Kathmandu

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My flight arrived in Kathmandu 4 hours late, around 11AM. A driver from my hotel was there to meet me and I was able to persuade him to drive me directly to the government office which issues the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit which is required before entering the trekking circuit. I knew that the office closed at noon on Saturdays and it was essential that I obtain that document today or I would immediately lose a day from my schedule. We arrived just in the nick of time. Also required is a Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) permit but that office closed before I could get there. Fortunately, the TIMS permit can also be obtained at the beginning of the trail head so I will pick it up tomorrow. I spent the balance of the day exchanging currency, picking up a good trekking map, and stocking up on small food items for the trail. I am staying in the Thamel section of Kathmandu which is trekker central. There must be two dozens stores where you can obtain every manor of trekking gear, countless agencies which will arrange for local transportation, guides and porters, and several bars where solo trekkers post listings to find partners. Unfortunately, my hotel is situated right in the center of the action which means that it is noisy as hell well into the early morning hours.

I have many impressions of Kathmandu which I will share in later posts. For now let me just comment on the obvious lack of planning and thoughtful infrastructure. This photo is typical of the wiring that can be found throughout the city. No apparent rhyme or reason with old wires abandoned in place and new ones connected point to point with no coordination or master plan. The same principles at play here can be traced into every other aspect of civil infrastructure (roads, water, sewage treatment, zoning, etc.) contributing to a very low standard of living and safety. Despite an abundance of hydroelectric power, for example, one can expect rolling blackouts everyday because most of the power is sold to India at discount rates (no doubt the result of government corruption and special interests).

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You can’t throw a stick in Thamel without hitting a store or stand where tourist type gifts can be purchased. I will wait until I return at the tail end of my visit before making any acquisitions so that I do not have to carry the items with me while hiking.

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Boston to Nepal

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I left Boston yesterday beginning 26 hours of continuous travel to Nepal. I flew first to Dublin, from Dublin to Istanbul, and from Istanbul to Kathmandu. I passed the time reading more about Nepal and finalizing my trekking itinerary. Several delays and the near failure of my checked baggage to connect in Dublin made for a less than relaxing journey. Because of the 10 hour and 45 minute time change, I made an effort to start making the day for night sleep schedule transition even as I was in transit. My plan is to spend one day/night in Kathmandu where I must secure various travel permits and then immediately begin my trek the following day. This view from the air while on final approach gave a real appreciation for how the Nepali use terraces to turn mountainsides into farm land.

Turkey Trotters

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The entire family, plus Jeanine’s sister Susan, participated in a 5K Turkey Trot this morning to raise funds for Open Table. The family took a moment to model the complimentary shirts we received and this somehow evolved to include funny hats and eventually Nala was dragged into the scene.

I leave for Nepal this afternoon and will not be posting again until I return on December 22nd.

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Prove People Wrong

I just came across this video on YouTube of an interview Nico gave to Prove People Wrong more than a year ago. If memory serves me, he earned a $1000 for his participation which he donated to the Concord Carlisle Soccer Team.

Best Boss

wpid11324-2013-03-14-133954-008.jpgA huge shakeup at work today as the CEO announced a new leadership reporting structure which did not include Jeff Beck, my boss and Chief Operating Officer. The General Managers of our three business units will now report to the CEO, the head of Operations will report to the CFO, I will report to the CTO, and the position of COO will no longer exist. This change came as a complete surprise to the entire team but transitions such as this often do. Jeff was the driver behind the most impressive business turn-around I have personally witnessed and is easily the best boss I have ever worked for. I am very sad that he is leaving but grateful for all he has taught me. My new boss was the former CEO of Evolution Robotics, a company which we acquired about a year ago. He is now the Chief Technical Officer and is based in Pasadena. He is an extremely bright technologist and insightful strategist with a proven business track record. We already have a good working relationship and the new reporting structure unifies the entire engineering organization in a way that I think will be highly beneficial for the company in the long run. Tomorrow I will embrace all the new possibilities but today I can only lament the departure of someone who I have truly enjoyed working for.

Flocks & Locks

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I put in my final training hike today, an 8 mile excursion from Mount Misery around Walden Pond and back in just over 3 hours. The temperature was in the low 20s with an average wind of 15 mph and gusts to 40mph, perfect conditions to prepare me for the higher altitude sections of the Annapurna Circuit. It was a little chilly when I was exposed to the full force of the wind but otherwise I was quite comfortable. My boots felt great, my pack felt great, and I am feeling like my body is ready for the challenge that waits from me in Nepal. Given the temperature, I did not stop often to take pictures but could not pass up this flock of birds as they swooped into feed on what I can only imagine was a large worm convention.

Both boys are now home for the Thanksgiving Day holiday. I picked up Nico from the airport late last night and Kyle with his friend Omar this afternoon. Somehow both have evaded my camera thus far but I did manage a photo of Maya midway through the process of taming her hair. I don’t quite understand the entire process or chemicals involved but her hair starts small, then grows VERY big, then is knotted into submission somehow. It seems like a lot of work compared to my routine which includes exactly one step: wake up.

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Final Rigging

wpid11297-2013-11-23-172353-006.jpgEarlier in the week I described some modifications I made to my pack that allow me to access my tripod and trekking poles independently and without removing my pack. A colleague who follows the blog requested that I post an image of this arrangement. I am very pleased with the setup and I know it will save me time and energy while on the trail. The black padded pouch at my waist holds two cameras. Both are Canon SL1s which are the lightest and smallest DSLRs on the market today. One is paired with a 10-22mm zoom and the other with a 50-250mm zoom. In full frame equivalent terms, this gives me a focal range of 16-400mm which will handle everything but distant wildlife. Having two bodies gives me redundancy in the event one fails and eliminates the need to swap lenses in what is sure to be a dusty and windy environment.

Catapults

wpid11301-2013-11-22-173431-001.jpgSoftware engineers in general don’t make very good mechanical engineers (and vice a versa). Not so at iRobot, where the software department produced some very high quality catapults during their offsite team building event. I am looking forward to seeing some photos of these bad boys in action. It is too bad we have not preserved all of the artifacts from the most recent team building events. We could have staged a relay race with cardboard cars and boats, being filmed from above by camera carrying gliders, all while being bombarded with projectiles launched from catapults and balloon launchers. Do a search here for “team building” and you will see all the necessary elements.

Aunt Marie

wpid11286-2013-11-21-205119-010.jpgwpid11289-2013-11-21-205248-014.jpgMarie, my sister-in-law, is in town on business and arrived this evening to spend the night with us. We rarely get to enjoy her company without some number (from one to four) of my nieces and nephews and/or my brother. While we love the whole clan it was really nice to spend a few hours in adult conversation with no distractions. Regrettably, she is set to fly back to Minnesota tomorrow and our time together will be all too brief.

Annapurna Circuit

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Jeanine requested that I leave her with a map so that the family can plot my progress as I begin to traverse the Annapurna Circuit starting next week. The one pictured above has distance in miles on the horizontal axis and elevation in feet on the vertical axis. The entire trek generally takes anywhere from 17 to 21 days to complete. I plan to take it slow and give myself plenty of time for acclimatization to the high altitudes. Thorung La is the summit pass located 17,769 ft above sea level. In December there is a strong possibility it will be impassable due to snow or threat of avalanche. If this is the case, I will wait a few days for conditions to improve or turn back and return the way I came. The Annapurna Circuit is widely regarded as one of the top ten treks in the world with many placing it at the top of the list. It has long been an aspiration of mine to make this journey and I find myself filled with great excitement and a certain measure of trepidation as the day of my departure for Nepal grows near.

Passport Photos

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Just over a week now before I leave for Nepal to trek the Annapurna Circuit. Upon arrival I will need to obtain a visa, a TIMS (Trekker Information Management System) card, and an ACAP (Annapurna Conservation Area Project) permit. Each requires 2 passport size photos. Bringing these with me and filling out applications in advance will save considerable time when I arrive in Kathmandu where I would rather spend my time exploring the city than navigating the bureaucracy.

Big Bang

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No better way to start the week with a bang than to have a power utility transformer explode and catch on fire. The folks I was meeting with were happy to continue working despite the loss of power until we were ordered to evacuate the building. The Fire Department was on scene and the fire was out before I could make my way to the designated rally area. A power crew was quick to follow and electricity was restored to the building within a few hours.

Fell Again

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Jeanine joined me this morning for a return to the Middlesex Fell Reservation. We covered 4 miles in 2 hours under grey skies. I spent the balance of the day refining my back pack to optimally carry my tripod and trekking poles. Normally these items are fastened by straps to the sides of the back pack. To access them, you must stop and remove the pack. This not only takes time and energy, it is is also unpleasant. During strenuous trekking the back of your shirt becomes drenched in perspiration. When you remove your pack you get an immediate chill and putting the pack on again is just as bad. By sewing on some additional straps, I have devised a way to carry both items on my chest and above my camera bag. Either can be deployed in seconds and neither prevent me from getting to my cameras without obstruction. This arrangement, although a little strange looking, also serves to place the load I am carrying more directly over my center of gravity, leading to better stability and less fatigue while hiking.

The Fells

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Middlesex Fells Reservation, often referred to simply as the Fells, is a 2,575-acre Massachusetts state park located in Malden, Medford, Melrose, Stoneham, and Winchester. Today I completed a 4 hour, 8-mile hike with a 30 pound pack on what turned out to be a glorious day.

wpid11263-2013-11-16-164821-010.jpgI principally followed the mountain biking loop trail as it featured the most aggressive ascents and descents. So far this training hike has come the closest to what I can expect in Nepal. When I finished, I was tired and my feet were sore but I felt I could do the whole thing again tomorrow (which I may) a good sign of my readiness for the Annapurna Circuit. Obviously, the AC involves much greater elevation changes and will eventually reach an altitude of 17,769 feet which presents entirely different challenges. Still, I am pleased with my progress and am confident my calf muscle has fully recovered and will not be an issue on the trek. Jeanine and I dined with the former President of Open Table and his wife at 29 Sudbury, a newly opened restaurant featuring modern American food with an Italian influence. The meal was delightful as was the dinner conversation.

Baby Shower

wpid11255-2013-11-15-114823-011.jpgA work week abbreviated by the Veteran’s Day holiday came to a tasty end as iRobot employees threw a mini baby shower for one of our colleagues. The cake did little to help my efforts to trim down for Nepal and Jeanine’s home made risotto dinner only added to the challenge. I am sure to lose a dozen pounds on my trek but it would be so much healthier to lose those pounds before I start. The weekend weather forecast sounds good and I plan to put in a some serious training hikes which should offset the caloric damage done this week.