Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."


A Tale of Two Boots

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ..."
SnoFest 2010, the annual snow festival hosted at Keystone Resort for Front Range military installations, took place this weekend. The weather was perfect, the snow was perfect, the equipment was... well.... not so much.

Never mind that my Koflach ski boots would have been more at home in a museum than on a black diamond run in Colorado. After all, I purchased them 19 years ago on consignment in Banff, Alberta (i.e., used, putting their age around 20-25 years) for CAN$90 -- about US$60 at the 1991 exchange rates. And never mind that, upon buckling up for my first run on Friday morning, one of the upper buckles snapped off. Big deal, I thought, I have three more buckles!

" ... it was the age of foolishness ..."

All was well, truly the best of times, until I ventured onto North Peak's Geronimo: the run in the top photo of this post, which is accessible only from a narrow roped-off gate, with a sign warning of "hidden obstacles" and "variable terrain". So I pointed my 195cm Olin 870s (no, not parabolics) into a nice fall line, made a turn, made another turn, then bounced off one mogul into a trough in a puff of powder. When I looked down, one chunk of my boot was next to my skis and another (from the other boot) was uphill. That red you see on the back of my foot on the photo below should have been covered by rigid white plastic....

This is the chunk from my left boot (the right boot piece is still somewhere on Geronimo):

So what is one to do when barely one-quarter of the way down the most remote run in a massive resort like Keystone? Why, keep skiing!

That lasted all of four more turns. When your ankle is free to move independently of your feet, your skis will go whichever way they want, and the red plastic digs into your achilles....

By the time I actually reached the bottom of the run, I had perfected the fine art of "butt sledding" -- carrying my poles in one hand, my skis in the other, braking with my boots, and crab-walking over moguls when my momentum slowed.

Once I made it down to Silver Mill Village (after riding the flat, non-mogul portion of the run on the skis; taking the chair lift to the summit; then riding the gondola down), I stopped by Christy's Sports. I asked the folks in their rental shop (who put a nice belt wax on my Olins that morning for my 27-second NASTAR race time, and who found a reasonably close facsimile to replace the lost basket on my boss's poles that I borrowed since my poles were left in Colorado Springs) about one-day boot rentals. When they said boots cost $20/day (i.e., 1/3 the price I paid for my boots 19 years ago!), plus $10 to adjust my bindings, oh and the caveat that they can't touch bindings that are out of warranty (which I guarantee my 20-year-old Tyrolias are), that made my decision for Saturday's gear trivial:

Shred on!

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Keystone, Day 2: On the Board

After yesterday's abrupt demise of my 20+ year old Koflach ski boots (on Geromino, a black diamond run with lots of moguls and "hidden obstacles"), I have donned the super-comfortable snowboard boots and am riding my 162cm all terrain board for the day.

I even did a run on the NASTAR slalom course. Yesterday on skis, my times were 26 seconds and (with a slide-out on turn 10) 35 seconds; today's time on the board was 43 seconds -- possibly the *slowest* of the day without a fall involved.....


Keystone: Geronimo, looking west

South side of Keystone, toward Quandry Peak



The cadets of the U.S. Air Force Academy are hosting Cub Scouts for Winterspree 2010: lots of games, races & demonstrations (such as the Cadet Sabre Drill Team pictured above).


GPS Reviews

Just before Christmas, we cashed in "reward points" on a credit card we were about to cancel. Among the items ordered were two Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation units.

Not knowing any better, nor investing any significant amount of time on comparative analysis before placing the order, I decided to get one TomTom (the XL 340-S) and one Garmin (the nĂ¼vi 255). Though the TomTom retails for nearly $100 more than the Garmin, both were roughly the same amount of "reward points". Had I known then what I know now, I would have gotten two TomToms -- it's a far superior unit in nearly every way.

The Good:

Both the TomTom and the Garmin offer 2D (top-down map) and 3D (rolling terrain) views. Both units have similar mounting equipment, and both have the same USB interface as the Motorola Blackberry (i.e., we have lots of cables and power cords to accommodate these units). Both have "Favorites" options along with user-selected icons for common destinations, a top-menu selection when going "Home" (but, curiously, not one for going to work), and both offer voice prompts for upcoming maneuvers -- though the TomTom has a greater variety of voices to choose from.

For the economically-minded-to-the-last-cent, the Garmin has a "Trip Total" feature that tracks total mileage, time stopped, and fuel cost based on user-entered data such as average price per gallon and fuel economy of your car. I suspect the fee-based monthly update service also includes a "cheap gas finder" feature, but we did not invest in any such recurring costs.

The TomTom, due to its wider 4.3" screen, shows much more data on the basic display -- including ETA to destination, slack time (if you entered a desired arrival time), as well as a countdown timer showing time remaining to destination. It also has a much stronger antenna, quickly picking up signal indoors where the Garmin won't.

The TomTom provides advance notice of upcoming maneuvers, including the turn after the next if there is less than a quarter-mile between turns. It also gives lane-specific information when driving on Interstates, showing which lanes will continue to your destination, and which will divert you to Abilene.

The Bad:

Both provide a digital (on-screen) keyboard for data entry, but the Garmin's is awkwardly given in alphabetical order -- while the TomTom gives a QWERTY keyboard-style interface.

Also, the Garmin will go into a reboot cycle when the source power is turned on (e.g., when starting your car) -- regardless of whether or not the system was powered up. The TomTom, when off, stays off if you turn on your car. When using a different power cable (e.g., my Blackberry's USB cable plugged into a USB-to-12V-cigarette-lighter-adapter), the Garmin enters a 55-second long boot cycle -- a major inconvenience if power is interrupted in any way while in transit.

The TomTom comes with a basic map pre-loaded, but without many "Points of Interest" available. The full map update is a 2GB (yes, GIGAbyte -- or 2,000 Megabyte) download -- so be sure you have high-speed Internet and a couple hours to let it churn. The Garmin also has a 2GB download required for its map update, but the basic load out of the box is ready for navigation.

The Ugly:

Nothing "ugly" observed so far on the TomTom. But the Garmin (even with a map update) is still lacking many local destinations -- even some more than a year old. (Case in point: entering "Buffalo Wild Wings" on my Garmin showed the nearest destination more than 40 miles away in Denver, even though there is one just five miles from our house.)

That's where the TomTom really trumps the Garmin. The TomTom menu screens (of which there are just two, thanks to the larger screen, compared to three for the Garmin) include a "Map Corrections" option -- and the ability to download map corrections made by others. Given the fees charged by these companies for map updates (you get one bundled when you purchase, and the TomTom offers unlimited downloads during the first 60 days), this feature alone is worth choosing the TomTom over the Garmin.

The Verdict:

Hands down, the TomTom is a far superior device. My theory is that Garmin, the first name in GPS units, has taken the same lackadaisical tact that Palm did in the smart-phone market: resting on its laurels, content with its massive market share, it has been overtaken by the upstart Dutch company that went public in 2005 and whose revenues have grown more than 200-fold since 2002.

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Winter Mountainbiking

My neighbor Bob called last night to ask if I'd go on a ride with him this morning. Since it was supposed to be in the 50s today, I quickly agreed.... (The photo above is from the western side of Kipp's Loop Trail, north of Monument, Colorado near Palmer Lake -- a double-track trail with nice views of the Rampart Range and about 400' of vertical in the 9-mile loop.)

Bob's ulterior motive was to find a new geocache on the trail. His GPS did not fail us:

About 100' up the hill from a frozen pond, the geocache was tucked next to a tree trunk. One of the items Bob picked up was a "Travel Bug" -- an identification tag attached to a "hitchhiker" that Bob will deliver to another geocache:


LEGO Taj Mahal, complete!

The Man-Cub finished the LEGO Taj Mahal! All 5,922 pieces (though we lost two -- and were able to figure work-arounds). He built this entirely by himself -- the only assistance he received was in sorting the pieces.

We were also surprised by how few spare pieces were included. 18 pounds of LEGOs, nearly 6,000 total pieces, and just 27 spares (if we count the spare 1x2 we used to make up for the lost clear 1x1). That's less than half of 1%....

Now to figure out where to keep this masterpiece -- and what challenge to tackle next!


Biking to work: Cottonwood Creek Trail


LEGO Taj Mahal, Ph. 4 in Progress

Jarrett is nearly done with the walls of the central building. Then the beams and roof, a couple dozen arches, and he'll be finished with this 5,922-piece monster!



Dino ROAR!

Our good friends the Moliks have a son entered in our local Fox TV station's "Dinosaur Roar Contest". He is amazingly good -- this kid should be doing sound effects in Hollywood!

(If you follow the link above, he is under the name "bizybee96", far right column, about a third of the way down. Voting runs through Friday, Jan. 15th.)

F (Static Electricity) > F (Gravity)


Cheyenne Mountain Brunch

The kids’ gift to us for Christmas was a brunch for two at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort.  The 42° temp felt more like 60, and the food was excellent!



Ready for the pool!


LEGO Taj Mahal, Stages 2 & 3

The four minarets and the central dome are now complete. J-man now has only the central building and its four domes remaining.


Happy New Year!

2010 truly began with a "bang" in Colorado Springs, as we had an excellent view of Pikes Peak and the AdAmAn Club's annual post-ascent fireworks display! The photo above was taken (after some coaching by Greg Nowlin of Nowlin Studios) with Renee's new Canon REBEL XS; shutter speed was set to 30 seconds (!), F-stop at 4, ISO at 400, and her 300mm lens set at maximum focal length.