People

Ivan Orkin

My friend Edward told me about an episode of Chef’s Table on Netflix about Ivan Orkin, a ramen cook with a fascinating life story. The food aspect of the documentary is great but his story is even better. Nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn becomes most famous ramen chef in Tokyo, Japan by putting a little schmaltz (Yiddish: chicken fat) in his traditional Japanese cookery. Brilliant.

If you stream Netflix give it a go:

Chef’s Table, Season 3, Episode 4: Ivan Orkin

Anne and I plan to eat in one of Ivan’s two restaurants the next time we’re in New York.

Ivan Ramen

He’s also got a book out that includes his story and the complete recipe for his shio ramen dish, including his ramen noodles with rye flour.

Ivan Ramen on iBooks

Ivan Ramen on Amazon

Of course, pictures of Ivan and his food are all over Flickr.

The hummingbird whisperer

Researcher’s 200-plus wild ‘fairy’ birds make their home at UCLA

UCLA researcher Melanie Barboni is the hummingbird whisperer. Los Angeles is loaded with hummingbirds year round and Melanie has attracted hundreds right outside her office window.

“They are, in every aspect, remarkable. They are tiny but fierce. They have so much personality, an amazing metabolism,” Barboni said of the birds that drink 8 to 10 times their weight in nectar daily. “They are Mother Nature’s best creation. … She was trying to make one tiny perfect jewel, and I think she got it perfectly right.”

My late mother lived about ten miles west of UCLA and we had hummingbird feeders in her backyard. She was loaded with them and it was incredible to watch, year round. Here in Connecticut we only have one species, ruby-throated and they migrate so we only have them from late spring to early fall; they’re getting read to fly south right now.

[via The Kid Should See This]

How the Eames LCW (Lounge Chair Wood) is made

Charles and Ray Eames were influential designers and this chair is a great example of how they came up with new ways to use materials, in this case plywood.

My parents had a number of variants of this chair that my father bought directly from Charles Eames at his Santa Monica studio. I always hated them; they looked great but weren’t all that comfortable. Still, I’m a fan of the Eames’ design work, it’s timeless and brilliant.

[via Core77]

Discussing the birth of the iPhone

John Markoff interviews former iPhone engineering team members Hugo Fiennes, Nitin Ganatra and Scott Herz, followed by a second interview with Scott Forstall.

This is a two hour interview, Forstall starts about 1:07 but both hours are well worth listening to. Understand that the technology that these people built changed the world and Forstall had an inkling of the importance of what they were doing but really, none of them had any idea that the iPhone would turn out to be the success it has been.

This isn’t just for Apple fan-people or iPhone geeks, this will be interesting for anyone who wants a behind the scenes look at how these people’s careers took shape and how they ended up on the original iPhone team. The personal anecdotes are fascinating.

I was involved with Apple in the early years of the Macintosh and this felt very much like early interviews with Bill Atkinson, Andy Hertzfeld, and others on the first Macintosh team. Historic.

This event took place at The Computer Museum and regrettably, the sound and video aren’t great, but it is extremely worthwhile.

Note: Scott Forstall left Apple (was let go) in 2012. Wouldn’t it be ironic (and interesting) if Forstall, like Jobs, came back to Apple later as CEO (or in some other capacity) after going through a personal transformation outside of Apple. Sometimes distance makes for a clearer head.

Sara Berman’s Closet

Sara Berman’s Closet from NewYorker on Vimeo.

This is a brilliant short film about the life of Sara Berman and how her closet ended up in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The film is by Bianca Giaever and Elori Kramer for The New Yorker, narrated by Maira Kalman (Sara Berman’s daughter) and written by Alex Kalman and Maira Kalman.

[via The Kid Should See This]

Alex Honnold free solos Freerider on El Capitan

Alex Honnold has become the first climber to free solo Yosemite’s 3,000-foot El Capitan wall

This is an incredible achievement. It’s a landmark in the history of rock climbing. Honnold is an exceptional climber and has free soloed (no rope or other equipment) many difficult routes before but this route is in another category.

I climbed the Nose Route on El Capitan in the late 1970’s in slightly slower than what was then the regular time: 4 days (an extra day) and with about half the climb using aid (using gear to advance, not just protect a fall). The route Honnold has done is much harder than the Nose route and he’s done it free solo. Freerider is a variant of the Salathe Wall route put up by the recently deceased Royal Robbins in 1961.

I’m a long retired climber but I’m interested in how the sport has advanced over the many years since I did it. This is a very large advance.

Wow.

Remembering Royal Robbins

One of the fathers of modern rock climbing, Royal Robbins died on March 14, 2017. Somehow this news escaped me and that fact has been bothering me for the past few weeks since learning about it.

I haven’t climbed in over thirty years but I can say without a doubt that Royal Robbins influenced my climbing more than anyone. Actually, he influenced more than my climbing, he influenced my life.

Basic and Advanced Rockcraft

Robbins wrote two small but extremely influential books that remained the instruction manuals for climbing for many years (they’re dated now although collectors items): Basic Rockcraft and Advanced Rockcraft.

What these books have in common is an emphasis on process: getting to the top is less important than how one gets there, clean climbing (at the time we were moving away from pitons), spare equipment to save weight and keep things simple, and, most importantly for route pioneers, finding routes that follow crack systems and have an aesthetic sense about them (as opposed to bolting straight up a face). Robbins’ nemesis, Warren Harding played the wild, bad guy to Robbins’ good guy. Truth be told, they both pioneered great routes in Yosemite although in very different styles.

Another thing these books have in common is that they are illustrated with great humor by Sheridan Anderson (best known for The Curtis Creek Manifesto one of the best fly-fishing books ever written). Without Anderson’s illustrations the books would have fallen flat, very much like the collaboration of John Muir (writer) and Peter Aschwanden (illustrator) in How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Complete Idiot (also called “the Idiot Book”).

I’ve used Anderson’s drawings of Robbins to illustrate this post. Note that Robbins routinely wore a white flat cap and Anderson’s illustrations usually have him in glasses and said cap.

Yosemite Method

Robbins used Yosemite Valley as his climbing laboratory because it has stable weather, and large, glacier-carved cliffs of incredible exfoliated granite with crack systems that make building spectacular routes possible. He climbed all over the world but Yosemite remained his home base for much of his climbing career and his particular methods and style are aimed at the type of rock climbing found there.

I got into and almost out of climbing before Steve Jobs and Apple came out with the Macintosh but Jobs and Robbins had something in common besides both being from California: they both worshipped process. As an undergraduate at the University of Oregon Fine Arts department I used to hear: “the process is the product” which is another way of saying what Steve Jobs said about building the Macintosh: “the journey is the reward” which is another way of saying what Robbins said: how you get to the top is more important than getting to the top.

This meme has been a running idea in my life since first encountering it in the early 1970’s.

Nutcracker

Robbins “put up” (made the first ascent) on hundreds (thousands?) of climbs but what marked and marks his climbs is that they, for the most part, have become classics: people want to repeat them because they’re beautiful, fun, and interesting.

The one Robbins climb that most aspiring rock climbers have to do is called Nutcracker. It’s on a cliff known as Manure Pile Buttress (seriously) and while it’s not as epic as something like The Northwest Face of Half Dome (another Robbins first ascent), it’s a great climb of moderate difficulty.

Robbins and his wife Liz first climbed Nutcracker in 1967 and it was the first climb of any significance that was done without pitons: Robbins only used wedges of aluminum on slings called nuts stuffed into cracks to protect the climb, thus the name (a first ascender gets to name the route and Robbins was known for having fun with route names).

In the history of climbing without pitons, the thought is that British climbers approaching cliffs beside railroad tracks picked up steel hex nuts, passed pieces of rope through them and used these like chockstones to protect climbs. When Yvon Chouinard (another Yosemite pioneer and founder of Patagonia) heard about this he decided to make irregular hexagonal shapes out of aluminum which in my day, we called “hexes” for climbers to stuff into cracks instead of pitons. These days there are still stoppers, wedges, and hex nuts although they’ve been all but replaced by expandable protection.

The fact that Robbins and his wife did this climb without pitons in 1967 was significant and it led to a push in Yosemite Valley to do away with pitons all together, even on longer big wall routes.

I first climbed Nutcracker in 1975 with my friend Rod Orlando (image on the left with me leading) and climbed it numerous times in later years with a variety of partners. I loved that route and even as I started climbing longer and more serious routes, I almost always came back to Nutcracker. It was like paying my respects to Royal Robbins, a pioneering climber who was one of my role models.

For more on how Robbins fits into the history of climbing in Yosemite, I highly recommend the movie: Valley Uprising. Valley Uprising on Netflix. Valley Uprising on Amazon.


Other writing about Royal Robbins

There is overlap in the obituaries but they’re all worth looking at as they each have a slightly different take on Robbins’ life. If you’ve got a great source, please post it in comments, I’ll add it here. Thanks.

Base Camp Magazine: Royal Robbins Dies at 82 (this is where I first learned of Robbins’ passing)

Outside Magazine: Catching Up with Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins

Climbing: Royal Robbins: A Timeline and a Bibliography

Royal Robbins, Conscience of Rock Climbers, Dies at 82

NPR, All Things Considered: Royal Robbins, Pioneer Of American Rock Climbing, Dies At 82

The Washington Post: Royal Robbins, celebrated rock climber who left no trace of his ascents, dies at 82

Outside Magazine: Obituary: Royal Robbins (1935–2017)

Modesto Bee: Rock climbing pioneer, Modesto’s Royal Robbins, dies at 82

Alpinist: 1935-2017: Big-wall pioneer and world explorer Royal Robbins remembered

Adventure Journal: Climbing Pioneer Royal Robbins Dies at Age 82

Hear and Now (NPR): How Rock Climbing Legend Royal Robbins Influenced The Sport

Climbing reference: Nutcracker, Manure Pile Buttress 5.8

Nutcracker Guide

Summit Post: Nutcracker topo

Flickr (photos): Climbing Nutcracker in Yosemite