Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks, you and me

Unlike Berlusconi, Karzai and Merkel, among others, I didn't make it on Wikileaks. If there had been a comment about my true nature, it would probably have been something everyone already knew. Like Sarkozy that is described as an “Emperor with no clothes...”
Well, wait a minute, this becomes interesting; what would have happened if folks like you and me had been pinned down by the U.S. Diplomatic Corps and summarily called for what we really were. For me, they might have said something like: “This jerk thinks he's got big opinions on issues he has no clues about...” perhaps also “he should be working more and skiing less” or some unpleasant barbs along these lines. Now, let's all do some homework; first do a search to verify you aren't mentioned on Wikileaks and if it's indeed the case, send me what you think the unvarnished truth seen by United States might be about you and we'll compile the results on this blog...

Monday, November 29, 2010

Complicated products

We've never been too lucky with our video recording devices; from VHS tapes to DVD, we haven't used those enough to get a full enjoyment of watching videos through them and more often than not, they've all managed to becoming obsolete and inoperable as we failed to fully use them. So when we decided to get a new, state-of-the-art DVD player, I did some research to find myself amidst technical chaos, confusion and sheer ignorance. Everything had transformed itself; products were now “blue-ray,” internet-ready and appeared to do more things than the best Swiss-army knife was ever engineered to accomplish.
In an attempt to gaining some critical knowledge, I first started on the web and got – at best – a fuzzy impression of what my options were. I had to take a trip to Best Buy and talk to some of their techies, but most importantly see, touch and manipulate the real products – before I finally gathered a better understanding of what I was up against. I also read tons of users reviews (that was on the web) and was expecting the very worst when I began unpacking the device and hooking it up to our TV. To my astonishment, it worked! The system miraculously connected to our wireless network and got installed in minutes; it was a breeze! I felt proud of myself for having regained a temporary foothold into the world of technology!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Out of adjustments

In the last months, we have experienced some major technical breakdowns with our electronic devices. It first began with my spouse's computer that couldn't produce any sound whenever she wanted to watch a video on it. I thought the sound-card was gone and was ready to invest into a new one. I then realized that a thumb-wheel that controls the audio volume had been mysteriously turned all the way off. Then our clock radio went out of service and its only after some painstaking re-setting that I resurrected it. Last Thursday, it was our A/V receiver's turn to go belly up. No more radio, no more iPod music or streaming audio. We assumed it had lived it's useful life after 19 years, and it took me a couple of hours, the next day, to figure out what was wrong and finally fix it.

These three incidents all had a common denominator, and it was our beloved grandson Finn! That's right, the little guy loves to tinker with anything electronics and never fails to leave some frustrating tracks for us, the day following his visit, yet we never seem to relate technical breakdowns with Finn's presence. Three is a charm; we'll remember now!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Failure to communicate

Canyons, one of our local resort is badly in need of a refresher course when it comes to good business practices and modern communications. Late summer, when it announced its ski pass program, the resort was boasting about its two brand new high-speed chairlifts and a more streamlined access to its gondola. It also wanted to be seen as the next local alternative to Deer Valley, the resort voted #1 in North America by the readers of Ski Magazine. It wanted to do so because Talisker, its owner, is into luxury real estate and can't stand being perceived as the #3, low-life resort in Park City. So it raised its pass price, bundled it with numerous services season pass holders had no need for, and tried to use “smoke and mirrors” to hoist itself to a higher standard, and hopefully pass Park City Mountain Resort for #2.

It didn't happen that way as it never does because Canyons failed on a few basic business principles. First, it didn't manage customers expectations by announcing a date without being sure it would meet it, then it failed to communicate by letting its pass-holders know first about the delay and then it allowed for two many debate before it came with a remedy to its problem. After all that snafu, Canyons remains well settled in its long-time #3 position in the Park City market and will first to learn about running the resort decently before ascending into the kind of glory it aspires to. Canyons has the best ski mountain, its service remain largely below par, but if you love skiing this is a wonderful place to recreate. Some marketing folks will never understand how to position their product!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Postal Service going down...

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service said it lost $8.5 billion dollars this fiscal year, blaming it on a continuing decline in mail volume. It actually dropped some 3.5 percent, as most of us are paying their bills on-line and only use the phone, email and instant messages to communicate.
The Postal Service is the second employer after Wal-Mart with more than a half million employees and is so labor intensive that its salaries and benefit account of 85% of its total budget. In spite of all that, the USPS keeps on delivering mail and staying open for business on Saturday! If there's a governmental service that should be privatized, this is it, and to help our government made that decision, we won't sent any Holiday Cards this year. Instead, we'll have a video on Youtube and those of our friends who still aren't on line will get a personal phone call from us...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A dubious closed club

Today is Thanksgiving and a very frigid day in Park City. Minus fifteen degree Fahrenheit, early this morning! What is it in degree Celsius? Good question; I just “Googled” it: An impressive minus twenty six! This brings me to today's subject. The metric system is the official system of measurement for all nations in the world except for Burma, Liberia, and the United States. As you can see, our good old USA is in very good company! The metric system was adopted by France in 1791, but was first proposed by John Wilkins, first secretary of the Royal Society of London in 1668. At the time, the Brits didn't think the idea was cool.
I believe that we, Americans, are still resisting the metric wave because it wasn't invented here. Yet, it costs us billions of dollars both in inventory duplication, ineffectiveness of all kinds and lost export sales. I know, we can't afford switching to metric now; instead, we pour billions of dollars monthly that we don't have, prosecuting a “just” war in Afghanistan...

In search of smooth skiing

Want to ski more, improve your form and strain less? Bring smoothness into your skiing. Do as little as you have to, but whatever you do on your skis, do it right, effortlessly and invisibly. Trying hard is exhausting and there's always a better way to execute, but we live in a world of instant-everything. We want to pick up skills quickly, become an all-around skier overnight and can't stand suffering a long and endless learning curve while state-of-the-art equipment, well-groomed slopes and some fast instruction can get us there in a matter of days. Yet, speedy learning always comes at a price; we get the rudiments, we garner the large building blocks, we're ready to fly solo, but we're still missing this magic quiver of “insider-knowledge” that may unlock the doors to stress-free skiing.

The technique from thirty years ago was developed around an equipment that often was crude, generally difficult to harness and not nearly as forgiving as it is now. Before reaching today's levels of excellence, snow grooming often was hit-and-miss and it took countless drills and practice before skiers could become autonomous and able to truly enjoy themselves. The flip side to that drudgery however was that these same skiers, after spending hours learning some grueling basics, became much more aware of what happened under their feet and around their ankles. They were alert to the messages they were receiving from the terrain, knew how to set an edge accordingly and could read the snow and the slope so well that they'd telegraph instantly to their edges what would become cat-like moves over the snow. Anyone who knows skiing well will agree that edge-control still remains the sport's holly grail.

If elevating your skiing to the upper echelon is important to you and if you still have the nagging feeling that you're missing this elusive tiny bit that robs you of a limitless supply of fun, there's probably some room left for fine-tuning your technique and becoming one of these smooth skiers you see floating on the snow and that seem impervious to anything. The beginning of a new season is the perfect moment for deciding to hone those important skills, fine-tune them, finally master that ankle and edge sensitivity that will spring your technique forward in a matter of weeks and let you enjoy it for a whole season. While they're fairly easy to understand, these subtle elements of skiing are extremely difficult to just pick up on your own. They require repeated drills, a perfect model to follow, an attentive outside observer and some highly skilled coaching. Why not then commit to spending your first hours of the winter with a trusted instructor that can share all these precious tips with you and guide you into a entire season of effortless skiing?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Boycott China?

How to bring pressure on China is a big issue and a dumb question at the same time. Our countries are so intertwined that I don't see how our government can exert much influence on the new economic giant. Between currency issues and tacit support for Iran and North Korea, there would be numerous areas where the Asian nation could do much better than it does, but just won't. We should also be vigilant in attempting to reclaim our manufacturing base and – if it's already not too late - prevent our technological leadership to flee there as well.

The only effective solution that I see, is for us, the consumers, to begin initiating a boycott. It will be hard at first, because everything from iPhone to socks are manufactured there, but if we begin thinking about it, if we become aware of where the goods we consume come from, we might be able to wrestling or at the very least, slow the voracious tiger down. Of course, we can't go cold turkey on our gluttonous China diet; It will take a very long time, but we owe to initiate that move sooner than later. I can't help but think that China is the drug dealer and we, Americans, are the junkies...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Grateful to be alive...

The most important thing that can happen to us is to be alive and able to somehow participate in a world populated with another 6.8 billion people. Call it the ultimate social network, the real Facebook friends! We all take that for granted and I do to, but when I make the effort to focus on it, this is by far the element I treasure the most.
This morning, as I woke up, I first made sure I was well alive before I began to process my daily thoughts. Every element in my body was working fine, I was grateful no new pain had emerged and I said to myself, let's make darn sure I make the best out of this brand new day. I have lots to do; clean up my office, begin drawing a holiday postcard, shovel some snow, finish writing a piece that I've been working on for a while and pack a Christmas present I recently completed.

Let me put it this way; if I weren't alive I would really terribly miss all these things that occupy my daily existence. I'd miss being in touch with the rest of the world, I'd miss doing my contribution, whatever it's supposed to be. Right, I think I'd feel terrible, but then I wouldn't, because I would not longer hold a membership in our “planetary club.” This bring me to another thought that we never take really seriously and seldom do something with. If every one of us – I mean the same 6.8 billion folks that share this little ball shared some common-sense vision and pulled in the same direction, we could finally get rid of our corrupt politicians that are only skilled at poisoning our lives. Another good reason to be alive and initiate a wonderful revolution while it's still time!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Owing my livelihood to tourism

That's it; this weekend saw our first, big snowfall of the early winter and everything is now white and ready for another new ski season. As I always say without thinking too much about it, “snow is our bread and butter” and as I thought a little bit deeper than usual about that comment, I came to realize that basically all my life, I have had jobs and made my living more or less directly, through tourism. I've not participated into building a better world, inventing new technologies or contributing significantly to the betterment of the human condition.

I've simply earned a living though channeling fun and entertainment to visiting tourists and sportsmen. Was it a hollow contribution, a waste of my talent, or was it somehow useful? I'm not ready to answer that, but suffice to say that I owe everything I have - and continue to get - to the leisure and tourism industry. The immediate takeaway is that I should be very, very nice to visiting tourists and probably should look for
a way to give back even more to that industry. As for re-inventing myself into something more serious and more useful to society, even when I tried it very hard, I wasn't able to make it click. This must be fate...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Technical mix-up...

Early this week, our cordless phone died on us and we had to purchase a new one. I did some research and focused on the system and the brand that were receiving the highest consumer reviews. I purchased it, brought it home and set it up. All went well and aside from a few differences with our preview system, I was quite satisfied. Later on, I wanted to show my wife how to use the voice mail feature, and more particularly how to retrieve messages and erase them. She told me that she was doing that from her computer.

I said that's impossible; I can't do it, therefore you can't either. I was absolutely certain of what I was saying, was suspecting that my spouse was beginning to “lose it” and by looking at her, I can guarantee that she also felt absolutely the same towards me! We've had voice over IP service for a more than four years now and I had set it up so we'd receive an email notification each time we got a voice message, but had never paid attention that we could listen to them right on the computer. I felt really stupid and for a moment, wondered if I had even missed seeing a possible audio message attached to the email notifying me someone called in our absence. To prevent further escalation, I looked a my wife's computer and realized that she was indeed getting an audio file with her notification.

I then check my machine and couldn't see any audible attachment. It felt like a comedy of errors as neither one of us could figure out who still was “sane” among us. I tried to figure my broadband provider setup but couldn't and had to call its customer service; a technician was nice enough to walk through a not so complicated procedure and that I had messed up when I originally installed my system. Now, if I want, I can also listen to our voice messages right from my computer. We learn something new everyday, don't we?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

The “Man in black” is back!

Since we're now the “dead of the season,” we can't expect to see any big artist in Park City, and last night we felt really fortunate to have a Johnny Cash impersonator performing most of the famous songs of the artist that left us seven years ago, just minutes from our home at the Park City Egyptian Theater. Jackson Cash who is 56 looks the part and has begun his impersonation act in Branson, Missouri, the rock-a-billy heartland. The first portion of the show only involved our guy singing along a soundtrack, which disappointed us a bit, but a three man band appeared during the other half and made up for it. We had a fun time, got our money worth, felt deep sympathy for the singer and decided we were glad we'd never started a career in the showbiz...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Excellent book about the “Stones”

I just finished reading “Life,” by Keith Richards and James Fox . This is an interesting account of the Rolling Stones' life and tribulations seen by one of its original founding members. If you like rock and roll and remember life in the late 60s and early 70s, the 550 pages of this book are another account about these crazy times well worth reading. The book sheds an interesting light on Richards who attempts to prove his key influence on the band's success, tries to hoist himself to Mick Jagger's level, his even more flamboyant and highly visible sidekick, without convincing me entirely, on the accounts of a musical career deeply marked with excessive drug use and countless erratic moves. What's remarkable is that Keith Richards manage to survive the very harsh treatment he imposed upon his body. Quite a statement about the quality of his own genes! A well written book and a page-turner if you appreciate the Rolling Stones and their seemingly endless saga...

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Continuing ed

Is expensive education better than cheap or perhaps free one? Maybe, at least when it involves what we learn beyond secondary school. American colleges are the most expensive in the world, and seem to stay at the very top. Recently, the Brits were up in arms about a meteoric raise in university tuition fees. It very well might be that something that costs us might receive more attention and more respect than the freebies we've learned to love.

If we expand that theory into our daily lives, the best lessons are often the one that cost us in some way; whether it's under the form of time, effort, suffering, creative work, emotional pain or opening our pocket book. These experiences tend to leave both a long-lasting and deeper imprint as they've come from us and often represent a real sacrifice. Which leads me to the next thought that is pretty much a confirmation of the precept “no pain, no gain,” and a life lead in a sea of tranquility probably
won't get us to reaching our full potential. Some hurdles and hardships, here and there, might be the foundation to our continuing education program, whether we are aware of it, or we learn from it - or not.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Pope approves of skiing

Two days ago, our Pope Benedict XVI welcomed a delegation of Italian ski instructors (see video) and told them that they were on the right track with their sport as long as they did not take steroids and made enough turns to control their speed. He also warned all these “turn merchants” not to be too narcissistic, refrain from considering their bodies as material objects and begin “worshiping” them. I think it was a wise advice, because it always is a good idea to pay attention to where you're going while skiing and a little bit of selflessness goes a long way if you don't want to end up wrapped against a tree.
This said, the ski instructors led by Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, himself a certified instructor, gave the pope a nice ski jacket and a pair of skis that looked like they were models from two years ago (he declined to get a pair of “rocker skis” as the papal Thule box couldn't accommodate them and as he himself confessed, “these funny looking boards might cramp my style.”) I'm finally happy that the Holy See finally approves of my favorite sport (I know Jean-Paul II was a bit of ski bum, but he never revealed his passion as overtly as Benedict did this past Monday.) This way, when I ski too much this season, I won't have to feel guilty at all, will find salvation in all of my turns and may see a heavenly path at the end of each one of my schusses.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Want no pain? Vote republican!

It finally dawned on me why the republican and their “tea party” allies did so well at the last mid-term elections, obstruction and brainwashing of white, middle America notwithstanding. You see, these guys have long understood that most American want something for nothing, and above all, feel absolutely no pain at all. From C-section to home-equity loans, sacrifices aren't most Americans' cup of tea. Serving in the military is good for the underclass, and everything will miraculously be solved by the almighty “tax-cut.”

It also helps that our Christian values and support provides some divine "seal of approval" to these voodoo politics that were invented and introduced by the late President Reagan. While in the UK, David Cameron is inflicting suffering on his subjects right now, our US Democrats prefer postponing that pain and passing it on to our kids and grand kids who will only feel the horrendous bite down the road. It's thus pretty understandable that everyone is rallying around the totally painless Republican prescription!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Our true political needs

We all have different views, opinions, philosophies and economic interests to protect. This of course colors our political needs and when faced with two dominant parties, we can only find pieces in their program that will fit our needs. I'm not even talking about the fact that there can be a world of difference between what comes out of the mouth of politicians and what they truly believe and actually fight for. This said, this process of representation isn't working as the product offered to us is merely a gross approximation of our needs. In the consumer products that surrounds us, the match between what's available for us to purchase and our wants and needs has become, in recent times, much closer to our expectations.

Is there a way to get better political representation by forcing politicians to tailor their programs around our real desires instead of their party dogma? I think so, but to achieve that, we need to organize. It's terrible that Apple can create products we fell in love with and that exceed our expectation while the world's second oldest profession is woefully incapable of giving us something remotely closer to what we really need. To get started, try to build your own “program” the way you see it. I'll share mine in a coming blog...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You're sick, that's what you must do...

You go for your annual check-up and while you thought everything was A-Okay, your doc tells you that you have high-blood pressure, too much bad cholesterol and now diabetes. She goes on to prescribe a rather austere and tough regimen. Since you prefer life over death, you reluctantly agree and begin doing it... Now roll back to the beginning of this week, when Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairmen of Barack Obama’s deficit commission, knowing that the “patient” was already in terrible shape, let the country have a peek into their proposal for sweeping tax reforms and spending overhauls to cut the deficit to 2.2% and stabilize the debt at 69% of GDP by 2015.

To me, that news was refreshing and it was the first time that I heard politicians utter something that finally made any good sense, especially after getting an earful of idiotic rhetoric by “tea party” candidates during this mid-term election season. When that information hit the street, the other politicians of all stripes began to shoot holes into the draft proposal. Citizens were also up in arms against the suggestion of doing away with the sacrosanct mortgage interest deductions. Perhaps America carries a secret death wish within itself and would rather be under six-foot than solvent!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My take on Georges Joubert

Early this month, this well-known French ski coach and technician passed away. A controversial figure, he was mostly remembered for “firing” the French ski team in 1973. Alain Lazard, a good friend of mine is writing a story about this incident and has asked me to provide him with some input. Here it is...

It's totally true that back in these days, there was a rift between ski folks raised in the mountains and their urban skiing counterparts, generally more talkative, assertive and a bit more educated. The formers were mostly simple and practical, very to close to nature and tight-lipped. The later wanted to change the world in their own way, shed some enlightenment, show their value and, that way, be finally accepted by the “mountain people.” Jean Vuarnet, Joubert's long-time sidekick was a hybrid as he was partially raised in Morzine, my former stomping ground, but was never fully embraced by the local population that remained suspicious about his “education” and it's only recently that Morzine recognized him when this became a practical promotional opportunity.

Again the “mountaineers” didn't discuss the precepts of the ENSA (École Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme,) they religiously applied the principles they were taught and accepted the dogma pushed on to them. Joubert, on the other hand, was too iconoclastic to be accepted by that group, was left out of the tent and only could throw barbs at what was in France the equivalent of the Vatican to the religion of skiing. Of course, it's too bad that the ENSA failed to engage Joubert; skiing as a whole might have all been much richer for it... Joubert, a keen observer of top skiers, began to write books and bring some theory into a world that had remained quite dogmatic, not just in France, but also in Austria, another highly influential ski culture.

There were some good insights in his analysis based on the observation of champions of the time, but there were also some disconnect. The ever evolving equipment was one of them and another was a teaching method that was lacking a lot and remained spotty compared to the ENSA's little booklet, called “memento du ski Français.” In my opinion, Joubert was onto something, but he never dug far enough to totally unearth a seamless method that could be whole. In that aspect, I still think Joubert contributed a lot, brought a much needed alternative viewpoint but that still fell short of being the “definitive one.” I also know that Joubert was instrumental behind the equipment tests published by the french “Ski” magazine, but don't know the contents and methodology behind them to voice any opinion.

As far as the Val d'Isère events were concerned, like most of those who still debate the decision to fire the entire French squad, I wasn't in the room when Joubert, Vuarnet (his associate,) Martel (the president of the federation) and Mazeaud (the sport minister) announced they would throw the baby and the bathwater. The question remain who tipped the scale? Was it a shared consensus between the four participants, did only one, two or three pulled the trigger, we may never know, but suffice to say that it was a knee-jerk reaction that was the by product of frustration on the part of the two coaches who were dealing with highly opinionated athletes to whom they had failed to “sell” their approach to training. Another great lesson in hasty and irrevocable decisions.

One thing is certain, Georges Joubert wasn't alone in that decision-making process. Also, it's helpful to remember that prior to that assignment Jean Vuarnet had worked in some similar, albeit limited advising capacity, with the Italian “Squadra Azzurra” that was becoming the winning national ski team in the early seventies. I think that in fact, Vuarnet helped more organizing the Italian ski pool than telling Gros, Stricker and Thoeni where they should plant their poles.
This said, I believe that the decision to beheading the entire team was made too quickly, was too strong a medicine and did handicap the French team for decades, if not till these days. The group of four should have preferred suspending of some of the athletes, but I guess today, there's no point in replacing the toothpaste back into the tube... At least that's my two-cent.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Inspire me!

Different situations, feelings and people inspire us in various ways. When I used to travel a lot, I got my most cherished thoughts each time I peeked through the window and saw drifting icebergs on the ocean or a sunrise over some continent. However, most of my guidance and desire to look for something greater than me has come from people. Certain friends I was looking up to, some sport champions and even a few rock stars. To go through the drudgery of life, we need a daily and healthy dose of inspiration like we need food, oxygen and water.

Recently, the person that has caused me to be incredibly uplifted is my friend François Feuz. Each time I chat with him he gives me much more than I'm able to provide him in terms of encouragement, it's beyond mind over matter, it's a stream of positive resolve; things can only get better. He's is right, it's just the rest of us who get cynical, distracted and who are reverting back to a negative thought process. A few days ago, I received an extraordinary series of photos of François on a golf course, rediscovering the feeling of holding an iron in his hands, only a few months after his accident. The caption under the photos simply said: “Why not? In life you always need to have a steadfast belief...” He is so right.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The bird in the flue

If there's a room we hardly ever use in our house, it's the “rec room” located downstairs, next to my office. At the moment, I'm using it to finishing a Holiday project, and last Tuesday, we sensed a strange, foul odor emanating from the fireplace area. It's an enclosed fireplace fired with natural gas. For a while we were wondering about what that odor might be, but soon my wife remembered hearing some strange noises coming from that room a few days before.

Since it was a bit too early for the Santa's annual visit, we came to the conclusion that it might have been a bird trapped in the flue and fighting its way out, as she heard a series of noises like constant wing flapping for a good couple of hours. The problem is that, short of tearing everything apart, there is little that can be done to access the main flue and the space surrounding the fireplace insert. Further, the downstairs fireplace seats a good 33 feet from the top of the chimney.
I climbed on the roof and realized that when we had that gas insert placed in the spring of 2005, the installer had made three incisions in a protection grid to hoist some of the equipment down and had never closed them back down, resulting in letting birds and other creatures access the flue and fall into it. I quickly proceeded to close off the openings to thwart more unauthorized flying or climbing animals entries. As of yesterday, the odor has subsided. That bird must be well-cooked now...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Bush, Seifert and Oprah...

Yesterday, some of the news were rather shocking. I first heard on the radio that Michael Seifert, a Nazi prison guard in the Second World War and believed to have been the "Beast of Bolzano," had died in an Italian hospital. Good riddance! Later in the afternoon, the famous Oprah Winfrey had the dubious idea of inviting George Bush on her show to promote his book. You see, the difference between Bush and Seifert is that the former caused the death of hundred thousand of people by declaring war on Iraq from the comfort of the White House, while the awful Seifert personally torturing and killed between 11 and 17 individuals, as a SS corporal. It seems obvious that hundreds or thousands of Iraqis suffered a fate similar to the Bolzano prisoners. Of course, during the interview, Mr. Bush still asserted that invading Iraq was justified. Oprah, how dumb and corrupt can you be to invite such an individual on your show? Shame on you!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The power of luck

Billionaire Warren Buffet likes to say that luck begins when we're born from a well-to-do mother in a well-to-do country, and there's a lot of truth to that. If one's born is Switzerland instead of Haiti, things are likely to be a lot more pleasant and will go a lot smoother. Then there is the luck dispensed by fate. I don't particularly believe in predestination, but sometimes events occur in very strange ways,
as if they were written into some prescient script and waiting for the protagonist to all be at the right place and the right time before they start to unfold. Call it serendipity, I call it luck. It looked easy to become the Rolling Stones in the 60s and Microsoft in the 80s, but both feats would be impossible to replicate today; so once again, timing is everything and is too, a by-product of Lady Luck's largess.

Then aside from environmental and timing consideration there are plain realities like health. Some of us are born with wonderful genes; others are not so lucky. My brother is one of them. Not only did he began to losing his hearing as a teenager, he then developed severe eyesight problems and today he's his straddled with pulmonary disease. Another good friend of mine has spent about three decades tending to his wife and her MS condition. We never give enough credit and enough thanks to good luck when we're blessed with it...

Monday, November 8, 2010

The equipment quandary

It all started in September; I have been wracking my brain ever since trying to figure out which ski I should get for this snow season. Now, I seem to be running out of time as I still have not figured out which set of boards I should pick. I’m not talking about any specific brand or model; I’m simply wondering about which ski design might best fill my needs for the winter of 2010-2011 and the seasons beyond.

I used to be an early adopter, but have long left that trait to younger and much more adventurous folks. I will only adopt a radically new concept if I have heard and read enough good reviews about it and if the product in question does offer a significant step forward over its predecessors. So here I am, ready to flip a coin between a pair of wide skis with traditional camber and the new, so-called “tip and tail rocker” and also – I need to flip another coin – one of these “full rockers.” Now, I am torn, laminated, exhausted by this camber discussion. Oh boy, do I miss the time when the argument was limited to a sidecut, an underfoot width or whether a ski should have a cap construction or look like a vintage 1970 design!

My problem, I know it, is that I’m one of many skiers that still delude themselves in believing there’s a ski that can do it all; you know, the jack of all trades and master of none. That’s right, I’d like a ski that behaves superbly on groomers, can surprise me positively in 10 inches of new snow and is guaranteed to impress my buddies when we’re flying over bottomless powder. This is enough to paralyze any skier and freeze him in place until the snow melts, spring returns and I don’t want that. Of course, my budget as well as the only space left in the ski rack inside my garage just allows for one single new pair of boards for this winter. I need some form of catalyst or act of God to force me to moving forward, making a choice, doing something…

One of the challenges is also my set of beliefs. Being an “old dog,” I still think that the longer the skis the smoother the experience, more like riding in a Lincoln Continental versus driving a Mini Cooper. This is another limiting element, because while I still can live with a traditional ski up to 186 cm in length, a “rocker” ski would define a much longer board that wouldn’t fit inside my streamlined, cool looking Thule ski box. As unbelievable as this may sounds, the size of my ski box is probably what will settle the battle, make me forgo my craving for innovation and instead force me to carry-on a few more seasons with tradition. I didn’t even have to lose my sanity, my temper or my camber over this. Yeah, I’ll go with a traditional wide ski and 90 mm width underfoot. I’ll console myself by keeping looking forward to some brand new and revolutionary gear some other ski season…

Choosing and keeping a good attitude

Two years ago, I was talking about the book Fish! and how important it was to choose one's (good) attitude. More recently, I was advocating the need for some kind of “tough skin.” Today, I have found a solution to my quest, which in fact is a bridge between the two that takes the form of choosing and keeping a good, and why not great, attitude from the time we get up till the moment we fall asleep.

That sounds awfully simple but like anything that appears basic, it is in fact a very tall order, yet it would seem a reasonable and painless alternative to growing of a bulletproof armor. There are many elements of Taoism in it, and if you know me well, this is my pet philosophy. So here we go, from now on I won't just chose to wear a good attitude for the day, but will keep reminding myself as the day progresses, events wear me down and my mood deteriorates, if someone is intent on pushing my buttons, my good – and soon to be great – attitude will be maintained no matter what...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

These ups and downs that mark our lives

It's now new for me. Even when I had a job and did cost a lot of money to my employer, I had days where I didn't produce much if anything at all. The creative or productive juice, whatever you might want to call it, wasn't flowing. I usually ended up the day with nothing to show for it and not only that, I also felt depressed and profoundly exhausted. I didn't like it, but it happened quite frequently. On the other side of the spectrum there were these highly productive days, often just before a deadline, a professional show or an all-important presentation. Adrenaline was gushing, creativity seemed unstoppable and fatigue was totally nonexistent...

These opposite situations are an illustration of the cyclical nature of our lives. We can't all the time be efficient, creative and enthusiastic.
There should be plenty of room for the ups, the downs and the in-between. We need to come to term with that reality and learn to cherish and appreciate the abyss of the downs as much as we savor the highs from success. One of them never fails to precede the other...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Crazy about printing...

Ben Bernanke loves to print so much that, this week, he couldn't resist but creating even more liquidity. I don't like the idea, because printing more currency means a greater danger for inflation and as the Chairman of the Fed himself admits, he's not too sure it's going to work anyway, but he does it to make every one feels good and make sure his printing machine still works fine. He's repeating his “magical” quantitative easing also know as QE that was key in averting a global financial disaster back in 2008.

Likewise, many financial experts doubt that this new operation, maliciously called QE2 by some, will work as well as the previous one. Not only that, it comes with some nasty bugs inside the package, like pushing assets prices up and the dollar down, shooting commodity prices into the stratosphere and might ignite a surge of inflation that could turn to be very hard to quell. Seasoned airplane pilots know that sometimes, doing nothing is better than tinkering with the stick, but evidently, Mr. Bernanke likes his press so much that he can't leave it alone...

Friday, November 5, 2010

The fine line between optimism and pragmatism

Optimism is a very important state of mind that in my opinion makes the world go round. It also bring a host of bad surprises as this positive state of mind tends to hide all roadblocks, unforeseen problems and negative scenarios that never fail to pop up as most plans unfold.

That's right, every time we set to build a project that is fueled with genuine enthusiasm, obstacles of all kinds have a knack to show up and chip away at what we're about to create. This is why I always temper my optimistic outlook with a good dose of practicality and never fail to keep in mind a “worst-case scenario.” I also set its dimensions low enough so I always end up finishing above its most dismal levels. This way, I never get depressed, my goal is met and my steadfast optimism remains validated....

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tale of two champions

There are champions and champions. In the world of skiing, two of them inspire me more that all combined. Both have won downhill races on the terrifying Streif, in Kitzbühel, Austria, and to do that requires lots of courage, a perfect technique and athletic prowess. But these two aren't only fantastic athletes, they're also top human being and know when to take time off their busy schedule, get out of their way, travel long distances, stop and pay visit to a good friend of theirs that always immensely appreciate their visit. That man who's also a friend of mind has been recovering and working an arduous rehab in a hospital for the past nine month. These exceptional human beings Jean-Claude Killy and Didier Cuche; thanks to both of them for stopping by and cheering our common friend François up!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election fatigue

I'm glad the election is over and in a sense, that the Republicans have reclaimed the House. That will put them in the driver's seat, with hopefully this time a “thinking hat” and the great ideas that should come with it.
President Obama will also have this time to spectacularly re-invent himself and come up with some directions that are both useful and doable. I'm thinking specifically about a tax code reform hinging on the debate about extending Bush tax cuts. There are also the energy and immigration policies that need some serious work, so our President shouldn't have to worry about staying idle, especially if he likes Washington and would want to see his contract renewed in two years.

What's clear in that election saga is that the American electorate has very little patience and that whoever is in charge should pull herds of rabbits out the hat in record time. One year is acceptable, forget about four! As for me, I'll continue do do my tiny, citizen's share of the work and don't even worry about the extra taxes that might befall me. Of the two certainties in life, one's enough to stress about...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Georges Joubert, 1923-2010

Georges Joubert passed away on November 1st in his La Tronche retirement home, near Grenoble, France; he was 87 years old.

Skiing has always played an important role in my life and as I learned the sport and eventually became a French certified ski instructor, I always was deeply attracted by Joubert's research and analysis on ski technique. Compared to the official French skiing dogma that was then spread by the ENSA (École Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme,) his pragmatic approach was based on analytical observation (mostly of champions like Russel, Thoeni or Stenmark) and was based on functionality instead of just form. Everything in the French skiing orthodoxy was based on looking good and executing perfect ski maneuvers, while Joubert was attempting to understand what could work better and the profound reasons for emulating top skiers. I spent more time trying to understand his books than memorizing the “Memento” which was the name of the official ENSA's bible, and, in the process, gained an appreciable understanding of skiing; I also used the English and German versions of his books to learn certain specific ski terms and use them when I had foreign students.

Long before it became fashionable, this great ski theoretician discovered wide-stance skiing, modern mogul technique and brought carving to the mainstream. Joubert also developed methods for ski testing during his long association with a prominent French ski magazine. Socially, Georges Joubert was never known as Mr. Congeniality and was rather famous for butting heads with the French skiing establishment. As of his passing, he's unfortunately mostly remembered for leading the French ski team in the early 70's, along with Jean Vuarnet and firing its top athletes that didn't appreciate their iconoclastic approach. This said, Joubert will remain the unsung hero, but one of the strongest pillars of French skiing...

The Republicans' turn?

If today's election turns out the way pundits and polls are predicting, the House will become Republican and we might catch a glimpse of the new majority's interpretation of job creation. I hope it will be something more original than just keeping George Bush's tax breaks in place till the cows come home, but I don't harbor any illusions.
I've always found that American conservatives have very little imagination, no proven ideas and aren't able to positively surprise us. Look, even our most liberal economists, armed with Nobel prizes have a hard time thinking out of the box.

Since creating employment is job number one, all these experts won't admit that there's now a fierce world competition that is likely to put severe pressure on high-wages, require incredible workforce and knowledge mobility, and still will leave many young people and most older workers out in the cold. This is the new world order. From Malaysia to China and Brazil, everyone craves to become the 21st Century's United States, which will mean even more competition for us and acceptance that we, the Americans, are no longer alone and leading the charge in the world of commerce and industry. This is why, this time, Republicans, in their “job creation efforts,” may begin to realize that the world has changed drastically during the short two years while they were just saying “No” to president Obama.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Growing a tough skin...

One subject that ought to be taught in all schools is how to grow, or develop, a tough skin. That's right, an epidermis that's more like the armor of a rhinoceros than the softer baby surfaces. Life is loaded with tough times, and being resilient as well as being capable to enduring hardship and criticism can make a huge difference in the way we cruise through existence and survive with no apparent adverse effects. My point is that we're not naturally born with that tough carapace and need to train ourselves along the way to become more impervious to bad treatments and specially to demeaning comments and other forms of criticism. I'd say that the biggest obstacle to becoming tough-skinned is the urge to please that too many of us carry in them from their early childhood, when making sure that we'd meet our parents' approval must have been a mandatory token of security at the time. So the key question remain, how do we develop a tough skin?

I don't have any recipe for that form of strengthening, except that each time we are mistreated, demeaned and otherwise made fun of, there is a wonderful opportunity to turn the pain on its head and see that the punishment is only a blow to our feelings but doesn't change a bit the way we truly are inside and of course, the nature of our own intrinsic values. We just need to get over the insult and the words that hurt and transmute them into unadulterated strength. That's right, hang in there, grit your teeth and as any good politician might say: “I approve this message but don't care much about your own approval!”

Halloween: Annual update

Like for the economy, I can now confirm that, based on the number of groups and visitors who came to our house on Halloween night to pick up candies, the recession is officially over. That's right, we've witnessed a small, albeit clear uptick in attendance, and this bodes very well for the future. Costumes were better too, Halloween isn't dead yet and is clearly raising from the dead. Keep it up, ghosts!