Wednesday, April 19, 2006

skiing: hick nicks ripped sticks

hacked-up Volkl G41 and Salomon XScream Séries skisHere are my skis: fat-ish 188cm Volkl G41's from about 2000 and the legendary mid-fat Salomon XScream Séries in one of their weird power ratings from 1998. As you can see I continue to shred the living daylights out of my right ski, which means both need replacing. The XScream seems to take the abuse well, but the Volkl wood core is exposed to moisture and that's not good.

I have a hate-hate-love relationship with the Volkls. They're fast and they work in powder and crud, but they need a lot of manhandling to turn. I have to ride them for two days before I start to enjoy them. I was suckered into buying them by the petite salesperson at Granite Chief who claimed to ride this length in all conditions. I should have got shorter skis or held out for Salomon's All Mountain skis.

The Salomon XScream Séries is just great in any conditions less than 6 inches of powder or major crud. Bumps, carving, speed, short-radius, long-radius, chopped, ice, anything! They're fairly soft but still respond to aggressive moves. I was very dubious about the Prolink bars you can see in the picture — why not make the ski thicker? — until I saw race stock Salomon downhill skis with three sets of these.

I'm sure I would be happier on several powder skis than the G41's, but I spent 2000-2005 demoing replacements for the XScreams and never found a ski as versatile and unfailingly excellent. Besides, until I stop scissoring my left ski into my right and tearing its top edge to shreds, I don't want to subject new skis to the same abuse. Time to go second-hand.

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skiing: Salomon's missteps since the XScream

The Salomon XScream Séries from 1997 had more impact than any other ski in the last 20 years. Although Elan came up with super sidecut "parabolic" skis several years earlier, it was the XScream that convinced tens of thousands of skiers to abandon their long skinny skis (in my case, Fischer Vacuum SL 204cm's) for shaped skis. The Rossignol Bandit XX was also influential (back in 1998 it was hard for me to choose between them) but Rossi confused the issue by selling the thinner Bandit X; the K2 Four was another great mid-fat ski from that time but it didn't have any extreme cachet.

The yellow XScream was so stupidly popular that intermediates who couldn't handle the stiff-ish tail were demanding "XScream thingys with double Prolink bars", so Salomon made all kinds of other XScream models. Meanwhile other manufacturers had to come out with yellow skis.

Salomon stopped selling the XScream Séries model a few years ago, mainly I believe because the awful pun on the tired "Extreme" craze embarrassed someone in marketing. But Salomon have yet to make a proper replacement! First they came out with the integrated Pilot binding which dulled response, then they dropped the 'X' and the Prolink bars to make some beefy "Scream" ski that didn't do much except for an "Xtra Hot" model with a chili pepper graphic (so they're embarrassed by an xscream pun but not by sizzling hot jokes?). The closest ski to the XScream was the Crossmax 10 with super! ugly! graphics, but Salomon stopped selling that model. This year they made an 'S' Hot model that was pretty solid, but for next season they're replacing it with an XWing model and replacing the Pilot binding with a rail binding.

Around 1999 Salomon also came out with the fine Pocket Rocket, one of the first and best skis for all-mountain "ripping on planks tilted on edge", and the 1080 twin-tipped park ski. Salomon were deservedly the most dominant manufacturer. But they dropped the Pocket Rocket and replaced it with a new "GUN" name, and the 1080 is now an illegible "FOIL" model ("FILTY"? FTL"?).

Salomon are truly the masters of destroying their own brand equity by destructively renaming and replacing trusted model names.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

software: Where's the version number?

I'm still struggling with Norton Anti-Virus failing to auto-protect. Someone pointed me to a support document for installing the latest LiveUpdate. But nowhere does Symantec give the version of the latest LiveUpdate. I know I'm running v3.0.0.160, they provide a download link to lusetup.exe, but no indication of its version!

I blow some bandwidth downloading lusetup.exe, and right-click for its Properties. Damn, like almost every commercial blahsetup.exe on earth, it doesn't reveal its version. Why can't setup programs or the steps that create them propagate the program's version string to the setup binary's properties?!

Open Source programs generally do better. bitpim-0.8.08-setup.exe has a useless File Version, but the file name includes the version. firefox-3.0a1.en-US.win32.installer.exe has a Version, which isn't quite the browser UserAgent but is helpful.

If I double-click on this mystery lusetup.exe, a window flashes for less than a second listing a bunch of files being unpacked, but it vanishes and I get a dialog "This will install Symantec LiveUpdate on your computer. Do you wish to continue?" Still no indication what version number it's installing! The only way I can see what version I'm installing is to install over my current copy.

All installer executables should have complete file Properties matching what you would see in their program's Help > About. All installers should have an advanced mode where you can unpack them and inspect their contents. WinZip can inspect its self-extracting .EXE's, but with rudimentary ZIP capability in Windows XP, I haven't installed it on this machine. And I think most sophisticated installers use their own format.

I've got a uqm-0.4.0-win32-installer.exe in my Downloads folder with no Description, Company, or Version, I have no idea what it is short of running it or using strings -a | less on it.

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web: Sprint bites the hand that feeds back

Trying to tell Sprint what's wrong with their Picture Mail's Web UI, I found their link to "Contact Us".

First, the link to "Email us" is https://manage.sprintpcs.com/Manage/myportal/!ut/p/_s.7_0_A/7_0_5IC9
, not a good sign.

Sure enough, it isn't an e-mail address at all, it's a Web page.

The page layout is broken in Firefox 2.0 alpha, the form is pushed off to the right of the page body.

The form only accepts 1200 characters. My set of suggestions is 1600 characters.

The counter that displays how many "characters remaining" are left is broken, it doesn't count down and generates "document.SendMail has no properties" errors in the JavaScript console.

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web: Sprint Picture Mail failings

Sprint Picture Mail is easy on the phone side, you just take photos and upload. But when you've got 200 uploaded pictures to organize, its Web UI is filled with limitations and problems.

I want to caption all these photos, but
  • no bulk captioning (e.g. button to advance to "Next uncaptioned")
  • no way to filter by un-captioned
  • no sort by caption
I then want to move photos to different albums, but
  • no Move to Album option when viewing an individual image (!!!)
I can only move images from the "Select media to move or copy" thumbnails page, which is incredibly limited
  • no sorting or filtering options whatsoever
  • if I check some images and move them to an album, then use the browser's back button to speed performance and check others to move, Picture Mail moves the wrong images. It doesn't seem to use a constant option ID value for each image.
  • It doesn't display or have tooltips for caption, date, or any other information about each image, just a thumbnail. So I have to view the full picture to decide where it goes, but there's no way to do this (e.g. a pop-up selected image" window) from the thumbnail view (!!).
  • no JavaScript to check/uncheck all
The UI needs a rethink. There should be
  1. a multiple picture page, from which you can pick pictures on which you can then perform all actions (either en masse or one-by-one with "advance to next picture")
  2. an individual picture page, from which you can perform all actions.
Basic tasks in the UI like "Move to Album" or "Caption" could just load one or the other of these pages with a particular action pre-selected ready to go.

Note I'm not even asking for a "Web 2.0 AJAX Rich-Internet-App dynamically loaded UI" here, just a properly thought-out form-based application.

I'd love to give even more detailed feedback on removing bugs and limitations in this UI to Sprint, but the service's Contact Us link now goes to Sprint's general "phone us and wait 40 minutes for level 1 technician who has never met an engineer and has no mechanism for getting suggestions to an engineering manager". Some of the Web pages have the [+] link for OpinionLab's comment system, but that is completely inadequate for giving this sort of feedback, and its "Optional Questions" section seems broken. Sigh. Another big company that's never read the Cluetrain manifesto (7 years old now!) about talking to customers.

Hmm, there's a "powered by LightSurf" at the bottom of the page, and they do have an engineering contact.

Update Months later, still no response from either Sprint or LightSurf This thing is awful! It has a 125-character caption, yet in thumbnail view it cuts it off the caption at 17 characters, even though the picture box has room for two rows of 40 characters.

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