Mount Fuji

At 2:30AM I emerged from my cocoon and had a small breakfast before preparing for the final stage of my climb. Temperature at the summit is just above freezing so proper clothing is critical. I was on the trail by 3:15AM equipped with a headlamp to illuminate the path. The trail grows progressively steeper and narrower as you approach the top which inevitably results in a traffic jam among the many climbers hoping to see the sunrise from the summit. My timing was perfect and I reached the top with 20 minutes to spare and even had time for this pre-dawn photo with the highest gate.

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The morning air was crisp and clear offering a magnificent view of the sunrise as the sun broke through the sea of clouds which completely encircled the mountain.

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Just as with Kilimanjaro, Fuji is a volcano with a tilted rim. To reach the actual summit you must circumnavigate the rim to the high side. This excursion adds another 90 minutes to the climb but is well worth the effort as it is mostly level. I am pictured below with the actual summit marker at the Kengamine peak which sits adjacent to a structure which appears to be a weather station.

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Although my ascent and descent are both through clouds, I am lucky that conditions at the summit are crystal clear. Looking down upon the clouds is a rare and beautiful experience that I can recommend to anyone who questions why one would seek to climb high mountains.

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During most of the year the top of Fuji is covered in snow. The climbing season of July and August is generally accompanied by an absence of snow but even now one can find plenty on the mountain. My descent took about four hours with last three spent in the clouds again. When I reached the fifth station I could barely see my hand in front of my face. I returned to Shinzuku to pick up my business gear and then took a train to Shinagawa where I rendezvoused with colleagues for our business meetings which start tomorrow.

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Fifth Station

wpid9884-2013-06-29-101627-063.jpgAlthough I am in Japan for business, I have added two days of vacation so that I can fulfill a life long aspiration to climb Mount Fuji. A 7:40AM bus from Shinjuku Station has me to the Fifth Station of the Yoshida trail by 10:30AM. This is the most common starting point for the climb and sits at an altitude of 7,500 feet, roughly 5,000 feet below the 12,388 foot summit. Technically, the 2 month climbing season does not begin for another 2 days but as is evidenced by the photo, there are nearly one hundred other climbers that I will be sharing the trail with today. During peak times, as many as 10,000 people attempt the climb each day.

The photo below was taken with the camera level and shows the effects of massive winter avalanches on the vegetation on the lower part of the trail.

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As is common at this time of year, much of the ascent is through a layer of clouds which renders visibility quite limited. With only one stop for lunch, I made a continuous climb of about 6 hours before reaching my destination for the evening, a mountain hut at the 8th station. I prefer a slow steady pace with no stopping to greater speed and frequent breaks (which other hikers seem to favor). I must admit that the climbing was harder than I anticipated and with limited visibility it was also quite unrewarding photographically speaking. The trail is an unrelenting ascent. If not for the numerous mountain huts starting after the seventh station there would not be a scintilla of level ground to be found anywhere.

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The Japanese custom is to pause at one of the mountain huts for dinner and a few hours of rest before leaving early in the morning so as to time your arrival at the summit with the rising of the sun. A typical mountain hut includes a small dining area with tables and a common sleeping room. I had a reservation for space number 24 and it was as comfortable as a five star hotel’s bed after the day’s climb.

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Shinjuku

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After a few hours of sleep and a hot shower I took to the streets in search of dinner. The Shinjuku train stations is Tokyo’s largest, serving as the main connecting hub for rail traffic between central Tokyo and its western suburbs on inter-city rail, commuter rail, and metro lines. The station is used by an average of 3.8 million people per day, making it, by far, the world’s busiest transport hub (and registered as such with Guinness World Records). Putting this into perspective, about one quarter of the population of Tokyo moves through this station each day. Naturally, the area surrounding the station is unbelievably crowded with 100 foot wide cross walks to accommodate all the pedestrians. It is also packed with great places to eat and shop. I must confess that I stopped in one of Japan’s mega camera stores for more than an appropriate amount of time. Fortunately, prices were high enough to keep me from making an impulse buy.

Tokyo Skytree

wpid9871-2013-06-28-163734-014.jpg The Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting, restaurant, and observation tower in Sumida, Tokyo, Japan. At 2,080 feet high, it the tallest tower in the world, and the second tallest structure in the world after Burj Khalifa. I passed it while on the express train from Narita airport to Shinjuku station. Combining the 16 hour journey with the 13 hour time zone shift it is actually Friday in Japan when this photo was taken. I spent the evening at the Shinjujku Prince Hotel where I rested comfortably before readying myself and gear for a climb of Mt. Fuji.

Mama Robin

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I was delighted this morning to find our baby robins being cared for by both parents who alternated bringing food to the nest. I set up my long lens and comfortable seating on our sun porch so I could observe the feedings which happen every five to ten minutes. By the time I returned from work they all appeared to be quite strong. The big one, however, can reach up higher than his siblings and seems to be getting more than his fair share of the “food”.

I leave for Japan tomorrow morning and will probably not post again until my return on July 3rd. I have business in Tokyo and Osaka next week and am leaving early so I can spend the weekend climbing Mount Fuji (snow conditions permitting).

Baby Robins

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While a couple of Yard Dogs were trimming back creeping vines from the side of our house they discovered a robin’s nest with four new born chicks. Jeanine had them stop work to preserve the nest and pointed it out to me when I returned from work. I found the chicks extremely weak and with no parents in sight. I decided that the extremely high temperature and loss of shade on their nest had left them dehydrated. I used a straw as a pipette to give them each some water. They all perked up and I was able to get this close up of one of them. Hopefully their parents will return and they will still be alive tomorrow.

Clock Tower

wpid9865-2013-06-25-223330-015.jpgWith the super moon still nearly full, I planned to frame it directly behind the First Parish clock tower this evening. I have an iPhone application which gives me the exact location, trajectory and timing of sun and moon rising and setting. I drove downtown after 10PM and setup in exactly the right spot. With any luck I would have an 8 minute window to get the shot I was after. Unfortunately, the moon was masked by cloud cover and I had to settle for a much less artistic photograph. I have not had great luck when it comes to rare astronomical events and clear skies. I will simply have to persist.

Party Central

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Jeanine hosted a book signing party this afternoon for an author friend which drew about 40 people. No sooner had it ended, when 50 or so of Nicolai’s friends started arriving for his graduation party. It featured his band performing an outdoor concert followed by a dance in the basement and a brief interlude to witness the supermoon rising.

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My day was filled with less reason to party. My soccer team lost our first match of the season in a penalty kick shoot out in the divisional championship match to a team that we beat twice earlier this season. I played well despite the 100F temperature on the synthetic field (90F elsewhere) and ended with a respectable six goals on the season. Despite the bitter loss, our 11-0-1 record was enough to secure promotion to division one for the fall season.

Strawberries, Locks & Moon

wpid9830-2013-06-22-133343-015.jpgWe are fortunate to live so close to Verrill Farm. In addition to enjoying field to table produce for much of the year there are a number of festivals that bring the community together. Today was the Strawberry Festival and I found this little guy sampling the goods while his mother was nearby picking significantly more ripe specimens. I couldn’t interest anyone else in the family to join me so I stopped in for a quick lunch and picked up a quart of strawberries to bring home. Maya requested dinner at Not Your Average Joe’s for her family birthday celebration. There she opened presents including a 14-piece lock pick set with a book and DVD on lock picking from her father. Lest you think I am trying to guide my daughter into a life of crime, I should point out that this item was on her birthday wish list. Movies like the Italian Job and TV shows like Elementary have sparked her interest in the art of lock picking. To be successful one must truly understand the mechanics of a lock and I am thrilled she has developed this interest. When we returned home, Maya and I watched the video chapter on pin and tumbler locks. We then set out to pick our first locks. Within 10 minutes Maya picked her first lock. She then defeated another three in less than five minutes each. I was also successful but not as fast as Maya.

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Jeanine alerted me to a great photo opportunity with the full moon rising over the Concord Fair. I quickly drove to the exact vantage point she described in time to capture this image.

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Naked Deck

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Aided by two Yard Dogs from Kyle’s company, we were able to deconstruct our deck in about 3 hours. Planks had to be cut into 7 foot section to fit within our Dumpster in a Bag (very interesting DIY debris removal service) which also made them easy to carry. In addition to the planks, I removed a small area of siding and the stair risers which all showed signs of water damage. I will spread the reconstruction task out over several weeks to ease the burden. We are still trying to decide between the latest synthetic materials and wood.

Models of Grace

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Pictured here are two of my direct reports participating in a competitive relay race held yesterday during my annual All-Hands Engineering meeting. The exercise was designed to illuminate a distinct preference at iRobot for clever engineering over flawless execution. I believe the point could not have been illustrated more dramatically despite great furor over interpretation of the specifications. A large contingent of participants felt that a totally legal solution to the constraints listed below was to skewer the soccer ball (a grapefruit, in this case) with duct tape covered rope and drag it behind them with the rope affixed to their hips.

You will be dribbling a “soccer ball” which may look more like a fruit.
Each team will be provided a roll of duct tape and length of rope.
Only the duct tape may contact the ball (non sticky side).
Only the rope or ball may contact the duct tape.
The rope may be attached to the participant but never touch their hands, arms, feet, legs or head.

The debate centered on the interpretation of the word “dribbling”. Many felt that the contents of the grapefruit oozing from the puncture points constituted dribbling while I only permitted the Merriam-Webster definition pertaining to soccer: to propel by successive slight taps or bounces.

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Maya’s Day

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Maya graduated from Concord Middle School this morning and has been the center of attention all day long. During the student led event she served as co-Master of Ceremony. Wearing her Panda hat from China and a pair of Blues Brothers sunglasses, she was poised, funny and unflappable. When a chipmunk wandered on stage and hid below the upright piano, Maya quipped to the terrified audience, “I hope the next person playing has on closed toe shoes.” After a 15 minute delay during which students and teachers chased the chipmunk from the auditorium the ceremony resumed. Tracking the dislocated rodent was easy; you need only look to the section of the audience squealing the loudest. The ceremony resumed with a pseudo student talent show interleaved with award presentations by the faculty. Yesterday, Jeanine was alerted by the school that Maya would be winning a “big” award and that we would want to be in attendance. This news left me with a tough decision. Also scheduled for today is my annual, full day, Engineering All-Hands meeting during which I am expected to give the opening and closing remarks and generally officiate over the proceedings. In the end the choice was simple. Being present to witness Maya’s big honor was my top priority. It is nice to work with a group of professionals I can count on to step in for me knowing they will do an excellent job in my stead. The Morton R. Seavey Award was established by the CMS faculty in 1966 in honor of Mr. Seavey, who was a Principal in Concord from 1937 to 1965. The award goes to a member of the eighth grade, voted by the faculty as having made outstanding contributions in the areas of service, leadership, character and loyalty. The final award of the ceremony, Maya was genuinely surprised when it was her name that was called to receive this prestigious honor. In addition to the plaque she received, her name will be engraved on the memorial plaque at the school where it will remain in perpetuity.

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After standing for nearly three hours so I could witness Maya’s special recognition, I was all too happy to be seated in the car and on the way to my meeting. I arrived just in time for lunch and had ample time to set up a team building activity that would take place later in the afternoon. Worthy of its own blog entry I will simply leave you with this picture.

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As soon as my Engineering meeting wrapped up I sped home just in time to photograph Maya and her friends as they prepared to depart for the 8th Grade Dance (middle school prom equivalent). I have known many of these girls since they were 5 years old and find it hard to fathom how they have transformed into such beautiful young women.

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With all that has transpired today, I may have forgot to mention that it is Miss Maya’s 14th birthday. I suspect this is a day we will all remember for quite some time.

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Deck Deconstruction

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When we renovated our deck six years ago I fully expected it to last at least 20 years. We paid a premium for a low maintenance composite material that was supposed to be superior to wood in every way and was made in large part from recycled materials. Instead it has degraded to the point where it looks shabby and in another year will be unsafe. The fabricator of this product, which carried a ten year warranty, went bankrupt shortly before I tried to contact them two years ago. The contractor who recommended and installed the material has washed his hands of responsibility even though his company failed to install the material according to the manufacturer’s recommendations which certainly exacerbated the speed of failure. This time I will replace the deck myself with some help from Kyle’s company, Yard Dogs. His crew is coming later this week to remove and haul away the old material. Each morning and each night for the past couple of days I have been removing a couple of hundred screw fasteners in preparation. I estimate there are 1200 in total.

Heavy Rains

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Torrential downpours have swept through the region for the better part of the day leaving local rivers swollen. My plans to do a little kayaking this week may have to wait until the waters recede enough for me to squeeze through under some of the lower bridges.

Father’s Day

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Maya captured this portrait of me during a post match pool party at the home of our team’s goalie, Rob Morrison. Our team emerged victorious (2-0) from our semi-final play-off match this morning making for a very happy celebration. I was joined by Jeanine and the kids (plus my nephew John) who quickly found their way into a doubles ping pong match. Maya surprised everyone with her skills and game winning shot.

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Humming Birds

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For years it has been my ambition to photograph a humming bird. Photographically speaking it is significant challenge. At about two inches in length, you either need to be very close or use a big telephoto lens. Then there is the matter of those wings, beating at up to 30 beats per second, requiring a very fast shutter speed and/or short duration flash. Finally, you need to find one and track it through the air. Jeanine’s recently filled nectar feeder removed one of the big variables and all I had to do was wait for about thirty minutes before this little fellow showed up. I noticed he likes a particular flower in the garden as well. Perhaps I will catch him there with a more pleasing background next time.

Somewhat larger in size, Nicolai did some of his own mid-air hovering on the campus of Wellesley College. Jeanine, my nephew John, and Nico watched Maya’s last soccer game of the season before we took a few moments to make some videos of Nicolai doing front and back flips with and without his crutches. He is putting these clips together for another SideStix promotional video. Here we added to his collection of “levitation” photos.

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