An Update from the Avalanche Center
Budget Goal for this Operating Year: $18,000
Help needed with: MySql advice; dns advice (more info below)
Store Sale: http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/sale.html
Quick Contents -
Translations: https://translate.google.com/ (Opens in new window)
(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.)
There are a lot of new things on the Avalanche Center website even though there have not been any updates sent out since early January. In fact, there is so much to announce that some topics will be left for another follow-up update in another week or so. New photos, new reports on the forums, new content in the Education section, and improved incident searching are some of the things that are new, in progress and partially available, or being finalized before the next update. The website also just went through a complete and throrough analysis and tune-up so everything is now up to date - links, section maps, page formatting, etc. This was a major endeavor but probably overdue, and it's a huge advantage as far as moving forward and keeping things current.
One result of having no updates during the past four months is that contributions are way down. In addition to updating things like the seasons incidents and announcing additions and improvements on the website our updates generally ask people to contribute. Without those requests via our updates we have seen a drop in contributions. It seems that to raise funding it's necessary to keep reminding people that we are entirely dependent on user contributions and store purchases, in addition to a great deal of volunteered time, in our efforts to operate this project. In order to encourage contributions we do have additional features available to members. All it takes to join for a year is a minimum $25 contribution or a store purchase of $100 or more. If those things are not possible for you there are other ways to join, like using forum dollars. See the "Contribute" page for details (http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/contribute/).
The main reason for a lack of updates this winter was a lack of help on the project, leaving me to run the store entirely in addition to everything else. We've always had a student employee to help with a lot of the running around and the filling of orders, and with the auction early in the season. This year we lost our returning student early in the auction and I was never able to find anyone. It's hard to train somebody new mid-season anyway, and I also thought the savings would be beneficial. I also hope to relocate the office this summer, in which case we'll need to train somebody new next year anyway. I got us through the season but it has been a tough one, and next season we need to hire somebody again. We did save some payroll money this year since my time is uncompensated, but there are limits to how much one person, unpaid or paid, can do.
There are two very specific things I could use some help on. Both are simple for somebody with the right background, the time required is minimal, and they're not ongoing projects. I could use some help with MySql databases, primarily coming up with a suitable primary key for the incidents table. The other thing is dns name service. We are continuing to use zoneedit which is a free service, but after a couple outages that left the site unreachable for hours I added two more nameservers with dnsexit (also a free service). While it appears possible to have four nameservers listed I'm not sure they are all working correctly as backups. Some online analysis indicates they may not be. If you can help with either of these things contact me at email@example.com
Remember that you can support the avalanche center by using Goodsearch as your search engine. Just go to Goodsearch.com and search for "avalanche" under charities then select us. If you do this check in on their home page every now and then to verify you're supporting us. They use a cookie to keep track of who to support and it expires every few weeks. I've been using Mozilla/Firefox and have Goodsearch as my primary engine, with others available in a drop-down menu at the top right. Usually I can find what I want using Goodsearch and it helps the avalanche center every time I search.
Store End-of-Season Sale ! - http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/sale.html
All the items left on our store shelf are now on sale: http://www.avalanche-center.org/store/sale.html Items were listed on the members sale page first and further reductions will take place there first. The next update will promote any further discounts or special deals. We need to get rid of everything for the summer, and we need the cash flow for the off-season. So help us out and get a good deal at the same time!
Incidents Section - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Incidents/
The incidents section is mostly up to date now, after lagging for much of the season while I ran the store and kept up the site (in addition to traveling to teach AlpenPro classes and doing a few other things). The RSS feed is current, and like the one for the News section it's being used on at at least a few other sites scattered around the internet. If you see a season summary followed by a list of 4-5 incidents on a page somewhere it's probably from our newsfeed.
The current totals are 99 reports posted this season, 223 known/recorded fatalities for the season, and 1026 reports in our database. We just recently broke the 1000 mark, and there are more on the main page that have not yet been added to the database.
Searching the database is also more flexible now. You can search for incidents in the US nation-wide as well as by state, and you can specify a minimum and maximum number of fatalities. This was implemented on the members search page first and required updating the database table as well as the searching code and the code that resorts the results by the column of your choice. These changes were then added to the public page. The difference is still that the members page shows unlimited results while the public page shows up to 10, and the members page also shows a total for the fatalities column in the results. Searching across the US as a whole will turn up a few scattered reports from states that might surprise some people.
These improvements make it possible to quickly check the total number of incidents and fatalities in a given season, and this was verified for the US. A few errors were found and corrected in the archives and the database. However, there were not very many, and the database is remarkably accurate for having over 1000 entries. It has been used as a research tool for several studies and papers.
Project News - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Organization/
One thing that has taken a lot of time this spring has been the implementation of a new and better accounting system. In the past we mailed all our receipts to our Treasurer, and she entered them in Quicken. But most of them are related to the store, and that is already accounted for in the store spreadsheet. It was also difficult to categorize things properly. This spring I began a new set of accounting that is largely based on our PayPal records for expenses. I can download a history into Excel and sort it. Other records, like those for our checking account, are accessible in the office. Now that this is in place it might be possible to turn it back over to a treasurer again by next season.
The overall results for the year so far are on the website now. Information we released in the past was correct in its general gist and not misleading in any way, but the new system produces more accurate results. You can find the summary of this years budget and also a history of our budget since we began by clicking on the fundraising and "Donate" graph at the top of the home page. The page linked to that graphic has links at the top by an "updated" graphic to these two items. There is also a link to this years budget in the scroller on the lower part of the home page - if you don't want to wait for it to roll by you can click on "Expand" on the right side of the scroll bar.
If anyone has any questions or comments about our budget (or any other aspect of how things are run) please feel free to post them in the Feedback section on our forums. ( http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/) You do not need to register, although posting as a guest requires jumping through a few hoops in order to keep out the spammers.
Gallery and Forums - http://www.avalanche-center.org/phpBB2/
The text ad code has been removed from the forum template and there are no ads anywhere in the forums or gallery. I don't expect to reintroduce them in these sections. This is related to ongoing efforts and challenges with our script for advertising - more on this in a future update.
The forums are not all that active, but as one poster recently wrote they do have a lot of potential. There have been a few good posts in recent weeks. Our goal is to maintain a well focused set of discussions with accurate information, not to have a large number of posts including many that are irrelevant. The two goals seem to be mutually exclusive if other forums around the internet are considered. A lot of misinformation and poor "science" is being promoted through various channels and our forums will not be adding to this.
In the photo gallery there are a few new things in progress. There is a public album for photos sent to us by email, or members can add to it directly. We added one new photo earlier this winter, of an avalanche on Mt Rundle. Another photo has been promised by another person soon. If there aren't more photos it's simply because people haven't submitted or uploaded any.
Members can also create their own albums. I've been updating one with photos of an experimental avalanche control installation and adding one with photos of Galteur, Austria related to the 1999 avalanche there. These are both available but incomplete at the moment. They are available to members. The gallery also allows anyone to rate any of the photos they can view. Just click on a star between one and five. Comments are also possible, but they may only be enabled on members albums.
Another addition to the forums will be summaries of conferences I've attended. This will be available for members since it is contributions that cover part or all of the expenses to attend these. I'm part way through some commentary from a conference in Vancouver in November, and plan to add some information from an avalanche forecasting meeting in Davos two years ago. (The expenses for the Davos meeting came mostly out of my own pocket.) At many of the meetings I've attended in the past ten years, either at my own expense or for the avalanche center, I've been the only one from the US. Or one of only a few. This is especially true for scientific and engineering conferences.
Remember that you can earn dollars by posting in the forums, and we'll redeem them towards membership or store purchases upon request. You can give your dollars to somebody else. And you can use them to buy lottery tickets! The current base or "seed" is $25, which is an annual membership. We just had our first lottery winner last week, and he used it to become a member for a year.
Current Conditions Section - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Bulletins/
Most avalanche bulletins have now ended. The Swiss national bulletins are continuing but don't appear to be daily any longer. Colorado is issuing information for two of their regions through May. Utah is offering an update now and then through April. Reports for Mt Washington NH have been continuing, probably due partly to the recent large storm that hit New England.
The Swiss bulletins are now available in English and we are using that version in the incident archives. We've been asked about starting an email list for it, but the status of our Swiss lists in general remains unclear due to insufficient interest to generate any support from running them. More on this in the next update.
With official bulletins pretty much finished for the year it's up to you to be familiar with spring conditions. There are a number of web pages around with information on this, and many of the US avalanche centers put out a spring safety review of some kind when they end their season. Links to all of these things are now up to date in the Education section. You can find the spring page from either the home page scroller of the top of the Education page ( http://www.avalanche-center.org/Education/ )
At the conference I attended in Vancouver in the fall there was an excellent presentation concerning the current danger scale and whether or not it conveys all that it should, and whether or not it can and should be improved. (There are no conclusions on this, just discussion.) I started a discussion on another forum site but it was co-opted, as I expected it would be. Once I get caught up I may revive it on our site. While the gist of the presentation focused on the actual scale it was also pointed out that there is no consistent training, or even background and experience requirements or expectations, for avalanche forecasters. Especially in the US. So the scale is not always applied uniformly regardless of any other strengths or weaknesses.
A recent paper showed how often each danger scale level is used in different locations. Extreme has been used less than one percent of the time in Colorado, Switzerland, and France and one percent in Canada. It was used over 6% of the time in the Eastern Sierra in 2005-2006. In one case it was applied only to certain aspects and in another to certain elevations. My interpretation of Extreme is that when it applies it applies to everything, given that avalanches are certain even at High. This is a strong illustration of how the scale can be interpreted and applied differently by different people. Although the figures are pretty similar for Colorado, Switzerland, France and Canada.
This issue of the danger scale and its application is part of a bigger issue that some comments in a panel discussion touched on. More on this in a future update, but feel free to use the forum with any questions or comments on the topic.
The submission program for the web interface to our mailing list system was abused by some spammers, so for now it is disabled when I'm not logged on and able to catch any spam quickly. I did some reprogramming but I'm not certain I fixed the problem. It's not clear to me how it was abused so its set to mail a copy of any command to me directly and whenever the spammers finally try to use it again I'll be able to see how. (Members can log into the website and use a special form for managing all their list subscriptions with one submission and no confirmation email.)
News Section - http://www.avalanche-center.org/News/
The News section is up to date. There are several new stories and the RSS feed is current. Our log files show that a few sites are posting the headings from our avalanche news feed on their sites, so this is beginning to catch on now. We also have our own newsfeeds page where you can see what's new on avalanche related sites with feeds that we are aware of. The page is a one-stop checkpoint for our own feeds - News stories, Incidents, and Forum postings. There are also feeds for avalanche related postings on Lou Dawson's "WildSnow" blog and for postings on my own Avalanche Blog. If anyone is aware of other avalanche-specific newsfeeds we can add to this page please suggest them.
In the course of the recent site-wide review and repair work I found the News section had no error page of its own. It does now, so if you look for something that isn't there you should get a section-tailored error page that has links to the section page, the section map, and the homepage as well as a search box to search the section specifically (and not the entire site). The section map was brought entirely up to date and now serves as a complete index to all news stories and other content in the section. The page with conference information was also updated.
Education Section - http://www.avalanche-center.org/Education/
The spring avalanche safety page is up to date and has links on the home page scroller as well as at the top of the Education page.
A few months ago I began working on a set of pages on wind transport. They will cover this from a scientific point of view but are written for a general audience (without any mathematics). The basic three page sequence will be publicly available, with a few sidebar pages just for members. Unfortunately the effort was frequently derailed, but with this update completed I will be able to wrap it up. I will be notifying members first in order to get feedback and reviews, then it will be linked in for public access.
I'm not certain why I choose wind transport, but I think it was in response to some misinformed comments in an advisory. I felt it would be appropriate to offer some detailed and accurate information, and it then grew beyond the original impulsive idea. When this one is complete I hope to put together a series on spring avalanches which will be more comprehensive, organized, and focused, than the scattered information currently out there.
In the course of putting this together I also added some glossary entries. When the wind series is complete there will be links placed between relevant glossary entries and the new content.
Until the next update ...
Some of the note in this update have alluded to the poor quality and inaccuracy of some of the information being touted these days, often in an effort by somebody to prove their technical competence. I came across an interesting news article the other day about trust on the internet. The obvious area of concern is commerce and financial transactions, with personal connections also ranking high. But there are increasing issues and concerns over trust and general users, especially with forums and sites like Wikipedia. Anyone can state anything, and sometimes they can appear more qualified than they are (if they are at all).
Trust in our content is very important to us here at avalanche-center.org This is one reason why forums are monitored and moderated. As long as posts are civil people are free to say what they wish, but information that is technically incorrect or misleading will be responded to and corrected. I am not aware of any claims that any content on the site is incorrect, whatever else certain people may have said about us based on politics. (Although some older things are out of date, and some glossary entries may still need correcting from the original source that we scanned it from years ago.)
Our Board of Directors has a very robust, diverse, and international background. Between us we've been involved in avalanche science and engineering, avalanche control (both in development of new methods and in hands-on work), planning, consulting, risk management, education, and of course skiing and climbing in the backcountry around the world. Our backgrounds are on the website:
Another update will follow before long, perhaps in a week or so. It will continue to promote the sale on whatever remains, some new material will be announced, and some of the comments in this update will be extended. In the meantime feel free to use our forums to post any comments or questions. And please remember to check out the sale page and consider contributing, especially if you have not done so this season.