Sunday, December 23, 2007

Kicking off the ski season at Grand Targhee

I just did four days in Grand Targhee. It's a ski resort just on the Wyoming side of the Idaho/Wyoming border that has the most reliable early-season snow according to My brother found the web site a while ago, and if all of it's information is as good as this was, it belongs in every skier's bookmarks. Targhee already had five feet of snow when we got there, and it continued to snow gently for most of the trip. In observance of Murphy's Law, a pretty big storm hit on the last day we skied, and there was about a foot of new snow taunting us on our way home.

The terrain at Grand Targhee is fairly moderate. Which isn't to say that it's not steep - it just doesn't that wide a selection of chutes and gullies. There was a cliff band that would probably offer some really great lines later in the season, and a couple gully runs that didn't have quite as much snow as I would have liked. However, there was also a lot of fun gladed skiing, so I got my darting around between things fix. And the snow quality was awesome. Dry, light powder. It was good on the first three days, which were lift-served, but our fourth and last day we got to ride a snowcat in an area that the resort hasn't made lift-served yet. I've laid some fresh tracks, but this was run after run of fresh tracks. In-bounds powder skiing usually consists of traversing to somewhere out of the way along some scraped-out, roller-covered mess, followed by a couple of powder turns, followed by another traverse back to the base of the lift. This was a little bit of skiing on a snowcat road, many linked powder turns, and another short traverse on another snowcat road. Emphasis on the many linked powder turns. All the advantages of hike-to terrain, with nowhere near as much hiking.

Yesterday and today see me installed at Sugarbowl, and with new boots. I didn't get to ski yesterday because of work, but I did today. Which brings my days for the season to five.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I know that things aren't supposed to make me happy

But I finally got to see the racing skis that I bought on eBay several weeks ago. They're pretty awesome. Everything about them screams "speed" and "precision." This brings my quiver up to three pairs of skis and a snowboard. Enough is never enough. I'll try to line everything up for a picture in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Discovering more trails in Cunningham

I may sound a bit slow, but it took me until my last ride to figure out how to read the blazes in Cunningham Park out in Queens. Today was the first time I could really use them. Between the blazes and learning the trails over time, I've been finding some of the pieces of trail that I've missed in the past. Turns out there's a ton of advanced singletrack in one side of the park that I've been missing, so I like the park that much more.

On a technical note, I replaced a lot of the front end of my bike in the last couple weeks. New, much lighter handlebars, a new, longer stem, and most recently a new suspension fork. Last time I went riding was my first ride with the fork, and I think I had it too soft. I've upped the air pressure in both legs (it uses an air spring and air compression damping system) and it's much better now, although I think I'm going to put it a bit higher before my next ride. I seem to be much more of a brute in my riding style than how I've seen myself in the past. There's some claim that with the compression damper set high, the fork will allow a lot of rider movement before it starts doing its thing, and I'm hoping it might also reduce nosedive under braking. I'm also going to raise the main spring because it has a tendency to bottom out under hits that I don't think are that big, or even when I'm compressing before popping the front wheel up on something or hopping. And here's a picture. The best thing about pictures is they don't make you read - like Li'l Bush on Comedy Central.

Friday, November 09, 2007

More Existential Crises

Continuing the theme of turmoil and existential crisis, at least to the extent that I ever do it, I finally signed up for the drawing class that I've been telling myself I was going to sign up for. Over time, I've figured out that theatre is the field I ought to be in, and design seems to be the specialty that works for me. I've been getting a little annoyed with lighting design, though. The problem is that I can spend all kinds of time giving a script a close reading and figuring out how to reinforce that story with my lighting, but it pretty much always ends up being a warm wash and a cool wash and some saturated washes from the top, back, and/or sides. It's a rewarding process to light a show, but I want to do more than just reinforce the work of the other designers and the director of a show. I also don't think that my finished product is that different from what I'd create if I read the script a couple times and called it a day. Since I'm going to do the research one way or the other, I think I want to do something with a larger role in the production and where the research time will make more of a difference.

Which brings me to sets. The problem with sets is that right now I really only have the skills to build a fairly basic, non-structural set and then not paint it. I haven't done any scenic painting and since I seem to have a skin contact sensitivity to latex, I can't learn it any time soon. I hate painting anyway, so this is not such a bad thing, but if I can't just build a set myself I need to be able to express what it should look like. Which means I need to know what it should look like. I like to think I'm a pretty good draftsman, but I can't freehand draw to save my life. Let's not talk about other skills in fine arts right now. So I can read a script, research the script, production, etc., and visualize a set. Great. But I can't show anyone else what I want it to look like. How to build it, yeah, maybe. But not what it looks like.

It's bothered me for a while that I can't do renderings to present a lighting design, but at the level of theatre where I've been doing design work it hasn't really been a problem. With sets, though, I think that not only do I need to be able to do a rendering to present to other people, I need to be able to do a rendering to present to me. Theatrical design is visual, and it's hard to think about something visual that I can't actually see. To some extent, I can get around this with tools like SketchUp, but I'd rather be able to do it without a computer to distract me, at least at the initial stages. So all that brings me back to drawing.

I've had two drawing classes now. I'll be taking that class two evenings a week through the end of the month, and most likely for the first half of next month before going away to Lake Tahoe. I should try to draw some landscapes out there. It's a life drawing class, which means drawing a model doing short poses - usually around five or ten minutes, sometimes as much as twenty minutes or as few as two. My instinct is to look for the strongest parts of the outline and start there, but the technique that the teacher is teaching is to draw parts of the body, mostly by apparent mass. So an oval for a head, a column for a neck, etc. He tries to ignore anatomy, which is impossible for me to some extent because with all the dance training I can already name most of the muscles, at least by group, and I have a hard time seeing an arm without seeing it motivated by delts, traps, and lats. But I feel like I've been doing a lot better trying to do his way, and I can already see my sense of proportion improving. I think that working with a person rather than objects is a good way to learn this because since objects are inorganic shapes, in general, I could probably get away with reinforcing all kinds of bad habits just drawing them. It might make me a better freehand draftsman, but there are computers, or, failing that, rulers, protractors, compasses, etc., so I don't really need to be a good freehand draftsman.

Anyway, when I get back from Tahoe in January, I'll need to figure out about some next steps, and get back to trying to land design jobs. Between all the recent drama and the fact that I've been working a ton and making enough to zero out my credit card and buy new sports toys, I've been getting off track a little. But taking this class seems to be a really good step.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Four Months On the Wagon

I've been having liver issues lately. They showed up in an elevated enzyme level four months ago, give or take, and my doctor told me to stop drinking alcohol. So I did.

At the time, I was seeing a girl who drinks very little due to an exceptionally low tolerance. Although a lot of her stories involve drinking. All that's another story, and unlikely to show up here. Because of the amount of time I was spending with her, though, it wasn't all that frustrating at first not to be able to drink. I was a little annoyed because I do enjoy drinking, but whatever.

As the weeks wore on, I noticed subtler ways that I'm used to using alcohol, other than going to bars with my friends. Wine with dinner from time to time, for example. It also made it impossible to have a "because it's Friday" drink, which is something I do when my schedule is very busy so that there's a definite point at which the week ends and the weekend begins, even if I'm working through the weekend anyway. Sometimes a "because it's Friday" drink happens on Saturday, or I'll go to the bar across the street from my building, have one with a hamburger, and then go home and sleep for a call the next day. The point is that it's my statement to myself that I'm through another week, and it marks time without me having to actually take real time off. If there's no victory dance, was there really a victory?

The summer's relationship went the way of every other summer relationship I've had, and I started going out more with my other friends again. New York is a very bar-oriented city, probably because nobody has room in their apartment to have more than one friend over at a time. I can, and have been, going to bars and not drinking alcohol. It's incredibly irritating. There are a lot of things that I enjoy much more when I'm sober, but bars are not one of those things. They're loud and smell funny. That applies to my friends too, by the end of the night. If I've been pacing them, I'm also loud, don't notice the smell, and everything's funny. If I'm not, I usually go home early.

One might expect that going home early gives me the opportunity to ride my bikes more. But the truth is that when I'm planning to do something in the morning, I only spent about as much time in the bar the previous night as if I have been these past few months when I'm planning to do something the next day. I just have more fun.

I found myself thinking the other day about college. I think that in the entire course of college, I could count the number of alcoholic drinks I had on one hand. It didn't stop me from going out then, either. At the time, though, I mostly went dancing if I went out, and I still don't drink when I do that. As far as socializing, I think I was generally pretty bad at it. Or pretty good at it and felt like I was bad at it. Whatever. In any case, I don't think that I've come to believe that I need booze as a social lubricant. I think that I pretty much always did.

In any case, I'm off the wagon now. Or soon, anyway. I talked to my GI doctor yesterday and he says I can drink again, socially (I think that's a really bad description of a degree of drinking. A person could socially get drunk seven nights a week and I'd say that would destroy their liver, those of their friends, and easily constitute an addiction.) I'm also switching to a different NSAID. And I called my health insurance company to find out what the deal is with physical therapy - I can go see one for an evaluation and it'll be covered, and depending on the results of the evaluation, PT may be as well. Of course, in six weeks I'm going to Lake Tahoe and if this year's like last, I'll probably only have one or two drinks the whole month I'm there.

I suppose after this whole ordeal I've come to the conclusion that I like alcohol, but I can also stop if I have a reason to. I'm not going to say that I can stop any time I want to, because I didn't want to and it's a cliche line for an alcoholic. Also that even inexpensive non-prescription non-narcotic anti-inflammatories can have some scary side effects. If that's what's been causing all this.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Riding Cunningham again... For the first time.

I rode Cunningham a while ago with a friend who shall remain nameless and skipped everything marked with a black diamond because she's afraid of hurting herself. Unsurprisingly, I found it to be a bit boring. A few obstacles that were more annoying that interesting, fairly flat, and also boring. Given that experience and that getting home if I went out of town yesterday would be a real pain in the butt, I decided to go to Highbridge Park for the ride I promised myself.

Last time I rode Highbridge was actually the day of a NYCMTB cleanup, and the parts of the park that I rode were pretty clean. It's not something I noticed at the time - I learned to ride on trails where litter was very rare indeed. I didn't even run into the kinds of things that mountain bikers might track in, like a boxes for spare tubes or energy bar wrappers. I don't think it's that the park rangers there were all that good, I think it's that Santa Cruz is very environmentally conscious, and for everyone that litters there's probably someone else who makes a point of collecting trash. I'm saying all of this to draw a contrast with how Highbridge looked yesterday. Lots of beer bottles, both 12oz and 40oz, plastic bags, cans, and even a pair of pants were scattered around the area. They tended to cluster in the easily accessible parts, but it's a pretty narrow park. I was determined to ride the advanced-level cross-country trail that time, which I figured would be inaccessible enough to be clean, but it's actually not that inaccessible. The west side is blocked by a collapsed chain link fence, and while I hear there's an entrance south of that, these things are always much easier to find by riding to them from the inside since they can be almost invisible from outside. Which brought me to the east leg of the loop. It's extremely technical, right up against the side of the bluff. It's also quite accessible from the road, with more trash. Between all the garbage and some new tires that I'm breaking in/learning to use/may not ultimately like, the whole experience was way too frustrating. If it was just the tires, I'd stick with riding highbridge on the theory that I won't learn them any faster somewhere else. But the garbage was the excuse I needed to go do Cunningham instead.

After much messing around on three different subways and a fair amount of street riding, I got to Cunningham Park and re-found one of the secret entrances. I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and fell a lot because I wasn't focused and these tires feel different from the previous set. I'm not blaming the tires - they're extremely well reviewed and all tires take a little time to learn. They are also much faster than my previous set. Odd day regardless, I decided I wanted to hit all the black diamond loops and options that I missed the last time. I'm sure I missed a couple this time too, but I also rode a lot of them. If you get off the intermediate and beginning trails in Cunningham, it gets surprisingly technical. It's not as technical as Highbridge, but there's also much less garbage. And since half the reason I wanted to get back into off-roading was to get out of my NY mode, that's a big factor.

Since the weather's been wetter lately, the ground in Cunningham was firmer and more consistent. There were a few technical features I can't handle at the moment, like some of the taller tree falls. Those are, to some extent, just a test of how high you can hope your bike, which is a skill I need to be working on more, but I don't feel too bad about not being able to do a really big hop for them. The ones that really stick out in my mind are a tree fall that blocks the trail but has its root ball right next to it and a large rock garden with what looks like a gap big enough to take a bike through. I didn't solve either on this trip. The tree fall I almost got over via the root ball, which is completely covered in soft dirt and clay, but I ended up wiping out and almost falling into the hole that the root ball came out of. Of course, you haven't been off-roading if you're not dirty. The rock garden was being populated by some hipsters drinking beer (I think they've decided 40s are okay because it's slumming or something.) In either case, there's enough there when I'm trying to tackle the bigger stuff to hold my interest for a good while. There's a saying that in mountain biking one doesn't measure miles but hours. That held true here as soon as I got off the buffed-out beginning level terrain.

I've promised myself that I'm going to learn some more technical tricks for riding. So, gentle readers, remind me that I need to learn to wheelie and possibly manual (looks like a wheelie, but without pedaling) so that I can do wheelie hops and drops and bunny hops over much higher objects. Practice, practice, practice.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

A Day Outside the City

I decided the other day that I was going to do some mountain biking outside New York City today. Some other plans that were going to go along with that fell through and I had a lack of a riding partner, so I was thinking about bagging the trip and just going off-roading at one of the places in town, but then I decided that I wanted to go someplace bigger. So I did. I took Metro-North to Cortlandt, which is just below the northern border of Westchester County.

The area around Peekskill is low, rolling hills with deciduous forest. The Blue Mountain Reservation is no exception. The trails are mainly double track because there's no undergrowth limiting the width. The soil's very rocky, which might be part of it, or it could just be the thickness of the canopy above. There weren't many roots on the trail, but the number of rocks and death cookies was staggering, and I passed over and through more rock gardens on one section of trail than all of Wilder Ranch combined. While I decided not to session any of the fallen trees until I've taught myself a new trick to get over them, I did manage to climb a lot of rock gardens and do some pretty neat descents through them as well. I think that they were the biggest challenge offered by this park. Even though it's a holiday weekend (sort of) there weren't a lot of other people in the park and it was easy to get in deep enough not to hear traffic.

It was a great way to spend an afternoon. Trails long enough to charge on, and while the parks within the city offer a feeling of being out of the city, they still have broken glass and engines rusting out strewn around, but the Blue Mountain Reservation was nice and clean. Clean air, healthy plants, low density. I need to do this more often.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Mountain Bike Mini-golf

As my readers know, I got a new mountain bike not too long ago. Today I took it to Highbridge Park up in Inwood, one of the two places to legally take a bike off-road in New York City. Highbridge Park runs from 155th St. to 200th St., and fits between Harlem River Dr. and Amsterdam Ave., generally a widthbut it's only a block or two wide along its length. The elevation change between the two streets is close to 200 ft. and they're usually about 500 ft. apart, although one section is only 250 ft. wide. By comparison, Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz, where I learned to ride mountain bikes, ran over three miles from the entrance at the top of one road to a couple of exits along another, and was over two miles wide.

The trails in Highbridge Park are folded back and forth like a small intestine. They're marked in places and some work has been done to prevent erosion and clear brush from these, but for the most part they've just been allowed to be packed by use. The north section of Manhattan Island actually has significant bedrock under it, which is exposed in places in the park. The trails run through deciduous forest and undergrowth and over rocks, roots, and packed berms. There are also some very steep sections. In a more open environment, it's rare for a mountain bike trail to simultaneously switchback, climb or descend, and involve clearing an obstacle. These trails do, and they're frequently off-camber, just in case they weren't hard enough already.

For me, mountain biking has two appeals. One is that there's a sense of peace in the woods, where there's more landscape and fewer people. Another is that I enjoy the problem-solving involved. Like off-piste skiing, it's about looking ahead and planning moves over, around and between things. These trails have problems stacked on problems. They'd even be difficult to walk. Awesome. And the park is so wild that it doesn't feel like I'm in Manhattan.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Another new toy

When I was in Lake Tahoe during the winter season, I was reminded how much I like being in the woods. As long as I can also be traveling quickly through space. In order to keep doing that during the not-winter season, I promised myself I'd get back into mountain biking. After last week's ridiculous work schedule, I could afford to buy another bike, so I did.

It's a pretty basic model, but totally trail-worthy. Good quality frame, modular components, tunable suspension. I'm going to swap the pedals for my old mountain bike pedals as soon as I get my shoes from California, and I may do something different with the stem to put the handlebars lower and further from the saddle. I find I'm quite amused by having disc brakes, but they're pretty cool. They really do provide better braking power. I've already had it on some trails and singletrack, and it's a fun ride.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Free month of Netflix

If anyone's interested, shoot me an e-mail and I'll forward you theirs. It's a pretty good service if the USPS doesn't hate your neighborhood.

The Biggest Small Town

If Reno is the "Biggest Little City," Manhattan is definitely the biggest small town in the country. I did a gig the other day working on a fashion show. Fashion Week was a lot of work, so afterwards I decided I deserved a haircut, and went to get it done at my usual place on Monday. The hairdresser and I were talking, and it turns out she worked on the same show.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Save the Tyvek

Today's work was at a big tent where some charity thing was happening. Lots of money being poured into rich people feeling good pretending to care about something they really don't. Cynicism aside, I thought that the way that the lights washing the ceiling were shooting through the banners there was pretty cool. The charity's supposed to be pretty good too, so I suppose that's good.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Saved from a Guilty Pleasure

My roommate and I just watched the tail end of American Psycho. It's hard to categorize the movie - it's not really a horror movie, although that's probably the closest it comes to a genre fit, and it's certainly not a thriller or a traditional action movie. It's not an action movie at all, in fact. The point is that the pleasure of watching the movie is that the main character, played by Christian Bale, is so likable. Watching the movie, kind of a Catcher in the Rye for the 1980s, I identify with his hatred of all the phonies of the world and his desire to kill them. What appear to be his lived actions mirror our own fantasies on a more annoying day. Like Holden Caulfield, Patrick Bateman is an anti-hero we can't help but like.

The same guilty pleasure applies to many action movies. While the hero is an important part, it's really the villain that makes the movie. James Bond can't function without Ernst Blofeld. The Die Hard movies all had their efficient, professional and yet fatally flawed terrorists. The Rock has Ed Harris fighting the good fight and threatening to wipe out San Francisco. What makes these movies work is that we all have a part that wants the villain to succeed. The villain's success is, of course, detrimental to thousands, even millions of innocent lives, which is unacceptable to a moral world view. Our desire threatens our view of ourselves as moral people.

The tension in an action movie is finally resolved by the hero's defeat of the villain, saving vast numbers of innocent lives. More importantly, he saves us from the illicit desire to see the villain succeed. In American Pyscho, the resolution of the movie is partly a disappointment and partly a relief for this reason.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Google chic

I remember when GMail came out. All the cool kids wanted it, at least if you define "cool" as "envied by other people who think three computers is too few." I avoided it for a while because I didn't think I needed to prove my coolness, but then it became freely available to anyone who wanted to sign up and I thought accepting someone's invitation to the service would help me get in her pants. Anyway, now that I have a smartphone too, I want gmail on it. Not just the mobile web page, now that I know they have a client program. The whole enchilada.

Google Labs doesn't support smartphones. However, it's a Java applet, which means it should be able to run on anything with a Java virtual machine. Problem #1: I didn't have a JVM. Google recommends one from IBM. Check out WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment. I had a bit of a false start installing it - look for another zipped file in the directory structure it puts on your disk. That's where the actual runtime version lives.

Next, I had to download a copy of gmail mobile. Unfortunately, it's supposed to be something you download via mobile phone, and Google automagically recognizes your phone model and gives you the appropriate version of the app. Since the Explorer version I have doesn't play nice with Google, it wouldn't give it to me. I managed to find a link to within Google's file structure on the 'net. I don't feel like re-finding it for the purposes of blogging, so it's left as an exercise to the reader.

Once I got that, it was no big deal to install and run it within the JVM's launcher program. However, I'm not really interested in having to open File Explorer and find the JVM "emulator" program to launch gmail every time. I found syntax for having the JVM launch directly into the Java program, but I can't figure out how to apply it - like make a shortcut or something. Seriously.

New phone (and it rocks)

So I finally did manage to get the phone from Verizon. It was over the weekend, but I let myself be kidnapped for a while and have only just returned to Internet access on a device with a 14" diagonal (if you think it's small, use a cellular for a while.)

How does this thing rock? Let me count the ways...

Gmail access from wherever I am. Right now via Explorer, but I'm working on that. In fact, Google access in general. Nice.

If I'm using a headset to talk on the phone, I can navigate around the other features. So I can mess with my schedule while on the phone. Sweet.

Java virtual machine. I've got one installed on the phone now, and it totally works. In fact, the phone is more of a very small computing platform that happens to be able to work as a phone.

Synchs with Outlook. That's nothing new, but scheduling and contacts were the killer apps for my Palm, so this phone needed to be able to do them for me to get it.

It's little. Slightly taller and wider than my old phone, but a lot slimmer, and a lot shorter and narrower than my Palm. Also, no exposed touch screen requiring of a hard case.

So yeah, I'm having fun with it. It's at least somewhat susceptible to hacking, too, so I've got the potential to do all sorts of crazy stuff with it. And I should be able to set it up to act as a cellular modem for my computer as well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

My time is valuable... My lunch is priceless.

Those who have been following my cell phone travails already know that I was supposed to be able to walk into a Verizon store today and get a heavily discounted PN-820. Not only did I fail to get a phone, I wasted most of my lunch hour on the effort. It was one thing when I was just spending an hour at a time on the phone with the retards at customer service. (I don't think they're retards, I think it's that the system doesn't allow them to make decisions or use their judgment or initiative.) So when I got back, I asked my coworkers about their cellular providers. AT&T was popular as being good service, both cellular and customer, so they're my front-runner right now.

I just got off the phone with customer service. I failed to get back in touch with last night's representative, even with her name and extension number. No big surprise there, I suppose. Anyway, the latest representative reordered the phone for me. My credit card's showing a hold of the appropriate amount for this order, so hopefully it went through. I'll be checking my statement again soon, of course, but hopefully this means that when I come home next week from a couple days out of town, there will be a new phone waiting for me.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Verizon may want my money

One of the things that showed up in my e-mail today was my Verizon bill. Which reminded me to call them about that phone that I ordered three weeks ago. It was 9:28 when I got off the phone, just now, and I dialed customer service at 8:26. After much switching of departments, I've learned that two orders were in the system, which had the effect of freaking it out, and the problem was sent to some department that doesn't answer phones or read their e-mail to sort out. The customer service rep I got transferred to after the first customer service rep transferred me to equipment and equipment transferred me to sales had two options. Either she could send another e-mail to that secret department, which I picture as an alcoholic living in Siberia with a large, antique (that being a polite word for dilapidated) desk covered in unread printouts of the e-mails assigned to him to address and printed from the one computer for the office, or I could go to a Verizon store, that will magically know that I'm being given a couple of discounts on this phone, and buy one in person.

E-mailing this mystery man clearly doesn't work. So I'm going to try going to the store tomorrow and see if I do any better with that option. Think happy "new phone" thoughts. Everyone who's had to hear me say "what?" or "talk really loud" repeatedly will be pleased if this works, I think.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Blow Up Everything!

My brother and I went to Live Free or Die Hard this afternoon. It's a throwback to the unselfconscious action epics of the eighties, similar to the first two "Die Hard" movies but with a little bit of vintage Schwarzenegger added to the mix. Bruce Willis reprises his roll as the detective John McClane, a man whose two talents are being in the wrong place at the wrong time and surviving impossible situation after impossible situation. While he does have shoes throughout this movie, by the end he's satisfyingly bloodied and the collateral damage is in the billions.

The main theme of the movie is vehicles colliding with other vehicles and exploding. We're also treated to some impressive ground/air chases, more explosions, rampant use of C4, and some French mercenaries who must have been left in the DC area by Cirque du Soleil. The bad guys raise the bar again, with bigger goals than in the previous movies. McClane, however, is the same anti-hero whose bad luck puts him alone in the position to save the day. He shouts, punches, bumbles, and somehow survives his way through over two hours of impossible situations and finally defeats the bad guy in a way only he can.

While stylistically, the movie is a throwback, the action sequences, vehicular and otherwise, show definite influences from Asian cinema and the "Transporter" movies. The chases bring balletic action to vehicles of several types and sizes, and the camera work is awesome. The camera itself darts around the action like a bird surfing the pressure wave in front of a car. Since this is a contemporary movie, I'm sure there's some CG. But it's not recognizable as such. There's also no obvious wire work, and while Zach had some quibbles with one of the sequences at the end, I didn't find that anything in the movie really forced me out of the suspension of disbelief.

The first Die Hard made some effort to appeal to a mature audience. The next two acknowledged the franchise as a guy movie, and this one has the same purity. It's full of "high five" moments. There's minimal character development, relationships are simple, bad guys get killed, and stuff blows up. A lot.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Not sick

I decided about three weeks ago that since I'm paying lots of money for health insurance and may have a latex allergy that I should start seeing a doctor again. It'd been about seven years since I had a regular one - I had my pediatrician through high school, then went to college and used the campus clinic, and haven't seen a medical professional since graduation. I went in and got the usual blood screening, and referrals to an allergist, who I'm seeing in about two weeks, and the radiologist because the doctor wanted a chest X-ray and seemed curious about my knees.

Anyway, I forgot all about the whole thing and was riding bikes in Connecticut with a friend when I got a call from the doctor's office that he wanted to see me about something on my blood test. So I scheduled an appointment and started examining my lifestyle.

That followup appointment was last week, immediately following a midnight-9am work call. It was like a bad dream. I was sitting in his waiting room, drinking a really big cup of coffee to try to stay awake, when he called me in. The coffee was finished at this point, so as soon as I sat down in his office, I was half asleep.

"You have hepatatis!"

"No more drinking!"

If life were a cartoon, I'd have jumped through the dropped ceiling in that little room in that odd little office building with the directory in Chinese with English in smaller letters below the characters that most people in that neighborhood prefer. Life's not a cartoon, but it certainly shocked me awake. So I had more blood drawn and got a referral to see the radiologist again for a liver ultrasound, and he sent me home. I scheduled the radiologist appointment and took a nap before that night's work, midnight-7am.

I was a bit distracted that night, as you might imagine. The ultrasound thing was a new experience for me, but I didn't learn any more about whether or not I was sick or to what degree. I scheduled today's office visit, and spent the following week continuing to examine my lifestyle and being generally nervous. The conclusion I came to was that if I had Hepatitis B, it would kinda suck but odds are that I'd get over it, and if it was C, then life would be totally unfair because I don't use intravenous drugs, see prostitutes, or have unprotected sex.

All of which brings me to today. Negative for Hep. C., no Hep. B., and the enzyme levels that prompted the diagnosis are back to normal. I have to see the doctor again in a month and I can't start drinking again, but all that really means is that when my friends are inebriated I'll be sober enough to find them utterly boring and I'll go home earlier, sleep more, and generally have a healthier lifestyle. I was starting to cut down my alcohol intake anyway.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New show: Leni

So I'm working on a show in the NYC Fringe Festival this year. It's called Leni, about the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl. For those who don't know, she's the filmmaker behind Triumph of the Will, one of the strongest pieces of propaganda ever made for the Nazi party. She maintained throughout her later life that she didn't know about the atrocities the party was committing until she was told during her interrogations starting in 1945, and that she had no special relationship with Hitler. A look at the timing of her work and the progress of the Nazi party suggests that she had to be an incredibly stupid and credulous individual not to have some idea about what was happening by the time she released Triumph.

This tension makes her a very controversial figure. In the play, she examines the tension between her claims and the evidence of history. Given the subject matter, I had a moment of doubt about whether or not to continue the project, but it doesn't try to force an answer and it doesn't pull its punches. I think it's actually really good, so everyone should come.

The play is produced by Collaborative Play. Their web site has the details.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Verizon doesn't want my money

So I've been looking forward for a while to getting my "new every two" discount, one of Verizon's ways of keeping their customers. Other ways include blackmail and threats of violence against loved ones. I decided today to go ahead and buy a new phone. It doesn't help that the asterisk key on my current one doesn't work all the time any more. So the web site has whatever bizarre issues and won't sell me one. (!?)

I called customer support at 12:39. First they wanted to walk me through the process on the web site. Then they tried to transfer me to a web site specialist and failed. Then some other transfer happened. Then I got transferred to a web site specialist successfully, but the web site wasn't miraculously better. Finally I got transferred to a sales guy who could just sell me the phone. All good up until their system having issues with the little three-digit number on the back of my atm card. D'oh! It's now 1:33, and I've called me bank, who don't record that number, and I'm waiting a callback from Verizon, where I'll see if we can do a different payment method. It shouldn't be this hard for those guys to take my money.

I did get the callback, and they managed to sort stuff out, probably. But they can't give me any meaningful tracking information, so until my phone mysteriously shows up via FedEx, I won't know if they got it right or not.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Bringing sexy back to linen

So my cousin got married recently. I started to write a blog, got sidetracked, and then forgot. Oh well. Anyway, the new wife is kind of cute and seems nice, and I hope they'll be happy together. Returning to my regularly scheduled narcissism, here's one of my and my brother.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

New(ish) toy

Because one bike really isn't enough. The plan is that I'm going to start riding to work instead of taking subways, so I can go from being in pretty good shape to ridiculous. The lock cost two thirds what the bike did.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

William Gibson foreshadows my project!?

William Gibson - A Nod's As Good As a Hyperlink

I recently joined a blog project that has had some mission creep into creating a database relating various important figures within the field that it covers. It would give some basic information about an individual, and who they have creative and commercial relationships with, and those references would be links to pages concerning those other individuals. The idea is that if I read the newest blog entry, anything referred to in the blog that I might not immediately understand would be a link to a page on that person or topic. All those pages and topics would also link back into blog entries discussing them. The purpose of the whole project is to help people from outside its field choose which events and exhibitions to go to within the field, and then arm them with enough information to get through half a cocktail and change the subject.

One of the reasons I love reading William Gibson is that he has a talent for spotting trends and extrapolating them into the near future. Google has already replaced research; my project seeks to concentrate relevant information from Google, Wikipedia, and industry sources into a more specific and more easily digestible format.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Film Work

I got a call this morning from a guy I work for fairly regularly on event lighting gigs. A friend of his is working on a student film and needed electricians. It wasn't going to be a paid job, but I would otherwise have spent the day playing video games and maybe doing my taxes, so I took it.

The ride out was "interesting." The job was out on Coney Island, with a pickup at Union Square. So I went to Union Square to meet the van, which was half an hour late. We drove around some. I didn't start paying attention until I noticed we were heading north up 3rd Avenue. The quickest way out to Brooklyn would have been to cross either the Williamsburg or the Manhattan Bridge, both of which are south of Union Square. So we should have been heading south down either Broadway or 2nd Avenue. I figured maybe we were going to take the Midtown Tunnel, which would be an odd choice but not necessarily a bad one. We got up into the 30s, then made a circle involving a brief section of the FDR. We took another lap, this time staying on the FDR and drove all the way south to the Manhattan Bridge approaches, the bridge I'd have chosen. I just wouldn't have gone all the way north to midtown before driving south.

The drive was fairly uneventful for a while. When we got out to the shoot location, somewhere around Coney Island, drove past the turnoff to the park, flipped a U-turn, and got the rear wheel stuck in the sand on the side of the road. The driver gunned it and sank the wheel pretty much to the axle. A passing driver suggested that she be more gentle with the accelerator. Another lent a shovel. A third had a pickup truck and used a length of tie-down to pull the van out. It took some help from all of us pushing as well, but we got the van unstuck.

I haven't done a film shoot before, but the only thing that seemed especially remarkable about this one was the poison ivy. Lots and lots of it. We had some cable runs right through it. When the going gets tough, the tough get tyvek.

I'm going for that tough-on-the-outside, vulnerable-on-the-inside look.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 90

Today was the last day of my ski season. Between skiing and snowboarding, I've put in about 90 days on the mountain. My snowboard technique has become really clean, at least until I stopped using it in favor of the skis, and my ski technique has reached a level where I can do the whole mountain, not necessarily beautifully, and I can really start learning the substance of skiing. I think that it got more fun as I got better, and hope that it just keeps improving. I'd better think of some goals for next season. Number one goal, of course, being to actually get a decent number of days next season.

Today was a good day to end on. My mother was up with her +1 and his +2s, but they weren't skiing today. Mom and I did some runs in the morning, before things got slushy and gross, with the goal being to have fun skiing and evaluate the possibility of giving her the Rossi Bandit B2s I got mid-season. We went to Squaw Valley, because it's still open and had stuff at High Camp for the entourage to do while we skied. Squaw currently has its base facility and High Camp open, a few lifts at High Camp, and the Shirley Lake and Granite Chief lifts spinning. Since diamonds mean "only interesting runs on the mountain" we went to Granite Chief.

The Chief's an old fixed-grip triple, something I almost never ride these days, and I managed to get one of my poles lodged in the back when I was unloading fairly early on. I'm not sure how, but it broke when it was falling out of the chair. I have held certain opinions on the importance of poles, or lack of, so I didn't want to stop skiing to try to replace it.

Anyway, we did groomed runs for a while until my mother was good and warmed up (I'm going to have to come up with a clever nickname for her or this blog will lose street cred. SkiMom? BadassMom? Maybe I'll poll all two of my readers.) At that point, we went to High Camp to switch her Atomics for my old B2s and see if I could find another pole. There aren't any in the retail store there, and the only spares at Lost & Found were too long, and I was afraid that one of them would make me put my weight too far back if I used it. I definitely wasn't going to go down to the base area to get sold something super-expensive, so I took my one pole and we went back to Granite Chief.

We took a couple more groomer runs. Mom found the Bandits easier to ski and smoother, but not that different from her Atomics. I said we should do some bumps, because that's where they might have an advantage over the other skis. Bumps are hard without poles! I really didn't have any issues with doing the groomers without them, and while dropping into a line was a little bit harder, reminding me of snowboarding, it didn't bother me that much not to have them. But I had issues with doing moguls. Reminded me of how they felt when I was a teenager and hadn't switched to snowboarding yet - quite hard.

This is Mom doing moguls.

We'd agreed to meet +1 for lunch at 1, so after some messing around in the bumps we headed back to High Camp. The waitress was cool but the hostess gave us some attitude. Apparently the +2s aren't high-end enough. The older one, Taryn, is a bit of an adrenaline junkie. She's just about to hit five, and when she learns to turn parallel, probably some time next season, I'm going to have to show her some things around Sugarbowl. Along with jumping off cliffs, Taryn is probably going to be a supermodel. All credit for this picture goes to her.

Is this the face that sold a thousand pink ski suits? Yeah, probably.

And on the topic of ski suits, Zach, get those PEs, learn that zipper line, and get that 80s fluoro suit. You know you wanna.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

New Trick from Google Earth

In procrastinating today, I decided to see if I could find good topo maps on the internet. This isn't completely a wild goose chase - if I'm serious about walking up 1900 vertical feet over the course of half a day in order to descend them in a matter of minutes I need good maps. And the government has to be good for something.

Anyway, check out One of the products available for download, free, is a plugin for Google Earth that allows you to overlay USGS topo maps on top of it and download tiff files of the appropriate ones. At least, I think it allows you to download them - my download's still running, and I haven't seen scan one. These maps show trails, so by using the map and a trail guide together, you can figure out where the trails are in relation to easily findable land marks, like mountains, and (in theory, of course) plan an approach route to bag some descents. Unfortunately most of what I found on the internet was oriented toward ski touring, snowshoeing, hiking, and other sports that don't involve descending steep faces of things that it might be beneficial to scope out in advance.

Now I need to do an avalanche class.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Elan m777 vs K2 Public Enemy vs Rossignol Bandit B2

I've been getting increasingly annoyed with my Rossi Bandits, and decided the other day that it's time to get something more advanced. For those who don't know, I'm 5'8", 145 lbs and ski moderately aggressively with an off-piste preference.

The Bandits were a great ski to relearn on because they're quite forgiving. They're fairly light, and easy to throw around. They're also quite easy to turn. I have the '06 (probably) model in a 170. On the negative side, their easy flex means that crud can cause the tip to wander, and if you seek out the soft stuff, the 76mm waist width just doesn't provide that much flotation. They can also have a feeling of a stuck tail, something that seems to be associated with tighter sidecuts. They carve moguls quite well, but they lose stability in a more aggressive approach. They're very damp, so there's not necessarily a feeling of chatter on icy groomers, but it's difficult to get them to carve unless the snow's a little softer.

Having tried my brother's Apache Chief, I knew I wanted something narrower, with a deeper sidecut. A friend recommended the Elan m777, and I got to try a pair, in the 176 length. I skied them at Sugarbowl on Saturday, after the resort had been closed all week and received several inches of new snow. The day before had been the first warm day since the new snow, so the snow was smooth but firm off-piste the day that I skied them. They're very stable skis, and stay comfortable at high speeds. I didn't do as much turning as I usually do when I was on them. When I did turn, they had much better edge grip than my Bandits, but I couldn't get them to carve very consistently. I felt like I had trouble just decambering them. Off the groomers, they were better than my Bandits, but felt like a lot of ski. They blast through crud like it's not there, but I found I had a tendency to dive the tips, and this with the binding mounted 3cm back of the manufacturer's recommended position. They were also a bit harder to release from a carve than the Bandits - not necessarily a bad thing, but not suited to my style off-piste either. Moguls weren't really in evidence that day, so I don't know how they did.

The Elans are constructed like a wide GS ski - two sheets of metal sandwiching a wood core, and a long-radius sidecut, 21.4m in the one I tried. After that, I figured that I should look for a ski in that width with a tighter radius and less metal in the construction. I shortlisted a number of skis, but found I could buy a Public Enemy at a pretty good price, about half what any of the others cost. So I did.

I got to try the PE today at Alpine. There was a pretty big storm on Saturday night, and Sunday was a powder day. Another couple of inches fell after lifts closed and during the night on Sunday. Today was a pretty warm, though, starting a few degrees above freezing in the morning and getting to be a few degrees above 50 in the afternoon. Off-piste was dense chopped-up powder, getting fairly wet toward the afternoon. The PE gave a feeling of a nice, locked-in carve on the groomers, but released easily too. I tried the B2s for comparison, and they did quite well too - the morning groomers were in great shape for carving. Off the groomed, the PEs floated nicely and tended to either blast through or pop up onto crud where my B2s would have chosen a different line. My first run down some chopped up powder felt a little awkward at first, but when I leaned into the fall line more and pushed with my inside leg to switch directions, things got much more fun. My experience with the PEs in general was that they need to be skied more authoritatively - if they're on a line, they want to keep following that line and it takes a committed movement to change. In the afternoon, when the off-piste snow started getting wetter, heavier, and stickier, I found that they had much less of a stuck feeling than my Bandits tend to get. The width is an obvious place to give credit - they're 85mm at the waist - but I think the stiffness helped distribute my weight better over the surface area of the ski as well. The Bandits sometimes felt like they were folding up, especially if I stomped the inside foot to change direction. I mostly did fairly short-radius turns off-piste with the Bandits, but on one run I did looking for an aspect of the mountain that wouldn't be so sticky, I started GSing instead. The surface was pretty chopped up, but the PEs held their line anyway, and felt a lot more stable than the Bandits.

My brother put in a special request that I try some moguls on them. It was hard to find real ones, but I did a run down the run under Wolverine Bowl that bumps up fastest. The ski stores a lot more energy when it's decambered, so there's more of a pop at turn initiation doing bumps. I found that at slow speed I could still carve the shoulders, but I picked up speed pretty quickly and found myself doing them in a more athletic style. While that tended to make me wipe out pretty quickly on the Bandits, I found that with the stability of the Public Enemy, I could land those little airs, including the surprise ones, and jump straight into my next turn. So Zach, if you want to learn to zipper-line, you can probably do it on this ski.

I think that the essential difference between the Bandits and the PEs is that the PEs move with authority. If they're going straight, they want to keep going straight. If they're turning, they want to keep turning and at the same radius. I definitely had to work harder on them, but as long as I was skiing a committed line and kept my weight forward, they did what I wanted, when I wanted it, and didn't let the terrain distract them. The difference between the PEs and triple-sevens was that for someone of my size, the PE is a stiff but turny ski, while the triple-seven would rather have straightlined down the mountain and taken me along for the ride, and it took a lot of work to convince them otherwise. I don't think I ever really got a short-radius turn out of the triple-seven, and those are pretty important to me.

Now that I have actually skied the Public Enemy, I'm glad I bought them. No ski can turn me into Doug Coombs, but I'm going to have a lot more fun with the PEs than I would if I continued on the Bandits. This is not to say that the Bandits are bad skis, necessarily. The B2s just aren't for an aggressive skier.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Expert Skier? Advanced Intermediate?

I'm currently in the process of trying to save my Tecnica Diablo Fires, boots that I bought about two months ago and may have to replace. While I don't want to replace them, because it would cost a lot and I don't think I'll be skiing enough next season to justify the process of getting something in a more appropriate class and better fit, it would also present the opportunity to do the above. The other reason I don't want to spend the money on boots is that I'd rather spend it on fatter, stiffer skis. Probably not significantly longer, but we'll see what I like when I demo some stuff.

In researching the possibility of both new boots and new skis, I'm discovering that the stiffer boots, wider, stiffer off-piste skis I want in a real, practical way, and powder skis I'm drooling over are described as being for experts. I'm described by the ski equipment industry as an expert. I find the idea of me as an expert slightly amusing, although I won't deny being flattered.

However, much as I may want gear the industry calls "expert," possibly even a (softened) race boot, I don't feel like an expert. I still think that it's over-posting when I ski past the signs that say "expert only," and I think that any "cliff" signs I ski past are a little ridiculous. At the same time, I've bagged every run at Sugarbowl except for the Palisades, and I'd take a shot at that run if there was snow on it. I collected a fair number of double-diamonds on my Kirkwood trip too, though not always as well as I would like to.

Which brings me to my point - I've been told that the black belt in karate, and most martial arts using a similar belt system, represents the level at which a student is ready to start really learning the substance of the art. Everything that comes before is groundwork. Aside from airing off of things, which continues to bother me, and jibbing, which is a specialty of its own, I can, to varying degrees, handle everything on the mountain. Not necessarily that well, or that gracefully, but safely. Which is to say that I think that I've got almost all the tools. At this stage, I think that what's left is to make everything I do more fluid, but I've also come to think that that's what really defines a good skier. Which is to say it's not what you can do, but how well you can do it. I don't want to use labels like "Advanced" or "Expert" to describe myself, because I don't think they express the room for improvement I think I have and I think they're static labels for something that's more of a process. Which is why I like the belt comparison.

A feature article I read in Powder Magazine a while ago talked about the writer's experience in finding ski partners outside of a skiing context - apres ski bars, the office, even on the lift ride up. He writes that some people will tell you that they're really badass, and can ski everything, etc. etc. My brother and I ran into that in the hot tub at Whistler. When you take this person to the top of whatever lift the next morning and get ready to drop into something fun and interesting, however, they freak out and can't do it. On the other hand, the writer mentions meeting people who will just say, "I'm okay." The next day, they're ripping down chutes, hucking off of things, and doing the whole mountain the way we all wish we could. My response to the question of how good I am is more of a resume quote - I'll say what I've skied at the resort in question. Apparently I'm better than Mr. Badass, but not good enough to be secure in the knowledge of how much I have left to learn.

All of which brings me back to the question of labels, which seem like they ought to be useful. The problem is that, with a few exceptions involving drops and chutes, an intermediate skier can safely descend pretty much the entire mountain. It might take a very long time and involve side-slipping, but it can be done. So if the level is defined by the terrain skied, and this person rides the tallest lift and then sideslips down most of the mountain, they've just achieved advanced. And while technically I've dropped a cornice, as my brother points out I may as well claim to have done a double misty, whatever that is, off of it if I'm going to claim to have done it well because it was more a matter of scoot-scoot-fall-tumble-tumble. I maintain that if I'd had the opportunity to do it again, I'd have made it look good, but the hard fact is that I did have a shot, and I didn't make it look good. From a factual point of view, I still did drop the cornice, to the same extent that that intermediate just bagged Upper Headwall or Death's Head Chute, or Doom Bowl.

So Expert? I'm really not. I think that that label ought to be reserved for the folks who take whatever terrain and conditions are handed to them and make it look good, not just the hero snow. What about Advanced? I don't think I make moguls look good enough for that, and stop and start too much in the double-blacks, at least unless I've memorized them, although I've also started picking lines that aren't shown on the map. What about advanced intermediate? That's also the guy who just started linking his turns down Pony Express, and if we hit the mountain together, I'd be impatient and he'd be mad at me for taking him down "that!?"

Both the American and Canadian ski instructor's organizations use many more level gradations - nine and eight respectively - and include levels that seem descriptive of where my skiing is. Too bad nobody will know what I mean if I go around saying, "Level 8." Of course, ski resorts don't help matters by describing green, blue, and black runs as "Beginning," "Intermediate" and "Advanced."

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Messing with my boots

So along with the option of canting the sole of the boot, I thought it would be worth trying canting my forefoot. I cut some neoprene to match the shape of the boot board and then cut away the part that I didn't want to lift.

Today I tried skiing with my own cant, then again with more of it cut away, and with the Starthaus's recommended cants, and with the cants put on the opposite way at their suggestion. My cant felt kinda weird, and when I took it out I felt like I actually got less shin bang and a little better support up the whole medial side of the boot. Not sure why, but since these were my goals in putting in the cant, obviously it was counter-productive.

After that, I put duct tape temporary cants on my bindings and did some groomers with them oriented as suggested by the Starthaus's alignment check, and the opposite way. When I got off the lift the first time, I almost fell over my outside edge. That led me to expect that I'd feel a huge difference between having the cants on the right way and having them on wrong. In switching back and forth between having them oriented "right" and having them oriented the opposite way, I noticed that if I canted the insides of the boots, my uphill ski felt like it was just along for the ride - it got very little edge grip. The skis also felt kind of weird on the flats, and I sometimes caught my inside edge and got pretty pronounced speed wobble. With the cants on the correct way, I felt like my uphill edge worked slightly better, although not significantly so, and I was a little more stable on the flats - didn't get any speed wobble. However, when I took the cants away entirely, I didn't find that I missed them particularly. I got a little speed wobble on the flats, as I have been since I bought my setup, but my turns didn't feel much worse at all. Without the cants, my skiing is slightly less two-footed, but it wasn't a significant difference. Neither canting option eliminated my shin bang, though.

There are two options left for trying to get ride of shin bang. I can cut away some of the tongue shim Sako installed in my boots to help get the cuff tighter. I still have a couple of notches on the buckle before I run out, and the wings of the cuff have a ways to go before the touch each other after his liner trimming, so I think this is a good option.

My other choice is to try to find the cuff angle that works best for my ankle, mark where that puts the pivot point on the cuff, and then drill a hole in the foot part of the boot and put the bolt from the dual pivot plate into a nut on the other side of that. I'm a little wary of this option because the hole would be permanent and I think that whatever I put on the other side might create a pressure point that would require cutting away some of the liner to alleviate. I'm afraid that the liner might not be thick enough to cut away enough to do this, and both drilling a hole and cutting the liner are irreversible.

While I could always glue the piece I cut out of Sako's tongue shim back in, cutting it out in the first place seems like it could be messy and difficult, and the whole thing has the potential to have a pretty skanky-looking result. Since there's no skiing tomorrow and Tuesday, I'm going to give my shins some time to calm down, and see how the boots ski unmodified on Wednesday. After all, I've been skiing pretty much every day since the shin bang first presented, and because the bruise is more tender now that it's there, I might not know if I solved the problem with cuff cant alone.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

So over my funky legs

About a week ago, I had my ski boot liners trimmed and a shim added to the tongue so that I could get the boots tighter around my skinny ankles. The good news is that it worked. The bad news is that I started getting boot cuff bruising at the outside of my ankle on both sides. I flipped over the little plate on the boot that controls cuff cant, and it helped. But not enough. So I decided to see Sugar Bowl's resident boot fit genius, but it turns out he's in Moab. Sako, I hope you're having fun. You deserve a vacation.

Anyway, without my boot fit guru, I figured I'd just wait until next season. After all, there are only a few days left. This morning I tried to go skiing and after about two runs, it just hurt too much. First I visited the guy at Java Summit Sports, who didn't want to try anything. Then I went to the Starthaus, the local race shop and Sako's former employer. After their fitter established that yes, I had indeed maxed out the cant on my boot, they tried shimming the inside side of the boot, to take up the space created by my ankle being funkier than Tecnica anticipated, and then they tried stacking up some shims under the boot. In order to get my knee into a straight line between my foot and my hip, it's necessary to cant the outside edge of my left boot up two degrees and my right boot up one. Kinda counterintuitive, especially since I had to do the opposite to get my racing bike to work a little better for me.

The fitter also tried flipping the cants around, which he says is a more common procedure, because my knees turn in like crazy when my feet are canted that way. It felt way awkward, although it looks more natural. The verdict is that I'm going to build some prototype shims from duct tape and try them tomorrow. I should be able to tell very quickly if canting one way or the other, or not at all, is best. The running list of custom work on my boots (because I'm unique, dammit)

Fancy footbeds
trimmed liners
shimmed tongue

Why can't stuff ever just work for me?

Friday, April 13, 2007

85 days (and counting)

So I asked the lifty today how many days I've skied. Sugarbowl's records have me at 67. They're probably short 3-5 days from the beginning. Here in Tahoe I've also done two days at Alpine, a day at Flatstar, and a day at Kirkwood. In Utah I did a day at Brighton, three at Snowbird, and one at the optimistically named Snow Basin. And then six at Whistler.

So I'm at 82 days, plus three to five that Sugarbowl didn't count because of early-season computer problems with the lift ticket scanners.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Kirkwood Rocks My Socks Off

I decided that today I’d ski somewhere other than Sugarbowl. I’ve memorized the whole mountain, and most of it’s getting pretty goopy anyway. So I was wavering between Flatstar and Kirkwood (if it had a nickname, maybe it would be Chutewood?) because Northstar doesn’t really need much cooperation from the weather to be as good as it ever is, and Kirkwood has a high base, still has a lot of snow, is one of my personal favorites, and I hadn’t been all season. I ended up going with Kirkwood. Northstar’s really only good for about two hours anyway.

This was the first time I’ve driven the West Shore road. It’s not as good as skiing, but it’s close. I’ll have to revisit it in a sports convertible some time. Long drive, though, and Kirkwood really is in the middle of nowhere. I was supposed to meet some people from, on the theory that if you’re skiing with someone and get hurt, they can go find Ski Patrol. I got to the meeting place a bit late, though, and didn’t find anyone. I’m not sure if they were late too, or if they left. I would have. Anyway, I waited around for a little while, then obeyed the call of the mountain and started skiing.

At 10:15 in the morning, it was still too icy off-piste for my taste, so I did some very fast runs down the backside groomer. Then I checked out Chair 6 on the theory that the sun had been hitting that aspect of the main bowl for a while, but there was no groomer down and it was still too early for the mogul run. Huge moguls, I swear. This big. So I went back to the backside, did some runs, decided I should get lunch and took something steep and crusty back to the lodge. After lunch, I did another backside run and another chute run, then started working my way across the front face. Steep, tight gully runs. I was happy.

I had some work done on my boots recently to get them to fit my ankles better, which they do now. As a result, I started to get some boot cuff bruising on the outside of each leg, so I messed with the cuff adjustment last night. Tecnica has an unusual but, for me, quite effective system in which canting the cuff outward to accommodate my bowleggedness also means that the cuff hinges on a slightly different axis, in which my knee travels inward relative to my toe, which my knee wants to do. So today I had both less boot cuff bruising and less knee pain than I’ve been getting. Yay!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Not Another “I Hate Flying” Blog

Of course my desire is to do a blog about how much flying sucks. But I’m pretty sure I already have, and it doesn’t do anybody any good to dwell on negativity. Hippie BS aside, here’s what I propose we do instead of flying.

Trains. Really fast trains.

An airplane travels at around six hundred miles per hour. If a train went two hundred, it would take fifteen hours to cross the United States. Granted, it only takes six and a half on a plane. But lets look at all the other stuff that goes into flying. Under the new rules, we’re supposed to show up at the airport an hour early. Add another hour to take the ‘A’ train from civilization out to the aiport and it’s really an eight and a half hour journey. On a train, we could be shown into private compartments for each group with blast plating all around so that security measures would be unnecessary. Then, not only do I get a little bit more space but I don’t have to de-claw before travelling or strip at the security checkpoint.

When I went to Utah, part of why I drove was because I didn’t want to fly. I also drove so we’d have a car, and I think that the total cost of flying and renting is more than the cost of driving, but not flying was definitely part of it.

Volvo S40

I’ve been on Long Island all week, which is closer to where I’m usually located but still counts as travelling because I haven’t even gone into Manhattan so far, and that means another rental car. I like renting through Enterprise because they’re cheap and frequently give me a free upgrade. I won’t risk driving an “economy” car because life is short and there’s no reason to make it shorter, but I reserve the compact unless I’ve got a very good reason to reserve something else. This week’s car was the Volvo S40.

The S40’s a funny car. As I understand it, it’s Volvo’s entry to the sporty sedan class. What it really is, essentially, is a fast(ish) luxury car. It’s got a leather interior, power everything, heated seats, tilt wheel, etc. etc., largish wheels, and smallish tires. I think it’s front-wheel drive, though. Certainly handles like it. This one has a “geartronic” transmission, which is a really funny transmission. It’s an automatic transmission, but you can yank the shifter into another gate on the right that locks you into the current gear, whatever it is, and allows you to instruct the car to shift up or down. However, the car will still shift up if the engine gets close to redline, or down if it’s close to a stall. I haven’t had it on any roads where I could push it – I’ve basically been driving in traffic – but my understanding is that it’s a system that you can use to keep it from shifting during a curve. However, if I want the car to shift, all I can really do is make my desire known and then wait for it to decide it feels like doing it. It took several seconds between when I used the shifter and when the transmission got around to doing something about it. So the feature looks more sporty, but doesn’t go all the way.

The reason I devote a whole paragraph to the transmission, aside from the fact that it’s the first time I’ve used one like that, is that the car in general is like the transmission. It looks a little more aggressive than most of Volvo’s line, but aside from some vibration that I think is due to the larger wheels and lower-profile tires, it’s a smooth but fairly pedestrian ride. At least the sound system was a little better than the one in my Forester, but I had more fun with my last rental, a Chevy Cobalt.

The other complaint I have about the Volvo is I never did find a seat position I really liked. It’s like they stuck a sporty seat in a family car – I tipped the steering wheel down as far as it would go without obstructing my view of the instrument panel much, but it was still too high for where the seat is. Maybe all Swedes have fat thighs. Didn’t like the pedals much either – the throw was too long and the resistance was too light, so I couldn’t leave my heel in one place on the floor and just move my toe, so driving was more work than I like it to be, at least in that respect. Visibility out the back and sides isn’t great either.

Some cars are supposed to be like a shaved gorilla in a suit. This one is more like a poodle in a leather jacket. And it’s clearly a Banana Republic leather jacket.

In figuring out what, exactly, the geartronic was, and finding it was what I thought it was, I also did a little more reading about semi-automatic and clutchless manual transmissions. That’s what I want in my next car. And it could weigh about two thousand pounds less…

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Had to happen sooner or later

So after a frantic rush to the airport today, my seat got given away. Apparently JetBlue's packed with spring breakers. So what's really got me pissed is that they gave it away on the strength of some policy that they don't publicize, or at least only publicize in one of those things with the scroll buttons that nobody reads. They do publicize that you need to be at the gate ten minutes before a flight, which I was on track to do (barely.) And apparently if I had a computer with a printer and could therefore check in from home, I'd have been okay (barely.) But you have to check in at least twenty minutes before the flight. So to everyone out there who uses JetBlue: beware. They won't tell you they do this, but they will give away your seat.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Drafting fun?

I wasted all morning today playing with Sketchup, which I think will revolutionize conceptual drawing for people who aren't very good with a pencil. Like me. This is a return, more or less, to a drafting project I did at CityTech.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Mt. Freestyle

In the spirit of "Why not?" I accepted my friend's invitation to hit Boreal with her last night. I don't remember when, or if, I was last there, but lately they've transformed themselves into an "All-Mountain Terrain Park." Since it was night, I was only in the lighted area, but almost the entire lighted area was devoted to jumps of varying sizes, boxes, rails, and even a staircase. It looked a little surreal sitting in the middle of a piste.

I've been exposed to a lot of different kinds of ski area culture, but this was something new. Since the entire mountain is a giant terrain park, it's populated almost exclusively by park rats. Which is not to say that there weren't some very good freestylers - there were. But for the most part, people were going down the mountain somewhat uncomfortably, falling off of boxes and wiping out landings, and generally doing what people in terrain parks do. Maybe with a little bit better etiquette - while I didn't see anyone using a spotter unless the spotter also had a handycam or camera, people were waiting long enough for the previous person to hit a jump to (hopefully) clear the landing area, even if they wiped out.

At most areas, the park rats are all about fifteen and doing their best to look like something they're not, wearing fairly expensive outerwear that their parents, who are higher on the mountain wearing fairly expensive outerwear, bought for them. Boreal's crowd is older than that - there were almost no parents in evidence, and it seemed like people drove there themselves, so about a 16-18-year-old crowd. While I'm sure that they got at least some help with their gear, people were mostly not wearing the matched outfits that have been showing up a lot lately, and the level of water resistance was a lot lower, which probably applied to the price point as well. Lots of wet butts, and a wide variety of jackets that were never designed for rain or a snow storm. I also saw a ton of season passes, which applies to most ski areas on week days, but was still interesting to me.

Someone I was talking to on a ski lift a long time ago commented that there's a popular perception of skaters being lazy, but if you look at the amount of time that they spend on their skate boards in a given week and count it the way you would work or education, the good ones are a very hard-working group. Watching these kids teaching themselves to freestyle impressed me, especially with my aversion to hitting jumps myself. There were a fair number of people already there when I arrived at six, and the area just got more crowded while I was there. It didn't look like they were taking one or two runs and then hitting the cafeteria, either - they were taking run after run, terrain feature after terrain feature, and fall after fall (actually not too many falls, more questionable landings that they somehow rescued.) I don't watch a lot of freestyle competition on TV or even play a lot of freestyle-based games, but seeing it in those contexts always makes it look easy. Seeing the amount of effort going into actually doing it gave me a lot of respect for the people who work at it, even the ones who aren't any good at it.

Of course I wasn't going to spend a chunk of my evening at Boreal without trying to hit some kickers myself. Since damaging my body in the myriad ways I've damaged it, I don't have a belief in my own invulnerability, so it's sometimes hard for me to do that sort of thing. I managed to do one of the smaller ones in the learning part of the terrain park, and caught air off some of the rollers that the kickers sit on top of. I think I've figured out why it's so disconcerting for me to do man-made jumps when I have relatively little trouble hitting the traverses and lips that appear on- and off-piste doing downhill skiing and snowboarding. In downhilling, whether on my board or my skis, my goal is to do difficult terrain with grace and beauty. To me, that means a fast, clean line with no abrupt direction changes and a minimum of rolling down the window, etc. When I hit a natural kicker or a traverse, I go from traveling steeply downhill to traveling less steeply downhill. My trajectory may take me away from the ground for a little while because the ground resumes traveling steeply downhill before I do, but I'm always traveling downhill and ultimately my path is somewhat smoother than the terrain was. The upwards part of hitting the man-made stuff is really what bothers me, although not being able to see the landing certainly doesn't help. The process of hitting a kicker seems to me to be one of gathering speed, getting launched into space, somehow changing attitude in space to match what the landing is (I think) going to be, and then hoping that I was right. With the little airs I'm accustomed to, I turn twice to bleed a little speed and make sure I'm stable, then point straight at where the ground drops away, and wait briefly to rejoin it, many feet but little time from where I left.

I've commented in the past that I should probably take a few laps through the park now and then so that I'll be better equipped to drop cornices, odd windblown shapes, and the other air-inducing objects that appear in alpine environments. After last night's experience, I'm much more ready to consider downhill and freestyle different disciplines. While they both require some comfort with air time, one much more than the other, the airs feel totally different. The skill sets are different too - pipe riders are supposed to be excellent carvers, whether on boards or skis, but for the most part, people I saw at Boreal weren't great turners, weren't working on their turns, and really didn't seem to need any more skill at turning than they already had. Downhillers, on the other hand, seem generally to consider turning almost the only skill there is. On the one hand, now I see terrain parks a little less as mini golf compared to the Pebble Beach of the mountains above and a little more as a different sport, or at least a very different aspect, and on the other hand, I'm even less interested in learning to ride them.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

I could totally do that... If I could see it

So after six days at Whistler the conclusion is this... The mountain's huge, and they've got some pretty good terrain, but the weather's really sucky. I take pride in not being a person who says this - aside from rain, which I prefer not to ski in, I believe that if the weather's too nasty, it's just because the person whining is under dressed.

Whistler has a lot of fog. A frequent theme of my skiing or snowboarding there was to ride to the top of a lift serving kick-ass terrain, then follow the "easiest way down" trail, marked by green and orange discs because even the ground becomes invisible, until I could see the snow in front of me. Then I'd drop in, but because most of Whistler's better stuff is bowls, all the really interesting things would be somewhere above and behind me. On other occasions, I might start that terrain high, having established from the lift ride up that there was nothing to hit or fall off of, but then allow my inability to see to cause a failure in nerve and do kick-turns down until I could see. And I wasn't the only one - that seems to be the standard method for negotiating even the simplest terrain during these fog-outs. Not only do kick-turns still track up the beautiful new snow, they actually track it more than a series of nice, fast powder turns down whatever terrain feature it is - they're wider and dig up more snow.

Don't get me wrong. Zach and I still bagged some pretty cool stuff. On one run from Harmony Ridge, we decided to do something called McConkey's, a fairly narrow bowl with a cornice at the top that descends into the main body of the Harmony bowl. Standing on top of the cornice in the drifting fog and blowing snow, we couldn't see the run below, let alone estimate the drop. While I may alter some details when I develop the hot tub version of this story, what Zach and I did that day was to go to the side of the cornice where a rock had formed an air cushion preventing the cornice from forming and slide down to below the level of the cornice in the rock's wind shadow. We could kind of see the run from there - enough to theorize about the possibility of drops. We stood and dithered for a little while. Zach declared that you only live once and took a sideways line in - what would under normal circumstances be far too conservative an approach for him. That initial line had a very odd trajectory - he dropped at one point. He commented to me, loudly because of the storminess, that there was a small drop. Then he started doing turns down the run. Knowing about the drop, I took a very lateral line. I suppose I thought that the drop was perhaps in his route but smoother higher. Nope. Once in the main part of the run, I did a couple kick-turns and then some rather nice powder turns if I may judge my own skiing. But if we coulda seen it... I might not have jumped the cornice. In fact, probably wouldn't - it was about ten feet tall. But I definitely would have gone straight off the mini-drop we did take, and I would have been able to do powder turns right away because I would have seen where I was going.

So whine, whine, whine, moan, moan, moan. Ultimately I had a good time and bagged some pretty cool runs. But, to paraphrase my brother, that not seeing thing got pretty old.

On a side note... The good food at Whistler is really good and the other food is no worse than every other ski resort.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Couloir Not-so-Extreme

It's a couple of days into the Whistler trip and the whole family is in a random internet cafe, checking in with our "real lives" to make sure nothing is burning down or otherwise disastrous. No pictures right now, because my brother and I have been having too much fun. Also, the light hasn't been great. Except when we were having too much fun. We started on Monday. Bad visibility, questionable snow surface, but Zach and I did some good runs in the top bowls and off the Harmony ridge line (for people who really want to follow my adventures, the Whistler web site has a map.) We also did a couple of nose runs down incredibly steep pistes, stuff I wouldn't have attempted on my own on my board, even though I don't feel quite as strong on my skis, which were the weapon of choice that day.

On Tuesday, we decided to check out the Blackcomb side. It was windy, but visibility was excellent. Zach and I wanted to do either the glacier or the 7th Heaven area, but the glacier lifts opened first. The wind was so strong that it constantly renewed the glacier, so it was a relatively dense run, but still with the feel of powder turns. I found it much harder to do the traverse at the end than the run itself, which has been a theme with the re-learning skiing experience. After a couple glacier runs, Zach decided it would be a good idea to do Blowhole, which is pretty much what it sounds like, so we did that twice, and then a run through some high bowls near the glacier. Blowhole is another run I might not have attempted without him there to overcome my better judgement.

Today was a fresh day. I started on skis, because it was only about five inches, not enough for me to consider it a true powder day. I got a couple really nice turns in the smoother, less tracked stuff but as soon as Zach and I got shunted back onto the main route I decided that it was deep enough and choppy enough for me to want to be back on my more familiar equipment, so I switched and we reconnected at one for lunch. On the board, the moguls were still unpleasant but I could get through them and I had a lot more fun in the choppy snow that was left of the fresh stuff. The day culminated with a run through Couloir Extreme and a run through Jersey Cream Bowl. Zach has decided that if he can do a run, it doesn't deserve to be called "Extreme." I was proud of my descent of Jersey Cream Bowl because it had some really good powder turns and started with my first drop over a cornice angled at more than 90 degrees from the horizontal. Zach points out that I went down with my board perpendicular to the fall line and it doesn't count, but I say it still does. It just wasn't good. Tomorrow...

It's raining out down here at the village level, but with a vertical mile to play on, I think that things should rock up on the mountain.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Europeans can't be that small!?

In case anyone was waiting with bated breath, I got to do a powder day on my board and a couple runs on skis after driving back up Tuesday night. The hot water heater is having issues and I haven't solved them yet, but I think that it's going to be a lot simpler when I get back.

Once I got out of the house and threw out a guilt-inspiring amount of food, I drove down to San Francisco, loaded my skis into my mother's new bag and her and bags into the car, and we went to the airport. I think that there's actually less space on the Airbus, at least as configured for Air Canada than on American planes or the planes that Jetblue flies, which are Airbus, but a different model. Not just rubbing shoulders with the Beau Monde - also knees and elbows. Except that the real Beau Monde would all be in business class, where there are four seats to a row instead of six. Gives me a reason (aside from jumping out of helicopters in Alaska on my snowboard or some really fat skis) to want to be rich.

We flew to Vancouver, proved that skis, snowboards, and big baggage can fit into a VW Golf, and then went to my mother's friend's very nice house. It has a view of quite a lot of the city, so lots of lights. Tres cool. Canada is bilingual and I don't think it would kill me to sprinkle in some extra French.

I may not post again until after the Whistler trip. Looks like lots of fresh snow falling, so whether I'm out carving it up on the skis or the board, I think that much fun will be had. My brother and I wear the same size Tecnica Diablos, although his are a little stiffer model, so our skis are somewhat interchangeable. I'm going to get to try his powder skis, and he'll get to try my mid-fats. Zach believes that skis are superior in all conditions, powder included, although you have to have at least two pairs, because powder skis don't carve and transition as well on hardpack and the skis that do have a disturbing tendency to get stuck in powder. I don't know if I'll ever be drawn away from the dark side entirely - I really love snowboarding - but skis do seem to open a lot of possibilities that snowboards really don't.

Gearhead that I am, I'd love to be able to afford multiples of each - powder board, off-piste board, hard-boot carving board, off-piste skis, powder skis, fast groomer skis, AT skis. Perhaps some old-school powder boards with odd shapes, like a 7-foot swallowtail or something. But for now, I've got a quiver-of-one board and some all-mountain skis that I'm sure can do powder at least as well as the skinny 220s that people used to use. I promise a real post, with some learning and growth and stuff, some time soon. Especially if improving ones ski skills and descending 5000 vertical feet in the lunch/home run qualify as learning and growth.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oh, the irony

I'm going to Whistler at the end of the week to do some skiing with my mother and brother (I'm also bringing my board.) As I'm sure most of you already knew, but I didn't, a passport is now necessary to fly into Canada, and will soon be necessary for driving as well. Because mine was expired and I didn't give myself the lead time to renew it by mail, I had to drive into San Francisco in a heavy snowstorm last night for a morning appointment at the passport office. I got to miss snowboarding in a couple feet (yeah, feet) of fresh snow in order to make arrangements for a ski trip.

Sugarbowl says they've got the tall ones open. I have a selfish hope that it'll take a couple days to get Sugar Bowl and the Mt. Lincoln off-piste open, so it'll still be fresh and nice (and nice and fresh) for me when I get to hit the mountain on Wednesday. Otherwise, I'll use the skis, which I'm already better at doing more beat-up ungroomed terrain on.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Skiing vs. Snowboarding

So today I rode my snowboard again after a couple days on my new skis. I found myself wishing I was on the skis. Conditions were what I call "fast-running," so the snowboard was not really in its element, but that's one point against snowboarding right away - it seems to have a narrower range of conditions in which it's fun. If I'm riding at speed, surface irregularities mess with the snowboard a lot more than with the skis. Probably at least in part my technique and the size of my board, but I think that the single-edged aspect makes it a lot more vulnerable to that sort of thing.

My board's got a lot more surface area than my skis, and now that I have the binding placement tweaked it performs well in powder, although I have some trouble in choppy stuff. I'm going to hold off on trying the skis in powder until the second day following fresh snow, when I start hiking for powder and I think that I can start getting my equipment to work for me instead of me having to carry it under my arm or something. Of course, skis are better at traversing too, although this pair gets death wobble at low speeds. It occurs to me that the leading edges might need to be detuned.

I have a truly bizarre foot that's actually more comfortable in a hardshell boot with buckles than in a snowboard boot. Weird, I know, but there's another point in favor of skiing.

Skis can do more kinds of turns than snowboard. If I'm doing a nice, clean turn on the snowboard, there's basically only GS and powder turns. If I want to travel pretty close to straight down the fall line, I do longish carving turns and change edges before I get too far from the fall line. On skis, I can keep my chest pointing straight down and my body on one line, and turn the skis under me (OK, my body probably moves laterally a little bit. But it doesn't have to.) Linked turns on skis also seem to be more stable than doing a near-straight wavy line down the mountain on a board, and I can do them through smallish moguls. I think larger moguls are probably a matter of practice for me at this point. Skis can also do GS turns, of course.

For people who are dodging the issue of whether one or the other is ultimately "better," and of course what "better" means, there's always the discussion of which one is easier to learn. In the past my attitude about this has been that with skis you can be sort-of skiing on Day One, but it's a lot harder to get to be a good skier, whereas with snowboards, if you commit to the Three Days of Pain, you very rapidly become a pretty good boarder afterwards. I'm going to stick with this. I think that in learning to be an intermediate skier as a kid and teenager, I learned a lot of technique that I wasn't a good enough athlete to actually do. Since then, I've trained in ballet and done a lot of other things that have made me a better athlete, as well as learned to snowboard. I think all of these have contributed to me being able to get on skis last Friday and discover that I'm actually a better skier now, after not skiing for about six years, than I was last time I went skiing before this recent re-discovery. All this leads me to believe a couple more things about the learning process for the two sports.

Snowboards will teach you how to ride them. If you make a mistake, they dump you on your butt. It's helpful to have a couple lessons, I think, but mostly, it's a matter of feel. The board also forces the rider to learn edging, which I think it's possible to avoid learning for a pretty long time on skis.

It doesn't take that good an athlete to be a good snowboarder. The posture is fairly erect and relaxed, and getting the board up on its edge is just a matter of leaning over.

Skis, because there are two of them, are forgiving enough to allow someone not to learn good technique. They also require a better athlete to learn good technique because getting the ski up on its edge is done in the hip and leg, and requires a pretty deeply bent knee, especially as the slopes get steeper.

I think snowboarding has contributed to my ability to ski, because of the forced learning of edge work, something I don't think I could do when I was skiing in the past.

So which one's better? I'm glad I learned both, and I'll be on my board tomorrow for the fresh snow and the next day for the deep stuff that should be on the way.