Monday, January 29, 2007

stereo on

speakers in living roomSound in the new house! Yes, these are large panel speakers; for scale, that's a 70-inch plasma TV between them :-) . I finally bolted them to Mye Sound stands, and the Rega turntable is now on a wall shelf, but otherwise it's my old hi-fi in new location.

It still has a way to go: there's a lot of buzzing from electrical interference, and the sound stage seems hollow in the center (though wide as heck between the speakers). But records that up until now I've only heard on cheap systems are transporting, the detail revealed on Ys is amazing and you hear the sound around the notes that's completely absent in most audio playback. Optimizing the speaker location will take a long time; tweakers on the aptly-named Planar Speaker Asylum say a change of 1 degree or an inch makes a big change in sound. And I may yet spring for the RPG Bicubic Diffusor acoustic panels on the ceiling that Richard Bird of Rives Audio recommended (which cost about 4 times more than the speakers!).

Two friends have the same Magnepan MG 3.6 speakers, and they're also putting time and money into improving the sound. I see the appeal of the easy setup of a big box speaker like the Wilson Audio, but those cost tens of thousands of dollars and the soundstage and treble aren't any better.

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ultimate nutrition eating guide

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.
That's it. Then Michael Pollan in the New York Times spends 12 pages explaining how it all got so complicated. Great stuff, including how the processed food industry, scientists, and journalists benefit from the confusing focus on nutrients instead of food. It all started in 1977, when a Senate Select Committee on Nutrition "drafted a straightforward set of dietary guidelines calling on Americans to cut down on red meat and dairy products." The food industry went nuts, so instead we get “Choose meats, poultry and fish that will reduce saturated-fat intake.” Nutrient information replaces food information. So you have the sad spectacle of people eating carb and protein bars instead of real food, or eating artificial chocolate cake and believing it's OK since "Now with Omega-3!"
Of course it’s also a lot easier to slap a health claim on a box of sugary cereal than on a potato or carrot, with the perverse result that the most healthful foods in the supermarket sit there quietly in the produce section, silent as stroke victims, while a few aisles over, the Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms are screaming about their newfound whole-grain goodness.
[People in studies lie about what they eat], judging by the huge disparity between the total number of food calories produced every day for each American (3,900 calories) and the average number of those calories Americans own up to chomping: 2,000.
our bodies have a longstanding and sustainable relationship to corn that we do not have to high-fructose corn syrup
Medicine is learning how to keep alive the people whom the Western diet is making sick. It’s gotten good at extending the lives of people with heart disease, and now it’s working on obesity and diabetes.
Long but excellent.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

design: great media storage

When furniture designers create storage, they usually create a rigid geometrical grid, of, say 13 inch squares. Then they photograph it with pretentious piles of art books and a handful of CDs tastefully arranged in each square. But that's profoundly stupid. An LP record is 12 inches deep, but a CD is only 5 1/2 inches deep; a DVD is almost the same depth as a CD but taller. So the false logic of the storage grid wastes space.

I've had an inchoate idea for variable-depth media shelves for about 15 years. Architects Markoff-Fullerton brought the vision to reality, and Jesus Esparza of Cabinet Solutions built them. It worked out better than my fondest hopes.

media shelvesDVDs/videotapes, then CDs/cassettes, then LPs, then 45s. The uprights are closer together than ordinary bookshelves so there aren't wide expanses of LPs to tilt and warp. The three cabinets to the right hold two equipment racks and miscellaneous. The wall bracket holds my beloved incomparable Rega Planar 3 turntable.

Note how the shelves are perfectly evenly spaced from floor to ceiling. Bruce Fullerton is da man. He also met my space budget for each media, though I'm maxed out on singles.

media shelves
This shows the varying depth. It's good for sound quality since it breaks up reflections from the side walls. Note how the supporting shelves are recessed and darker so the uprights, in a lovely stained ash veneer, are more prominent.

I had the idea to take the same design and rotate it 90 degrees for shelves on the other side of the room:bookshelves
(This alcove is where the equipment cabinet was going to go before our acoustic consultant Richard Bird of Rives Audio recommended firing the speakers across the room instead of down the room. There are only a few shelves because there was going to be an elaborate stainless steel mantel continuing from the fireplace that would wrap into the alcove to create a metal container for firewood... too expensive.)

Jesus Esparza of Cabinet Solutions with his masterwork.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

apple iPhone OMG

  • Visual voicemail!
  • Two finger scaling of photos.
  • 3.5 inch screen
  • senses when you change orientation
  • senses when you hold to ear


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Thursday, January 4, 2007

skiing: replacing an icon

ripped out edge of Salomon XScreamnicked top edge of Salomon XScreamIn mid-December I skied slightly off to the side of KT22 and hit a rock that not only gouged my base but ripped three inches of the metal edge off. It would cost at least $100 to fix, not worth it for such beat-up skis. Having already replaced my unloved Völkl G41 Vertigo powder skis with ex-demo K2 Apache Chiefs at the end of last season, I was not looking forward to more demoing. As I recounted, in the past I've found nothing that comes close to the XScream Séries.

But this season turned out to have an abundance of riches. I needed an expert ski that could ski everything but powder (and no need for skiing backwards or in the park), with the wrinkle that I love short-radius turns and moguls as well as carving. "All Mountain Expert with emphasis on short turns" is a huge range to cover.

The Völkl AC3
I was dubious on my demo loop, but gave it another run and started to enjoy it. A really tall ski with lots of wood running along the edges, so there's a lot of stiffness in front of your foot. Yet it felt lively and fun and willing to make all kinds of turn shapes. Its big downside is not much radius, so you tip it into a carve and it doesn't turn much. You have to load it up to do a tight carve.
Völkl Allstar
More of a carving ski, this helps you turn and will do a lovely carve. It didn't feel as solid in crud but it's got such a nice turn initiation that you feel confident in bad conditions. Fast into the turn, fast through the turn, but not a lot of acceleration.
Atomic Metron 9
Incredibly lively, with a grabby tip that just digs in, turns sharply, then pops you off into the next turn. Great edge grip on ice. This was a lot of fun but I was dubious about versatility.

Volkl AC3 skiAll three are fine at short-radius turns, though they reward different techniques. You tilt the Metron 9 on edge and the fat tip just digs in and starts turning, the rest of the ski bends into a curve, and if you don't screw up, sharp turns happen; you feel like you're standing at the center of springy rubber bands. You scoop the Allstar tip into a turn and then ride the entire edge through the turn. You guide the solid front of the AC3 into a turn with a combination of tipping and steering, and modulate both throughout the turn. The reviews got it partly right, the AC3 is a fine crusing ski, but you can take it out of that comfort zone and have fun with it. And that ease let me ride it long, in 177 cm instead of 167-172 with some other skis. (I remember when 204 cm was considered short.) I bought the AC3!

The also-rans:
Nordica Nitrous
Easy turning, but too slow
Nordica Top Fuel
Same geometry as the Nitrous but extra metal. That made it stiffer, but no livelier. However, once locked into the one turn shape it wants to make, it's very stable.
Atomic Metron 11
It seems like a great idea to make a ski that's less a hardcore turner than the 9, but this just felt slower and less alive without any great payoff in versatility.

The ones that got away: I really wanted to try the Salomon Tornado which got higher marks than the AC3 in every category in the ski magazine reviews, but couldn't find a pair to demo. Everyone raved about the AC4 and those ski magazine reviews rated it better than the AC3 (I bet next year they come out with an AC5), but I assumed fatter meant less good at short turns. Maybe a Völkl RaceTiger would be a meatier version of the Allstar. I heard good things about the K2 Apache Recon, but just ran out of time and energy to continue demoing. I never got to the Fischer and Head lines, and Blizzard, Elan, etc. are rare on the West coast.

Kudos to John, Dennis, and Cory at Squaw Valley Sport Shop for letting me take demo skis out in low snow conditions with rocks a plenty. Granite Chief and the Gold Coast demo center would not let me demo skis, though to be fair a guy at the demo center pointed to a rack full of damaged demo skis.

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