Wednesday, 11 January 2023

Travel Photography Tech Wishlist

After 25 days on the road across the Iberian Peninsula, I have ideas about what I'm looking for in terms of travel photography tech. The Canon SLR with a bag of lenses is too much to lug around, and the recycled 7 year old Dell laptop doesn't cut it when it comes to keeping up with modern file sizes. An agile photo tech set also works on two wheels, so here's what I'd bring along if I were going light but looking for full technical flexiblity in terms of imaging while on the road:


Zenbook S 13 FLIP OLED

An absolutely bonkers sub 2.5lb laptop with 2k of colour corrected display with 100% colour gamut. It folds away to almost nothing, offers the power needed to make high resolution photo and video edits on the road and even converts to a tablet for digital sketching.

$1899


Sony Cybershot RX10Mk4

After lugging the SLR with many lenses around Iberia for weeks on end, I'm looking for a more compact but technically robust option. The Cybershot has a massive sensor, shoots in RAW and outperforms my SLR in pretty much every area. Being smaller and less fussy (just the one do-it-all lens), it does what the best camera always does: makes it easy to have it with you. I ended up leaving the SLR behind towards the end because it was more trouble than it was worth

$2199


Ricoh Theta Z1

Simply the highest photo quality 360 camera you can get. A massive 1 inch sensor means good low light, RAW shooting, a programmable Android based OS that lets you push the limits of this emerging format by creating my own plugins.

I prefer photography to video so the Z1 is the weapon of choice when it comes to 360 photography. The only thing it can't do is rough and tumble, but I have a plan for that.

 $1349


GoPro Max 360

The rough and tumble option. If I'm riding, in the rain or under water, the Max will do the job and capture the moment. It also handles instant panaramas and many video options, including timelapse.

I prefer the ergonomics of the Theta, but the GoPro is the best at what it does, and for action shots it would be a powerful tool.

$669


Apple iPhone 14 Pro

I got an iPhone 13 last year and the camera on it is good - so good that I found myself leaving the DSLR behind because, for candid snaps, the iPhone is more than up to the job. As good as it is, I'm wishing I'd gone a bit further and gotten a 14 pro with extra lens and that bit more photographic range. I'm still struggling with adapting to iOS after owning an Android from the very beginning, but I'd stick it out for the software integration and quality on the iPhone (Apple's stance on user privacy is appealing too).

$1549


This might all seem pretty expensive (photography isn't a cheap hobby), but when a single pro 400mm lens costs you about ten grand, this entire $7665 set offers much more flexibility with a powerful all-in-one camera, two 360 specialist imaging tools and a state of the art lightweight laptop for post production, and all while taking up next to no room.


***.


I did alright with the old DSLR (these are wild Portuguese seas), but lugging all that about wasn't very travel friendly - I think I'm ready to migrate back to a prosumer grade all-in-one superzoom camera. I just need to make sure it beats the SLR with lense and includes the specs I need to improve my imaging (large sensor, full manual controls, RAW file saving, epic lens).

I'm pretty crafty with on-bike pics from the old Ricoh Theta I've got, but with newer (and tougher) tech I could push the boundaries there too.

Good example of how capable the iPhone is at photos (and a nice way to get to the beach - on a 90s vintage Africa Twin!). This is cropped in tight from the original and is still high-rez.


Friday, 30 December 2022

The Smoke and Mirrors of EVs and Electronics Integration in Modern Cars

I'm a couple of weeks into a trip around the Iberian Peninsula with my family. I'd been hoping for a car we can't get in Canada, but ended up with a Kia but it's a Kia you evidently can't get in Canada. This is a Kia Xceed:


We ended up with it because we were driving from Madrid, across Spain and into Portugal, and Lisbon has a low emissions zone where only electric and hybrid electric vehicles can go. Before we left Madrid airport the guy at the rental desk encouraged us to charge it up and use the battery to save gas - but they didn't include the charging cord with the car, and so began a long series of frustrations with our first hybrid electric driving experience.

We figured we'd just charge at a station but stations don't provide charging cables, they come with the car (unless they don't). On top of that, it turns out that the charging cables aren't standardized, and vary from region to region (I imagine because electricity itself isn't standardized worldwide); the stupid plug stack I packed to keep our devices charged is testament to that.

Imagine if you had to bring your own gasoline hose with you everywhere you went. Imagine if different cars had different sizes and shapes of holes for you to put gas in, so your car only worked at certain gas stations. We're a number of years into this 'electric revolution' in vehicles. I've never been able to afford being early-adopter green, but a lot of wealthy people enjoy the glow of showing everyone they care about the planet (I just keep old, efficient, high mileage vehicles in good repair and on the road, saving all those greenhouse emissions from having to manufacture something new every few years).

I thought the 'EV Revolution' would be further down the tracks with standardized ports and cars that actually came with the gear needed to make them work. Many manufacturers are making marketing noises about being entirely electric in the next decade, but after our experiences in Spain and Portugal, I can't see how this is anything more than marketing. William Gibson's observation about the future being here, but not evenly distributed rings especially true in the EV shell game.

Not that it mattered because we couldn't use them anyway, but I recently read that many EV chargers are in disrepair. The reason why again emphasizes green marketing designed to ease climate anxiety rather than recognizing the hard work of changing how we move ourselves around. Many chargers are out of commission because the money to install them was provided, but the money to maintain them was not. Details like this make it difficult to believe the hype, though if it makes you feel high and mighty, I guess it has achieved its true aim.

The appearance of green is more important that the truth of it. We get given an HEV to get into Lisbon's low emissions zone, but without the charging cable we're a gasoline powered car carrying hundreds of kilos of battery and an entire secondary drivetrain, all of which reduces the gas efficiency of the vehicle, but we can drive into Lisbon because we have an HEV badge on the the thing; more smoke and mirrors.
We've driven over 2000kms in the KIA. It's the first KIA I've driven that has seats that fit me (nice sports seats no less). Like most modern cars, the electronics integrations are nice, but I have concerns about the privacy and cybersecurity of it all. When we got into the car it had a list of all the people who had driven it previously which included their personal device information including their phone name, type, bluetooth details and even what they'd been listening to. I deleted it all and we'll clean the KIA before we hand it back, but most people don't.

On the Redcar ride to the airport for this trip the driver was telling us about how there has been a rash of vehicle thefts powered by electronic hacks rather than good old fashioned grand theft auto. If you own a new truck in my neighbourhood, you better be crafty about how and where you store your keys. The guy delivering fliers to your house may be sniffing around to clone your convenient electronic key. Still digging that electronic convenience? Turns out we are behind in vehicle cybersecurity in Canada (and worldwide). My day job is developing cybersecurity education, so I'm not remotely surprised by this. Everyone lives their lives on networked devices but almost everyone is oblivious to how this technology works and how it can be exploited (except for criminals).

One of our last stays has Tesla charging stations at the building, so we're finally charging the HEV. I'm curious to see what having it charged does to mileage, but I still feel like hauling all that extra weight around is a step backwards. My Mazda back home isn't HEV, but is lightweight and efficient (getting almost 10 miles per gallon better than the Kia), but it isn't allowed in a low emissions zone. It's also over a decade old and ready to do another decade of high efficiency service. That approach is greener, but it doesn't sell new cars to rich anxious people.

I haven't gotten into the nasty and exploitive world of lithium battery mining and production in this, but I should have. I'm a big fan of going green in a real way. I suspect that hydrogen fuel cells will offer a solution to burning fossil fuels that the messy world of hybrid and medieval battery technology EVs can't, but we're still some way away from creating anything like the infrastructure needed to leverage the most abundant substance in the universe to power our transportation needs.

I also haven't gotten into the all the data collection around charging systems in Spain and Portugal. If you drive electric you'll be pumping personal data (including when you're not home) into online databases from multiple companies. Those online databases are what criminals access to steal personal information, often to sell to other criminals. It's a worldwide problem and having signed up for multiple 'apps', my exposure to potential hacks has increased dramatically - even though none of them actually charged the damned car (which is also collecting my data).

Maybe the fully charged KIA will change my mind today, but I doubt it. The inherent inefficiencies around lugging along spare powertrains and batteries aren't the solution they're being made out to be. The hidden dangers to my privacy are the forgotten side of this convenience and green marketing. The real answers aren't going to be solved by marketing snowjobs that ignore nasty truths about our still terrible chemical battery technologies and vehicle cybersecurity. Hopefully next time I rent a 'green' car, it'll actually be green, and secure.


What moving off burning hydrocarbons might really look:

Cybersecurity in cars (should also include privacy and security around charging!):


Some other observations from driving in Spain and Portugal...

Now that's efficiency! Over ten times the mileage of your typical HEV... and it looks fabulous!
 

Parking in Portugal is an art - this guy stuffed his Range Rover into a wall (cars can just squeeze by).

We off-roaded around a cork farm in torrential rain in this 40 year old Landie. With 6 people on board it was incredibly effective (like a mountain goat!), navigating flooded mud roads and hills.

Joanna, our guide, handled the Landie like a pro: https://www.corktrekking.com/  Highly recommended!

The roads in Portugal are spectacular - but I had two too many wheels (and drivetrains, and fuel systems) to truly enjoy them. Though this was still (by far) the best KIA I've driven so far. Of course, the real thrill would have been doing them on two wheels, but it's hard to bring 3 people and all their luggage on two wheels.

Lisboa is a city of bikes...

One of the first cars I ever rode in was my Nana's Isetta Bubble Car - they had one just like it in the MHAS in Salamanca

They have Schumie's Benetton F1 car in there too!


Best KIA so far, but we couldn't access half of the energy storage and power train for most of the trip.


The efficiency you get from toll roading all of your major highways in Portugal. The only place we've slowed down for traffic (hugely inefficient and anti-green, no matter what you drive!) was in Lisbon, and even there the rush hours were like a love tap compared to the daily abuse Torontonians face.

Now that's my kind of sustainability! A nearly 30 year old Honda Africa Twin that gets almost 50mpg looking fabulous at the beach in Lagos. When it only rains a few days a year, the Algarve is the perfect place to ride year round... and the roads are spectacular


Sunday, 27 November 2022

One Man Caravan: Motorcycle Travel History

You can pick up a reprinted copy of One Man Caravan on Amazon for about sixty bucks, but I did a bit better. For ten bucks I discovered an original 1936 edition in a used book jumble when we went to Pelee Island over Canadian Thanksgiving. The spine is cracked and the pages are stained with almost a century of smoke, coffee and whiskey - intrigued yet?

When you take on a read like this it drags you out of your own context and into a world substantially different from the one we live in, Many people have trouble navigating this time culture shift (they like to bring their current values and fixations with them - it's a kind of temporal colonialism), but not me, I like the dissonance.

One Man Caravan is the story of Robert Fulton, an American student living in Europe who shoots his mouth off at a dinner party, saying he's planning to ride a motorbike around the world. (Un?) Fortunately for Robert, one of the people at the party owned the Douglas Motorcycle Factory and offered him a free bike to do it on. It reminded me of Charley Boorman shooting his mouth off about doing the Dakar... and then having to do it.

Another familiarity with moto-travel history is similarities to Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels. Fullerton describes his decision to go with a motorbike: "I had considered the matter from various angles, only to arrive at the conclusion that there must be some better method of seeing that world than by the standard processes. On foot and carrying a knapsack? That would be too slow. By motor car? Too expensive. A bicycle? Too much work. A motorcycle?"  Simon says something similar in Jupiter's Travels when he talks about what it takes to ride around the world.

The world Fullerton navigates feels like another planet to most modern readers. No digital anything, nothing like today's transport infrastructure, and industry has yet to force everyone into similar lifestyles. We often forget how much industry defines our lives, but Fullerton comes face to face with that in 1932. The other oddity for the modern reader is just how different the immutable facts of life (like countries) change over time. The world was a very different place in 1932...

The emerging chancellor in Germany was taking it into the future (Fullerton talks about how well ordered and future facing Germany is - unnerving, right?) ! I had to look up Waziristan (modern day Pakistan).

Robert blitzes across continental Europe before pressing on into Greece and finding his way to the 'edge of civilization' in Turkey.


You'll come across a very colonial view of the world because that's how it operated in 1932, but if you can get past your temporal prejudices, this old book does a fantastic job of bringing that lost world to life. Robert finds himself in kinship with Bedouin camel train drivers who live their lives on the road (at least when he isn't being thrown in jail - the preferred way to house an itinerant motorcyclist passing through in the 1930s). He has frequent altercations with local law enforcement and the various 'agents of empire' he comes across, though his American citizenship gives him a useful separation (and a healthy irreverence) for those government interests.

Like many around-the-world stories, the trip itself changes Robert as he travels. His early, furtive forays in Europe are accompanied by a rueful, self-mocking tone, but once he gets into the grind, especially as he's navigating Middle Eastern deserts without roads or even a clear idea of where he's going, you start to get a  sense of how much of a grafter this guy is - he certainly isn't afraid of hard work.

By the time Robert has navigated to India he is in the zone, pushing on into Afghanistan even though every possible barrier is thrown up against him. It's in these places beyond the comforts of civilization where his fixation on trying to capture these disappearing cultures really comes into focus. Robert is very aware of how the industrial revolution is shrinking the world and remaking it in a single image. His observations about being offered tiger cubs for two dollars in Indo-China (a motorbike isn't the best place for a tiger cub) speak to the process of 'civilizing' these places.

Another quality that comes across as Robert's confidence (and writing voice) improve is his sense of humour. He starts off having a healthy respect for the status quo, but by the time he is navigating his way out of China to Singapore with no money, he is fast and loose with how things should work and much more likely to absorb the lessons the road is delivering to him.

His description of how the Chinese measure distance (in terms of ease of travel vs. distance) is particularly funny and insightful and shows you how far he'd come in terms of simply listening to the world rather than judging it:

"...the Chinese method possesses one distinct advantage over all others. It does not deal in distances but rather in 'going conditions.' For example the distance from Kaifeng to Tungkwan might be two hundred li, while from Tungkwan to Kaifeng measures only a hundred and fifty. The reason? Simple enough. It's down-hill coming back."

If you want a feeling of this lost world buried in the history of the past 90 years, the photos in the book will take you there...
 
Riding the streets of Shanghai in 1932...

Robert's mechanical inclinations kept him in motion
(he went on to invent the skyhook system you see in James Bond and Batman films!)

In Saigon, the 'Little Paris of the East'

Whether you're a motorcyclist, a historian or a lover of travel, finding a copy of One Man Caravan is a wonderful opportunity. If you can find a survivor like I did for a song, then good for you. Right now, the only hard cover original edition available is going for $934USD (eek!).

The best follow-on is that all that film that Robert lugged around the world (and got into all sorts of trouble trying to develop along they way) is out there somewhere as Twice Upon a Caravan. I'll have to do some digging to see if I can find the complete package, it'd be something to see.



The fascinating life of Robert Fullerton:

Wednesday, 16 November 2022

Sunday, 6 November 2022

The Week That Usually Isn't: Riding in November in Canada

We don't usually get a lot of two wheel time in November.  We often get years where the snows start at Hallowe'en and don't let go, but not this year.  Temps in the teens had me out exercising both bikes with their new winter-oil change in before they hibernate.

Photos taken with a Theta 360 camera on a flexible tripod attached to various parts of the bke.

















Once the snows fall and the long wait starts, the Bonneville project calls...