Code Hard and Dive Young

Alex Sparkman (@alexpsparkman)
february 26th, 2014

Editor’s note: Infinity’s Notebook isn’t just about our technical prowess. We also showcase some of the amazing things our team members do away from the keyboard. This week, one of our .NET developers, Alex Sparkman, writes about scuba diving in Las Vegas immediately after our company summit.


Weeks before our annual company retreat to Las Vegas, Jay and I discovered that we both hold “Open Water” scuba diving certificates. We jumped on a thirty minute Skype call and decided to dive Lake Mead. We chartered a dive boat for the Monday morning everyone else was flying home.

Planning was needed, because diving is risky.

We planned for a typical set of two dives. The dive master recommended five millimeter wet suits to fight the cold.

Dive 1

The first dive site was a sunken “Hydrohoist” used for retrieving sunken boats off the bottom. As the dive master explained, “once the hoist sunk, there was no hoist hoist to raise it.”

As the ship approached the dive site, we prepared our equipment for the dive. The dive master anchored the ship. Our group of four divided into two pairs, so that each diver can provide air for his partner in an emergency.

We then slowly entered the water. We kept our heads above the water to ensure no one encountered complications. As each of us entered we signaled to the last person on the boat that we were okay.

Once everyone was in, we began our descent. The water was so cold it was painful on my unprotected face: between forty-nine and fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit.

Everyone was descending faster than me. Without thinking I sucked in air through my nose. Water followed.

I now had only one thought: getting out of the water. I ascended to the surface, took the air supply out of my mouth, and inflated my flotation device (BCD).

I coughed, and regained composure. Past experience would put me under the water for thirty minutes. If I was going to bear the cold for that long I would need to get my buoyancy under control. Either I was not wearing enough weight for the switch from salt water to fresh water, or my BCD was not correctly releasing its reserves.

The dive master resurfaced, and after a brief exchange we discovered my BCD was not emptying. We fixed the problem and began the descent again.

Jay had a camera, and was able to film bits and pieces of the dive. The first dive consists of the clips 02 through 08.

In those videos, the black flippers are mine. The orange ones belong to the dive master. The blue and white stripes belong to a fourth diver who was pursuing advanced certifications.

Surface Interval

After the first dive was over, we took a short break at our anchor point for our second dive outside a water treatment station used to make concrete during construction of the Hoover Dam. It is basically a broad cylinder with a center dial used to churn the water. Water would be pumped into the top, and impurities would sink to the bottom. The clean water would then run off the top into the two smaller structures.

Jay took three recordings of our surface interval in clips 09 through 11.

Dive 2

The second dive began on the shore shown in the previous videos. Adjusting to the temperature, and controlling my buoyancy, was a lot easier this time. My face numbed and I was better able to concentrate on my environment.

The first site on this dive was a short set of stairs formed by two pieces of rusted sheet metal. The dirt had eroded away from under each step. Fish inhabited these dark spaces. The dive master picked up a rock, tearing open mollusks attached to the bottom, and flicked those flakes off into the water. He had no luck in coaxing the fish from their homes.

We continued to a pair of brightly colored cables strung in parallel lines along the bottom, held in place with rocks. These lines marked railroad tracks we could no longer see since they are now covered by decades of sediment.

I came across a bottle of New Castle Brown Ale likely discarded from a party boat over the summer. It was covered in mollusks, and filled with dirt. Given my new habitat, I promptly sampled its fine selection of drink. The dirt poured out of the bottle, and over the mouth piece for my air supply. I was not disappointed.

We finally returned to the stairs just outside our entry point. The dive master again picked up another rock, and returned to flicking flakes. The fish were slow to respond at first, but eventually the temptation drew them out of hiding.

Jay was able to capture more footage on the second dive, which can be seen in clips 13 through 16.

My favorite part was the fish feeding at the stairs in the 16th clip. The following link starts the clip at 5:30 where it begins. The feeding ends at 8:10.


The danger is minimal with certification. It took me one month of studying, pool diving, testing, and open water diving to earn my “Open Water” certification. The safety skills become second nature with practice.

It is a chance to learn. Aquatic life responds differently to litter than non-aquatic life. The bottle provided more surface for mollusks to grow. Fish are a great deal less timid than their land-cousins. Oceans and lakes have their own “weather” systems in the forms of current and visibility.

It is relaxing. The bubbling of regulators reminds me of the sounds of reading on a rainy day. Light dances hypnotically on the sea floor. The water above is a comforting blanket from the scorching sun. Water pressure provides a calming weightlessness. Dive masks magnify the aquatic world, inviting further exploration.

It is a challenge. The videos above show that I have trouble keeping off of the sea floor. Buoyancy control is a fundamental skill that takes a lot of practice. Comparing the dive master’s kicks to mine it is clear that a single, purposeful kick works better than lots of fluttering movement. He barely moves, conserving energy and air, skills that can take hundreds of dives to master.

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