Whistler Magic

Flying ten hours to a ski resort when there are so many within a couple of hours seems like a bit of an odd thing to do, but Whistler has something of a reputation for being superior to the best Europe can offer and I was keen to find out what all the fuss was about.

Downtown Vancouver from the Lions Gate Bridge

So was it worth the flight time? Undoubtedly the answer is “yes”, for many, many reasons. The first thing that strikes you that everything is incredibly well organised—from the hotel shuttle buses, to the lift queuing systems which all have dedicated lines for ski schools and single riders to ensure no seats go unused during busy times. The next thing you notice is that while the resort is pleasantly small—everything you need is within easy walking distance—the ski area is huge with nearly 200 varied trails including tree runs and glaciers. The runs are divided between two mountains (Whistler and Blackcomb) but both are accessible from Whistler village so transferring between the two is quick and easy; next year there will also be a gondola linking the two mountains.

Other highlights include the general friendliness and welcoming nature of everyone we met (although the majority of the resort staff seemed to be British or Australian, Canadians were a minority!), the free mountain tours (really useful given the sheer number of pistes!) and those of us taking lessons universally agreed that the ski instruction was superb. Although the brochure indicated that groups could be as big as 10 people during busy times, we were lucky enough to never be in a group of more than five, all of very similar ability. Highly recommended.

Happiness at the National Theatre

The National Theatre is one of those buildings on the South Bank which was erected in the 1960’s by people who though concrete was an attractive building material. The name also suggests a rather high-brow entertainment-offering, and consequently I have never really paid much attention to it. However I have learned that this ugly building hides in fact not one but three theatres, making an enquiry about returned tickets at its box office the ideal way to end a spontaneous afternoon visit to the South Bank.

My prejudice about boring and/or expensive “high brow” content was also allayed last night when I saw a new play called Happy Now, a black but razor-sharp comedy about modern life in the vein of Ayekbourn’s Absurd Person Singular. I thoroughly recommend it.

(Incidentally, the play’s haunting title music is Michelle Branch’s, Are you happy now? [itunes link].)

Netgear DG834Gv3, iChat and Linux

I recently picked up a Netgear DG834Gv3 wireless router and modem on ebay for a very reasonable price. In order to make iChat video conferences work seamlessly (i.e. without having to configure port forwarding) I had to:

  1. Upgrade it to the latest firmware (V4.01.30).
  2. Toggle UPnP off and on (twice according to some forums).
  3. Disable port scan and DOS protection (Advanced WAN Setup).
  4. Disable SIP ALG (Advanced WAN Setup).

Although my Macbook was now very happy, the Ubuntu box would not connect to the wireless network using WPA encryption: SoftMAC authentication would complete, but the wireless NIC could not see any packets. The web suggests that PS3 owners have also experienced problems after upgrading to 4.01.30 and the only answer is to downgrade, 4.01.20 being the last known “good” version. Sadly Netgear have removed all but the new broken and a very old versions of the firmware from their support page, but the source code is still available and the tar.bz2 contains a pre-built image so you don’t even need to compile it.

At this point I am back to square one since iChat will no longer receive incoming video requests from people behind NAT devices unless I use manual port forwarding.

Firmware 4.01.37 has been released. I have not tested this but it claims to fix the incompatibility with the Playstation3 so hopefully it should also work with Linux machines.