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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?