Backpacking the Lost Coast

Darlene and I joined Abhi, Komo and Anjali on a backpacking trip along part of California’s “Lost Coast”, led by Mike through the Outdoor Adventure Club.  The “Lost Coast” is a remote and undeveloped stretch of coastline in northern California, north of Fort Bragg and south of Eureka.  We hiked the northern section from Mattole Beach down to Black Sands Beach (near Shelter Cove) over three days, August 9th-11th.  Due to the steep coastal terrain, you’re often hiking the beach – several long sections of which are impassable during high tide and so you need to plan around the tide tables.

Click on through for my gallery of pictures and videos, including some from Darlene, Abhi and Mike:

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“A Life More Extraordinary”

My sister-in-law, Michele, started a blog recently about her adventures with my brother, Glenn, and their success at turning around their health and lifestyle and getting to do more of what they want to be able to do.

Michele has always been really great at writing very entertaining stories and it shows here too!  Check it out, it’s both fun and inspirational: A Life More Extraordinary

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Robot in the House

For years I’ve dismissed those little semi-autonomous, robotic sucking machines.  It sounded like they weren’t really worth the trouble since they couldn’t really run for very long, pick up much debris in their tiny compartments, deal with furniture without missing spots or getting stuck or trapped. With all the need to supervise, it sounded easier and quicker to do it yourself.  But then recently I stumbled on a review of a new model and was intrigued by the improvements and the possibility of a little machine to help keep up on all that cat hair my two furry friends are always producing.

 A fun video showing my new little helper in action (1.5 minutes, 24 MB)

It’s the BotVac 80/85 from Neato.  Unlike its more well-known competitor (iRobot Roomba), this robotic vacuum cleaner does not just follow a random walk around the room, bumping haphazardly from one obstacle to the next.  The BotVac uses laser sensors to map out the shape of each room and build up a floor plan as it goes about its business.  When it encounters obstacles like tables and chairs, it will actually work to navigate around each leg, vacuuming under and around as much as it can.  It’s pretty amazing (and mesmerizing) to watch it navigate around the house, room after room, following its little internal rule sets to deal with various obstacles as they come up.

  • When the BotVac gets low on charge, it will actually backtrack through the map it built to return to its charging base and dock itself for recharging, even off in another room.  And when it has finished recharging it will return by itself to where it left off and continue the job!
  • It’s got touch sensors in front to help it maneuver tightly to objects and walls.
  • It has a sensor underneath to keep it from running off a cliff (or stairs).
  • It comes with some magnetic strips that you can lay down on the floor to cordon off rooms or areas that you don’t want it to intrude on.  (It’s much simpler than the battery-operated “fence” posts that the iRobot apparently uses.)
  • It has a little edge-cleaning brush on the right side.  (Thus it will always approach walls and make its rounds in a right-handed path.)
  • It’s squared off in front so that it can get into corners much better than fully round designs like the Roomba.
  • It has a larger-than-typical dust bin and it’s very easy to remove and empty out – without even having to turn over the unit.  It makes sense to also vacuum out the dust filter though.
  • You can set a schedule for when it should run but this doesn’t seem practical to me as I would first want to clear stuff off the floor and make sure there aren’t any cat messes that it would get into – and make worse.  (Hera often has stomach issues.)

It’s not quite a replacement for a full-size vacuum cleaner but it certainly does an amazing job considering that you can just start it up and let it go while you go about doing other things.  (You also do need a normal vacuum cleaner to clear out its filter.)  It’s pretty cool though to come back and find everything freshly vacuumed!  And it’s not really that loud (certainly much less than a full size vacuum) and it’s not too annoying to have it going about it’s business while you do other things.

One limitation with the BotVac is that at about four inches tall, it can’t fit under some furniture, particularly couches.  (The Roomba design has a lower profile and can fit under more furniture.)  Also, the BotVac can get itself stuck at times and need help.  This happens sometimes with furniture that offers just enough clearance for it to partially slip under but not quite enough for it to fit entirely under.  Often this goes fine and it will just work its way around, but other times it’ll get itself wedged in and need to be pulled out.  When it does get stuck or trapped, it will cut power to its vacuum and call for help by chiming.  It’ll then sit and wait quietly for a while before chiming now and again.

Here’s a much more mixed review of the BotVac that comes out in favor of the Roomba.  Some more reviews: BotVac 85 vs. Roomba 880 (favors the BotVac) and iRobot Roomba vs Neato Botvac (favors neither).

Note that the BotVac 85 is really just the same model as the 80 but it comes with two extra filters included.   (This wasn’t obvious to me.)  Both the 80 and 85 come with the two different brush types.

Now… what should I name him?

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Twelve Days of Croatia

Darlene and I recently enjoyed a twelve day trip to Croatia, booked through REI Adventures.  (June 27th to July 9th)

Our trip started in Zagreb and we worked our way south through Dalmatia and down to Dubrovnik, with a side excursion through Bosnia-Herzegovina.  As an active, multi-sport trip, we enjoyed lots of hiking, biking, river and sea kayaking, as well as just seeing and exploring various sites along the way.

Here’s a video montage I put together covering much of our trip:

I’ve organized the pictures into four different galleries:

Days 1 -4:  Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zrmanja and Krupa Rivers, and Novigrad

  

Days 5-7:  Paklenica National Park, Vrgada Island, Skradin, Krka National Park, and Trogir

  

Days 8-9:  Split, Trebižat River, Mostar, and Ston

  

Days 9-12:  Dubrovnik, Zaton and the Elafiti Islands

  

 

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Pop-Up Game of Thrones

Glenn and Michele sent me this Game of Thrones pop-up book for my birthday… pretty cool!  Thanks guys!!  Click through to see more of the pop-up book:

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And, as it happens, Darlene and I will be off to Croatia for my birthday in a few days, which also happens to be the filming locations for several Game of Thrones locales, like King’s Landing (aka Dubrovnik):

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Cycling Around Lake Tahoe

Darlene and I joined some of her cycling friends in a biking event around Lake Tahoe this past Sunday, June 1st: “23rd Annual America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride“.  The main route is 72 miles around the lake and a total of about 4000 ft of elevation gain.

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Click for the full gallery of pictures

Here’s a short (three minute, 50 MB) video montage I put together of the whole ride around the lake:

 

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Eastern Sierra Cycling Weekend

Here are some pictures and video from a few days of cycling and camping in the Eastern Sierra in and around the Mono Lake Basin, Mammoth and June lakes, Long Valley and Rock Creek Canyon over May 24th-27th.  It was Darlene’s first time seeing the area.  We came over by way of highway 108 and Sonora Pass and down through Bridgeport and Lee Vining to camp out on national forest land near highway 395 and June Lake on Saturday night.

Mono Lake (click for full gallery)

Mono Lake (click for full gallery)

Sunday we set out for a bike ride to the South Tufa area at Mono Lake via the June Lake loop.  That worked out to about 38 miles.  Afterward, we stopped in for groceries at Mammoth Lakes and then set out on Benton Crossing Road to find a nice spot in the rocky hills east of Crowley Lake to use as our base camp Sunday and Monday nights.  That night I was up late exploring the wonderfully dark (and moonless) skies with my telescope.

Long Valley looking towards Mammoth

Long Valley looking towards Mammoth (click for full gallery)

Monday morning we left our camp standing and drove into Tom’s Place at the base of Rock Creek Canyon to set off on our bikes to climb the 2600 ft. up to Rock Creek Lake (at 9682 ft).  Alas, there was to be no Pie in the Sky today at the Rock Creek Lodge so lunch was back down at Tom’s Place.

After breaking camp on Tuesday we stopped in at Mammoth Lakes again for breakfast and a bit of shopping before heading home, this time via Yosemite and Tioga Pass/Road.

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Dim Sum Time

Here’s some pictures from another dim sum lunch with friends and coworkers from FileMaker, this past Monday (5/19). Frank was actually overpowered this time by one of the servers and we ended up with a whole extra round of food we had to take with us.  Click through for the gallery:

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Overnight in Big Basin

Darlene and I hiked into Big Basin State Park on Monday and stayed overnight at the Sunset trail camp near Golden Falls, Silver Cascade and Berry Creek Falls, about five and half miles from the overnight parking near the park headquarters.  This trail camp (reservations required) has ten permitted sites that are nice and well-shaded but it is a bit of a walk to get to the creek for water.  Unfortunately the mosquitos were pretty bad in the evening and it made it difficult to enjoy dinner but we hid out in the tent on Tuesday morning until they eased up.

Click through for the full gallery:

 

Found this fuzzy yellow guy wandering through our camp in the morning:

 

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Pivothead Sunglasses Camera

I’ve been trying out a new pair of sunglasses with a built-in video/photo camera, the Pivothead Recon.  The Recon (actually now called the Kudu) is one of several styles of camera glasses from Pivothead.  The glasses can record video at 1080/30 or 720/60 fps as well as take still photos (up to 8 MB).  They can even capture stills while you’re recording video.  They have interchangeable shades, including the photo-chromatic kind (adjusts to brightness).

The camera functionality works pretty well except that they currently have some issues with their various focus modes.  The continuous focus mode hunts for focus a lot, the fixed focus mode is set to a focus point that’s too close so most of the time everything is very softly focused, but I’m getting the best results with the auto-focus mode which sets a focus when you start recording and holds that for the duration of the recording.

The exposure isn’t always ideal but then it’s pretty amazing that they can cram all this functionality in a sunglasses frame (rather than having a bulky camera mounted on your helmet).  Another issue though is that the little LED lights on the inside of the frame aren’t really visible while you’re wearing them so you have to pull them half off to verify that they’re on and/or recording.  Given that a) you can’t start recording until a couple of seconds after you hit the power button and b) they automatically shut off when idle after 30 seconds or so, it’s easy to think you’ve started recording, when you haven’t.  (This keeps happening to me.)  It would be better if the little rocker switch to start/stop a video or take a photo would actually power them up, rather than having a separate power toggle button.

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Trying out the Pivothead Recon Sunglasses/Camera

The glasses aren’t very adjustable for different faces.  Mine tend to sit high on my nose and the camera points up a little high but this ends up working out to a good angle for mountain biking.  Yes, that picture was taken using the glasses, but I titled my head down (and still heavily cropped it to frame it well).  Without doing that, the center of the shot would actually be well above my head.  But as I say, that has to do with individual fit and it works out fine for me while on a bike.

The Pivothead charges via USB and you can get a combination external battery pack and WiFi hub (Pivothead Air Sync) that allows you to charge it up and download your shots when you’re out in the field.  It’s also useful as extra power for any USB-chargeable device.

Here’s some sample video showing some of its strengths and weaknesses.  (Also, this video was shot with these glasses as well.)  Both videos have of course been downsized and compressed for web presentation:

 

Note the challenges in dark, high contrast lighting in the trees and how quickly (or slowly) it can adjust to changing lighting.  Obviously it does much better in brightly lit scenes.  Also, it would be awesome to have some optical stabilization but that would be asking a lot at this point, particularly in the frame of a pair of sunglasses.  Really I just hope they can fix the other focus modes and improve the start/stop method.

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