Kindle and first books for it

I got a Kindle for Christmas from Emily! Other than out-of-print and hard-to-find books best picked up randomly at a used bookstore, I am moving away from printed book purchases. This certainly will hold true for newly published books — fiction, non-fiction, just about everything except where the book is heavy with color or large pictures.

So far, I do not have a lot of complaints about it. Pagination went crazy on me one time, with lines getting cut off at the bottom of each page, but power cycling fixed that. There are some features I would like to see added: book lending; Twitter updates for reading or completing a book (currently the only Tweets allowed are quotes from what you are reading); fully customizable fonts; a clock display (the shortcut key from the 1st Gen. Kindle seems to be gone); and configurable, automated filing of reading into Kindle’s Collections (sending new books to one collection, completed books to another, etc., without having to move things manually).

Overall, though, I love this thing. On this weekend’s Amtrak round-trip and family holiday out of town, I needed only to bring the Kindle. There was no deciding ahead of time which book I would want to read when I finished the current one. There was no need to choose between bringing a half-finished book and spares and starting a new one to cut down on the number of books I’d have to haul. And, as much as my schedule allowed, there was not loss of connection to the day’s news, since the few newspapers I am trying out were downloaded to the Kindle each morning.

On that note, the expiration of my Kindle trial of the New York Times subscription will mark the first time in a decade when I will not get a daily subscription to the Times. I started off with a home-delivery subscription, but a couple of years ago I switched to electronic delivery: first what is now called the Replica Edition, then to the Adobe Air-powered Times Reader, and now to the Kindle Edition. (Why NYTimes has so many electronic editions, plus their website, with completely separate subscriptions is beyond me.) The Times for Kindle is the same price as the Times Reader, $19.99 per month, but with no access to the subscription parts of the website (as far as I can tell).

Instead, I have been trying out the Washington Post, and I think I am going to stick with it. The Kindle price is $11.99 per month, and the reporting is just as good in my eyes. It is a little weird getting used to a new style guide, most immediately their use of “Burma,” but that will pass shortly. I like the Times, I will miss the Times, and I feel like I am losing some continuity here, but I cannot justify hanging on to it when the Times digital-publishing decisions are obviously off-base on pricing, cross-platform availability, etc. So, the Post it is.

Other than the daily paper, the first thing I read on the Kindle was Dark Summit: The True Story of Everest’s Most Controversial Season, Nick Heil. This is a seemingly fair and thorough accounting of the more commercial and controversial events of the 2006 climbing season on the Tibet side of Everest. After watching the Discovery Channel program that year and reading some of the follow-up discussion, angry,  blame-filled and irrational, reading this book added a bit of clarity and balance to the story. It’s not that Russell Brice is the bad guy or the hero, but there are certain things wrong with the commercial Everest experience that lead to these kinds of tragedies. First, when commercial clients and even non-guided climbers are led to believe they can always be short-roped down the mountain by Sherpas, they will not appreciate the risks and plan for them, and they will cry foul when someone dies. Second, as long as Everest is an open playground for anyone with enough money to afford the trip, the unqualified commercial clients will flock there and outnumber the seriously qualified few who should perhaps be there.

Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob, Jeff Coen. This story is incredibly interesting and enlightening, and the book is very well researched and well written. I can’t believe I missed this whole story when the trial was going on for over two months — I was living in the city by then, but all I remember is the search for one fugitive in the west suburbs. The look inside decades of Chicago Outfit operations and murders provided by the government’s star witness is amazing and apparently unheard of. While this book and its stories stand alone and need no introduction, the background provided by Gus Russo’s The Outfit, which I mentioned here last year, was helpful. Amazing stuff and well worth a read if you live here or are interested in the somewhat recent activities of organized crime.

A few books

High: Stories of Survival from Everest and K2, edited by Clint Willis. To be honest, I didn’t quite finish this book yet. I left it back home for my brother to read after Thanksgiving, and there was not quite enough reading time on that trip to get through the last couple of selections. What I read, though, is great. The book is a series of selections from longer, published accounts of climbing expeditions on Everest and K2. The chapters are short and leave the reader hanging on what happened during the rest of the expedition. However, Willis’ focus here is to compile the experiences of death and near death during these climbs. There are some that end with a struggle back to high camp, barely alive. And there are others that end with the surviving climbers slowly giving up hope, realizing their teammates are not coming back.

A little more context for some of the stories would have been nice, but one could seek out the source material and read the entire story. Overall, this is a good introduction to a variety of expeditions, including some of the most significant ones in the history of these two peaks.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland. Yes, I read this. And, yeah, it’s not bad. The story gets very engrossing after about 250 pages, and it is an exciting story. However, the translation could have been done better, especially since this is such a hit. Even the UK generally uses jail instead of gaol, for instance, but gaol is used here. To me a good translation explains a bit about the original language, leaving key words and phrases untranslated with footnotes or parentheses explaining the nearest English translation. There have to be nuances of Swedish that are completely lost in English, and there was no effort here to try to explain Swedish language or culture to the English-speaking reader. I think that is unfortunate and a missed opportunity.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Stieg Larsson, translated by Reg Keeland. This book and translation are similar to the first book in the series, but here the engrossing action starts at the beginning of the book and runs all the way through it. I’m baffled by the need to start with a prevented murder halfway across the world, since that event had nothing to do with the rest of the book, but it wasn’t bad. I am starting on the third and final book now.

Civil Air Patrol GTM gear

The next step after putting together the basic Civil Air Patrol UDF gear is to compile my 24-hour and 72-hour bags for Ground Team Member (GTM) missions. I’m in the middle of this process, but here is what I have so far and what I am planning to use to complete it:

For GTM training, I will need BDUs, boots, hat, etc, and not simply the polo-shirt uniform discussed in the previous post about UDF equipment. The one item remaining on my list is to get BDU outerwear and some base layers. My legs tend to stay warm, so some moisture-wicking ECWCS Gen II long underwear is all I am going to add on the bottom for now. Up top, I plan to layer a light undershirt, the BDU blouse, the ECWCS Gen III fleece and the ECWCS Gen II parka. The parka will need to go to the dry cleaner down the street, this time with my BDU blouse as an example, to get patches sewn on.

BDU cap
In northern climates, the BDU cap with earflaps is an easy choice.

24-hour gear pack
It seems best to have 24-gear stowed in a front-loaded gear vest rather than a backpack. This potentially leaves room to carry the 72-hour gear on your back at the same time. While looking for an appropriate vest, it immediately became clear that this is something on which I could spend an obscene amount of money. However, a CAP discussion board link led me to this reasonably priced load-bearing vest. Maybe in the future I will look again at a 5.11 Tactical vest that holds my individually customized MOLLE attachments, but that does not seem prudent until I experiment for a few missions and know what I want to carry and where.

For now, I’m using a generic multi-tool I picked up at a conference, but this Gerber Suspension model is on my list.

Signal mirror
It needs to be lightweight and unbreakable and contain a sighting hole. This one seems to work.

I received this one as a gift a few years ago. The compass isn’t much to rely upon, but it is potentially better than nothing. It also contains a magnifying class and thermometer. A thermometer probably would not be missed if I didn’t have one, but since I have it along it gets quite a bit of use.

First aid kit
I have a couple of these picked up through the years, and REI is a good source due to their variety, from kits meant for a day hike to those meant for a serious expedition. I know a couple of items on the CAP list are not found in any of mine (gloves, triangle bandage), and I will need to hit Walgreens to restock.

“Survival kit”
I am mystified as to why these things would need to be stored in a waterproof bag, but here we go. Light sticks can be bought from Amazon, or I hear you can get them cheap at drug and grocery stores right after Halloween. REI has a match case and matches that are better than waterproof — they are rain-storm-proof.

Very strong general-purpose line can be picked up in REI’s climbing section, though you want to get the thin utility cord shown below that is not suitable for climbing. I have also seen 1″ webbing recommended in addition to cord.

Assuming you are carrying a tent, wrap your emergency duct tape around that section of pipe that is supplied with the tent for doing a pole repair — it is light and round and you need to carry it with you anyway. A large “lawn and leaf” bag (and two more in the 72-hour bag) finishes up this kit.

Miscellaneous things
A spare set of socks. Toilet paper (a half-empty roll should work). Leather work gloves (in addition to any winter gloves). Cell phones (sealed inside the heavy-duty dry bags I mentioned in the previous post). Biodegradable surveyor’s flagging tape. Small containers of insect repellent and sunscreen lotion. ChapStick with an SPF rating. Blank CAP interviewing forms (I cannot find a good link for this). Individually packaged moist towelettes. All of this zippered into resealable freezer bags.

Flashlight and spare
I mentioned in the last post this awesome Smith and Wesson flashlight. My backup flashlight is also a AAA-powered LED model, but not quite so bright or featured and picked up for free somewhere.

Civilian and some military MREs can be bought online and in surplus stores, or backpacker meals can be found at REI and other outdoors stores. Neither option is particularly cheap, but MREs usually contain their own heat source, more meal components and more calories. I haven’t made up my mind here. I plan to carry my MSR Pocket Rocket and fuel canister, but only in my 72-hour gear, so perhaps MREs are the better choice for 24-hour gear.

I am planning to pick up a military poncho and poncho liner at the surplus store. This is also to be a ground sheet for the tent carried in my 72-hour gear. Since I have to carry the weight of a poncho anyway, there is no sense carrying another special footprint for the tent.

I like narrow-mouth Nalgeens, always have.

Other items that overlap with UDF gear
No need to address these again: compass, notepad, pencil, CAP ID and forms, watch, reflective vest, tissues and GTM handbook. See the UDF-gear post for details.


72-hour pack
More out of convenience than design, I plan to use a Gregory Shasta internal-frame backpack, 1999 vintage, approximately 5000 cubic inches but highly cinchable for smaller loads. (The Gregory Palisade 80 shown below would be a comparable pack today.) A backpack rain cover is a necessity, in my opinion, even if everything inside is sealed in individual zippered bags. Whatever you find for a backpack, make sure it fits. If you must buy it online, go into the store first and get fitted for a backpack that can be carried all day while riding properly on your shoulders and hips.

This was a steal: the REI Crysalis UL solo tent, close-out special on for just under $100 after a 20% coupon and bought just before they sold out of the last of them, to be replaced by the REI Quarter Dome T1 shown below. I set it up in the house last night: adequate room for me (at 5’10”) and some gear. The backpack will probably have to stay in the vestibule, and it is not likely I will be sharing this tent with anyone, though another person would fit in an emergency. Best part about this tent: it packs down as small as a folded sleeping pad and it weighs in at 3.5 pounds with rainfly, poles, stakes and cinch sack.

Sleeping bag
Again out of convenience, I have a down bag for now. The newer synthetic fills have come a long way in price and performance, and when this one finally wears out (it has seen some periods of heavy use over the past twelve years) I will get a synthetic bag. REI and usually have a good variety of on-sale and closeout bags, and who cares if you are buying last year’s sleeping bag?
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Sleeping pad
These do not have to be expensive, heavy or bulky, and they are absolutely essential to a good night’s sleep in moderate and cold temperatures. The sleeping bag’s fill when compressed against the ground provides almost no insulation, and a foam sleeping pad works wonders for keeping you warm and comfortable. I use an older version of this foldable one.

Spare clothes
A spare set of BDUs and three changes of socks and underwear go into zipped, resealable bags. I need to get another set of BDUs and have them sewn up with patches.

More meals
Same issues as above, but in the case of this 72-hour pack I am more inclined to substitute some backpacker meals for MREs, since a stove will allow for cooking. Of course, this means bringing along a cookset and utensils.

Toilet kit
Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor and soap are easy. For washcloths and towels, I use light, quick-drying backpacker towels like these from MSR.

Uniform care
A tin of shoe shine, a soft rag for shining boots, a little sewing kit from Walgreens or the surplus store, and a spare set of boot laces from wherever you got your boots — another freezer bag should hold it.

Entrenching tool
I just have a little garden spade for now, but a folding shovel or similar product is probably a coming purchase.

Water purification tablets
Per CAP training, this is for emergency use only. Further, iodine-treated water should only be consumed for short durations, not for long trips or as a regular practice. However, the days of drinking yellow, nasty, iodine-tasting water are long, long gone. Buy a two-pack purification tablet system from Potable Aqua. Make sure it’s the two-tablet treatment process! One tablet treats the water; the second, dropped in after the first has had time to work, treats the taste and color from the first. For emergency usage, this beats a filter system on weight, cost and effort, and the water tastes excellent.

Introductory knowledge
Along with Civil Air Patrol training and reference materials, it may be worth picking up a book about hiking, picking a campsite, cooking, survival and animals. One of the best is The Backpacker’s Field Manual. Also, since CAP training mentions the ideals of Leave No Trace living, you may want to read more about that, and Leave No Trace: Minimum Impact Outdoor Recreation is a good place to start.

Civil Air Patrol UDF gear

I joined the local Civil Air Patrol squadron a couple of months ago, and Saturday was my first day of ground-team training in preparation for a training exercise next month. (During the last exercise I attended, I did radio operator training.) With not enough time to put together a full ground-team-member (GTM) gear setup, I settled for putting together Urban Direction Finding (UDF) gear. Most of the UDF gear list items showed up last week, and here is what I have put together:

I had already purchased BDUs at the local surplus store, Bates waterproof, insulated boots and a belt and name tapes from the CAP Vanguard store. I took the uniform with name tapes and flag decal taped in their proper places to the local dry cleaner and was pleasantly surprised to see they had apparently sewn everything correctly. In addition, I bought a CAP polo shirt from Vanguard and charcoal Taclite Pro tactical pants from 5-11 Tactical. I would like to be wearing the BDUs, but it is too cold around here to go without a jacket, and I still need to pick up the ECWCS Generation II parka in Woodland camo and Gen III fleece that I have my eye on. The polo and pants uniform works alright for now. More info on the ECWCS layers is here:

CAP identification
The CAP ID card goes in my wallet, but I took my 101 card, ROA card and other cheat sheets to FedEx office and laminated them in the ID-card sheets that have a slot at the top. A simple ID-card clip that I got at a conference or somewhere clips them on my uniform. Next time I need a new 101 card laminated, I am going to do a small copy of my Form 60 (medical) as well.

I know this is required, but be careful if you are going to wear it on your wrist. Watches throw off compass readings pretty easily, at least in my experience.

Waterproof notepads from Rite in the Rain seem to be most popular, but since I was in need of some fast Amazon shipping I went with this one.
Orange vest
There are plenty of ways to go here. You could buy one from the Grainger catalog or any number of sources. Again, since I need a quick ship on a lot of these items, I grabbed this one from Amazon. It has a velcro front, seems secure and strong enough.
UDF and GTM Task Guide
Buy it from Vanguard, print it yourself after downloading it here (PDF) and have FedEx Office bind it, or whatever. While we are on the topic, this supplemental Ground Team Reference Text (download PDF) fills in a lot of the blanks and is very helpful.

I bought an orienteering compass, which is the standard, open compass consisting of a flat piece of clear plastic with an inset, rotating face. The Suunto A-30L was recommended, and it is not a bad compass. It does have the requisite mark for every two degrees and a glowing face and needle, and it is very easy to use.
However, I will probably make this my backup soon and purchase a lensatic compass, such as the Brunton 8099 Eclipse. When shooting an azimuth, an orienteering compass has maybe five degrees error, and the lensatic two degrees — both likely more in inexperienced hands. CAP requires a compass that can read in two-degree increments, but typical orienteering-compass error is higher than that. In addition to the increased accuracy of a lensatic compass, it would be beneficial to be able to read the degree of a slope occasionally.

I think I found a good item here: the Smith and Wesson Galaxy 28 LED flashlight. This model has 20 white LEDs, 4 red LEDs and 4 blue LEDs, so there is no need for colored filters, spare bulbs or storage thereof. All three colors seem adequately bright, and there are two separate switches to prevent accidental activation of the white LED when trying to preserve night vision: one controls the white LEDs only, and the other cycles from red to blue to off. The included holster includes battery storage and a Velcro strap. I am extremely satisfied with this purchase.
Map protractor
I’m not sure I have the right item here. Ranger Joe’s might be a better source, but I did pick up this USGS-sourced UTM grid reader from REI, which includes a protractor.

Map case
I know you can use Ziploc or similar sealable plastic bags, but I picked up a four-pack of variously sized dry bags from REI — the LOKSAK Aloksak. Along with the larger bag for a map, the smaller ones can be used for cell phones, wallet, etc.

Alcohol pens
I went wrong here. There are artsy, refillable alcohol pens and colored inks available on Amazon and elsewhere, but this four-pack of alcohol pens from Ranger Joe’s is probably the way to go. I’ve also heard interpretations of this requirement being dry-erase markers or Sharpies, but these ones from Ranger Joe’s seem more correct. As for an eraser, I have individual alcohol swabs, but Ranger Joe’s also sells a proper alcohol-pen eraser.

Plenty of options here, but I got this one from Amazon with a sliding clip/gauge. It is small, light and flexible.

Some things just need to be found in the house or picked up at the local store. Mechanical pencils, pens, packets of facial tissue, individual alcohol swabs (Walgreens) and snacks.

Other things that make sense
Of course, I am going to carry water on any mission — even an “urban” one. A litre in a BPA-free Nalgene bottle works. Sunglasses (polarized Native Eyewear-brand from last year at REI Outlet) are good, and this time of year proper gloves, hat, etc., are essential. A flashlight is necessary, but a good headlamp with white and red modes is a definite future purchase. I picked up an (expired) airport directory set from another member, and that goes in the bag.

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All of these items that took so much thought and effort barely start to fill even the smallest backpack, but that is where they live for now. My next step is to fill the remaining gaps in the 24-hour and 72-hour gear lists, and the above UDF-gear items will be combined with the 24-hour gear and moved to a gear vest.