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July 30, 2010

The Wrong Stuff: Mountaineer Ed Viesturs on Making Mistakes

Kathryn Schulz's new book, "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error," was published last month.

Excerpts from Viesturs' interview with Schulz which appeared in Slate on June 14, 2010 follow.


You've written that the worst mistake of your climbing career occurred on K2which is a bad place for a mistake, given its reputation as the deadliest mountain in the world. Can you describe what happened?

I was with two other climbers trying to make the summit, and we'd had to sit at our high camp for three nights waiting for the weather to clear. Finally we had what we thought was a window of opportunity, so we started climbing. About halfway into the day, the clouds below us slowly engulfed us, and it started to snow pretty heavily. I always contemplate going down even as I'm going up, and I was thinking, "You know what? Six, seven, eight, nine hours from now, when we're going down, there's going to be a tremendous amount of new snow, and the avalanche conditions could be huge."

I talked to my partners, and either I was overreacting or they were underreacting, because they were like, "What do you mean? This is fine." So I was kind of alone in my quandary. I knew I was making a mistake; I knew I should just simply go down, that I should unrope and leave my partners and let them go, but I kept putting off that decision, until eventually we got to the top. When we got down to camp that night, I was not pleased with what I had done. I'd have to say that was the biggest mistake I've ever made in my climbing career.

Really? Given the many fatal mistakes made on mountains every year, this doesn't sound so bad. You made it down safely, after all.

Yeah, but a mistake is a mistake even if you get away with it. Even though we succeeded, I don't ever want to do that again. I felt on the way down that the conditions were pretty desperate. We could've gone down in an avalanche at any minute. We just got really, really lucky. There were moments I was convinced we weren't going to make it down, when I said [to myself], "Ed, you've made the last and most stupid mistake of your life."

I think a lot of people, when they survive a situation like that, they're willing to do it again. They're like, "Well, you know I got away with it one time, I can probably get away with it again." You do that too many times and sooner or later, it's not going to work out.

Did you make more mistakes early on in your climbing career? There's that old saw about how experience is just another name for having made a lot of mistakes.

I don't really look back and say, "Oh my God, that thing I did was really idiotic, how could I have done that?" I think I always wanted to be careful. I didn't want to die in the mountains. I do think, though, that as I climbed more, I became more conservative, just because of all the things I'd learned.  When you're less experienced, you don't even know about the mistakes you're making.

Speaking of conservative decisions, I heard you once turned around when you were 300 feet from the summit of Mount Everest. Three hundred feet out of, what, 29,029?

Yeah. That was my first trip to Everest, and I was likedaaaaaaahhh! You know, there's the top, I could see the top, 300 feet away. But it was the obvious decision; all the indications were that we needed to turn around, and I just realized that I was going to have to go home and come back another year. And even though it was slightly frustrating, I wasn't disappointed. If I have to turn around because of conditions beyond my control, as long as I haven't given up physically or mentally, I don't call those failures. I can live with those.

When the stakes are big, the small stuff matters.

Climbing is the small stuff. The higher you climb, the less and less chance you have of being rescued. And that's when minor mistakes have huge, huge consequences. These high-altitude mountains are one of the few places on the planet where there is literally no help. If you screw up and break a leg, it's up to your partner to get you down. If he can't, you're dead. It's one of the few places in the world where your decisions have real consequences. I think a lot of people don't ever experience that—"Man, every decision I make has a consequence right now." That's a very interesting feeling.

The majority of accidents and deaths in the mountains are what I call self-inflicted. You make bad decisions, you choose to climb in bad weather, you make a dumb mistake like not clipping into a rope or not putting on your crampons, and then in a heartbeat, it falls apart. It's those little things that you have to constantly remind yourself about. It doesn't matter if I've been doing this for 30 years; I still have to be just as careful. But I think as you do something more and more, you have the tendency to become complacent.


I'm reminded of an old saw: "There are old mountain climbers, and there are bold mountain climbers, but there are no old, bold mountain climbers."

July 30, 2010 at 05:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Tarp Surfing — "Grab your tarp and go surfing with me"

'Cause everyone's got asphalt."

July 30, 2010 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Cast paper sculpture by Allen and Patty Eckman


The husband-and-wife team have been creating their pieces since 1987 in their home studio in South Dakota.


Each piece can take up to 11 months to make, using a specially-formulated paper.


The artists put paper pulp into silicone molds and then pressurize it to remove the water.


The hard, lightweight pieces are then removed, and the couple painstakingly add detail using a wide range of tools.


Allen Eckman said, "I work on the men and animals, and Patty does the women and children."


The pieces range in scale from life-size to 1/6 life-size.


They begin as standing nude figures, or animals with limited details (no ears, hair or tail).


Detail is then created atop the initial objects, using soft and hard paper made by the artists in various thicknesses and textures.

[via Linda Lou Turner]

July 30, 2010 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Video Barbie


Excerpts from Warren Buckleitner's article in yesterday's New York Times follow.



The Barbie Video Girl Doll ($50, Mattel, for ages 6 and up) looks just like a regular Barbie, but a closer look reveals a camera in her pendant [above],


and a postage-sized color screen on her back [above and below], peeking through her blouse.


“Creepy!” said nearly every boy I showed her to; “Cool!” said the girls, who immediately got the idea of the toy — to make movies from Barbie’s point of view.

Below, an x-ray of Video Barbie's internal workings.


Powered by two AAA batteries (one in each leg), the doll can record up to 30 minutes of Webcam quality AVI video onto its 256 MB of onboard memory. You can watch your recordings on the doll’s screen, but with no sound. Or you can transfer them to your Macintosh or Windows computer by way of the included mini-U.S.B. cable.


Because the doll can be posed, she doubles as a pretty good tripod. Mattel estimates just over an hour of recording time per set of batteries.


Wait a minute... what's that music I'm hearing?

It's... it's Simon and Garfunkel — boy, that's the old Wayback Machine in action: "I said be careful her pendant is really a camera...."

That's not how it goes?

You sure?

His pendant, OK, got it.

Not that either?


July 30, 2010 at 01:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

I write like...


"Check which famous author you write like with this statistical analysis tool, which analyzes your word choice and writing style and compares them with those of famous writers."

Guess who they came up with for me after parsing the sample up top, from one of my BehindTheMedspeak posts?

Answer here this time tomorrow.

July 30, 2010 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Shell Digital Scale


"Lift off the integrated measuring bowl to reveal


a large easy-to-read LCD display and simple controls."


White or Grey.




July 30, 2010 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

bookofjoe's favorite thing


Well, one of them, for sure — that's how I regard the occasional threat to stop reading bookofjoe unless I stop doing this, that or the other or featuring stuff that one person on the planet feels represents a direct, focused attack on them and their sensibilities.

What's the shortest known interval of time?

That between receipt of one of those emails and when I start creating a post aimed squarely between that person's frontal lobes, certain to generate an "OK joe, now you've gone and done it, I'm finished with you and bookofjoe!"

As Danny McKay — may he rest in peace, that wonderful man — used to say, "Here's your hat, what's your hurry?"

Thank goodness for Humphrey (top) — he toned this post down so that it wouldn't spark and smoke.

July 30, 2010 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Measuring spoons-in-a-cup


Why make yourself even more miserable when you're feverish, sniffling and can't see straight, trying to measure your NyQuil or Pepto-Bismol or whatever into a spoon and slopping it everywhere?

Think outside the kitchen space.

From the website:


Mini measuring cup is just the thing for those small kitchen measuring tasks. 

Why struggle with pouring liquids into measuring spoons, only to spill some of the contents while you’re at it? 

Glass jigger measures up to 6 tsp., 2 tbsp., 1 oz. and 30 ml. increments. 

Easy-to-read markings encircle the 2¼"H cup. 

Ideal for liquid medicines, too.


$4.98 .

July 30, 2010 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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