Thursday, December 29, 2005

Still more powder

Day 20 of my 2005-06 season and I skied today with my former neighbour Dave V (not to be confused with my former neighbour Dave W).

It was quite closed in and windy on the upper moutain so we headed for the trees where we found a suprising amount of powder still around from Tuesday's fall. Here's what we did:
Sundown Express, High Noon and One O'Clock
Sundown Express, Shadows, Lights Out
Sundown Express, the trees between the Priest Creek Chair and Three O'Clock (as far as I can tell this run doesn't have a name but it was definitely the best run of the day) then lower Three O'Clock
Sundown Express, Twilight, Daybreak
Sundown Express, Traverse, Storm Peak, Cyclone, Drop Out
Pony Express, Royal Flush, Ambush
Pony Express, Middle Rib
Pony Express, Half Hitch, Flying Z, Tornado Lane
Burgess Creek Chair, Norther, Vagabond, BC Skiway.
The only down side is that the mountain is now quite crowded. I think I'll wait until the visitors leave on Monday before heading out again and catch up on some things at home in the meantime (unless of course we get another powder day!)

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Unexpected powder day

Day 19 of my 2005-06 season. After the spring-like conditions of the last few days the last thing I expected today was another powder day but that's exactly what I got.

I was out early, not because I expected eight inches of powder, but simply because I had made plans to meet my friend Jeremy who is only here a week and was therefore keen to get started.

Our best runs of the day were the Pony Express lift line where we found plenty of deep untracked powder and Shadows / Lights Out where we enjoyed some of the best of Steamboat's famous tree skiing. Skiing fresh powder amongst the aspens where the light and sound are like nothing else is a surreal experience.

I'll post some photos as soon as Jeremy emails them to me.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Birthday ski party

Today was my wife's birthday (age classified) so apart from dinner at a nice restaurant tonight (the Cottonwood Grill) we celebrated by skiing my wife's favourite runs including High Noon, Sunshine Lift Line, Quickdraw and Flintlock.

The weather was gorgeous and the snow perfect. As the day progressed it became more crowded as visitors flew in from near and far and made their way to the mountain, but still a long way from crowded by the standards of most resorts.

We'll do the same again on my birthday which also happens to be the last day of the season. In the meantime there's a lot more skiing to be done!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve spring

It's Christmas Eve today but it sure doesn't feel like it. It's warm and sunny outside, the quality of the snow is excellent and the mountain is not at all crowded.

Today I felt the need for speed. Lots of high speed cruising on the intermediate runs and fast GS style turns on the groomed blacks, although I did throw in a trip through the trees and some bumps. So here was today's program:
Gondola, Rudi's, Lightning, Ego
Storm Peak Express, upper High Noon, Spike
Sunshine Chair, upper High Noon, Two O'Clock, Daybreak
Sundown Express, Shadows, Dawn, Sunset, Moonlight
Sundown Express, Storm Peak, upper Rainbow, Hurricane, Ego
Storm Peak Express, Triangle 3, Cyclone, Tornado Lane, Ego
BC Chair, Tower, Norther, upper Vagabond, Betwixt, middle Concentration, Between, Shortcut
I skied the bumps on Norther today like I've never skied bumps before, like the skiers I've always envied when I watch them from the chair.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Episode 100

I just noticed that this will be my one hundredth post on Steamboat Dreaming and since it's bang smack in the middle of the ski season it is of course going to be about skiing.

Today was a big day out. I spent the morning skiing by myself but as I was considering calling it a day I got to talking to an English couple on the Thunderhead Express and spent the afternoon skiing with them.

We had a very weird mix of conditions today - spring-like on the lower mountain with soft, slightly slushly snow, packed powder higher up and then on the highest elevations very strong winds creating a wind blown crust. At one point I had my skis pointed straight down the hill and was hardly moving the wind was so strong.

Since I didn't have to work today I skied so much I'm not sure I can remember it all, but here goes:
Gondola, Rudi's, Lightning, Ego
Storm Peak Express, Frying Pan, Cowboy Coffee
Morningside Chair, Over Easy, upper Buddy's, Calf Roper, Tornado, Ego
Storm Peak Express, Buddy's, Drop Out
Pony Express, upper Longhorn, Chuckwagon, Vortex
Sundown Express, upper High Noon, One O'Clock, lower High Noon
Elkhead Chair, Sunnyside
Elkhead Chair, Tower, Norther, Vagabond
Thunderhead Express, Rudi's, Lightning, Ego
Storm Peak Express, Buddy's, Tornado Lane
Four Points Chair, upper Rainbow, Velvet, Moonlight
Sundown Express, Sunshine Lift Line
South Peak Chair, lower High Noon
Elkhead Chair, Heavenly Daze, Sitz, Vogue
I finished my day at the Slopeside Grill enjoying a few beers with my new friends Jeremy and Jill from Devon. Interestingly Jeremy's sister lives in a small town in Australia (Kingscliff) which is less than ten miles from where I grew up (Pottsville Beach). Small world.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Winter solstice

The winter solstice - the shortest day of the year - is upon us in the northern hemisphere. Here in Steamboat the day is only moderately short at 9 hours 7 minutes of sunshine (from sunrise at 7.28 am to sunset at 4.45 pm) compared to some places like Helsinki which only received 5 hours and 50 minutes today (when I was living in Singapore I discovered through a colleague who is married to a Finnish woman that there are about a thousand Finns living there. Can you guess why?)

Back in Australia it's the summer solstice. Christmas is in the middle of the summer holidays so things really slow down for three or four weeks. Sport dominates the headlines (especially the Sydney to Hobart yacht race and the Boxing Day Test), and the beach is the place to be. Here the Christmas / New Year break is over just as you're beginning to relax. Much as I like a White Christmas, I've decided I really do miss that slower pace for a few weeks when no one really expects anyone to get things done.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

There's always tomorrow...

...and the day after tomorrow. Yesterday I wrote that one of the nice things about a season pass is that there's always tomorrow. Well I should have said there's always the day after tomorrow, because today was even worse. The same wet snow and cold air creating a layer of ice on the goggles but instead of nice dry powder under foot it was wet and heavy today. In the end I basically did a single circuit - from the base to the top and back down again via the Gondola, Rudi's, Blizzard, Ego, Storm Peak Express, Sunshine Lift Line, South Peak Chair, Westside, Elkhead Chair, Tower, Norther, Vagabond, BC Ski Way and finally the Green line bus.

Still I'm one day closer to my goal: 15 days down, 85 to go.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Jane's Dell Hell

Jane Galt at Asymmetrical Information has posted on her journey to the ninth circle of hell via Dell. In general terms the experience sounds familiar - being strung along by a series of people who tell you half a dozen different and mutually exclusive stories and in the end not receiving the product you ordered and the company thinking that because you got your money back you should be happy even though they've wasted massive amounts of your time and emotional energy.

I did find it a little surprising that Dell were unable to track a package worth $850. But having said that, I ordered a product worth $100 earlier this year from another company that sent it via ordinary mail. They had no way to trace it when it didn't arrive and in the end they had to send me a replacement which makes a couple of extra bucks to be able to track the package seem like a good investment.

One area where I strongly disagree with Jane is on relating this problem to the fact that Dell has some of its call centres overseas in places like Latin American and India. In my experience there is absolutely no correlation between the location of the call centre and the quality of service. In fact the very worst call centre experience I have ever had was courtesy of my good friends at Comcast and their call centre right here in Colorado (Denver.

I know from first hand experience that there can be real benefits in offshoring (not only cost savings but also things like being able to provide 24 hour service without making people work in the middle of the night). I work with an offshore software development team in India who do great quality work, but its success is heavily dependent on us doing our job of defining the requirements at this end properly. The lesson is that if companies are not committed to implementing well designed customer service processes it doesn't matter where the poor schmuck holding the telephone is located or whether his name is Ray or Raj.

The other thing that surprised me was that she seemed to think the only place she could buy an affordable computer for her aunt was from Dell. My advice would be that unless you are a real power user, go down to Wal Mart or Best Buy or Circuit City and buy whatever they've got on sale. I had a look at Wal Mart earlier this week and you can get an eMachines desktop for less than $600, which I'm sure would be more than adequate for the typical aunt, or if space is a consideration I saw a Toshiba laptop for $699.

Update: It turned out in Jane's response to one of the comments on her post that the real problem was that her aunt's son (her cousin I suppose) is a gamer. I decided around the time that the original Playstation was released to keep my gaming platform and my computer separate, something I've never regretted. The total cost of a standard computer plus a game console is about the same as a highly specced PC (you can buy the desktop I mentioned above and still have $250 left which wil get you a Playstation 2 or xBox and a couple of games), and it's a whole lot less troublesome and lets one person play games while the other uses the computer.

A frozen view

Day 14 and the first time this season that I wished I had given in to my natural laziness and waited until tomorrow. Another eight inches of fresh powder couldn't make up for the fact that the snow was just warm enough to stick to your goggles and the air was just cold enough to freeze it there.

I started with the Gondola (big line today even at 10:15am) to upper Vagabond and then took the bumps on Surprise which were so soft and forgiving that I just loved them. Storm Peak Express to upper Buddy's and Calf Roper to Cyclone. By this time I had a solid coating of ice on my goggles that I couldn't possibly see through. So I lifted the goggles and continued with my glasses (I have really dry eyes so I can't wear contacts) up Storm Peak Express and down High Noon and Two O'Clock cutting through the trees across to One O'Clock (maybe I should call that One Thirty) where I found some really nice powder.

By this time my glasses were completely frozen too. Elkhead Chair and the home down Heavenly Daze and Vogue where I had to resort to stopping every 200 metres and using the only warm liquid I had available (saliva - yuk!) to unfreeze them so I could see enough to get home. At least today the Green bus came when it was supposed to.

Anyway it's still snowing, so I'll try again tomorrow. That's the beauty of a season pass!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Another snowy Sunday

Day 13 and I over slept this morning meaning that I missed the best of the eight inches of new powder and had to go looking in the trees. Fortunately I was skiing with my buddy Dave who is a bit of a tree skiing (well boarding) freak. I struggled to keep up with him at times, but in the end was happy that he pushed me to try some really great lines.

The basic pattern was the Sundown Express and then One O'Clock, Two O'Clock, Three O'Clock and the trees in between. It was way more crowded today than it has been, but as Dave says, most of those crazy tourists don't go in the trees.

It's still snowing so I'm going to aim for an early night and an 8:15am start tomorrow. At least that's the plan. A bit challenging for a night owl like me, but everything has its price. Powder skiing doubly so.

Friday, December 16, 2005

A dozen days of skiing

Today was day 12 on the slopes for season 05-06. I was skiing with my wife again today so it was mostly pretty tame. Finally the Sunshine chair was open so lots of long carved turns on easy blue runs. Here's the program:

Gondola, Spur Run, Sundown Express Chair, Sunshine Lift Line, Sunshine Chair, Tomahawk, South Point Chair, Westside (I can see this run clearly from my office window - I really must stop next time I'm on it and look out for my condo), Sundown Express Chair, upper High Noon, Sunshine Chair, Sunshine Life Line again (this is my wife's favourite), South Point Chair, lower High Noon, Elkhead Chair, Heavenly Daze and Vogue.

Then the Green bus line - eventually. Today we waited 40 minutes for the bus. Much as I hate to criticise anything in Steamboat (and usually there is not much to complain about), the bus service this year has gone to the dogs. Normally in the winter it's a 20 minute service, but this year they couldn't get enough drivers so the City has continued the off-season 30 minute service. They used to get a lot of seasonal drivers from Australia and New Zealand, but since September 11 our protectors at the Department of Homeland Security have made that too difficult, which is good, because we all know that Aussie bus drivers are notorious terrorists. But what's worse is that even though the buses are not working as hard they keep breaking down. Twice this week.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Eleven down...

...89 days to go to hit my "stretch goal" of 100 days this season. Out of a possible 115 days remaining, that means I have to ski 77% of all remaining days, or a little over three days out of every four. Somehow I don't think I'm going to make it (and it's just beginning to sink in to my brain just how much skiing 100 days really is), but I am on track to hit 84 which would be double the 42 days I managed last year. I've also managed six powder days so far, which is twice what I managed all of last season!

We had about 8 inches of fresh powder yesterday and last night so I was at the Gondola at 8.15am anxious to go after spending the past three days resting my legs and catching up on some work (I've got a major proposal due next week, so the pressure is on).

I started with a quick run down Vagabond while waiting for Storm Peak Express to open at 9am. I don't know why they have a 30 minute gap between opening the Gondola and opening the express chairs (Storm Peak and Sundown) to the top of the mountain.

Anyway, there couldn't have been more than 50 people ahead of me in the Gondola line, but by the time I got there it was pretty much tracked up (of course everyone else is waiting for the upper moutain to open too). Back up Thunderhead Express and then down Rudi's and Lightning and finally on the Storm Peak Express. Down upper Buddy's where I found some nice powder in close to the trees (not to mention shelter from the wind), across Calf Roper and down Cyclone.

Back up Storm Peak Express and then I decided to switch to the other side of the mountain taking High Noon and then Two O'Clock. At that point I suddenly found the rhythm on my short turns and my skiing stepped up a level. Down Daybreak, up Sundown Express and then One O'Clock and Lower High Noon where I put together my sweetest ever set of short turns in the powdery edges of the run.

By that time the pressures of work got the better of me so I headed up the Elkhead chair fully intending a quick run down Heavenly Daze, Vogue and home. But that didn't last long, so I gave upper Vagabond another try connecting with Betwixt and Lower Concentration before riding the Thunderhead Express for another round. Then it was Heavenly Daze and on to probably the best run on the lower mountain - Vertigo - which I had entirely to myself and looked like it had been little skied with two feet of soft stuff in places. But by the end of that my legs were shot. Now I have to go shovel a path to the hottub!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Advertising run amok?

Our friends at Google have revolutionised the world of advertising with their technology for displaying ads based on the content of the web page.

But this seems to me to have taken the principle to the point where it has become almost a parody of itself. I use Google's new Gmail service and I love it. But I was flabbergasted to find that when I open the spam folder it displays links to recipes containing spam!

I'm not sure whether this is cute or just plain ridiculous...and no I haven't tried any of the recipes!

Moonrise over Steamboat

I didn't ski today - my legs need a rest and I've got too much work to do anyway - but that doesn't stop me looking out my 'office' window at this beautiful landscape. Check out this view of the moon rising over the ski area as the sun begins to set. That's the gondola building in the middle. The run below and to the left is Heavenly Daze and in the middle is Valley View.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Today my wife and I celebrated 17 years of marriage and her youngest sister Aline who is visiting this week celebrated her 34th birthday (meaning we got married on Aline's 17th birthday).

We started the day with some skiing. It was a lovely day for it although the mountain was a bit more crowded than yesterday, and we had some mechanical trouble with the mountain bus at the start. Here are my skiing companions waiting for that unreliable bus - my wife is on the left and her sister on the right.

My legs are feeling it now and I think I need a couple of days rest. It seems the first week of skiing deep powder worked completely different muscles to the past two days of tearing up groomed runs.

Anyway, we finished the day with dinner at our favourite Steamboat restaurant.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Another perfect day

It hasn't snowed since Tuesday so there was no powder today. But it was still perfect. Reasonably cold (around 15-20F) but no wind and full sun.

It was mostly groomed packed, powder today - snow so dry it squeaks when you walk on it - and there was not a lift line anywhere so I covered a lot of ground in a little over two hours. Here's today's installment:

Rudi's, Lightning, Ego, High Noon, Westside, Sunnyside, lower Rainbow, Ego, Buddy's, Tornado Lane, Buddy's, Big Meadow (some untracked powder there, but not quite steep enough to fully enjoy it), Buddy's, Big Meadow, High Noon, Two O'Clock, Daybreak, Tower, upper Vagabond, Surprise, Ego, north Storm Peak, Sunset, Duster, upper Vagabond, Betwixt, Between and Shortcut (and finally the Green Line bus!)

I rode one chair with a couple of other Steamboat virtual workers. An Englishman who consults in the oil and gas industry and an Italian guy who writes novels. So here we were, an Aussie and Englishman and an Italian (sounds like the opening line to a joke) who all choose to live in Steamboat but work wherever.

I also saw Sherman Poppen out and about today. He was the inventor of the snurfer, widely credited as Jake Burton's inspiration for the snowboard.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

How cold?

How cold was it here in Steamboat last night? Well this is the heated side of a modern, double-paned window.

According to my temperature gauge the low last night was -22F or about -30C.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Another powder day in Steamboat

Well another six inches over night and at least six inches during the day and it's still snowing.

It was a slow start today since I was with my wife and sister-in-law who were both taking it easy on their first day for the season - a few circuits on Thunderhead Express / Vagabond and one trip before lunch up the Storm Peak Express and down Buddy's and Tornado where there was still some good powder - not completely untracked but it was snowing so hard the tracks were almost covered.

Thunderhead / Vagabond again after lunch and then we finished the day with a run down Heavenly Daze (and a nice head over heels fall - that's why I wear a helmet!)

Unfortunately it is forecast to be bitterly cold tomorrow so I'm not sure whether I'll be brave enough to sample tomorrow's powder installment. But then it's meant to warm a little later in the week and I'm sure there will still be enough powder hidden amongst the trees to keep me happy. It's not terribly busy yet, but most of the direct jet services into Hayden start this weekend or next week and then of course the Christmas break will bring more people.

So far I've managed 8 out of a possible 12 days. At that rate I'll only achieve 91 days for the season rather than my goal of 100, but that would still be double what I managed last year.

Perspective on the Middle East

My wife's youngest sister Aline is visiting this week to sample some of Steamboat's powder delights (and because she likes us. We like her too, even though she's a snowboarder).

She lives in Amman, Jordan where she's an international lawyer working on promoting the legal status of women in the Middle East. She previously worked in Basra and Bagdhad helping to re-establish the Iraqi judicial system and also spent some time in Ramallah in the West Bank supporting the Palestinians in negotations with Israel. If you are in Steamboat this week she will be speaking at the Mountain College on Thursday evening: 7 pm at Bogue Hall Room 200.

Now back to our regular broadcast - powder, powder, powder. It's snowing again and I need to hit the slopes!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I wasn't imagining it

It seems my perceptions about the awesome start to this season have been confirmed by some hard data. According to this report in our local newspaper, our snowfall total of 83 inches for November was the highest on record. What's even more amazing is that this is the total at mid-mountain - the total at the top of the mountain would be at least 50% more. And the snow has continued. In the first four days of December we've had another 2-3 feet and it's still snowing.

The Sundown Express chair finally opened today, making the north side of the mountain a whole lot more accessible and relieving the queue on the Storm Peak Express. So after Rudi's and Blizzard my first run from the top of the mountain was 3 O'Clock, followed by Sundown Lift Line then High Noon/2 O'Clock/Duster. After riding the Elkhead chair I took Norther/Blizzard back in to the BC bowl and rode the Four Points lift to avoid the wind at the top of the mountain before my best run of the day down Twister which presented an interesting combination of knee deep powder over bumps which I felt I skiied quite well.

It was cold today - in the teens (F) - but I was working so hard that I barely felt it until my final run of the day down Vagabond, when my face suddenly began to feel quite numb.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Season 05-06: Day 6 of 9

It snowed all day yesterday and a little last night, so I was keen to get out early today and into a little powder. Unfortunately today is a little warm (around 34F/1C down here in the valley at 7000ft) so while there was plenty of snow it was just a little bit heavier than earlier in the week. Don't get me wrong - I still had a great time skiing some deep stuff, it's just harder on the legs!

I started off down upper Buddy's, across Calf Roper and the down Typhoon where there was some nice soft stuff.

Second run was through the trees on Storm Peak South, through a nice stash of untracked powder on the side of Dusk and then across Rainbow and down Hurricane where as I was coming over the lip of a catwalk a guy on sit ski shot past me and did a twenty foot jump. Here's a guy who can't use his legs but is still a better skier than 95% of the people on the mountain. Awesome. I think it was this guy.

Third run was back through the trees on Storm Peak South (can you tell I liked that one?) but this time all the way down Rainbow.

Then some bumps on Whiteout, down upper Vagabond and some more bumps on Surprise.

Finally all the way down Vagabond and home for the mandatory apres ski hot chocolate.

We've got a cold front coming through and snow forecast all night, so I'm hoping for some truly awesome powder skiing tomorrow. Apparently Warren Miller and his crew are here filming this week so you never know, you just might see me on film. I'll be the one with the ear to ear grin.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Distortion is rewarded, that's why it happens

Quite by accident I ran across an interesting article today by Edward Tufte. If you are not familiar with Tufte, he's probably the world's leading authority on how to present data for maximum impact with minimum distortion. I purchased a copy of his seminal work The Visual Display of Quantitative Information many years ago from a brick and mortar bookstore but you can conveniently buy it at

Anyway, Tufte was engaged by the Congressional investigation into the explosion on re-entry of the space shuttle Columbia. In the article he is quite critical of the use by Boeing consultants of Microsoft PowerPoint to communicate the findings of their investigation into the inital collision on launch of a piece of insulating foam with the wing of the shuttle (which ultimately led to the disaster).

As bad as the Powerpoint presentation is, and all of his criticisms in the article are perfectly valid, I think he misses the point. PowerPoint is simply the medium. I don't beleive it caused the mis-communication, it simply facilitated it. (1)

I say this because I stumbed across the article after a day spent frustrated at a similar phenomenon (which not co-incidentally also has as its source a government agency), and it's not the first time I've had this type of experience.

Imagine trying, as I have been, to design a complex hardware and software system which must balance multiple competing objectives (cost with functionality with usability with security with compatibility and so on). A system which will cost millions of dollars, be used by thousands of employees and affect hundreds of thousands of the agency's clients and be distributed across hundreds of locations nationally and globally.

Now imagine being asked repeatedly, as I have been, to reduce your design to a single PowerPoint slide. What's more, imagine being asked to avoid using any of the standard notations that the software industry has developed to ensure semantic precision in its models, but instead to limit yourself to the standard slideware pallete of boxes and arrows.

In doing so you have to ensure that your slide communicates the complex design patterns that you have adopted to incorporate everything the software industry has learnt in the past 40 years. But you also have to keep it simple because the people selecting this multi-million dollar system don't have any knowledge relevant to evaluating your design.

Here's my point. In the end people sell what people buy. The Boeing consultants who created the PowerPoint slides that Tufte so rightly criticises did so because that's what their market demanded. The root cause of the problem is systemic and has to do not with deficiencies in the people doing the analysis, but in the processes which weed them out in favour of those who can spin a line to those too ignorant to know better, but unfortunately empowered to decide.

Had they wanted to use PowerPoint to communicate a clear message that forced people in positions of authority to make hard decisions they certainly could have. The problem is you only get to make such a presentation to politicians and their lackies once.

(1) Having said that, let me add this. Anyone who uses one of the standard PowerPoint outlines for a serious presentation is an idiot. I've used PowerPoint a thousand times, and I've yet to have a message to communicate that fitted one of those cheezy outlines. Perhaps when I start selling real estate (and hell freezes over) that will change, but until then create your own outline, one that logically follows the train of thought that led you to whatever conclusion you want to present.

A new challenge

My first run today was down the upper section of Buddy's which was very windy, across Calf Roper and then down Tornado which brought a new challenge - a hard wind blown crust atop a foot or so of soft snow. It definitely challenges your technique as you alternate between skiing on top of the snow and in it. I managed OK, but didn't by any means nail it.

To avoid the wind I moved to the BC bowl and worked on my bump technique on Norther, BC Liftline, Blizzard and Surprise. The soft powdery bumps were lots of fun and quite forgiving.

The sun even showed its warm (well warmish, or at least not so cold), glowing face for a while, but I timed my day perfectly because the snow and wind have just moved back in with a vengeance.

My goal this season is to ski 100 days. Five down, 95 to go. I don't know if I'll make it, but this time last year I'd only been out once and was waiting impatiently for it to snow. What a start to the season so far!

Update (3.30pm): I spoke too soon about the weather. The sun is out and the wind has stopped. I should be back out there skiing, not in here working. Hold on a minute. What the hell am I complaining about?! There's always tomorrow...

Monday, November 28, 2005

Too much of a good thing?

I never thought I'd say this but maybe we've had too much snow in the last couple of days.

"What? How can that be?" I hear those of you not blessed to live in Steamboat asking incredulously.

Well I got to the top of the mountain this morning and pointed my skis down what is admittedly one of the easier black diamond runs, but it's still fairly steep, and basically I went nowhere. The snow was so deep - at least half way up my chest - that there was simply too much resistance.

Of course when I did find a really steep pitch and managed to get moving it was an absolute hoot. But you really, really, really don't want to fall over in this stuff because if you do you can spend hours trying to find your skis and poles and then trying to reattach them. I wasn't that unlucky; my skis didn't release, but just trying to untangle them and stand up was exhausting enough to finish me for the day.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Powder day!

Only two days ago I expressed a hope that the first powder day for the season might not be too far away, but today exceeded my wildest dreams. Only day four of the season and we had waist deep champagne powder on the top of the mountain!

I managed to find good stuff all over, most notably on Buddy's, Storm Peak North and Rainbow, but the best of it was definitely amongst the trees on Closet.

And it's still snowing, so it looks like there'll be more of the same tomorrow!

Friday, November 25, 2005

Season 05-06: Day 2

Another beautiful day in Steamboat! It was surprisingly warm in the sun even though the air temperature was still low enough to make snow, which you were reminded of as soon as you got in the shade.

Today some runs on the top of the mountain were open so I tried Buddy's and Rainbow. I started off on Rudi's and took Blizzard for a little more challenge on my way down to the Storm Peak Express. Blizzard is one of those runs that looks OK for a lower intermediate but it has some awkward spots which quickly lead to lots of sliding and scraping. With a thin cover that means plenty of sticks and rocks poking through. Definitely one to avoid until it snows some more.

I found some soft deep stuff off the groomed trails, but it was a little granular and fairly heavy so I came unstuck once or twice. Definitely not the "champagne powder" Steamboat is famous for (but not nearly as bad as that wet, heavy 'Sierra cement'), but the weather forcast for tomorrow and Sunday is for snow, so the first powder day may not be too far away!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Opening day

Well it's opening day and so the countdown clock at the bottom of this page has done its thing and will count down no more (at least until I feel inclined to reprogram it to count the days until the end of the season, but it's way too early to think about that).

There's more snow than there was for opening day last year although not as much as some earlier seasons. However the nights have been cold so they've been busy making plenty of the artificial stuff, laying down a solid base for the high traffic areas.

Only about 10% of the mountain is open today but another 10% will open tomorrow including some runs on the top of the mountain and before we know it there'll be a ton of snow and more skiing than I can handle in a day.

So for today a few runs on upper Vagabond, Rudi's and lower Rainbow (which had the perfect combination of sun and snow texture) and my legs were done.

Welcome back ski season and happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Real cowardice

According to Congresswoman Jean Schmidt (R), "Cowards cut and run".

Well no.

What cowards do is attack the integrity of others who have made far greater personal sacrifices for their country.

What cowards do is refuse to be straight about what it really means if we "stay the course"
  • How long it is going to take? One more year? Two? Ten? Twenty? Will our grandchildren still be dying in Iraq?
  • How much is it going to cost? $300 billion? $500 billion? A trillion? Will we mortgage the future of every generation to follow?
  • How many more lives will be lost? Another 1,000? 5,000? 60,000 or more like Vietnam?
What cowards do is continue to sacrifice the lives of others to a lost cause because they can't face the political consequences of admitting that they've screwed up and the situation is beyond saving.

So who are the real cowards?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Here but not here

I received an email from a relative in Australia last night which included the line:

"It's Monday here but I suppose it's still Sunday there."
(When you have family on the other side of the international date line you're constantly asking "what day is it there?") To which I replied:
"Well not really. It's Monday here as well, at least for me."

Through until December 22nd I'm working on a proposal for a customer in Australia. I declined the invitation from my team in Australia to haul my body across the pacific for a fifth time in something like seven months to help them with this, having returned from Australia only six weeks ago. Instead I promised to work on Australian Eastern Summer Time for the duration of the project so we could interact in real time. Which means that on Steamboat time I'm working afternoons and evenings, Sunday to Thursday.

I'm not complaining since it frees me to ski in the morning once the mountain opens on Thursday! Plus I'm free to ski all day on Fridays which are less crowded than Sundays (not that crowds are a big problem here except on the major holidays, and even then our idea of crowding is relative.)

Friday, November 18, 2005

Have they no shame?

It turns out that not only did Sony implement a criminally intrusive copy protection scheme but in doing so they violated the copyright of others! It seems their copy protection software incorporated open source software without complying with the open source licensing requirements.

Sony's reaction to this whole episode as been light on humilty and heavy on the sanctity of intellectual property. If they can't respct other's intellectual property why should anyone respect theirs? All I can conclude is that these guys are shameless hypocrites.

Screwing your customers is never a sustainable business strategy. Will the major record labels and movie studios figure this out before they are consigned to the dustbin of history?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

I don't like soccer but...

...I'm still excited that the Aussie national soccer team has qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1974.

Soccer is a poor relation in Australia to other forms of football (Aussie Rules, Rugby Union and Rubgy League) with its main base in the Greek and Italian communities. Nevertheless Aussies are sports nuts, so being the fourth most popular football code still means plenty of participants and supporters. The home leg of the qualifying round against Uruguay drew a crowd of more than 80,000 to the former Olympic stadium in Sydney.

There are plenty of Aussies playing at the top level in Europe so it isn't so surprising that the Socceroos would be at least competitive on the world stage. I don't have any expectations of Australia winning the World Cup, but I'll be more than satisfied if we get to beat England along the way.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Calm after the storm

A cold front passed through Steamboat yesterday, bringing with it plenty of snow and near blizzard conditions for a couple of hours yesterday afternoon.

All is calm now and the sun is out, although it's deceptively cold outside. Things are looking good for the start of the ski season in a little over a week!

P.S. this is the view from my home office window. Makes it hard to concentrate on work!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Goodbye Peter Drucker

Noted management writer and thinker Peter Drucker died last Friday aged 95. The world will be a poorer place without Drucker who virtually invented modern management theory in the 1930s.

What I most admire about him was that he represented the triumph of substance over appearance. Long after he became famous he remained at a small college where he could focus on his work, he was never interested in the received wisdom or popular theories but instead had his own deeply considered views on things and he was much more interested in understanding the daily grind of making a company efficient and profitable than the cult of leadership that infects modern business.

And of course he managed to stay active and engaged and continue to make an real contribution at an age when most of us are long gone (if not physically then at least mentally). A wonderful role model for anyone who believes in the importance of ideas and intellect.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Netflix delivers eventually

Further to my post on my initial experience with Netflix, my first DVD arrived on Thursday - that's four days not one.

In the meantime I reported it missing. They have quite a neat facility on the site for doing this and it seems as long as you don't report an unusually high number of DVD's missing, it's factored into their business model.

Interestingly, the replacement DVD was shipped on Thursday and arrived today, which taking account the fact that the Post Office was closed yesterday for Veterans Day, meets their one business day target.

It's only a sample size of two with a mean of 2.5 days. I suspect as I collect more data it will eventually settle around 1.1 or 1.2 i.e. 80 or 90% will arrive in one day with the occasional one taking longer. It probably was just bad luck that it was my first DVD that took the slow boat/train/plane/truck or whatever.

From this experience I've decided that their one DVD at a time plan is a waste of money. I've upgraded to the two DVDs at a time plan so I can always have one to watch while the other is in transit.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

There is hope yet

I am greatly encouraged by the news that the good citzens of Dover, PA threw out all eight members of the school board who were trying to slip Intelligent Design into the science curriculum.

I suspect more than a few parents were worried that little Johnny and Jenny wouldn't have a chance at a good job at Microsoft or Boeing or GE unless they learnt some, you know, real science.

Interactive Mountain Cam

It's now less than two weeks (or a 'fortnight' in the British English speaking world) until the Steamboat ski resort opens, so now is the time to start anxiously monitoring the state of the mountain. For those who can't simply look out their window like I can (yes, I am trying to make you jealous) check out the new interactive mountain cams. Here's an example I just captured.

Apart from normal camera controls (pan, tilt and zoom) there are also presets that allow you to quickly zoom to a favourite view. You may have to wait until the previous user is finished 'looking around' (each time you grab control you get 40 seconds) and you'll need to have java applets enabled in your browser security settings.

As a computer geek who loves to ski, as far as I'm concerned this is way cool.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Somewhere there is a plumber...

...I'd like to beat the crap out of. Actually, it might not be one plumber, it's more likely to be two or three different people.

Let me explain. We recently moved to a new condo. One of the faults our building inspector detected was seepage around the base of both toilets, something which we asked the seller to rectify and which was agreed as part of the purchase contract. Their idea of fixing it was to caulk around the base, sealing the water in temporarily but not fixing the underlying problem. After a couple of weeks the water seeped under the tiles and up through the grouting, necessitating further repairs.

It seems the problem goes back to the construction of the building which is only five years old. The drain pipes were installed too low, so that when the tiles where installed the flange sat below the level of the floor so that the toilet didn't make good contact with the wax ring that provides the all important seal. Whether the problem was one plumber or two, it's inexcusable. It's obvious a bathroom floor is going to be tiled, so the person installing the pipe should have allowed for that, and then it would have been readily apparent to the person installing the toilet that the flange was below the level of the tile and therefore a double wax ring was required.

Whoever you are, shame on you. A plumber who can't install a toilet so it doesn't leak is about as incompetent and pathetic as you can get. I'm a computer geek who's not particularly handy, but having installed a grand total of one toilet before, I know how to do it right.

Shame also on the developer, Wintergreen Homes, who ought to hire competent people and supevise their work.

As for the previous owner, who lives in a condo with two leaking toilets for five years? Gross.

Finally, thanks to Matt at Mountain Resorts who fixed the problem right. If any of you other guys what to learn how to install a toilet properly, I suggest you give him a call.

The last line of defence?

I've avoided weighing in on the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court because unlike Harriet Miers he appears to at least have the basic qualifications required i.e. a demonstrated capacity for jurisprudence and / or legal scholarship. Beyond that I don't believe the confirmation process should be about trying to "stack" the bench with activist judges who will distort the law to favour policies they approve of (I'm not naive enough to believe that's what will happen - I'm talking about how it ought to be).

What concerns me a great deal more is that both Roberts and Alito are simply the latest installment in a long line of judges that fail to appreciate that the US Constitution creates a Federal government of limited and enumerated powers and that Supreme Court is the only real defence the individual citizen has against the inevitable tendency of all governments to want to accumulate a much power as possible to themselves. What we really need are justices who err in favour of the liberties and rights of citizens. What we are getting are justices who have a history of finding in favour of the power of government, something that the current Supreme Court really doesn't need more of.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Netflix fails to deliver

I signed up for Netflix on the weekend. I decided to start out with their cheapest plan - one DVD at a time for $9.99 a month to see how it works and quickly built myself an impressive queue of DVDs using their very user friendly site (which owes an awful lot to the "recommendations" technology pioneered by

They claim that the DVDs will typically be delivered in one working day. I created my queue on Saturday but my first DVD didn't ship until yesterday (Monday) afternoon which of course wasn't early enough for delivery today. Sure I live outside a major urban area, but I'm only 160 miles from Denver which according to their map is one of their warehouse locations.

I won't go so far just yet as to say "shame on Netflix" but I'm already considering whether I'll continue past the free introductory period. The biggest problem I see is that these guys don't appear to work on the weekend. I know the post office is closed, but they ought to be there 9 am on Monday when the doors open ready to ship the weekend's orders. Otherwise if I watch a DVD on Wednesday night, post it back on Thursday, they receive it Friday afternoon and don't ship the replacement until Monday afternoon, I don't receive it until the following Wednesday. Which clearly isn't going to work.

Update: It's Wednesday evening now and I still don't have my first DVD. I'm less and less impressed. At this rate I'd be lucky to be able to watch more than two DVD's a month.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Pearl Lake

My parents are visiting from Australia at the moment so we took a trip out to Pearl Lake today. It's about 30 miles north of Steamboat in the Elk River valley.

The combination of the snow by the water's edge and the sun reflecting off the water and flitering through the trees gave it a magical look.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Steamboat snow and sunrise

A few inches of snow overnight and now the sun is coming out. Can it get any more beautiful than this?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

They breed 'em tough... Bentonville, Arkansas. No wonder Wal-Mart, which has its headquarters in this town, is unstoppable. Check out this story about a guy killing a deer with his bare hands.

Call me a wimp, but if I ever find a deer in my bedroom, I'm closing the door and calling someone with a gun to take it out!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Take your Digital Rights Management...

...and stick it where the sun doesn't shine.

It seems a certain major music label has been caught out invading the inner workings of users' computers in order to lock down usage of their copy-protected CDs. If you want all the gory technical details, read this article by the guy who detected the offending program. For the less technical, what you need to know is that when you play one of these copy-protected CDs on your computer, it installs software which comprises your operating system at the lowest level, creating all sorts of new vulnerabilities for hackers to exploit, and is virtually impossible to uninstall.

This is just the latest installation in the long running saga of the major labels and studios trying to screw their customers through unbelievably restrictive licensing agreements. But this one approaches the level of criminal stupidity. I'm not a guy that uses intellectual property created by others without paying for it since I'm in the business of selling my own intellectual endeavours. I've got nearly 400 purchased CD's in my collection but I can tell you one thing. I will never, ever, ever buy another CD from Sony BMG.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lake Marie

Today we took a scenic drive into Wyoming (Steamboat is only 40 miles from the state line). The highlight was Medicine Bow Peak and at its foot a lake that shares my wife's name - Lake Marie. Words don't do it justice so here's a picture (in order to appreciate the full beauty, click to enlarge).

You'll find it along Wyoming route 130 on the Snowy Range Scenic Byway about 45 miles west of Laramie. But unless you can go soon, you'll need to wait until the spring since this road will close for the winter in mid-November.

Special thanks to the extremely helpful lady at the Carbon County visitor's center in Riverside WY, who recommended this route.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Local musical talent

We attended a performance tonight of the musical play Nunsense. I saw a professional performance of this show some 15 years ago, but I don't remember enjoying it nearly as much as I did tonight.

What I found really amazing is that despite the fact that the production was sponsored by the drama department of the Colorado Mountain College four of the six cast members - Emily Stockdale, Jessi Houston, Emily Stout and Erin Lewis - are still in high school. It does our community proud to be producing such talented, passionate and confident young adults. Congratulations also to Molly Handley who was the only CMC student in the cast.

Finally, congratulations to Michelle Hess, our local elementary school music teacher who played the lead role. Michelle is a member of our church choir but church music clearly doesn't do justice to the power of her voice which was fully revealed tonight, as was her passion for musical theatre. I don't think I've ever seen a performer so clearly and thoroughly enjoying themselves as Michelle was tonight.

The quality of the performance is even more remarkable because as reported in our local newspaper, the intention was to perform the musical Chicago until all the potential male cast members dropped out and they had to find an all female show at the last minute. Looks like the men of Steamboat have well and truly been put to shame by these ladies.

It was inevitable

...that the Administration's determination not to let the facts get in the way of their obsession with removing Saddam - along with their incredibly childish world view that you are either with us or against us - would end up where it has, with key White House insiders committing what amounts to treason in order to silence their critics. For a President who has basked in the mantle of keeping America safe, the indictment of one or more key aides for blowing the cover of a CIA operative is more than just embarrassing.

It was inevitable too in the sense that Bush's ability appear as more than he really is couldn't be sustained. Any competent statistician would have predicted a "regression to the mean". Given enough time the real George W. Bush was bound to emerge and that's what we are seeing as this Administration implodes.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive - Finale and Episode 6 (contains spoilers)

I finally got around to watching Episode 6 and the Finale (I'm in the middle of moving house so things have been hectic).

Perhaps it was the fact that I had already watched Episode 7, but Episode 6 was something of an anti-climax. In this episode the crew decided to abandon the celebrities and watch how they would do on their own. The usual people stepped up to do the work - Alex, Alexander, George, Noah and to a lesser extent Shanna - while the others responded to the challenge by being their true pathetic selves, none more so than Haley Giraldo who was focusing on her tan rather than the job at hand (and how I wish she would get rid of those ridiculous bug-eye sunglasses).

More surprisingly, the Finale was also something of a let down. Perhaps the series had reached a point where there was nothing new to discover about Fabian's megalomania, Haley's bimboness or Alex Quinn's womanizing. There were some good shots of downtown Steamboat, but they don't really do the place justice, so if you're tempted to visit after watching this show, don't just think about it, do it!

Previous posts: Introduction, Episodes 1-4, Episode 5, Episode 7

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Going Postal

Being a resort community, many of the condo buildings in Steamboat are primarily occupied by visitors rather than temporary residents, so the postal service chooses not to deliver mail to them.

Those of us who do live permanently in such buildings are therefore forced to have post office boxes. I don't mind that so much - in many ways I find a post office box more secure, especially since I travel a lot so the last thing I want is my mail piling up outside my front door announcing to the world that my home is unoccupied.

But since I'm being denied the basic mail service that 99.9999% of residents of this country receive, I don't think it would be too much for the post office to be able to redirect any mail sent to my physical address to my box. A big proportion of the customers at the Steamboat Springs Post Office are in the same situation, so I find it inexcusable that the local post office hasn't bothered to work out a process to do this.

And while I'm 'going postal', I just have to add that American post offices are the most grey (literally) and depressing retail outlets since the days of GUM.

Shame on you, USPS.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hotel switch and bait

Don't you think it's a little deceptive to have a certain standard of product or service in your advertising but to then offer the customer something less for the same price? Hotels are masters of this type of switch and bait.

On our trip to Australia last month we stayed over in LA in each direction at the same hotel both times. On the outbound trip we got the room they advertise complete with the Sleep Number Bed which I really loved because I generally find hotel beds too hard. But on the return trip we got one of their old rooms that hadn't been upgraded and it was lousy.

But what really irks me is when hotels treat a request for a non-smoking room as optional. They know how many non-smoking rooms they have, and they know how many bookings for non-smoking rooms they have. If the number of requests already matches the number of rooms then tell me so and I'll book somewhere else. I know that's not what the hotel wants but it's my call, not the hotel's, whether I am willing to sleep in a room someone has been smoking in.

Shame on you LAX Radisson.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Snow and earthquakes

"What's the connection between snow and earthquakes?" I hear you ask. Well nothing except we seem to be having a bit of both in Steamboat lately.

It snowed again last night and today. It was only a light dusting - nothing like the 20 inches they had in some parts of eastern Colorado - but enough to prompt us to put the snow tyres on the car (in the sense that we paid someone to put them on).

We also had a small earthquake on Sunday night. Only 2.2 on the Richter scale. It sounded and felt like someone slamming a door. According to our local newspaper and verbal reports from some of our friends, there was also a larger one (4.1) on September 30. We missed that one since we were back in Australia.

The only other time we've experienced a quake was December 12, 2000 in Manila in the Philippines. That one was a 6.5 and I can tell you that when you wake up at 2am totally disoriented (OK I had a few drinks at the expat association Christmas party the night before), the room is moving backwards and forwards a foot in each direction, the floor is undulating and everything that is not nailed down is falling over, it's terrifying. Definitely the longest 20 seconds of my life. But believe it or not, we had a couple of friends who slept through it!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive - Episode 7 (contains spoilers)

Due to a problem with my TiVo while I was away, I've missed episode 6 so until they replay it and I can record it again, I'll jump straight to episode 7, "Cowboys and Villains".

What an amazing study in group dynamics and the use and abuse of power. If you've ever wondered how evil men come to power, watch this episode and see how Fabian manages to manipulate, intimidate and bully everyone - but instead of becoming the outcast he manages to align most of the team behind him. It's a profound demonstration of the principle that power is too easily gained not by those most deserving of it or capable of exercising it responsibly, but by those who have what Nietzsche called the "will to power", that is those who are most willing to do whatever is necessary to seize power and use it to their own ends.

The only celebrity who comes out of this episode with any dignity is Alexander. When Fabian turns on him he shows enormous maturity for his age (at 19 he's the youngest) in not taking Fabian's bait. Later the others decide that Fabian's behaviour was out of line, but like cowards they all fail to come to Alexander's defence when it mattered.

If there is any justice in the world, once Fabian's wife sees him on television molesting basically all the women on the drive she'll divorce him and take all his money. If they ever have an award show for the biggest a..holes on television they should name it the Fabians.

As for Haley Giraldo, her warmly expressed admiration towards Fabian is astounding. There are people like her in the history books. They stand behind men like Hitler and Stalin telling the world how wonderful their heroes are as they slaughter millions of people. Worse than being dumb (which she is in spades), she's a complete moral vacuum.

Previous posts: Introduction, Episodes 1-4, Episode 5

Scenic flight

We were fortunate on Monday that our flight from Los Angeles to Denver took us right over the Grand Canyon, the weather was fine, and we were sitting on the right side of the plane to get the best view. From 35,000 feet, it's impressive enough. Now I'm very motivated to see this up close. This is what happens to the Yampa River after it flows through Steamboat Springs, on to join the Green River and then the mighty Colorado River.

By the way, if you look closely at the horizon in the picture, you can see the curvature of the Earth. What a wonderful world we live in!

What's yellow, green and white?

Mt Werner after a fall snow storm.

Taken today around 9.30 am.

He's done it again

Just to reinforce my point, our anecdotal President did it again in talking about the possibility of mobilising the full-time army for future disaster responses. In considering the possible downsides of the move he didn't quote something important like "history tells us that once the military starts policing civilians you're on the path to dictatorship" but rather something trivial from his own experience. As Governor of Texas he wouldn't have liked the Feds taking over was the best reason against overturning a fundamental principle of liberty.

The other thing that was interesting about his speech was that if John Kerry had given it, saying there are reasons for and there are reasons against, he would have been labelled as a "flip-flopper." Now I know that John Kerry's weakness was that he was never able to move beyond reasons for, reasons against and make a decision, but wouldn't we be a whole lot better off if George W. had said any of the following:
  • there are reasons to invade Iraq, and there are really good reasons not to
  • there are reasons to lock up American citizens without judicial review, and there are really good reasons not to
  • there are reasons to appoint unqualified cronies like Michael Brown, and there are really good reasons not to
  • there are reasons to appoint to the Supreme Court a lawyer who is well qualified but has absolutely no judicial experience, and there are really good reasons not to

I know that Bush weighs the political downside of his decisions, Karl Rove makes sure of that, but I'm talking about something more profound. I'm talking about having the judgement and maturity to say "as tempting as it is, in the long run this won't be good for America or Americans." I doubt Bush has ever done that. They say discretion is the better part of valour. So make your own judgement.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

First snow of 2005-06

Today we had our first snow for the season. Yesterday was a beautiful fall day with the high temperature in the 70's F (or 20's Celsius), but today was much cooler. Around midday we had some hail and then solid rain set in for the afternoon. By 5 pm the temperature had dropped enough for the rain to turn to snow, and by 7 pm as we left our class at the Mountain College we were greeted by a sweeping view of the mountain blanketed in white and shrouded in cloud.

The National Weather Service is predicting 2-6 inches above 9,000 ft, so I hope to get some good pictures tomorrow. I also hope to get some shots in the next few days of the fall colours which are just about at their peak.

Although the snow will all melt in a day or so, winter is definitely coming. According to the countdown clock at the bottom of the page, it's only 50 days until the ski mountain opens!

Update: Looks like my neighbour Dave has beaten me to it. Here's his pic of the mountain taken at 6.30 pm.

The anecdotal President

The announcement of President Bush's latest nomination for the Supreme Court has crystallized in my mind the real problem with the way he thinks. I don't think he's as dumb as some would like to suggest, but I do believe that he thinks in a fundamentally flawed manner.

The problem is with his epistemology. "Epistemology?" I hear you say. Yes, epistemology, the field of philosophy that deals with knowledge. George W. Bush's fundamental problem is his model for how he decides he knows something.

Take the nomination of Harriet Miers. How did he arrive at the conclusion that she was the best candidate for the job? Not through any process of research, reference to independent authorities or systematic collection of data, but simply through personal experience. For George W. Bush, you can only know something by experiencing it first hand. He prefers a personal sample of one to an impersonal sample of thousands or millions and he prefers anecdotes to large bodies of unbiased evidence.

So the President really does believe his nominee is the best person for the job. Sadly, he simply can't conceive that there is any way to know that a candidate is suitable other than knowing them personally. In his mind, appointing his long time friends and associates to incredibly important positions is not cronyism. He really does believe that he's selecting the best people. He just doesn't understand that his epistemology restricts the candidate lists to people he personally knows.

Australia to LA and four movies later

We flew in to LA on Sunday on the direct Qantas flight from Brisbane and I managed to watch several movies on the long flight.

I would recommend Batman Begins, although if you're a devotee of the franchise be warned that the movie sacrifies consistency with the later / earlier Batman movies in order to delve deeper into Batman's psyche (although with so many different actors playing the main character, continuity is probably already shot).

I admire Johnny Depp's ability to completely become his characters which he demonstrates again as he becomes Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Notwithstanding his brilliant performance, (and an excellent supporting role from Noah Taylor, one of the many Aussies invading Hollywood) I have to agree with my wife; Gene Wilder is Willy Wonka and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is a classic that should not have been remade.

If you haven't seen the original then your childhood is incomplete. Plus you've missed one of the most useful quotes in cinema history: "So much time, so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it." So here's the link to the version I think you should buy. Sorry, Johnny, nothing personal mate.

Cinderella Man has received more coverage incidental to Russell Crowe's stupid hotel antics than in its own right, which is a pity because it's a very good movie based on a true and very insipring story with strong performances from "the hotel guest from hell formerly known as Russell" and Renee Zellweger. There are several quite realistic boxing scenes, and I have to admit I'm not a big fan of watching two men beating the crap out of each other. Nevertheless the rest of the movie is more than good enough to make it worthwhile .

The final movie I watched was Mr and Mrs Smith. I was a bit sceptical at first of what looks like nothing more than a remake of 1985's Prizzi's Honor but I enjoyed it well enough. However in the end it doesn't really add anything to the concept of a hitman and a hitwoman married to each other and each contracted to take the other one out to be worth paying money to see. Wait for this one on cable.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Private property?

I was in the Australian capital of Canberra last week and got to thinking about the implications of their approach to land ownership for compulsory acquisition ('eminent domain' as it is called in the US, an issue which has been in the news there lately).

All land in the Australian Capital Territory is owned by the Federal Government and is only available for private uses (including housing) on 99 year leases. This decision was made when Canberra was first established in the early 1900's, partly reflecting the prevailing socialist Utopian philosophies of the time and partly for the practical reason that you don't want to sell land freehold thereby making it harder to acquire it back over the next seventy five years as you build your capital city from scratch (the place was literally nothing but a sheep farm).

Actually this is an object lesson for those who believe in the prescience of government planners. Canberra is the most planned city in the world. If government planners always get it right, then they could have just come up with a plan to begin with, stuck to it and this would never have been a problem, would it?

As you can see from this Bill, in 1997 the Government found it necessary to extend leases from 99 years to 999 years. Why? Well, by that time some of the older suburbs in Canberra had been settled for nearly 75 years and these home owners were finding it difficult to sell their houses because prospective buyers couldn't get 30 year mortgages on properties with less than that period remaining on their leases.

Now lawyers may be able to argue until the cows come home about the differences between freehold and a 999 year lease, but I can guarantee you that in the mind of any average person, and especially someone who owns a home sitting on that land, they are indistinguishable. And that means politically they are indistinguishable. The political reaction to any compulsory acquisition will be absolutely the same regardless of whether the land is held freehold or leasehold. If there is enough political backlash the government will back off and if there isn't they will go ahead, whatever the legal, economic and social merits of their plans.

Nevertheless, I find that there's something disturbingly socialist and totalitarian about a place where you can't own land.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Can't find a cheap room in Aspen?

Then come to Steamboat. There's an article in USA Today on families being priced out of holidays in Aspen due to the redevelopment of older, less expensive accommodation.

The tone of the article - that this development is somehow surprising and some sort of tragedy - irks me a little. C'mon. Everybody knows Aspen is expensive and becoming more so. And it isn't like there aren't plenty of alternatives. The skiing in Steamboat is just as good (if not better) and a fraction of the price. If that isn't good enough for you, if you must have the cachet of Aspen, then fine, but just shut up and pay the price.

Sure I would liked to have lived in Aspen, but equivalent properties are five times the cost of Steamboat. My condo - 1,200 sq ft and walking distance to the gondola - cost me less than $200,000 in 2003. An equivalent property in Aspen would cost you $1.5-2 million. Do you hear me complaining that Aspen is too expensive for me? Not at all. In fact, I like to brag about how good a deal I've got here in Steamboat.

Rental prices are similarly much cheaper in Steamboat. So if you can't afford Aspen, don't worry, we've got plenty of champagne powder and world class skiing for you here in Steamboat.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Paternalistic government?

Australia was one of the first countries to make it compulsory to wear seat belts (in the early 1970's) and has continued down that path by making helmets compulsory, not only for motorcycles but also to ride your bicycle. And yes, they do enforce it, as you can see from the photo below which I took outside my company's Canberra office yesterday.

The libertarian in me says this is wrong. But that same voice also tells me that if this grown man decides not to wear a helmet, lands on his head and ends up a vegetable, I shouldn't have to pay his medical bills. Unfortunately that's not the world we live in. Taking that as a given, I think forcing him to wear a helmet is the lesser evil.

When this gets really hilarious though is when the 'perp' is ten years old!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

More bad web design

I just tried reloading the pre-paid cell phone account I use when I'm in Australia. In the process I discovered two problems with the design of the web page.

The first is that it requires you to "register" a credit card. That means you need to give the carrier your credit card details to store permanently, rather than simply entering it each time you want to perform a top up. It's fine to offer that as an option for those customers who want it, but I don't see why you would make it mandatory. Personally I would prefer that they don't keep my credit card number on file for all time for security reasons and anyway I may well use a different credit card the next time I want to add value to this account.

The second problem is with the design of the screen (shown below) for entering the credit card details.

I entered my credit card number and then selected "American Express" as the card type. At that point the system changed the format for the credit card number from the 16 digits used by Visa and Mastercard to the 15 digits used by Amex and in the process deleted the data I had already entered. Most people will do what I did - start entering the data from top to bottom - so the page should have been designed so that the selection of the card type was above the box for entering the card number.

Shame on you Vodafone Australia.

However to their credit, I should mention that my wife had a very good experience with them yesterday when she wanted to activate the voice mail on her account. She called their customer service number and was connected directly to an operator (can you remember the last time that happened?) who was very helpful (or that?) and the whole process, including configuring her greeting and so on, was successfully completed in less than five minutes (Ok, I know, you should still be navigating the recorded menu). I suspect hell would freeze over before Verizon matched this level of service.

In Brisbane (again)

For the fourth time this year I've hauled my weary body across the Pacific in cattle class. It's spring in Brisbane which is a lovely time of year, and the AFL Grand Final is this Saturday which means I'll get to watch it with my friends Terry and Linda which will be more fun than watching it in Steamboat by myself, but I must say 14 hours in an economy seat is getting very old.

I watched a couple of movies on the trip over. Downfall, which tells the story of the last days of Hitler through the eyes of his secretary is very powerful even though it's in German with English sub-titles.

Monster-in-Law is a light comedy starring Jane Fonda as the mother-in-law from hell (or what Saddam would describe as the mother of all mothers-in-law) and Jennifer Lopez as the prospective daughter-in-law. It was sufficiently entertaining to pass the time, but at no point was it sufficiently funny for me to laugh out loud and disturb my fellow passengers.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Local service is good service

My wife and I took possession of a new condo yesterday. The previous occupant had moved out a few days ago so the electricity was already off. So we went down to local office of our local electricity company, the Yampa Valley Electric Association, around 3 pm and asked to have the power connected. When the agent told me it would be done the same day I didn't believe her, but true enough when we went back to the condo at 6 pm we had power.

If these guys can do it in three hours, then why is it that it takes at least 3 days to get anything done with the big companies like Qwest, Verizon, Atmos Energy, Comcast etc? Well I'm sure a big part of it is that they are local both in the sense that they actually have an office in which you can talk to a real live person, and in the sense that they are a local co-operative that is owned by the customers. Maybe this is not the most efficient scale of operation, but personally I'm willing to pay a little extra to have this wonderful level of service. It sure beats playing 1-800-Black-Hole with these other guys.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Somewhere a village is missing its idiot...

But I've found him. He's hard at work designing the Home Depot web site, in particular the Store Finder feature.

If I enter my zip code it comes back with nothing. Yes, I know there isn't a Home Depot in my town. I probably would have seen a great big box store just driving around if there was. What I want to know is where the nearest store is located. But it seems that the zip code search doesn't work that way.

So then I select the option, "Don't know your zip code" thinking that if I put in Denver, CO it will at least tell me the stores in and around Denver. That's way too logical it seems for the Home Depot web designer.

So what I want to know is this. What the hell does the Store Finder do if it doesn't actually manage to find stores?!!! I can't beleive people actually get paid to design crap like this.

Don't you hate it when...

You call a 1-800 number, they ask you to key in your account number, and then when you eventually find your way through the maze and manage to talk to a real live agent, they ask you again for your account details?

It's just bad/lazy design, because the technology to send information from a switchboard to an agent's computer (called CTI or Computer Telephony Integration) has been around for at least a decade, and now that most corporate switchboards are fully digital it's not particularly difficult or expensive.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive - Episode 5 (contains spoilers)

In tonight's episode of Filthy Rich: Cattle Drive, Brittny Gastineau and Haley Giraldo were appointed cattle captains by default since everyone else already had their turn. It would be an understatement to say that neither of them is even remotely acquainted with the concept of taking responsibility for anything. They've obviously grown up in a world where they don't ever do anything they don't want to do and someone always, always does for them. Not surprisingly they both displayed a total lack of leadership and the movement of the cattle was a fiasco. I doubt that either of them could even lead pre-schoolers to a sand box.

Fabian Basabe continued his petulant, spoilt behaviour. "I'll call my lawyer", "I'll call my daddy", "I've got diplomatic immunity", "I'll sue", "I expected to be sleeping in a proper bed". These guys keep complaining how rough it is, but I can't help thinking that anyone who has done army boot camp would be thinking what I'm thinking - Joshua is a pussy cat compared to the average seargent-major ('drill sergeant' in America) and tents and camp beds sure beat three, maximum four, hours a night sleeping on the ground, and spending all day marching in the hot sun carrying a pack and a rifle. Hmmm, I think I have an idea for a reality show!

I did think calling Routt County's finest (the local sheriff) because the three who went AWOL in episode 4 were supposedly trespassing was a little bit dramatic. I suspect it was pretty much staged for the show, because my guess is that our local cowboys would have more direct methods of dealing with you if you pissed them off (that's not an assumption that I plan to personally test).

One funny twist which is so typical of our small town. Noah, Alex and Alexander got to go to the rodeo and within 30 seconds of arriving Alex Quinn had zeroed in on a pretty young local blonde cowgirl. Well it turned out that she's the cousin of Jared, the ranch owner's son!

Towards the end of the show, the celebs got a visit to our local hot springs as a treat. Alex Quinn grossed out everyone - he must have read the "clothing optional after dark" sign - stripping off as he entered the pool and parading around naked. Any woman who gets involved with this sleazbag has no excuse - the whole world now knows what he's about when it comes to women.

Noah, George and Fabian stayed back to guard the cattle (despite the fact that Noah and George deserved to go to the hot springs way more than Brittny and Haley). Things took a really dramatic turn when the others returned to find that George and Fabian had gone AWOL again. I can't wait to see what happens next!

Previous posts: Introduction, Episodes 1-4

Update: later reviews of Episode 7

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Coffee, always to go?

They've just finished a major renovation of our local Safeway supermarket in Steamboat Springs and as part of the improvements they've installed a Starbucks.

That wasn't too big a shock since I'd seen a supermarket with an in-store Starbucks before. What really left me gobsmacked was the fact that they've also installed cupholders on the supermarket trolleys (ok it's a 'cart' here in America). Yes, you read that correctly, the supermarket carts have cupholders so you can buy your Starbucks and drink it while you shop, and if you have any left I'm sure you can drink the rest in your 12 cupholder SUV on the way home. Of course then you'll have completely missed the entire point of coffee, which is the experience of sitting quietly at a table with a good book, or with an old friend (or an old book / good friend if you prefer), and savouring the moment, but I'm sure life's too short to actually stop and enjoy it.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Brown out

I don't think I've ever seen a senior government employee with his head as far up his ass as Micheal Brown at FEMA. A week after he and his agency completely and utterly screwed up before a live television audience of billions, this guy isn't even smart enough to figure out that he has a problem. He thinks the priority of FEMA employees ought to be public relations - that somehow telling people that FEMA did a good job will make it so. Right up there with "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."

As the New York Times and others have reported, his only qualification for the job seems to be political connections. And this chicken ought to come home to roost in the lap of the man who appointed him, George W. Bush. As the NYT points out, political loyalty and relevant skills do not have to be mutually exclusive. But if like our current President all you care about is loyalty then relevant skills and competence don't even come in to the mix.

I do take issue though with those commentators who argue that the only relevant skill set for the FEMA Director is previous experience in disaster management - since it's such a specialised field that will tend to reduce the field of suitable candidates to a tiny handful and may also create an unhealthly adherence to traditional approaches. But if we look at the underlying skills required - in planning, logistics and distribution - we can quickly see that there are plenty of places to look. Apart from retired military, there's always Wal-Mart which seems to have done a better job than FEMA without even breaking a sweat.

What I can tell you is that the least relevant skills to the job are those possessed by spin doctors and political sycophants.

Update: I forgot to mention that Michael Brown is a lawyer. Lawyers have their place. It's practicing law. Being a lawyer doesn't qualify you for anything other than being a lawyer. It's a tragedy that so many people think that because elected representatives pass laws, and appointed officials administer them, that somehow being a lawyer is a relevant qualification. That thinking mistakes form for substance. Lawyers can help with getting the form of legislation right, but they have no special skills relevant to the real challenge - ensuring that the content of a law is good policy or in ensuring that it is efficiently and effectively implemented.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Movie review: Timeline

I watched a DVD on the weekend of a movie called Timeline. It's based on a Michael Crichton book of the same name although after reading a synopsis of the book I would have to say it deviates very significantly from the original story.

The only cast members I recognised were Frances O'Connor (one of the many Aussies invading Hollywood) as the female lead and Billy Connelly whose talents are seriously underutilised in this role.

The story started quite slowly and was somewhat confusing in the early stages, but in the end it did have some interesting connections between the future where the heroes began their journey and the past (1357 to be exact) to which they travelled. Also, as you would expect for a film released in 2003 the special effects were good and the historical period was captured fairly authentically, but apart from that there is little positive to say. The plot is mechanical, the characters two dimensional, the acting totally without feeling and the theme or message non-existent. The great strength of science fiction and historical drama is that by placing us in another universe or time we can get a new perspective on contemporary problems and issues. This film completely fails to sieze that opportunity.

It was worth what I paid for it, but then I picked it up for free when a tenant left if behind. Now I know why.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Labor Day in Oak Creek

Today is Labor Day in the US. It's not such a big deal in Steamboat with its ranching heritage (most farmers are still waiting for an eight hour day) but in nearby Oak Creek with its history as a coal mining town they take their Labor Day parade pretty seriously.

At all these parades I love the pride with which the old veteran's march. Reminds me of ANZAC Day back home in Australia.

No use blaming the Feds if you're dead

I discussed in an earlier post on the lessons from Hurricane Katrina the need to develop more effective evacuation plans. Along those lines is this New York Times editorial discussing local disaster planning in Hampton Roads on the coast of Northern Virginia.

What is most striking about this in comparison to the recent experience in New Orleans is not the amount of money being spent, or the race of the local residents or their wealth. The real contrast is simply that the local communities accepted that they were the ones who were responsible for their own safety and planned accordingly.

These coastal communities, unlike New Orleans, are not below sea level, but they're much better prepared for a hurricane. Officials have plans to run school buses and borrow other buses to evacuate those without cars, and they keep registries of the people who need special help.

Instead of relying on a "Good Samaritan" policy - the fantasy in New Orleans that everyone would take care of the neighbors - the Virginia rescue workers go door to door. If people resist the plea to leave, Mr. Judkins told The Daily Press in Newport News, rescue workers give them Magic Markers and ask them to write their Social Security numbers on their body parts so they can be identified.

It's a little like stepping onto a pedestrian crossing without looking for traffic first. It's no consolation that the drivers are supposed to stop if they fail to do so and you end up dead. Whatever the wrongs and rights of the Federal Government's failure to fund the Army Corps of Engineers to maintain and improve the levees it doesn't do you any good to simply point out that fact and to take no action. Rational and accountable state and local governments in Louisiana would have realised at some point in the past twenty years that they needed to act in the interests of their own citizens if the Federal Government wouldn't. If the New York Times with its centralist, big government philosophy can see it then it ought to be self-evident.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Wild West Air Fest

One of the fun Labor Day activities in Steamboat is the Wild West Air Fest held at the Steamboat Springs Airport (Bob Adams Field) where a number of historic aircraft and cars are on display. Here's some of my favorites from today's visit.

Here I am with the most beautiful aircraft in the history of aviation, the Supermarine Spitfire. Did you realise the aircraft that won the Battle of Britain was so small? This is a twin seat trainer variant and the second canopy unfortunately ruins the smooth lines of the single seater.

Here I am with a time machine DeLorean. "Hmmm, the flux capacitor seems to be missing". I love those 'gull wing' doors.

Below is the Adam Aircraft A700, a new entrant in the VLJ (very light jet) market. Aircraft like this could potentially revolutionise charter services into places like Steamboat. If I had $2.1 million spare I'd definitely buy one!

And here are some more historic aircraft.