Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Super-Ha'ole White-Skinned Hockey Boy Can Now Surf

Teaching Davis Cooper to surf. He learned the basics and was up on a wave about 3 minutes.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Throwing Tatiana Out of Bed (For Eating Crackers)

If you've read my previous couple of posts, you know I'm spending some of my holiday down time fiddling with two new toys: an IBM Ideapad S12 Nano netbook, and a Nokia e71 smartphone.

The Ideapad continues to impress. For a netbook that practically fits into one's coat pocket, it's pretty cool. The S12 definitely has a lot of weaknesses (way too much screen glare, for starters, and important keys in weird places for another) but for the cost and form factor, I'll accept those compromises to have an S12 (or several) in my quiver. I will probably buy a few more to put in my event inventory.

One thing absent from the S12 that I really miss from my notebooks, however, is the ThinkLight. Like most guys pushing 50, I don't see as well as I once did, and like many programmers, I'm a really lousy typist. I didn't realize how much I relied on the Thinkpad "ThinkLight" (and Dell's equivalent) until I started using the S12, which doesn't have one. I'd love to know the cost and weight penalty Lenovo would have been forced to pay in order for them to put a ThinkLight on the S12. I would gladly have paid extra bucks for one.

The Nokia e71, which I nicknamed "Tatiana" because of it's sleek, elegant, muscular resemblance to the gorgeous blonde Russo-Australian athletics star Tatiana Grigorieva, has revealed a couple of major faults. Faults so severe that I've read dozens, if not hundreds, of posts on various support and chat boards wherein furious Nokia users were resolving to switch phones. To wit:

1) The Nokia has serious bugs in its Brewtooth stack. I have 3 different Brewtooth earsets (Jabra stereo, BlueAnt, and Plantronics stereo), and Tatiana wouldn't stay connected to any of them. They would train and connect, but then go into an infinite loop of connecting, disconnecting, connecting, disconnecting...all day long. By rebooting the phone, I could sometimes get the connection to stabilize for a few minutes, but then it would go on the fritz again.

I Googled around for a while, finding maybe a zillion people reporting the same problem. Few suggestions were offered, and widespread fury at Nokia was ubiquitous. No wonder Nokia is losing market share hand over fist. One suggestion which seemed to solve the problem for most was to buy a Nokia-brand Brewtooth earpiece, but I really like all of my current Brewies, so I wanted to avoid that. Many suggested updating the Nokia's firmware, as listed among the recent Symbian OS revision histories is "better Bluetooth connectivity". I checked Tatiana's OS version and it was 200.something.something; the latest version availabe on Nokia's web site was 400.something.something.

So I updated.

No improvement.

At all.

My favorite Brewie is my BlueAnt Q1, which I believe is Australian-made. Although it's not stereo, it does have a voice command set which is trick as hell, and in general it really works well. I checked the BlueAnt web site, and my firmware was several minor revisions behind. I updated the BlueAnt firmware, and VOILA...Mr. BlueAnt now works flawlessly with Tatiana.

I think BlueAnt is perhaps in that rare place at which technology companies sometimes arrive, where they have indeed invented a better mousetrap, and are still small enough to respond to the marketplace and to problems. Sort of like Palm in 1998, before their world went to hell.

In any event, Tatiana's first eating-crackers-in-bed moment has been solved.

2) Nokia's sync support of anything other than Lotus and Outlook really is pathetic. I actually tried to work around this temporarily by exporting my Thunderbird Contacts DB (approximately 1800 records) into a comma-delimited file, and attempting to suck it into the Nokia PC Suite.

No dice.

The Nokia PC Suite is extremely picky about CSV files. It won't even suck in its own CSV exports. Even worse, the auto-suck will not tell you anything about what it doesn't like about your CSV files as it fails. I fiddled and fiddled, and Googled and Googled, and found nothing other than a LOT of really pissed-off Nokia customers.

After futzing around with my data for an hour using WordPad and OpenOffice SCalc, I finally gave up. Fuck it, for now.

I keep a list of procedures I perform on new Win7 and XP installs to turn off all the eye-candy bullshit, secure the OS, and get rid of performance-sucking, unneeded Services. One thing on that list is to remove the hopelessly insecure and clunky Outlook Express. I recently got a couple of new Dell ATG D630s for my event stash, and I hadn't had time to fully strip them of their Windows bullshit, so I grabbed one with Outlook Express still on it and imported my Thunderbird Contacts DB into it. Then I installed the Nokia PC Suite, and synched to Tatiana. Bingo. All 1800-odd contacts imported. Then I deleted Outlook Express. I'll give up syncing for now, until I decide whether I'm going to stick with Tatiana.

One thing I did notice, however, it the Nokia seems to gag on punctuation in phone numbers. When you enter a phone number into the Nokia's Contacts software, it will not let you do this:

(504) 555-5555

nor this


nor this


nor anything else with punctuation. Phone numbers must be entered as one big unreadable blob, i.e.


Even the crude and user-unfriendly Windows Mobile allows you to punctuate phone numbers, and knows to ignore them when dialing.

I think some of my imported phone numbers had so much punctuation that the Nokia simply dropped them completely.

In any event, Tatiana remains gorgeous, sleek, and seductive to me, but her Windows Nokia PC Suite blows pretty badly. We'll see if I love her enough to stay with her, which will require an investment of $50 in a desktop sync workaround.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Nokia E71

Next on our tech hit parade is the Nokia e71. If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know my main phone is an AT&T Tilt w/Windows Mobile. I like the Tilt about 75 on a 100 scale. It's terrific for e-mail, calendar-ing, and pretty good for web stuff (as long as you use Skyfire rather than the crippled, pitiful IE Mobile). It's got a nice touchscreen and a half-decent slide-out kbd. (NOTE - I can't use an iPhone because (A) I'm hopeless with glass virtual keyboards (B) The phone part of the iPhone is scheisse, (C) the battery life sucks + the battery is not swappable, and (D) I'm not fabulous enough to use any Apple products).

Anyhow, one of the weaknesses of Windows Mobile is that WM phones are extremely cumbersome to use as phones. Try calling into a conference call (PIN required) or into your bank's telephony system with one hand, while walking, on a WM smartphone. Impossible, even if you've got hands like Chris Paul (of the New Orleans Hornets, arguably the best Point Guard in the NBA).

For Europe, where it seems I always need to talk to people on my phone while skiing down an injected race slope or while walking down the street (in both cases, while wearing gloves), I wanted to get a non-clamshell smartphone. I usually use a very cheap, very simple Nokia GSM shit-phone ($40 brand new) in Europe with my Austrian SIM, but I've become a lover of Bluetooth (pronounced "Brewtoot" in Japanese) earpieces, and the shit-phone doesn't have Brewtoot. With pre-paid SIM DATA plans getting more accessible, I figured what the hell, go for a smartphone.

Crackberry was out of the question, as the RIM OS blows chunks, and their browser is unusable.

After looking around for a while, it came down to either the Nokia e71 or the Nokia e63. The e63 is basically the cheaper, plastic version of the e71. I found an open-box new e71 on eBay for $200, so I went for it.

To my abject surprise, I love it. It is the most elegant phone hardware I've actually held in my hand. Light, slim, great kbd, great tactile feel from the metal case, nice click on the keys. I can type like a Tasmanian Devil on it. The Symbian OS is terrific. Browser is great. Tethering, e-mail is easy. And, unlike #$%^&*()@ Windows Mobile, you can do a lot of routine tasks with two or three keystrokes rather than the two or three DOZEN keystrokes required under WM.

Another thing I found really cool is that you can use the e71 to listen to FM radio (as well as internet radio). I know, it's dumb and I'm old...but I like FM radio.

It took me about 2 minutes to get it tethering to an XP laptop.

The e71's GPS simply ROCKS. My Tilt usually takes about 2 full minutes to find itself on the planet. The e71 found itself in about 15 seconds, and I wasn't even close to a window.

I find it incredibly annoying that my Tilt takes 3 minutes to completely boot. The Nokia cold boots in 30 seconds.

In a similar vein, the Tilt takes 3+ hours to fully charge, whereas the Nokia tops up in 15-20 minutes.

The Nokia camera is also way better than the Tilt's camera, although I rarely use a phone's camera. The Nokia camera has a flash, which the Tilt's camera does not. The rez seems much higher on the Nokia, although I will have to experiment further. Who knows, maybe using a camera phone will grow on me.

As with any phone (or unfortunately any girlfriend, as I've found), that initial rush of lust and fascination is soon tempered by annoying little shortcomings discovered in the course of a relationship (WTF - she leaves half-empty cat food cans in the fridge, stinking up all the other food to high heaven? Is sleeping with a Tatiana Grigorieva lookalike REALLY worth drinking tuna-flavored milk?).

By far the biggest annoyance I've found is the Nokia PC Suite only syncs with Outlook and with Lotus Notes. Lotus Notes? What pathetic luddite is still using Lotus Notes? Maybe it's a Euro thing. And Outlook is, well, Outlook. Enough said. I looked on the Nokia Support Forum, and found literally thousands of Nokia users bitterly railing against Nokia for lack of Thunderbird / Sunbird sync support. I agree, but there's more than one way to skin that particular cat. Several 3rd-party sync products, such as Sybase's XTNDConnect PC and Mobile Master, will solve that problem for $50.

Another thing I find weird is that the e71 cannot be charged via USB. Another "WTF" moment. I actually prefer charging through A/C power for various reasons (don't need to keep your laptop on all night for USB power, for example), but why not give users the option? Nokia does make a medusa-head USB cable with both a power plug and a micro-USB plug (part #CA-126), so that strangeness can be worked around.

I'm sure I'll find a few more annoying things about the e71, but in general I like the e71 so much that I may just retire the Tilt and use the Nokia as my main weapon in the US as well. If I do, I will bite the bullet and buy Mobile Master Pro, since I manage all my contacts and calendar with TBird / Sunbird.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Back to August: Nevados de Chillan, Redux

Wolf von Lindenau, one of the CASA guides I skied with in Chile this summer, finally got around to cleaning off the SD card in his camera and found these photos of me cutting up the Pirigallo Valley, sidecountry of Nevados de Chillan, from the first week in August. He was kind enough to send them along to me today. I'm easy to pick out because I was the only guy in the group wearing white.

Wow. That was some seriously good skiing. Can't wait to do it again.

Thanks, Wolf.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lenovo S12 Netbook

This photo was taken outdoors in afternoon sunlight. The Dell on the left is a mighty ATG D630, which has a 500-nit outdoor screen, so bright it can warm a bowl of soup at 5 meters.

After looking at Netbooks for a long time, I finally ordered up a Lenovo S12 with the VIA Nano chipset.

It's pretty cool. Wouldn't want it as my primary development machine, but it'll come in handy at events, and will be a fine alternative to a real laptop during a week away for checking e-mail, SKYPEing, etc.

In short, it's a fun little toy.

No horsepower problems. The VIA NANO chipset is considerably more powerful than the ubiquitous ATOM chipset on most netbooks, even though the VIA clock rate is slower than the latest ATOMs(1.3 vs 1.6). Even with only 1 gig RAM, it rocks. I've got another gig of RAM ordered.

The chassis comes with a 1 Gig SODIMM soldered in, and another empty slot. The hardware will only recognize 2 Gigs, so I ordered an additional SODIMM. Had I known it worked this well with 1 gig, I might not have ordered that additional SODIMM. But then again, for $60, WTF.

The S12's full-sized kbd is much better than other netbooks I've tried. However Lenovo made a few poor choices on their "combi" keys, in my opinion. For example, HOME and END require a combi; two keys I use a shitload.

Another thing I like far better than most other netbooks is it's got two Touchpad buttons rather than one. Thus, right-clicking is solid, not an adventure in guesswork.

Screen is 1280 x 800. The extra real estate over the ubiquitous 1024 x 576 on other Netbooks is a huge improvement. 576 is just not enough real estate for me, especially when I'm browsing or using a compiler IDE such as Visual Studio.

The screen is relatively bright, but it is also very shiny. It reflects a ton of glare. It's way brighter than the previous-gen laptops (T30), but I'd not be too psyched to try to use it outdoors. However, under normal lighting, it's great. I don't see that well any more, so screens are very important to me. This one is fine in any indoor situation.

The integrated SD card slot on the left side is really convenient.

Another thing I thought was weird is in addition to a hard wireless LAN on/off switch (left side), there is also a soft wireless LAN switch (FN->F5). When I first fired the little guy up, I couldn't see any SSIDs, despite the fact that Windows told me the WL card was on and operating. I feared I might have a dud. But a little Googling revealed that a few zillion other people initially thought the same thing. I turned the soft switch on and away I went, wirelessly. Kind of goofy to have both a hard and a soft WL switch.

It came with Windows XP Home. I will probably replace that with W7 at some point.

The integrated webcam isn't any great shakes, but it's good enough for Skype and it's, well, integrated.

One irksome detail I just discovered is the HDD isn't easily swappable. You've got to spring the keyboard off the chassis to get at the HDD. Not the most convenient thing for a guy like me, who incessantly fiddles with HDDs.

So, in conclusion...is this little thang worth $420? You betcha. It'll come in handy in a lot of situations. I'm glad I waited. The ASUS, SANYO, and Dell netbooks that preceded it were cool little toys too, but this one has way fewer compromises. It won't fit in my jacket pocket like one of the 9" netbooks, but it's much closer to being a real PC. I can type on it and I can see the screen just fine.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Another Batshit-Crazy Euro.....

From the guys who brought us the "squirrel suit" (cruel enforcer of the Darwin theory), another batshit-crazy Euro invents a better way to kill himself.


Thanks to my good mate Digger in Melbourne, Australia, for this link.

Friday, December 04, 2009

It's Never Windy And Cold in Lake Louise

Today's Womens Downhill was moved down to the 2nd bad weather start because it was blowing about 45 knots at the regular start. With a temp of -8, the wind chill index was approximately -100,000,000,000C. It's warmer in outer space.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Where The Deer and the Antelope Play.....

Drove down to Banff last night to do some laundry. As we pulled into town, a humongous elk crossed the street in front of us...obeying all traffic laws. He crossed squarely in the crosswalk, like a good Bullwinkle.

In the meantime, an extremely rare Canadian Alpine Lynx showed up briefly to watch the mens Super-G on Sunday. Lynxes are both extremely rare and extremely shy, so the locals here were blown away that they actually got to see one in the flesh, er....in the fur.

For those of you who aren't familiar with ski racing, the orange stuff partially obscuring the Lynx is a substance known as "A-Net", a type of safety netting.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Lake Louise Shows Off Its Tail Feathers

Lake Louise, Alberta may not be one of the more difficult DH courses on the FIS World Cup, but it's one of the best places to race. After a week of wild-ass weather, today is classic LL: cold as a witch's tit, clear, sunny, fast, great racing snow. Not a bad place to race, eh cowboy?

Gun Barrel, Claire's Corner, Finish. Once again, the "Sled Dogs" have come through, and yesterday's blizzard is but a memory.

The men at Crack of the Beave in Colorado have the early TV slot this week, so our training runs and races are starting an hour later than normal. Hence, a leisurely, civilized breakfast in the morning at the Chateau Lake Louise, followed by a little time to stretch and do a few minutes of yoga. Ahhhhhhhhh.

Walking In a Winter Wonderland, Part Deux

Got the mens races off, flawlessly. Great team effort by our guys, requiring a lot of work and a half-case of Gosling's Rum.

Monday was supposedly laundry day, due to the transition (men to Beaver Creek, women in from Aspen). However, the course was a mess due to another ton of snow, so we spent most of Monday digging our stuff out from under the blizzard and re-loading for the women. Never did get to the laundry.

My colleague Miguel Wakker snapped the above photo up near the womens DH start on Monday. Some of the course is under a half-meter of snow, so today's training run is iffy. Crazy weather for Lake Louise, as normally it's just too cold here for substantial snow to fall.

For the next few days, the weather appears to be getting back to "normal", i.e. -23C and clear.