20 February 2007

Teaching an old dog a new trick

Whenever I reply in the negative to the question, "Do you know how to ski?", I invariably get the same shocked response, "But you grew up in Vancouver!". Apparently anyone living in the Greater Vancouver Regional District and in the vicinity of Whistler is required to have at least some rudimentary skill at skiing. I wish someone had told me that before I naively moved to Vienna, Austria (arguably the land of great skiers--what could I have been thinking!?) and later to Washington DC without ever having donned ski boots.

Anywhoo, on President's Day I decided to take advantage of the holiday to finally try my hand at this alpine sport. I have to admit that part of the appeal was the opportunity and excuse to take my R32 on a cruise in to untraveled territory while at the same time make use of my Magellan Roadmate 2200T.

The Whitetail Resort is just on the other side of the Maryland state border with Pennsylvania and is a 65 mile trip from my place. It was a fun drive and I passed by two speed traps without incident. The weather was great: sunny, mostly clear skies, and it wasn't too cold.

After paying for the lift ticket and rental, I went to line up to pick up ski boots, skis, and ski poles. It was a holiday so it was quite busy and a lot of time was spent waiting in line. It took me a minute to figure out how to put the ski boots on, but I managed and eventually made it out in time to meet a friend who was also taking a lesson for first-time skiers. I won't bore you with details. Suffice to say that the lesson was about 2 hours and that most of my difficulty was in controlling my speed.

I didn't try this one.

After the lesson I continued practicing on the beginner slopes, and by my last two runs I began to understand skiing's appeal. I was able to look up and around instead of directly at the ground in front, and I spent less time discovering the best way to get up off the ground. I did have one fall where I sat up to discover one of my skis was 8-feet up slope. Oops.

I can easily imagine how enjoyable it would be if I ever became proficient enough to try the longer slopes. The great fun of making large S-turns back and forth was hampered by the short length of the beginner slopes.

This was more my speed :o)

There were a few things that detracted from the experience, however. First, the expense. I guess if I skied often enough investing in my own equipment would alleviate that somewhat. Second, ski boots are not the most comfortable foot-wear. That may be due to the nature of rentals, my inexperience, or what have you, but there you go. While I was skiing I didn't notice it so much, but every once in a while I'd get a reminder about how sore the balls of my feet were. At the end of the day, when I took off the boots, the relief was euphoric. Third, waiting in line for the lift was a chore. The lift for the beginner slopes was quite busy, and waiting in line was made worse by the ski boots (see point 2). From what I could see, though, the lifts for the more advanced slopes weren't as crowded. But that may have been a case of the grass is always greener....

Anywhoo, to that age-old question I can now reply, "Yes, I have skied, thank-you-very-much," and hopefully the invariably shocked response will be a thing of the past. I can't say that I have the immediate desire to go out and ski, with the caveat that if skiing were free I'd definitely make plans to go again (I guess I'm too cheap). Nevertheless, skiing is certainly in the back of my mind as something I'd like trying again, someday.

10 February 2007

Scary... but true?

According to an investigative report by CNN most of the major insurance companies have taken a tough take-it-or-leave-it policy when dealing with minor accident claims involving soft-tissue injuries. Here are the highlights of the report (Auto insurers play hardball in minor-crash claims):

  • State Farm, Allstate employ consultant's strategy, CNN research finds
  • Theme of strategy is "deny, delay, defend," former employee says
  • Companies convince juries that claims are fraudulent
  • Insurers, institute deny treating claimants unfairly
    I wish CNN had listed all the auto insurance companies they had investigated and suspect of participating in this policy. Maybe I'm just cynical, maybe it's an unavoidable consequence of living in a capitalist economy, but I find it all too easy to believe that insurance companies are milking their customers like cash-cows in the bid for ever-increasing profits.

    09 February 2007

    Overreact, much?

    Earlier I posted about the city of Boston's reaction to a Cartoon Network (parent company Turner Broadcasting) advertising campaign (see Trouble in Boston). Battery-operated advertising signs--think Lite-Brite toys--caused havok and gridlock in Boston as authorities "defused" these potential bombs.

    I found it humorous that these signs had been posted at various locations in several metropolitan cities, including Boston, for a couple weeks before Boston, and only Boston, went nuclear over the signs. Boston authorities, instead of admitting their overreaction, arrested and charged the two Bostonians who placed the signs and began talking about starting litigation against Turner Broadcasting to recoup costs to the city.

    Anywhoo, Turner Broadcasting, which in I'm sure was a purely public relations decision rather than the belief they'd lose in court, is going to pay Boston two million dollars. Fine and dandy. But what brought this particular post was this article:
    Jim Samples, the general manager and executive vice president of the network, wrote: "I deeply regret the negative publicity and expense caused to our company as a result of this campaign. As general manager of Cartoon Network, I feel compelled to step down, effective immediately, in recognition of the gravity of the situation that occurred under my watch."--CNN
    According to the article Samples been with the Cartoon Network for 13 years. On the one hand I guess someone needs to take responsibility for what happened. On the other hand, I think the ones most responsible for the fiasco in Boston are the Boston authorities.

    Dangerous drivers

    To the idiot in the white Neon...

    Automotive news

    I thought this article at BBC News was interesting. It talks about how Kia is moving into the European market and could pose a significant threat to European car makers. With the good reviews of its Ceed hatchback Kia could quickly cut in to sales of the Volkswagen Golf, the Ford Focus and the Opel/Vauxhall Astra--Europe's current best selling models.

    Follow link for the article: Korean cars rev up for Europe.

    06 February 2007

    repcmd

    A while ago I posted describing my disgust with Comcast for forcing me to run a particular process--that can be used to track internet use--if I wanted to connect to the internet (for details you can read a previous post, tgcmd.exe). Well, tonight I discovered something else that Comcast does that annoys me to no end.

    Tonight I uninstalled and then re-installed PC-cillin Internet Security 2007 (for why I did this you can look at another of my posts, Caveat emptor). Afterwards I checked the stealthiness of the PC-cillin firewall by using a free utility offered by the Gibson Research Corporation. This is strictly routine for me whenever I update/install a firewall and as this version of PC-cillin's firewall had previously passed with flying colours I wasn't expecting any surprises. Oops.

    I was surprised to discover that my computer was no longer as stealthy as it had been. Eh? The firewall was the exact same version as before; so what gives? The only information I had was that something called repcmd was the culprit. A cursory search on repcmd gave me nothing of note so I rolled up my figurative sleeves and spent the next 90 minutes trying to remember what I may have changed since the last time I tested the firewall: I turned some things off, rebooted, tested, turned things back on, rebooted, turned things off... ad nauseam.

    I'd about given up and decided to go back to ZoneAlarm despite my previous troubles with its stability when I remembered a particular icon that always loads next to the date/time on the lower right of my Windows XP screen, something called the Comcast SupportAgent. Hmmm... right click, "Exit", test... hurrah! My computer was back in full stealth mode.

    That's not the end of it, however. When I prevented this "SupportAgent" from running automatically at startup I lost my internet connection. Apparently, it's intimately connected to the infamous tgcmd.exe program. Ugh. So now I have to remember to turn this sucker off every time I reboot. Wangos.

    So... does repcmd really pose a security threat? Does my computer really have to be as stealthy as can be tested? I have no idea. It would help if I knew exactly what repcmd is and what it's supposed to do. And why is it acting differently now, when I had no problems with it before. Heck, I didn't even know it was there until tonight. Which begs another question, was it there before, or did Comcast change/add it without my knowledge?

    I guess I could ask Comcast but my experience with their customer support has been less than stellar. Abysmal, to say the least.

    Anywhoo, problem solved, for now, and as long as each time I reboot I remember to turn off the SupportAgent. "Support" my gluteus maximus; support my irritation is what it really does.

    03 February 2007

    What do you get for $30k?

    What do you get over a 1.8T for your $30,000?--Here's one answer posted on VWvortex.


    Site visitors in January 2007

    Here are the recent stats for site visitors in January 2007, listed by countries. The top 5 were:

    1) United States;

    2) Canada;

    3) Great Britain,

    4) European Union

    5) Australia.

    The full list can be seen here. Statistics for previous months can be found by following this link. On a related note, it happened with Poland, again. I noticed I had some hits from Poland in December '06 but no bandwidth useage. In January 2007 Poland had 16 hits and no bandwidth. Odd.

    02 February 2007

    R32 information

    I uploaded some additional information about the R32 on my dedicated R32 website as well as in my post over at Stargazer's Garage.

    Today's pet peeve

    Long-running pet peeve:

    People who enjoy getting on elevators without first letting others get off.


    Today's pet peeve:

    People pushing large carts who enjoy getting on elevators without first letting others get off.

    01 February 2007

    Trouble in Boston

    I've read that in Boston recently there was significant havok caused by some electronic advertisements that were misconstrued as explosive/terrorist devices (Ad stunt causes chaos). The ads were for an Adult Swim cartoon aired on the Cartoon Network whose parent company is Turner Broadcasting. Authorities are considering charges against Turner Broadcasting in order to recover costs--I think Turner should just fork over the money in addition to their apology rather than fight it out in court even if they think they'd have a successful defense. Chalk it up to promoting good public relations.

    Police have charged two men under a hoax charge and face up to 5 years in prison.
    Peter Berdovsky, 27, a freelance video artist from Arlington, Massachusetts, and Sean Stevens, 28, were facing charges of placing a hoax device in a way that results in panic, as well as one count of disorderly conduct, said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. The hoax charge is a felony, she said.--CNN
    I don't know the details, but my impression is that they were just doing their jobs and I'm assuming that the possibility their ads might be mistaken for bombs never crossed their minds. Not very smart, sure, but is this enough to send them to prison? I don't know. But I find it scary to contemplate how someone might be happily going through their legal-abiding lives when one unintentional mistake throws all that out the window.