Avalanche Center Home Update - December 15, 2003


An Update from the Avalanche Center
http://www.avalanche-center.org/
December 15, 2003

Online in html: http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/
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(To translate this update enter the URL "http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/" and then follow the link to this update. This way the entire page/update is translated, not just part of it.)

This is a brief update on what is new and upcoming on the internet Avalanche Center, http://www.avalanche-center.org/

Avalanche Center Update

This should be our last update for a little while, until after the New Year. It has become typical to send more out during the time period leading up to the holidays because this is when we have the most to announce and when we run our only fundraising project for the entire year - the auction. Usually after the holidays updates are sent out every 3-4 weeks as developments warrant.

We are pleased to have one significant new resource ready to announce in this update. First we need to offer one last reminder and a few notes about our fundraising auction as it winds up over the next two days. It is events such as the auction, and to an even greater extent user contributions, which make it possible to not only maintain this project but to expand it with the kind of new resource we will announce below.

Auction Closing Tuesday and Wednesday: http://www.avalanche-center.org/auction/

Our auction is coming to a close and we would like to see a solid flurry of final bidding as this happens. Most items close Wednesday, a few close late Tuesday. There are some suggestions and notes concerning the closing period on the auction pages. This year we made it a point to post items at reasonable times of the day rather than in the middle of the night when a lot of web work is done, so it won't be necessary to either give up or stay up late to bid right up to the end. Unless the 3 hr "anti-snipe" time extensions run on.

Participation in the auction has been somewhat disappointing, which has been the case in the past as well. Given the fact that hundreds of visitors a day use our resources we would like to think more are willing to support them. We have periodically been rerouting all incoming traffic to certain sections to the auction to bring attention to it, and also to remind people that our ability to, and interest in, providing free resources to the general public can't be taken for granted. For the final day or two essentially all incoming traffic will be sent to the auction but on Wednesday night everything will return to normal. While we are taking these steps to promote the auction we have been disappointed by the lack of links from other sites promoting the auction. We sent e-mail to 5 sites over a week ago, most of which had put a promotional link to us in the past. As of this evening none of them have.

After 8 years of building a world-recognized resource we are not about to go away as long as we can maintain what we have built. However, we are being forced to reassess our priorities and approach. The unquestioned assumption up to this point has been that building a popular, successful, and widely used resource would lead to support for it. Unfortunately this has not proven to be the case and there is no significant funding being provided by government, industry or foundations in the interest of serving the general public. We will probably focus more effort on providing extra services and resources for individual contributors in order to encourage this source of funding, which is by far our largest.

Not only have we not been any more successful than any other non-government avalanche information project at obtaining funding, we have had to put up with a certain amount of abusive e-mail and personal attacks, such as the fairly typical example at the end of this update. If we are going to put up with this and still offer free services to the public we need to see adequate support from the public. Because nobody else is going to provide it.

This is not unique to the CSAC, the nonprofit non-government SE Alaska Avalanche Center has scaled back and released a discouraging e-mail notice because they have not been able to fund their work either. Their director has underwritten the project with personal consulting work and that can only last so long.

So, despite these obstacles, on to a new resource we are ready to offer -

We now have a place for online forums dedicated to avalanches. As we have surfed through other forums we finds scattered discussions on avalanches, but we have found these divided among user groups (i.e. skiers, climbers and snowmobilers all have their own forums). While these groups have many differences and generally don't care to have discussions with each other on most topics they could potentially benefit from a common forum on avalanches, which sticks to that topic and doesn't tolerate contention over other issues, which can find another outlet.

We have also found too many discussions meander off-topic and become irrelevant chats. While we find nothing wrong with that if people enjoy it there are already places for it and we plan to make a concerted effort to keep our forums focused and on-topic.

Finally, forums are ripe for abusive personal attacks. Last week the CSAC was subject to attacks and disinformation on one board, which was promptly removed by the administrator. Fortunately most admins and moderators don't permit this and we certainly will not. Anything abusive, or anything which attacks another person or organization, will be promptly removed.

Whether this resource becomes a useful one depends on participation. We are in a position to offer the infrastructure and manage the resource but in the end it is an interactive one. Feel free to use it for discussion of anything avalanche related, as long as it stays on that topic and remains civil.

The board uses a free package called phpBB which is very common; aspects of it will be familiar to many people. One reason we went ahead and set this up was that it turned out to be ridiculously easy to install. Most of our time has gone into tuning the appearance to be consistent with our site - modifying style sheets and templates and installing mixed icons from several different styles. We are happy with the way it has shaped up but you may notice some continued changes as we fine-tune it over time, both in appearance and in organization. (Free packages as extensive and complete as phpBB offer us some encouragement that efforts and contributions to the general good of society are not entirely dead. Our hat goes off to whoever makes this amazing piece of work available.)

This is not yet linked into the main site in any way, we'll work on that after the auction. You can find it for now by going directly to http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/

Your comments and feedback are valued - send us a note or post them on the board.

Server loss last week, possible information lost -

On Monday evening last week we lost our entire server file structure in the evening. With the auction running this was a very inopportune time. (As if there would be any good one!) The good news is that within several hours 90% of the site and its systems were restored. By dawn it was 99%. However, no backup is exactly current and we may have lost a few bids on the auction, a few list subscriptions, etc. Registered auction participants were notified the other night. Some e-mail problems lingered for a couple days so if anyone had mail to us bounced that's why. Please contact us with any questions or problems concerning list subscriptions, auction items, store orders, contributions, etc. We believe most things have been addressed by now.

That was followed by an apparent crash of an essential Notebook on Wednesday night, which we were able to get working again by dawn after a lot of phone time with support people and a lot of trial and error. So last week was one with a lot of stress and many long nights of work.

Weeks like that only make one wonder more about the merits of so much effort with such marginal support. During that period we also received a very ugly e-mail, which has happened from time to time over the past eight years. If you are one of the many people using the site and not offering even a small contribution to help make it happen you owe a lot of thanks to those who do contribute and who have kept us going despite such mail and other related hostility.

This one was from Mike Hancock of Peninsula Martial Arts in Soldotna AK, an area we have never seen any hostility from. The last similar mail we were able to trace came from Bruce Haynes, an employee of the United States Forest Service on Mt Hood. Nobody at the CSAC knows or has net either Mr Hancock or Mr Haynes.

Having shared some of the positive feedback we get (which does greatly outnumber the hateful mail) it seems like we should also share a sample of the negative. So here is what Mike sent, which is representative of some of the other messages receive now and then both directly and indirectly:

From: Mike Hancock <peninsulakarate@ak.net>
Subject: F--- off!!!! Donations for avalanche awareness???
X-SBScore: 10 (Spam Threshold: 6) (Block Threshold: 3)

You're so full of s---.

One thing that can be said for all of our positive feedback is that it tends to be significantly more literate than the negative.

Happy Holiday Seasons -

Whatever holiday you may celebrate we hope you have a good one. (Or had, in the case of Ramadan.) We wish everyone a safe new year as well as a great holiday season. Even Mike, Bruce and others whose hatred is beyond us.

Watch for more news in January, and try out the new forum area!


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