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Review: Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Jacket 31 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Reviews, Skiing.
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What is the bomb? This jacket. This jacket is the bomb. I don’t even know what metaphor means, but this jacket is it. If you enjoy being outside at all, ever, in any chilly circumstance, you will enjoy the Mountain Hardwear Alchemy jacket. You will not enjoy lesser, more expensive products.
Here’s the deal: I spent an entire year as a ski bum wearing nothing but the Alchemy and the occasional onesie on the slopes and discovered that this jacket cannot be destroyed. After gloves, boots and pants all failed, it had refused to died. In fact, after  90 days of abuse the thing looks like it just came out of the packaging, save for the tiny (2mm) fray where I greeted a tree mostly with my side. Skis sharp enough to draw blood never left a mark on the Alchemy. No stitch has failed. Whatever this material is, it’s tougher than chain mail.It might even stop a bullet.

But you don’t buy the Alchemy to stop bullets. You buy it to stay warm. And when used to that end, it is worth every single cent. With the correct layering strategy (base, t-shirt, wool shirt, fleece pullover–for me) the Alchemy has proved comfortable when the wind chill drops below -20. Faces freeze at those temperatures, but the jacket keeps going strong. It is absolutely impervious to wind. If, in a gale, you feel the tiniest bit of cold leak through your zipper or a cuff, you are not wearing the Alchemy. The neck a waist cinches and the lined cuffs block any wayward air. On a bike, on the hill, or on the crag, the jacket will keep you warm.

But most of my experience has been on the hill, and there, the Alchemy performs better than even a hard shell. Its flexibility makes it feel like another shirt, important when you know exactly where you’d like to make your next pole plant. Its three external pockets provide easy access to keys/cell phone/chapstick, even when wearing a backpack. Mountain Hardwear, good folks that they are, thought of that. An internal pocket can holster an iPod. The material sheds snow and rain, too, and looks good doing it. If you think you need a hood, think for a minute about the last time you saw anyone–anyone at all–with his hood up on a hard shell. Then forget you were ever concerned.

In fact, only two things should give you pause: the lack of pit zips and the awkwardness of wearing the jacket around town. On the first point, the Alchemy’s breathable, but armpits get hot even when the core is comfortable. Zips would help. On the second, the Alchemy looks good when you’re out pursuing your “active lifestyle,” and that’s fine, but don’t expect to wear it around town much. Pockets accessible with a backpack on, force you to explain that, no, you’re not trying to grab your nipples, when you shove your hands into your pockets for warmth. So if you’re in town wear something else.

If you’re planning on doing anything outdoorsy, though, buy the Alchemy. It’s on sale now at Backcountry.com and it’s the bomb.


Maps is Hilarious 26 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Random.
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From Alphadesigner:

Europe According to the US

Click for larger version

More great maps here. Buy one.

7 Things to Love About Skiing 25 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Skiing.
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Loveland’s lifts started spinning on Sunday. A-Basin opened this morning… in the middle of a blizzard. And this coming weekend, most Denverites will make their first pilgrimage to these white ribbons of death, careening and crashing and generally pleasing Ullr with their displays of dedication. No doubt I will find myself among them. I hope you will, too. To prepare, let’s take a moment together to review what makes skiing great.

1. Ski Movies. Every sport has its movies—women’s baseball even got A League of Their Own—but only in the ski industry is the start of movie season a cultural event. When the first chill arrives in the air and the first snow dusts the peaks, TGR, Matchstick and Warren Miller start rolling out footage featuring the best skiers our generation. The stoke starts building–and for that matter, people start using the word stoke again. And gnar, and all of that. These movies remind us all of what’s ahead, what’s possible.

2. New Skis. Okay, so it’s practically never a good idea to buy new skis at the start of a ski season, but who can deny the pleasure? So many varieties exist, each one an expression of ambition and personality–who we are. We broadcast so much when we we step into our bindings, and although we may tell ourselves otherwise, form matters almost as much as function. No one’s arguing that top sheet graphics are high art, but I’d still like to think my Dynastar Huge Troubles constitute my greatest contribution to the apartment’s aesthetic value.

3. The Gaper. No matter how poorly you ski, someone is always worse. And that someone is a gaper, a singular point of ridicule on the mountain. The gaper makes wedge turns in blue jeans, if he turns at all. He wears a BMX helmet to the bunny slope. On the lift, he wonders aloud why Vail hasn’t groomed away the powder yet. His Real Tree (TM) hunting outfit makes him a roving dealer of disaster in the glades he accidentally entered. The gaper is everywhere, and we can always laugh at his expense, so long as we remain well clear of his destructive path.

4. A-Basin. Arapahoe Basin is skiing. Better mountains exist, with more terrain, steeper steeps and faster lifts. None of them, however, so concentrates the spirit of the sport. And to tell you the truth, I don’t know why that is. Colorado’s true skiers chose A-Basin, the Pallavicini Face, the East Wall and the Beach. And they made them their own. The dogs and the beer run freely while the vacationers stay down the hill at Keystone or bypass Summit entirely, heading for the more well-heeled resorts of Eagle County. Well-heeled in a sense, I guess. I’ve seen scuffles at Vail, lift-line jockeying on a powder day–the kinds of behavior that never appear at A-Basin. No glamour. No glitz. Just skiing.

5. The Ski Bum. He’s young, white and operating your ski lift. Or—wait for it—he’s selling your ski vacation, driving your bus, tuning your skis, serving your dinner, ensuring the effortlessness of your visit. The ski bum is an American icon, plying the boundaries of socially acceptable irresponsibility. Ski bums run ski resorts, many of them sacrificing rewarding careers and sex lives for the opportunity to chase the 100-day season. Honor these idealistic young men. Skiing is their religion, and for it they give up sex. They give up money.  So little of either exists for men in the mountains. Honor the women, too, for putting up with money-starved, sex-crazed men.

6. Apres-ski. Without skiing, apres-ski wouldn’t exist. We’d just have to call it drinking. The apres scene unfolds differently, though, in front of a roaring fire with Irish coffees all around and stories of the day’s successes and disasters. Yard sale in front of a bunch of kids? Re-live it. Huck a 15′ cliff? Remind your friends. The fire crackles and the mugs are re-filled. Another round of stories: the first time you all skied powder, the terrible falls taken under the lift, the near-miss at speed in the trees. Every moment is one of snow falling and lights twinkling and the epic powder days still waiting on the horizon.


Arapaho Basin Opens Monday 23 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Uncategorized.
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From Al's Blog


Granted, I’ll be at work.

Check out the rest of the photos at A-Basin’s blog.

The Problem with Egoism 19 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Philosophy.

If you haven’t checked out the New York Times’ philosophy blog “The Stone”  you ought to. It offers an easy introduction to most of the popular topics you missed if you never took PHIL 101. I bring it up now because if you ever subscribed to Ayn Rand’s “objectivism” or an economist’s theory of “rational self-interest” today’s post on altruism by Judith Lichtenberg ought to give you pause. She lays out the problem here:

The logical lure of egoism is different: the view seems impossible to disprove. No matter how altruistic a person appears to be, it’s possible to conceive of her motive in egoistic terms. On this way of looking at it, the guilt Mr. Autrey [who sacrificed his life to pull someone out of the way of a subway train] would have suffered had he ignored the man on the tracks made risking his life worth the gamble. The doctor who gives up a comfortable life to care for AIDS patients in a remote place does what she wants to do, and therefore gets satisfaction from what only appears to be self-sacrifice. So, it seems, altruism is simply self-interest of a subtle kind.

The impossibility of disproving egoism may sound like a virtue of the theory, but, as philosophers of science know, it’s really a fatal drawback. A theory that purports to tell us something about the world, as egoism does, should be falsifiable. Not false, of course, but capable of being tested and thus proved false. If every state of affairs is compatible with egoism, then egoism doesn’t tell us anything distinctive about how things are.

That’s a good rebuttal to the egoist’s argument, but it stops a bit short of explaining why egoism fails as the basis for ethical theory. In response to the above, the egoist might say, “I agree. People always act selfishly. I was simply explaining how the world works. We cannot act altruistically.” Maybe he’s correct. Maybe the world does work that way, but even if that’s the case, then we find ourselves in need of a way to distinguish between good selfish actions and bad selfish actions. Or worse, between apparently altruistic selfish actions and apparently selfish selfish actions. Nonsense of course.

Selfishness remains the common denominator, so it drops out, and we still find ourselves looking for a theory that allows us to determine right and wrong.  Certainly a gulf exists between the selfish entrepreneur who sees pleasure in helping stamp out malaria in Africa and the selfish executive who cheats his shareholds. How does knowing that each one acts in his own self interest help us here? It doesn’t. Even if you believe egoism holds some descriptive power, it offers no path toward what we ought to do, so it’s a hollow observation indeed.

Visiting Vedauwoo 19 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Travel, Wyoming.
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The Wyoming of Commercials

You might recall from a high school history class that Wyoming is a US state. It’s kinda sorta squarish, and is for the most part large, empty and brown. Detroit has twice as many people, which should make you think about the desirability of living in either place. Even Dick Cheney left. Here in Denver, though, we see a  lot of commercials asking us to visit our northern neighbor, the plea usually following something about how wild Wyoming still is, and how buffalo roam everywhere, except those parts where ranchers don’t want them. Then they get shot–which is also pretty standard fare for Wyoming but still never makes the commercials.

Vedauwoo doesn’t either, and it’s worth a look. Just a couple hours from Denver, it offers a landscape so far removed from Coloradans’ expectations that its existence seems impossible. How could such a place have escaped notice when every other nook and cranny within a hundred-mile radius crawls with hikers? My first guess is that sites like this have something to do with it. That’s the first thing that pops up following a Google search and it looks like mid-90s web vomit. “Land of the earthborn spirit.”  That page does a disservice to this place. Nothing  deserves WordArt.

What Vedauwoo deserves, however, is an accurate depiction of its beauty and intrigue. The rock here, Sherman Granite, congealed deep within the earth 1.4 billion years ago, and 1.33 billion years later, during the uplift that created the Laramie mountains, that rock moved toward the surface, outlasting whatever surrounded it to to form the hoodoos and outcroppings marking the landscape today. It first appears about halfway between Cheyenne and Laramie. The rolling plains give way to forested hills, and the boulders loom over these, almost as if they were placed there by enormous hands. In places, they give the impression that they’ve been stacked like so many alphabet blocks, ready to topple with too strong a gust. But of course, erosion is and always has been the culprit. It’s still working today, and with every passing moment, you’re seeing a different landscape, one just a tiny bit closer to dust and sand. We found a boulder split in half on Sunday. It couldn’t have been long since it fell open.

Try to find it.

The road that winds its way from I-80 discourages travel. At times, the washboard threatens to tear apart the car bolt by bolt. Stick it out, though, and the reward is a campsite unencumbered by fees and crowds. The aspens whisper. A mule deer forages on the boundary between forest and sage. And the granite beckons. Explore.

Or don’t explore. Climb. According to that goofball website, the area features more than 900 named climbs, most of them some of the best wide-crack or “offwidth” routes in the world. So saith the site, anyway. But I’m inclined to believe them. The rock there is grippy if sharp, and any climb takes the climber out of the trees and into the views almost immediately. They probably involve some real puzzles as well. That’s good enough for me.

Whatever you plan to do in Vedauwoo, the allure remains the same: this is not Colorado. This feels somehow more remote and more Western. You can run out of gas between Cheyenne and Laramie if you play your cards wrong, and the guy who’ll pick you up isn’t driving a Subaru, but a Dodge. He’s not wearing a Patagonia fleece, but a cowboy hat. Maybe that’s what those commercials were trying to say: come home to Colorado, but visit Wyoming. Visit Vedauwoo.

At the Ballot Box: Considering Trade-offs on 101, 60 and 61 10 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Economics, Policy.
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Unless you’ve been living under a rock–which, in Colorado, is entirely possible–you’ve heard about Proposition 101 and all those two amendments in the 60s. If any of them passes in November, the nation’s gaze will settle on our state. Someone Massachusetts will spit out his latte and ask “Dude, Colorado. WTF?” Around here, folks are calling the proposed changes the Armageddon amendments, but if you prefer “Ragnarok amendments” or the “amendments of the eschaton,” I doubt anyone would stop you. The evangelicals out the might even support the idea. I guess it’s cool if Colorado brings about the rapture. Anyway, point is that if you live in Colorado, you face a set of proposals that will, if enacted, turn Colorado on its head. I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s a good thing, but I’m hoping to give you a hand in assessing the impacts of each.

Because so much money is at stake here we need to understand taxing and spending and cuts thereto. We need a framework for making decisions.

Spending any time arguing with someone about tax cuts, and you’ll eventually hear the line “Proposal X takes away Y dollars from program Z” followed shortly thereafter with a statement, always said with an air of finality, “And we simply can’t afford to cut that much from program Z.” And on the other side of the argument, you’ll get, “Proposal X returns Y dollars to taxpayers’ pockets.” Both sounds reasonable, hence the finality, but rarely do you hear them addressed together. Let’s take a moment to examine what’s going on.

If we accept the argument that taxes exist in part to pay for government services (and set aside the arguments that they serve redistributive and behavioral purposes as well), then tax money looks largely the same as money spent purchasing anything else. We’re buying roads, education, social services and so forth because we see value in the products. It’s that kind of thinking that passed Amendment 23, mandating higher levels of funding for Colorado schools. Our tax dollars pay for things we believe we need to live in a civil society.

So when considering tax cuts, we can begin drawing analogies to the purchases we might make on our own. If we choose not to spend money on a new car, for instance, we might keep $350 a month to spend on other things we need or enjoy. Same with tax dollars. If we cut taxes, we’ll now have Y dollars left in our pockets to purchase things other than roads, education, etc. That’s the argument the tax cutters make. “More money in our pockets.”

Taking both sides into account, we must decide whether the trade-off makes sense. Maybe our current car is a clunker with no hope for repair. It guzzles gas and threatens to fall apart at every other turn. $350 a month for a new car solves those problems. The same goes for state services. We might all be able put more toward repairs to our houses, for example, but is it worth it to take that money from higher ed? When we take tax revenue from the government we’ll lose certain certain services, as well.

Cutting taxing and spending is a trade-off, not the one-sided disaster (or success) story so often offered against (or in support of) it.

With all that in mind, we ought to consider two factors when making our decisions: 1) the relationship between tax revenue collected and the quality of services provided and 2) the minimum level of services we’re willing to accept.

To illustrate the importance, take a look a these two graphs:



Low impact on service quality



High impact on service quality


In both these graphs, we’re willing to to accept nothing below the same non-zero threshold of service quality. This is the level of service we expect from the government, irrespective of the money we pocket through tax breaks*. In the first graph, however, you’ll see that our return on investment is much lower. More money to government improves government services only slightly. In the second graph, small increases in revenue result in large increases in service quality. To think about this more concretely, try replacing the x-axis with “spending per-pupil” and the y-axis with “test scores.” In the first case, we get relatively little improvement when we spend more money. Maybe it would be better to spend it elsewhere. In the second case, we see enormous gains. Spending more money here gets us a lot.

Bringing this back to the original discussion, we need to consider exactly what we lose when we cut taxes and curtail spending. We need to know how effectively Colorado spends taxpayers’  money. And then, we need to know, based on that relationship between revenue and service quality, whether the cuts proposed via Prop. 101 and Amendments 60 and 61 will take us below the minimums we expect from government. If we think those cuts will take us below our minimum expectations, then we need to oppose them, and if we think they’ll remain above the minimum, then we need to weigh the service lost against our own gains. Not an easy task, but when so much money hangs in the balance, we need to base our decisions on something stronger than whimsy. This provides a framework.

But if all that sounds too time consuming and wonkish, then yes, all the ballot proposal mentioned will cut funding below those minimum expectations eventually and in some cases immediately, depending upon the program. But take the time. Make your own assessment.

* Despite the discussion of trade-offs, sometimes we require a minimum when making decisions. In your own life, you might be choose to live in cheaper and cheaper places so that you can afford to spend money on other things, but at some point you reach a lower bound. You have to live somewhere, so your trade-off becomes one between money and homelessness–not a realistic decision. Same with government: you expect police and fire protection, roads, some form of public education, etc. A minimum exists.

St. Charles Bike Ban Dies a Quiet Death 1 October 2010

Posted by magicdufflepud in Cycling.
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After so much uproar earlier this summer–really, nationwide uproar–over county councilman Joe Brazil’s proposed biking ban in St. Charles County, MO, you’d think more fanfare would surround its death, inevitable though that demise may have been. At any rate, the ban’s been voted down. Unanimously, I might add, which means that the bill’s sponsor himself, Joe Brazil, decided that maybe he’d made a mistake. His ban did go against state law, after all. So it seems road biking will continue on the narrow highways through the rolling hills, and if things remain as they always were, no one will get hurt.

Still, a couple other bills remain.

The first would require cyclists to ride single file, with a mirror, fewer than 20 inches from the white line. Those requirements would exist on only a few roads throughout the county, presumably the same ones up for the biking ban in the original ban bill. Although in theory, such requirements sound reasonable, I can’t imagine how to educate cyclists on exactly where they must be followed, especially for folks out of town who might not even know what the requirements were given that no they mirror nothing else in the US. And, as the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation points out, they even contradict Missouri bike laws while ignoring standard practice like head and tail light requirements. Silly Missouri.

The second, on the other hand, requires cyclists to request permit with the county if they plan to ride in groups of twenty or more on any road. This makes sense. Even at 25mph, a mini-peloton can clog country roads because they stretch several car lengths and prevent easy passing. Working with the county, group ride organizers can likely find ways to accommodate routes each week, so long as the permit process isn’t an attempt to create a de facto ban. A permit process does need to result in approvals from time to time.

Anyway, kudos to the St. Charles County Council for voting down a silly bill. Now comes the time to pass the right one.