Sometimes award winners are truly deserving of their prize, and that is indeed the case with J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, which won the 1999 Booker Prize.  Disgrace tells the tale of two disgraced individuals: David Lurie, a professor of poetry who refuses to publicly apologize for having an affair with a student, and his daughter Lucy.  After being forced to leave his position at the university, David retreats to his daughter’s country home, where he slowly rebuilds his existence, only to be unable to help when Lucy suffers a brutal and savage attack.  As both David and Lucy struggle with their shame and disgrace, their relationship frays, and each must find a way to carry on.

David retreats into the study of the life of Byron, of whom he has a great interest and dreams of emulating by leaving his home and escaping to Italy.  Lucy similarly retreats into herself, unable to confront those who brought the attack upon her, and unable to handle the consequences wrought.   Written to express the dilemma confronting the White people of South Africa, Coetzee has written a deep and subtle novel, perhaps best captured through David’s expression of how he might be able to move on: “Yes it is humiliating.  But perhaps that is a good point to start from again.  Perhaps that is what I must learn to accept.  To start at ground level.  With nothing… No cards, no weapons, no property, no rights, no dignity… Yes, like a dog”.

Verdict: 5/5

ISBN: 978-0143115281

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Mt. Chief Pascall

Trip Date: December 11, 2011

Participants: Alexis Guigue, Steve Bell-Irving, David Haslam, Rob Kay, Travis McClinchey, Andrzej Jarzabek, Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger (organizer)

Difficulty: 3.  Easy rock scrambling, slopes to 30-35 degrees, dense forest low down

Elevation Gain: 920m

Report: My first ski trip on the BCMC schedule to actually run this season!  The trip began by meeting up at the Mt. Currie Coffee Company in Pemberton just before 8am, making all of the necessary introductions, and setting off to the weather station pullout right at Cayoosh Pass.  We set off from the cars at about 9:30, with 7 of us on skis, and 1 on snowshoes.

The first 10 minutes or so of the trip were easy going, and then we hit the logging road.  When I went up towards Mt. Chief Pascall in February 2011, the logging road was completely covered, and we took it to the clearcut a couple hundred metres to the east, which was then easily descended.  This time, however, with no appreciable snowfall in 2 weeks, the logging road was a brutal alder bash, which we had to take all the way to the east side of the clearcut as from below the clearcut did not appear to be skiable.

From the east end of the clearcut, we had little difficulty ascending the forest, slowly traversing around to the east side of the ridge to avoid the bluffs high up, and soon entered the gentle basin at treeline to the north west of the summit.  From here, it was an easy skin up to the west ridge of Chief Pascall.  After a quick snack break (and to give our valiant snowshoer a chance to catch his breath!) we skinned up the narrowing ridge (with some difficulty in places due to the low snow level) up to the top of the large gully descending from the summit (~100m below the summit) and left our skis behind to scramble the remainder of the ridge.

The final ridge was an easy scramble, although the going was slow with many of the rocks covered with only a few inches of snow and ice.  We all reached the summit around 1:30 and took our time to eat, drink, and gaze at the north/east faces of Joffre.

Leaving the summit, we made quick time down to our skis (despite one of my legs post-holing into a gap between two boulders approximately 3m deep!), and began our descent by skiing the top couple hundred metres of the wide snowslope labelled “Equinox” on Baldwin’s Duffey Lake map.  With a bit of foresight, we could have left a vehicle at the Marriot basin trailhead and had a fall line descent most of the way down, but alas, that hadn’t crossed any of our minds and we quickly had to begin our traverse to the west in order to reach our vehicles.  Around treeline we found some fantastic powder, but the traversing was not steep enough for our snowboarder to properly ride and I think he found much of the descent quite tedious.

Back down at the clearcut, we started to bash through the alder on the logging road, but Alexis smartly decided to take a peek through the bushes to see if he could scout a clear line through the clearcut, and as it turned out, he could!  Although not phenomenal by any means, we had a nice run through the clearcut back down to the logging road, and from there it was a quick ski down through the trees to the vehicles, where we arrived around 4:30pm.  The route taken is definitely much more suitable for skiing than snowboarding, and so I learned something for next time.  Nonetheless, everyone made it down before dark, and fun was had by all.

Verdict: 2/3.

Note: I forgot my camera at home for this trip, and so all photos were taken by my dad on his camera

Continue ReadingMt. Chief Pascall

Mt. Seymour

Trip Date: Dec. 4, 2011

Participants: James Clarke, Stetson (James’ dog), Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2 (usually)

Report: By the morning of James’ early season BCMC trip to Mt. Seymour, we were down to just James, his dog Stetson, and myself.  Leaving the Mt. Seymour parking lot at 8am on a sunny Sunday, we were able to quickly ascend to the regular winter trail to the 2nd peak of Seymour before the snowshoeing crowds hit the mountain.  From the second peak we could see that there was a lot of exposed rock on the 3rd peak and that it wouldn’t be possible to ski all the way up, and so we ditched our skis in some bushes on the 2nd peak and began the traverse over to the 3rd peak.  Unfortunately for us, I had neglected to bring an ice axe and the traverse over to the col between the 2nd and 3rd peaks was covered with a thin layer of ice that, given that this was my 5th or 6th trip to Mt. Seymour in 2011, rendered the traverse too sketchy to be bothered with.

We reascended the second peak and ate our lunch as the first of the snowshoeing hordes caught up to us.  A brisk wind picked up, and we headed back down the trail, skiing down the southwest face of pump peak, and due to the presence of a dog, had to ski the trail down from Brockton Point.  Stetson at one point got distracted by the adoring crowds and disappeared for a good 10 minutes, but was eventually found mooching food from a group of friendly admirers.  Just below Brockton Point, Stetson was nearly fined by the park rangers for being off leash (a technicality, truly, as he was attached to a leash… just no human holding on to the other end), but managed to charm his way out of a ticket.  We reached the parking lot around 1 o’clock, by which point the trail was populated by the steady stream of hikers normally reserved for the grouse grind.

In the end, it was a failed attempt on Seymour, but we had fantastic weather, good views, and was a good trip for a day when I had to be back in town by early afternoon to visit with some visiting family.

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Alpen Mountain

Trip Date: Dec 3, 2011

Participants: Ed Zenger, Geoff Zenger

Difficulty: 2.  Difficulty rating is 2 provided that you swing around to the south ridge near the summit.  If you head straight up on the west ridge, then there are a few short, mildly exposed steps of 45-50 degree snow.

Elevation Gain: ~1200m

Report: For an early season day where I had to be back in town by early evening, my dad and I decided to go for a “short” ski trip somewhere in the vicinity of Squamish.  Wanting to avoid the crowds on Paul Ridge, the idea came to attempt the little known Alpen Mountain.  Inexplicably missing from John Baldwin’s ski touring guidebook and only an hour’s drive from Vancouver, Alpen turns out to be a great warm-up ski ascent with no crowds.

Leaving New Westminster a bit past 8, we drove up towards Squamish, headed onto the Mamquam FSR, and hit solid snow on the Alpen Mountain Spur (ungated at this time of year) at around 550m.  After taking a bit of time to get the car turned around, and get our ski gear on, we were able to set out on skis right at 10 o’clock.  Following some old snowmobile tracks, we gained the first ~800m of elevation on the main logging road (easy to follow, it’s the only non overgrown road in the area) under grey and foggy skies.  However, around 1400m, not far below the old snowmobile hut at the end of the road, the skies suddenly cleared and we were presented with amazing views of Sky Pilot, Ledge, and Habrich to the west.

From the snowmobile hut, we followed what appeared to be ski tracks off to the north east, but soon realized that we were heading in the wrong direction to the peak, and had to contour back to the south, losing some elevation.  Next time, the smarter route decision would be to turn right at the hut and head south, in order to directly hit the main basin below the summit of Alpen, where the west ridge can be easily obtained about 100m below the summit.  Still early season, there was a mix of rock, ice, and snow on the ridge of Alpen, and so we left our skis behind about 100m below the summit and climbed straight up the west ridge, just above the north face.  This route requires negotiating a few short, mildly exposed, steps of 45+ degree snow, and from the summit we learned that the smarter route would be to swing further around to the south of the summit before heading straight up.

We summitted Alpen just before 2pm, and after stopping for 15 minutes for food and photos, made our way down.  The first few hundred metres of skiing were good powder, but once on the logging road, what had been soft snowmobile tracks in the morning had frozen into icy ruts that made the run down the logging road both tiring and bothersome.  Nonetheless, we made it back to the car just before 4pm, for a total round trip of 6 hours, with a bit over 1200m net elevation gain.

Verdict: 2/3.  Worthwhile for its convenience and varied terrain.  No crowds!

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Crater Slabs (Oct 2010)

Trip Date: Oct 2, 2010

Participants: Max Bitel, David Carne, Jeff Ross, Geoff Zenger (reporter)

Difficulty: 4.  Mostly sustained 3rd class with exposure, but with a couple of 4th class steps that many people would want a rope to safely ascend.  It is harder than most of the “difficult” scrambles in Matt Gunn’s book, and it is recommended that you complete many of them, or have an outdoor rock climbing background, before attempting this route.  If you follow the slabs direct to the summit instead of exiting at the end of the couloir, then there is substantial 4th class on the route.

Report: For this blog’s first trip report, I’ve decided to post a trip report from the vault, so to speak, from one of my favourite scrambles of the past few years.  Max and I would return with Saravie and Brittany the following year to repeat the ascent, with some route modifications.

Max and I had talked about climbing the Crater Slabs route on Crown for at least a year prior to our ascent, but each time we had planned on climbing it the weather turned and our trip had to be cancelled. Lucky for us, after a miserable September, early October brought a few days of sun to dry out the slabs so we quickly arranged to attempt the route.

I awoke Saturday morning to a grey sky of low overcast and a call from David to inform me that my ride to the base of Grouse would be late. David, Max, and I ended up not arriving at the base of the grind until nearly 8:30, by which point Jeff had been waiting for us for a full half hour. We were unsure of whether it would be better to approach the crater slabs from Lynn / Hanes valley or from Grouse, but we decided on the Grouse approach after a friend told us that a couple weeks earlier he had some difficulties crossing Lynn creek. Another concern was that although the day was forecast to be dry and it had been dry all week in the city, online satellite precipitation maps showed that it had been raining lightly during the night in the vicinity of Crown mountain. It would turn out that there is little foliage in the couloir or on the slabs, and so although the forest was wet, by mid-day the rock was bone dry.

Upon seeing the crowds at the base of the grind and the BCMC trail and figuring that we had no reason to rush, we started up the grind and headed for one of the trails that leads directly up to Dam mountain in order to avoid the crowds. We reached the peak of Dam around 11:15 and took a break to eat lunch. Soon after beginning the descent from Dam to Crown pass, we encountered a group of German hikers who thought that there were bears on the ridge to Goat, and we were advised to not proceed. Not seeing any signs of bears, we ignored their advice and proceeded down to Crown pass and into Hanes valley. As we began the descent, the clouds finally cleared and gave way to sun, leaving us with perfect scrambling conditions.

While descending into Hanes valley it looked like it might be possible to avoid descending all the way down until the talus slope that descends from Crown pass intersects the one coming down the valley from the summit of Crown by traversing the slopes at the base of the rock wall on the left. Not sure of whether the traverse was feasible or not, Jeff, Max, and I sat down as David went on a scouting mission to investigate. Some ten minutes later we could hear the words “go down” echo through the valley and we got up to head down to where the two talus slopes intersected. Not knowing what happened to David and apparently no longer in vocal communication range with him, we waited at the bottom for him, and were finally ready to begin our ascent of Crown from deep in Hanes valley at about 1:30.

To reach the Crater Slabs, you ascend the slope from Hanes valley leading towards the summit of Crown, always following the left-hand wall. After 20 or so minutes of ascending from the valley bottom, we reached the beginning of the Crater Slabs route proper, where the route starts up a narrow rock gully with a small creek running through it. Until this point, the route is a straightforward hike, but from this point onwards the route steepens significantly, and although the gully is mostly 3rd class, there are a number of class 4 sections that many people would be uncomfortable ascending without a belay (especially when wet). The rock is generally of good quality, although friable in places. The most difficult step of the gulley is right at its end, where there is a short near-vertical wall that needs to be ascended to reach the main slabs. Once the slabs are reached, downclimbing the route to retreat would be significantly more difficult than continuing upwards.

Our original intent had been to follow the main couloir most of the way up, and to traverse right out of the couloir onto a bushy ledge, and to ascend from there straight up to the summit of Crown. However, we missed our turn off from the main couloir, and ascended it all the way to the top, where it connects with the regular Crown hiking trail about a hundred feet below the summit. This is fairly easy, although near the top there is a lot of loose rock, including some larger boulders. Our only scare of the day happened when a large boulder was sent down the couloir and sent an avalanche of rocks down the gully between where Max and I were climbing. Another feasible option would be to traverse out of the main couloir to the lower angle slabs below the Camel and to approach the summit of Crown from the base of the Camel. All of these variations are quite similar in exposure and angle, and any one will provide for a great day of scrambling. From the base of the gully at the top of Hanes Valley to the summit of Crown via the Crater Slabs took about an hour and a half.

We reached the top of Crown sometime between 3:15 and 3:30, where we found sizeable crowd of hikers eager to learn about the route that they had watched us ascend. We left the summit around 4:30 and hiked down to the gondola in beautiful light and cool, crisp autumn air, arriving at the chalet just as the sun set, a bit before 7pm. With its long line of enjoyable scrambling and its proximity to the city, this route is highly recommended.

Verdict: 3/3.  A must do for the experienced coastal scrambler


Continue ReadingCrater Slabs (Oct 2010)

Calling Out For You!

Although I’ve watched the Swedish TV adaptations of Steig Larsson’s books, reading Calling Out For You! (note the exclamation!) by Karin Fossum was my first foray into the so-called New Wave of Scandinavian Crime Fiction.  The story of Jomann, a lonely middle-aged man who travels to India to find a bride, and two investigators, Skarre and Sejer, who are tasked with finding the perpetrator of the bride’s brutal murder on her arrival in Norway, it is a tale of sinister greys.

Vividly conjuring an image of small town Norway, where everyone knows everyone, everyone knows something, and nobody wants to admit to knowing anything.  Without any apparent motive, the crime serves as the object through which Fossum is able to reveal the inner beings of the townspeople, each of whom turns out to be a deeply flawed witness.  Atmospheric and with an undertone of malice throughout, the book is a page turner from beginning to end as Fossum expertly elucidates a crime where unlike those on North American TV, in the end no explanation may be possible.

Verdict: 4.5/5

ISBN: 978-0099474661

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A Death In Belmont

The titular act in Sebastian Junger‘s A Death in Belmont is the 1963 rape and murder of Bessie Goldberg in Belmont, a quiet, white suburb of Boston.  There was no sign of forced entry and within a couple of days of the murder, the police arrested Roy Smith, a career petty criminal who had been hired to clean the Goldberg’s house on the day of the murder.  Tried on purely circumstantial evidence, Smith was convicted of murder, yet acquitted of rape, thus sparing him the death penalty, but still sending him to prison for life.  Later in life he became a cause celebre amongst many people, who lobbied aggressively for his commutation, arguing that had he been white, he never would have even been arrested.

Meanwhile, from 1962 to 1964, Boston was terrorized by the infamous Boston Strangler, and although the Goldberg murder fit the pattern of the Strangler, Smith was quickly ruled out as being the Strangler seeing as he had been imprisoned at the time of many of the attacks.  However, in early 1964, a victim identified the Strangler as Albert DeSalvo, and on his arrest, he confessed to being the Strangler, although his descriptions of the attacks contained flaws and doubts have always remained as to whether he was in fact the real Boston Strangler.  Fascinatingly, DeSalvo was once a contractor for Junger’s family, and at one point cornered Junger’s mother in their house, only to be deterred when Junger’s mother claimed that her husband was in the next room.  Thus Junger grew up knowing that the Boston Strangler had almost had his mother as well.

Junger does an excellent job at bringing to life the early 60s and vividly demonstrating how the dogmas and prejudices of the time shaped the investigation and prosecution of Smith and DeSalvo.  Through clear and crisp prose, he investigates whether it was indeed likely that Smith was not the real killer of Goldberg, and whether there is in fact reasonable doubt that DeSalvo was the Boston Strangler.  In the end, all he can conclude is that in the age before DNA testing, it was extremely hard for a case to be black and white, and that both individuals there is both strong evidence that they did in fact perform the crimes for which they were convicted as well as compelling reasons to doubt their guilt.

Verdict: 4/5

ISBN: 0393059804


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Chuck Palahniuk is well known due to the success of the movie rendition of his first novel, ‘Fight Club’, as well as his prolific output in the decade and a half since the publication of that book, but until this week I had never actually read any of his work.

Pygmy is an unusual book, both in style and content.  Written in Cold War movie villain dialect Engrish (“Fellow operatives already pass immigration control, exit through secure doors and to embrace own other host family people”), it is the tale of a young boy known as “Pygmy” who travels to live as an exchange student in America.  In America he is to carry out acts of terrorism, such as constructing a nefarious science fair project and spreading his “seed” into the seed vesicles of the mid west, all while attending religious services with his adoptive family, using his martial arts skills to become a local hero, and quoting the totalitarian leaders of the 20th century.  The leftist slogans and other quirks, such as the recitation of elements from the periodic table reminded me of Douglas Coupland, even if the events described are further from reality than what you’d find in a Coupland novel.

Although Pygmy is indubitably creative, the distinctive language used holds the book back and despite its originality, the plot itself isn’t very deep.  In the end the book never rises above the level of “pretty good”. Nonetheless, it is a worthwhile read, if only to see the unique mind of Palahniuk.

Verdict: 3/5

ISBN: 978-0385526340

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Pitfalls of Parallel Programming #1

The ability to write code that works in a multi-threaded environment is an essential skill for any modern software developer, yet how to accomplish this is rarely taught in school.   This is the first in what will be a series of posts outlining common pitfalls of parallel (or concurrent) programming and their solutions.

Pitfall: “Wait without While”

Rule: All calls to wait on a lock must be surrounded by a while loop that tests the condition for deciding whether to wait on the lock.

To understand this rule, we can look at an example of the violation of the rule that I recently encountered in an open source library:

class Semaphore
    private int count;
    Semaphore(int count) {
        if (count < 0) {
            count = Integer.MAX_VALUE;
        this.count = count;

    synchronized void enter() {
        if (count == 0) {
            try {
            } catch (InterruptedException e) {
                throw Util.newInternal(e, "");
        Util.assertTrue(count > 0);

    synchronized void leave() {
        if (count == Integer.MAX_VALUE) {

At first glance, this class may appear to work properly as a semaphore, but under high load scenarios, it is possible for the assertion in the enter method to be triggered, even though both the enter and leave methods are synchronized.  The problem is that a thread can increment the count, notify one of the threads waiting on the semaphore to wake up, release the semaphore’s monitor, and still have another thread call the enter method to acquire the semaphore before the notified thread has the opportunity to acquire the semaphore’s monitor and wake up.

By replacing line #12 with the line while (count == 0) this race condition would be avoided. By using a while loop, if another thread acquires the semaphore before the notified thread is woken, the notified thread will realize that it still cannot acquire the semaphore and resume waiting for its opportunity.  This behaviour also demonstrates that the above semaphore implementation is unfair.

(Please note that there is no good reason to ever write your own Java semaphore like this any longer as Java has had an excellent java.util.concurrent.Semaphore since Java 1.5)

Continue ReadingPitfalls of Parallel Programming #1