A Finland Swede in Bavaria

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Deep Powder Cat-Snowboarding in Baldface, British Columbia

The powder is fantastic. The travel is not. That's the short version of my four-day snowboarding in Canada, together with one old and many new friends at Baldface Lodge.

Let's start with the "fantastic": The snow is dry and light. That's why they call it powder. One might get it at home in Finland or in the Alps, but quicker than one can say "faceplant", someone else has already gone through all of the slope and I would likely end up with one or two good powder runs in a week. That's if I'm lucky.

Myself jumping somewhere in British Columbia, in snow conditions that conform to my new definition of "lucky"

Not so when snowboarding with a caterpillar in British Columbia. At least not in Baldface, which has an area of about 11 km x 11 km (well over 100 square km) without a single piste. The area is reserved for the residents of the Baldface lodge. In our case, we had two groups of about 12 people each. Having 24 people in 100 square km isn't exactly crowded, and the likelihood that you cannot find virgin snow is low even after a dry spell several days long.

And the first day was exactly such a day, with a long dry spell. "Long" means a week or so. All the North Americans in the group put on sad faces, as did Europeans and Asians with previous experience from the Rockies. Myself, I was still in heaven, as even the first day provided more powder than any other skiing / snowboarding day so far in my life. See for yourself how the slopes looked the first day:

Before the second day started, we had got 5-10 cm of snow. And during the day, we got at least as much again. And before the third day, we had perhaps 25-40 cm of powdery snow, adding up on top of what was already there. This meant that some slopes had waist deep snow! Merely going downhill meant that the powder flew up in the face, sometimes hindering the sight. What a perfect reason for "low visibility"!

Here are some powder pictures of PG, Patrik Gustafsson, my friend since we started at Helsinki University of Technology in 1981:

What surprised me was that by far over half of the skiing happened in the woods. The forests are dense. Hint: It's not a good idea to board directly against the trees; going between them is preferrable. And my navigational skills were somewhat impaired by a sore back; lots of running ensured I didn't get tired, but I couldn't use my normal bending techniques as my back protested against most forms of bending. (At least I can't come up with any better excuse for why I was amongst the 17% who fell most frequently in our group of 12). Lesson learned: Do quite a bit of pilates (or some equivalent back strengthening training) or yoga before the next snowboarding trip!

Other learnings:

1. Even though it's cold in Canada (-15 C in our case), one warms up (i) when snowboarding and (ii) when sitting in the relatively warm caterpillar.

2. The only cold time is at the top, outside of the cat.

3. The cat can be used for storage during runs (backpacks, water, tea, sandwiches, cameras).

4. The cat is a very practical vehicle to get from bottom to top. And while we were getting from top to bottom, the cat was nearly invariably faster downhill than us.

5. The group of snowboarders (and two stray skiers) soon became a close-knit team of friends, helping each other make the most of the day.

6. The lodge was luxurious and roomy compared to Alpenhütten in Austria, réfuges in France or rifugios in Italy. And the food was far better than my expectations, which were fairly low due to previous North American culinary experiences, particularly south of the US-Canadian border.

7. Transport to the lodge took 10 min in helicopter from Nelson, BC.

8. The view from the helicopter was good.

9. Some went heli-skiing during the stay. But it would have been wasted on me, as the cat skiing (snowboarding) was more than sufficient fun for me!

10. Transport takes forever. And involves a lot of hassle. But that's another story.

Thank you, Baldface, for a great experience!

Friday, 23 January 2009

First time on North American slopes

Today was my first day of snowboarding in the Rockies. It was also my first time ever on snowy slopes in North America.

It's hardly advisable to draw any general conclusions from such a small sample, but my first impressions comparing Red Mountain to the Alps or Levi (Finland) or Åre (Sweden) are:

  • it was cold in the slopes (but I still haven't got my luggage, so I wasn't properly dressed)

  • a high share of very proficient skiers and snowboarders

  • but very few skiers in total, i.e. nearly empty slopes

  • I caught a day without powder snow (which is rumoured to be much more frequent here than at home in Europe)

  • just one little lodge in the mountain, and very few signs / ads pointing towards it

  • quite old ski lifts, without leg rests

  • little music, low volume, not as much atmosphere as in Europe

  • great slopes, but just like frequently in Europe there could have been more snow

  • the beer is OK (so far tested: Kokanee, Molson Canadian)

The rating of the slopes is in a way "more modest" in Red Mountain. Most of the blue slopes would have been rated red in Europe. Several diamond slopes would have been rated black. And I didn't even go into a double diamond today.

The weather was unusual, in that the temperature rose uphill. I hear this is called an inversion. It has the benefit of clear weather on the top of the mountain, while the bottommost ski lifts are covered in fog (see below).

Friday, 9 January 2009

How to rename WordPress MU blog URLs (blogs.arno.fi/old to blogs.arno.fi/new)

I'm frustrated at spending lots of time on something which should be easy: To rename the URL of a WordPress blog from blogs.yoursite.com/oldname to blogs.yoursite.com/newname. However, I solved it, and this is how I did it. (I'll need to save this, or I will have forgotten it by the time I'll need it again).

It's supposed to be easy. This is what I think should suffice:

  1. Go to wp-admin on the uppermost level of WordPress MU. Pick "Site Admin" in the upper right corner.

  2. Click "Search Blogs" and pick "Edit" of the desired blog, such as "/oldname/"

  3. Change the field "Path" (from "/oldname/" to "/newname/") and press "Update Options"

Glitch 1 (minor): "Fileupload Url" isn't changed

  1. Remedy: Change "/oldname/" to "/newname/" in the "Fileupload Url" field on the same page and press "Update Options" again

Test: The site works. Blogs have moved from from blogs.yoursite.com/oldname to blogs.yoursite.com/newname. Hooray ... not yet.

Glitch 2 (major): Clicking on headers of individual posts leads to empty posts, although the text is there on the top level. (Doing the same with pages works.)

Remedy: Two steps, and I haven't tested doing only one of them.

Step 1: Manually change the guid field

  • Log into MySQL.

  • mysql> use wordpress

  • mysql> select blog_id,path from wp_blogs;

  • Identify the blog_id of the blog in question (in my example: 5)

  • Carefully issue
    UPDATE wp_5_posts SET guid = REPLACE(guid,

    (test a SELECT first first if you're uncertain)

Step 2: Reactivate the permalinks (this is the undocumented voodoo step)

  • In Wordpress, go to "Settings" for the new blog, click "Permalinks" and then without any changes click "Save changes". That's the trick that did it for me!

Glitch 2 (minor): Others still point to your old URLs (and even yourself)

Remedy: Redirect your blog

  • Log in on the server

  • Go to /var/www and the relevant subdirectory where your blog resides, such as /blogs.yoursite.com

  • Open .htaccess

  • Add "Redirect 301 /oldname http://blogs.arno.fi/newname"

Test it -- it worked for me!

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Kaj's Ten New Year Resolutions: On the Irrationality of the Human Mind

Human beings are irrational. People in general behave illogically, sometimes directly against their own self interest. I am no exception. Using glimpses of logical thinking to indoctrinate myself, I assert that I can change my behaviour to alleviate the consequences of my irrationality and sometimes even turn it into an asset. And this self indoctrination I have concentrated into my New Year Resolutions 2009.

Background: These thoughts have matured during several years, and lately in particular reading The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A flight delay of fifteen hours unexpectedly gave me the time to structure the thoughts into this blog entry, which deals both with the private and the professional aspects of life (with a slight bias for the private).

Caution: I write this blog entry out of my free will, despite knowing that some of my opinions aren't shared even by my closest friends. My goal is not to moralise or prescribe how others should lead their lives, but to gather impressions from others, and through comments hopefully gain new insights. Hence, when I write "you", I am talking primarily to myself.

Ten rational consequences of the irrationality of the human mind
Kaj's Ten New Year Resolutions

1. The power of habit is immense: Regularly start a new good habit! Consciously define a desirable new habit. Figure out how you best can convince yourself of going through the pains of starting the habit.

2. Self confidence breeds self confidence: Behave with full confidence! But dare make potential mistakes. You don't learn without taking risks.

3. Identify and live out your personal priorities! How important are friends? Marriage? Children? Family? Relatives? Health? Work? Money? Give consequent priority to the more important over the less important, when it comes to using time, attention and money.

4. Draw the consequences of your priorities: Set quarterly goals also in private life! A quarter is long enough to make long term goals achievable, and short enough for wishful thinking to surface quickly.

5. Focus consciously: Create rituals for rough follow-up of personal quarterly goals each week, and thorough follow-up at the start of next quarter!

6. Make the boring or uncomfortable work bearable or even fun! Make the work into something social (and share the burden). Reward yourself for completed hard phases. Concentrate the most uncomfortable work to one "brave" hour of the day.

7. Ask experts for help! Already the phrasing of the wish gets you started. And incoming answers keep the wheels in motion.

8. Make important matters appear urgent! Create impulses that make you focus on the important: Help delivered by others, promises of partial delivery, meetings, scheduled discussion topics.

9. Aesthetic values are appealing: Surround yourself with beauty, simplicity and order! Disorder, unnecessary items and gadgets (whether old or newly bought) are burdens for the soul. Order your belongings! Throw away! If you buy, then only if it's functional, useful and beautiful.

10. Manage your own mood: Don't let petty details take over your agenda! Consciously break negative thought patters, through raised blood sugar, breaks, fresh air.

Personally, I catch myself daily, not following common sense, acting against my own self interest. Through the introspection needed for this blog entry, I hope to achieve a higher degree of self consciousness.

To exemplify my own irrational behavior, here's somewhat of a personal confession:

  • It happens that I give much too much attention to secondary goals (see item 3).

  • I let my self get carried away by some negative thought (whether work related or private), which appears much smaller after some food or a break, or which I can figure out how to solve while jogging (see item 10).

  • I can attach undue importance to an item of petty cash (saving on the amount of "expensive" freshly squeezed juice), but procrastinate the planning of how to manage my savings or the building of my summer house 8see items 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8).

  • In dark moments, it may feel easier to consume (read a crime novel, browse the web, look at pictures) than to produce (work on an important quarterly goal, write a blog entry, create a photo album) even if procrastinating is short-sighted (see items 1, 6 and 10).

  • Sometimes it's hard to get started, after an interruption, when I'm tired, or with the uncomfortable but necessary work even if I know that it's much easier when I've got going (see items 1, 2, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10).

  • I give way too much attention to the fresh and new (the newest unread email) and too little to the important (see items 1, 7 and 8).

  • What I don't see and experience in practice, doesn't "exist", or gets too little of my attention (see items 7, 8).

In The Black Swan, Nassim Nicholas Taleb describes how the human mind is "misconstructed", resulting in more negative feelings from losing 10.000 euro five times than losing 100.000 euro once. Man wants constant good news, but gets spoiled by higher standards of living, so he can no longer derive joy out of achieved benefits. Human beings have an easier time adjusting to individual big losses than many small. Man gives priority to short-term well-being over long-term well-being: Better a dessert in the stomach right now, than an uncertain six pack in half a year! Extremely rational human beings can go all out and exploit these weaknesses in their neighbours.

Personally, I'm fully occupied with trying to stop cheating myself.


Updated 6 Jan 2008 based on twittering by @guykawasaki: