Spaghetti Westerns

Over the weekend I watched the holy trinity of Spaghetti Westerns: A Fistful Of Dollars, For A Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad And The Ugly.

I'm a sucker for these films and love everything about them. The gritty, macho characters with squinty eyes. The desert locations and ramshackle towns. The wacky musical scores with lots of horns and whistling. The loud overdubbed sound effects (the screaming ricochet bullet is my favorite). The kill-or-be-killed, emotionless violence. The faces (it's obvious Sergio Leone had a thing for unique and extraordinary faces - especially rugged, gnarled, weathered, leathery faces.) The stories of greed.

I know these films are bizarre, but I like them anyway. And I think Leone is a film genius for creating this unique style. Thanks, Sergio, for these great films.

In other news, Les Miserables was pretty good. Hard to believe high school kids could pull off such a big production. Most had good voices and performed well. The young man playing Jean Val Jean sang well and brought energy to the part. The set was simple, but effective - and they threw in some theatrics that worked well. My girls enjoyed it and we've already had a few discussions about it. The biggest negative was not from the production, but the family of 4 kids under 10 behind us that made a lot of noise. I don't know what the parents were thinking bringing such young kids to a 2+ hour play. In spite of the distractions we enjoyed the show.

I got out for a quick ride Saturday. It felt great to get out on the bike, but my fitness has declined significantly. I better get exercising or this Spring will be ugly.

They Should Have Their Own Schools

Pulling into the Burger King drive-thru I laughed when I saw this license plate:

It reads "DENTITE". If that doesn't ring a bell, it's a Seinfeld reference, specifically this scene:

I'm sure the vehicle is owned by a dentist. High marks for humor, Mr. Dentite.

(You may have noticed that the photo was not taken at the drive-thru. I didn't get the camera out fast enough so I had to follow the car to get the shot. That's how dedicated I am to bringing my readers top-quality posts. Or it may mean I'm a stalker. It's a fine line.)

Skiing Fantastic Powder

Saturday I skied nearly knee-high powder at Brighton. It was incredible! I've only skied a dozen or so powder days in my life, and Saturday was one of the best. I'm glad Mark invited me and kept encouraging me because I was pessimistically thinking it would storm heavy all day making skiing miserable. While it did snow the whole time, fortunately it was light enough to keep the skiing fun.

Our first run was down the ridge to the north of the Great Western lift. Mark had heard that this area was closed Friday so it had two storms worth of powder buildup. I took an easier run and found plenty of good powder. I love that feeling of floating, like skiing a cloud.

Near the end I forgot to lean back when going from the groomed run into fresh powder and I went over the front, poof, into the soft snow. This would be the first of several falls for the day.

I don't ski much and this was my first downhill skiing this winter, plus it had been years since I last skied powder. Not withstanding my lack of skills, I was having a great time!

On the second run a guy from Star Photo was taking pictures of skiers and he got a few shots of me which I compiled into this animation:

(Am I a weasel for grabbing these image and not buying a photo? Probably. But none of the photos look very good because it was snowing and overcast so the light was flat and gray. That's my lame excuse. But, hey, they got a link from me, that's something. Yeah, still lame.)

By the third run everything was pretty tracked out, but the skiing was still fun. Usually I don't like skiing chop because the tracks and piles throw me around and I feel out of control and struggle to make turns. But this snow was so light I could plow through the chop with not much additional effort. Yeah!

We took several runs on the east mountain and then went over to Milly. I liked the more varied terrain, but I didn't ski it very well (I was also getting tired). We took a few runs along the west boundary and then a few down the center ridge.

On the second to last run I had a nice crash. I had just gone off a nice little bump and landed gently, given the soft snow. So when I saw another, larger ramp I was game. For greater effect, I created a graphic to illustrate the sequence.

(I've been wanting an excuse to make more graphics, like Alex uses so well. I created this one with Inkscape, a free vector drawing program.)

OK, first, the jump wasn't that steep - I've compressed the terrain horizontally to get the features in, but you get the gist, right?

The jump looked tame from a distance, but as I got closer it seemed to grow. It was maybe 2 feet tall with a pretty nice ramp - not too abrupt. But the biggest problem was the landing - it was a bowl. And by the time I could see the landing was bad, it was too late to abort. (I guess I could have fallen over, but hey, I might pull it off, right?)

Sure enough I land on the up-slope on the far side of the bowl and get thrown forward. As I'm going over the front my brain assessed the situation and in that instant presented me with two options: either spring forward and take a face-plant, or tuck and land on my head and roll. I chose the second option.

As my skis splayed out to the sides, the top of my head planted into the snow and provided the pivot from which my body rolled over the top.

I was sure my neck was going to be messed up, but somehow it was spared. But I did hurt my ribs just below my left breast (no moob jokes please). The tightest bending occurred here and it munched my ribs. I got the wind knocked out of me a little bit so when the two boarders who stopped to check on me asked if I was OK, it took some effort to respond.

I untangled myself and my skis (I didn't come out of them) and headed down the slope to meet Mark at the lift. Fortunately I could still plant my poles and breath OK with my tweaked ribs (but sniffing in hurts).

We took one more run and I could feel the ribs getting more sore. Even before my crash Mark was talking about the wisdom of going home before getting really tired and sloppy (too late!), so it was OK to call it a day. I think we skied 4 hours.

Where do two tired and hungry skiers go to eat? The Cotton Bottom. This dive of a bar serves up the best burger I've ever tasted. It's a garlic burger with cheese, lettuce and tomato on a french bread bun. It took a while to get our burgers, but all was forgiven from the first bite. Warning: These burgers have a LOT of garlic and my breath smelled of it for two days, but the taste is so worth it. Just don't have one of these burgers before a job interview / date / sales call / etc.

Profound Misery

The readers of this blog are mostly male, so I'm unsure how this is going to go over. I'll get right to it: How do you feel about broadway shows?

Before I had seen one I felt they were for women and artsy people. There's some truth to that, but one show changed my mind, big time.

Les Miserables

Before Les Miserables I had seen two other shows: The King and I (with Yule Brynner {RIP} no less), and Pump Boys And Dinettes (a smaller production running in Chicago at the time). Both of these told a good story, were well acted, the songs were fun, and the costumes and sets were visually interesting. I softened my negative opinion - these shows were pretty good.

Years later I'd heard raves about how good Les Miserables was, so when a traveling production came to Salt Lake City Jolene and I got tickets and went.

Wow. I was blown away. The story features characters (and the challenges they face) most people can relate to. There's a lot in this show: difficult choices, love, loyalty, kindness, cruelty, revolution, justice, mercy, and more. But what takes this production over the top is the music. The songs are stirring, tapping into the power of music to convey not just information but emotion. (Side note: Jolene read the book {abridged} and really liked it.)

I've seen Les Miserables 4 times now and each has been a good experience. I know it well enough now that it doesn't pack as strong of a punch as it did at first, but I still enjoy it.

You may wonder why I'm writing this post now. It's because the Pleasant Grove High School drama department will be performing a moderately shortened version of Les Miserables this week and next. And we're going as a family (well, not Kade - there's no way it would hold his attention for 2+ hours). I'm picking up the tickets (only $7 for adults) tomorrow and we'll be in our seats next Friday. Here's a Daily Herald article about it.

My boss saw this high school version of Les Miserables at Riverton High School last year and he reported it was excellent. Pleasant Grove is a smaller high school, but I have hopes they will be able to pull off a good production.

Now here's the rest of my history with broadway shows: After Les Miserables I was thinking I had broadway shows all wrong so a few years later we bought tickets for Les Miserables and A Chorus Line. Les Miserables was excellent, but A Chorus Line was, well, not my cup of tea. It was performed well, but the story was simplistic and uninspiring.

More years later we saw Phantom Of The Opera in San Fransisco. The music was good, and the story was more complex, but it was too weird for me. I almost fell asleep.

On TV I watched Cats. Who hasn't heard of Cats? So I thought it would be good. Not. It was awful artsy claptrap. People in cat costumes slinking around the stage purring and meowing and talking about cat stuff. The only semi-good thing was the song Memories (watch it here, if you dare). It took all my will power to make it through the whole thing - I only did this so I could unequivocally say I hated it (so no Cats lover could accuse me of disliking it without seeing all of it). That was painful. I shuddered just now thinking about it.

So that's my broadway show history. The first two got me interested, Les Miserables blew me away, then the rest taught me they aren't all good.

I've heard people rave about Rent, Wicked, Lion King, etc. but I don't think I'd enjoy any of those as they look too pretentious and artsy for me.

So go see Les Miserables some time.

Orem Bike Input Meeting

Update: The presentation with survey results is available as a PDF.

Jolene and I attended the Orem city bicycle and pedestrian input meeting tonight.

Pretty good turnout - around 100 people. Predominately cyclists. Other cyclists attending (that I saw/recognized): Kieth (from team Mad Dog), DJ (a friend I used to work with), and Kerry (of the URMB club).

For the first part of the meeting the Orem city guys showed a slideshow that was part information and part survey. Some info about, say bike lanes, was given and then we were asked to rank how we felt about it. They handed out wireless remotes so we could press a button and submit our vote. The results were then tabulated immediately and displayed as part of the presentation. It was pretty slick. (One complaint: The presenter could, and should, have been more unbiased - it was obvious what options he liked and didn't like.)

Next the people at each table looked at two maps (one for pedestrian, the other for bicycles) and made notes about what roads, intersections, paths, etc. are good, OK or bad. Here are a few items we noted:

  • The BST is awesome
  • University Avenue is enjoyable to bike
  • 800 North near Provo Canyon is dangerous for bikes
  • Geneva Road has a thin shoulder and high speed traffic
Each table sent up a representative to give their top 3 items. There were lots of good suggestions and comments.

Now the Orem city guys will review the input and give their recommendations for what should be done to improve cycling and walking in the city. And the public will have an opportunity to comment on the recommendations.

The end goal of this process is a master plan for cycling and walking in the city. I was impressed with the work they are putting into this effort and the amount of public input being sought. Watch the WalkBikeOrem website for updates and more info.

P.S. The survey is still up if you want to weigh in.

Help Orem Be Bike Friendly

Orem city is working on a bicycle and pedestrian plan and they want input - if you cycle or walk in Orem they want to hear from you.

At the very least fill out the on-line survey.

This Tuesday they will be having a charrette (interactive meeting) open to all. According to an article in The Daily Herald, there will be a presentation on bike and trail improvements with audience feedback (I think you'll have a remote to select your response to questions/proposals). Then participants will break into small groups to review a section of the city and indicate on the map the preferred bike/walking routes and suggest improvements.

The meeting sounds a bit odd, but I ride a lot in Orem so I'm going to the meeting. The bike/pedestrian plan that results will influence policies and projects in Orem for years so I think it's worth a few hours of my time.

Bicycle / Pedestrian Planning Meeting

7 pm January 19th (Tuesday)

Orem Senior Center - 93 North 400 East

Audio Dunces & Morrie

Taking ques from dug (1,2,3,4) and The Junkie (1,2,3), I decided to try an audiobook.

Year ago we listened to a Harry Potter audiobook (yes, on cassette) on a family drive to California and we all enjoyed it. But this audiobook would be for my 25 minute commute.

I selected A Confederacy Of Dunces. This book has been on my list for a while, and when I saw it was available on CD at my local (Orem) library, I checked it out.

I used to listen to The End in the morning (the Chunga show is fairly amusing) and scan stations for good songs on the way home. But I grew tired of this routine (and the lack-luster music these days).

Then I switched to NPR. It was a good change. A wide breadth of news topics, good reporting, intriguing and off-beat stories - interesting content and less junk.

Then came Hurricane Katrina and NPR dutifully covered this unarguably big story. And they kept covering it after all the other news outlets had moved on - OK, I admire NPR for sticking with an important story. Then they continued with way too many Katrina stories for way too long - when one would come on I'd look incredulously at the radio and say (sometimes out loud) "More Katrina? Are you kidding me? There are other things going on in the world." My favorite listener comment during this time was: "All Things Considered? More like All Things Katrina Considered."

Then NPR covered the Financial Crisis ad nauseum, and my NPR love affair was over. I still like NPR, I just can't count on it for day-in, day-out listening. I need to mix it up.

Which bring me back to the audiobook. It was a new experience, so that alone made it interesting. A Confederacy Of Dunces is a good story with inventively odd characters (Ignatius J. Riley is a hypocritical blow-hard that is surprisingly entertaining as the lead). I liked how new characters were introduced slowly and skillfully woven in. The writing is excellent. And the narrator, Barrett Whitener, does a good job bringing the characters to life with a variety of voices - it was like listening to a one-man play.

Overall the experience was positive, but there were some problems:

With a book I control the pace - I can read slow to really soak in the words, or read faster to keep the story moving, or skim to get the general gist through parts I don't like. With an audiobook the pace is set. Sure, I would rewind if I'd been distracted or wanted to hear a part again, but this disturbs the flow of the story more than reading at a varied pace, at least for me it did.

With the audiobook my retention was lower. With a book I'm seeing the words and saying them in my mind and this double exposure makes the words and ideas more memorable. With only listening they didn't stick as well (and I'm at least slightly distracted by driving). Perhaps others don't have this problem, but I do.

So for me I'm going to select audiobooks that are good stories with lighter writing. Several times listening to A Confederacy Of Dunces I wished I were reading it instead. I wanted to soak in the skillful writing (I'm considering reading the book to see how much I missed). Fortunately I think there are plenty of good books I would enjoy as audiobooks. I just need to use this experience to inform my selection.

I also finished reading Tuesdays With Morrie. This is a short book with a big punch. Here's the bottom line: Can we learn something from an exceptional, self-actualized person who focused on connecting with people throughout his life and is now confronting his imminent death with dignity and a desire to teach us what he's learning from the process? I did.

I'm now reading Quantum Zoo, a book about quantum physics and relativity. This will not be a quick read.

Eneloop - A Better Battery

A year ago I learned about Sanyo Eneloop batteries and bought a starter pack. Eneloops are now my prefered battery for most uses.

Eneloops are improved Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) rechargeable batteries with these key benefits:

  • Hold a charge longer (low self discharge)
  • Can be recharged more times
  • Better low temperature performance
  • Can be used right out of the package (pre-charged)
The most important feature of Eneloops for me is how long they hold a charge - they seem more like Alkaline batteries in this regard. I have lots of NiMH batteries and they work well for many uses, but for devices I use sporadically I was often frustrated to find the NiMH batteries had lost their charge between the last use. For digital cameras I have to recharge the NiMH batteries once a month, even if I don't take many pictures. The Eneloops can often go 2 months or more. The Eneloops also work great in my GPS - I don't use it often, but when I do the Eneloops usually have enough charge for the job, whereas most times the NiMH batteries are dead. So even though Eneloops have less rated capacity than current NiMH batteries (2000 mAh versus 2700 mAh), the lower rate of self discharge (95% charge after 6 months for Eneloop versus 75% or worse for NiMH) means I get more use out of the Eneloops and fewer times finding dead batteries.

The Eneloops charge just fine in my NiMH battery charger. If you don't already have a charger there are bundles with a charger, and even a USB charger.

As my NiMH batteries wear out I've been replacing them with Eneloops. I have both AA and AAA Eneloops. Other companies make batteries like Eneloops: Rayovac Hybrid, Kodak Pre-Charged, and Duracell Pre Charged. I like the distinct white package of the Eneloop so I don't mistake them for Alkalines or standard NiMHs.

I bought my starter pack at Costco (I think they still stock them). Eneloops can be hard to find around town, but are widely available for purchase on-line (Amazon has them).

I still use a lot of non-rechargeable Alkaline batteries. They last a long time and work great in devices that don't use much power or are seldom used, like remotes, emergency lights, toys, etc.

Occasionally I use some lithium non-rechargeable batteries (expensive!) when I need maximum run-time and/or best performance in low temperatures.


Holiday Hustle and Chill

We did a lot over the holidays, but when we weren't doing something we just chilled. It made for a nice mix, although it also meant I didn't get on the computer much. To be honest, It's been a nice break.

Here's the synopsis: play with Christmas toys, one day at work, 70th birthday party for my Dad, mount the new TV to the wall, watch TV in hi-def (wow!), installed a new video card and tuner in the media center PC, ice skating with my wife's family, 3 days with the family and friends in the mountains, snowshoed twice, cross country skied 3 times, played lots of games, ate lots of food, indoor rock climbing with my friend and daughter Jamie.

Rather than ramble on, a few highlight photos:

Christmas morning. The big TV behind the tree, the new Hi-Fi frame by the door.

Ice skating with the family. Instead of holding onto the wall the whole time, this year Kade was out on open ice the whole time.

Me XC skiing through some trees.

The kids playing the shock game - the Wilkey boys and Jamie, with Kade watching.

Jolene and I out snowshoeing.

Kade enjoys throwing snow at me.

Is this mixed martial arts?

What I didn't do was work on the new bike. Just never seemed to have a block of time to even get started. Hopefully I'll get going on it this week.