Saturday 29 December 2007

How a library should be

I like libraries, and Salt Lake City public library is awesome. The architecture is amazing, the collection is huge and current, and there are two coffee shops inside. The library won the Library Journal's 2006 library of the year award.

Australian libraries should adopt this approach:
  1. Create beautiful building with room for retail stores.
  2. Provide free underground parking and easy access to public transport for quick drop-off/collection of items.
  3. Charge rent for retail spaces to supplement library funds.

Do it right and libraries could be self-sufficient and still free for the public. Oh, and every library should have a coffee shop!

Friday 28 December 2007

$3.70 per second and the ride of a lifetime

I'm packing it. I'm about to take a ride down the Salt Lake City Olympic bobsled track, the fastest bobsled track in the world, and the only one in the world that allows members of the public to ride it. My driver is Pat Brown who, bizarrely, was the coach of the Jamaican bobsled team in Calgary who was played by John Candy in the movie Cool Runnings.

I don't say anything about the movie, because word is the movie was an inaccurate portrayal of Pat, and Disney didn't give him the courtesy of consulting on the character. I really really don't want to piss him off because they have sent thousands of customers down the track, but there was one sled that flipped with members of the public inside, so I want him to be fully concentrating :)

The three paying customers, me and two randoms, pile into the four man sled and Pat slips in last. It is really cramped and I have a new found appreciation for the Olympians who push the sled and quickly pack in four guys with gigantic thighs as it rapidly accelerates down the track. We get a push from the staff and the sled picks up speed as we approach the first turn.

We soon reach our top speed of 79.1 mph (127 km/h) and pull about 4 G's through each turn. It feels like someone is smashing my head into my chest and squishing my stomach, making me feel nauseous. The G's come off as we exit each turn and seem to come back almost instantly as we hit the next turn. The whole time I'm wondering how Pat can concentrate on driving the sled since all my focus is on trying to arch my back and hunch my shoulders to fight the G forces. The sled crashes through 15 turns along the ice, feeling like we are driving over corrugations rather than super slick ice. I'm scared, but less so than bungy jumping or on amusement park rides.

Man, what a ride.

We cover the full Olympic track in 54.4 seconds; for a $200 ride that is $3.70 per second and it was worth every cent. The money goes towards cutting costs for the US bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes who use the track. The track is maintained by hand and the ice is built up using a painstaking manual process that requires constant care, and costs many thousands of dollars per day.

Deer joins US bobsled team

We did a tour of the Olympic Park near Salt Lake City, where the 2002 Olympic bobseld, luge, skeleton, and ski jump events were held. It has an great museum that even includes a long video about Alisa Camplin's win and footage of her practising ski jumping into a dirty brown dam with leeches at home in Australia. Stephen Bradbury also gets a mention in the same video, which made Em and I burst into laughter to the surprise of all the Americans sitting around us!

Our tour guide had plenty of wacky stories, like how he thinks he is the only person in the world to have ridden a tyre inner tube down the almost vertical ski jump landing ramp head first. My favourite was the deer who decided to jump into the bobsled track and ride it all the way to the bottom. The photo is of some guys working on the track who do a massive double take when they almost get knocked over by a deer hurtling down the track! It rode the track all the way to the end where the maintenance guys pushed it out with brooms.

Thursday 27 December 2007

Good snow, but with good snow comes...

Avalanches. Something we don't have to worry about in Australia!

I was riding the chairlift at Alta on Christmas day, wondering why people were letting off massive firecrackers at a ski resort. I soon realised that the explosions echoing off the cliffs were a group of skiers trying to create an avalanche...on purpose. They were part of the avalanche patrol that skis into avalanche-prone areas after big snow falls to detonate explosives to try and trigger an avalanche. When they decide no snow is going to come down they open the run to the public.

This is a very real danger, and YouTube has videos of avalanches at Alta on Mt. Baldy where I was skiing the Ballroom. Unknown to us, a skier actually died at a nearby resort two days before we started skiing while skiing an in-bounds double black. Eeek.

Ski Utah! The greatest snow on earth

Utahns wear their skiing creds on their number plates, and I believe the claim. Utah powder friggin rocks. Alta has been rated the best place in the country for powder and there are some awesome YouTube videos that will give you some idea. We spent two days at Alta and one at Brighton.

At Alta I skied Catherine's area off the supreme lift and Ballroom and West Rustler off Collins. Em skiied the grizzly tow :) At Brighton I mainly skied off Great Western. Alta involved a fair bit of traversing and even some hiking to get to some of the coolest blacks whereas access was easier at Brighton.

Alta has some of the best skiers in the world, and is one of a handful of ski resorts that actually ban snowboarders. This has led Burton to offer $5k for the best video of snowboaders poaching slopes at Alta and other banned resorts!

The snow was amazing, with a big dump on Christmas eve and super cold conditions that kept it good the whole time we were there. Maximums at the lifts were about 10°F (-12°C) on the 25th and 26th, and on the 27th at Brighton the temperature at the bottom of Great Western at 3:30 pm was 0°F (-17.7°C), bearing in mind I was catching the lift to the top of the mountain which was 1995 ft (608 m) higher! Chemical feet and hand warmers kept me cosy, and it was lucky we had brought our own because the ski shop sold their entire supply!

Tuesday 25 December 2007

Don't you people have families?

Was the cry from a skier when he reached the top of a run at Alta and saw the line of people waiting to get first tracks on the newly opened Ballroom area. Skiing Christmas day was a first for Em and I, and we were surprised how many people turned out, although the lift lines were still pretty much non-existent.

The UTA ski bus was the only public transport running, and when we got out on the street at 8 am to catch it the silence was eerie. We had planned ahead for Christmas dinner, because everything except Denny's was closed so we had leftover Italian from Olive Garden in our hotel room. Classy.

Monday 24 December 2007

A good thorough evangelising

We took the compulsory evangelism that was thinly disguised as a tour of The Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). It is an interesting place: the home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the LDS Conference Centre which features a 21,000 seat theatre and rooftop garden complete with multi-storey cascading waterfalls.

The church has done their marketing homework, since all the tours are given by young good looking girls. As we toured we were introduced to about 10 different Australian "sisters", and also ran into the head of the LDS church Gordon Hinckley who was out for a morning walk. The girls giving us the tour got pretty excited.

The temple grounds were lit up with an amazing array of christmas lights, really beautiful in fresh snow.

Tuesday 18 December 2007

My favourite american store names

  • Nordstrom (department store): Sounds like a nerdy kid who got wedgied at school.
  • Fuddruckers (build your own hamburger restaurant): Needs no explanation.

Sunday 16 December 2007

All Christmas. All the time.

We went to see the local Christmas lights display in Columbia (see Em's blog). While we were driving I sought out some Christmas music on the radio. Turns out Baltimore has two radio stations that are 'All Christmas. All the time'. No wonder I can never find any decent music in the entire FM spectrum.

There are also so many people here with FM transmitters in cars for iPods, GPS nav etc. that the excellent national public radio station I listen to often gets drowned out by country music from the gigantic chevy ute driving beside me on the freeway. I'm thinking of engaging in some guerilla FM warfare by tuning my GPS to the same frequency and playing a track that says 'This broadcast has been interrupted because you have terrible taste in music'.

Friday 14 December 2007

First brush with baltimore crime, still alive

My bike got stolen :( It was in our 'secure' parking underneath the apartment and locked with *two* thick cable bike locks, which were only slightly thinner than the cable they were locked to...They used bolt cutters or similar to cut through the locks. I wondered why they hadn't taken any of the other less secured bikes (or Em's) in the garage, but after having a look around I could see they were all pretty crap.

When I reported it to the cops they actually sent an officer over! Whoah! Don't you guys have like hundreds of unsolved murders? Oh well, I appreciate the effort: top marks BPD. Should be covered by insurance, so looks like I'm getting a new bike and it will be living up in the apartment with us!

Monday 10 December 2007

Snow in Baltimore

No 'snow day' unfortunately, but enough for everything to go nuts. We got 4 inches, which meant all the schools closed early, I could go into work late the next day, and all the Americans from the northern states got to laugh at the Marylanders and tell war stories about finding your car in a car park under 6 feet of snow.

I've come to the conclusion that although Americans think our country is scary with the snakes and spiders, it has nothing on the deadly American environment that is snow, ice, elk, deer, cars, and road-rage all mixed up together.

Tim and I were much more excited than any of the Americans, who seemed to see the snow merely as something that stuffed up your commute. I made a snowman on top of Tim's car which survived the drive to the climbing gym :)