Rafting on the Deschutes River

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days rafting on the Deschutes River in northern Oregon, about two hours east of Portland. We went with our friend Selva and plus two of his friends; they had taken this trip a few years ago and decided it would be fun to bring their kids along. We were joined by another father/son pair (although the son was bit older than the other kids, entering his senior year of college).

We drove down from Seattle the day before and stayed at the Best Western in Madras (the Mexican restaurant next door has the biggest margaritas I've ever seen.) The next morning we started our adventure in Warm Springs and drifted almost fifty miles over the three days, getting out a little past Maupin. I didn't know whether the trip would be strenuous since I haven't really done much rafting before and have never done a multi-day trip. It turned out to be quite easy. The Deschutes is a "pool-and-drop" river. This meant we had long stretches of pretty calm water where we drifted along, paddling only to help correct our position in the river. Occasionally, we'd hit a short stretch of rapids which required a few seconds of hard paddling then more drifting. The guides steered the boat from the back and gave us instructions of when and how to paddle. Our group filled two boats plus we had two gear boats, packed with dry bags containing our camping gear and effects, the kitchen, food, camp chairs, etc. Raft camping is a lot like car camping in the sense you can live pretty comfortably since weight and space are less of an issue than in backpacking.

We generally left shore around 9:30-10:00am and rafted until 11:30-ish when we'd stop for lunch. We'd push off again around 1:00pm and raft until 3:00pm where we'd set up camp for the night. This left us a lot of time to chat, admire the high desert scenery, look for wildlife (including wild horses, bald eagles, turkey vultures, and dozens of ospreys), and engage in boat-to-boat water fights. There were a few exciting Class III rapids including "Buckskin Mary", which Andrew and I swam twice -- very fun. There were many camp sites along the river with pit or composting toilets so there wasn't too much trouble getting good sites with enough space for our group, both for lunch and overnight. We stayed at the Wingdam camp site the first night and Buckskin Mary the second. We ended our trip at Sandy Beach, which is the last pullout before Sherars Falls. We had good weather with only a few rain drops and alternating sunshine and slightly overcast skies. Our clothes dried very quickly each day. The evenings were warm so sleeping in the tents was not a problem. It was pretty different from camping in Western Washington where the nights are colder and more damp. The only downer of the camp sites were the trains that ran along the river; they came through a few times per night and were quite noisy.

We did our trip through the very excellent Oregon Whitewater Adventures; they did an excellent job making the trip comfortable, fun, and safe. I recommend them highly and would go again with them. They took care of pretty much everything -- loading and unloading, cooking, and cleanup. The food was pretty basic but good -- French toast/pancakes or eggs for breakfast, cold cut sandwiches or Costco oriental chicken salad for lunch, poached salmon or Spanish chicken and rice for dinner (although they forgot the rice so we had Spanish chicken and toast instead). The other rafters brought beer, wine, liquor, and soft drinks so we had plenty to drink in addition to what the company provided. Our guides Lauren, Colby, Jack, and Jeff were fantastic -- very friendly and great with the kids, safe and expert on the river, and full of stories and jokes.

Andrew and I had a really great time. I could easily have kept going on a few more days, and we're both eager to do more rafting trips.

 

The beautiful high desert landscape
P6280058

P6280094

P6280111

 

Andrew and I scouting Whitehorse Rapids.
P6280074

 

Camp life
P6280127

 

Our camp site at Buckskin Mary.
P6290136

 

Andrew playing "Paddle of Trust" where you stand up, hook paddles with another person, and lean back. Invariably, one or both players gets wet.
P6290180

 

Not that Andrew minded getting wet. He jumped into the cold water as often as possible
P6290170

 

All-in-all, it was a great mini-vacation.
P6290192

Camping at Spencer Spit State Park

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

Andrew (14) and I spent the last three days camping at Spencer Spit State Park on Lopez Island, which is in the San Juan Islands north of Seattle). We had never been the Lopez Island before; we found this park through recommendations from friends on Facebook (search really is better with your friends...) Aside from a huge downpour that started right after we set our tent up, the weather was perfect -- sunny and warm.

Spencer Spit State Park entrance sign (name on a wooden boat)

 

The park has an odd very pointy beach, the result of alternating tides that have build sand up to form this point, aimed at the heart of the little nearby Frost Island.
Aerial photograph of Spencer Spit State Park showing the triangular beach.

 

We tried our hand at sea kayaking for the first time. We launched from the south side of the beach and circumnavigated Frost Island. We managed to successfully stay dry until a fell on my ass getting out of the boat, soaking myself in the process.
Andrew looking back from the front seat of our two-man kayak, islands in the distance.

 

We spent a lot of time on the beach. Andrew loves driftwood beaches; he's always making stuff. Knowing this, I brought along some paracord (always useful and good to have around). Andrew used the paracord to fashion a hoe, chiseling holes through a shell and tying it onto a driftwood stick.
Andrew proudly displaying his shell-and-stick hoe.

 

The shells made nice targets for our new slingshot, which we tried out for the first time. They exploded in a very satisfying way when hit, although we didn't manage to hit them directly too often since we were still learning how to aim the shots.
Andrew aiming his slingshot at shells lined up on a log on the beach.

 

We also used some shells to boil seawater, in an experiment to harvest salt. After boiling off the water, we did manage to get a little salt in the bottom of the shells. I think we'd have to keep adding seawater to get enough salt to scrape out. Note: the shells can pop and explode, I'm guessing due to pockets of moisture in the shells. Andrew got hit by a "shell fragment".
Three white shells on a grill over our fire ring.

 

Beyond our beach adventures, we played with a night-vision scope, which was much more fun in the woods than at home. We even watched a doe for a while through the scope. She didn't notice us (or didn't care) so we got to watch her feeding on the trail for a while. (No photos of this, unfortunately.)

Our campsite (#2) was pretty good. It got sun for a good part of the day and was conveniently located to the water, garbage, and restrooms. It was OK private, but a little noisy from the nearby group camping sites (although I'm not sure any sites would have been quieter). The park has a few walk-in camp sites on the beach, which would have been fun to try, although they're not very private and use a composting toilet instead of the nice clean flush bathrooms servicing the other parts of the campground. (They do have a cart at the parking lot to help you bring your gear down to the site, however.) It's also worth remembering that you can buy firewood at the campground for $5/bundle. (The "camp hosts" will even deliver it to your camp site); bringing enough firewood is always a hassle, so this is a nice perq, although I don't know if they have this service year-round.

We both really enjoyed the campout (and the visit to Lopez Village). Andrew kept saying "this is the life" and thanking me for taking him along. It was definitely a trip I'll always remember.

Andrew and Tony in our campsite.

Rockets!

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

For quite some time I've been wanting to launch rockets with the boys. Finally, yesterday (Fathers' Day), I picked up an Estes Rascal & HiJinks Launch Set and took Andrew (14) and Michael (11) off for their first real rocket adventure. This kit was really pretty perfect for us. It came with two ready-to-fly rockets and the launch pad. I bought a few motors of different sizes and some wadding to complete the set up.

Even though I haven't shot rockets since probably junior high, it was really easy to set everything up. The only real hitch was that it was pretty windy. We aimed the rockets into the wind a bit and stayed with the lower powered A8-3 engines so the rockets wouldn't blow too far away.

Obviously, the guys (and I) thought this was great fun; we even got a round of applause from a family playing nearby. The wind carried our last shot onto a nearby roof, but fortunately the wind picked up the parachute and lifted the rocket back to the ground. Everything survived the three shots we made (it was too windy for more powerful engines, and I only brought three A engines.) We're definitely all excited to do this again.

Andrew installing the igniter.
WP_000431

 

Prepping the rocket for launch.
WP_000432

 

3-2-1...
WP_000438

Blast off! (This was actually kind of a lucky shot from my camera phone since the rocket lifts off really fast.)
WP_000440

Soldering a Simon

At last week's Seattle Maker Faire, Michael (11) became enamored with a Simon game, so we bought a kit to make one at home. (Those of you too young to remember, Simon was one of the first electronic games, introduced back in 1982. It had four buttons and would light one up. The player would tap it, then Simon would add another light to the sequence, which the player would then repeat, and so on.)

Today, Michael and I put the kit together. It was pretty straight-forward but it required some soldering. The last time I soldered was about five years ago when we built Herbie the Mousebot. Michael was really too young back then to solder, but today he did all the work. He seemed to really enjoy doing it and was very proud of his new game.

The Sparkfun Electronics "Simon Says" kit was very well put together -- good documentation and good quality parts. It cost about $30 at the show (although it's $24.95 on the website) and took us about 40 minutes to put together. We'll definitely get more kits. Hopefully, we can work up to Arduino stuff next.

 

Michael inserting a resistor.
IMG_0192

 

Michael soldering the chip in place.
IMG_0195

The proud Maker and his new Simon Says game.
IMG_0197

Seattle Maker Faire

Last weekend I took Michael (11) to the Seattle Mini Maker Faire. This is a smaller version the larger Maker Faire that Make Magazine puts on in the Bay Area. This is get together meant to inspire and connect "Makers" of Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technology projects.

The event was held at Seattle Center in a two rooms plus some outdoor space. The exhibitions were pretty wide-ranging from robotics to craft-stick bending to welding. There were lots of hands-on activities so Michael was pretty engaged throughout.

I was happy to see Microsoft had a big presence with our Robotics Developer Studio and the cool Mayhem project. Michael was pretty excited about Mayhem since he could potentially control his room lights with his phone or build a motion detector to keep Andrew (14) out, all with no programming. We'll be picking up some controllers and sensors for Mayhem so he can mess around with this.

I was also amazed by how many Maker workshops there are in the Seattle area from tool libraries to a "create space" (complete with 3D printer, laser cutter and other cool stuff) and even a robotics space. The show definitely inspired me to start building more with the boys.

 

Autonomous squirt gun robot. It would see people and shoot them. Michael kept hiding behind me, so I got a bit wet.
IMG_0158

 

Michael experimenting with solar panels. He discovered (with the multimeter) that running two panels in parallel increased the amperage but running them in series increased the voltage (even the guy tending the exhibit didn't know.)
IMG_0160

 

Michael playing a Lego robotics contest. He won handily.
IMG_0165

An ambitious maker with a human powered cart.
IMG_0166

A blacksmith demonstrated his craft outside the fair. Michael thought this was extra cool and wants to become a blacksmith now. I'm not sure how I feel about him with a hammer in one hand and a hot metal rod in the other.
IMG_0174

Surfing in Hawaii

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

We were in Kauai for the first time a few weeks ago. I slipped away from the pool for a few minutes to take pictures of surfers at the beach by our hotel. (It was a heck of a lot warmer shooting these guys than it was shooting the kiteboarders at Whidbey Island a few months ago...)

The surfers would all race toward the water, throw their board in, and then jump onto them to get going.
IMG_6152

The best guys would carve up and down the wave faces, plowing in and above the curling water.
IMG_6118

IMG_6130

But almost invariably, they'd wipe out and then do it again.
IMG_6139

I'd love to learn to surf sometime, but taking photos of them was pretty cool. There was a guy in the water with them shooting with a GoPro. That looks like fun too.

Composing Effective Images with Art Wolfe

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

I took my first photography class in recent memory this weekend. It was the "Composing Effective Images - Field Edition" by the renown Seattle photographer Art Wolfe. He hosted a reception Friday night for the fifty-or-so students at his incredible home in West Seattle -- stunning rock and water landscaping, insane west-facing view of Puget Sound, and an art-filled interior. It was a nice way to get ready for the weekend.

Art Wolfe pointing out some potentially interesting shots.

We were at the Washington Arboretum Saturday and Sunday for lecture and shooting. Art started by talking about his sources of inspiration. As a trained painter, his influences were famous painters. He talked about bringing elements of line, motion, and gesture into our photos, to tell a story or lead the viewer through the photo. Art kept emphasizing that we should be intentional making photos. It's definitely true that I usually am a little careless in my photography, at best having only a notional idea of what I really want.

After lunch, we went into the Arboretum to shoot. Art and his assistants were on hand to give us advice and help us out. I was a bit stymied at first. Art rescued me and helped me find something good to shoot. There were a few key lessons I got from the brief 1:1. He was scanning rapidly for a few things -- interesting subject, interesting light, with a suitable background. He found some backlit plants and then got me down on the ground with my tripod (which I rarely shoot with, but Art seems to rarely shoot without) and close to the subject. Since I was shooting into the sun, he also helped block the light (which I never think of since I never have an assistant). It was a good reminder that the best vantage to shoot things isn't usually eye level and that you need to have a lot of interesting elements right to make an interesting shot. I followed Art and the group clustered with him for a while, picking up the tips I could and then went off again on my own to shoot a while. I admit, I didn't think I had much in the way of interesting shots and was a little bummed by the end of shooting.

That night, I picked and edited three images for critique the next day. Using some of the ideas Art introduced in class, I managed to come up with three images I really liked that I thought were more graphic and abstract than my usual photos.

This is a tree trunk with a sawn off end. It's the only shot of the three where I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted when I shot the picture. I really liked the thick white line and the contrasting textures and colors on either side of it.
IMG_5975

I saw these backlit leaves and liked the glow. I didn't have a macro lens or extension tubes with me, so I shot a much broader scene with a lot more leaves. I cropped it down to these two, mostly the get the shape against the lovely background. Besides cropping the image, I only messed with the levels to do this.
IMG_5928

Art turned me onto this kind of pointy, backlit leaf. The leaves themselves were green with brown spots, which I thought was distracting. I loved how the edges and veins glowed, so I decided to focus on those and minimize the color distractions by going black and white. I haven't decided yet whether I like this image better this way or vertically.
IMG_5955

The second day started with a great lecture on the different lenses he uses and more importantly, how he uses them. Interestingly, he seems to use only a small number of lenses on a regular basis, bringing in others as needed. The 16-35 and 70-200 are his primary lenses. He uses others such as the fish-eye and 500mm+ in special cases. He also uses a 24-105 as a walking-around lens as well as for some aerial shots. I was a bit surprised to hear that he uses the Canon 70-200 f4 instead of the 2.8; the quality is still very good and it weighs less. Since he's shooting on a tripod most of the time and since digital cameras have usably go to higher ISOs, the weight is a good tradeoff against the extra speed. He also doesn't seem to shoot much with normal lenses (50mm range). Since they produce photos like we normally see them, his contention is they make for uninteresting shots.

We also had a talk from his assistant on how to use Adobe Lightroom. Although I've been using Lightroom for a while, I picked up some good tips even from this section.

Finally, we went through everyone's photos. Art and his assistant critiqued the photos, making quick edits in Lightroom to try to make the images more interesting. It was great to see how they looked at each image and what kinds of things they did with them. There were some really powerful images in the group (and some not so good ones). The feedback on my images was good. Art cropped and rotated them a bit to try some different things, but he had nice things to say. I also got a little "ooh" from the other students when the first image came up, which was nice. I only wish I had named the folder "Anthony C" instead of "Tony C"; as it was, I was one of the last students to be critiqued.

Throughout the three days, we saw a lot of stunning images Art had made. He's a good lecturer - clear, entertaining, and informative. The class wasn't cheap, but it was well worth it. It was especially fun since my friends Chris and Imran were there too. Art hosts photo expeditions all over the world. I think I'd love to take one of these some day. As it is, I'm re-energized to start doing more than taking snapshots again.

Kiteboarding at Double Bluff Beach

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

Chris Evans and I went to take photos of the crazy kiteboarders who were ripping it up on a very windy, chilly January day at Double Bluff Beach on Whidbey Island.

When we first arrived, there were only a few kiteboarders out, but there were a lot of guys setting up. The kites have inflatable leading edge and slats, so they were pumping up their kites and dealing with their lines.
IMG_5671

Pretty quickly there was a whole squadron out there, sailing in a big oval, maybe 45 degrees to the wind (close reach up, broad reach down).
IMG_5790

The wind was blowing steadily and hard, so they were getting a lot of speed.
IMG_5667

IMG_5741

I was amazed how much air they were able to get using this speed.
IMG_5679

IMG_5778

We were out there for about 45 minutes until we were too cold to keep shooting (even with gloves on). Although the kiteboarders were in dry suits and working hard, I have to believe they were pretty cold too. Still, it was awesome.
IMG_5801

A Comparison of US vs. Chinese News Coverage: Pollution

  • Published Date:
  • by
  • Category:

I've written twice before, comparing Western and Chinese news coverage of the same story (Obama visit to China and Internet registration). In both cases, it was interesting to see how the reports read very differently despite presenting the same basic facts; differences in tone, emphasis, and inclusion/omission of other facts can really change how the story comes across.

AQI 493 from my office window

Today, I was reading about how Beijing will start reporting a new air pollution measure - PM 2.5 (2.5 micron particulate matter). I've written before several times about the gross Beijing air. We relied on the US Embassy's air quality Twitter feed that showed what we thought was a more accurate view of what we were seeing outside; Chinese official reports measured the larger PM10 particles and would say we were having only minor air pollution even when we couldn't see outside.

The report from China Daily acknowledges the dangers of PM2.5 and how the government is responding to "public criticism". They describe the effort as similar to what other cities in China have been doing and that the government is already taking action to clean up Beijing air. There is no mention of the US Embassy's Twitter feed. There is also a story (higher on the front page) describing how Beijing's PM 2.5 count is down. The story paints a picture of the government taking action and listening to the people. "Beijing to release PM 2.5 data".

The similar story from the New York Times described the actions as a response to "public outcry", "public's anger", and bloggers who "sharply criticized" the government. NYT puts a lot more emphasis on the effect of the US Embassy Twitter feed as well as mentioning how Twitter is blocked in China, and talks about the Chinese complained about the feed as "confusing" and "insulting". This story leaves the reader thinking the people are mad at the government and that the gov't needs outside pressure to change. "China to Release More Data on Air Pollution in Beijing".

Again, both of these stories seem factually correct, and perhaps the "right" interpretation is somewhere in the middle. You'll never know unless you read multiple news sources.