of the peak high above us. From here, the top of Kilimanjaro still looked a long way off and the swirling clouds and fog gave it a stormy appearance. It was just enough to make it appear intimidating and the perfect setting to contemplate the hike ahead.