Avalanche Center Home Update - December 3, 2014

An Update from the Avalanche Center

December 3, 2014   
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Day and Season of Giving

Now that Thanksgiving and the following consumer madness is over it seems like an opportune time for the first update. In fact, Tuesday was Giving Tuesday. If you missed it don't worry, it's really the start of what should be a season of giving. And as an extra incentive the end of the tax year is coming, so if you need further deductions be sure to donate to a 501c3 organization (like the Avalanche Center).

Last year the center was dormant, for reasons explained a bit more in the Administration Blog. This resulted in a lack of financial support despite continuing expenses, as well as a backlog of work to revive things for this season. This work has already begun, although a lot is behind the scenes and not readily apparent. This first update is mostly on the status of the project as the project is brought back to life, and on what's involved. More on new content and on the current season will appear in future updates.

Giving does not always have to be financial either. One factor behind the lull in activity for a year was the directors move to Tbilisi, Georgia. This presents some challenges as far as a few of the basic operations go. Some reorganization and consolidation has helped but we could use a few dedicated and reliable people to help with things. Many things do not require a lot of time but do require reliability and continuity. Organizing and coordinating this takes some time so such help will be incorporated over the coming weeks, but some ideas and needs are included below.

Recent Work

Over the past few weeks a lot of background work has been done. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved in a major website with 20 years of history to it.

Every section is being scanned for bad links, with only a couple left to go. The scanner also helps find pages with missing titles, pages not linked to (orphaned), and a few other things. The Incidents section alone was a big undertaking, with thousands of report pages to scan. Over the course of 20 years many links can go bad, pages can be moved, domains can change, etc. Which is why incident information in particular is all archived directly on our site and not linked to.

Log files need to be archived regularly, and at the end of an operating year these need to be finally processed for website traffic stats. And those need to be finalized and archived. This has been completed for the past season now. It isn't linked to it directly since few people are interested, but all of our stats for 20 years are online at http://www.avalanche-center.org/stats/

In the course of this server work it was discovered that there had been a hacking or break-in attempt that was pretty extensive. It did manage to leave a wide range of ghost files and database entries and other traces but there is no evidence anything was ever compromised. So fortunately security seems pretty good, at least against what looks like an automated attack. A dedicated person might find a hole somewhere if they worked hard enough at it, there is a lot of open source software in use. (We do not collect or store any critical personal information even for store sales. This is all handled externally through PayPal. So there is no need to worry about any privacy issues in any case.)

The server space was filling up and one factor in that was a php error log. Which turns out to have useful information buried in it once it is sorted through. This pointed to pages that were broken and not fully loading as well as other programming errors and many of those have been fixed.

We have also added a blog for Avalanche Education and Science, which has so far just been used for old posts from Avalanche-Blog.com which is being closed out. New entries will be added soon. The Administration and Operations blog has a new entry explaining what has happened over the past year in more detail.

Ongoing Work

So what is left to do next?

While the error log has helped identify various small problems there are larger programming issues. The paypal scripts that send information back from donations and purchases need fixing. (So that donations result in instant addition to the membership file, which is currently broken requiring manual updating after the transaction.) The scripts related to membership and it's features need to be largely rewritten. The membership contribution amount has been set to $25, and some errors with a few simple scripts have been fixed now. But there is a lot more to do in this area.

There are already incidents occurring and this years entries need to be started. On top of a lot of catching up from the later and more active part of last winter.

Several things have been circulating that are worth blog entries in the Education blog, once the maintenance work is caught up.

The Avalanche Institute courses will be left for a future update but this will hopefully be an area of emphasis going into the future.

The last thing not closed out from last season are the financial reports. The last month or two have not been added in yet. It was not a good season, and the reorganization at the end of the year and over summer left us with a debt of $1000 we need to raise money for. At the moment we have enough on hand to pay for the server for another month, but not much more. Which is why the season of giving is important for this non-profit work. It's not something anyone else (such as a corporation or foundation) is likely to support, it relies on users.

Help us Out

The details of what we need will have to be included in future updates over time. But a few things we can use help with are:

The Avalanche Store - Keeping a small inventory and shipping items, mostly beacons. At this point we can do this on a revenue sharing basis if necessary. The web work and accounts and all of those things are in place, but we currently have no US based person to handle things that have to be sent out.

Shirts - There is a supply of shirts and they should be constantly promoted and sold. We ultimately break even on these but they promote the site. While we end up breaking even we are actually tieing up some of our limited cash flow by having them sit. This could be handled as part of the store or on its own, but we need to send a supply of shirts to somebody who can stuff them into envelopes or packing, affix a preprinted label, and send them off. This is another thing we need a US based person to do. At the moment they are not being promoted because there is nobody to handle orders.

Social Media - If anyone wants to help keep up some activity on Facebook and perhaps other social media let us know.

And finally ...

Host the Backcountry Film Festival - We've been approached about doing this but are not a fixed location organization. It would be possible, and great, if any of our supporters want to host this show locally for our benefit. It seems to be a pretty will pre-packaged deal with door prizes and films provided. It just needs a venue and some promotion, and maybe a few local extras for the door prizes/raffle. You could have fun doing this and support avalanche safety and awareness at the same time. We have some information and will get all the necessary details for anyone interested.


As you can see there is a lot to do. But work is underway and this should be a season of revival. Please consider helping us out, and watch for another update soon!

Incidentally, this is our first effort at using Mad Mimi as an email service. We closed out Mail Chimp account because we could not afford the $25 monthly fee, and some things were not impressive anyway. Hopefully this new free (and related) service will work out ok.

Jim Frankenfield
Executive Director

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