Abetone Ski Resort

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

Abetone is literally within sight of our apartment in Tuscany. While it is not more than 15km away as the crow flies, it is a 52km drive that takes a bit more than an hour because it goes through a lot of small towns and up into the mountains (much longer in inclement weather).


We did not try the Mutlipass (a la 5th element) but we did ski all the trails lifts in Val de Luce, which is a US equivalent resort with condos and rental shops and big parking lots and easy lift access about 10km and 20 min further away from us than the first lift that access the greater Abetone ski area.

It is about half the size in terms of lifts and capacity of Megeve, and not nearly as extensively developed. Where Megeve has lots of gondola and acceleration lifts, Abetone is dominated by treadmill acceleration lifts. It is gorgeous, wide-open terrain.


We visited after a long season of heavy snows, but late enough that warm days had made a hard cover and thus skiing on piste was barely distinguishable from off-piste, in fact the piste had more scraped powder.

But the open, forgiving terrain invites exploration and there certainly is plenty of it. While we only spent a half day there (vs. three days in Megeve) we found our own favorite geography and never had to share it with anyone else. The user small compared to Megeve, and infitesimal compared to US resorts: we never had to wait in a lift line and once we cleared the debark we were free of any other skiers even when the schools were operating.

I’m not sure I’d make Abetone an international destination, but as a convenient, local resort, it is far superior to Tahoe on anything but the best days, and only an hour away. If I was in Borgo A.M., I’d make the trip after every fresh snowfall.


Posted at 16:01:22 GMT-0700

Category: GeopostphotoPlacesPositiveReviews

More on the UAL PODS

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

I haven’t tried the iPod interconnect yet, but I will; I need to put some video on the iPod first. I’m not sure why they decided to use a proprietary cable. That was kind of stupid, there’s a USB port in the pod. The proprietary cable takes analog video and audio, but how hard would it to be to build a local decoder for MP3/MP4 content into the pod? Or just build a dock like the table radios at modern Holiday Inn’s that have an iPod dock built in.

The TV system is pretty good. It has a lot of content on it, but the TV shows they have are limited by source (NBC) and while The Office is pretty good, they only have two episodes. Air Canada has a lot more content and a wider variety of sources.

One of the best things Air Canada does is sponsor Canadian film makers and then showcase their work on the in-flight system. UAL should do this too, though internationally. If I was in charge of the UAL in-flight system, I’d offer an annual prize for films: the rules being if you submit, it may be shown on UAL flights as long as UAL wants, maybe $20k for first, $10k for second, $5k for third… for $35k they’d have some entertaining content. Almost every little twiddle on the Air Canada student collection beats anything by NBC.

Another problem, and this drives me nuts everywhere, is that now that there are about 2 standard aspect ratios (4:3 and 16:9) nothing is ever shown in the right one. Everything I see is squished one way or the other. The UAL system does not letterbox, so WTF? Why not blackbar the source? Is it that hard? It’s all transcoded anyway, do the black bars at transcode – they don’t take any space up in the compressed output and it would always play right. No squished faces. It really took away from my enjoyment of the cinematic experience that should have been Max Payne.

I find the lack of temporary storage space in the pods a bit irritating. It sort of sucks to have to put everything in the overhead, especially on takeoff, and then wait until the seatbelt sign is off to get it back, especially as the in-flight system can’t be enabled until a safe altitude is reached as it apparently “interferes” with the nav system. Just like iPods do… of course if the RF leakage from an iPod interfered with the nav system, what on earth are planes doing flying into urban areas with their multi-kilowatt radio and tv transmitters littering the landscape and god forbid airports with the radar sweeping around so that cell phones get knocked off their towers.

But the lie flat seats are very comfortable. This is the first long flight I’ve been on where I got to enjoy them. I was on a 767 from ORD that had the new pods and they were cool, but 4 hours is hardly time to experiment with the new features. Now they’re in 747s and I gather the 777s will be the last to be converted.

Which reminds me, I listened to the wonderful News Quiz podcast on the way and the following were two wonderful gems of many from the recent show:

“You know how the temperature is adjusted for windchill? Surveys should be adjusted for stupidity: surveys say that 1 in 3 Britons think the world was created in the last 10,000 years, but adjusted for stupidity, nobody does.”

“Instructions for sperm donors: on arrival ask for Mr. Hancock.”

Posted at 16:00:31 GMT-0700

Category: PlanesPositiveReviews

Pugeot 207

Sunday, February 22, 2009 

I rented a pugeot 207 in Lyon and drove it over 2,500km through France, Italy, and Switzerland, through blizzards and over single track mountain roads in the alps and dolomites alone and filled to exploding with passengers and luggage. It never failed and from the day I picked it up to up to the day I wistfully dropped it off; I never had even the slightest problem.


The 207 is a fast, sporty car that handles alpine roads with finesse and aplomb. I never squeaked a tire or upset it in the slightest despite making good time on roads mostly frequented by 3 wheelers and 4WD Pandas, but making far better time.

The car was quiet, had a loud, clear stereo, and a very comfortable cabin. Luggage space was compact (inevitably) but adequate and fortuitously sized to carry two large roll-aboard duffel bags. It was not sufficient for four passengers and luggage, but managed three.

It had good manners on snow and ice, even when other vehicles spun out and slid across the road, the 207 managed to pull through and when it couldn’t it was light enough to push. It was admirable on the unpaved roads in the mountains of Tuscany, though the sporting suspension limited ground clearance and thus the available roads to explore.

The configuration I rented had the lesser stereo option which did not include a line-in input. This is a major shortcoming on any modern car, but particularly manifest where radio stations come and go and offer limited selection. There is still value in traveling with an assortment of CDs – at least it could decode MP3 off redbook disks, if not accept an accessory input.

The 207 gets good mileage but has excellent pickup. On the long trek through some of the geographically undifferentiated north of Italy around Parma, the car just naturally drifted toward 200 kph. It was always comfortable at the more standard 130, climbing or descending or though 15km tunnels like Mont Blanc or the one in Switzerland between Italy and Basil.

All in all a very nice upgrade from the Panda I reserved (though Fiat Pandas have their charm too).

Posted at 16:00:25 GMT-0700

Category: GeopostphotoPositiveRental carsReviews

Ski Megeve

Saturday, February 14, 2009 

A business trip took me to the French Alps and I managed to escape to the Mageve ski resort at the (excellent) advice of our sponsor. It’s a beautiful place, the winter counterpart to St. Tropez. It is easy to get to from Geneva, though the GPS took us up a tiny winding back road when we trusted it that wasn’t plowed and definitely was not the approved route. The resort is huge and interconnected with other valleys in the European style. There is a good range of terrain, though nothing too terribly difficult. The crowd tends to be fashionable and right now is the holiday season and in France so it is a bit crowded. Rentals are cheap (25 Euro) and lift tickets are pretty affordable too (35 Euro).


The crowd is generally a bit fashion conscious: in fact, everyone I’ve met thus far is a seasonal employee and also works at St. Tropez. Which also suggests something else: the visitors tend to be a bit fashion conscious and with my old gear and less than fashionable presentation I seem to connect more with the local employees than the other guests. There was a very cool woman from Cote d Ivory I met at a Jazz club, and a hilarious photographer I ran into at a bar/tapas place. He spoke pretty good English and had a hilarious story about why he was there having crashed into his friend and broken his snow board while trying to avoid a tourist that had stopped on the downside of a big mogul (bad idea).


Ski School is a big part of the holiday season and the kids fly down the hill like brightly colored ducks in a row.  Some are pretty advanced and the instructors take them to fairly challenging terrain sometimes leading them off into the woods: au revoir les enfants.

There is wonderful powder in the Cote 2000 lift area, which takes a lot of traversing to get to and even more to get back from – two Poma lifts back, one of which is the longest Poma lift I’ve ever had to ride. Near the summit after what seems like 30 minutes there is a sign “>50% Grade.” Uh oh. Then, right on that grade, the lift stopped for about 10 minutes to clear some injured off the track. Ow My Ass!

Instamapper ski map

In one of the back country areas there was some lovely off piste deep snow. I was cruising along and jumped a small creek. OK, nearly jumped a small creek. The far side was a nice steep rise and got me quite airborne, butt high. I landed flat on my back skis up in the air which engendered screams of tiny laughs from a swarm of little French ski students. Hey, one of their own had just missed the same jump and was retrieving his skis, so I don’t feel too bad.


Ski School Megeve is an English (British) speaking outfit.

Posted at 09:20:54 GMT-0700

Category: photoPlaces

The alps begin.

Monday, February 9, 2009 

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Posted at 02:00:13 GMT-0700

Category: Related Links

UAL 747s haz new pods

Saturday, February 7, 2009 

Very nice. Lie flat, ac, usb, 10BaseT. No place to keep your laptop during takeoff is an oversight.

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There’s a custom interface for to connect an iPod to the entertainment system. The cable runs $30 and connects the audio/video outputs of the iPod to the IFE so you can listen and watch your video on the 17″ monitor. That’s pretty cool, but one can imagine some interesting moments with unedited films or pr0n.

  • The pod should have room to keep your laptop and other stuff at your feet during takeoff so you don’t have to wait for the seatbelt light to turn off.
  • The LED lights behind the seats are cute but useless – it would be better to have a couple of LED’s under the edge of the center table to illuminate a keyboard or magazine unobtrusively.
  • The iPod interface is a cool idea
  • UAL should run a contest like AC does for student films.  The AC shorts are the best things on the IFE.  But Canadians are pretty funny.

eXport Smart Cable In Flight Traveling Companion for iPod

Related only in that it was on my iPod and I heard it on the plane, the always amusing BBC NewsQuiz had a wonderful moment: “Survey results should be adjusted for stupidity. According to a recent survey one in three Britons believes the world is less than 10,000 years old, but adjusted for stupidity nobody does.”

Posted at 15:00:16 GMT-0700

Category: photoPlanesPositiveReviewsTechnologyTravel

Cool Tracking Technology

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 

Instamapper.com was a pretty cool solution (until the end of 2012). Nothing radically novel in concept, but it does pretty much just work and with most devices with a GPS.


It’s a little different from Google Latitude, which has a social aspect (your friends) but no history. Latitude is built into Google Maps Mobile 3.0, so everyone will have this on their phone in a few days. That’ll be weird fur sure.

Amazingly I downloaded this app this morning at 3.0.0, by the time I’d told a friend about it the release was 3.0.1, and the last person I told got 3.0.2. I guess Google is excited about this one.

Posted at 12:30:05 GMT-0700

Category: Cell phonesGeopostMapPlacesTechnology

Rental Ford Escape

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 

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Narrator: In fact, George, Sr. had snuck out of the attic and gone to a local Ford dealership.

Car Salesman: The Bronco’s been discontinued. We’re trying to shed that whole fugitive on the run thing. This is the Escape.

George: What a fun name. May I test drive?

Posted at 05:00:13 GMT-0700

Category: Rental carsTravel

Sync Outlook and Google

Sunday, February 1, 2009 


Google sync just stopped working.  I tried all the suggestions including multiple removal and reinstall and even installing the Gears Calendar (why not) to no avail.  Then I tried Mobile Sync and I am happy again.

Google Calendar Sync.

I’ve used Funambol’s outlook client to sync Outlook on one computer with Mulberry’s Calendar on another as part of a complex web of synchronization involving GCal, ScheduleWorld, Funambol, and GCalDaemon, which pretty much worked.

But I just discovered Google Calendar Sync and just in time as Funambol 7.0.7 did not seem to work with outlook 2007 reliably (probably wacky corporate calendar entries, but whatever).  So I switched to Google Calendar Sync. It obviates ScheduleWorld and intermediates directly between Outlook and GCal.  On the minus side, it only syncs to your primary calendar and my old system would sync to my calendar of choice thanks to ScheduleWorld’s cleverness.  But it does work and it is very fast. It is odd that it doesn’t support multiple calendars though, everything else does.

Posted at 03:36:50 GMT-0700

Category: NegativeReviewsTechnology

DTV transition crash

Sunday, February 1, 2009 

DTV crashes and burns

This is too funny. The FCC sponsored a NASCAR driver to get the message out about the DTV transition on Feb 17 when millions of American’s will suddenly find their TV’s don’t work and all hell will break loose likely causing the collapse of society as we know it. Of course the car crashed in the first race. And the second.

Posted at 02:23:20 GMT-0700

Category: FunnyPolitics