Many of the Three Hundred Zeroes readers are radio amateurs (hams). The previous post describes my wanderings around Europe this summer. If you're a radio amateur, I'd want to invite you to try and connect with me while hiking/biking this summer.
Starting in early May, until possibly mid-October, I should be active on Morse code (CW) from Spain, Portugal, U.K., Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Holland and possibly Germany and Denmark. As yet, there are no firm plans, so many things can go wrong on a journey of this magnitude, so it wouldn't be wise to plan too precisely. If you're a ham over there, please do contact me, maybe we can meet along the way!
I will attempt to operate from each of those countries and as a rule will operate on the 40/30/20 meter bands. Most often, I will be found on the 40 meter band, that seems to be the most popular and reliable. I managed to work four stateside stations last time, and I didn't have that much time to actually operate, this time, I should have considerably more time.
Whenever possible, if I can find a WiFi connection, I will post my activity on the QRPspots.com site. This is a site that “Tweets” short messages about operator activity. Since I won't have a cell phone that works in Europe, I will have to hope I can find a WiFi connection so I can Tweet from my Kindle. I was fairly successful doing this in 2011, on the Spain tour, so it should work well again.
So, dust off the old Morse code key, keep an eye on QRPspots.com and I hope to hear you while out there.
I'm currently trying to finish up work on the next book, A Few More Zeroes: Lost with the wind and the stars on the Camino de Santiago. It has been a long time in coming. Authors should always work to make the next book better than the first, and that is the case here.
Life always manages to get in the way of any project, and this is no exception. There are already readers that have ordered a copy, and it isn't even in print (or Ebook yet!). Hopefully, this will change soon.
Here is what the future holds: Jane and I are heading off to Europe for a while. We're taking a “transition” cruise on the Norwegian Cruise Line ship, the Epic. It leaves Miami in late April, and arrives in Barcelona at the beginning of May. I see this as an 11 day period to finish up the work on the book and get it off to the editor. The editor will take the time necessary to work her magic and transform my scribblings into something enjoyable and legible.
Once the editing phase is completed, it is a matter of DAYS to take the completed manuscript and have it into print and on Ebooks. Such are the times. Not too long ago, in the traditional publishing world, that period of time could have been years. With POD (Print On Demand) Publishing, this is no longer the case.
Once we arrive in Spain, the cruise destination, we'll disembark with our bicycles at Barcelona. We plan to then ride the bikes from Barcelona to Logroño, Spain and then onto Santiago. In Santiago, we have arranged to store the bikes, and then take a train to Lisbon, Portugal. From there, we will walk back to Santiago, something like 400 miles. This is known as the Portuguese Camino.
From Santiago, we'll take the bikes to Santander, Spain, and a ferry to Portmouth, U.K. Plans get somewhat fuzzy beyond there. We plan to follow the wonderful bike routes in the U.K., known as the www.sustrans.com network. This network is a series of bicycle “superhighways,” and covers all of the U.K. We plan to ride up to Hadrians Wall and walk it. We'll then go back, get the bikes and possibly go over to Ireland for a while.
This is where things really get obscure. One of my ulterior motives is to research places my father visited during World War II. He was in the 82nd Airborne Paratrooper Division and the 101st and 505th airborne regiments. He saw action in five combat jumps: North Africa, Sicily, Italy, D-Day (Ste. Me're Eglise, Normandy, France) and Nijmegen, Holland. Additionally, he was trucked into Bastogne, Belgium for the Battle of the Bulge.
If you readers have ever read the book by Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day, or seen the movie, you may not have been aware of it, but my father played a part in that book. I was a young lad, when I recall Mr. Ryan coming to our home to interview my father for the book. My father would have been 100 years old this year, I figured I owe him a tribute for all he went through. I have other books that have photos of the tree he landed in during the D-Day invasion. He was hanging about 25 feet above the ground, with a Nazi machine gunner shooting at him. He cut his parachute cords and fell to the ground and they didn't hit him. In the panic, he did cut off the top of his thumb, but didn't even feel it.
He was also injured in Nijmegen, and due to that injury, he eventually met my mother, a nurse with the British Army. At Bastogne, he nearly froze to death.
It will be interesting to trace his steps and see what I can find. Maybe you'll enjoy reading his story? Hopefully, it won't take as long as the current work has. In his case, I do already have tons of material to work from. I'll guarantee, it is a very interesting story.
A few days ago, I received a problem report ticket from Amazon:
“Text in your book is unreadable for readers using black or sepia color schemes.”
It is a rather cryptic message and didn't give any details about solutions. It did give a link to the Kindle formatting page: Guide to Kindle Content Quality. The guide gave very little useful information about the issue.
Ultimately, I went off on an Internet search and eventually discovered that I wasn't alone, others had received emails such as mine, but there were no real solutions. The original problem, which wasn't readily apparent, is the newer Kindles, such as the Fire, can display the book with a black background with white text. Several authors took the attitude that viewing a document with white-on-black letters was so “80's.” I didn't exactly see this as a healthy attitude or solution to the problem. We authors can't always know the reasons our customers do things.
I originally wrote and published my book using Microsoft's Word. I no longer have Word, it proved too arcane and difficult to use, not to mention, expensive. I've since migrated to OpenOffice.org and their Writer tool. It is user friendly and offers all the same bells and whistles as MS Word, and is free! (they DO appreciate donations)
For reasons I won't go into here, when I first published Three Hundred Zeroes, I was able to upload the document to Amazon's Kindle site as a MS Word document. Recently, I had to make some changes to the document and decided to do all the work in HTML (a language used to write web sites). The tools I have are not very robust for such work, but I'm sufficiently comfortable with HTML at the source code level and can fix things where needed.
In January, I did an update of the Kindle version of the book, uploaded it to Amazon's KDP site (their Kindle interface) and thought I was done. Then came the email, I wasn't done, apparently.
I couldn't find a solution in any of the OpenOffice forums, so I posted my problem. Usually, within an hour or two, someone will respond with a solution. I waited. Nothing. I then decided that I had to dig in and find the problem. It occurred to me that the HTML for the book has various “styles” defined. The styles guide the electronic viewing equipment (computer, Ebook, Iphone, etc.) with instructions on how to display the information.
After diving into the HTML code I found that it did indeed have some CSS definitions, and in there, I did find a few that explicitly defined that the text should be “black,” using code #000000. Black text, on a black background means a black screen!
The definitions defined the basic text (P) and a few of the headers (H2, H3 and H4) as black. I fixed just the “P” (for paragraph) and loaded it back into my Kindle simulator. Sure enough, I was now able to read white text on a black screen for the paragraphs and the H1 headers. Problem solved!. I went back and fixed all of the parameters to use “automatic” colors, instead of “fixed” colors.
It has since been posted and updated on Amazon. If you already have a copy of the book, pester Amazon for the updated version (11 March, 2013.) They probably haven't sent out word about the fix yet, but if they get enough requests, they will.
Several technological areas collided to cause this problem. First of all, when I first wrote and published this book on Kindle, it wasn't capable of being displayed in this fashion. Since I originally posted it with MS Word, it probably would have worked in the newer units, since I didn't have CSS code defining colors. When I saved the file in OpenOffice as an HTML file, it wouldn't allow me to turn on the automatic color feature, which means, let the viewing device control color. In spite of all of this, I'm really surprised that the Kindle code doesn't inspect the CSS to see if there is a request for black print, on a black background. It should, and it should force the text to white under those conditions, that just stands to reason.
These technical devices we use these days are extremely complicated and I can only imagine that these sorts of problems will continue to crop up. They are designed by humans, and we're not infallible.
I'm often asked, “Which hike did you like better, the Camino de Santiago, Spain, or the Appalachian Trail?” Answering that question is like answering to which child you like better, you can't answer that.
They are both very different experiences. It is like comparing sailing on a private yacht, vs. a cruise ship. Both have advantages and disadvantages.
The private yacht offers, well, privacy and yet allows freedom to sail where you wish and follow your whims. Meals are quiet, and entertainment tends to be with a few other guests and solitary activities, such as watching videos, reading or maintaining the yacht.
The cruise ship on the other hand has a defined route and schedule. The ship is not very “private,” except for your cabin. There are group events, shows, huge dining areas and the experience is more like that of a floating city neighborhood.
The Camino is more like the private yacht. There is no well defined route to follow. We followed the most popular route, from St. Jean Pied du Port, France, to Santiago de Compostela, a wonderful 500 mile (800 km) walk through some of the most spectacular countryside in Europe. It is rife with castles, ancient villages, scenic vistas and culture. However, the route we took, known as the Camino Francés, is one of many and even it is not well defined.
I'm currently working on finishing my story of that hike and I find it striking how many times we were lost on this “route.” Unlike the A.T., it is not as well marked and many times we had to decide on which path to take, there were choices, some longer, some shorter.
The A.T., on the other hand, is a well defined, 2,176 mile (in 2008) path that is marked with white “blazes” and I never needed a map. Oddly, the A.T. wanders through woods, mountains, hills, and other places that would seem to make it difficult to follow, but it rarely was. The Camino, on the other hand, goes almost directly west, from one village, town or city, to the next and yet can perplex and confuse the hiker.
In the photo, the white blaze, on the left, was partially eaten by a bear, you can see the claw marks. Those blazes were distinguishable and clear for the entire length of the A.T., provided bears weren't eating them. The image on the right shows the yellow arrows used to mark the Camino. They were often vague, inconsistent and puzzling. Here, even the person painting the arrow wasn't certain and painted a question mark over the arrow!
Which did I like better? I loved them both! I can't pick a winner, they are both world class and deserve to stand alone. They're both my favorite children.
One of the most asked questions I hear is: “What do eat on the trail?” I started to write some Tweets about this yesterday:
Tweets, by their very nature are brief and can lack refined grammar structure, but you get the idea. Men and women on the trail eat many of the same things, but the women do have a strong leaning to things chocolate.
Deciding what to bring along for subsistence on a long hike can be challenging. More often than not, it is dictated by one's economical situation. For those with limited funds, the choices are very limited. First there is the decision around whether to cook meals or just carry cold foods. Cold foods have distinct advantages on the trail: there is no need to carry a stove and fuel, plus, one can eat quick meals. The downside of eating cold is obvious, it can prove boring and in cold weather, the additional heat from warm food can be a real comfort.
In my own case, I did carry a stove and would often have a warm meal at night. On a few occasions I even stopped along the way to make hot tea or cocoa. On some of the colder mornings, I would prepare hot oatmeal, and I have to admit, really appreciated it.
Most mornings laziness won out and I would gobble down a Pop Tart (cold) or bagels and cream cheese or peanut butter. I'd wash it down with Gatorade. It all really depended on my mood and how rushed I was.
Lunch was almost always, cold. If I could carry something from an overnight stay, it would be a deli-prepared sandwich. Otherwise it was usually more bagels, or tortilla flat bread, and tuna or canned herring. To make things more interesting, I would also allow myself the luxury of some good grade cookies for desert.
Snacks along the way were usually a candy bar, such as Snickers, Milky Way, or Paydays. In normal, everyday life, I never eat these things, but on the trail, I had them often. The body just craves calories.
My evening meal was typically pasta or bean based. Most often, due to availability and cost, the Knorr/Lipton side dish meals won out. Even though the packages indicate cooking times of 15-20 minutes for many of them, I found that if I boiled water and then just let the meal sit in the water, with the stove turned off, they would still cook adequately. Instead of the recommended butter or margarine, I used olive oil. Olive oil is high in calories and worked well as a substitute. The biggest difficulty was finding small enough quantities of olive oil to carry in the pack. When in town, I would usually try to find other hikers that were also looking for some olive oil and then we would split the container. Often, containers of olive oil could be found in the hostels along the way.
The evening meal was always the largest meal of the day. Accompanying the pasta or beans, I would have something bread-based, as well as packaged meat or fish, such as tuna, sardines, corned beef, or pepperoni. I tried to have variety. As the hike up the AT progressed, I found myself cooking more and more couscous and really enjoying it. Best of all, it takes very little cooking energy and yet offers tremendous nutritional energy. In my mountain bike racing days, I always had couscous on the day before a race, and it proved a valuable ally. I preferred the Near East couscous because it came with a flavor packet. I would remove it from it's box, since the boxes are half empty and would take up valuable backpack space, and repackage the couscous in a plastic zip bag. The bags could be used over and over again.
Each hiker finds what works for him or her. I heard of one fellow that hiked the entire AT eating nothing but peanut butter. It does have most of the nutrients needed, but I would think it a bit boring. To each, his or her own.
What I ate on the trail worked for me. I'd love to hear from you readers, what works for you? Write a comment and let the rest of us know.
Seth Godin, a writer of some acclaim, blogged an interesting piece that I'd like to share. I'm on his mailing list and without fail, he sends out copies of his blog each day that are usually thought provoking and inspirational. The one that caught my eye today was titled: Civilization.
As is Seth's way, he can take a topic that is mundane and obvious, and explore it and awaken you to aspects of the topic you may never have considered. A good portion of the world lives in “civilization” today, but many do not. People that live in places where 14 year-old girls are shot for blogging, or people have their heads removed because they “look different” are not living in civilizations.
One line he wrote really caught my eye: “We don't need more stuff. We need more civilization.” How true. When I wrote my story about hiking the Appalachian Trail, Three Hundred Zeroes, I finished the last chapter with that theme. I discovered that, even though I was walking through some very remote country, I was walking through a civilization that was comfortable with itself. I started the walk in the deep south of the United States and ended up in the farthest northern region and yet there was a common bond to be found all along the way. Everywhere I went I was greeted by friendly people and made to feel at home.
Many, if not most of those I met, had very little in the way of worldly goods, yet what they had, they shared willingly. Total strangers invited me into their homes, fed me and asked nothing in return. They could all “use” more stuff, many would be considered “poor,” but they didn't measure their wealth in the size of their car (if they had one) but rather in the size of their hearts. I'll never forget those people.
In the book's last chapter I talked about the impact all of this and the effect it had on me. When Jane and I went off to walk the Camino de Santiago last year, we carried our world on our backs, in our backpacks, and we were walking in bliss. As long as we had enough to eat and a place to sleep at night, we were content.
Sometimes, less, truly is more.