Wednesday, April 24, 2013

H7N9 - More Scary by the Day!

There is no plan to turn this blog into an H7N9 blog, though I am having some thoughts of starting a new blog specifically about this threat.

Why am I being such an alarmist about this issue?  There are several reasons.  The first is due to the fact that this flu has sprung up in such a sudden and unexpected fashion.  Many of the other bird flues that have evolved over the last decade have been seen in the bird population for months or even years before they began to spread into the human population.  Though this virus was first detected in turkeys in Minnesota in 1988, it has essentially gone dormant for the last 25 years until reappearing with the vengeance this spring.  Additionally, this flu doesn't seem to have an impact to birds.  Therefore, it's hard if not impossible to tell they are infected.  This is different than previous previous cases of bird flu in which the birds became ill or died when infected.

The second reason I am concerned about this flu is that it is arriving on the world scene at the time of great economic trauma.  Much of the world is still mired in recession or debt crises.  Governments are more worried about economic issues and aren't necessarily paying attention to emerging threats like a pandemic.  Furthermore with the economic situation impacting government spending around the world, many countries are not in a position to take the necessary steps if this flu becomes a pandemic to stop or slow the spread.

Here's the latest from a variety of new sources around the world:

From NBCNews.Com

"New Bird Flu Strain 'one of the most lethal' Influenza Viruses"

"Taiwan Confirms First H7N9 Bird Flu Case Outside of China"

"Bird Flu Spreads To Taiwan, As More Signs of Human-to-Human Transmission Emerge"

"The Wikipedia Flu Scorecard"

Maybe I am so interested in this story because I have spent a too much time reading and watching apocalyptic books and TV shows recently.  Between TV shows like "The Walking Dead", movies like "Oblivion" and books like "World War Z".  The popular media is full of stories of pandemics and world destruction.

It's been almost 100 years since the last major pandemic, is this the beginning of the next one?  Only time will tell.

Thanks and please to all! ~J.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

StarFest 2013

It's time for me to get my geek on!  Yes - I can be a total and complete geek.  There are so many ways to be a geek in this day and age.  The most typical kind of geek is a person who is absorbed and focused on video games and any kind of gaming technology.  Zack falls into this category.

Other geeky categories are those folks who just love computers and the ever growing integration of technology into day-to-day life.  There are cell phone geeks, tablet geeks, GPS geeks (I am one of those...).

But the oldest category of geek that has been around for the last 70 years or so, is the science fiction geek.  This weekend the geeks of the science fiction world had their Christmas as StarFest was held at the DTC Marriott in Greenwood Village.

StarFest is one of those science fiction conventions that bring together every type of media in which science fiction plays out - from books, to movies, to TV shows, to video games.  The hall mark of a convention like this is that people come dressed to the hilt in the costume of what ever character is their favorite.  You will see zombies, Star Wars Storm Troopers, characters from Pokemon, Harry Potter characters - any character that has anything to do with science fiction will be there.  Even the definition of science fiction for these conventions is pretty broad.  Harry Potter would not be one of those genre's that would normally be described as science fiction.  Regardless there were plenty of people dressed in Harry Potter costumes.

In addition to the common people dressing up in costumes, there are stars from various science fiction movies and TV shows and authors of sci fi books.  I can't say I had heard of many of them, but most of these stars and authors had their very dedicated group of fans/followers.  The only "star" I recognized was Melissa McBride who plays Carole on AMC's "Walking Dead".  

I had never heard of StarFest until I met Lisa.  For her and other members of her family this is a yearly tradition.  Lisa's attachment to StarFest is her love of any kind of movie or TV show that was directed by Joss Wheldon.  He is clearly one of the preeminent producers of science fiction TV and movies.  Some of his works are: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Serenity, The Avengers - and the list goes on and on.

Having heard from Lisa and her family all the fun things that go on at StarFest, Zack and I just had to go this year.  We went on Saturday afternoon and were quickly caught up in all the activities.  As soon as we walked in the door, I was able to get this great picture of Zack with Chewbaaca from Stars Wars.  (I believe this was the original Chewbacca from Star Wars - no imitation!  And yes he is over 7 feet tall!)  In general the entire thing was amazing!

Zack and I spent about 2 1/2 hours hanging out there on Saturday afternoon and then Lisa and I went on Saturday night.  We went to see the costume contest and Dr. Horrible/Buffy the Vampire Slayer Shadow Casting.  (Shadow casting is kind of like karaoke for an entire episode of a TV show or movie.)

The best part of the evening was just hanging out and people watching.  We grabbed a couple of beers at the bar in the Marriott and just watched all the craziness.  And let me tell you - it was CRAZY!  I don't think we have ever laughed so hard watching all the insanity that was going on around us.  Some of the costumes that people were dressed in were remarkable.  And from a male standpoint...  let me tell you - there are a lot of sexy women characters in science fiction!!

I think next year we'll definitely be going back and part taking in more of the events.  It is some of the best people watching in the entire world.  If we make a day of it, I am sure I'll probably imbibe in a few alcoholic drinks as we watch all that takes place.  For a fun event - I really recommend going to StarFest. 

Hope everyone had a great weekend.  I know we definitely did! 

Need to catch up on writing some blogs about the hikes that we have been taking.  Over the last week we have spent a bunch of time hiking and "bagged" two peaks  - Evergreen Mountain and Green Mountain.

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.  

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Potentially The Scariest Thing I Have Read in My Life

Chinese Government Suspects Human-to-Human Transmission of H7N9 Bird Flu
(The line above is hyper-link.  Click on it to go to the article in US News and World Report.)

Just had to post about this article as this is something I have been following since it appeared on the world stage about 3 weeks ago.
The linked article is possibly the most scary article I have ever read in my life. We worry about terrorism and guns, but the real threat in today's world is a pandemic. In the last several weeks a new deadly strain of bird flu has appeared in China.  I first read of this new strain of flu during the first week of April when the first fatalities were reported.  As has been the hallmark of recently emerged strains of flu, this flu was traced to poultry and was believed to only be spread through bird to human contact.

Today's article highlights what is possibly the worst fear - that this deadly strain of flu is now spread through human to human contact.  So far it appears that the contact required to spread from person to person needs to be extensive as the cases of human-to-human transmission appear to be limited to within families.  If this flu were to develop the capability to be transmitted through casual contact then the prospects of a catastrophe of biblical portions becomes a realistic outcome.  The kind of contact that I am referring to the kind of contact where if I have the flu and touch an object like a door knob and someone else comes along and touches that door knob they will also get the flu.  This is the way the common cold or flu spreads.

Let's look at some facts to get an idea of what a flu pandemic could do.
- Though there have been other, milder pandemics since then, the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 is a benchmark to which pandemics are always compared.  From historical records this flu is thought to have started in the American mid-west and was transmitted from swine to people.  The mobilization of young men for duty in WWI seems to have helped this flu pandemic spread throughout the world.  This pandemic lasted for 2 years from 1918 to 1920.
- In 1918 when the Spanish Flu Pandemic started the world population was approximately 1.8 billion people. 
- Over the course of the next 2 years about 1/3 of the worlds population would be infected with the Spanish Flu.
- Mortality rates for this flu were in the range of 10 - 15% of the people infected.  
- Depending upon the figures used, this pandemic killed between 3 - 5% of the total world population.  The exact numbers are very imprecise as record keeping in those years was sketchy and there weren't computers or statistical systems to keep track of these numbers.
- Today the world's population is almost 7.1 billion people.
- If H7N9 flu becomes a pandemic and it has similar infections rates, over 2.1 billion people will eventually be infected.
- As of today, 17 of the 87 known people infected with the H7N9 flu have died, which is a mortality rate of just shy of 20%.
- If the infections rates and mortality rates were to remain the same that would translate into a death toll of 400+ million people throughout the world.

Those are facts but there are a number of other things to be considered.  A flu is typically more severe and deadly when it is starting.  In 1918 when the Spanish Flu Pandemic started it took months for the flu to migrate from one part of the world to another.  As a result in some places by the time it hit, the overall severity of the flu had diminished.  With global air travel, a new strain of flu could reach the vast majority of the world in several days.  So once the flu reaches a point of easy transmission from one person to another, it could be off like wildfire - arriving in every region of the world in it's most deadly form before any kind of vaccine could be developed.  Though we currently feel safe in the fact that this flu is starting on the opposite side of the world, it could arrive at our doorsteps in a matter of days.

Though not a direct result of the flu ancillary deaths could also be in the tens or hundreds of millions.  With the world so connected today via international commerce, very few people maintain stockpiles of food and other commodities.  One of the first major impacts of a world-wide pandemic would be the disruption of international commerce.  As governments strove to stop the spread of the disease, international commerce links between countries would be severed.  By stopping international commerce the very lifeblood of many nations would be destroyed.  There would be no more strawberries from Chile, nor kiwi fruit from New Zealand or oil from the Middle East.  It's possible that many people in big cities would starve or once winter set in freeze due to lack of fuel for heat.  It is also possible that people would die through the resulting social strife associated with a tragedy of this magnitude.

In the end run all of this is a very nasty proposition.  But the bleak fact is that a pandemic of significance is likely to happen at some point in the future.  Human history has proven that pandemics will occur.  Whether we are vigilant or not, at some point, maybe now, maybe 10 years in the future, or even further from now, some form of flu will find a way to gain a toehold in the population and then eventually spread with significant impact.  

For me, I'll keep following this story as I feel it is important and it good to understand what could happen.  Hopefully this flu will turn out to be nothing.

If anyone is interested in how the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 impacted the world here are a couple of interesting books about it.  

"The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History"

" A Cruel Wind: Pandemic Flu in America 1918 - 1920"

"America's Forgot Pandemic: The Influenza of 1918"

I've read "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History" and it definitely opened my eyes to what happened less than 100 years ago.

Well - I hope I haven't been too much of a downer for the day.  If so, please drink a glass of wine and try not to think about it.  But on the other hand, it never hurts to be prepared in case something like this does happen.

Thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Chasing Rainbows

This evening I was going to write a post about a hike Zack and I took this weekend.  Instead after reading a Facebook post from a friend of mine who I haven't seen in years I decided to write this instead.

The Facebook post that I noticed was about a colleague of mine - Ed, who I worked with during my days at Andersen Consulting - now Accenture.  Since I left Andersen Consulting it isn't like we have been close or anything. I never realized what was going on in his life until I noticed this post today.

The post was a link to a blog called "Chasing Rainbows" that is maintained by my friend's wife.  Out of curiosity I took a look at the blog and was utterly dumb founded by all that I read.  Ed's 5 1/2 year old son died Sunday evening.  There's weren't words to describe all that I felt when I read that post. 

There isn't a lot I can say.  No pain that Zack and I ever suffered during Patty's illnesses and death could possible compare to what Ed, his wife and remaining son must be going through right now.  There must be little to no other kind of pain in this world that comes close to the loss of a child.  It's a pain that no one ever want to experience.

There's nothing more that I can say that will explain any more of this.  Please take a look at their blog as I think it tells the story of an amazing life that has been extinguished at a time that should be filled with happiness and joy.  The blog address is:  Try and take something from what you read in "Chasing Rainbows" as you might find yourself looking at things a little differently from the experience of Ed's family. 

Tonight and everyday hug your kids and make sure you love the hell out of them!

On this snowy, stormy night in Colorado and sad night for our country - try and find some peace and love in your life.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Moab, Arches National Park, A Half Marathon and 4x4ing!

Sometimes you just have to push yourself to accomplish things.  Even when your motivation is low, you just need to push through the challenges and accomplish things.  The act of accomplishment can then provide motivation to go and achieve even greater things.

That is the way I feel about our trip to Moab in the middle of March!  After school was out on Thursday March, 14th we packed up the car and headed to Moab, Utah.  The purpose of the trip was that I was going to run in the 2013 edition of the Canyonlands Half Marathon.  This is the race in which I broke my left leg in 2011.  Because of my personal history with this race, I was determined to go back there, run the race and actually complete it this time.

As soon as Zack arrived home from school we gathered our things and packed up the Explorer.  Earlier in the day I had taken Finnegan and Lex to the kennel.  Zack arrived home at 3:30PM and we were in the car headed east on Arapahoe Road at 4:10PM.  We were headed east so that we could pick up Lisa as she was going with us.

After picking up Lisa, we jumped on E470 heading towards C470 and I-70.  Even though we got on the road during rush hour we made steady progress.  Within an hour we were on I-70 in the midst of the mountains.  A quick stop for food in Silverthorne was the only interruption to our drive until we reached the far west of Colorado.  We made an hour long stop in Grand Junction so that we could visit with one of Lisa's good friends and then we were back on the road to Moab.

Arriving in Moab around 12:30AM we quickly got to our hotel and got situated for the night as we had a scheduled range-led hike in Arches National Park at 10:00AM.  It seemed as though the alarm was ringing as soon as our heads hit our pillows.

The hike we took was a ranger lead hike into the Fiery Furnace area of the park.  This is an area that is very difficult to navigate and easy in which to get lost.  The difficulty of navigation and travel is due to the ruggedness of the terrain.  The sandstone rock has eroded into countless rock columns, fins, arches and outcroppings.  Whereas it might be several hundred feet as a bird flies from one point to another, the path on the ground may be a mile or more because of the obstacles in the way.  Additionally, the paths move in all three dimensions in radical ways.  Deep chasms must be crossed and steep rock outcroppings must be scaled.  The terrain also makes it very easy to get lost.  There is no easy line of sight from one place to another as the view is most frequently blocked by tall rock columns and outcroppings.  GPS signals are difficult to receive as the open sky is blocked in many directions by the stone.  Getting lost in this difficult environment would ruin your day but it is easy to accomplish.

Unfortunately, I didn't read the small print for the hike when I signed us up for it.  The small print said that we had to be at the Park Visitor Center one hour prior.  Fortunately, we were able to go directly to the Fiery Furnace overlook and join up with our group there.

Hiking into the Fiery Furnace was an adventure but one filled with amazing sights and lots of solitude.  With the exception of the group with whom we were hiking we lymost had the place to ourselves.  The ranger led us through a complicated maze of rock formations deeper and deeper into the labyrinth.  If we had to find our way out ourselves, we might still be in there even now.  The scenery was absolutely gorgeous and you wonder how the forces of nature sculpted all the different shapes and forms.  We had the opportunity to climb through one of the smallest arches in the park.  It was really kind of silly, but it was neat to do.  The hike left me with deep impressions of the beauty of this rugged land.

 (You can get a sense for the rugged terrain from this picture.)

 (Zack going through the smallest arch in the park - Crawl Through Arch) 

(Zack and me in front of Walk Through Arch.)

(Lisa and me in front of Walk Through Arch.)

 (The terrain was incredibly rugged!)

After sending three hours in the Fiery Furnace we weren't done with Arches National Park quite yet.  Lisa had never been there before, so we had to go to Landscape Arch which is the biggest arch in the park.  Though perhaps not as famous as Delicate Arch - the Arch that is prominently featured on most Utah license plates, Landscape Arch is important to see as no one is sure when this arch will collapse.  Eventually all of the arches collapse as the forces of wind and water continue to relentlessly tear them apart.  However, Landscape Arch is most likely in it's final years or decades.  A portion of it fell in the 1990s and now a section of it is very thin and teeters on the brink of falling.  Seeing this arch is a definite requirement of any visit to the Park as you never know when it might finally collapse. 

The hike to and from Landscape Arch is relatively shortly - only 1.5 miles round trip.  We stopped and lingered along the way, taking plenty of time to take in all the sights.  The arch was still standing but it really does look like it might fall any day.  As you approach the arch, it is difficult to make out from the cliffs behind it as it is so thin in places.  Once your eyes can pick the arch out from the surrounding stone you come to realize how magnificent it is.  The park will lose a beautiful landmark when it finally collapses but all around you other arches are forming from the bright red sandstone.

(You can see how thin Landscape Arch is in places.)

(All of us in front of Landscape Arch.)

We returned to Moab for some lunch after we visited the Landscape Arch.  We didn't have any real plans for the rest of the day other than food and some relaxation.  Given I had taken the day off of work, I made sure I got a nap.  What is a day off without a nap!

Whether due to the nap or nervousness about the Half Marathon, I didn't sleep well that night.  My alarm was set for 6:50AM as I had to be up and out of the hotel room by 7:10AM.  Though the race didn't start until 10:00AM, there were some logistics that took some time to get to the start line.

The starting line for the Canyonlands Half Marathon is 13 miles outside of Moab and located in a narrow canyon through which the Colorado River flows.  Because of the number of people running the marathon, 10 miles of Utah Highway 128 are closed to traffic.  To get runners to the start line, buses are used to move the runners from a park in the center of Moab up the canyon to the starting point.  The buses began shuttling runners to the start line at 7:30AM and I wanted to be on one of the first buses.  I got out the door of the hotel at 7:15AM, walked the 1/3 of a mile to the city park and boarded the second bus headed for the start line.

Once I arrived near the start line, I staked out a "comfortable" rock where I could wait for the race to start and stretch.  As a result of my broken fibula in 2011 I wasn't taking any chances, I used the 2 hours before the race to stretch every inch of my body!

Despite my arrival near the start line at 7:50AM, the time until the race seemed to fly by.  The local radio station provided a DJ and he played some great songs.  While sitting on my ever so "comfortable" rock and stretching, I took the time to do a lot of people watching.  It was interesting and fun.  The variety of people who come and run this race was diverse.  There were the guys (and gals) in there 70s or 80s and the kids who looked like they were still in grade school.  Of course the majority of the runners were made up of 30 and 40 somethings looking to hold onto their youth by beating their bodies to a pulp running this race.  (That aptly described me!!)

About 30 minutes before the starting gun went off the race officials allowed us to move to the exact starting line to line up.  These last 30 minutes were the longest of the wait as the wind was blowing and I had taken off my sweat pants and put them in my "stow bag" for delivery to me back at the finish line. (Just in case anyone wondered...  I was wearing running shorts under my sweat pants!)  I was also going to ditch my long sleeve shirt but decided to keep it because I was freezing. Long races like the Canyonlands Half Marathon provide you with bag that you can drop off at the start line.  They allow you to take stuff to the starting line and then there is a truck there at which you drop it off.  Before the race starts the truck runs ahead and drops everything off at the finish line.  Many other people stripped down to just tank tops and running shorts.  To stay warm everyone was crowded in as closely as possible waiting for the starting gun to go off.  I felt really bad for the people who weren't in the middle of the crowd!

At 10:00AM sharp the starter's gun was fired and we were off.  Well we were kind of off - because the crowd was so dense it took me 3 minutes to cross the start line!  The first several miles of the race are all downhill and this has a tendency to make you run faster than you want to go.  During 2011 it was the beating I took on that first hill that pushed my leg over the edge so I was very careful to run the pace that I wanted to run and not the pace that the people around me were running.

Though I desperately wanted to run the entire distance of this race, I had concluded before the race began that it wasn't in my best interest to do so.  This was my first time back at racing since I had broken my leg in 2011 and I was determined not to mess myself up again.  After the first 3 miles I began to alternate running and walking to keep my legs in the comfort zone. 

Seven miles into the race I began to have some issues with muscle spasms in my both of my feet.  Even with all the work I have done to repair and loosen my body since 2011, there are still areas which by nature get extremely tense - my feet being a primary area.  Thankfully I could assess the situation and I knew I was in no danger of doing long term damage to myself, so I ran through the spasms.  It wasn't really pleasant but I have done worse to myself before.

The scenery along the race course is absolutely gorgeous as the first 10.6 miles of the race run right next to the Colorado River though the canyon I described above.  The scenery allow my mind to wander and enjoy the experience.  Before I knew it I had made it through a majority of the race!

The last 2 miles were relatively painful as I just couldn't get my feet to stop hurting.  But at long last after just over 3 hours I crossed the finish line.  I was so glad to have finally finished this race that I almost started crying.  Zack and Lisa were waiting for me at the finish line and it was so great to have someone there to cheer me on for the last several hundred painful yards.

(Crossing the finish line!)

Even with the pain in my feet I managed to walk the third of a mile back to the hotel.  As soon as I entered the hotel room I ripped off my shoes and plunked down on one of the beds.  It was so good to be done!!

We still had one more adventure to undertake in Moab.  We were signed up for a 4x4 Hummer tour of the slick rock desert outside of the town.  The tour was called the Hummer Slick Rock Sunset Safari and it was fabulous.

A little to the east of Moab, right past the town cemetery is a place call the Sand Flats Recreation Area.  Consisting of mile after mile of steep slick rock formations, Sand Flats is an a place that is famous for it's challenging trails and corresponding crazy exploits of the people who come there to test their 4x4 vehicles.  The Sunset Safari tour though it seems pretty crazy is mild compared to some of the things that other drivers do. 

The key moments of our tour where going up and down very steep rock formations.  Had the driver made a mistake at some points he certainly would have flipped the vehicle.  The steep inclines of the terrain where incredible as there were times in which people in the third row of seats were looking almost vertically down on those in the front seat!  Though Lisa and I loved it, Zack was definitely less enthusiastic about the experience.

 (This gives you an idea of the steep grades of the route the tour takes.) 

 (A beautiful evening in the desert!)

(Zack wasn't liking the tour that much.  He didn't like the steep terrain on which we were on.)

(The Colorado River down in the canyon below.  The road on the left hand side of the canyon was the road on which most of the Canyonlands Half Marathon was run.)

 (The snow capped La Sal mountains in the distance look alien next to the miles and miles of slick rock desert.)
(Zack and Lisa in the Hummer we rode in for the tour.)

In addition to the 4x4 experience, we were surrounded by spectacular scenery.  The highlight of the tour was when we stopped at the edge of the canyon high above the Colorado River.  You could see for miles and with the sun setting, everything was bathed in a warm golden glow.  Those kinds of sights will keep visitors coming to Moab for generations to come!

We arrived back in town shortly after sunset.  Besides finding food we needed to make sure we bought some souvenirs to take home with us.  What's a mini-vacation without getting some souvenirs. 

Then it was off to sleep and before you knew it the sun was coming up and we needed to head back to Denver.  The trip back was pretty uneventful except for the fact that we ended up driving through a snowstorm the last 100 miles of the trip.  It wasn't anything too bad, but it made for some slow driving.

There's lots more adventures to write about as I catch up on all the things that have gone on in the last month.

Until the next post - thanks and peace to all! ~ J.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Catching Up - Lots of Adventures to Write About

Time certainly does have a way of getting ahead of you.  It seems as though you blink your eyes and a whole week has rushed past.  That is certainly the situation in which I find myself as it has been over a month since I have posted to the blog. 

Despite a month going by and no blog posts there have been many adventures and activities with which we have been busy.  There was a trip to Moab, Utah and the Canyonlands Half Marathon, Easter, Spring Break and an over night trip to the Colorado Sand Dunes National Park.  My excuse for not posting simply can't be that we had nothing to do, as it was the exact opposite.  The motivation to write simple hasn't been there for a while.  However, I can feel the motivation coming back.

In addition to catching up with posts to this blog, I am also working on an article that I hope to have published soon.  The article is about travel in Iceland and it makes heavy use of the material that I wrote for this blog during our trip to Iceland.  With any luck my work on this article will result in it being published. 

Motivation is the key to my writing.  When I am motivating the words flow from my finger tips like water from a tap.  When I am not motivated nothing seems to happen.  While my writing on the blog has lagged the posts to my page about Denver on Facebook have also lagged.  It's time for me to get busy on both of these projects.

Thanks and peace to all! ~J.