Saturday, February 28, 2009

Singapore 100km Mountain Bike Race

100km MTB Marathon Race Start: Tinker Juarez (#1, front row, extreme right) and Gary Fisher (no number, left of Tinker) gracing the event. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, 1/500 f/5.6, ISO 200.

About twice a year, I get the opportunity to use the 4-wheel drive on my SUV, and today, as I drove down to the Tampines Mountain Bike Trail, I had to engage the 4-wheel drive for the first time this year because of heavy rain.

The rain stopped just as I reached Tampines and we were also just in time to witness the 5pm start of the race... unfortunately, the race started about 25 minutes late :0( Tinker Juarez, last year's champ, returned to Singapore to defend his title. The legendary Gary Fisher was also at hand to grace to event.

Tinker Juarez burning up the course. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, 1/100 f/5.0, ISO 200. I got an 8x11 print of this autographed by Tinker. Woohoo!

We stayed about 3 hours, shooting until it got dark, then grabbed a beer and a quick bite before heading off.

Lights Required: The 100km race goes on into the night. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, 1/30 f/4, ISO 1600.

Just as we were leaving, the skies really let loose, and I had to use the 4-wheel drive for the second time this year... and the race was stopped because of the rain.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

It's Tinker Time


Legendary mountain biker Tinker Juarez is in town for BikeAsia and to defend his title at the 100km Mountain Bike Marathon to be held at Tampines Mountain Bike Trail this Saturday at 5pm. The race is part of a larger bike carnival that goes on the whole of Saturday. Come on by and join in the fun!

Photos Top: Me on the berm at the Tampines Mountain Bike Trail.
Bottom: Tinker and me. All photos by Laura Liong.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Buff Wear

The new buff wear, snapped with my iPhone.

The Spanish makers of the popular outdoor Buff, a tubular neck gaiter made of microfiber fabric that be also worn at a hat are branching out into mainstream outdoor apparel. Here's a sneak preview of what's coming our way in March '09.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Adventure Nomad’s iPhone 3G Review

Want to buy me something for Christmas? How about the Otterbox Defender Case for the iPhone 3G

The iPhone 3G has proven to be a most versatile and useful gadget that would suit the needs of most urban travelers to a tee, but how does it measure up for adventure travelers? After using it for over a week in Northern Thailand, here’s my take on it:

Mobile Internet Device
This is where the iPhone shines and probably the main reason you bought one. I was also considering an Asus Eee PC and the iPod Touch, but I’m glad I went with the iPhone. Mainly because it syncs seamlessly with my Mac, but also because you are more likely to have your iPhone with you should you unexpectedly come across a WiFi hotspot. WiFi hotspots are popping up all over the world, usually at coffee shops. My routine has been to find a coffee shop, buy a cup of coffee, click on my newspaper app, and then surf a bit while the news and my email automatically download. If I’m short on time, I can just stand outside the coffee shop to download my email and read it offline.

Solio Classic Solar Charger

Power
Power is the Achilles heel of electronic gadgets for adventure travelers. If you’re iPhone is constantly on, such as if using an app like MotionX GPS, you may only get 5 hours of battery life. (Tip: put the device on airplane mode in the backcountry where there is no cell coverage anyway). Normal usage demands that you recharge the iPhone’s non-replaceable battery nightly, and this may not be possible in adventure travel. An external battery pack like the Mophie Juice Pack - Case and Rechargeable Battery for iPhone 3G can extend the useable time and a solar charger like the Solio Hybrid Solar Charger with the iPhone 3G Adapter Tip (available from www.solio.com) can recharge both the batteries of the iPhone, and the Juice Pack.

Mophie Juice Pack for iPhone 3G

Keyboard
The iPhone employs a non-tactile, virtual keyboard using the iPhone’s LCD screen. After an intensely frustrating first week of mistyping SMS text messages and email, I’m finally beginning to learn to use it properly. Still, the iPhone’s virtual keyboard is probably the most elegant, compact and lightweight solution at the moment.

Survivability

I’m not kidding myself; this is not a rugged gadget. This is probably the most expensive, fragile, hydrophobic gadget I’ve ever stuffed into my pocket. It was not built to withstand the rigors of outdoor living in any way. At the moment, mine lives encased in a cheapo silicone case stuffed into a Ziploc bag, but I might get a better silicone case, like the Otterbox Defender for iPhone 3G, for outdoor adventures. How long will it survive? I’m well known for destroying gadgets, and so only time will tell…

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Mountain Biking Northern Thailand 2009

Sun, Sweat and Fun. Nikon D300, 10.5mm, 1/50 f/22, ISO 200.
I’ve just returned from 6 days of mountain biking in Northern Thailand near Chiang Mai. Again, we used the same guide, King Saksipong, and he was great. Although somewhere along the way, King seemed to think that we were pretty good mountain bikers and invited a few of Chiang Mai’s best mountain bikers to keep us company. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep up. Fortunately, I had an excuse. Laura, my wife, took a big spill on day one and it was up to me to keep her company as she brought up the rear.

Laura's wounds are healed, but the bruises remain on day 6.

This time, the biking consisted of a lot more singletrack and 'technical' doubletrack. The conditions were very loose, brought on by the dry season. It was a bit unnerving to swoop down a section of smooth doubletrack only to hit a patch of deep sand and have the front wheel wash out suddenly, which is what happened to Laura. All our previous trips were at the end of the wet season, and we had to contend with mud then. King prefers mud to sand: He says it hurts less if you fall.

When an elephant blocks the path, it's best not to get too close. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, 1/250 f/8, ISO 200.

Unlike Bangkok and Phuket, Chiang Mai is a little off the typical tourist’s itinerary and tends to be a bit quiet, although you wouldn’t think that if you took a walk along the night market! Prices for most things like food and accommodation tend to be a little lower than those cities, but catching up rapidly. The best time for biking or to visit is in the cool season from December through January.

A shopkeeper watches a tourist walk by at the night market in Chiang Mai. Nikon D300, 18-200mm, 1/60 f/4.8, ISO 1600.

There really isn’t much published riding information, and so the best way to find the trails is to hire a guide through one of the reputable companies or engage King directly: king_saksipong@hotmail.com

For more information, please see my earlier post Mountain Biking Northern Thailand.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bling Bling

I have succumbed to hype and bought an Apple iPhone 3G. It is probably the most expensive, fragile gadget to sit in my pocket. After a day of downloading apps and playing around with it, all I can say is that it’s just a nice toy for now. Its small size, easy user interface, Wi-Fi and GPS capability make it potentially one of the best gadgets to have for travelers.

I'm off to Northern Thailand for a week of mountain biking and I'll be bringing the iPhone with me. Hopefully, I'll have something positive to write about when I get back.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Book Review: Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson

Instructional books on photography are one of two types: The first usually tries to cram so much information into it that the author just manages to touch each topic without going deep enough into it to give the reader a well rounded understanding of each topic. Fortunately Understanding Exposure: How to Shoot Great Photographs with a Film or Digital Camera (Updated Edition) falls into the other category where a small area is covered thoroughly enough for the book to be truly useful.

Peterson starts out with a definition of ‘Exposure’ and then goes on quickly to tell you to put your camera into ‘Manual Exposure’ mode. Although I hardly shoot ‘Manual’ these days, this was how I learned photography, and it is a necessary step to learning exposure control. He talks about using the camera’s light meter but doesn’t go into explaining what it is until page 114, so if you need to know what it is, you could skip ahead to read that bit.

Peterson then goes on to explain how exposures are governed by the photographic triangle: the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. This is a surprisingly difficult subject to explain (believe me, I’ve tried), and he does a decent job of it. He does mention a lot of ‘f/numbers’ here, and if you get lost, don’t fret: read on… it does get better.

The pages that follow are the heart of the book and are devoted to explaining how each component of the photographic triangle affects the exposure and some very photo examples demonstrate each effect. I like how he explains the creative use of aperture, and this section is a good read even for seasoned photographers as a sort of ‘refresher’.

He calls the small apertures like f/22, f/16 “storytelling apertures” because the small apertures with their corresponding large depth of field hold a lot of detail in sharp from foreground to background. He calls the large apertures like f/2.8, f/4 “isolation composition” for their ability to isolate the subject from the background.

He calls the middle apertures like f/8, f/11 “who cares” apertures and I have a slight difference of opinion. I’d like to call the middle apertures like f/8 and f/11 ‘sharpness maximizing’ apertures, as those are the apertures that deliver best sharpness from typical consumer lenses like the popular 18-200mm zoom, and everyone cares about getting the best performance from their lenses. So unless I’m trying to do something creative with the aperture, or unless my shutter speed is the priority, I like to leave the aperture around f/8.

The next section covers the importance of shutter speeds: how a fast shutter speed can ‘freeze’ motion and a slow shutter speed can imply motion with creative blur.

Peterson also gives a pretty thorough look at the different qualities of light: hard frontlight, soft overcast light, night and low light, etc, and how to make use of creative exposure to take advantage of the lighting conditions. For example, how to create a silhouette in strong backlight. Again, there’s a lot of information here and a lot of useful tips.

He rounds out the book by going into different filters, multiple exposures, blah blah. Ok, someone might be interested in this stuff. On the whole, I’d rate this book 5 out of 5 stars and it is probably the best book you can buy on the subject.

The book is best for the beginner, perhaps someone who has bought his or her first DSLR, and who is keen on moving beyond the ‘green’ fully automatic mode. It is available for $17.13 here on Amazon.