Experimenting with Spherical photographs

I was in Spain with the Ricoh Theta S last week so I took the opportunity to experiment with the Ricoh Theta S in a number of locations. What I like about such a device is that it takes a click to get pictures. I experimented with a manfrotto monopod and a smaller monopod. The Manfrotto base was clearly visible in shots so the immersive experience is degraded. With the smaller monopod the base is the same width as that of the camera. This means that at least the support was hidden.

runners in Denia, Spain – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The first image was taken at Denia port, showing two runners running along the port wall/promenade. You can look around and see that the sea was flat, that the car park is relatively full and buildings behind the scene. It provides you with context.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

The second image is taken with the monopod fully extended so that it is among the branches of the trees. You can see a light house ahead and you can look at the tree at the same time.

theta archaeology. 🙂 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

It would be interesting to experiment with archeology and 360 pictures and video. Instead of placing the camera to one side and having the camera operator choose what you see the action could take place around the camera and the viewer, sitting in a swivel chair could turn and look at where the most interesting thing is happening next. You can zoom in and out within reason, to see details or to see a wider picture.

Post from RICOH THETA. – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

At the Denia Marina part of a bar is floating on the water. it has a sphere of sun shades around with speakers and lights. You can sit in comfortable seats and look up. A conventional image would show the dome from outside but with a spherical camera you can capture the feeling of being in the centre of the structure.

my camera and I, between shots. 🙂 – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

This image was taken in Basel during a recent trip. This location is ideal for 360/spherical images because each wall is covered with paintings, the clock is decorated and more. As it surrounds you the subject lends itself well to 360° photography.

a rock outcrop – Spherical Image – RICOH THETA

For the last image I went to sea level and photographed the view from a headland and beaches on either side. One of those beaches has bars and a number of people whereas the other beach is nice and quiet. It is nice to look at these images and get a feel for the place.

The challenge in taking these photos is how to get the camera in to an interesting place and hide yourself or the support for the camera. I usually knelt down and tried to stay directly below the camera. The other option is to find a system to stand the camera at the right height but make the monopod invisible. With multi-camera setups parallax makes hiding tripods and other objects easier. The next step is to find a base that makes hiding the stand simple.

Montagne en Scène Genève

Au Vieux Campeur held the summer mountain film screening event at the Batiment des Forces Motrices in Geneva. They introduced the event as being the opportunity for them to share the passion of the mountains with people who may not be aware of the activities that are possible. They then went on to say “but as we’re having the screening in Geneva we know that you’re just half an hour from the mountains so many of you are practitioners and today we may even have participants from the cancelled Patrouille Des Glaciers.

Mountain film screening
Montagne en Scène, four films screened at the BFM buildling in Geneva

Four films were shown at Montagne En Scène. The films shown were A Line Across the Sky, a documentary following two less experienced climbers as they attempt the Fitzroy traverse during a rare good weather window, Chasing Niagra, a documentary about Rafa Ortiz and his preparations to shoot the Niagra Falls in a Kayak. The third film is Mont Rebei Project, a documentary looking to achieve a new Rope Jump record.

The Last film, and my favourite is Valley Uprising. It takes a look at the American climbing scene from the fifties up to the Modern day. This documentary is great because it provides us with a deep understanding of the American climbing psyche. Mountain climbing is a sport of passion and so to see how different groups helped this passion progress over the years is interesting.

Film screenings are in Switzerland, France and Belgium

Sharkwater – a documentary worth watching

Sharkwater – A documentary worth watching.

If you have one and a half hours of free time I recommend watching this documentary. It discusses the anti-whaling work by the Sea Shepherd, the work it did to combat long lining around the Galapagos and it touches on the shark finning mafia and corruption.

The documentary also looks at the public perception of sharks. It shows that they are not the dangerous animal that they were thought to be until recent history. The film ends with a shot of the narrator free-diving with sharks and being perfectly relaxed. At one point he says “sharks are so sensitive that they can feel your heart beat, if you are calm they will stay but if you panic they will flee”. I paraphrased his exact words.

Another theme that is explored in this documentary is the food chain. He mentions that plankton absorb a lot of Carbon dioxide and that with the overfishing of sharks the ecological balance will be ruined as the apex predators are lost. He pushes strongly for the conservation of shark numbers. We are familiar with the current Save our Sharks movement.

This is an interesting investigative documentary about the economy surrounding shark finning and why it has a negative impact on the food chain. If the documentary was updated it could look at the economic viability of shark tourism that has grown in recent years. Sharks, in some places are more valuable alive than dead. If you don’t have time to watch the entire documentary then I recommend that you watch the last thirty to fourty minutes.

Pay-to-win Futility.

Pay to Win games make casual gaming futile
Pay to Win games make casual gaming futile

Several years ago a friend told me about Clash of Clans and I began to play the game. The game is an enjoyable distraction for when you have a minute or two three. You perform a few actions and then you get on with your other tasks. When you play for free patience is an asset. You have to wait to get enough gold, elixir or gems before you can complete certain actions. The game is designed in such a way that you can play for years and still progress.

I like to joke that the Pay  to Win model is both encouraging and training people to bribe their way through life. If you’re impatient you pay a little supplement and you complete the action. Instead of taking a week for an action to be completed it takes seconds. Supercell has made millions this way as individuals spend more than a thousand euros. Those who are willing to pay get to the top of the leaderboard.

Two factors that discourage Paying To Win.

The first reason is that I come from the early days of computer games when you paid for a game once and you could play for as long as you had free time. It was a time when Civilization 3, Gunship 2000, Doom and other games were around. With games like Clash of Clans, you spend more than you would spend on a good meal and you only progress a little.

The second is that accounts are or at least, were, platform specific. I started playing Clash of Clans when I had an iPhone. When I switched to Android I lost my progress and had to start again. It has taken more than a year to get back to the same level. If you pay on ios your progress is not reflected on Android and vice versa. It’s nice to have two level50+ games but imagine if I had paid to get the game on both platforms to be at the same level.

Clash Royale

Recently they came up with Clash Royale. This is another Pay to Win game and as you can see from the screengrab above it is currently the top grossing app on the play store, at least in Switzerland.

They released the game to a restricted number of countries at first. Some players were at an advantage. They could play and progress in the game. We were easier to beat as we arrived later.  Now we find it easier to beat the newcomers, as we have learned strategies to be victorious more often.

People who are less patient, less humble have obviously paid a lot of money to progress. I prefer to wait and progress for free.

 

Bragi – self contained in ear audio player

BRAGI – The Dash — Wireless Smart In Ear Headphones from BRAGI on Vimeo.

I enjoy cycling, running, climbing and via Ferrata so this type of device is well suited to my needs. The price is not. At 300 USD it is an iPod shuffle replacement at its core. From what I understand The Dash can track steps, heart rate and duration of sports so in theory you can go without a sports watch, sports tracker or mobile phone. In practice, I never leave the house without my phone.

I do see it filling a swimming niche. Most mobile phones are not IP68 certified. If this device is IP 68 certified (I could not find information on the website) then I see it being especially interesting for swimmers.

According to their website they can be used for four hours in between charges but charge time is two hours. They will last through most workouts.

The limitations I see to this device are first and foremost the price. I don’t want to pay 300 USD for something that I am likely to lose. I listen to podcasts and audio books and like to have several on my devices at all times. Both my mobile phone and iPod classic fill these roles with ease.

When the price for these devices descends to 200 USD I will be willing to buy a set. I would also like to have either two sets of earphones or a charge time of just an hour rather than two. They say that the app is coming soon.

As an audiobook and podcast listener, I want to save my progress and bookmark interesting passages. I would like to see this incorporated to the gestures that control the device.

Cycling with the Cateye Stealth Evo+

I bought the Cateye Stealth Evo+ a few weeks ago because this summer I am rediscovering my passion for cycling. I made this decision because the Suunto Ambit 3 is not optimised for cycling. I wanted to have a way of checking my cadence whilst at the same time having a GPS track and easy data transfer with a service such as Strava.

Price

I chose the Cateye Stealth Evo+ because of it’s wireless technology and price. I saw that the Garmin 500, 510 etc were offering all the same features but at a slightly higher price.

Setup

The hardware takes a minute or two to set up. I first set up the speed and cadence sensor on the frame before aligning both the speed sensor and cadence sensor. I then tightened everything once I had tested that everything was working properly.

The cateye device has two menu sets. Menu set 1 is for cycling and menu set 2 is for configuring the device. The first step is to go to menu 2 and pair the heart rate monitor and Speed and cadence sensors. Once this is done go to a computer and configure the device. You can tell it which timezone you’re in, whether DST is valid or not, wheel size and more. This takes seconds with the computer interface.

Cycling

To turn on the device hold the power button for 4 seconds and then wait for the stop indicator to blink. It starts to blink once it has acquired your GPS location. At this point you can click the power button once and the indicator will change to go. Once you start moving you should see the timer move forward a second at a time and the odometre mark the distance travelled. The speed and cadence sensors will automatically activate when they detect that the wheels and pedals are moving.

The device automatically pauses when you are stopped and starts again when you are moving again. If you stop for an extended period of time you can power off the device and then power it on again when you resume the journey.

When you complete your journey stop logging the ride by pressing the power button and then holding the menu button at the front of the GPS for a few seconds, until you see the metres back at zero.

Online service synchronisation

The Cateye Stealth Evo+ and computer software make it easy to synchronise to three services by default. These are the Cateye cycling atlas, Strava and Training peaks. As the people I cycle with and share trip information with are using Strava I sync to this service first and then to others. I export the data file from Strava and import it to Sports Tracker almost flawlessly. Cadence data is not transferred.

Strengths

I have used a number of mobile phones and sports watches and this is one of the fastest devices that I have dealt with. I really like that the heart rate monitor and speed and cadence sensors are on almost instantly and I love that the device is so simple and intuitive to use once you get the hang of it.

Weaknesses

The key thing to remember with this device is that it has two modes/menus. Cycling and Setup. All of your navigation is done via the front button. I wish that I had set it up via the computer rather than via the menus on the device as the computer interface takes seconds.

Conclusion

While the Suunto Ambit 3 is my primary device for all sports the Cateye Stealth Evo+ has replaced it for cycling. I like that it provides a dedicated hardware solution that is easy to install and small and light to carry and potentially install on another bike. Integration with Strava works flawlessly so I am happy to keep using this product.

The Fitbit Charge HR

The Fitbit Charge HR is one of the better heart rate and step counting solutions out at the moment. It allows you to keep track of your steps and heart rate twenty four hours a day for a little less than a week between charges.

It is a wrist worn activity tracker that detects whether you are walking, running or climbing up a hill. I tested it over a period of weeks while hiking, doing via ferrata, cycling and sleeping. As a result of the test environment I was informed by the device that I had gone up 250+ floors in a single day. That’s when I was playing on a via ferrata or two.

I also tested it while I was sleeping. It automatically goes in to sleep mode so there is no chance of you forgetting. As it tracked my heart rate while I was sleeping I saw that my resting heart rate could be 47 beats per minute. As I challenged myself with a 1000m hill climb on a bike followed by via ferrata and hiking my body became fatigued and this was reflected in my higher resting heart rate. It went up by four or five heart beats per minute.

When I was using the Fitbit Charge HR I had it automatically tracking my heart rate but you can choose whether it is on/off or automatic. I kept it on automatic. When you take off the tracker the two green led lights stop blinking automatically after a few seconds.

I liked having the Fitbit Charge HR for a few weeks and liked that it tracked my heart rate and showed me how many floors I went up. As I spend a lot of time in the mountains though the results were skewed. The biggest weakness with the Fitbit Charge HR has to do with the regionalisation efforts by Fitbit. I live in Switzerland and until recently I had the site in English. For a few weeks I have had to switch languages between french and English several times. I wrote a tweet to get a response but they asked me to send an e-mail. I sent an e-mail detailing the problem and then they asked me to detail what the problem was. The problem is that I am in the French speaking part of Switzerland, my laptop and phone are set to English and the app and website default to German. Due to their regionalisation efforts when I sold the device as planned I did not replace it and went back to using the Fitbit flex. As both straps for the Fitbit flex broke I carry the sensor in my pocket.

As a point of reference my primary fitness tracker is the Suunto Ambit 3. When I cycle, swim, do via ferratas or hike that is the device that is tracking my progress and overall fitness level. I also pair it with Strava.

TomTom Go and the diminishing cost of live traffic data when driving

Today with Tomtom Go you pay 20CHF per year for the maps and traffic information. When I first bought the TomTom Europe apps for iOS and Android they cost about 170CHF an operating system. If my memory serves me well traffic information would cost an additional 100 CHF per year.

As a result of the high cost for traffic information I was in the habit of using Waze. As long as you have a data connection you get maps and traffic information for free. It would save you 270 CHF initially.

When you live in the french speaking part of Switzerland you are just minutes from France and within hours you can be in Germany, Austria and Italy. As a result having maps pre-loaded in to your navigation is useful. That’s where Tomtom at 20CHF per year becomes interesting. The maps available are for individual countries, for Western, Europe, Eastern Europe, the whole of Europe, The Caribbean, North America and South America. Each of these maps can be downloaded ahead of a trip and used.

This means that once you’ve paid your 20 CHF you have maps for the world, not just for your daily commute.

I am so convinced by Tomtom’s new philosophy that I have uninstalled Waze and will now use Tomtom primarily and Google maps as a backup.

The Crosscall Odyssey Plus

 

The Crosscall Odyssey Plus fills two niches. It is a rugged weather proof phone rated to the IP 68 standard and is equipped with dual sim capability. This makes it ideal for the sports I enjoy, mainly via ferrata as pictured below and hiking. It comes with a smaller carabiner than the one pictured below. I swapped it for one of my own.

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IP 68 is a code to determine how resistant a device is to both particulate matter and liquids. 6 denotes that the device is dust tight so particulate matter will not make it’s way in. 8 as defined by the manufacturer denotes that this device can be submerged for half an hour at 1m before damage occurs. If you get caught in the rain or have to cross a river the phone should survive.

Another interesting feature is the dual sim capability. This phone allows for two microsims to be used at once. In my case I have a Swiss sim card and a french one. Both sims are constantly active so you can select whether to make phone calls from Sim 1 or Sim 2. You can also select which sim card is using the data plan.

It runs android 4.3 and works fine with the TomTom app, the ingress and others. I found that battery life is also comfortable. With me as a user the battery lasts for a day.

more info

The Apple Watch does not fill a niche

The Apple Watch rather than fill a niche provides a fifth screen. According to Wikipedia the four first screens are the cinema screen, the television screen and the mobile phone and tablet screen. The fifth screen is the smart watch as designed by Apple, Samsung, Sony and others. Apple and others have designed phones that bring the mobile phone experience to the wrist.

Energy efficient

Suunto, Garmin, Fitbit and other brands fill the wrist worn niche effectively because they have designed devices with energy efficient displays that provide tracking whilst at the same time giving extended battery life.

Extended battery life in use

Health trackers by fitbit and other companies have been designed to last for a week or more whilst tracking movement 24 hours a day. Suunto, Garmin and other brands have designed watches that can track activities for hours or even days before they need charging.

Long stand by time

When not in use all of the devices mentioned above can last for weeks. In the case of the Suunto Ambit two I have found that it loses one percentage of charge per day. As a result of this it can be used as a watch for three months before I need to think of charging.

Data analysis

All of these tools are for collecting data about the route you took, the intensity of the exercise tracked, heart rate and complementary information. When synced on the computer or website a lot of information is presented. Garmin syncs with Runkeeper, Strava, Garmin connect and other services, Suunto syncs with Movescount and Strava intuitively. Fitbit syncs with the fitbit site and other fitness apps. The most interesting data is analysed on a computer rather than the wrist unit. This leaves the device to track information cost effectively, where cost is battery life, and effective is defined by how long you can track an activity.

Conclusion:

My passion for “smart watches” stems from scuba diving. I bought a Suunto D9 to track dives and loved taking dive data and analysing it in view of improving my diving ability. I tracked training at the gym, hiking and other activities with various phones and their weakness was battery life. When you go for a hike in the mountains, go for a via ferrata or do a number of other sporting activities for extended periods of time you want a device that can last as long as you do.

Suunto’s Ambit 2 filled that need very well, so well that I upgraded to the Suunto Ambit 3. As an android user I can’t  take advantage of all the features yet but that will come soon, this month in fact.

The Apple Watch does not fill any of the requirements I have listed above and for this reason I am not tempted. I see it as a fifth screen that does not fill a niche. Fitness trackers, fitness watches and other devices cost the same price or less and fill niche requirements effectively. Why would I want a gimmick?