Saturday, January 20, 2007

Gear Testing

I've been doing a fair amount of that lately despite my injured elbow. I can still get out for a quick whack on the icicles, so I've been testing new tools, screws and some clothing also, good fun. It's fun to work on gear that I really care about, and sometimes make a real difference to future product. There are few things more satisfying than to be using a commercial product and see one of my little tweaks in action on it, whether it's a feature or a clean piece of material lacking a "feature." Probably the biggest battle in product testing for me was learning that what I want, what Joe and Jill consumer want, and what the designer wants just won't mesh all that well a lot of the time. We as consumers often have a tendency to look at a product and think, "Is this the best gear?" when the real questions are, "What was this product designed to do?" and "What do I do?" Clothing and climbing gear is slowly becoming more and more specialized; I was looking through an ancient catalog the other day and there were about three pieces in the "Jackets" section, and about four types of carabiners. You know what the average shop looks like now, and likely own a jacket for light aerobic activities, one for pure rain, one for dog walking, etc. The point of this is that we have to understand our own needs pretty well in order to buy anything appropriate. When I'm product testing I almost have to act--today I'll be a grade 4 ice climber with a swing based on climbing four days a year. Tomorrow I'll be a grade 6 ice climber with access to pro deals, the day after a novice looking for that one harness that will do everything well enough. The funny thing is that we as testers and manufacturers become so wrapped up in our line segmentation that we can forget that the consumer often isn't as educated as we are, or to put it another way, we're worrying about tenths of grams on an ice screw hanger when the consumer is thinking, "Ah, it costs a bit more and the teeth look pretty sharp." And, just as women bought men's boots for years because there was a perception that the women's footwear was detuned (it often was back in the day), no consumer wants to buy the "low end" gear even if it will work better for them as well as cost less. I often have novice ice climers coveting a tool like the Fusion or another high pick angle tool, which will be a nightmare for them to climb ice with. High pick-angle tools are great weapons for hard mixed climbs or in very experienced hands, but the Reactor will climb pure ice a hell of a let better, cost less and make the whole experience more fun for the vast majority of climbers. So somehow consumers have to figure out what the designer made the product to do, and match that with what the consumer will actually do with it. I think one of the greatest improvments in design and sales could come not from more advanced technology, but better educational information on the packaging. Computer manufacturers are the worst at this--the average Dell ad has about 20 numbers in it, when what's really needed is more information on what the XX375B7 graphics card does, and who might want to buy it. A gamer might need that power, but Stewart who writes emails and surfs for Brazilian Tree Frog photos likely won't... His graphics card money could be better spent on an extra inch of monitor space. Apple is currently doing well because they seem better at matching their products with what users actually do rather than focusing on the materials in the box (and they charge more for often less). In clothing we tend to focus on the ideal of the high end, but wrecking a $600 super-light alpine jacket while tree skiing in a resort is a waste of money and likely aggravating to the consumer who maxed his credit card to buy it. The over-built, heavier jacket would do a better job even though it costs less. But manufacturers keep selling the high end, and we as consumers keep lusting after it without understanding what the designer was thinking or what we actually need our gear to do. I read internet reviews of gear a lot (both outdoor and other categories), they can be useful, but when I read an epinions review of a Ford F 350 diesel truck where the new owner is pissed because it won't fit into his office job parking space so the truck "sucks" I feel a familiar flash of sympathy both for the owner and for the truck's designer. Any successful gear purchase, whether outdoor or computers, starts with understanding what the product was designed to do and then what the purchaser is actually going to do with it. If someone were to start a really good web site devoted to very intensive gear reviews based on education rather than purely how "performance" oriented the gear was I think it could be really successful.

Right, off to test some more protos, today I get to be a financially empowered individual who wants the "statement" equipment. But first I'm gonna chop some ice off my sidewalk with the BD proto ice tool and change my van's oil in the new Arc'teryx jacket, grin, gotta make sure the dirt bag with a pro deal form will like it too.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Religion and "Wow!"

Thanks for the comments and emails on the Religion topic. I'm getting ready for the show tonight plus some other stuff, but wanted to note that looking for spiritual answers and through that mental exercise feeling connected to the world is something I am very much interested in. Mocking someone else's attempt at spirituality is often a defense mechanism for one's own beliefs rather than an attempt at understanding and sharing the joy of being alive together as humans. I've been reading more Buddhist writing lately, a big part of that is questioning and thinking rather than trying to work in absolutes. Absolutes are limiting and not much fun; thinking and growing mentally are far more engaging, at least when I stop being a lazy bastard and work at it...

Anyhow, I know that there are powerful experiences in life that resonate more deeply with us as individuals than others. Those moments where we all go, sometimes silently and sometimes at the top of our lungs, "Wow!" Whether we attribute those moments to God, the Flying Spaghetti Monster (there's actually a religion on that too, Google it...) or just our visceral response to the amazing world we live in is perhaps less relevant than feeling the moments move us. The "grit" of daily life sometimes wears away at me, those moments are what help rebuild at least me. Some friends of mine just sent some photos of climbing in the Austrian mountains this morning, I just know they were having some great "Wow!" moments. May we all have more of these.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Slideshow in Calgary Thursday night, Religion

I'm doing a show Thursday (tomorow night) in Calgary as a benefit for the Canadian World Championship Paragliding Team. It's turned into a really well-organized event, 20 foot screen etc., fired up to see many friends there and meet some new people too! Some beer will be consumed, it's at Shanks in the Northwest (link to map).

Religion/faith: I've had a bunch of great email responses in response to the recent fatalities in climbing, thanks, these responses mean a lot to me. Several of them have been from various Christian viewpoints; I'm all for anyone practicing any sort of religion that doesn't damage other people. Several of my friends are fairly devout, which makes long drives more fun as we always have a "default" conversation topic that can eat up the road. I'm pretty sure most religions are fabricated without divine intervention, while most of those who believe seem positive that God had a role. I find this somewhat humorous, as the followers of each sect are all certain that the others, along with me, are doomed. From this alone I've come to the conclusion that faith is something I have little faith in. Maybe I'm just a heartless skeptic, but I have the same problem with a lot of "new age" stuff (Iridology, homeopathy, aura adjustment, there's a long list of stuff people have faith in without much in the way of evidence). I do think a more wholistic viewpoint toward physical and mental health is called for (fighting heart disease in its latter stages misses the point of why we get heart disease in the first place for example), but that's a relatively simple cause and effect relationship (whether genes or McDonalds). Anyhow, I found a great collection of quotes about religion and faith on a Craigslist site, pasted 'em here for your amusement. As always, I welcome any conversation pro or con about life, the most interesting sport of all.

"It appears to me (whether rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against christianity and theism produce hardly any effect on the public; and freedom of thought is best promoted by the gradual illumination of men's minds which follows from the advance of science." [Darwin]

"If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities." [Voltaire]

"I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modeled after our own -- a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbor such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotism." [Einstein]

"Faith means not wanting to know what is true." [Nietzsche]

"I cannot believe in the immortality of the soul.... No, all this talk of an existence for us, as individuals, beyond the grave is wrong. It is born of our tenacity of life – our desire to go on living … our dread of coming to an end." [Edison]

"The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma." [Lincoln]

"Religion is a byproduct of fear. For much of human history, it may have been a necessary evil, but why was it more evil than necessary? Isn't killing people in the name of God a pretty good definition of insanity?" [Arthur C. Clarke]

"Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies." [Thomas Jefferson]

"Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile." [Kurt Vonnegut]

"Religion is based . . . mainly on fear . . . fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. . . . My own view on religion is that of Lucretius. I regard it as a disease born of fear and as a source of untold misery to the human race." [Bertrand Russell]

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Hari Berger by Simone Moro

A friend sent me some words about Hari from Simone Moro. I saw Simone speak at Banff this year, great show, and his words below put a lot of what I've been thinking about into a clearer form. I think all of us who wrestle with the risk and reward of our sports have had similar thoughts. Thanks Simone.

by Simone Moro

"My mobile phone was off, I had almost completely cut myself off from the thousands of things I need to do prior to departing for the Karakorum. I wanted to concentrate of the final things concerning comunication, internet, satellite phones. But as soon as I reconnected to the outside world, towards evening, the disasterous news hit me. It rendered me speechless, it took my breath away for a few ceaseless instances. But the giant block of ice which hit Harald Berger at 14:15 at Flachgau, close to Salzburg, left no room for escape. In a few hours time he would have become a father... It all came to an end beneath 150 tons of ice. For ever.

When a friend dies, someone you know, someone with whom you've worked together, who you had met a few days ago and had heard on the phone and by email just a few hours ago, you realise just how fragile and ephemeral the cords are on which our destiny rely. Harald had not wanted to go to Mexico two weeks ago for a sponsor we have in common so as to not leave his wife at home, he hadn't come to Chamonix for the same reason. He had almost completely quit base jumping so as to avoid unecessary risks, in other words, he had decided to steer clear of danger and he had decided to stay at home in 2007 without projects for distant travels. But seeking refuge, protection, is useless because destiny, once again, travelled on a different frequency, abiding a completely different logic.

Harald was a true athlete, a formidable man, careful. Despite his three victories in the ice climbing world cup he still wanted to learn and to listen, not just to show and demonstrate what he was capable of. Rock, ice, air - these were the elements in which he dreamed and which made him dream. We've now got to live with just these. Dreams and thoughts. Because the reality is that Harald has closed his book of life, after 34 years of pages and an immense desire and ideas to write more, exalting and full. There is no end, no moral, no explanation with which to close these thoughts, to help accept what happened in such a cruel way to Hari, his life companion and his child which will be born shortly.

Once again I ascertain that life must really be lived to the full, intensely and in every single instant, without putting our spaces and exalting, full moments too far off into the future. All I can do today is salute you and pray for you. Staying close to your companion and your future child is what we can promise in our greeting. Bye Harald."

Simone Moro

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Ouray Results

My girlfriend, Kim is down in Ouray judging and teaching clinics, it sounds like it's the usual fun time, wish I were there! Injuries suck.

Anyhow, the results are up on the web. I was happy to see my bud Evegeny win (not super surprising, he's a strong guy!), and also very happy to see Audrey Gariepy take second overall. Audrey is a very strong young Quebec climber--she is also a she, grin, so fantastic result for her! Rich Marshall was third overall, striking a solid blow for all climbers on the dark side of 40, nice work Rich!