Sunday, January 29, 2006

skiing: extreme fear x 2 on Silverado

After "teaching" a little girl how to get down Bailey's Beach, I headed through Tram/Bungee Bowl gate to Silverado. Ski through some nice snow to the "Caution" and "Cliff" signs. I confidently duck under the rope line with the arrows pointing you to the merely damn difficult route to the lift, and ski down to a straightforward rock chute I'd scoped from the Squaw Valley cable car.

Oops. The hill curves away, I can't see a thing except some lethal frozen ice waterfalls and no bottom. So I traverse over a ridge hoping to find the line I thought I saw, and that is likewise an ice cliff of unknown height.

OK. There's a gaping pit in my chest where my stomach used to be, and I have to willfully choke it back so it doesn't become nameless panic. I have to sidestep up a hill of deep, breakaway snow. I can't just keep my head down, I get disoriented because it's so steep. Halfway up I get a phone call, "Uhh, I'm kinda busy right now".

I reach the rope line and ski on, finding a nice box chute (McKinney's?) that I can actually see down. A few hop turns and then a manageable extreme experience.

On the lift up, I figure I need my last encounter with Silverado to be a good one, so I ski back in through Beaver Bowl gate to take a straightforward run. I head far right (almost to Bailey's Cirque?) to get some steep freshies. Again it's a convex hill and I can't see what's below and to my right, but I can cut back to the left as long as I don't fall...

I fall on my turn to the right and slide off into the unknown. Immediately I try to recover, but the snow is too deep. Then I slide onto firm snow, and immediately try to push myself away from the hill to gain traction, but now I'm onto pure ice. I'm trying to dig something, anything, in while keeping my skis below me, still not seeing what's below, while my mind is previewing ski movie out-take reels of sick crashes. Then bam! I drop maybe 5 feet into deep soft snow, directly onto my skis, and ski away as if nothing happened. I don't feel a thing, though later my back and entire right side are sore.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

snow: shockingly pleasurable

Cold and snowing. Down Red Dog, hard left under the top of Far East Express lift, take a line down into the trees next to the dog leg. I make three and a half proficient turns in deep, nearly unskied powder that gets steeper. The slough from my first turn races down the hill, I turn back into it and through a mini explosion of snow, before I outrun it, balancing muscle and g-force to surf gravity.

Stop. Silence. I'm chilled, but not from the cold. My blood has left my extremities to pool in the pleasure center of my body, somewhere between the heart and head.

Not as purely pleasurable as 1999's "I need a tissue and a cigarette now" six turns down Cornice II (by far the most pleasurable experience of my life, beyond orgasmic), but I'll take it!

Head left onto Christmas Tree run for more powder turns between the trees that were merely awesome fun.

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music: speaking of crummy remakes...

Writing about Mehldau & Frisell I couldn't remember the other pointless remake I heard recently. It was "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" performed by Sugar Ray. Exactly like Joe Jackson's post-punk no-wave original classic, just not nearly as fresh, or good. Why bother? If you hear it on the radio, call the station and tell them to play the original instead.

What's really galling is I've heard Joe Jackson play the song in concert and on live recordings, and he's able to reharmonize and reimagine it many ways; as doo-wop a cappella, reggae-ish shuffle, calypso piano, and funfair march. Go to iTunes and listen to all the versions.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

music: Brad Mehldau trio & Bill Frisell quintet - insistent occasional loveliness/ unforced oddness

I'd seen Brad Mehldau solo once before and Bill Frisell a couple of times.

Brad Mehldau is swing-free with no ability to sell a melody, but he makes you hear his dense improvisations as brand new ideas. His drummer Jeff Ballard was excellent. My favorite was the Beatles' "She is Leaving" whose majestic aching counterpoint melodies are well suited to his two-handed style. He played "Blackbird" the previous time and made much of its transition from monotonic "blackbird-singing-in-the" to the strange exploding melody of "take-these-broken-wings-and-learn-to-fly". He has to do an album of Beatles covers!

Bill Frisell comes out and soon after his spidery guitar work spills out, about 5% of the audience heads for the exits! Their loss; even with five musicians the sense of space in his music is immense. That spaciousness and the deceptive simplicity is what makes it sound so American, making me wonder at one point if he tossed in the melody from "Give me a home where the buffalo roam." And also stretches where the quintet sounded like a New Orleans funeral band recovering from an LSD hangover! His arpeggios and looping effects seem to unravel the threads of the music as much as they knit it together, so like Brad Mehldau you're hearing it new now. A lovely guitar part morphed into a staccato version of Burt Bacharach's "What the World Needs Now" (... is love, sweet love). Like "She is Leaving", another waltz.

They just got better and better until the second encore turned into Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". Apart from the bass line they played it pretty much as the original classic Motown arrangement. The bridge where Marvin scats over a lush arrangement is perfectly suited to Frisell's building arpeggio lines. By the time he returned to the "Mother, mother, everybody thinks we're wrong" verse, I wasn't the only one wiping away tears. I have to get that performance!

There are so many pointless remakes in pop (recently "Big Yellow Taxi", "It's My Life", "I'm a Believer", and "Is She Really Going Out With Him") that add nothing to the original; hearing a tune reharmonized and reimagined is one of the great pleasures of jazz.

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Friday, January 20, 2006

electronics: Sanyo MM-9000 do-nearly-all music cellphone

My significant domestic other partner's cheap portable cassette player finally broke and SDOP still wanted to listen to music on the go. The default answer is of course an iPod, but remember SPage's law:
any small piece of electronics needs to have a phone in it so you can ring it when (not if!) you lose it
(our digital camera is still lost). So we go to the Sprint store, looking for a top-of-the-line phone. The Sanyo MM-9000 has a miniSD memory card slot, media player, QVGA screen, 1.3 Megapixel camera, and most other reasonable features. SDOP was using the previous top-of-the-line Sanyo SCP-5500 (aka Sprint VM-4500) so the USB cable, and so-so FutureDial Snap software I bought for it might work. The only missing checklist features are Bluetooth, and a 2 Mp camera with optical zoom. SprintUsers reviews say the camera quality is good. The Samsung A940 is a 2 Mp phone with Bluetooth but the screen is lower res and the camera has to twist around awkwardly.

Sprint was sold out of the phone, so we bought it at Radio Shack. The phone cost $380 plus tax but as the old phone was 22 months old we got a $75 rebate after committing to two more years of Sprint. Then off to Best Buy to buy a SanDisk 1GB miniSD card, SanDisk USB SD card reader, Monster iPod cassette adapter (it actually works with any audio device's 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, which shows you iPod's dominant mindshare), and a 2.5 phone -> 3.5mm headphone adapter cable. We can reuse the old Sanyo's car lighter charger; we still need to get a second battery and a cover. As usual the accessories cost nearly as much as the phone!

To put music on the phone:
  1. insert music CD into PC
  2. in iTunes, right-click on desired tracks and choose "Convert Selection to AAC"
  3. Remove miniSD card from phone, insert in SD adapter in SanDisk media reader
    just plug in the phone's USB cable and choose "Mass Storage" for the USB Connection
  4. in Windows Explorer, navigate to My Documents\iTunes\iTunes Music, find the track files named .m4a
    from iTunes Library view, just drag the tracks you want to the mini SD card's MEDIA folder in Windows Explorer.
Now your phone plays music almost as well as a dedicated 1GB digital audio player. The sound quality is reasonable even through the car adapter (I haven't played around with the audio settings in Edit > Preferences... Advanced > Importing). Every track has a different volume level.

I found out that with FutureDial's USB drivers the miniSD card appears as a drive letter in Windows, so I don't have to remove the miniSD card from the phone, so the SanDisk USB SD card reader was a waste of money. Just like the SanDisk USB Compact Flash card reader I bought for the digital camera I lost.

The big downside so far is there's no way to play protected music files that we legally own. I've refused to buy songs from the iTunes Music Store on principle, but even their free downloads are .m4p encrypted files that only work on iPods. jHymn and QTFairUse don't work with latest iTunes (donate $50 to DVD Jon to update his fine work!). This is why DRM (Digital Restrictions Management) is evil!

So far, it seems like $500 well spent. Then I scanned some more SprintUser forum posts and found out the Sanyo MM-9000 phone is already obsolete and is going to be discontinued by Sprint!

For my own use I'm still holding out for a flip smartphone with PalmOS PDA functionality + 2Mp camera with optical zoom + MP3 + 4GB expansion card + Infrared + GPS + Bluetooth + WiFi. I held the Samsung sph-i550 in my hand at the Samsung store in NYC, but it's cancelled. "The best is the enemy of the good" (Voltaire :-)

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

comedy: Mitch Hedberg "Severed foot is the ultimate stocking stuffer"

Infamous snowboarders "No 'L'! No 'E'! No!" Howard and Kenny "Brian" turned me on to Mitch Hedberg, he's like a zonked-out nephew of Steven Wright. Similar warped perspective riffing on words and ideas, but Mitch Hedberg has a unique style where he comments on the badness of his jokes before, after, and during the delivery. So sad he's dead, there's a nice profile on Slate.

Coincidentally I got a belated Christmas gift of the CD/DVD of "Mitch Altogether".

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Sunday, January 8, 2006

art: Charles M. Schulz Peanuts museum

I visited the Charles Schultz museum, as funny, sweet, and moving as I hoped. The current exhibition of Peanuts-themed Japanese quilts shows his universal appeal.

I love the anecdotes of how he had to look up the big words like "existentialist" with which his art was labeled in the 60's and 70's. Yet unlike the original comic strips (that Art Spiegelman reimagined in In the Shadow of No Towers), Peanuts has barely dated. The visual games he plays with Schroeder's music notation are fully modern.

Even though I somewhere have nearly all the Holt, Rinehart and Winston compilations, had a bunch of Aviva "World's Greatest ..." Snoopy figurines, and even saw "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in person, I forgot how bleak the strip's foundation was. From the very first strip Charlie Brown is a blockhead, a failure in pitching, football-kicking, kite-flying, and everything else. There's never a fake happy ending. All the relationships are unrequited: Lucy and Schroeder, Sally and Linus, Peppermint Patty and Charlie Brown, Marcie and Peppermint Patty (?!), and of course Charlie Brown and the little red-headed girl.

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Friday, January 6, 2006

computers: Google Pack

Google Pack offers a lot of software I already have: the flakey Norton AntiVirus 2005, the fine Firefox (I'm on the bleeding edge with nightly Gecko 1.9 trunk updates), the fairly useless Google Desktop Search, and the unstable Adobe Reader. What the heck, maybe Google has made some improvements, and I've used Ad-Aware SE on friends' sadly victimized computers. So I'm installing it as I write.

Right away, the fresh Ad-Aware SE tells me my definitions are 120 days old. ?!? Why the heck can't Google provide the most recent version! Checking for updates gives:
New definitions file available!
Build: SE1R85 04.01.2006, Date: 04.01.2006

Hmm, is that April 1st 2006? I hate apps that don't use the ISO8601 date format. And isn't Google supposed to automatically update these applications? So I've now got Adobe's Check for updates now, Firefox's Check for Updates, Norton's LiveUpdate, and Ad-Aware's Connect for updates, and Google Updater.

I'm not impressed so far, this is no better integrated than Macromedia Flash offering the Yahoo Toolbar.

Update: I run Google Earth for the first time and it says "A new version of Google Earth beta is available". C'mon!

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