skiing: my interview script with the great Mikaela Shiffrin

Jimmy Fallon: Welcome welcome to the Tonight Show. Tonight we’re so honored. This season she surpassed the great Lindsey Vonn and the legendary Ingemar Stenmark with EIGHTY-SEVEN World Cup wins to stand alone as the G.O.A.T., the greatest alpine skier of all time, our friend MIKAELA SHIFFRIN!

A group of oiled scantily-clad muscular men and women wearing ski boots raise ski poles to form an archway, through which another group carry a palanquin made out of skis, on which resides Mikaela Shiffrin. They lower it and she steps off as more acolytes toss glittering snow and a couple of goats with cowbells walk around.

Jimmy F: Welcome. What a season. You were overall World Cup champion for the fifth time and you’re the winning-est ever. How are you doing? Have your feet touched the ground or are you carried everywhere?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: When you equaled Ingemar Stenmark’s 86 world cup victories, you said “for me, the biggest dream is to be mentioned in the same sentence as the Swedish legend.” That’s respect. Did you read what he said about you [pulls out card]: “She’s much better than I was. … She has everything. She has good physical strength, she has a good technique, strong head.” What does it mean to you, that acknowledgement from your idols?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: And how strong IS your head? Is that a Swedish weightlifting thing? Why do you even wear a helmet?

Mikaela: …

Mikaela Shiffrin sits in the snow with her head down and skis off.
The greatest at the side of the slalom course at the 2022 Winter Olympics after skiing out.
©Robert F. Bukaty/AP Images

Jimmy Fallon: It feels weird, but let’s talk about failure. Some say on the biggest stage, the Winter Olympics, you choked: in 2022 you blew a turn in your two favorite events and did not finish, and your best result was 9th place. But! First, you have two gold medals and a silver from previous Olympics, come on! one of the best Olympic records of any American skier, ever! [wild applause and cheering from the audience] Second, you were the 9th best skier in the world at an Olympic event! Hey audience, raise your hand if you’re the 9th best in the world at anything!
[Camera pans around audience, very few have their hands raised, camera continues panning to the Roots (the Tonight Show house band); every musician has his hand raised.]

Jimmy Fallon: that’s fair, the Roots are one of the best bands in the world. OK, but I meant in athletic achievement.
[Hands go down, but saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith and trumpeter Dave Guy still have their hands raised. Cut to Tonight Show announcer/sidekick Higgins, his hand is also up]

Higgins: three-legged racer with my mother, undefeated in two seasons.

Jimmy Fallon: OK, we have talented staff here… but specifically winter sports?
[Camera cuts back to the horn section, they’re now wearing ski racing helmets with sponsor stickers, ski goggles, and padded racing gloves, and their hands are still raised.]

Wow, I had no idea. Ian, Dave, we have to get you on the slopes!
My point is, 9th best is pretty damn good for mere mortals. Mikaela, if you had medalled at three Olympics in a row, would your head even fit through the studio doorway?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: Do you need a relative failure like that to stoke your fires, to come back bigger and badder?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: I want to take you into the multiverse for a moment. There’s a world in which you’re still a great skier, you’re beautiful, you train so hard, you’re on the USA ski team… and 9th is your best finish, ever. That’s what it’s like in this world for many of your team mates. Does that even compute? Would you still be skiing and loving it, or would you have to switch to dominating something else like the trumpet, or three-legged racing? [quick cut to Higgins with cheesy gold-painted youth race medals around his neck, furiously shaking his head “NO”]

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: What are your plans now this season is over?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: Of course, next season [Ahhnold Schwarzenneger voice] You’ll Be Back. Do you have particular goals beyond trying to win every. single. damn. time you’re at the top of a race course? Like breaking the records for wins in other events besides your slalom specialty, or finishing a race on one ski like the great Bode Miller (check it out, folks)?

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: Besides your “strong head,” are their still areas you’re working on? If you could improve one thing to achieve unstoppable Terminator Mode, would it be faster, better vision/awareness, more controlled or more explosive speed, endurance, or??

Mikaela Shiffrin: …

Jimmy Fallon: So harder, better, faster, stronger. Harder, better, faster, stronger🎶🎵 [Band kicks in playing the Daft Punk song] Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger. [Jimmy and Mikaela get up to dance, the bare-skinned group who carried Mikaela return…] Ladies and gentlemen, it’s been an honor talking with the greatest alpine skier of all time, Mikaela Shiffrin!

I seriously want to see this interview:

  • I’m genuinely interested in Ms. Shiffrin’s responses, especially to the “what if you were just really good at skiing but no champion” hypothetical.
  • Jimmy Fallon and Mikaela Shiffrin already have good rapport, this won’t be a stretch for them.
  • It will be hella entertaining, and will encourage the public recognition that she needs so that she gets the Time/ESPN/Laurea sports personality of the year award instead of the usual someone who chases a ball.

I’m publishing my own work under the Creative Commons’ “No Rights Reserved” CC0 license below to free it of copyright restrictions around the world. Anyone can take this and do anything with it they want without compensating me or even crediting me, including the Tonight Show writers. Come on, make it happen!

To the extent possible under law, skierpage has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to “my interview script with the great Mikaela Shiffrin.” This work is published from: United States.

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buying music in high-resolution audio formats

Joni Mitchell’s Blue on vinyl has a distortion at times behind her voice and piano. Time to buy a digital track and see if it’s still there. What the heck, go big and get the 192 kHZ 24-bit FLAC high-res audio. whatNerd has a list, “The 7 Best Sites to Buy Lossless and Hi-Res Music”:

  • Bandcamp: it’s a great resource to directly buy music from new musicians without going through a label, but Ms. Mitchell isn’t on it.
  • Acoustic Sounds. “alas we’ve reached the decision to cease operating our Acoustic Sounds Super HiRez digital downloads service”.
  • ProStudioMasters: album available for $25.99 released May 28, 2013
  • NativeDSD: not available. I’ve blogged that DSD is supposedly an awesome format for a digital master, and some obsessive Roon users re-encode all their music to DSD 512 before sending the bits to their music player, but it seems mostly classical tracks are available to buy in DSD.
  • HDtracks: album available for $26.48
  • 7digital: it only has her later Geffen releases, and only in 16-bit 44 kHz FLAC format.
  • HIGHRESAUDIO: seems to be a UK site, only has The Reprise Albums boxed set and Blue outtakes, unclear what formats it offers but has a badge for the dubious proprietary MQA format, and “due to territorial constraints and also different releases dates in each country you currently can`t purchase this album.”
  • Qobuz (the high-res streamingit across service also offers a store for downloads): album for only $22.09 , even cheaper at lower resolutions. The big plus is you can buy individual tracks.

So Qobuz it is, $5.18 for “All I Want” and “My Old Man.” This may seem like a lot, but I was paying more for 45 RPM singles in today’s money (The $1 a single cost in 1970 is now worth about $7). Alas Qobuz has a $0.52 fee for paying with PayPal. The two songs are 70 MB each, about 10 times bigger than a quality MP3 encoding!

Sounds good…

There’s still a bit of soft crackling-but-not-like cellophane behind her voice 😢, though much less behind the piano. What’s going on? I’ve heard it on a friend’s high-end stereo too. Is this intermodulation distortion in audio systems or is it inherent in the recording? Otherwise the digital soundstage feels wider: there’s none of the overlap of the left and right channels that you get when two angled walls are pushing a diamond on a thin cantilever from side-to-side. The details are clearer than my vinyl, but it doesn’t have that vinyl warmth… which might just be the rolled-off treble and overlapping stereo channels. Who knows. I just want songs I love to sound amazing without worrying about the details.

Own or stream?

I really should upgrade to Qobuz from YouTube Music (formerly Google Play Music YouTube Gold Red Premium) so I can listen to music in hi-res audio without buying the track, and get a discount if I do buy it. Especially now that YouTube family membership is $23 a month. But then I read comments on another YouTube video about music from all the people complaining about incessant ads. By paying I never see any ads, even on a Roku TV streamer where I can’t run the great uBlock Origin ad-blocker for Firefox.

Digital taste test

I should buy the MP3s of the songs and do a blind test to see if my aging ears can tell the difference. But there are confounding factors: the higher-res audio files might be mastered a fraction of a dB higher because undetectably louder always sounds better (the Beatles on USB did this with the FLAC versions), and it’s unclear if the high-res Blue files are from the remastered album or the original.

The aluminum "The Beatles USB" apple with the USB flash drive removed.
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screwing squinting customers instead of helping them

Companies treat government-mandated disclosures as a bureaucratic cost to be minimized rather than a chance to help their customers. So I get illegible tax form verbiage on Umpqua Bank’s 1099-SA form, printed on the envelope of my form to save a few pennies. What is this useless illegible 2.5-point font size s**t?! At least print a big legible “Read this stuff at the URL xyz on our web site.”

illegible tax disclosure information on the envelope of Umpqua Bank's 1099-SA form

It’s even stupider than it looks (or would look if you could read this 💩), because Umpqua prints the full disclosure info for 11 different 1098, 1099, and 5498 forms on the envelope, even when it only contains one of the forms. Not helpful! I’m surprised some Americans with Disabilities Act-chasing lawyer hasn’t sued their asses.

close-up of illegible tax disclosure information on the envelope of Umpqua Bank's 1099-SA form
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music: Crosby not Stills, Nash, and Young

Jeff Beck died, now David Crosby. So I listened to If Only I Could Remember My Name, his solo album. It’s beyond star-studded, Wikipedia: “Guest musicians on the album include Graham Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, and members of Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and the Grateful Dead; the ensemble was given the informal moniker of The Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.” It’s an indulgent meandering set of songs (only five with proper lyrics) but some of the songs have a kind of appeal. The mysterious harmonies are a step beyond the Beach Boys and Beatles. To tell the truth I can’t reliably identify CS&N’s voices; Graham Nash is higher, Stephen Stills rougher?

A couple of the songs like “Tamalpais High” are so reminiscent of CS&N’s “Guinnevere”. I remember buying So Far because I’d heard some of the hits and for its Joni Mitchell cover, I couldn’t believe how great “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” was. I didn’t grasp until now that it’s a compilation album (Wikipedia: “the concoction of a greatest-hits album from two LPs and one non-LP single”); no wonder it’s so great.

David Crosby will probably be remembered as the John the Baptist heralding (and sleeping with) Joni Mitchell, not a bad place to have in history.

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music: Tuesday Heartbreak attempts

One of the pure joys of going through Stevie Wonder’s incredible 6 album run was rediscovering the perfect rainy-day funk of “Tuesday Breakup.”

I was in a store and heard the song, but wait! it’s Macy Gray. It turns out she recorded her own version of the entire Talking Book album on its 40th anniversary in 2012. While listening to it again, YouTube Music Premium Red Gold Google Play also volunteered Michael McDonald’s version off his second volume of Motown covers, Motown Two.

Both Macy and Michael have stronger bass than Stevie’s Moog bass on the original; both more present in the mix and doing more inventive things. (I can’t figure out who’s the bassist for Macy Gray, sadly there are no details on Wikipedia and Discogs, her web site is taken over, and I can’t get from any archived version of the front page of her web site on the Wayback Machine to any details of the album; Michael McDonald has a ridiculous set of players on his album according to Wikipedia, the bassist could be Nathan East or Abraham Laboriel.) But:

  • Stevie Wonder’s drumming is incredible. In the chorus it’s pre-proto-disco hi-hat, but it’s an organic whole with his snare. Macy’s drummer (again, no idea who’s the drummer) can’t unlearn disco hi-hat. Michael’s drummer (could be the great Vinnie Colaiuta, or Abe Laboriel Jr., or Nicky Shaw) is just tight; mostly closed hi-hat, tight fills.
  • Stevie Wonder has phenomenally expressive keyboards. Macy doesn’t even try and pushes her keyboards down in the mix; Michael goes for more keyboard colors (he has all kinds of guest stars on keyboards), but none of them have the intense variations of volume and wah-wah that Stevie has.
  • Stevie Wonder’s got David Sanborn’s oddly hollow sax (I think this might be Sanborn’s first big break) giving a unique feel, from the unexpected tentative bass sax notes in the intro to the muted wailing in chorus after chorus.

It’s really hard to do a better homage than the original.

And of course, Talking Book has Jeff Beck (24 June 1944 – 10 January 2023)’s lovely, lovely guitar break on “Lookin’ for Another Pure Love” 😭.

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eco: nuclear and decarbonizing electricity

If every country had followed France after the 1970 oil crisis, the world would be generating a majority of its electricity from low-carbon nuclear, and nuclear plants would have probably got cheaper and quicker to build so replacing the aging plants would be affordable (instead of France’s struggle).

Coulda, shoulda, woulda. It didn’t happen. Instead the world built terawatts of coal plants, then switched to terawatts of “natural” gas plants, and now wind and solar are the majority of new generation everywhere in the world because they’re cheap (don’t argue with me, argue with the economists as Lazard) and quick.

But ardent fans keep pointing out that nuclear is a reliable low-carbon source of electricity!, while wind and solar are reliably intermittent! Someone on CleanTechnica asked me:

I’ll posit a quick question: would it be better to have 2x as expensive electricity by swapping to the proven nuclear tech, or to risk grid unreliability (and a fall back to fossil fuels) by rapid RE adaptation?

Quick question, tricky answer. Yes, I’m willing to pay a lot for 100% low-carbon electricity 100% of the time, but I’m rich. (It’s a shame there isn’t a GoFundMe for nuke supporters to crowd-fund a small reactor for their electricity, so they can put their money where their mouth is.) I already pay more for “100% green” electricity through a city program which contracts for renewable generation equal to total electricity consumption, but customer service unwillingly admitted the kilowatts aren’t guaranteed to be low-carbon on a windless night.

Electricity is always reliable if you’ll pay any price for it

There won’t be grid unreliability for customers who roll the dice and pay the hourly market rate for electricity; they’ll just be faced with very high electricity costs at times. Major industries and people with V2G will reduce their consumption and muddle through, poor people will get hammered. (This already happened in Texas and UK where companies that sold market-rate electricity begged their customers to change plans before a freeze.)

Handling intermittent renewable generation

It’s the role of regulators to require utilities to be able to provide enough power at all times, but it’s complicated when demand is variable. For now the cheapest approach is to keep existing nuclear plants operating, despite their high cost per MWh, and have enough gas plants sitting around to handle demand when renewables aren’t generating (plus add grid batteries for short demand spikes). In California’s case, the utilities didn’t build enough solar plus storage, and so they struggled to meet peak demands during heat waves. It will be interesting to see if utilities order new gas plants to meet increasing electricity demand for those times when renewables aren’t producing; the optics of it look terrible for the environment, but if the plants are rarely used the utilities could still be reducing overall carbon intensity of their electricity. The big problem for nuclear is it is poor fit for such occasional provision of reliable electricity; it may heroically step in during a long windless winter stretch, but the rest of the time it’s hopelessly uneconomic per MWh compared to wind and solar: that Lazard analysis says Solar PV-thin film utility scale costs $28-37 per MWh, wind is $26-50, and new nuclear costs $131-204. That’s why some nuclear startups hoping to build small modular reactors are pivoting to continuous hydrogen production or other industrial needs for continuous electricity plus heat. It may be a good business decision but it’s a bad sign for their viability as simple electricity providers.

Decreasing emissions now is easy, zero emissions is a problem for the future.

Separate from reliability requirements, I’m all for requiring utilities to provide low-carbon electricity all the time even though it will increase electricity prices. That would certainly boost nuclear’s prospects; but it seems on any phased transition, utilities will continue to install gigawatts of cheap and quick renewables and leave decarbonizing the last ~25% of generation as a future problem to be solved. Maybe by then one of the small molten sodium liquid thorium modular blah blah designs will have proven itself to be quick and cheap. It’s great that NuScale recently got approval for its SMR nuclear plant design(s); we’ll see how its UAMPS test plant in Idaho goes (projected to come online in 2029) and whether its design exercise for a plant in Romania amounts to anything.

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audio: still looking for a replacement speaker

Five years later, I’m still listening to audio through a Chromecast Audio dongle plugged into my aging Jambox!

I could get a soundbar, but they tend to be over 36 inches wide, too long to easily flip from facing my office area to facing the kitchen and dining room. What I should do is get a separate proper pair of high-end nearfield speakers on my office desk, but that’s a custom up-down adjustable motorized desk and it’s already leaning to one side due to all the crap I have on it.

Bluetooth speaker

I think all of these still come with 3.5 mm aux in sockets, though few come with any other kind of wired connection any more. Apparently Bluetooth is much better and doesn’t suffer dropouts; maybe third times a charm. They mostly operate/charge on USB C.

  • CNET recommends Soundcore Anker Motion Boom Plus for $180.
  • Wirecutter recommends Sony SRS-XG300 X-Series for $350 (!) with dopey ambient party lighting. Comes in a nice gray fabric.
  • PC Mag recommends the Astell&Kern Acro BE100, more an interior speaker, nice design for $450, and another vote for the SRS-XG300.
  • B&W Formation Wedge is $1,000 (!) and is Roon ready! No battery, not outdoor, and doesn’t have a 3.5mm adapter, instead has Ethernet or WiFi (and Bluetooth).

Maybe I should accept the hassle of repositioning two speakers, and just go for KEF LSX IIs for $1,400 (and $180 for the desk pad stands!) . They still have USB input, and Ethernet.

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computers: put the screen above a laptop

If you search for “external laptop monitor”, most images show a screen beside the laptop. So you have to look sideways at it, or use a separate keyboard. Some even show a tray raising the laptop to the screen height (so you have to type in mid-air), or show a closed laptop, often with two connected screens, when you paid money for that laptop’s display, keyboard, and touchpad. It’s madness.

Every monitor should come with a stand with enough vertical rise to put an open laptop underneath it! I think none do. Apple solves this by selling a separate $999 Pro Stand… Someone should sell a mini riser for an external monitor that replaces its crummy built-in stand, plus a version that supports two quality speakers either side of the raised monitor.

monitor awkwardly placed to side of laptop
Nice monitor uselessly placed way off to side
Raise laptop up to monitor height, rendering its keyboard and touchpad useless
monitor lifted up on a stand with closedly laptop stupidly slid under it
The monitor’s own stand isn’t tall enough, but why close a valuable laptop?

I’m typing this staring straight at an external monitor that I’ve put on an 11-inch (28 cm) two-shelf box.

My way to raise a computer monitor (now it’s an Acer 1900×1200 monitor)
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music: Havona is a penthouse on the Mount Olympus of bass

Dirty Loops’ Henrik Linder (best Justin Bieber cover evar!), Vulfpeck’s Joe Dart, and YouTuber Charles Berthoud are all bass monsters in a golden age of musicianship. But “Havona” by Weather Report is a different level. In my memory Jaco Pastorius attacks with 16th notes in every DAH-DAAHHHHH refrain, but it’s a magic trick: he can suggest max propulsion even playing legato long notes. And the rest of the band pushes and pulls and drops out to keep the song building and flowing into and around his two bass solos.

It’s not head and shoulders above any other band’s bass showpiece (e.g. Yes’s “On the Silent Wings of Freedom”); Jaco assembled a penthouse on Mount Olympus.

Don’t underestimate Wayne Shorter

Now play it again (Sam) and listen carefully to Wayne Shorter hold back on sax. He’s not merely providing sax flourishes as he does on some Joni Mitchell songs; his contributions are lag bolts drilled deep in the song construction holding it together. His legato lines at 0:43 are perfect, his dah-DAAAAH two-note refrains are perfectly low-volume instead of over-the-top honking, his solo at 2:00 ending in blue notes leaves space for Jaco, his yelps at 3:01 are perfect punctuation, his trills 4:27 and on are perfect, his unison playing with Jaco 4:37 is 😘, and those staccato sax notes 5:38 decelerating the end of the song (after Jaco and Joe Zawinul have 16th-noted their hands to a pulp) are only obvious in hindsight.

It’s a phenomenal contribution to the band’s performance. Without it “Havona” would be an amazing bass performance instead of the greatest jazz fusion instrumental of all time.

Jaco Pastorius, Joni Mitchell, …

Now listen to Jaco Pastorius’ eponymous solo album (full of the best bass solos but not the best song-with-bass), his bass playing on Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, and his off-the-charts/off-the-wall funky interplay on Joni Mitchell’s live “God Must Be a Boogie Man.”

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AIs making images of music!?!! 🤯

Hi music fans.

OpenAI’s Jukebox was generating music waveforms from scratch way back in 2020 (as I wrote). Since then, silence from OpenAI. I suspect half the music in Spotify’s “contemplative acoustic music for yoga/Pilates” and “mid-tempo EDM for hip restaurant” playlists is now computer-generated just to screw fleshy musicians out of their tiny streaming royalties.

Meanwhile AI image generation has gone wild with DALL-E, Craiyon, Imagen, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion (as I wrote, with pictures). So, “merely” train an AI to generate spectrograms of music, then turn those images into audio. And just as image generators can make strange videos that morph from one image to the next, have the AI morph the spectrogram into an image of the next musical motif. Two programmers in their spare time did just that. is a clear, entertaining, and to me sensational introduction. The last music sample, “Fantasy ballad, female voice to teen boy pop star” is crazy. Again, this is a sequence of images dreamed up by a computer that sound like music.

Below is the image generated (the original Riffusion site is of course overloaded) when I prompted “hard rock electric guitar solo”. You can hear it at It’s no Tim Henson , but again this is just a few programmers throwing something together in their off hours. What is creativity? Where does this highway go to? How do I work this? My god, what have we done? (– Talking Heads)

spectrogram image generated by fffiloni's version of Riffusion, from the prompt "hard rock electric guitar solo"
what a “hard rock electric guitar solo” looks like to this AI

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