Sunday, March 15, 2015

Film Review: Chef

Streaming Netflix is both a blessing and a curse.  On one hand it makes it easy to watch an endless amount of media.  On the other because of its limited menu (covering only a limited number of top flight films vs. the mail version of Netflix) you end up scouring the internet for "Best .... on Netflix".  Best horror films, best scifi, just "best films", best "new" films, and on and on and on in an attempt to try and find something worth watching...

So when something like Chef ends up on a number of "best of new films on streaming Netflix" you end up trying it.

While Chef isn't a bad film, it doesn't live up to its billing and certainly not its casting.  Here you have Jon Favreau, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Jr.  With a cast like that you would expect a great film with great performances.  Not so.  What you get is a film that will likely show up on TNT or TBS or the like and be run several hundreds of times due to its positive and completely inoffensive nature.  Seriously, this is like a movie you show to kids in fifth grade to put them to sleep on days when you have a substitute teacher.

Its not completely boring--I could watch Sofia Vergara dust a single mantlepiece for two hours and find it entertaining but, the film tries so hard to be positive and carry a "things will be a all right if you just try hard enough and are a good person" that it is sickenly saccharine.  Take that and the fact that the film ties itself in to so many current "trends" like food trucks, cooking being a metaphor for life, etc. that it plays like a hipster's mishmash of ideas--something Favreau who wrote, directed and starred in this film, should be too old for.

A completely forgettable film, if you're on an airplane feel free to take it in.  It won't offend your neighbor and it might put you both to sleep.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

If You Aren't Following Classic J-Tin on Twitter...

You're missing out...



Especially if you have an interest in potentially purchasing a classic piece of Japanese automobilia.  It appears to be a Twitter account that searches Craigslist ads across the country and then posts some of the best and most interesting Japanese vehicles.  I never imagined the variety of vehicles that are still out there waiting to be bought, loved and restored.  The best thing is that since these are from Craigslist you generally aren't talking about $50,000 spotless masterpieces.  These are often rusty, broken, used and most importantly--cheap.

If you like classic Zs, Celicas, Supras, Datsun trucks, old Landcruisers, 35 year old Subarus, etc.  This is a great account to follow.

Classic J-Tin Twitter Profile...

Sunday, March 8, 2015

State of United States Stage Rally for February 2015

So it was a busy month for developments in North American Rally now comprising four separate organizing entries in the US alone...

On the ugly and disappointing side of things is the USRA.  Formed only in '14 and coming out with a number of announcements and expectations early in '15, it has fairly well thrown in the towel for the year.  First off, as stated in last month's report you had the Waste Management Winter Rally which "should" have been one of the USRA's first events with organizers of the event also being party to the new Rally organization but was foiled in this attempt by supposed contractual obligations and remained with Rally America.  Then there was the Matthew Noble-Mark Memorial RallySprint which also should have been an USRA event.  For whatever reason (not disclosed to public by organizer) this event was cancelled outright.  Lastly you then have Denise McMahon (a listed board member of the USRA) out in the Southwest announcing that "The USRA at this time is not ready to put on a rally program but should be able to take over in 2016 of what the Organizers HP RallyGroup has already in place since last year" seeming to indicate that we will not be seeing ANY events put on by the USRA in '15. Denise did announce that her own group, HP Rallygroup LLC, will be putting on the Bilstein Southwest RallyCup series that includes:


Desert Storm Rally - April 11th in Blythe, CA (coefficient 3)
Mendocino Rally - July 18/19th, in Ukiah, CA (status TBD) (coefficient 2/3)
Rally Utah - August 7/8th, in Cedar City, UT (coefficient 2/3)
Arizona Extreme Rally - September 12th, in Kingman, AZ (coeff3)
Seed 9 Rally - November 7th in Jean, NV

This is pretty darn impressive for a small (one woman?) organizing effort, many people struggle to put on a single event, let alone five, and without a National organizing/sanctioning body behind her? Going forward we will replace the USRA with updates on the HP Rallygroup events unless the USRA has anything of note to mention.

USRA grade for the month: F


Then you have the reentry to US Stage Rally of the behemoth that is the SCCA. Exiting stage rally in the early 'oughts for numerous reasons while continuing autocross on dirt for the past decade or so, the SCCA is now officially dipping its toe back in the stage rally waters. Rumored to be happening on a "test" basis for a while, the very first SCCA RallySprint was announced in late February and is to take place at the Team O'Neil facility in New Hampshire. Documents show this to be a two stage (each of some 2.5 miles in length), run multiple times event. Supposed top speeds will reach 70 mph and there will be no cones...this is a real stage rally event presenting all the risks seen at a non-sprint length event, just shortened up a tad. It will be interesting to see just how much mileage is done in the event. The entry cost is under $200 and the # of competitors is to be capped. Additionally, the individuals actually running the event are long time SCCA Rallycross and NEFR Stage Rally contributors who know how to run events pretty well. I have entered the event as is very close to me and at the price its hard to go wrong...as long as we aren't sitting around trying to tech the vehicles all morning it should be OK. I encourage the organizers to not take a real "lunch" break and just build in a brief "service period" as a normal stage rally would have. The absolute minimum amount of down time possible should be built in. I know of no other official SCCA RallySprint events that have been announced yet though I'm sure there will be soon. The SCCA has stated that it will be running RallySprints only in '15 though given most national Rally America events have deep roots in the SCCA, if the USRA isn't pressuring events to move to them in '16, I wouldn't be surprised if the SCCA was...All that said the SCCA doesn't seem to be putting much effort into promoting the RallySprint efforts with no info on it on their site, nothing broken out separately from their RallyCross or RoadRally programs, nothing in their forums...if you weren't keyed into watching websites like Jalopnik or in close contact with SCCA Rallycross staff in the New England, you might not have any idea that such a series of events is coming to fruition.


SCCA grade for the month: B



Rally America saw two events in February. First up was the aforementioned WMWR in Pennsylvania. Though the primary Rally America site provides little to no info on the event, the stand alone web page for the race reveals 14 entries (double the 7 entries seen in '14) with three Open Light Impreza's on the podium, led by Jon Kramer taking the win by a bit over five minutes and a time of 1:15. The event even generated a 7+ minute long video and interview on a Wellsboro, PA news website to be seen here:



Continuing with the "winter theme" after Sno Drift and WMWR Rally America is usually done with the snow but not so this year.  With the deep freeze the US has seen this year, 100 Acre Wood was more a snow/ice rally than the very high speed gravel/dirt it typically is.  The 2014 version of the event included nationally known (even outside the Rally community) racers like Pastrana and Block as well as National level competitors like L'Estage, ACP and Matt Johnson and 25 National entries.  The 2015 version saw growth in the overall number of racers from 50 (25 National, 25 Regional) in '14 to 58 this year, it saw a substantial drop in National entries (from 25 to 17) and an exit of all of the aforementioned names except ACP.  David Sterckx provided David Higgins only competition and finished 5:42 back of the winner.  In equal vehicles and tires a Sterckx/Higgins contest would be a great thing to watch.  Jim Beaver again provided nearly live radio coverage of the event, much as he did at SnoDrift.  Rally-America posted "full" video coverage of SnoDrift about 10 days after the event and had posted very nice daily recaps of the event just after the finish of action each day.  Rally America completed the same nice recaps for 100 Acre Wood as well.  Rally America did generate a bit of negative press for itself when it reversed an earlier decision to grant Bill Caswell's "Build Race Party" photographers media access to the event, likely as a result of comments and articles from BRP asking where the National level competitors have gone and if Rally America is really being run properly--questions anyone with a brain would contemplate.  Because of this action, Caswell revealed that his group had gone unpaid for an extended period of time in '14 after being hired for photo coverage of an event.  Eventually he was paid he stated but not after months of collection efforts and pressure from a third party.  Not exactly the way a racing organization should be run but it continues a long established pattern with Rally America.

Views on YouTube for SnoDrift Rally--17,200
Views on YouTube for 100 Acre Wood--10,600

Facebook Likes--30,556 (up from 29,748 last month)
YouTube Subscribers--10,334 (up from 10,033 last month)
Twitter Subscribers--20,000 (up from 19,700 last month)
Instagram Followers--5,296 (up from 4,246 last month)
Alexa rating of Rally-America.com--146,292 (down from 139,632 last month)

Rally America rating for the month: B



NASA Stage Rally saw one small event happen and picked up a second event as it was announced to be the sanctioning body for the RallySprint test day that was organized in the place of the failed USRA Matthew Noble Marker event.

The California Rally Series Rally School event saw 53 participants looking to learn more about the sport and get some tips from organizers and current drivers/codrivers.

The Washington Test Day #1 was put together in very short order to help accommodate the plans that a number of racers had made but were in danger of going unfulfilled due to the cancellation of the USRA event.  A small turnout was expected in early March as entries are capped for the NASA test day program that was introduced this year.

NASA also released their updated version of their Android Rally Clock app to run on your phone or tablet just as NASA uses on their NOOKs.  Additional NOOK developments included some online training/education on how to use their NOOK timing system via their YouTube channel where they posted a series of videos such as the one below:



NASA Stage Rally staff also attended the North American Motorsports Expo in Charlotte, NC as an outreach to educate/promote the NASA Stage Rally Program and showing off some Stage Rally vehicles to boot.

Facebook Likes--3,031 (up from 2,615 last month)
YouTube Subscribers--238 (up from 232 last month)
Twitter Subscribers--319 (up from 301 last month)
Instagram Followers--458 (up from 378 last month)
Alexa rating of 290,220 (up from 526,968 last month)

NASA Stage Rally rating for the Month: B+


As always, comments are welcome as would be a recap of events/developments of Stage Rally either North or South of the border...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

TV Show Review: Attack on Titan

Finished up watching this series last night.  Its certainly not for everyone.  Its Japanese, its a cartoon, its subtitled, its got naked giants without genitalia eating people.  Its anime which if you don't already know what it is, you probably won't like it.

That said, its about as good as anime gets.  Its weird in all the best ways.  Humanity has been stuck inside three concentric walls since it was almost exterminated some 100 years earlier by these giant "Titans" of which there are different kinds but all of which love to wordlessly eat people--lots of them.  Besides the enormous walls the only thing standing between humanity and extinction are teams of military like individuals who use waist mounted devices to swing from building to building or tree to tree with their reloadable swords to slice the Titans apart.

So you have the classic Japanese anime with lots of people flying through the air showering each other in oceans of blood.  Behind it all are the questions of what exactly are the Titans?  Where do they come from? Why does the royal family get to stay inside the safest circle and get all the resources?  How do we kill more of the Titans?  Why can Eren turn himself INTO a Titan?  Has a Titan who can transform into a human infiltrated the group?

It started off as a manga (comic) in Japan and has quickly spread across the globe with novels, films, video games, etc. with millions of editions in print.  The english subtitled anime series does not carry it all the way through where the manga has gone and leaves much unresolved and unanswered and thus a bit dissapointing that more answers aren't given and so I'm waiting for the collection of episodes (this first "season" was some 25 episodes long).  The translation is fairly good though a bit too literal vs. conversational as is typically the case with anime but there is definitely a bit of info lost in translation and there are gaps in information that leave you asking if you missed an episode or part of an episode that I attribute to the move from Japanese to English.

The series has been a bit controversial in Asia with those in Hong Kong and Taiwan seeing the Titans as stand-ins for invading China and South Korea calling it a reflection of Japan's recent militaristic turn.  I doubt its either but the fact that it has gotten a lot of people all riled up over it shows its now widespread influence.  If you've given things like Akira and Ghost in the Shell a chance in the past and enjoyed them (as I have, though I am only a VERY small anime aficionado, knowing only the largest of titles and series), I would recommend some binge watching to include Attack on Titan for a current look at the top level of work coming out of Japan.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

First World Gadget...

In a world where probably a billion or two people light and heat their hovels by burning yak butter candles and ox dung bricks it says a lot about me that I get such glee at such a simple gadget...but there it is....

The SnapPower SnapRays Guidelight is a brilliantly simple device.  Consisting of little more than your standard plastic outlet cover a couple tabs on the back to contact with the positive and negative terminals on your standard outlet connected to three small, white, LEDs, and a light-sensor the Guidelight replaces your standard outlet cover providing you a built in nightlight that allows you to ditch either the plugin incandescent bulb you likely have in your children's bedrooms and get that outlet back for use or the more expensive and time intensive to install versions that leave no outlets in their place.  Maybe its the Dad/Father/homeowner in me that thinks this is really neat but it just seems so natural an invention and one that screams "cool".

I know...kinda silly to get excited for this...but it is such an elegant and simple design and seems just...well...cool that I grabbed up a bunch and put them in my kids' rooms and elsewhere around the house and now my house is nicely lit with a dim little, comforting, white light in the kitchen, living room, kids bedrooms and upstairs bathroom...Oh, and they're energy efficient too!!!  Spending $12 a piece to replace a .50 cent outlet cover...ahhh...America...

SnapPower Website...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lords of the Atlas -- Icon Raider Film of Triumph Tigers at Mexican 1000



Another well produced film of the race I ran in last year...kept looking to see myself in it, but no...not in there.  Can imagine trying to manhandle big bikes like this in that terrain and heat...Film is well shot and quite clean however.  Worth the brief 20 minute watch for a look at the terrain and race conditions.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Another Death in the Whites...

With every Winter comes a similar story here in New Hampshire.  The death(s) of hikers/climbers attempting to tackle various summits in the White Mountains.  While big events like losses of entire climbing parties on mountains like Rainier, Hood, and others typically make the evening news, the constant drips and drabs of hiker deaths in the Whites is rarely noticed though on a gross number basis, the Whites are likely the deadliest mountain range in the States.

This past week however the death of Kate Matrasova made it as far as being covered in the NY Post, NY Daily News, Bloomberg, and various blogs/websites that cover finance and technology and general gossip due to Matrasova's daytime job as a trader for BNP Paribas, her husband's job as a VP (one of thousands) at JP Morgan Chase and their (reported) million dollar mid-town Manhattan apartment.

Matrasova was attempting a Northern Presidential Range traverse.  She was not attempting the entire traverse but sought to top out on the peaks of Madison, Adams, Jefferson and Washington followed by a descent to the base of the cog railway.  A challenging effort no doubt, especially in Winter but not one that was beyond her skills.  What has not been generally reported on her is her extensive climbing/mountaineering background that includes summits of McKinley, Elbrus, Aconcagua, and Kilimanjaro amongst others and was an avid marathoner leaving her in peak shape.  With her extensive income she also had top of the line gear with her.  Bottom line is that she was more than qualified and competent to make the attempt.

Many will question her choice to make a solo attempt, I generally don't.  I don't have near the experience that she had but I have completed solo winter summits of Washington (NH), Marcy (NY), Greylock (MA), Bear (CT) and Mansfield (VT) as the highest peaks in each of these northeastern states.  I certainly understand the thought of doing these things solo.  No one else to rely on, go at your own pace, no one to irritate you, good or bad its all on your shoulders, etc., etc.  There is something about accomplishing something hard on your own that interests a good number of people, Matrasova was evidently one of them and attempting the Northern Traverse was not outside her capabilities as a solo mountaineer.

Her chosen route was generally conservative.  Taking the Valley Way Trail up to a col in between Madison and Adams was about the easiest route she could have chosen.  If she was trying to bite off more than she could chew she would have chosen the much steeper Kings Ravine Trail or more exposed Howker Ridge Trail.  The path she chose would be amongst the most protected ways to get to the ridgeline.

So that pretty much leaves us with the weather.  Going into the hike weather reports disclosed that peak conditions had temperatures of about -6 F and winds of about 40mph.  Pretty brutal for those used to living in the valleys and plains but near balmy (no joke) for the Presidential Peaks in Winter.  During my Winter climb of Washington the conditions were similar though in my case the sun was shining and no significant changes in weather were forecast.  Encased in a standard mountaineer's bubble of down, Gore-tex, mountaineering boots, crampons, goggles, etc., Matrasova would have been quite comfortable in that weather--likely sweating profusely in fact when faced with strenuous exertions required of climbing in deep snow.  Unfortunately, the forecast was wrong and conditions deteriorated to levels where no one could survive.

Matrasova would have KNOWN that deteriorating conditions were predicted for the area and was likely pressed to complete her climb and return to work (this was a Sunday afterall).  She wouldn't be getting a second chance to do this a day later (though being young, wealthy and having a supportive husband she could certainly have returned in a week or two...)  By the time Mastrova set off her emergency beacon around 3PM the temps had dropped to -21 and the winds increased to 77mph.  She had succeeded in summiting both Madison and Adams but turned back after reaching Adams peak in an attempt to get lower.  She missed her bailout opportunity some 2 hours earlier.  After sumitting Madison she would have had to pass both the Madison Spring Hut AND the Valley Way Trail she had come in on as the direction she chose required retracing the path up to Mt. Madison before continuing on to Adams.  At this point the temps would have already been dropping and the wind picking up.  It would also have been obvious at this point (about 1PM) that there was NO way she was going to complete her traverse.  She had started out at 6AM and some 7+ hours later she had only completed a single peak with an uphill climb the rest of the way (Madison being the lowest of the four peaks she had intended on completing that day).  With the Sun going down around 5PM or so and no mountaineering tent or overnight supplies with her (at least as has been reported) she stood ZERO shot at getting to Washington and down even in the BEST of conditions.  There should have been a single choice on her way back down from Mt. Madison towards the trail she already knew and had traversed earlier that day.  Bail and head down.  She'd have been back on tarmac before the Sun set with ease.

Instead, here is my speculation.  Matrasova was obviously experienced and driven and had succeeded in nearly everything in life having been born in (literally) Siberia and having made it to the top of her profession and the rest of the globe.  If she wasn't going to complete what she had set out for, she'd at least put in a good faith effort, challenge herself and grab one more peak before heading down.  This would, after all, make for good training for the rigors to be demanded of her in her future attempts at Everest and Vinson (looking at her list of summits, completing the 7 Summits was definitely a goal of hers).  At only 1 in the afternoon, she couldn't imagine herself bailing out NOW...that would have been a waste of a day.  So her intent was to push herself a little bit, bag Adams and THEN head down.  Which she completed.

Unfortunately the winds picked up beyond what she had ever experienced and literally blew her off the ridge.  Sometime after she initiated her distress signal the peak winds were recorded to exceed 140 mph.  Well above what it would take to sweep a fit girl of at best, 150 lbs. off her feet and down the mountain.  Her body would be recovered a few hundred feet off the trail, still above treeline but on the lee side of the ridge.  Given the scrapes on her face and removal of her pack she was either blown there or tumbled there, came to a rest and expired after having lost the will or ability to fight.  After having traveled the world, summited peaks in the most remote locations some three or four and five times the height of the Whites where only pressurized jet liners play, pushing on to summit Adams looked like a simple proposition...afterall...no one dies in mountaineering accidents five hours or less from NYC in little podunk New Hampshire right?

It was a simple mistake of hubris.  She shouldn't be vilified or made fun of nor her husband chastised for letting her go alone.  She could have made a better decision and turned back earlier (such is the story of 50% of mountaineering accidents) the other 50% being morons who don't belong up there in the first place.  But she didn't.

My only question here is--what was the delay in getting up Madison in the first place?  Someone so fit, and so experienced, should have FLOWN up her chosen path and gotten there much earlier.  Was the snow deeper than she expected?  Did she have snowshoes?  Did she get lost in the woods BEFORE ever reaching the ridge?  Something slowed her down early on and may have been the driving force behind why she was pushing to summit Adams, despite the deteriorating conditions, blaming herself for a silly error earlier in the day that eliminated any chance of the stated goal of the Northern Presidential Traverse.