Archive for March, 2007

How hard can it be? I can do that… Mounting a ski binding the easy way

March 30, 2007

Introduction

The other day my girlfriend bought a new pair of touring skis, to replace the old, borrowed ones that just didn’t quite survive last winter’s week long trip through Lappland:


When winter was approaching a few months ago, and we dug those skis out of the closet, I thought that “hey, there are few things a serious amount of epoxy and proper tools can’t fix”! Turned out to be really tricky to apply just the right pressure on that delaminated tip, no matter how much epoxy was used. It looked really good for a while, then the tip inevitably came apart again. Bummer.

So when there was a 20% sale at the great outdoor store “Playground” here in Stockholm, a pair of really nice Fischer BCX 109 tour found a new owner. Half an hour and some haggling later, we also had a pair of classic telemark style cable bindings. All that remained was then the assembling of it all..

Last winter I went through the same process with my own skis, so I took those experiences and applied them once again. So far my skis have both worked very nicely and not fallen apart, so I think this is pretty safe to do yourself.

First, the tools you need are really quite few:

  • A drill/driver (cordless or not doesn’t matter), with bits suitable for the screws that comes with the binding. My DeWalt cordless drill/driver has been fantastic during the past 6-7 years. It’s starting to sound a bit strange and smell of toasted dirt, but it’s still pretty much doing its job.
  • Some good glue. I use ordinary water based wood-glue, after talking to several experienced people working in ski rental places up in northern Sweden. A lot of people use epoxy when mounting alpine, randonnee and Telemark bindings, and yes – epoxy is really strong, but also a bit messy to work with and smells like poison (probably not good for you!). But if ordinary glue intended for wood works for those rental skis that are totally abused all season, it works for me..
  • A drill suitable for drilling in wood, and with a diameter a bit smaller than the binding screws. I used a 2.5 mm drill.

A matter of religion: where on the ski should the binding be mounted?

When I did my own skis a year ago I spoke to lots of people, checked forums on the web etc to find out if there was any common suggestion about where on the ski the binding should be mounted. Lot’s of opinions about this, but the most common (and logical) one seems to be that the ball of the foot should be above the center of gravity (I call it the “balance point” or “balance line”, lacking a better word for it) of the ski. The reason of using the ball of the foot as a reference is that this is the point where almost all of the pressure from your body weight will be transferred to the ski.

How to mount the binding

Here is how to do it:

Balancing the ski isa bit tricky, but possible The balancing point of the ski found

The dashed line indicates balancing point

  1. Start by finding the balancing point and mark it. In the big picture it is marked as a dashed line. I used the back of a chair to do this.
  2. Place the ski on the floor (use some old newspapers or a carpet so you don’t scratch the floor with the steel edges of the skis!).
  3. Put the boot in the binding, and try to visualize where on the binding the ball of the foot is. If you find this hard you can try to put the boot on, then fasten it in the binding, and finally “feel” where the ball of the foot is, and make couple small marks on each side of the binding, to mark this. Do remember that many (most?) bindings are asymmetrical, and require the left boot in the left binding etc. The “L” on the picture above just tells this is the left ski.
  4. Remove the boot and place the binding on the ski. Those small marks you made on the binding in step 3 should be lined up parallel to the balancing point/line of the ski. This is where people have different opinions – I recommend placing the marks on the binding (i.e. the ball of your foot) ca 2-3 cm behind the balancing line. In my experience this gives a good balance to the ski.
  5. Mark the screw holes of the binding on the ski, look at the small circles on the big picture above and you will understand.
  6. Drill holes for the binding. It is a good idea to place a piece of tape on the drill, to avoid drilling too deep into the ski. The small picture below to the left shows how to determine where on the drill to put the tape.
  7. Drill the holes, fill them with plenty of glue, and fasten the binding tightly. I have a torque control on my cordless driver, very convenient but not necessary. Just pull the screw as hard as you can, more or less. No, you shouldn’t force the screw in so that you break the ski, other than that you really want a firm fit.
  8. Finish off by mounting the heel support pad. The position of it is not in any way critical, and the same techniques as describes above are used.


Voila! Here is the final result, ready for next week’s back country trip!

Edit: A five-day trip later (in some seriously hard weather) the verdict is that the skis worked great and the bindings are still there.

Watching TV on your PC, part 1

March 22, 2007

The title of this post suggest that there is more to come on this topic…. Time will tell if that’s the case, but my general feeling after having spent a fair amount of time on trying out various options for building a mediacenter/htpc/whatever you want to call it, is that the technology may be there, but it takes some serious hacking skills to get it working. And that most of the mediacenter software packages out there aren’t really mature.

Background is that I’ve thrown out the old VCR, I don’t own a DVD player, am looking into getting a new (flat) TV – and that I like the idea of accessing music, movies, basic Internet browsing etc through the TV.

So, when I replaced the trusty old Dell Dimension 8100 (P4 1.4 GHz, 384 MB RAM, 70 GB HD, Haupaugge PVR-350 TV card) with a custom built, small form factor PC the timing was right to see if the Dell could be rebuilt to act as media server. Apart from being big and loud, it should have enough horsepower in it. Or so I thought, at least if I used a suitable Linux distro. Another dimension was to us OpenSource or freeware tools, rather than buying a Windows Mediacenter license. Finally, if a mediacenter was to enter my (our!) living room, it must easy to use and offer some real advantages to having DVDs, CDs etc – my girlfriend would not accept anything else. Fair enough, I actually agree on this. Technology and gadgets are cool, but for day-to-day use things must be usable.

As my Linux skills are rudimentary, I went with Ubuntu and MythTV, as others seemed to recommend it, and there is a good guide at https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MythTV_Edgy. Especially MythTV is very flexible and powerful. The guide is both good and pretty complete, but I nevertheless ended up spending a full day on reading, installing, re-doing same thing again because something didn’t download properly, configuring MySQL etc etc – lot’s of time. Eventually yes, I managed to get MythTV running, but it is slow, hangs every now and then (too often) and is generally useless on this particular machine/setup. May very well be that I have configured things incorrectly, but having followed instructions in the guide to the letter, I’d say the configuration is at least decent. This ain’t working..

Ripped the TV card out of the Dell and put it into the newly built, shiny PC (AMD Athlon 64 4000+, 2GB RAM, 550 GB HD, Nvidia GeForce 7950GT). Even though this PC is not to be used as a mediacenter, it wouldn’t hurt being able to watch TV while doing other things, right? Next step is then to look for software to achieve this.

With a pretty fast AMD CPU and a good graphics card, I expect this Windows XP Pro based system to handle any reasonable TV task I could throw at it. Starting off with Hauppauge’s own tools, these are pretty archaic. The PVR-350 has been around for some years, but the drives are still reasonably recently updated. Anyway, they worked fine and I could watch TV in the provided tools. But the Hauppauge tools are basic to say the least – not nearly what I want.

Enter GB-PVR, a Windows based PVR (Personal Video Recorder) software that has been around for some years now. I tried it a few years ago and it was then quite buggy and not nearly something you could use in a living room setting (the girlfriend-acceptance-factor). To GB-PVR’s benefit, it has come a long way since I tried it last time (as I recall it, a couple of years back I had to re-install my entire PC after trying out GB-PVR on it…). It worked ok, but hung a few times and is not quite as slick as I would like it to be. Specifically, the xmltv programming features were a bit tricky to get working. And the fact that a private Swedish company has strange connections (sorry, in Swedish) to the product makes me hesitant to use it in a real/live/permanent setting.

Next and final attempt so far is to use Media Portal. Also Windows based, Open Source. It took a few hours to set up everything, but the installation is smooth, even offering on-the-fly download of all the TV channels offered by my cable TV provider (ComHem) – way cool! By the options tried so far Media Portal is by far the best. Ok, it’s running on a much more powerful PC than MythTV was, but considering I that MythTV requires you to be more than a little familiar with Linux to install and especially maintain, that is not an option for most of the people out there. User friendliness is key for the vast majority of people.

All in all, I now have Media Portal running nicely. There are some quirks such as occasional hanging when you view TV in full screen mode, the keyboard shortcuts doesn’t always work at all/as expected, but the automatically updated Program Guide is really, really cool. Many thanks to the people at xmltv for this! If you are interested in xmltv and live in Sweden, I recommend a visit to tv.swedb.se.

The main problem with both Media Portal and GB-PVR has been that TV picture and sound get out of synch or chopped up when you do some other heavier work on the PC, or when Windows for some reason decide it needs to do a lot of swapping or similar. On the positive side both GB-PVR and Media Portal installs just as easily as any other Windows program. Configuring them takes some time, but nothing too bad, and this is expected from any similar application.

As a proof-of-concept that you can watch TV on your PC the work so far has been successful. But I still don’t see it as good enough for deployment into the living room… Will keep looking at options though, some of the options left to explore are:

  • Windows Vista
  • LinuxMCE. Open Source Linux project
  • SageTV. Looks a bit similar as Media Portal. Commercial
  • Beyond TV. Commercial
  • Media Engine. Open Source for limited hardware
  • … probably several more