Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

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Wakeboarding and Slalom on the Pamunkey River

Boats, brews, and planks (whether narrow or wide) make for an awesome afternoon. On my last visit home, we met friends to go wakeboarding–and drove off by truck into the VA wilderness. After a dozen turns (with no navigation system), driving on roads twistier than your average Alpen pass, we finally made it to the Pamunkey River. Thanks to Sattie for his excellent hospitality with the boat… and for driving on so many pulls!

There were tubing and jet-skiing too, but I’m gonna focus on the rooster tails and railslides in this post. The Nikon D90 does pretty well on the river… switching to fixed (manual) focus helps a lot, since the skier is always the same distance from the boat. Then the focus is never shifting to the background trees or foreground water splashes.

Brock in the air above the wake

Brock in the air above the wake

Sattie spraying as much water as humanly possible

Sattie spraying as much water as humanly possible

Pulling hard on the slalom ski

Pulling hard on the slalom ski

A masterful railslide, with a bit of jetski in the background

A masterful railslide, with a bit of jetski in the background

Nice work by the ladies as well...

Nice work by the ladies as well...

Now there's something you don't see every day.  Yep, there is some spray from his fingers...

Now there's something you don't see every day. Yep, there is some spray from his fingers...

My recommendations: if you are visiting a warm area in the States near a lake or river, try a bit of wakeboarding or waterskiing (though if skiing, you might want to start on a pair instead of starting slalom). There are plenty of schools and rental shops where you can learn & get gear. If you’re near Richmond, VA, try to persuade my friend Sattie to open a slalom waterskiing school–just kidding.

If you’re (unluckily for this sport) living in Germany, where powerboats are basically not allowed on the lakes, try a Wasserskianlage where you get pulled around a small lake by a cable from above. There’s no wake, but at least you’re on the water. That’s probably a future “Munich” post, for those that might want to try out the Aschheim Wasserskianlage. Sign up for RSS or email updates with the orange links in the left sidebar if you want to read about it!

Posted 8 years ago at 3:27 pm.

3 comments

The Imster Achterbahn

Probably only a few people will know what an Alpine Coaster is. I didn’t until coworkers took me there by chance one weekend. Picture a giant roller coaster going straight down a mountain. Add cows, and a couple of nets in case you fly off. Take away most of the safety and security you take for granted on a Busch Gardens or Six Flags ride. Finally, add a 1h hike (or a ride up the chairlift) to get to the top… voila, you have an Alpine Coaster!

YouTube Preview Image

Here’s a link to watch the video in HD on YouTube.

This was shot on a Canon HF200 attached to a helmet. Yep, I’m aware the video is a bit jerky. The coaster is a LOT jerky. And optical stabilization is not enough. As yet, I haven’t bought a video editing software which will combine the miraculous abilities of a) digital vibration reduction and b) NOT CRASHING. Let’s see what I can find in the next month.

Here are some photos on the way to Imst and while hiking up the mountain. I love that about Europe: where else can you see cows grazing on the ski slopes in the summer?  And standing in the middle of windy mountain roads…

We took a wrong turn on the way to Imst, and found this beast in the road...

We took a wrong turn on the way to Imst, and found this beast in the road...

Is that a beginner or intermediate ski slope in winter?  Guess it depends if the cows are still there.

Is that a beginner or intermediate ski slope in winter? Guess it depends if the cows are still there.

Don’t miss this gratuitous photo of Bunky being nuzzled by a young cow. Daaaamn, that’s hot… if you’re a bovine.

Now there's affection for you.

Now there's affection for you.

Getting to the Imster Achterbahn:

  • Address for your navigation system: Hoch Imst 19, Imst, Austria.  Google maps link here. If you go in late 2009, a word of warning: Imst has some construction downtown, and we had to go around it to get there (a different exit from the main road).
  • I recommend checking the opening times first, as they often have weekend-only operation at the beginning or end of the season.  (In German: opening times = Öffnungszeiten).
  • Prices in 2009: 6.70 to go up the chairlift, 5.90 to come down the coaster (less expensive for kids/seniors, or big groups).

Official website: http://www.imster-bergbahnen.at/index.php?id=6&L=3

Enjoy the coaster, and post your experiences here!  Coming up soon, hiking up the Zugspitze… including scaling the side of a cliff!  Subscribe with the orange RSS and Email links on the left to read about it.  Dave out.

Posted 8 years ago at 9:35 pm.

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Helmetcam Video: First Test

I made time to test out the Canon Vixia HF200 helmet camera sooner than expected, after a few requests from friends.  Here’s a sample video of me biking in Munich, sped up to 2.0x.  One drawback of not having a ring sight: I was looking down some of the time, so there’s a lot more of the road than the surroundings.  Sorry ’bout that, maybe on the next vid!

YouTube Preview Image
If you go directly to YouTube (my user name one51s, or here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtUW_IK7hSY) you can watch it in full HD!

Subscribe with the orange RSS/Email links in the left sidebar to see future (and better) helmetcam videos as I improve my technique!

Production notes:
The video was produced with CyberLink PowerDirector 8 (trial version), wherein I found some bugs. It likes to crash on rendering: especially with transitions. Hence this video has no transitions :-/ Image stabilization and audio noise reduction work pretty well, though! Between the camera and the software, there’s relatively low image shakiness in this video compared to the original.

BTW, PowerDirector 8 is the only cheap (read “consumer”) software I’ve found with subtitle capability. There’s one subtitle in the video to test it out, hehe. Now let’s see if they fix the transition bugs by the time I might want to buy it.

If you’re interested to buy the Canon Vixia HF200, please use the link below and support a freelance author (hehe). Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the HF200. It’s an upgrade of the old HF100 and brother to the HF20 (which has built-in flash memory at a steep add-on price). Avoid Hard Disk based recorders for sports, where shocks may stop the disk drive.

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 8:57 pm.

2 comments

Celebrity Upskirt: Statue of Liberty

Get ’em while they’re hot! Free celebrity up skirt pics (sorry, no downblouse shots of this hot celeb). Even better than Jessica Simpson or Jessica Alba.  This paparazzi has candid photos of that French beauty, the Statue of Liberty! You could almost see her thong in these pictures, if thongs had existed when she was crafted!

Whoa, from the top of the pedestal I can see right up her robes!

Whoa, from the top of the pedestal I can see right up her robes!

Okay, in all seriousness, here is what it looks like underneath her robes:

Here you can see inside the Statue herself; the staircase is new (1980's)

Here you can see inside the Statue herself; the staircase is new (1980's)

For those who want to visit but have hideous memories of going there before the refit (I believe it was mid-80’s), the staircase is new. When the time I went when I was around 8, I remember long lines and hideous heat.  We waited forever, “trapped” in the old staircase among a crowd of heat-exhausted tourists, all to look out some airplane-window-sized portholes in the crown. Now they only let 160 people a day up there on guided tours, although the summer heat and tiny windows are still the same.

What a moving image for an expat who last visited Liberty at about age 8!

What a moving image for an expat who last visited Liberty at about age 8!

In the pedestal, you can see the original torch, which was modified during numerous retrofits and eventually taken out of service due to heavy corrosion.

This is the original torch, modified several times before it was damaged by corrosion.

This is the original torch, modified several times before it was damaged by corrosion.

Here is another nice image with Nikon’s 70-300VR zoom lens:

There are rumors that the face is based on the designer's mother.  "So hot! Want to touch..."

There are rumors that the face is based on the designer's mother. "So hot! Want to touch..."

The ferry to the Statue Island also goes by Ellis Island, seen in this shot from the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal:

Ellis Island, where millions of tired and poor immigrants arrived to turn their fortunes in the United States

Ellis Island, where millions of tired and poor immigrants arrived to change their fortunes in the United States.

On the way back to the dock after visiting Ellis Island, I tried to beat the haze and get a decent shot of the Manhattan skyline.  I’ll let you be the judge if I succeeded in some small way.

As I post this on September 11th, I think how the skyline would have looked like when I was 8. The victims of terrorism are in my thoughts.

As I post this on September 11th, I think how the skyline would have looked when I was 8. The victims of terrorism are in my thoughts.

I’ll have more articles about US East Coast locations coming up, since I just did a long trip “back home” and visited places I haven’t been in many years.  If you’re interested to read/view those as well, sign up with the orange RSS or Email links in the left sidebar!  One advance tip: to visit the White House you need to call your congressman or embassy to arrange it in advance.  D’oh!

Getting to the Statue of Liberty:

  • I have three BIG tips for anyone going to the Statue. 1) Get tickets in advance for the earliest possible visit in the morning. 2) Get up early and go to the first visit in the morning. 3) Go first thing in the morning! Yeah, there’s a theme here… the lines go from bearable to “WTF!?” very fast. We got tickets the day before, for 9am the next day.
  • If you want to go to the crown, reserve tickets online, MONTHS in advance.  We were told in July that they were fully booked until September.  http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm
  • Be at the ferry at least 30 min early for your assigned time.  It leaves from a visitor center in New York City’s Battery Park, near the Bowling Green or South Ferry subway stops.  The ticket fee ($12) is only for the ferry ride to the Statue and then onwards to Ellis Island, before returning to Battery Park.  Entrance to the pedestal or Statue is technically free, but does require a ticket.  (Sorry, you can’t parachute in to save $12).
  • The line to get on the ferry to leave the Statue Island is VERY long, especially if you didn’t have the earliest tickets in the morning.  At Ellis Island it was not so bad (at least when I was there recently).
  • Backpacks: try not to bring one!  Security will NOT let you take it into the pedestal or statue area.  You will have to lock it in some pay-lockers, which are not very big.  Cameras are fine past security, but NOT camera backpacks!  Have a small shoulder-bag for your camera and/or lenses.
  • Security is basically like airport security, but these guards take their job a lot more seriously than the TSA does.  They are guarding the premier symbol of the United States of America.  Respect, yo!

Official website of the National Park Service / Statue of Liberty: http://www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 5:34 pm.

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Canon Helmet Video Camera

Recently I had the idea to make some snowboarding videos, which will catapult me into the realm of the super-rich when they sell like hotcakes all over the globe. I am so sure of success that I bought an HD digital video camera to make into a helmet cam. The Canon Vixia HF200 camcorder uses SD memory cards and will capture High-Def video in 1920x1080i (60i or 30p!).  And it has mechanical (optical) image stabilization!

Now, the challenge of sports video is to hold the camera while moving. You need your whole body for most sports, so the logical way is to mount the camera on a random body part that doesn’t move so much. (Hehe… I’m imagining a foot-mounted cam for running. That footage would make just about anyone hurl). Below is the bracket I made to mount the camera on a helmet that should also keep my head warm on the slopes:

Here's the bracket on my Nvertigo-X skydive hemet.

Here's the bracket on my Nvertigo-X skydive hemet.

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket (made of aluminum L-channel) to the helmet. The screw sticking up is going into the position-lock hole on the bottom of the camera. The cutout in the back is for the battery release switch. Don’t forget Loctite so those screws can’t vibrate out!

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket.  And Loctite!

I used three T-nuts to secure the bracket. And Loctite!

Next I covered most of the exposed aluminum with gaffer’s tape, the best tape ever made. It’s like duct tape on crack. It unsticks easily, can be re-used, tears perfectly straight (and effortlessly)… if you never used it, I recommend to order some from B&H Photo or any camera place. Finally, I put a piece of velcro around the camera (through its hand-strap) as a safety in case the mounting screw were to come undone.

Here you can see the Canon Vixia mounted on the helmet.

Here you can see the Canon Vixia mounted on the helmet.

Sure, you could argue that the chin cup makes you look silly when wearing a helmet like this (as someone pointed out to me). But you need strong support to hold the camera on the side (or top) of your head, and a chin cup is the best way. One note: this setup wouldn’t be ideal for skydiving unless you add a bracket to protect the back of the camera from riser strike. The start/stop record button (right on the back, sticking out) would probably get smacked by a riser on almost every opening.

Front view of the final product.

Front view of the final product.

If you want to see video taken with the Canon Vixia HF200 helmet-cam after I’ve put it to the test, just subscribe using the orange RSS or E-mail links on the left sidebar! First use may be on the side of a cliff at the Zugspitze (Germany’s highest mountain), weather permitting.

Video tips:

  • PC — So far I’ve found that you need a very fast PC to edit 1920×1080 video. I have a AMD Phenom II X3 (the three-core system — for my ex-Qimonda friends, I guess they’re “leftovers” where one core of a quad-core chip didn’t pass the testing!). Editing some short videos it works OK, e.g. 3 minutes of video takes ~10 minutes to render.
  • Progressive scan — Use the camera’s progressive feature to avoid most interlacing issues. Computers and many new flat TV’s display in progressive, and if the software doesn’t deinterlace properly you get weird line artifacts with fast motion. In PF30 mode, the camera captures the frame all at once, then displays the 2 parts of the image (“even” and “odd” lines) in successive frames of the 60i (interlaced) stream. This is a way to use 60i hardware to record a 30p progressive image.
  • Cold weather — When using this in the cold, the battery is going to die FAST. I’m going to make a thick neoprene shell to wrap around it, and will use handwarmer packs to keep the camera and battery warm (so the recording time will be longer and less error-prone).
  • Wide Angle Lens — For most sports where you use a POV (Point Of View) camera, you’ll want a wider angle than what the stock lens provides. This camera accepts 37mm lenses, and I have a wide angle Kenko lens for it (the black attachment on the front). I have a fisheye lens too, but that’s a bit much for most applications.
  • Screen corners — The camcorder screen doesn’t show 100% of the image, so you can’t see the very edges. This is a problem with a wide or fisheye lenses at widest zoom. I never realized on the cam that I could see the UV filter edge in the corners when using my standard wide lens! Filter now removed. However, I saw that in the camera’s media folder, the thumbnail of the video does display the full size including corners, if you need to check this in the field.
  • Shutter speed — High shutter speed definitely gives an appearance of jerkiness, I believe because there is no motion blur within the frame. A bit of motion blur seems to help the eye interpret the scene as moving! So I will have to experiment with this in snowboarding or Ultimate Frisbee, using 1/500s for some shots and lower shutter speeds for others. Very slow shutter speed (like 1/30s) is too blurred, though.
  • Camera motion — Don’t move the camera too fast. The background just doesn’t look good when the whole scene is moving fast! It might be OK only if (e.g.) a snowboarder was very close to the camera, and you move with him, thereby making him not only the focus but the largest screen area as well. I will experiment this winter!

If you’re interested to buy the Canon Vixia HF200, please use the link below and support a freelance author (hehe).  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about the HF200. It’s an upgrade of the old HF100 and brother to the HF20 (which has built-in flash memory at a steep add-on price). Avoid Hard Disk based recorders for sports, where shocks may stop the disk drive.

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 12:12 pm.

2 comments

Taroko Gorge – Day Trip in Taiwan

A short train ride (that’s 2h short) from Taipei lies Taroko Gorge, a stunning river-cut gorge with marble walls.  To get across Taiwan’s mountainous terrain, the engineers had to cut holes in several mountains.  Big ones, too, not some pansy little hills–these are massive mountains, and the tunnels are many kilometers long.  After all these tunnels, the train emerges to Hualien, a small city on the eastern coast of Taiwan.  One interesting feature of Hualien is the Air Force base: there is a tunnel going into the side of a mountain, where the planes are kept in case of an attack by China.  This way the planes are safe, ready for a retaliatory strike.

Our (fantastic!) taxi driver, Mr. Wu, met us at the train station and took us north through Hualien and then west into the Gorge.  After a brief stop at the tourist information center, we headed up windy roads into the gorge itself.

On to the photos.  I haven’t played with the colors, so you can see what this beautiful location really looks like to the eye.  Here’s a typical view down the gorge:

Can you spot the profile of a face in the rock, where the river turns?

Can you spot the profile of a face in the rock, where the river turns?

Where the river turns there is a face in the rock.  The mouth is just at water level, with the nose sticking out to the left.  As my friend Matt cleverly pointed out, the rocks are washed clean where the high water level is.  Obviously when we were there, it wasn’t during spring snowmelt or a typhoon.

Here’s an image of what the rock walls of the gorge look like up close, visible from one of the many trails just off the road:

Beautiful marble formations at Taroko Gorge

Beautiful marble formations at Taroko Gorge

The river water must have a lot of minerals dissolved in it to look this color:

Beautiful colors in the river

Beautiful colors in the river

It’s also fantastic to see what nature can do.  As you may know, Taiwan is an active earthquake area, and these quakes knock loose a lot of rocks.  At one point you can see the old road (before an improved road was laid with more tunnels), with fallen boulders the size of trucks in the middle of it.  Here you see a rockfall by the Nine Turns trail:

Rockfall by the Nine Turns trail

Rockfall by the Nine Turns trail

There’s a reason for the hard hats they hand out, although I’m not sure they’ll help against a rockfall of this size.  I heard a tourist was killed by a rock a few weeks before we were there–a child who had taken off his hard hat.  If you’re there with kids, make sure they follow the safety rules, and stay close to the wall.

Here’s another interesting scene.  Unfortunately this bridge wasn’t open to the public, as I would have loved to walk across!

An interesting perspective on a bridge in Taroko Gorge

An interesting perspective on a bridge in Taroko Gorge

Mr. Wu took us up the winding roads and stopped at each attraction or viewing area.  At the end of the day, we had also hiked for a couple of hours, including a fantastic trip up a mountainside next to what looked like a temple.  We were told it was a memorial for workers that died building the roads and tunnels through the Taroko Gorge area.

Finally, Mr. Wu let us off in downtown Hualien.  I have to send a shout out to him; his English is very good and he picked a fantastic aboriginal Taiwanese restaurant for lunch.  As I write, he is probably flying people out from typhoon-stricken areas of Taiwan in his “day job” as a helicopter rescue pilot!

In coastal Hualien, we looked around for a restaurant for dinner, focusing on seafood.  I saw a city-block-sized covered area with the traditional red lanterns hanging beside it, signifying “restaurant.”  Anything that big in a non-tourist town has GOT to be good.  We tried it out, and were treated to a fantastic feast.  Note: there was not a single English sign or menu, but a very nice local helped us figure out what to order.  The sushi was excellent.  The salmon was excellent.  The Kung Pao chicken was the best I’ve ever had.  And of course, the Taiwan Beer was flowing freely.

Tasty seafood restaurant in Hualien City

Tasty seafood restaurant in Hualien City

Here’s what I could find on the web about the restaurant (based on the phone number on the sign in my photo).  I don’t speak Chinese, but if you print it out I’m sure any Hualien taxi driver could find it.  http://twhl.inbegin.com/html/front/bin/ptdetail.phtml?Part=chfood0025 If you can find this restaurant, by all means, go there! Just point to what you want in the tanks, they should be able to grill it up to super-tasty perfection.

Getting to Taroko Gorge:

Here’s where it gets tricky.  We had fantastic travel arrangements from Taipei through a friend, Kirsten (THANKS!).  I recommend that if you don’t know Chinese, you find a reputable travel agent to book your train tickets (express train if possible) and a taxi to meet you at the train station.  I’m sure there are other ways to do it as well, with tour groups, your own rental car (if you know some Chinese), and so on.  Any way you choose to do it, you’ll visit one of the most amazing natural sights in Taiwan.  Just drive up the road through Taroko Gorge and stop at each viewing point / parking lot along the gorge road for fantastic views and short hikes.

Link to Taroko National Park.

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you here again!  If you wish to follow via email or RSS, you can subscribe with the orange buttons in the left sidebar.

Posted 8 years, 1 month ago at 12:00 pm.

4 comments