Monday, December 1, 2014

Random Acts of Pasta

Just a human being, thinking of others. This sort of thing gets me every time. At the end he says "thanks Olive Garden, you just made those peoples lives a little better" But it wasn't Olive Garden. It was him.

Remember, The light at the end of the tunnel may be you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Damn Lumbersexuals

I didn't realize when I posted the article about lumbersexuals how big of a thing it was about to become. I didn't realize that it has been written about in Cosmo, Buzzfeed, and many others. I didn't realize that the term Lumbersexuals was coined by Tom Puzak at GearJunkie - despite what urban dictionary says.

When I posted it on Facebook - I commented that I was too busy working in the outdoors, to work at looking like I work in the outdoors! - I had no idea that it would become my most viewed post on Facebook this year!

Tom has written a followup post over at gear junkie retelling the crazy growth. It is quite the story.

The reason that I didn't notice any of this going on around me is how much I have been working. I am in the process of helping to open a new outdoor education market for a large company. It is interesting, and has been keeping me very busy at NOT kayaking. I am even struggling coming up with items for the annual shopping list!

But back to lumbersexuals. I know many people that dress like that for many reasons. None of them are lumberjacks, though they are all extremely active in the outdoors. We used to use the phrase - though it never got picked up into a wider vernacular - Patagoniacs. For some reason I think when you add the suffix 'sexual' it skews the meaning into something vaguely odd... I am not sure how to describe it. Maybe they should be called Plaidiacs?

Literally decades ago, I was in a conversation with someone - I lived in Manhattan at the time - we were discussing 'types', like metrosexuals, and I said I didn't think I really had a type. She said "oh you are the mountain dude!" I wasn't wearing - nor have I ever worn - plaid.

I think if you are applying the lumbersexual title to people who are seeking out this look, it is probably okay. But I think if you wore plaid before this craze, and wore it because it was warm, durable, and sort of inexpensive, to still be called a lumbersexual is a little insulting.

But maybe we just don't need quite so many titles.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Too Much Stuff

In the past week, I have flown just over 7000 miles. On 6 airplanes involving four airports. There are road warriors out there that will scoff at those numbers, but for a normal human that is a lot. I don't actually mind flying, but I despise airports. Here are a couple of reasons why.

The airline industry is the only industry that raises the price of a ticket, the closer to your departure time. This makes no sense. You want to fill those seats, You don't want a plane flying with empty seats. It costs the same to fly from New York to San Francisco regardless of how many seats are filled so you might as well fill them. It makes no sense for the price to go up.

During the great recession airlines added baggage fees to cover the cost of fuel, but now fuel is cheaper than it has been in quite a while, but of course they haven't removed the baggage fee, which would make you think that all these people carrying on their baggage are doing so to save money. The by product of everyone carrying on their baggage is a bad experience for everyone. It takes longer to get on and off the plane, and the plane and the terminals are way more crowded.

You are a prisoner of the airport. I had a nalgene bottle confiscated because it had liquid in it. I couldn't pour it out - without going out of the 'secure' zone and back through security again - and I couldn't drink it. Of course I didn't have time to go back through security. Flying out of Atlanta recently, I realized I had forgotten to put a beloved pocket knife in my checked bag. So I put it in the bottom of my little 18 liter backpack and hoped it would be obscured by my iPad, charging cable. I figured if they found it I would just say I forgot it was in there and they would confiscate it. If they saw it, they never said anything.

Really? $12.00 for a crappy sandwich? really? $6 for a yogurt? Okay.

But the thing I really hate about airports, is it makes me realize how much stuff we Americans have. We have way too much stuff. I overheard a woman on line at TSA saying that she had packed five pairs of shoes. Five. Unless she was moving where ever she was going that is too many. She also mentioned that two of them were boots! I had figured the people carrying on their baggage had done so to not check bags, but no, they are doing both, and packing huge suitcases. I really don't understand what people are packing? I just did a two destination trip for work. To California (warm) where I would be trained on GoPro and paddling then to Nashville (cold) to teach. My checked bag had my teaching materials, a drysuit, paddling shoes, two changes of clothes, a rain shell, and a fleece. I used a medium sized duffel for all of that. My carry on was 18 liters. Now, I don't know where people were going, and how long they were staying places, but the average sized suitcase I saw was giant.

Do we really need all this stuff? When I got home, I felt remarkably like doing a purge.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

GoPro Hero 4 Hands On

I have had an interesting week. The new job I have been working at for the last 4 months has kept me very busy. So busy I have barely been able to update here, not to mention paddle. But there are some perks. I get to work with some amazing people and I have the opportunity to make them amazing instructors. I also get little perks like this, a trip to GoPro headquarters. GoPro has a good working relationship with the company I work for, and when they release a new product, they bring us out to be trained on it.  So that is how I found myself on a plane to San Francisco.

When the Hero 4's were announced I knew I would upgrade, and since I had always bought the highest level camera I assumed it would be Hero 4 Black's I would go to, but this season there is a slight price jump. So I knew I would have to go from two cameras to one. But I wanted to wait until I went to GoPro HQ, learn about the camera and then make my decision.

We only had a day and a half, made worse by the fact that I had to fly directly to Nashville to teach a Wilderness First Aid class, So I spent about 48 hours in beautiful San Mateo California. First I have to say that our GoPro hosts were sensational. They were extremely knowledgable about their products - which isn't always the case, I could tell you stories about certain companies employees who don't know what they are talking about - they kept us on schedule, and most importantly they were fun. A lot of fun. In all, there were about 20 or so of us in the group, including the GoPro employees. After a group dinner Wednesday night, We met at our hotel on Friday morning to head to HQ.

After signing in (and signing a non-disclosure agreement I can't tell you about the Hero 6+ I saw... kidding!) we got started training on the Hero 4's. We spent a fair amount of time going over the training materials we will use to train our staff, learning a ton of details about the cameras, After that it was time to head outside to play. But first we needed cameras. 

What you see there, is a bucket of Hero 4 blacks, and behind it, a bucket of Hero 4 silvers. We were also given a bag of accessories to work with (I say given, but we had to return them) and we headed outside. We went paddling, which I didn't mind. Okay, so some hands on info.

The new cameras have a better sensor, and lens than the 3 and 3+'s. The big jump to the 4 black, gets you 4K video at 30 FPS - which you probably knew. They have changed the buttons on the camera slightly, making it easier to get into the settings for the mode you are in, instead of doing the two button juggle game we have all had to learn - though using the app is still the best way to change settings on the camera.

The camera now uses bluetooth to aid in the pairing process, no more going into the settings menu on your device to find the camera's wifi network. This also saves battery power as bluetooth is low power compared to wifi.

They have added a "highlight" button - which is also the wifi button - which puts a tag on your footage when you press it, to indicate something amazing just happened, making it easier to find that footage in post. At the moment that is only available with the GoPro studio software.

This is important. It used to be that just about any class ten card worked in the camera. I learned this week, that currently only two cards are approved by GoPro to work with the cameras, though more will be approved. They are the Sandisk Extreme and the Lexar 633x.

They updated the one button mode and now call it quick capture, and it works much better with far more versatility, and is also designed to save more battery power.

Speaking of battery, the biggest physical change in the camera is that the battery now loads from the bottom, and the battery door is now connected to the camera. Your 3 and 3+ batteries will not work in the new cameras, but every other accessory from your 3's will work.

There is now an auto low light mode, that automatically lowers your frame rate when you need morel right.

The GoPro Codec - cineform - is now an industry recognized codec, with attached standards, and Adobe Premier will edit it natively.

Here is the big change. The Hero 4 black is really aimed at the Prosumer, or Professional film maker. There are really only three differences between the Black and Silver cameras.

#1 The Black doesn't have the LCD screen. The primary reason is it traps a lot of heat.

#2 The Black shoots at 4k and 30 FPS which produces a lot of heat, see #1

#3 The Black does 1080p at 120 FPS.

So for myself, someone who was thinking about buying a Black, since I have no interest, and no computer capable of dealing with 4K footage, the only thing I get by  buying  black is 1080p at 120FPS. The silver will do 1080 at 60, or 720 at 120FPS. So unless you are shooting in 4K or doing 1080p at 120 all the time, the Silver is now the primary camera for consumers, and it is what I will be getting.

There is one other feature worth mentioning. Actually, there is one other feature, that for me is really a game changer. It used to be that when the sun set you put your GoPro away. It just didn't do a great job in the dark, picking up a ton of noise. And honestly, I never played with protune on my 3+'s because the video looked great right out of the camera.

Now protune is available for still photography, which gives a wide array of control over the camera - which I love! - and more importantly, there is a dedicated Night mode for still photography, and a night mode for time lapse, called appropriately enough Night Lapse.

This was the third photo I took in our evening session. This is a ten second exposure at 100 iso. I didn't even have a tripod, I placed it on the ground. This is simply an incredible result.

This is a 30 second exposure, with a change in color balance, all done in camera. And you can shoot time lapse this way too! Finally, I got a little trippy....

This was a 30 second exposure, hand held. I love the night modes on this camera, and was sold at that moment. Each GoPro camera is a step up from the last generation. This is no different. I will be upgrading as soon as possible.

We spent our last half of the day back at GoPro HQ going over the GoPro studio software. I have been working with this software for a while, I still choose to work with Final Cut, but there are a couple of things I thought were particularly impressive about GoPro Studio. The biggest is how easy it makes it to create a time lapse. When importing media it recognizes a string of photos and automatically makes it a time lapse, that you can drag and drop like any other clip. This will now be my chosen method for making time lapses. They have also created their own version of twixtor, If you don't know what that is, google it, but their version called flux, is free - built into their software - and pretty amazing. Glad I didn't buy twixtor a couple of years ago when I was pricing it. If you are new to GoPro I think it is a great way to get started editing.

One final photo. With all the amazing stuff we saw, and all we learned, I really think this was the most fun thing I saw. Amazing. One of these is in my future. I just have to figure out how to pay for it.

I can't thank the amazing staff at GoPro enough. It was really a wonderful experience. Now. Does anyone want to buy a Hero 3+ or two?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Nature is Speaking

And honestly, Nature sounds a little pissed off....

.... Rightfully so.

The Trees are a little pissed too.

We treat this guy, like dirt...

Yes, we will wage wars over you.

And this guy, he sounds indignant, and angry. I spend a lot of time with him, and I am a little afraid.

All of these are brought to you by Nature is Speaking ( When I saw it, I figured it was going to be lovely pictures crossed with he destruction we have wrought. I am glad they didn't go that route. I am glad Nature is angry. I am a angry, and very sad. I love nature. I really do. If that makes me a hippie, or a lefty or a freak, I am okay with that. This is a small planet, and we have no place else to go. If we don't start taking care of this place, we are in for a very. big. surprise.

I realize the truth in that statement. Do you? 2014 is on track to be the hottest year in history. The bee's are dying. Disease is spreading. California has no water. Last year my town in North Carolina got more rain than Seattle, Washington... Does that sound right to you?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Hero 4 first impressions, and why I just might do it.

I have been working with GoPro Cameras seriously since the original HD - I loved that camera! - I have shot just about everything you can think of with it. Including two expeditions. I knew that a camera was coming, as they have released one every year since that original HD. Yesterday was the day.

They are a little early this year, but the hero 4 will be available in 5 days. The Blogoshpere has gone wild! I am impressed that they seem to be doing this roll out better than previous rollouts, as they have gotten cameras to testers early - unfortunately I didn't get one! - which leads me to believe they are in a much better position to roll out cameras in large numbers for the holidays. As opposed to last holiday where there were clearly shortages of cameras.

I have seen number of videos of the cameras, but I haven't seen a side by side of actual images. Yesterday I had several conversations with other "GoPro Power Users" and most of us were saying we weren't going to buy this camera. Here is why.

I don't need 4k at 30fps. I have no way to edit or view it. So the biggest feature is useless to me. I think this is a feature really only for full on professional film makers who need a disposable camera that can shoot 4k. (and by disposable I mean compared to a $100,000 Arri Alexa or a Red Epic) As much as I would like to shoot with a RED and use the GoPro as my "it might get hurt camera" that isn't going to happen.

I really want image stabilization, I am very curious why they aren't even a digital image stabilization, and I hope to find out when I am at GoPro Headquarters in November.

I must have better battery life, for the things I shoot, that is a killer - and was the primary reason I switched to the 3+ - and my initial realization that they made the battery smaller (1160mah vs 1180mah) said shorter battery life. To add insult to injury, they changed the shape of the battery, so the batteries I have for my 3+'s won't work.

So as of 9pm last night, I was done. I wasn't getting one.

But that was last night. This morning I had a number of thoughts. All of them bad(for my bank account).

Here is why I am now considering it.

Manual control of the exposure, and the ability to do night time lapse. I am intrigued. This sounds really interesting, and I need to see what it looks like. But this has me interested.

Yes, the battery is smaller, but the processor is much faster, which I read as more efficient, which may mean better battery life. Again, I will see what the first tests show us.

1080p at 120fps! Super crisp slow motion at full 1080p? okay, I am interested.

Finally, I needed two cameras for my Alaska shoot. Beyond that, I don't use two cameras at once. It hasn't happened. In the back of my head it may happen, the big advantage of two is you can move the camera less often. But in practicality I am not doing it. I can sell both to pay for a 4 and I will have some money left over for batteries.

I still want to see what the video tests look like, but right now... I am actually considering it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Flying frog Adventure Race

Beth, who was a paddler on the Alaskan Glacier Awareness Project, and wrote the exercise for expeditioning guest post -  took part in the Flying Frog adventure race here in Greensboro this week.

How did she do?

How did she do so well*? Because she smoked her competitors on the paddle section. How did she smoke her competitors? Because she knew how to paddle. Because she took paddling lessons and worked at it. This is the difference that knowing how to paddle, versus getting in a boat with no training and paddling makes. So after you get that shiny new kayak, get someone to teach you how to use it. You don't have to be entering  race, you just have to be motivated to have more fun in a boat. And who doesn't want to do that!

Congratulations Beth, I will paddle with you anytime. 

*okay, Beth is also a personal trainer - so in great shape - and the field was small... But her paddling skills definitely made a difference. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The gear doesn't matter.

As I look around me, I realize how much my life is intertwined with gear. My work, my play, and my passion are wrapped tightly with some sort of outdoor gear. I have spent the better part of the last 20 years, learning, playing, thinking, using, deconstructing, repairing and teaching people about gear for the outdoors.

I have had the great pleasure of working for some amazing organizations - currently I work for the largest provider of outdoor education in the world* - albeit the newest branch of that organization. I have seen how gear fails for a single recreational user and at the institutional level. I have also heard every excuse from users as to what made a piece of gear fail, when I can see - and know - right away, that it was user error or misuse.

I know where the manufacturers send your gear when you send it to them to get it repaired, and I know - for the most part - which company owns which company and what is still privately owned. I know if a product has stitching where it is made and if it has stitching and poles that it was made someplace else.

I know which organizations swear by which pieces of gear and if it will work for them, with thousands of uses in a summer, it will work for you, mister weekend warrior.

I don't mean any of this as bragging (I don’t mean to brag about any of this.) I know many people with much more knowledge than I have and we all talk about gear and the way people use it - or misuse it - and chuckle. When I don't know what the answer is to a particular problem, I know exactly who to go to for an answer.

I decided a long time ago that I wanted to earn my living doing something I enjoy, I also knew that following that path would mean I would never be "well off" in the traditional American sense. I was okay with that, though I sometimes feel out of step with the world around me.

But when it is all said and done: when I think about the gear that I deal with every day, the gear I am always learning more about and teaching people about, the pack that I lug, or the box that I haul, the boats I put on the roof, or the stoves I am constantly cleaning, I realize none of it matters. What matters is getting outside, and sitting around a campfire with friends and a simple dinner or a quiet ride through the woods on my very simple mountain bike following someone I trust, knowing I can just follow their line…or that effortless roll, just to cool off.

It is about being outside, and feeling the sun on my face, or the rain, or the wind, and knowing, at that moment, that it doesn't get any better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The New crop of watches.

I have worn a suunto vector for over a decade. I chose it because I wanted an ABC watch, that was a step above the Casio Pathfinders I had been using, and a decade ago it was the best ABC watch on the market. ABC stands for Altimeter, Barometer, Compass, and for me, as paddler I won't hit the water without a barometer. 

Here is why. Barometric pressure is the pressure that the air is exerting on you, in a column from above, and it is what makes weather move. When you have an area of low pressure, bad weather - ie. stormy weather with rain - is drawn into it. Think of a Hurricane with an eye in the center drawing bad weather into that very low area of low pressure. As the air is drawn to a location with lower air pressure, it rushes to get there, creating wind. I don't mind paddling in the rain, but wind will really ruin your day. A lot of times, you will feel the wind, before the bad weather hits you, and it is usually a different temperature (cooler), so it is easily noticeable. 

High pressure pushes that bad weather away from you, giving you clear, cool skies. Think crisp fall mornings with a blue sky and just a bit of a chill in the air. That is high pressure doing its work. 

So that is why I wear a Vector, which has been replaced by the upgraded suunto core. I rarely use the compass, and only use the altimeter (which is really just a barometer with a differently calibrated scale) when I am hiking. 

But watches are changing. The first and biggest change is that most people aren't wearing them. I see this when I teach Wilderness First aid. Most people use their phones to tell time. But in the last couple of years we have seen some new watches hit the shelves in our favorite outdoor stores. 

In particular I am thinking about the Garmin Fenix and Fenix 2, and the Suunto Ambit and Ambit 2. These watches add so many features it is dizzying. They are of course ABC watches, but they add GPS technology. Giving you the ability to not only track your location, and plot it on a map, but to know your exact speed and distance and direction to a known point. I was skeptical of the Fenix at first, while it is waterproof I figured it didn't have any features to really make it usable by a paddler. Then I saw that you could switch your units of measure to Nautical. I was delighted, but refused to give up the $400 required to get into the Fenix game. There is now of course a Fenix (and ambit) 2 offering even more features. 

There is also the Garmin Quatix - dubbed "the mariners watch" by garmin, this does a lot of what the Fenix does, but they tout the ability to sight a distant point - and creating a waypoint and paddle towards it. It also has a number of sailing specific watches, it will interact wirelessly with garmin chart plotters, and it will feed NMEA data as well. It has a barometer and programmed tide tables as well - I am not sure if I trust watch based tide information, if you have used it let me know. I would like to try this watch but it is still $400! 

I could buy the new Apple watch for less than that. And speaking of... No mention of waterproof, or battery life, but if it runs apps - which it does - then there could be kayaking specific apps running while you paddle. We will have to see how this looks for real, not just in demo in a keynote. 

What watch are you wearing? 

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Hullaport Problem.

I am a big fan of the Thule Hullaport. I don't have the desire to fold my J cradles down, so I stay away from the more expensive Hullaport Pro - or the Yakima Bowdown. I like the simplicity of the Hullaport. As I have mentioned before I particularly like them on shorter vehicles, I am not very tall, but it is hard to get your boat into a j cradle when the boat has to be lifted on top of a tall SUV.

I have been using the Hullaport for a long time. I am actually on my third set, and when I got my most recent set, I realized they made a design change.

Here is an old Hullaport:

As you can see this hullaport, is curved on both top and bottom. Simple. Classic. Easy to strap a boat too, should you choose to do it that way... You shouldn't but many do. Here is the new one:

Instead of being a loop, top and bottom, it is a loop on the top, and it dead ends on two plugs on the bottom. I am sure this makes manufacturing easier, but you can immediately see the problem. My boat rubbed one of the plugs, and it popped out. I didn't notice it, and have no idea where it happened. Actually, that isn't entirely true... I noticed it the first three times it occurred, picked it up, put it back in the opening, and said to myself "I need to do something to that to hold it in place." and promptly didn't fix it. I thought this was a PO problem, but in fact I am not alone. I parked next to someone at work the other day, and this is what I saw...

I am not alone, and if there are two of us, there are many more. Thule, could you do something about this?