An Update from the Avalanche Center
Online in html: http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/
(To translate this update enter the URL "http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/updates/" and then follow the link on the translated page to this update. This way the entire page/update is translated.)
This is the first update for the 2004-05 season from the Avalanche Center, http://www.avalanche-center.org/
There is never a convenient time to prepare an update this time of year, but there are some new features and recent web work to announce as well as a need to call for some involvement in a couple specific ways. The next update will probably be in early December immediately before the fundraising auction.
Some Help Needed
The CSAC has reached a point where its future will need to be determined in part by how willing people are to get involved in supporting it. The project and website will certainly continue to exist, but the nature of the project and what can be made available to who could vary widely. Throughout this season we will be seeking help and involvement in a variety of ways, both small and large.
Right now we are working on our seventh annual fundraising auction. This is always enjoyable and exciting but frustrating at the same time. We don't get the support from industry as a whole that we should, and until very late in the process of seeking items we never seem to have much. Then what we do receive begins to arrive at once, which is the point we are at now.
Our goal for this year is to reach a goal of $3000 raised, which is what the auction produced for a few years until the resources available to put into it diminished. Two years ago we only raised $1000 and last year we exactly reached our goal of $2000 (including items we added ourselves.) To reach this goal we need help in a few ways. Our method of requesting auction items is to send three mass faxes and one bulk mailing over a 6-8 week period to about 500 companies. We lack the resources to prepare any kind of information packet or to make personal contacts, especially with the low return and the large number of other tasks. If anyone is willing to help contact companies, local retailers, and/or previous donors who have not sent anything this year yet let us know. We would also like to try auctioning off any items individuals are willing to contribute, so if anyone has any outdoor equipment in good or better condition they are willing to donate please let us know. Donations are tax deductible for the amount of their value in the US.
The second thing we want help with is some promotion. In past seasons we have requested that people distribute paper bookmarks to local shops, clubs, mountain huts, and other venues they live near or visit. Our call for this in the last update received a very disappointing response. So we are asking again - please think about where you can help distribute some of these and then let us know how many to send you. We'll get them out to you in the mail and you can take them to local shops or wherever.
Thanks in advance for helping with these things. Combined with other involvement and contributions it will make a difference in our work and our future.
Some Short Updates
In the last update two recent problems were mentioned. In this one we will only give a brief update on the credit card banking issue. (See the News section of the website if you missed the full description. http://www.avalanche-center.org/News/ ) iPayment had charged us over $1500 for declined but fraudulent attempts at transactions. iTransact does not have the features to block this kind of thing so although they were declined we were charged about .30 for over 4500 tries.
iPayment agreed to refund over $600, but when we inquired weeks later where this was they told us to fax our bank statement so they could see what they charged us for and when. After faxing that the guy who received it seemed unsure why. He just said this was initiated over a month ago, and finally that they would initiate it again. Still no refund.
In the meantime all the card companies continue making monthly charges and making it difficult to close any accounts very quickly. So we have had to open a whole new bank account and will simply close the old one if we ever get our refund deposited. This has taken a lot of time and cost us a lot, but there is very little we can do. It's ultimately a cost of doing business, and being a nonprofit makes no difference to any of these people or entities.
It should be stressed that there were no security problems during any of this, legitimate customers data was never compromised in any way.
Finally, PayPal seems to be working out ok so far. No complaints, although transactions seem slower than usual for this time of year. Please let us know if you have any problems using PayPal or if you are unwilling to use them for some reason.
Annual Fundraising Auction
We have now sent out two faxes and one bulk mailing to the outdoor industry seeking goods for auction. A few items have been rolling in, and as usual this is beginning to pick up now. You can follow the contributions (items to be bid on) from the auction pages at http://www.avalanche-center.org/auction/ This has not yet been linked visibly to the home page or any section cover pages but will be shortly.
In order to continue to offer public services into the future we are going to need more support from individuals and industry. The auction used to generate about $3000 but dropped off the past two years because the amount of time available to put into it was lower. Please see the first section of this update for how you can help.
Website updates and maintenance
We have been handling current information almost regularly recently. Most advisories are coming out anywhere from a couple times a week to daily now. The exceptions are the small centers in Missoula and Glacier Montana, and the Northwest center in Seattle. This flow of information has brought about some changes and improvements.
Our biggest change is that advisory keywords (including all danger levels used) will be available via RSS this season. Right now this is true for the bulletins from Colorado, Utah and southwestern Montana. RSS is the mechanism for feeding "news feed" headlines and summaries to other sites as well as people using readers. There is a link to the full article (in this case the advisory) and often a link to mail the summary feed to somebody else. People will be able to see the keywords from the current bulletins and go to the full copy if they want, include this on pages like "My Yahoo", or use it on other sites.
If you don't know what RSS is yet do a web search. Searching for RSS Reader should identify some free programs you can use for this service.
In order to do this the formatting programs were rewritten (and the bulletin pages renamed, if you have those bookmarked). Instead of only glossing key terms where they appear and linking them to the glossary they are also added to two files, a text one and an html one. The text file is included in the web version meta tags using php, and the html list of terms is inserted at the top of the bulletin. E-mail subscribers for the three regions included so far should have noticed the keywords at the top in those versions also - text in the text e-mail and html in the html version lists.
For those interested in trying the RSS feed the address for it is:
Two notes about this URL: First, if you go there with a web browser you will just see xml code. It needs to be provided to an RSS reader of some kind to do anything. Second, this is RSS Version 2 so far, before long we will provide a second feed channel file in RSS 1.0.
If you use this give us some feedback, we need to know how people are using RSS, how the xml feed works, and how you like the idea and implementation.
As part of the upgrading of our bulletin handling the Glossary is continuing to be updated. The terms being used in the current bulletins are being cleaned up first when time allows, quite a few have but others are still less than ideal. More of the entries are including photos or diagrams now.
We have also listed courses for those programs that have contributed. So far this includes Alpine World Ascents (which also has a Level 1 class certificate in the auction) from Colorado, Alpine Skills International in California, and patron sponsor AlpenPro. Courses from all three are in the listings and the searchable database. Courses for a couple other programs are listed only on the pages under "New" until we receive a contribution from them. We are having to follow this procedure this year because in the past some programs listed courses and never got around to making a modest contribution. (All we ask for in return for listing all courses a program offers is a minimum of $35, from a business.) Course listings are another place where we receive a disappointing lack of support - only three programs have actually provided support for our work so far. There are many more out there and a $35 contribution towards a public service isn't much to ask of businesses specifically in avalanche safety.
Site Traffic Stats
This is an area that was upgraded over the summer. While it isn't of much interest to a lot of people it is part of running and maintaining a significant web resource, and something which periodically takes up a big chunk of time and effort.
Our oldest seasons have graphs generated by a program called gwstat, but starting in 2001 this was no longer available or supported. We had an offer to help install it, including numerous programs it relies on, but like many things that never happened. So this summer we found a new and better program called AWStats and installed that. Seasonal stats were compiled back to 2001 when they had come to a halt, and current stats now use this. It is a very robust program but not easy to customize.
You can find this section through the Organizational (About Us) page or directly at http://www.avalanche-center.org/stats/
Another thing done some time ago and not yet included in an update was to clean up the FreeFind search engine available on the site. The results template was cleaned up and improved. On each section page it is possible to do a search encompassing either that section alone or the entire site.
The incidents section is now excluded. It should have been before, but results were included in site-wide searches. It is possible to do a keyword search of the entire incidents section (all archived reports) and only that section, but this is available from the Contributor Services pages.
Let us know if your shopping check-out or your contribution process is anything less than smooth. In the course of updating the shopping cart we also fixed a few bugs that explain why we had empty carts submitted once in a while. This was sporadic and hard to duplicate reliably and therefore attributed to poor instructions or "flow" but it turns out there was a subtle problem in the cart code. More recently we found another obscure bug and fixed that. Thanks to the contributor who reported it.
The store and the Contributor Services are now linked in two ways. Any store order with a check-out total of over $100 is considered a contribution to the site. After returning to us from PayPal this should be acknowledged and a link provided to sign up for an account. On the other hand, any contributor with an account who logs in before shopping will get a fixed across-board-discount on every cart item. This will range from 15% to 30%, and there is a list that contributors can subscribe to which announces discount changes and special sale items.
Late last season we added a pretty nice forum/discussion section using the common phpBB program. You can find at at http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/. Since it was late in the season it was not used much but hopefully this year will bring more activity. It is intended to be an actively moderated board kept focused on avalanche-related discussions. Part of the moderation includes accuracy and misleading or incorrect information will be removed. (A trustworthy discussion forum on the internet is considered an oxymoron or contradiction by many, but we hope this will be different!) Everyone is welcome, it is not skiing, climbing, snowmobiling, or any other activity specific. Share your questions, observations and ideas with the rest of the community.
Using the forums is another way to support the project, and in the future there may be a place there for people volunteering and helping out to share ideas, coordinate efforts, etc.
Helping Support this Public Resource
Please remember that he vast majority of our support comes from individuals who contribute (money or time, or both) and/or use the store. We receive no grant or foundation money. We receive no government funding and probably never will. Industry support is very limited. So we rely on your support. If you can help as requested at the beginning please do. Of not please use the site, promote the site to others, and come join the forums. Specific offers of help are appreciated but the reality of being so under-supported is that it takes a long time to be able to incorporate some offers, if we can at all. Please feel free to offer any expertise you may have, but we will be looking for certain things as the season goes on and will make requests at a rate which allows us to expand without overloading our current infrastructure. (Which is primarily one person, with a number of others making small but important contributions.)