Friday, January 24, 2014

A quick story about Salmon.

On my NOLS instructor course we paddled from Port Hardy, on the north end of Vancouver Island to Bella Bella and then took the ferry back. British Columbia is an amazing place, somehow it lacks the scale and grandeur of Alaska - which I tell people is my drug of choice - But it is amazing in its own right. 

We paddled past a number of different salmon farms. I had never given salmon farms much thought before this, and so paddling with a bunch of people who had either paddled in the area before, were already experienced outdoor educators, or had been exposed to salmon farms in the past, I had the opportunity to learn a lot and I did. 

I learned that Farmed Salmon is a much different fish than wild caught salmon. The farmed salmon are kept in large pens, and they are crammed in the pens so they can't really swim as much as a regular salmon. Which means the fish can't really swim, and living in such close proximity to other fish all the time dramatically increase the spread of disease. Because of this, the fish are fed antibiotics. Also, since the fish can't hunt - salmon are meat eaters - they are fed the equivalent of salmon chow, which is made up of about 70% fish/fish oil and bound together with wheat or some other vegetable based binder. Because of this unnatural diet the fish don't get that nice pink color. So they add dye to the salmon chow. 

So after learning all this I came up with a plan. We should paddle over to one of the farms in the middle of the night, and let the salmon free. I was very proud of this plan for the three seconds it lasted until it was shot down. You would think a plan like this would be shot down because it is illegal. But no, that wasn't the problem. The problem was that we - of course - were paddling in the pacific ocean, and locked in the pens were Atlantic salmon. If we did that we would be releasing an invasive species (which I have come to learn isn't that big of a deal because thousands escape every year and have been found as far north as Alaska.) Why Atlantic salmon you ask? It's a long story but really it comes down to this. It is Norway's fault. I finally decided that the situation was un-winable, and claimed from then on I was only eating shrimp. One of the other instructors said "Oh you can't do that, for every pound of shrimp caught there are 6 pounds of bycatch!" Bycatch is fish that is caught along with the shrimp and killed needlessly. Sometimes you can't win. 

This all came to mind this morning when I saw this. 

Farm raised organic salmon - we will just ignore the fact that it is once again Norway's fault. I read this sign and thought to myself, "How can something be farm raised, and organic?" Well, I came home and did some research. It turns out that the definition of organic isn't as strict as one might think. You can read about it here, it is actually pretty depressing. What it boils down to is they can still do the same practices as non-organic farm raised salmon, they can even feed them the salmon chow I spoke of, but they have just slightly higher standards. They can use the chemicals, and dyes, but less of them. 

The advantage of farm raised salmon - for the consumer - is the cost. As you can see above, organic farm raised is $10.99(us) a pound. Less than a week ago I bought wild caught salmon for $16.99 a pound. That is a tremendous difference in price, which is why people buy farmed salmon. the disadvantages of of farmed salmon I think I have already made clear, but if I haven't, read about it here

Here is the thing about Americans - and I am going to get hate email about this, it may be true of other cultures as well, but I don't live in other cultures so I don't feel comfortable criticizing them - If given the choice, Americans will always choose the option that is good for the environment. I am not kidding. If you give an American two options and you say, both of these are effectively the same, but option A is good for the environment, and B is bad for the environment, they will always choose A. Well, they will always choose A if they are the same cost! There has been a massive amount of research that proves it, I am not making it up. We want what is right, but we don't want to pay for it. 

I am willing to spend what money I have to pay for it. That is why I bought the wild caught salmon a week ago. Though, in all honesty, I had an ulterior motive. Farm raised salmon doesn't have as much Omega 3 fatty acid as wild caught. 

Okay, I started this saying it would be a quick story about salmon, and I am going to end it with a second quick story. In 2008 I worked a NOLS course in Prince William Sound. We were spending our last night of the course in a large bay with a huge beach. Floating in the bay were a handful of small commercial fishing boats. One of the boats drove straight into the beach, its metal hull scraping the rocks with little to no impact. He called to one of our students, who came running down to the shore line. He handed her three huge - wild caught! - salmon and we feasted. In talking about it with one of the other instructors I asked why he thought the fisherman did that. He said simply, that it was marketing. Those students would go back home and remember how amazing fresh caught salmon was, and then they would go out and buy it. It was brilliant in its simplicity. I am heading back to PWS this summer, and I will be bringing the makings of sushi with me. I've done it before and it is amazing. The best fish you have ever had.

Oh, and by the way, we are almost out of tuna. Not in the cabinet, the planet. If you could mention to the Japanese to lay off the maguro. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: GoPro hero 3+

I have been working with my Hero 3+ for quite some time now, and I have to say, I am very impressed. As I mentioned before, I bought the 3+ because I had been planning on it for quite some time. I had been putting money aside, not sure of what GoPro was going to release. When they released the 3+ I was a little underwhelmed. But since I had the money, I went ahead and purchased it.

There were really only a few things I wanted. Primarily I wanted better battery life. I was also hoping for Image stabilization. I only got the former. I got some other things I wasn't really interested in. I didn't feel like the 3 needed to be smaller. So when the 3+ got smaller still, I felt like it was more about "could" and not about "should". The camera is actually the same size though, it is just the housing that got smaller. Of course along with that came a decrease in depth that the housing can withstand - From 197 feet to 131 - which is still deep enough for most scuba divers. As a paddler it doesn't really matter to me, as long as I don't have to worry about it getting submerged more than a few feet.  (What does matter to me when I am shopping for a camera like this is waterproofness vs water resistance, so when I look at the Garmin Virb which is only waterproof to one meter under water without purchasing an additional housing, I wonder, what are they thinking!?) Despite the fact that I didn't feel I needed this to be smaller, it is actually nice how much smaller it got. I can squeeze it into even more ridiculous places! Something else that was added was SUPERVIEW which is a wider field of view with less distortion, which you can see in the video below. The 3+ got bigger buttons, making it easier to operate, a far superior latch mechanism. I found the latch on the 3 difficult to use, and it has been completely redesigned, you can now easily do it with one hand and it is burly. I still don't like the battery cover. I find it difficult to open - it should pop open when the button is pressed, but I find I have to use the tip of a knife to pry it open. The WIFI is also updated so it runs faster, smoother with less lag in the preview app. 

So all of this is nice, but how does the thing work? Well, beautifully. I find it easier to operate than any GoPro I have used, and I have used a lot. I love the new buttons. I love the new housing with the screws to the lens cover on the inside - very slick!  And while all of these aesthetics are nice, it comes down to the video, and the video is sensational. See below:

GoPro Resolutions from Paddling Otaku on Vimeo.

Here you can see 1080 down to 720 with all available settings, changing field of view and frame rate. 1080 at 30 FPS is my new go to resolution. It used to be 720 at 30, but 720 is only available at 60 fps now. I generally don't need the higher frame rate. I am still getting around an hour and 45 minutes of battery life with wifi off. Not quite what GoPro says I should be getting, but close enough for me. When looking at video from the 3 and 3+ side by side, the 3+ has a far better - more neutral - color palette than the Hero 3 does.

I am liking this camera very much and I am already stockpiling batteries for Alaska - as well as another little power trick up my sleeve, look for another review soon! - How much do I like it? Well, enough to sell my Hero 3 Black, and buy a second Hero 3+

One last thing I want to discuss. I have been working with Final cut Pro X, and initially I hated it. I felt like i couldn't get precise edits, and I couldn't figure out where anything was. But I used it to edit the video above and I loved it! It just all came together. The biggest thing is that I works with the GoPro files without transcoding them, which is a super time saver. If you are on a mac and editing GoPro footage I would look into it.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Classes I am teaching

If you are in central North Carolina this may be of interest to you.

In the coming months I am doing a lot of non-kayak related teaching, and I would love to see a reader or two show up at a class.

On January 18th I am teaching a "GoPro Basics" class. It is a short, introductory GoPro class for the new user, it is also free. You can register for it here. We will be talking about resolutions, feature differences between the cameras, mounting options, and digital media workflow.

On February 15th I am teaching a 6 hour Map and Compass Class. This is covering a lot of material, reading topo maps. Interpreting contour lines. The parts of a compass. Taking and following bearings. Triangulation. Backstops, Handrails, and the one that gets everyone in trouble.... Declination! This class does have a fee, which is $50 and you can register here.

And Finally, the most important. On February 22nd and 23rd I am teaching Wilderness First Aid. This is an awesome course that covers the Patient assessment system, treating traumas, improvised splinting, and a whole lot more. There is even blood! This one is $220 and you can register here.

All three of these classes are suitable for any level of outdoor experience, and all three of these classes can add to your skills, and comfort level in the outdoors. I hope to see you there.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What Louis CK is trying to say....

Is embrace the moment. Experience the moment. It is okay if that moment is sad, it is a real, true emotion, and that is a good thing. I think what he says about texting while driving is absolutely true, we use distraction to take us away from the scary thoughts that are trapped in our head.

A lot of people aren't comfortable with the thoughts in their head, but it is the reason - or one of the reasons - I kayak, and it was a big part of why I started rock climbing decades ago. Both things make me focus on the moment. It is a form of meditation.

I own a cell phone. I love having a cell phone. I try very hard not to use it as a distraction. I use it as a tool. I use it or tides, and music, and weather, and a camera. I use it for directions, I use it to find a restaurant. It is a wonderful tool, and when you travel as much as I do it is an invaluable tool. As a minimalist I like it because it takes the place of many items. But when I find myself killing time with it, I try and put it down - this is something I am going to try and be better about.

Think about when you use your phone. Are you using it as a distraction? I think there is almost certainly something you can use that time for that is more productive. Even if it is just being in the moment.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Gear review: REI Allstar Suit

REI brand makes some of the best paddle clothing in the world, unfortunately they don't know it. Most of my favorite paddle clothing is currently made by REI, but REI doesn't have a paddling brand, like their Novara Bike Brand.

With the exception of my Kokatat GMER drysuit, and my OR Seattle Sombrero, all of my paddle clothing is made by REI. My favorite warm weather paddling shirt is the long sleeve tech T. Super fast drying time, and UPF 50+. I paddled the inside passage wearing the REI power dry mid weight base layer - it replaced capilene 3 which I wore for years, the REI has a better feel against my skin, and is less expensive. My favorite paddling jacket, isn't even a paddling jacket. It is the eVent Shuksan jacket. It breathes amazingly and is super comfortable under a PFD.

So I was excited to see that REI was making a one piece power dry suit, called the Allstar suit. It is made out of the same midweight material as the tops and bottoms I know and love. When I saw it I thought it would be the perfect 'under dry suit' layer, and Santa Claus was nice enough to let me give it a try. I wore it once on a cold day, so I could get a feel for it, and it felt much like the base layers I know and love. Instead of a half zip, it zips to about my belly button, which is how you get in and out of it. It also has a zipper that goes mostly around my waist, there is a tab about 6 inches across in the front where the zipper starts and stops, which prevents me from taking the top and bottom apart, but allows me to sit on a toilet. It is warm, and comfortable all day long, it may be a little warmer than the individual pieces.

today, as the polar vortex retreated I headed to my local lake to paddle. The air temp was 40 degrees, and the water temp was probably similar, as a large portion of the lake was lightly frozen. I slid into my drysuit, and instinctively reached to my back to smooth my layers and didn't have to. There was no open gap between top and bottom to come open and get pressed against cold Gore-Tex. I slid my drysuit on, leaving the collar of the all-star suit unzipped so it wouldn't interfere with my neck gasket. I zipped up my drysuit and that was truly the last time I thought about it, which is exactly what I want in base layers. It wicked well, it insulated in the cold kayak well, and I didn't realize I was wearing it, until I got out of my drysuit, and into clothes.

My only complaint is that I normally wear a size medium bottom, and a size large top. I got a medium all-star suit and the top fits tighter than I am used to - "Next to skin" - But I guess I can make a sacrifice. Really I just don't like the way it makes my mid 40's stomach look, that is a body problem, not a clothes problem!

This will, without hesitation be my favorite cold weather base layer under my drysuit. If you wear a drysuit on a  regular basis, I highly recommend it.

So now that REI makes all my favorite paddle clothes, I think they need to spin them off into their own brand, which means they will need a name. I think they need something Alaskan, Kahiltna? Kenai? Something like that.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


I have had a camera in my hand since I was 13. I remember receiving for my 13th birthday, a minolta XG-SE and a lens. My father shot with Nikon, and I think he got me a minolta so I wouldn't use his lenses. I would shoot a couple of rolls of film, hand them off to my father and he would have the prints processed. I was never told 'you are shooting too much'. The product of this time with a camera in my hand was that by the time I was 18 I had an excellent understanding of the workings of cameras and film. At 18 I got lucky enough to work in the film industry due to the help of a relative - which is almost exclusively how people got work in the film industry in New York at the time. Film school graduates were actually looked down upon, because they had a lot of knowledge but no real practical skills. On a film set, even though I was the absolute bottom of the totem pole, I had time to see amazing cameras and lights, and because of my experience I had a great understanding of how they all worked. The principles are exactly the same, light, is traveling through a lens, to land on a piece of film. You can control the amount of light that lands on the film to change depth of field, just like in a still camera.

After about a decade I wasn't sure what I wanted to do in the film industry, and decided to take a break. A friend offered me work as an assistant to a professional fashion still photographer, and I jumped at the chance. I was back in the world of small simple cameras exposing one frame of film at a time, and since I had been doing that for practically my entire life, I felt very at home.  After a couple of years I moved into steady work at a stock photo agency. We shot every day, and every day was different. Today we will be shooting sculling on the Charles river, with the camera in a chase boat. Tomorrow, we are shooting men in business suits in a studio doing nothing but shaking hands. The next day we will shoot nothing but sliced fruit. I learned to build sets. Light them, and deal with every aspect of a photography shoot. After discussing the results the photographer wanted, I would light the set. Determine the exposure. Set the cameras. Load the film. Rewind the film, and reload the film (hundreds of times) and then send the film to the lab. But you don't just send the film to the lab.

The first thing is that you had to shoot slide film - because for publication you needed to be able to do a color separation, which you can't do from a negative - and slide film has a very narrow  contrast ratio. About 2.5 to 1, which means it has a very narrow range from light to dark that it can expose. Stretch that range too far, and the shadowed dark areas will be black. Push it too far, and the lighter areas will 'blow out' and go white with no detail. Processing film was an art. You would tell the lab to 'clip' certain rolls, which would mean that they would pull the beginning of the roll out of the canister about six inches, cut it off, process it, and send it to you. From that little piece of film - usually around 2 or 2.5 frames - you would decide to push or pull the rest of the roll. Which essentially means add light or subtract light from normal. Then they would finish the roll with your instructions and you would hope you were right.

I left the industry around the time of digital revolution. For most of the time I was working in stock, we would shoot slide film and then use high res scanners to get digital files. This way we had a 'digital dark room' called adobe photoshop to do whatever we needed to a photo. This meant we had the beautiful look of film, with the control and effects of digital post production. When I left, high end digital cameras were coming onto the market that were finally affordable, meaning under $10,000. I didn't like the look of digital. It just didn't look.... good. There was way too much detail. It was way too crisp. It was also, way too easy. Instead of shooting 80 rolls of film and not knowing what we got until the next day, you could shoot thousands of images - at no cost - and see right away what you needed to do to get the shot. It took a lot of the art out of the job. I was pretty disgusted with the industry by the time I left, for a lot of reasons. But digital was a big part of it. I loved working with film. I loved having the skill set I had developed over a lifetime of working with film. I loved film. And digital was taking it away. When I slid into minimalism, the first thing I did was dispose of unneeded slide film in boxes. After editing a roll of film, what is left over goes into storage. I realized I was storing things I would never need. But to this day, I have a crate of probably 500 nearly perfect slides. Pictures of models, and trips, and friends. I won't part with them.

I was thinking about my love of film the other night when I went to the movies. I sat in a theater with friends, and watched a digitally projected movie that was really pretty good. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

I really enjoyed this film for a number of reasons. First, I like any film that shows someone with a humdrum life making a choice to have an adventure. And as an adventure film it is pretty good. But the people in the film, Walter and Sean, have a deep love of film. I think Ben Stiller made this movie as an homage to film. Walter deals with negatives all day working for life magazine. Sean still shoots actual film with a camera I actually owned. And there is no better place for Walter to work than Life Magazine. No one has created as much amazing photography as Life (with maybe the exception of National Geographic). The film made me want to go home and look at my old slides. The film is also the first major motion picture shot in Iceland, which is absolutely gorgeous. A dear friend shot there this past year, and told me I should go. I just haven't figured out how yet. I know it was shot in Iceland, because I started researching the film. I was wondering where they shot the 'Himalaya' stuff (Chile) which is where I stumbled across the proof that Mr. Stiller made this film as an homage to film. the proof is in the fact that he shot it on film. In an era when more and more feature films are shot digitally, he made a choice - an expensive one - to shoot film.

As an aside, there is a great documentary called 'side by side' about the switch in Hollywood to digital. It has interviews with many great film directors, and they all have opinions about which is better, film or digital. It is an instant watch on Netflix.

Now, you are probably saying "PO, with all your experience looking at film, you couldn't tell this movie was shot on film?" The answer is, no. Here is why.

I don't like digital still cameras. Yes I own one, but I don't think the images are as good as film - with few exceptions, and I think that is only as recent as a few years. I hate what digital did to the still photography world. But you know what? all the things that I think were bad about making still photography digital, made motion film photography better. Much better. I have absolutely zero problem with motion pictures, or any film really, being shot digitally. Ben stiller said he heard a lot of people talking about how much digital film cameras looked like film now, so he thought, why not just shoot it on film. I suspect the days of that being an option are limited.

If you are an individual and you decide you want to shoot a movie, you can buy a digital camera, and a computer to edit your film, for the cost of purchasing the raw film stock, and processing it. Your feed back is instantaneous, and on a film that costs thousands of dollars a minute to make, it makes sense. I am fascinated by cameras like the Arri Alexa and the Red Epic. Personally I would really love a Red Scarlet. But it is way more camera than I need. I shot a 30 minute documentary about paddling the inside passage and edited on my laptop. A decade ago, that just wasn't possible.

This is where my love of the GoPro comes from, it puts such incredible opportunities in your hands, and is relatively inexpensive. That in my lifetime I have gone from working with HD cameras that were massive and connected to a truck, to fit in the palm of my hand is incredible. When I worked in the film industry I assisted for a cameraman who owned an wind up  EYEMO. The EYEMO was a small 35mm camera that was designed literally for combat. They were mounted to Sherman tanks in WW2, they were rolled down hills, and dropped out of airplanes. They were made of heavy steel and were almost indestructible. I really think the GoPro is the EYEMO of the 21st century.

Then, later in the week after seeing "Mitty" I stumbled across an article on Century old film sheet negatives were found. They were found in Antarctica, and they were taken by someone on Shackletons famous "endurance" expedition. They have never before been seen. And they are amazing. Try doing that with an SD card.