Avalanche Center Home Update - April 20, 2006


An Update from the Avalanche Center
http://www.avalanche-center.org/
April 20, 2006

Quick Contents -

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Quite a bit of work has been done on the Avalanche Center website over the past month. There would have been more, and this update would have gone out sooner to promote out spring clearance sale sooner, if it weren't for some server problems which I had to address. Unfortunately there isn't much useful support from above for systems level problems. The good news is that the problem is fixed for now and that this type of problem is rare. Please report any problems you may encounter on the site at any time, whether its an error message or unusually slow load times, problems involving email lists, or anything else. The best monitoring system a website can have is feedback from the users. Email snow@csac.org with any reports.

In the copy of the "The Avalanche Review" which just came out the director of the Utah Avalanche Center writes in an article about how much their job has changed, and how in the future they will need to find people with a variety of strong computer skills. And then he closes by pondering where the additional money for that will come from. The list of skills in that article sounds a lot like what I've been doing for ten years, and the CSAC doesn't have a six figure budget on top of free in-kind overhead. I continue to struggle to raise the twenty thousand or so per year it takes to maintain an office and the minimal infrastructure we work with. It's one of the few parts of this "job" that I really dislike. In the end we rely primarily on support from the public. You can help by purchasing equipment in our clearance sale (so we have money for bills over the summer rather than gear on the shelf), or by making a donation and becoming a member. Thanks.

Avalanche Store - Spring Clearance Sale !!

Every spring we put all the items left on our shelf on sale. We first offer sale pricing to members, on a special page in the members section of the website. We've already done that. The next step is to post them on the public sale page. We've done that also, but haven't had a chance to promote it with an update. Now that all items are on sale on the public sale page the members sale prices have been lowered further. (And members pay no shipping.)

This announcement of the sale pricing was delayed by numerous things, including the need to address server issues as mentioned in the introduction. Now that it is late April we need to sell these things so that we have the money to pay monthly expenses through the summer. In addition to getting the best price you'll find anywhere from us you also get membership for one year if your purchase is $100 or more, and this applies to all purchases including sales. So help us get through the summer and get a good deal for yourself - visit our sale page now.

Even though we are unloading the shelves of the limited inventory we maintain mid-season we can also continue to fill orders for anything else. We'll probably need to order it for you, but we have a pretty quick turn-around time. And we will continue to match any price you find anywhere else on any item.

Organization Section - Budget History Updated

In our Organization section (also labeled "About Us") there is a section with financial background. The page showing our historical revenue and expenses was recently updated. This shows where our funds are spent and what sources we rely on to pay for the project. There has often been mis-information concerning our finances disseminated via various channels. Earlier this winter a woman from the Eastern Sierra region posted in a forum on another site that people should not donate to the CSAC because it was just a way for me to make an easy profit. The post didn't last long - the moderator considered it to border on slander and requested that it be supported or retracted. It wasn't, and therefore it was deleted quickly.

A copy was sent to us by the woman, and it will be posted in our forums in the near future for comments and clarifications there. If people have questions or concerns, or accusations, about our financial management I urge them to post in our forums where we can reply directly. This also gives us a chance to ask where the information came from and how it's been disseminated, since it obviously isn't based on fact or supported in any way by our publicly posted budget history. Our forums are intended to provide a place for any and all opinions and are not moderated for the benefit of financial sponsors or to stifle dissent - only for civility. And anonymous "Guest" posts are welcome, as long as they are civil. (I've had at least one topic deleted, as well as my signature file censored, on one site which has financial sponsors who view us as a competitor. Things like that won't happen on our user-supported forums.)

Earlier in the season the historical budget comparison of government operated centers in the US in the "Current Conditions" section was brought up to date. A few weeks ago it was linked to in a discussion in another forum concerning the need of the Forest Service center in Seattle for thirty five thousand dollars to avoid shutting down early (to cover pay raises mandated but not funded by the government). In order to clarify some of the points people raised and to make the year-to-year comparison more uniform additional updates were made.

News Section Updates

There have been additional improvements and additions in the News section. There is now a newsfeeds page which uses RSS feeds to list the most recent news and blog entries from a number of sites. It will show the most recent topics from our News feed and our Incidents feed, the latest post topics from our forums, and the most recent blog entries from two blogs. (Entries in Lou Dawsons "Wildsnow" blog which he categorizes as avalanche related, and a new blog just getting started.)

There are a few other sources I would include if they had RSS feeds, but they don't. If anyone knows of or finds additional sites of interest (news, forums, or blogs) please feel free to suggest them for inclusion on our newsfeeds page.

I've also moved our page listing conferences and meetings to the News section from the Professional Resources section, which is being liquidated.

Incidents Section Updates

As of today: 162 Reports and 290 fatalities for the season; 887 reports in our database.

There are now 162 reports reflecting 290 fatalities from around the world, and two that are about to get added with one more fatality. Of these 29 deaths have been in North America (23 in the US and 6 in Canada). Usually things slow down in April, but after neglecting this for several days to work on the server I was surprised to find numerous new incidents that I had missed during those days.

There has also been significant overall background work done in the Incidents section, resulting to a large extent from the efforts to streamline the server. All reports from all years (back to 1996) are now php files. Any url entered with an extension of html will automatically be rewritten for you. The linkchecker was run on each season. Usually it is only run periodically on the current season. (It can only handle one season per run due to license restrictions.) Some bad links were removed, some were corrected, and a few errors were cleaned up.

Miscellaneous Updates, Changes, and Improvements

The spring information file has been updated, and a link to it now appears at the top of the Education section page. There have been few changes in the Current Conditions section. Some advisories have stopped for the year, some are less frequently updated, and a few are still being issued regularly. When they end they often post useful spring information, and if they do it gets added to the spring information page. At this point the only one with an end-of-season spring safety summary is Sun Valley.

The forum software was updated to the latest version, which is usually a security issue more than any change in features or functions. I also added modifications which streamline registration for humans but block robots which try to automatically register with website links of rather dubious content. (You can no longer include your website during the registration process, but you can add it to your profile once you are registered.) Likewise, to post as a guest without registering it is now necessary to choose "Yes" in a drop-down box. Which is also an anti-robot feature. The forums have an RSS feed available now, but it isn't yet easy to find. It's a somewhat advanced method which allows you to choose the type of feed, the forums you want to include, and a few other things. Based on your preferences it gives you a unique URL to use in your reader or on a newsfeed page like the one in our News section. You can find this "build your own feed" feature by going directly to:

http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/smartfeed_url.php

You've probably noticed a shift in the preferred domain name in the last few months, and that's continued with some more change-overs within the site. csac.org is still valid, and is still the only domain which will handle email. So all links and bookmarks will always work. But the domain avalanche-center.org is becoming the preferred one now. (There are several others which should be equivalent also, but I don't remember the status of those at the moment.)

Upcoming Improvements

The Professional Resources center is being liquidated, simply to make the site more compact and easier to maintain. That section just hasn't been kept up to date. All worthwhile material will be absorbed by other sections. The conference/meeting listing is now under News and several pages which were really nothing more than links have had those links moved to the links section (http://www.avalanche-center.org/links/)

There are still incidents to be sorted out, especially the many from France this year. I've also gotten way behind on the Swiss incidents.

There is still quite a bit of programming that needs to be done to better manage contributions and store sales. The method we use right now to get information back after a transaction isn't the most reliable one, they offer a much more robust method. But it requires some programming on my end. That will help automate memberships, contribution record keeping, etc.

Finally, I am anxious to get back to the online course program I had started in the fall. It got off to a good start but the remaining fine tuning and additional development may have to wait right now. During the recent server issues (and further confusing the matter) a hacker found an exploit in that and was able to attempt to send spam from the server. This was discovered and terminated quickly, but the educational software needs to be updated. They issued a temporary programming fix which I implemented, but the program is probably temporarily disabled anyway. They were supposed to have a new version ready to install the following day. (It's a program used by many large institutions including universities, so its well supported.)

One thing that makes this site unique but also difficult to maintain is that I believe in having as many interactive features as possible, from forums and courses to simple email list interfaces. The programs that allow you to do various things are seen by hackers as possible entry-ways to the server. Or, with some creativity on their part, ways to mail out spam. I've had very few security problems, and the one last week was the first where somebody actually ran a spamming process on the server. A few times in the past spammers have been able to send spam through scripts. So in order to maintain interactive features it's necessary to keep the larger fully supported scripts fully updated and also to reprogram things that are abused whenever that becomes a problem, whether or not it's a very convenient time. Many sites have no scripts and simply post information, making it a one-way information flow. It's certainly an easier approach but one I'd like to avoid resorting to.

Becoming a Member/Contributor

This project is supported by user contributions. Contrary to the accusations of some, I am not getting rich running this. In fact I get paid for 10 hours a month at minimum wage because that's all there is, even though the amount of work is far greater than that. As you can tell from this update. Our overhead (office, communications, computer equipment, etc) is barely covered by contributions, and that's what they are used for. No salaries here! To become a member and get the extra benefits that go with that you can contribute $25 or more.

There are also a few other options. One is to purchase gear from our store. Any order with a total check-out value of $100 or more counts as a contribution. And you'll get your best price from us, we are matching just about anyone else's deals. Sale items and prices count. Another is to use the Forums. A while back I found an interesting "cash" modification to the forum program, and anyone who posts now gets "forum money" for participating. More for new topics, less for replies, but something for anything posted. This can be applied towards membership, in the future it may be useful in the store as well. You can also donate any or all of your forum money to another registered forum user.

I'd like to thank all of those who have become members and help make this project possible, on behalf of all those who use the resources, the board of directors and officers, and myself. This update is longer, and has taken longer to write, than I anticipated. I guess there has been more accomplished than I realized. Perhaps this is why I'm feeling a bit tired at the moment, and ready for some spring skiing and climbing. I'll feel a lot better once we move our inventory that's on sale, and once our annual funding shortfall is at least partially closed.

Thanks a lot for using and supporting the site. Use it to stay aware and stay safe, and avoid becoming an entry in the lengthy incidents listing. And remember that in many regions some of the best skiing is just around the corner and that climbing season gets into full swing soon. Avalanche season isn't over yet.


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