Saturday, April 24, 2010

skiing: Elite Feet perfecting boots

The Nordica Dobermans I got 5 years ago at Elite Feet still fit well. The foot crushing soon relaxed into a snug fit. But two problems:
  • the sloppy Italians used a velcro™ knockoff for the power strap at the topthat simply doesn't velk — the straps break loose while skiing and slide apart when I carry the boots
  • water gets into the shell and after a few hours of skiing I can feel dampness in the liner
Nordica Doberman with BOOSTER strap and duct tapeI know Cosmo's Footwerks makes beefy power straps but I wanted to stay with Elite Feet who have adjusted and repaired the boots a few times over the years, always for free. I went in mid-week while Christian was around (Elite Feet is busy with a second shop at Northstar) and he replaced Nordica's joke straps with BOOSTER straps. These have a huge vibration-damping pad in front and a solid metal cam closure that locks in tight.

As for the water intrusion, I used the awesome power of duct tape and it's made some improvement. Nordica inexplicably cut a notch into the shell near the first buckle.

Meanwhile a Shred Betty had some problems angulating and engaging her inside ski's outside edge in her Nordica boots. Legendary instructor Tim Reeve recommended Start Haus to her boots and possible canting. But instead of working with the boots she brought, the boot fitter said they were too loose and tried to put her in Dobermans. Rule 1: if someone tries to put you in a tighter boot, they're showing off their boot-fitting prowess above listening to your needs. Instead, Christian at Elite Feet suggested removing her liners, allowing them to swell up and reverse some of the "packing out" that compresses the liner over the years. He tested her for canting using Elite Feet's complex mechanical rig (much better than a plumb bob from the knee, and shaved her boots down, inserting the special red shims in the photo and planing the boots so they engage with bindings.Nordica boots with Elite Feet canting shims
I was hoping a gross misalignment would explain my blown turns to the right with my left ski railing instead of engaging a turn, but no such luck; Christian tested me on the rig and I'm true.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

music: trying to get artists to let me compensate them

We should be in a golden age of abundant music creation. Record a song, upload it to iTunes and Amazon music store, blog/FB/tweet about its release, then sit back and collect most of the revenue from purchases by adoring fans. Use the profits to fund next recording. Friction-free commerce, screw the evil record company suits, master your own destiny, mutual exchange of value with fans.

But it isn't happening! Instead artists are fed up with the music business and frustrated by the declining sales of their label releases. The tired refrain from self-justifying music pirates "Artists should make money from merchandise sales and touring" is garbage; I want excellent recordings more than a T-shirt or a hit-or-miss performance that I may not be able to attend.

Whenever I hear about a recording by my heroes, I look to buy it online, but I only find songs from official album releases that I already own, which is frustrating as hell. I'm able to talk with some artists themselves about this, and the semi-conversations are dispiriting. I wind up feeling like I'm hassling them to accept my money.

From Thomas Dolby's blog post about the great set of performances he organized for the TED2010 conference
I usually put together a house band who play a short piece to open each of the 12 sessions over the 4 days of TED... After the four exhausting days of TED were over, we went to a local studio run by an old friend Chuck Mitchell, and recorded our 10 pieces for posterity. We managed to get them all down despite the onset of the familiar post-TED hangover. Perhaps I’ll include them on a TED house band compilation CD one day; and perhaps ‘Pistol’ will go on my album as-is. ...
# skierpage Says:
I don’t get it. You’re talking about some great performances to your fan base, they were obviously recorded during the TED conference, and you’ve even gone and re-recorded some of them. SO WHERE THE ^%$#@! IS THE [Buy Now!] BUTTON?!

C’mon, make some people happy and make a little money! What’s the problem?

# TMDR Says:
Interesting attitude, Skierpage. Believe it or not, the priority at a non-profit event like TED is *not* to make a ton of money from the music. As for the performances, I plan to make some of them available in due course, but I just got home jet-lagged from California and need a rest! And, as you can imagine, it’s not easy to clear copyrights for people like Sheryl Crow and David Byrne, so there’s a risk those may never get heard. A lot happens at TED that you can only experience by being there, but they’ve done a pretty good job of making a lot of the content available to the world for free, with a lot more to come. And, as I mentioned above, there was talk of a compilation CD featuring TED music.

# skierpage Says:
Dear TMDR,
Thank you so much for responding to my crass whingeing. Your performances have value, I long for a system that encourages and rewards you for making them available without it being a grinding chore. It sounds like musicians need to adopt standardized performance copyright clearance language (something concert bootleggers don’t have to mess with), and perhaps a lawyer-mandated USB pinprick accessory on the concert laptop to sign in blood after the performance?

So you know I’m not one of those “I’m not going to pay for music until it comes with a pink pony” liars on the ‘net, I just bought the SXSW version of “The Key to Her Ferrari” from Amazon MP3 Downloads while waiting. Sweet! (BTW, Amazon says “From the Album Alien’s Ate My Buick” — Apostrophes Ate Our Language.)

# TMDR Says:
Actually the point is, this is really nothing to do with the money. I have an album of my own music to finish, and that’s a higher priority than getting the TED intros–which are all cover versions bar one–out to the general public. But I promise some if not all of them will be available at some point, as audio or video or both.
Ouch, how to irritate the creative type with well-meaning exhortation. By the time “available at some point” rolls around, the excitement and interest will have dissipated. Meanwhile I can get immediate gratification from bootlegs and crummy YouTube videos, but the artist earns nothing.

I had a similar exchange with Max Tundra on Facebook:
Max Tundra: I did a cover version of "Digital Love" by Daft Punk, playing all the parts by hand/mouth. Check it out, on this great podcast full of reinterpretations: http://www.cokemachineglow.com/podcast/5145/fantasycovers2010-parttwo
You and 23 others like this.
S Page: You are a lock for Supertramp's next keyboard player! (5:34 on) How can we buy this performance, it's not on Amazon?

Max Tundra: It's not for sale, just grab it for free from the above link - there's a downloadable mp3 of the entire podcast.

S Page: Call me a crazy anachronism, but I like to compensate artists for their fine efforts ;-) Create new work, sell, profit, repeat until we die.

Max Tundra: Nice idea, but it'll never catch on
Sure I could get an audio editor such as Audacity and slice his song out of the podcast, but again the artist earns nothing. It is about the money, because if it doesn't show up artists will stop making quality (expensive) recordings.

I would love to exchange some money for these recordings and many more. Apparently it's not as simple as I make it out to be in my second sentence above. But it should be!

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

software: slicing up PDFs

I wanted to combine all the statements that I downloaded for my audit into a single PDF and then exclude all the cover pages plus the pages of boilerplate disclaimer, "how to reconcile your account", etc. PDF is a standard page presentation format, so you would expect there to be software to do this besides paying Adobe $119 for Adobe Acrobat.

There is, but it's the usual onion: a load of crap surrounding a simple idea.
  • Googling for "split PDF" finds the usual mess of sites and shareware and paid utilities
    • So I restrict to "linux split PDF", which points me to pdftk that Sid Shepard wrote in support of his book. But installing that requires 50MB of supporting GCJ packages. It's really cool this runs as a standalone program, but I already have a Java interpreter installed so this approach is 20× bigger and more complicated,
      • So I google some more and find joinPDF, supposedly a simple script and a Java library written by Gerard Briscoe, but the directory to download for this is defunct.
        • There are tons of other search results for this, on Mac shareware sites (someone bundled a graphical user interface for the Mac for users who don't know how to enter command lines), but their links are broken as well. (As an aside, why can't Google be smart? If I Google "download joinPDF" and a page with that text has a broken link, then don't waste my time with that search result!! I need a decision engine, not a search engine.)
          • I finally find a web site that has the simple original joinPDF for download. Follow the README.txt's instructions to manually copy the Java library and two scripts to the right location, and I'm set!
            • It turns out the actual core of this onion is a Java library, iText written by Bruno Lowagie, that can slice and dice PDFs: both joinPDF and the bloated pdftk simply include this library and provide a wrapper around it

Now enter the command line
joinPDF combined_statements.pdf checking*.pdf
, and I get combined_statements.pdf! But the files use stupid date naming so they're in the wrong order. Rename them with ISO8601 date format 2007-01, 2007-02, etc. file names, repeat.

Now I have to excise the pages I don't want. joinPDF provides another command, splitPDF, to split a PDF into individual pages, but this does not remove particular ranges of pages. (I should have used splitPDF to split each statement into _page1, _page2, etc. files, then glued a subset of these together, but that seemed to mess up the thumbnail display). I could probably get the source code and write my own simple wrapper around the iText library for an excise command, how hard can Java programming be? But that seems silly. Surely a Portable Document Format should make it easy to cut out pages I don't want.

I bring up combined_statements.pdf in the awesome vim, text editor. It understands PDF files and colorcodes certain words of them: obj, /Type, Kids, stream, etc. Looks promising, but there's no obvious Start of page 39... End of page 39 to chop out. I just need a little guidance as to what these mean. Back to Google for "PDF file format". But all of the articles show graphical tools or describe the format from the bottom up instead of telling me at a high level what to look for. So I add one of the words in the file, endobj to my Google search, and find Introduction to PDF! That's what I need!

For reference, in a particular PDF produced by printing a Quicken document in Wine...

You need to delete the page object and optionally things it references. The PDF is full of flattened objects. Each object starts with NN 0 obj where NN is a number for the object and 0 is its version (0 for most generated objects), and ends with endobj . Delete from one to the other and you've removed an object.

One object in the file is:
2 0 obj
<< /Type /Pages /Kids [ 3 0 R
4 0 R
5 0 R
46 0 R
] /Count 44 >>
This lists all 44 pages in the file, using their object numbers. I think they're in the order you see them, so delete the Nth line inside the brackets and the PDF will no longer have an Nth page. Done! (My PDF viewer Okular doesn't seem to mind that the /Count 44 is no longer accurate.)

You can go on to actually get rid of the page object you removed from the page list:
46 0 obj
<< /Type /Page /Parent 2 0 R
/Contents 137 0 R
is the page itself. But that page object is only 12 lines long, where's the actual massive text block with the contents of the page? Well, any time you see NN 0, it's probably a reference to another object; Sure enough, /Contents 137 0 is another object with a huge stream of stuff:
137 0 obj
<< /Length 138 0 R >>
q 0.240000 0 0 0.240000 0 0 cm /R0 gs 0 w 1 J ... ...
So you can delete this as well. There are more objects you don't need, but they're small enough to leave around.

Update: The joinPDF author's web site actually does exist and you can click through (Software > joinPDF) to his software, but incredibly, Google search results show all those broken links in preference to this! Maybe because he's using frames, but c'mon Google, be smart!

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web: it's my data on their web site, let me get at it

I'm being audited, the IRS says "Please bring cancelled checks and deposit slips", how quaint. It's more like 250+ pages of electronic statements and electronic check images to print out. I wish the IRS let you bring a directory of hyperlinked PDFs.

Fortunately my financial institutions provide online records going back far enough, though one (whose name rhymes with "smells cargo") cuts off after a pathetically short two years.

==> Save your own PDF copies of your statements! Don't rely on your bank.

Unfortunately, all financial institutions make it difficult to grab this information. The URL to download my January 2007 statement is invariably an impenetrable mess. It should be just https://secure.thebank.com/records/internalUserID/2007/statements/checking_1234_2007-01.pdf, where internalUserID is what refers to me internally. Then I can just change the end of the URL to 2007-02, -03, etc. You might think it's more secure to have a meaningless jumbled URL with token IDs and session IDs and crap, but that's confusing a secured session with a complicated name, and it's guaranteeing the URLs will change when they rethink their web site.

(The same really holds true for any other data on the web. I can't get my pictures out of Sprint PictureMail because there isn't a simple URL for each one.)

Also, the institutions do the usual crappy job of naming the downloaded file. When I repeatedly click to download my statements, I get
Note the ^$#@! random order of the files because the institution didn't use ISO8601 date format. BANKSTMT_1234_2008-04.pdf sorts in the right order, why do people persist in using stupid date formats?.

The real interesting issue is what would happen if I was no longer a customer of Tells Margo? The moment you're not a customer, you lose access. But that's not fair, a former customer still should have rights to access old data. Again, that's why simple URLs are so important. An institution should let me access /records/internalUserID/correspondence/2010/some_old_record.pdf even if my accounts are defunct. And again, until the world works as it should, save those records in your own well-organized system despite the hassle.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

disintermediation part 1: ordering direct

I have a backpack from the Gap. It is utter garbage that's falling apart. So what exactly is the Gap adding when it has a Chinese factory sew its label on their part 53AF47Y?

Just let me order the best product direct from its manufacturer.

This applies whether I want a custom one-off or just their generic part. As I wrote (responding to a Gizmodo post triggered by Wired's garbled-rahrar-as-usual story about custom manufacturing about custom manufacturing:
I want the best worker in the factory cranking out quality $10 clothes to make me custom stuff after hours for five times the price (which will still be less than what some US store charges me for their worthless label). That just requires some bilingual entrepreneur to set up a web storefront to take my order and hook me up direct with the manufacturer.

This is a huge potential market. It cuts out the non-existent added value of some dumbass US brand supposedly getting me better quality goods while in reality they're just twisting their suppliers' arms to reduce costs.

Sadly for the USA, this innovation is more likely to come from a Chinese bilingual near the factory rather than someone living in America.

Meanwhile every American brand that only spends on marketing while ordering up generic crap (clothes, luggage, sunglasses, tools, ANYTHING, etc., etc.) from overseas factories DESERVES TO DIE. The actual factory can be the brand, and can offer custom work through these entrepreneurs. The moment Happy Dong Manufacturing gets a great rating from Consumer Reports and you can order its widget on eBay, a lot of USA specialty stores will really suffer.
This is starting to happen on Amazon. Go search for a replacement battery or USB and you'll find some entrepreneur from Asia selling them absurdly cheap.

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disintermediation part 2: Amazon should be/buy UPS

I used to compare items for price using MySimon and Froogle, now I usually go to Amazon and pay whatever they ask. There are still companies competing on price: you can buy LCD TVs from obscure companies in Nebraska that sound like they are operating out of a bedroom, some dot com sites are still trying "shopping innovations" such as buying circles (get 15 friends to buy the same product and it's 5% less), and of course there are people selling new stock on auction sites.

All of these are a waste. A third party coming between the manufacture and me can do no more than jack up the price. My thesis is simple: the lowest possible price of an item is the price at which the manufacture is willing to put it on the loading dock, plus shipping to your door. Everything else is overhead.

You may respond "But shipping 50,000 widgets to Walmart is a lot cheaper than shipping widgets to 50,000 addresses." Sure, but Walmart has its overhead. They have to uncreate 50,000 items and put them on the shelves of big stores, then wait for them to sell.

No manufacturer wants the hassle of shipping to 50,000 customers. But manufacturers don't really want the hassle of shipping even to 100 stores either. The whole process of getting goods to you is called logistics:
Logistics involves the integration of information, transportation, inventory, warehousing, material-handling, and packaging, and occasionally security.
Many manufacturers already outsource this. What's stupid is the manufacturer pays for one logistics chain that gets widgets from it to the store, then the store pays for another chain that gets the widgets to customers' houses.

You could argue that manufacturers need stores to aggregate individual purchases into bulk orders; they can't run their assembly line in response to individual orders dribbling in, but they can intelligently respond to a 50,000 item order from a store. But bulk orders just hide inefficiency and mistakes. Some of a big order winds up on sale or dumped in discounters and outlet stores, which jacks up costs for the store. You could claim that stores should know their customers' tastes better than the manufacturer, e.g. the Super Bowl is coming up but economic conditions are poor so cheap 720p TVs will do well while 1080p will languish; but that's part of the problem: manufacturers need this information as much as stores do! A manufacturer whose customers are big stores knows less than a manufacturer whose customers are the actual users.

For years I've believed the obvious answer is for Amazon (market cap $ 52 bn, revenue $22 bn) to buy or become UPS (market cap $58 bn, revenue $ 45 bn). This results in one chain from the loading dock to the customer! Returning to my thesis, the manufacturer tells UPS/Amazon what price it's willing to put it on the loading dock, and Amazon/UPS puts it in the customer's hands. The manufacturer and Amazon/UPS can work out whether to manufacture 50,000 at once or do smaller runs, it all ends up in one supply chain. And Amazon/UPS has all the customer knowledge and programming smarts to offer sales approaches that reduce prices like bulk-buying circles, limited-time promotions, auctions, reverse auctions, overstock, etc. but in conjunction with the manufacturer.

Anyone know Jeff Bezos' e-mail address?

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disintermediation part 3: universal spiff

Retail stores are struggling because it's cheaper and better to buy things on the web. I see something I want in the store, but I wonder if that model is highly rated, and I know I can get it cheaper online. Yet manufacturers still need to get goods in front of customers in the real world where they can see, touch, and use them in order to make the sale. Some companies have tried manufacturer stores, but they are hampered by not undercutting other stores (my local Sony Style store closed a year ago).

When I worked in tech support, if a support engineer was able to convince a customer that they needed a product (often a paid upgrade to the new version that addressed the problem) , the employee would transfer the phone call to sales and get a small commission on the sale. This is called a “spiff”: A bonus or other remuneration, given for ... promoting the goods of a particular manufacturer.. The problem is if the customer later on bought the product because of that person's assistance, there was no way the employee could get compensated. I've also gone out on sales calls where my technical knowledge sealed the deal, yet the sales person got the commission.

My thesis is companies have a certain promotional budget for the sale of an item, and they should be willing to hand sum over to anyone on ANY sale. They already do this on click-through ads for web sites, but they should extend this to the world of people.

It would work somewhat like this:
Enter the e-mail address of the person who led you to buy this product: __@___

So whether someone demonstrated the laptop at the Sony lifestyle store, or someone showed it to you at a convention, or you saw a book at a bookstore but guiltily purchased it online instead, or your mechanic told you to buy some accessory, or you read a rave review about something on a blog, you can credit the person who led to your purchase.

This would encourage and liberate millions of people to sell things, and it would break down the artificial division between salespeople selling a product and the many people whose efforts can lead to a sale. It would provide a financial model for company "stores" and marketing events that merely demonstrate items yet often spur sales.

Companies probably wouldn't allow any e-mail address, they would have a known list of approved promoters: all their employees, partners, people on certain web sites. The system has vast potential for "abuse", e.g. someone who had nothing to do with the sale would offer to split the spiff with the buyer. But the abuse still leads to increased sales!

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Monday, January 11, 2010

non-support: Suddenlink can't help itself

My cable bill appears on my bank's billpay site, but when I click "View Bill" nothing displays. My bank can't fix it. So first I tried Suddenlink's "Chat now":

S Page: my problem with viewing my Suddenlink statement through my bank's online bill payment system. Can you assist with that?
Dana: Unfortunately, no. We provide the statements to your Suddenlink.net account. ... Viewing it via your bank's online bill pay, could be an issue with their system.
S Page: No, wsc.suddenlink.net is definitely doing something wrong. My bank's billpay site shows all my other electronic bills fine. It presents the amount and date of my Suddenlink bill fine, but when I try to view the Suddenlink bill, a) it only works if I reduce my browser security settings and b) even when I do that I get "JSPG0036E: Failed to find resource /WEB-INF/jsp/lang/en/atl_cferror.jsp".
S Page: This is a highly technical flaw with https://wsc.suddenlink.net/EUR_ViewBill/Controller/ProcessCheckFreeAuthorisation?data=...
Dana: That could still be an issue with their site. Have you been able to view your bills at that site before?
S Page: As I said, *every other electronic bill* I get works fine. Problem a) has been around for over a year, but the error message b) is new.
S Page: Do you have a bug reporting system? I want you to enter in it "Customer reports two problems with wsc.suddenlink.net's presentation of online billing to another billpay system. ..." I would be happy to provide more details but there's no point if you don't have a method to report problems with this system.
Dana: We do not have a method to report this that I am aware of. I can report it in your account.
Dana: Everything that I am finding on that error appears to be software issues so far.
S Page: Well that's completely lame. I'm trying to help Suddenlink fix a problem with a service it provides! Suddenlink must have a director of web software engineering who needs to know that your electronic bill presentation system isn't working. Yes it's a software problem.
Dana: (no response)

I tried again with Melanie on the phone. She also had no means to report that their bill-presenting software is broken, the best she could do is e-mail her supervisor.

It's the same sad pattern as Earthlink support and Symantec support. They can all help a customer with certain classes of problems, but the company is structured to be incapable of letting a customer help them.

The future of the web is supposed to be autonomous bits of software talking to each other on behalf of customers, but dinosaur companies aren't set up to support the interaction.

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

skiing: mogul love 18 ways

O mogul field, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:
classic short radius turn
Approach mogul, plant pole on top, as you crest the mogul the tips and tails of your skis clear the snow, so you can turn both feet simultaneously to swing the skis around in a short-radius turn and slide down the backside of the mogul towards the trough before the next bump. This is how most skiers attempt moguls, but there's more to life.
pivot slip
Turn your feet in-place on the crest so that your skis don't follow the arc of a short turn, instead they pivot within their length and you transition into a pure sideslip. Disadvantage: hard to control.
pop off pillow below
Don't turn so much, so your skis head downhill more than slide sideways. Guide your skis towards the soft snow in front of the next bump while keeping your body low. They'll hit that soft snow, your upper body will pop up and the unweighting will turn your skis the other way. Disadvantage: can be herky-jerky
leaper edge change
Ski diagonally to the bump, let it launch you, in mid-air tilt your shins and ankles to change from your uphill edges to your downhill edges, and land in the trough before the next bump. For bonus points, land past the next bump. Works better in shallower bumps. Disadvantages:needs room, takes guts.
GS turn across two/three/four bumps
Ski over the bump, use the unweighting to effect the edge change, extend your legs to the side but don't twist too much, and make a huge turn across the mogul field as you simply absorb subsequent bumps. Have faith, the power of your turn overwhelms the forces from the bumps. Disadvantage: how strong are you?
two tight turns down the spine
Make a tight turn or a pivot turn at the crest of the bump but rather than slide down its back, make a second turn again on the convex part. If you imagine your skis resting on a sphere, your tips and tails are always clear and ready for another turn. Works best on longer "beached whale" bumps. Disadvantage: it's harder to turn on a downward slope.
hop turn
Instead of a scrabble slide down the back of the bump, just do the entire turn in mid-air. This avoids any worry about your skis clearing the bumps nearby. Pick a suitable landing spot: on the backside, in the trough, in the pillow of soft snow before the next bump, or even on the next bump. Disadvantages: Could be a big drop, your back might hate you.
carve the water line
Don't slide down the backside of the bump, don't slide into the next bump, don't even pivot on the crest. "Simply" follow the 'S' shaped path between the bumps that water would follow down the hill. Retract your legs as the path flattens out, extend them to the side after the path changes direction and curves. Disadvantages: In two turns you'll be going ridiculously fast, sometimes there's no room for a carved turn.
aggressive turn finish uphill
Most people trying to link turns in moguls stop turning when their skis face across the hill, which doesn't reduce speed. As they improve they try to stop turning when their skis point to the start of their next turn, which usually picks up speed. To control your speed, keep turning your skis (whether skidded or carved) until they point uphill; you'll need to practice twisting your knees at the end of turns. (If turning is good, more turning is better!) You can either steer to a bump slightly uphill or skid backwards into the next turn. Keep your upper body facing downhill and the extreme counter-rotation of your upper and lower body builds up big forces; the moment you relax your skis will swing into the next turn. Disadvantages: none.
avalement avec le deep knee bend
"avaler" is French for "to swallow". As you ski to a huge bump, instead of popping off it or launching, crouch low to absorb it. Crouch ridiculously low to look French; when you plant your downhill pole on top of the bump your hand should be above your shoulder! Disadvantage: it's harder to pivot when you're that low.
le jet turn
Instead of pivoting as you crest the bump, shoot your skis forward and turn the tips in front of you. After a stylish drop into the trough, bring your upper body back over your skis Disadvantage: unless you're French, you'll look dopey.
backpedal the feet up the face
Retracting your legs as you ski up the face of a bump picks up speed. It's possible to resist the upward pressure of the rising face to slow down slightly. One way I've heard it described is you move both feet as if backpedaling from bottom to top on a bicycle. As you approach the face of the bump, push your feet forward and let the bump push them upward. Disadvantage: you have very little time to get this right.
push the dolphins back under the water
You can think of this as the reverse of back-pedaling up the face, you're moving both feet to pedal forward and down. But riding dolphins SeaWorld-style is more poetic. You don't want bumps to throw you (unless you want to do leapers or hop turns). After you reach the crest of a bump, you need to aggressively push the tips of your skis down and into the new turn to avoid an unintentional launch. Especially in bumps in new snow, you want to feel as if you're driving your skis back under the water — as if you're astride two dolphins that crest out of the water and then you drive them back under. Disadvantages: none.
punch the gearlever into third
The pole plant on the crest of a bump helps timing and gives you something to twist around. But as you move downhill you don't want that pole plant to hold you back and you definitely don't want it to pull your shoulder back so that your upper body faces across the hill. So reach downhill and plant the pole, but immediately push your hand further downhill in an aggressive move. It should feel as if you're rapidly shifting a car's gear lever from second to third. Watch freestyle skiers, their hands always return to downhill in front of them. Disadvantages: none.
one-and-two independent leg ("Hey, it's slightly better than a stem christie")
You want slightly more weight on the outside leg in any ski turn, and in moguls the outside leg has more room. If you're in a slight snowplough the outside leg is pointing in the direction of the new turn but your inside leg is pointing the wrong way and has less room. and winds up perched on the bump. So you start the turn with the outside leg and simply lift up the inside leg and put it down next to the outside leg. It gets you down the gnarliest bumps. To help avoid this, before you start turning bring your skis closer together and crouch lower. Disadvantages: less fluid, less control at the start of the turn.
skidded parallel turn to out-of-control traverse (oops)
Skidding a turn, leaving your pole behind, and not turning your skis all lead to you facing across the hill and bouncing into the steep sides of nearby bumps. Disadvantages: not stylish
sideslip with optional caught edge and shoulder plant (ouch)
Nearly all mogul turns involve some skidding, so skip the turn part and just do the skid. Act like a novice snowboarder and sideslip over and down the bumps fast and smoothly. Imagine that you're a 70s skier on 7 foot planks and it'll be another 3 seasons before you can make parallel turns. Disadvantages: by definition in bumps the snow isn't flat, so there may be NO correct edge angle for effortless sideslipping.
And if all else fails, straightline short sections, pumping your legs up and down like Jonny Mosely to absorb the bumps.
Disadvantages: can your knees take the abuse?
Armed with these techniques you can approach a mogul field as artistic goal-driven surgery. Here are some operations:
  • Descend as slowly as possible yet smoothly, by turning uphill and steering uphill to bumps.
  • Le French totale, all deliberate lower leg actions and huge knee bends.
  • Stickwork, punching the gearlevers and planting poles to set your downhill progress.
  • Maximum absorption, using retraction and extension over and down bumps to increase or reduce speed (I suck at this, in a skateboard halfpipe after pumping the deck five times I wind up motionless at the bottom)
  • Minimal effort, just directing and pivoting the skis in advance so that as you reach each bump it turns your skis for you.
  • Stay off the snow, doing leaper and hop turns off every bump instead of absorption
  • Two monster GS turns to cover the whole thing.
  • Keep all your turns in a narrow corridor regardless of conditions.


art: Rothko coolly torches SFMOMA

No. 14, 1960 by Mark Rothko in SFMOMA's gallerySFMOMA's Rothko (No. 14, 1960) quietly overpowers everything else in the museum. It's not the Titanic, it's the iceberg that sank the Titanic. It's suffused with pure emotion, but it's a receding internal burn. The red is alive but not fiery; the mouth (or dot of the exclamation point?) underneath is a deep inky blue but it's not heavy, you can see through it to the background of quiet earth. The brushwork is sensationally good. Ten feet tall, it's bigger than you but it's taking emotional states available to everyone and exalting them to a mystical, noble level. Duchamp invented so much, Picasso and Matisse were big stars, but in 2200 I'm confident people will rank Rothko higher than any other artist of the 20th century.
No. 14, 1960 by Mark Rothko

Rothko painted a similar design in 1961's Number 207, it's brighter on darker and blacker. The canvas is burning up:
Number 207 by Mark Rothko


Sunday, December 27, 2009

computers: the heck of Linux audio, the hell of documenting it

For no apparent reason sound stopped playing in certain applications on my computer.

I'm running the Kubuntu flavor (incorporating the KDE Plasma Desktop) of the Ubuntu distribution of Linux, which makes certain decisions about how sound should be configured. But I've also installed latest Firefox and Thunderbird and the Flash plug-in and the VLC media player; these make their own decisions about how to play sounds. Kubuntu appears to provide an audio "software stack" consisting of the following layers: hardware audio drivers, the ALSA low-level Linux interface to audio, the PulseAudio server to mix audio streams and talk to different hardware, and KDE's Phonon audio abstraction. That's complicated enough, but great minds can and do disagree if this is the best approach to audio; some people think audio should be simpler, some think it should support playing across the network to your Bluetooth headset when you walk into the garden and automatically switch to 5.1 surround sound if you login to your friend's home PC. Those disagreements result in multiple software packages and approaches to audio. So somehow some piece of software additionally installed the GStreamer multimedia framework and the esound daemon on my computer. And each of these layers can be configured to talk to, bypass, or emulate the other layers, so maybe I have an emulation of OSS or JACK or some other software approach. Each program tries to detect what's available and use the right approach, but each program and layer can be configured to use different layers. Who knows where the problem is? Who knows what the right solution is?

Each one of these programs and packages has sound-related documentation. But each doesn't know how my system is configured, so their instructions are inadequate, incomplete, or wrong.

So I search for "ubuntu sound problems". One of the results is "Comprehensive Sound Problem Solutions Guide", even though it was written in 2006! And it has 1,680 follow-up comments! Another search result confidently instructs you to remove the PulseAudio sound engine altogether, even though it's what Kubuntu uses. Another tells you how to compile source programs to add sound support, even though Kubuntu came with dozens of sound packages and other programs have installed many more. Most instructions tell you to make unexplained undocumented changes to configuration files, even though there are configuration dialog boxes in Kubuntu and it attempts to configure itself correctly without these files.

The documentation is spread everywhere; Google rewards the oldest most out-of-date information; reasonable people don't agree on how it should work. I'm probably screwed. If and when I figure out how to fix my problem I would love to improve the "Linux sound documentation", but in what form (bug report, forum post, wiki page, web page, built-in help) for which component or layer or distribution? Agggggghh.

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