Disclaimer: I am not an investment advisor. When I describe my own trading activities, it is not intended as advice or solicitation of any kind.

31 January 2011

Happy 1976

I first wrote in November, 2010, about my Year-a-Month project.  It all started when I found vast holes in the McHouse Worldwide Music Library, especially from my childhood before I knew what was cool.  For example, calling myself a heavy metal fan without any Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, or Iron Maiden in my collection is a tad on the naive side, if not downright hypocritical.

January would have been 1976, but I ended up skipping last month because by the time I had recovered from my sinus infection, returned from Utah, and resolved the NAS hard drive scare (hopefully the hard drive scare of 2011), it was late January already.  So, no big deal, we push everything back a month.

In 1976, artists on my list released the following albums:

Technical Ecstasy, by Black Sabbath - I couldn't find this one available in MP3 downloadable format, so it is on its way from Amazon on a CD. 

Rainbow Rising, by Rainbow - This is a tiny little 6-song album wherein the first song didn't thrill me, so I just picked up 2-6.  I discovered Dio about the time of his death, and realized that his voice lurked in many of my hard rock memories.  Although Rainbow is a little (just barely - nothing like Deep Purple) on the 70s-pop side for me, it's still worth picking up for the music history if nothing else.

Presence, by Led Zeppelin - yet another Led Zeppelin album I'm shocked that we don't have.  It absolutely rocks, and I'm glad I found it.

Sad Wings of Destiny, by Judas Priest - I really only am familiar with the very biggest of the Judas Priest hits, but I'm finding a lot of things to love in these full albums from the early years.  It's almost an early groove-metal sound.

Free-for-All, by Ted Nugent - the physical CD was cheaper than the MP3 download, go figure.  This one is also on its way.

A Mini-Rant
OK, Amazon, I get that you like money, and I have no problem with that.  But when you sell a 7-song album for $9.99, and then hold back one of the 99c-each songs so that I have to get the whole album to get it at all, it seems petty and money-grubbing.  7 songs for $9.99 is a lot like $1.43/song, so make the songs $1.45 and let me download any and all of them.  Oh wait, if you did that you couldn't advertise that you sell songs for 99c each.  Right, so obviously the right thing to do is bundle them and make me rant (if this weren't a family-friendly blog I would point out that this is called "bundle-fucking me").  My blood pressure thanks you.

26 January 2011

Trade Catchup

Iron Condor
This month I did something I swore I wouldn't do: I rode an iron condor position all the way to expiry.  Almost daily I took a good hard look at the position, and just didn't see a reason to close it.  It was somewhat underwater and getting worse as the gamma spiked up, but it wasn't through any of the strikes yet.  I reasoned that the increased loss incurred after the short strike went into the money didn't outweigh, on probability-weighted terms, the near-instant profit up to max I stood to make if it settled where it traded nearly all week last week.  If I had seen an inkling of a bullish follow-through in the Russell (my IC index), things would have been different.

I would have much preferred to get out of the IC early like I usually do, but it was a headache the whole way this month, trending up like crazy and refusing to give me any pullbacks to use for exiting opportunities.  Until the last week before expiry, that is.

With the market sell-off last week, we had a minor RVX spike, which I took advantage of by initiating the March condor position on Thursday.  I never did open a February position - January was keeping me busy, and the implied volatility was crappy.  March is already proving to be better than January, in that yesterday the call spreads inexplicably were priced at only a little higher than half what I sold them for.  I covered a couple of them, leaving most of the rest on.  March's strikes are 690/700/860/870, and they generated 2.35/contract in income when opened.

The big news is that the Collaboration is Good trade fired a buy signal on gold futures yesterday at the close.  Gold has had an ugly 3-week sell-off, and honestly I was starting to be concerned about my other gold positions in GLD, GDX, AEM, and GLD calls.  Gold futures have a $6750 margin requirement per contract, so I was glad this trade was in the paperMoney account, saving myself some sleep. Also, buying a gold futures contract after a 100-point sell-off would be a lot tougher in a real-money account, especially since with a contract size of 100oz, I'm looking at $100 per point per contract.  That's a lot of leverage: 100 oz of gold, with a street value of more than $130,000, for $6750.

Today the position started about 5pts in the red and continued to slide, bottoming out at about -7pts before gold suddenly started to go parabolic on an intraday basis before the FOMC announcement at 1:15 CST.  By the close, a profit-exit signal had fired, and I closed the position with a nice $1100 profit.  It rallied so hard during and after FOMC that it started to encourage me about my other gold positions.  A good hard rally after a CiG buy signal, historically, seems to result in some follow-through.

NeighborTrader, who was running this with real actual money, claimed he was going home to vomit into a trash can after closing his position this afternoon.   Sounds like it's time to increase the size...

Earnings Plays
Microsoft and Starbucks announce earnings this week: Microsoft tomorrow and Starbucks as I write this.  I have a sizable Microsoft position already, so I bought some puts on it as a hedge in case the stock slides after the announcement.  On the other hand, I have no position in Starbucks stock - but I have a natural short position in their products (nerdy trading humor, meaning I drink a lot of their coffee).  The market has been room-temperature on Starbucks for some time (insert more nerdy humor about room-temperature coffee here, if you like), and I recently saw some compelling arguments why a good report should send the stock higher overnight, so I bought some calls.  The conference call is still going on, but the numbers are out: Starbucks beat estimates and jumped its income by 44% this quarter, so of course the stock immediately slumped by 2.5% after losing 1% throughout the trading day.  Apparently they didn't raise their guidance enough to make everyone happy.

Oh well.

How should I root for Microsoft tomorrow?  Should I root for bad news, making a lot of money on the puts while watching my Microsoft position suffer?  Yeah, that's probably the best play, because I can use the profit from the puts to buy more stock at bargain prices.  Microsoft is a money-generating machine, and its stock price just makes no sense.

The most boring trade in my portfolio, the Nasdaq Collar, saw its covered call for January expire worthless last weekend, and I opened a new covered call position for February with a strike of 58.  Ho-hum.

24 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 6

This is Day 6, the last day, of my January 2011 Utah Ski Trip.  Previous days are here:
Day 6: Alta
As I mentioned in the post for Day 5, snow was forecast for Thursday night, and lack of school was forecast for Friday.  That was the perfect combination to finish up our trip at snowboard-free Alta, because nowhere else I know of is better with fresh snow.  It turned out to be about a 4-inch snowfall, give or take, which is enough to soften up the turns but not enough to really turn it into a powder day.  I spent most of the day with Phil, Andy, and Dave, and we had a blast goofing around in the snow.

Sadly the light was very flat all day with only fleeting peeks of sun, precluding wide-open bowls and rendering the video kind of gray and depressing.  Despite that minor disappointment, Day 6 was without question my favorite of the trip.  I left Alta that evening satisfied that I had maximized my enjoyment, and yet sad that it had to end.

Is it time for the next trip yet?

I started the day with John and Jerry, and before I broke off to find Phil, Andy, and Dave, I recorded this amusing little video of a fall, followed by a roll, followed by more turns without stopping.  It is actually shot in almost the same spot as First Run Freshies from Day 1.  On Day 6, the right half of the run was groomed and the left half was not.  Trying to simultaneously enjoy the fresh snow on the left side while avoiding the semi-submerged rocks, I found myself entering and exiting the groomed area on each right-side turn.  Catching an edge on the new snow was inevitable.

Immediately after finding Phil and the boys on Supreme, we headed off into a gated area I've only explored a couple of other times.  There is frequently some very good turns in that area, but it is extremely unforgiving, with a variety of trees, rocks, and cliffs to cause trouble.  As I found myself side-slipping for the first and last time of the whole trip, I reflected on whether running off to find Phil was such a great idea after all.

Phil, Andy, Dave, and I spent the afternoon in the tree area on the far right of Alta known as "Wildcat" - named after the chair that accesses it.  We had found variable conditions throughout the late morning, as the clouds hung around causing the light to remain flat.  We reasoned that a tree-heavy area like Wildcat might have better visibility, and it's my favorite area for the afternoon after a fresh snow.  Few of the "casual" skiers venture into it, because the terrain is easy to get lost in, and a miscalculation can result in a lengthy hike back to the lift.  It's also totally ungroomed and definitely not for intermediate skiers.  Perfect.

Raw Video for Day 6
Note: if you only watch one raw video file in my entire 6-day collection, make it the Sunspot to Lunch at Watson's footage.  There is some great Stooges-esque nonsense at about 3:45 that almost made the cut into edited video.  Day 6 just had too much good footage in it and I had to draw the line somewhere.
1: Collins and Sunspot
2: Sugarloaf
3: Devil's Castle scenery shot
4: Gully under Supreme chair
5: Challenger under Supreme
6: Hard Fall past a gate under Supreme
7: Trees under Supreme
8: Sunspot to Lunch at Watson's
9: Collins after Lunch
10: First run on Wildcat
11: Phil's last run on Wildcat
12: My last run... in a cloud
The camera battery ran out during the last run, which is why it cuts out mid-mountain.

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.) 

23 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 5

This is Day 5 of my January 2011 Utah Ski Trip.  Previous days are here:

Day 5: Solitude
After a brief negotiation at Snowbasin on the last run, we all agreed that the best way to finish our last two days of skiing would be Solitude on Thursday, followed by Alta again on Friday.  John had heard that many of the Salt Lake City public schools had Friday off, and snow was due to fall Thursday night.  Since more kids are snowboarders than skiers (Alta doesn't allow snowboards), and since Alta is amazing with fresh snow, it seemed like a clear choice for Friday.  My Day 5 was also the first day of skiing for Andy and Dave.

When I saw the "Caution Cliff Area" sign, my initial reaction was to veer away. But then I decided to take a closer look, and I discovered that it was only about a 4-foot drop, and pretty easily inclined. There were a few rocks peeking through the snow at the bottom to deal with, but it seemed pretty straightforward. I was right, and had no trouble. Then I went looking for John, who was waiting on a little rise on the groomer. I decided to ham it up and get some air, but executed it very poorly, slamming into the snow bank on the other side. John wished he had a video camera of his own trained on me.

Jerry dropped his glove on the way up the chair. This is usually a very unpleasant experience, because it means you have to expose your bare hand to ski-speed winds in freezing cold temperatures. But Thursday was very warm: 34 F. So I saw no reason not to mess with the old man a bit. Luckily, Jerry thought it was as funny as I did.

John, Jerry, and I spent most of the afternoon in Honeycomb Canyon. This is a black-diamond and double-black-diamond area, and is accessible at the top of the canyon by riding Summit chair. From there one decides whether to ski the left or right flanks of the canyon, or the mostly-groomed section right down the middle. Farther down the canyon, the right side is primarily trees climbing up the wall. John, Jerry, and I wandered through these trees for quite a while; it made for a very peaceful and enjoyable run. I boil it down to the best parts in this video.

Raw Video for Day 5
1: Challenger, off of Eagle Express
2: Trees under Eagle Express
3: Trailing Jerry under Eagle Express
4: Trees under Apex
5: Gate off of Summit chair
6: Summit Cliffs and Glove Keepaway
7: Scenery shot of Jerry in Honeycomb Canyon
8: John and Jerry skiing Honeycomb Canyon
9: Left side of Honeycomb Canyon
10: Right side of Honeycomb Canyon (part 1 and part 2)
11: Aspens under Apex
12: More aspens under Apex
13: Final Honeycomb Canyon run

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.)

Next: Day 6

21 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 4

This is Day 4 of my January 2011 Utah Ski Trip.  For previous days, see below:
Day 4: Snowbasin
Unlike the other days on this trip, where we decided where to go the night before or the morning of, this day was planned out in extreme detail between Phil and me.  Several years ago I heard about a tradition of skiing 40,000 feet of vertical on one's 40th birthday.  I turned 40 in November, which meant doing it on my birthday wasn't feasible; so instead I committed to myself that I would accomplish the same feat sometime during this trip.  When I mentioned the idea to Phil, he thought it was crazy and immediately signed up to accompany me on it and keep me motivated.  Phil preferred to ski on fresh legs, and I preferred to have a few days to warm up, which worked out great, since Phil's first day was my fourth day.

Before the trip, I looked at the maps of all the ski resorts that we frequent, trying to determine which resort and which lift would be the most conducive to the attempt.  Snowbasin's Strawberry Gondola was a clear winner:
  1. Snowbasin was one of the few resorts that gave enough information to determine the exact vertical drop of its runs.  Strawberry is a very respectable 2472 feet high.
  2. Strawberry is a gondola, and thus travels at least as fast as a high-speed chair, minimizing time spent climbing the hill.
  3. Snowbasin on a Wednesday is generally pretty empty, so we could move pretty fast on the way down.
  4. There is a very direct blue (intermediate) groomed run called Main Street that nearly follows the gondola the whole way down.  This is perfect for high-speed vertical-consuming ski runs.
  5. Strawberry is tucked away on the far left side of Snowbasin, and thus is less likely to have a line at the bottom waiting to get on the lift.
  6. There is a snack bar and restroom at the gondola house at the bottom, giving us easy access for pit stops.
Phil and I got up early and arrived at Snowbasin at about 7:00 am.  First lift is at 9:00 am, which gave us time to relax, get a nice big breakfast, plan our attack, and load up on provisions for the day.  These consisted of two Cliff Bars for protein, three Granola bars for quick energy, a bottle of water, and a banana for quick energy and to ward off cramps.  We split these up throughout the day, stopping for a Power-Ade (for Phil) and another Cliff Bar (for me) after about 13 runs.

At 2472 feet, we had to ski Strawberry 16 times, and then find another 498 feet of vertical somewhere else.  This was easily accomplished on the way over, since to get to Strawberry you have to ride Needles Express and then ski down 90% of its 2300 feet or so and over to Strawberry.  Since lifts only operate from 9:00am to 3:30pm, it was important to track the round-trip time on each lap to make sure our projected completion time was prior to 3:30pm.  Riding the gondola seemed to take forever, and I was feeling very pessimistic about it until I checked the round-trip time after the first full lap: 18 minutes.  If we round-away the extra 500 feet (last lift ride starts at 3:30, so this is a reasonable simplification), 9:00am to 3:30pm is 6.5 hours, or 390 minutes.  To get 16 runs done within 390 minutes, we must complete each lap in an average of 24 minutes or less, including any pitstops for bathroom, water refill, or food.  When I saw 18 minutes on that first lap, I knew our lap times were about 2/3 of their max allowable, which gave us lots of slack if we kept up that pace.

First thing in the morning the light was very flat, and we were also unfamiliar with the hill - this made us ski a bit more carefully (i.e. slower).  The sun came out after an hour or so, and I saw our lap times decrease to 16 minutes for a while, until more people arrived on the hill and the light waned again.  After about 13 runs, we knew we were going to make it, and stopped to grab some food and relax for a few minutes; we also started skiing more interesting terrain, since time was no longer our primary concern.

We rode the Strawberry lift for the 16th time, skied all the way down to the village at the base of Needles Express, and then rode Needles one final time to meet up with John, Jerry, and Craig for a final fun-run for the day.  I reckon we put in somewhere between 43,000 and 45,000 feet all told.

At the end of that fun-run, I was feeling pretty pleased and maybe a little punch-drunk.  I pulled off my helmet and babbled inanities into the camera for a minute as I skied the last few hundred yards.

Raw Video for Day 4

1: Run 8 of 16 on Strawberry
2: Final Fun-Run (too big for Google Docs, broken into 4 parts)
    part 1
    part 2
    part 3
    part 4

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.)

Next: Day 5

20 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 3

This is Day 3 of my January 2011 Utah Ski Trip.  Previous days are here:
Day 3: Solitude
Everyone likes a little variety, so we headed on over to Solitude, located in Big Cottonwood Canyon.  It was a bitter cold -5 F when we arrived, but warmed up all day, finishing at a balmy 16 F or so by the time we left.  I tried to solve the wobbly camera problem by moving the camera around on my helmet and jumping up and down, checking to see if I could hear or feel it wobble.  Unfortunately, this moving the camera around caused it to tilt some, so some of the videos are not very straight.  This is harder to detect than you might expect, though, since there are no straight or flat lines on a ski slope.

After watching videos from days 1 & 2 on facebook, my wife demanded more scenery and more speed.  This video was designed to satisfy the second request.  We took Solitude's Challenger run, which is a groomed black run (kind of an oddity) off of the Eagle Express chair.  Since it was first thing in the morning, and no one appeared to be on the mountain but us, we opened up the throttle.

Sometimes John and Jerry take less-than-challenging routes.  When they do that, I jump into the trees to up the ante a little.  This run was between Gary's Glade and Olympia off of Eagle Express.

Somewhere near the bottom of the Summit chair, I saw my shadow in front of me, and was distracted thinking of how my viewers would get to see me instead of everything else.  I paid immediately.

Raw Video for Day 3

1: Below Eagle Express chair
2: High-speed Challenger run
3: Scenery shot from top of Summit chair
4: Summit chair easy stuff
5: Gate near top of Summit chair
6: Lost opportunity in Honeycomb Canyon
7: Honeycomb Canyon, lower gate
8: Tree-dancing off Eagle Express
9: Much better run in Honeycomb Canyon
10: Very short tree run, no idea where

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.)

Next: Day 4

19 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 2

This is Day 2 of my January 2011 Utah Ski Trip.  For Day 1 and a brief intro, see yesterday's post.

Day 2: Alta
Having left our skis at the Deep Powder House in Alta for a tune-up, John and I were locked-in to another day at Alta.  Gee darn, what a shame.  Jerry came with us.  Today the camera angle problem is solved, so a lot more scenery is visible when I ski.  Unfortunately there is still a lot of wobble, and I kept forgetting to tuck the safety fastener up under the goggle strap, so there is also a fair amount of clicking and clacking.

This is my Utah-based editing masterpiece.  I held my head as steady as possible on the way up the Supreme Chair, which at over 10 minutes is a pretty slow chair.  I then sped the video up by 6x and suppressed the sound.  It actually came out pretty well, despite the stone-age video tools and shocking lack of skills I had to work with.

Although I definitely solved the camera-angle problem, I found a new one when I watched Day 2's video: the camera placement against my helmet wasn't very secure, so the slightest vibration rendered the video unwatchably jumpy.  A lot of good footage was ruined by that problem, but this top-to-bottom down Supreme was pretty steady except for the tree side-trip.

Raw Video for Day 2

1: Full Supreme Chair Ride
2: First Top-to-Bottom Attempt (aborted in the trees after a pocket malfunction)
3: Sugarloaf, above Extrovert
4: Trees on Lower Sugarloaf (very jumpy)
5: Scenery shot, trying to capture the snow-bow from Sugarloaf chair
6: Sugarloaf to Supreme transfer (very jumpy)
7: Top-to-Bottom that made the cut
8: Slow Ride through Lower Devil's Castle trees
9: Collins-to-Goldminer run, lengthy

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.)

Next: Day 3

18 January 2011

Utah Skiing, Day 1

I'm recently back from the ski trip I was planning for in Video Editing is Hard, and I captured hours of video every day on my new Contour HD.  Every day was a learning experience, and I tweaked the way I captured, edited, and narrated videos every day.  While in Utah I suffered through on the laptop using Avidemux primarily, because I wasn't willing to spend hours rendering video and I mistakenly believed that it would faithfully trim minutes around a target clip without corrupting the rest of it.  As a result, I generated a lot of video where I was talking like a chipmunk for the first half of the clip, and the second half was silent.  Days 4-6 didn't get posted at all from Utah because the WiFi I was hanging off of from the house suddenly refused to let me connect.  I hate when people get clues at inconvenient times.

Once I got home, I downloaded the latest ISO of Ubuntu Studio, having heard that it lended itself well to content creation.  I was pretty disappointed to discover that it only shipped with Kino, which refuses to work with the QuickTime files that Contour HD outputs.  However, the version of OpenShot that corresponds to Ubuntu 10.10 is much less buggy than the one I was using in Mint 10 on the laptop; and it was very easy to do the very minor editing that needed doing.  I was so much more pleased with the results from OpenShot that after editing and posting the remaining days of video, I started re-editing and re-posting days 1-3 to remove the chipmunk.  I'm nearly done with that process, only day 3 to go.

I also promised the guys that I would post all the video, even the full raw captures, somewhere on the web that they could access it if they wanted to.  I was originally going to throw it up on my hosted space at markmccracken.net and build a special web page for it.  But I discovered that to house the 17GB of video I had, I would have to pay 1&1, my hosting provider, another $5/month.  Google, on the other hand, would let me upload my files to Google Docs for $5/year, as long as I broke them up into 1GB or less chunks.  Fine by me, so that's what I did instead.

Rather than post all the days at once, I think I'll put them here in this blog one at a time.  The edited clips are all at YouTube, so they can be watched all at once from any blog entry.  The raw video is a little harder to access all at once because I have it accessible but not findable at Google Docs.  But there's enough of it that no one should want to watch all six days of it in one sitting anyway.

Note: be sure to insist that YouTube and Google show you the video in 1080p.  It's much less blurry that way.  You may need to click on logos, go full screen, and/or restart the video a few times.  I found YouTube to be pretty finicky about showing me the resolution I wanted.

Day 1: Alta
Alta is always the first place we go when we get to Utah, because it occupies skiers' hearts like no other resort in the area.  No one I know wears clothing from Solitude, Snowbasin, or other Salt Lake area resorts... only Alta.  The videos from Day 1 are a little frustrating to watch, because I hadn't gotten the hang of where to aim the camera yet.  Especially with Greeley, you'll see the snow in front of me but not much else.  This is because to ski well, one has to keep one's head down, much like a golfer might - but the fun stuff to see is a little higher up.  On later days, I solved this problem by angling the camera up slightly from eye level.

On the very first run of the very first day, John, Jerry, and I found some snow that needed new tracks.  We were very happy to oblige.

After lunch, we headed over to Greeley to see how it was.  It was pretty tracked up, but we had fun anyway, despite my prediction to the contrary at the top of the hill.  The annoying rattling you hear in this video is from the camera's safety fastener bouncing against the camera housing.  This is solved in later videos simply by tucking it up under my goggle strap where it won't flap around in the wind.

Raw Video For Day 1

1: Collins to Sugarloaf Transfer
2: Sugarloaf to Alf's for a wax
3: Standing at Alf's waiting for Jerry
4: Riding Supreme Chair with commentary
5: Scenery off the back of Supreme
6: Top half of Supreme, and a terrible tree run
7: Greeley

(7/24/2011: I have removed the raw video from Google Document storage.  If you would like a copy of a specific video, let me know.)

Next:  Day 2

05 January 2011

Video Editing is Hard

For my birthday, the bintgoddess bought me a ContourHD, which comes with mounts to attach it to a goggle strap against a helmet, or to any flat surface.  This freakin' awesome video camera is only 4.3oz, and about 3 inches long.  It shoots 30fps natively in 1080p with a 110-degree wide-angle lens, so as to capture more of the surrounding scenery.  Check out some videos I found on their site here and here.  The second one starts a little slow, but stick with it for some great tree skiing.

Since I'm due to leave for the first ski trip of the season soon, I thought it would be a good idea to record some test video, and then try to upload it to the laptop and edit it some.  My needs are small: I need to be able to crop out boring stuff (stopping to wait for Jerry, fumbling with the camera to start/stop the video, etc).  I also want to suppress sound some of the time, since most of the skiing video I've seen with native audio on it just sounds like a wind tunnel.  Mixing in some appropriate music during this dead air would be great, but just lowering the sound track gain low enough that it doesn't drive viewers crazy would be fine, too.

I had no trouble shooting the video or getting it onto the laptop.  And once there, I could play the raw QuickTime video file without a problem.  But I had a lot of sharp noise when turning the camera on/off, or moving my hand around on it while holding it.  I wanted to trim off the excess on either side, and mute that noise.  I figured if I could do this, I can use the same tools for ski videos while sitting around the house in Utah.

Since my laptop runs Linux -- doesn't yours? -- I jumped onto Wikipedia and looked at open source video editing programs targeted at complete newbs.  Oh yes, I am a complete newb.  I am totally baffled by all these things that start with "MPEG".  I have no idea what the difference is between codecs, nor why I should care.  I just want awesome video, and I want it in 1080p.

First I tried Avidemux, because I'd heard of it, and because it started with A and therefore was near the top of the list.  Avidemux gives a lot of control over selection, which I like: I can move frame by frame.  But when it comes to actually encoding the edited video, I couldn't make heads or tails of it.  Most of the time it refused to generate video at all, complaining that my audio/video/container formats were not compatible with each other (then why let me choose that combination?).  Sometimes it would instantly trumpet success, leaving me with a 0-byte file.  Sometimes it would render my 61-second video for 4-5 minutes, spitting out a 2.5GB AVI that I could not play in any video player I had.

Next I tried Openshot, because it seemed to be one of the more popular ones, and it also seemed to be aimed at the totally ignorant (me).  It has a cutesy KDE-style interface that I suppose is designed to make me feel comfortable, but really makes me feel like I have no control.  I immediately ran into a bug where my video file would fail to appear on the timeline, where all the cropping and editing is done.  After searching online for a while, I found a workaround I could live with, and commenced with editing.  I spent an hour trying to line up pixels in the frustratingly inexact editing interface so I could start the video where I wanted it to start.  Then I crashed it by clicking somewhere that seemed reasonable to me.  I never did get a video file out of it.

Next I tried CinelerraCV, because it looked like it gave the user a lot of control over the audio and video.  I'm sure it does, but holy crap what a lot of buttons.  I was greeted with a toolbar that looks like this:
The best part is that none of the teeny tiny little icons have tool-tips, the more obscure ones are a complete mystery even now.  After three or four attempts, I finally managed to output a video file... but instead of the head-and-shoulders 16x9 framing in the original video, it was just the top half of my face in 4x3.  It was like watching a facebook avatar thumbnail come to life -- creepy. 

Finally I tried PiTiVi, which is written in Python, of all things.  I know a lot of you younger whippersnapper programmers think the world is written in Python, but I just can't get my head around why anyone would bother with it.  Despite my discrimination against the language, I gave PiTiVi a fair shake. In return, it gave me its share of confusion and frustration, but it also gave me HD video trimmed where I wanted it!  It was easier to learn than Cinelerra and Avidemux, and gave me a better feeling of control than OpenShot.  The rendering process was nice and straightforward.  I couldn't control the audio the way I wanted to, but I suspect it probably can be done... I just haven't figured out how.

The most frightening thing is that this little 61-second video required about 4:30 of rendering on the laptop, heating it up enough that it was blowing a hot wind at me out of its vents.  What happens when I have a couple of hours of skiing video to render?