General reviews

Review: Hiking around Bishop’s Peak in San Luis Obispo, CA

the trail

On a sunny late morning in mid September, I set off towards Bishop’s Peak in San Luis Obispo, which is a decent-sized hill/mountain/whatever featuring a number of trails up, down, and around.  Most start off pretty steeply, then either fall off or, if you’re headed to the peak, almost 1800 feet higher in elevation from the trailhead, just keep going up.

I have not done a lot of steep, sustained hikes lately so I went with a more flat route.  Starting from the Patricia Lane trailhead, I went along Felsman Loop.  This is a bit of up and down, but we’re talking mostly 30 feet from trough to crest so not too hard at all.  Due to time, I cut the loop basically in half by going across the Shady Grove trail, then back down, splitting off to the left when I reached the Cattle Pond to get back to the trailhead.  The pond, by the way, is a dry indentation in the ground.  I wonder when was the last time any cattle actually congregated there.

rock and branchIt’s an easy hike other than the inclines.  Part of the beginning of the loop is even paved, though right after you swing around the Water Tank it feels like you’re trying to circumvent security or something – you’re on a 1′ wide trail that falls off the hill quite steeply to one side, and hugs the fencing on the other.  But indeed it is the trail.

It’s a fairly exposed trail so bring sunscreen and/or a hat, though there are patches of trees that provide some shade.  Overall a nice hike, and one I wish I could have devoted more time to.  I did the loop – Felsman>Shady Grove>Felsman in about 1.5 hours, stopping for pictures along the way.

Review: Hiking at Los Osos Oaks State Preserve (CA Central Coast)

rising from the earth

While visiting my wife at her workplace down in Templeton, in California’s Central Coast region, I took some time to do some hiking.  First stop was the Los Osos Oaks State Preserve, which might actually be in Morro Bay rather than Los Osos.  It’s pretty close, I think.  Quite accessible from the Templeton/Paso Robles/Atascadero area – maybe 30 minutes if you average all three starting points.

I read about the preserve in the Sierra Club’s Trail Guide for San Luis Obispo County.  I was drawn by the description of these 800 year old “dwarf oaks,” which are HUGE and have branches so long and so heavy that they have touched back down to the ground for support, then grown out from there.  path They really are impressive.  It’s described as “mystical” in the book and that’s actually not a bad description.  I went around noon which made it a bit less so, but I can see a morning hike being quite atmospheric.

The hike is also a level one, and relatively short.  Maybe 100 ft in elevation change and about 2 miles, I think, based on the loop I did.  I spent about 2.5 hours there (note: I’m a slow hiker due to stopping constantly for photos).


Review: Sweeney Ridge Trail

This past weekend (May 2, to be exact), I went up to Sweeney Ridge for the 2nd time.  It’s kind of a weird “trail” – it’s really a paved road for about 1.5 miles, then I veer off onto…another paved road that leads to a completely abandoned, falling apart (the point of dangerous) old Nike missle radar station.  One can also veer off to a dirt trail that is more hiking-ish that leads towards the point where the bay was first discovered a long time ago (yes, I am very precise, aren’t I?) and most people go there.  But I was after abandoned buildings (link and link, copyright respective photographers)

The paved road for the first part, leading up to the split, is fairly steep, then really steep, then fairly steep again.  It really kills because it just goes up and up for a pretty long time.  The first time I did it, I went straight on up with a full photo backup and I thought I was going to die.  This time, I stopped about 2/3 of the way up long enough to take a large format photograph (so…15-20 minutes) and that was a perfect amount of time for the trail mix to kick in, for my legs to get enough rest, but to not lock up and refuse to move on.  If I had not done that I would have had a serious problem.

Once you reach the top (and this is after you’ve passed the fog line, by the way, and have been walking in the rain for a while), it’s windy as you are completely exposed.  Wind coming right off the ocean is just blasting you from the west.  Pretty intense hike for about 4 miles total.  

Great place for abandoned places photography.  Images to come.  5×7 images…

Traveling abroad by guide book alone

My wife and I just came back from Thailand about a week ago.  I am so blog-oriented now that I kept thinking of topics the whole time.  This is the first thing that really struck me – going to a foreign country, without someone with local knowledge (and preferably language skills) to help you out, can be really tough.  One ends up relying a lot on guidebooks.  In our case, we had Frommers, which was newer than Lonely Planet (which everyone else seemed to have), and Eyewitness, which we like because it helps us walk through major locations with a detailed illustration.

Anyway, I think one goes through phases when traveling by guidebook, especially to developing countries, it’s easy to get a bit paranoid. It takes about 10 readings to get below the surface, aided by the realities of actually being in the hotels, walking the streets, etc.

Phase 1 is all about paranoia.  Don’t let the tap water touch any orifice, much less consume even a drop while showering.  Buy more bottled water than is humanly possible to carry.  Don’t trust anyone that tries to sell you stuff on the street.  In fact, only buy water from 7-Eleven (which is remarkably everywhere in Thailand, everywhere we went), and actually run away from street vendors.  Oh, and eating from any street markets will cause your stomach to explode and you will never recover.

Then you read a bit more, and even at the warnings right there in the hotels, and realize that one should not drink the tap water.  There is a big difference between getting some in your mouth and drinking it.  Sure, still brush your teeth bottled water, but that’s probably about it.  Washing your hands and touching your eyes won’t make you lose your sight.  And drinking the water they serve at most restaurants is probably okay, too.  

Not every taxi or tuk-tuk driver is going to force you to go through 10 stores to force you to shop before going to your hotel.  Yes, if you go with the wrong people (taxi ride solicitors at the airport, rather than going to the public taxi line) or don’t insist on simple things (that taxis use meters, or that you want “no stops” or “no shopping” on rides, especially leaving a place like the main train station) you’ll be fine.  If someone takes advantage of you, you get out and refuse to pay.  No big deal.  

And for street markets?  The guides actually tell you that you should use common sense and stick with fried foods (which have to be cooked on the spot).  Are you taking a bit of a risk?  Sure.  But the paranoia can take a break after the first day or so.  But you have to read those guidebooks a few times to get that through your head, I think.

Drobo-fied…part 2

Quick thoughts on my new drobo:

  • While I want to support TWIP and buy with their coupon from drobo directly, it was way cheaper to buy from newegg with yet another rebate.
  • It really is neat how I can just put a drive in there and suddenly I have more storage.  Or I can take one out and everything is okay and I put in a bigger drive.
  • However…with Vista 64 (yeah!  blazing fast!), I can only do Firewire 400 speeds.  And since Windows handles USB 2.0 at about the same speed as Firewire 400 and I have lots of USB cables around (but not any Firewire 800>Firewire 400 ones), here I am puddling along at USB 2.0 speeds.

This last bit is extremely frustrating.  To find this information, you have to really dig around on the drobo site.  I would link to the knowledge base article except that their site is not designed that way – for direct linking.  I had to dig around as it was to find a Firewire 800 card that even worked in Vista 64, but now I find out that it won’t achieve those speeds.

USB 2.0 is so far doing okay as my primary drive connection.  But I feel that I have been misled by Drobo, to be honest.  The quasi-RAID 5/JBOD config is very nice.  

More of a review forthcoming…

photophlow – great start, slowly fading…

PhotoPhlow is this great chatroom/flickr integration that makes use of the latter’s API to allow users to not just chat, but search through various parts of flickr – my photostream, all of flickr, a particular theme, etc – and share them with the group.

PhotoPhlow appeared with a big bang, with a group of users surging forward, then slowing a bit, then surging again as it gained popularity.

However, while usage is still high, it seems (there are always a decent number of people in at least the main room, and one of my groups is pretty busy), the developers have kind of let things just…sit there for some time now.  For instance, lots of people stay logged in all day long, even though they are not there.  Now, many don’t bother to put their status as “away” which is just rude unto itself, but even if one does that, the listing of people in a PhotoPhlow room doesn’t indicate that.  So you might think there are 5 people in a group room (5 is a pretty decent number), only 1 person might be there.  Not much chance for conversation.

Anyway.  Great idea, great implementation, but it’s just…”there” now.  Sitting there.  Doing nothing.  Kind of sad.  Stagnation sucks.

If you want an invite to use it, by the way, let me know and I’ll send one to you.  I think I have a few left.

Review: Death Valley Nocturnes Workshop, November 2008

In November 2008, a little over a month ago, I attended a workshop held by The Nocturnes, a group of photographers that specialize essentially in night-time photography.  They generally go without any or very little truck by moonlightartificial light such as street lights, cars, etc, though a Nocturne will use flashlights and other tools to add to an image in some cases.  There are lots of examples of ultra-long exposure shots (4 hours is the longest I’ve seen, 1 hour is the longest I’ve done).  They have a flickr group as well, and a pretty useful discussion forum.  Nocturnes tend to be pretty intense – many shoot only this type of photography, and they have developed calculators for correcting for these long exposures, etc.  Many shoot enough to just know how long to expose for, just based on experience.

The workshop I attended was from November 8-10, when the moon was getting to full (76% when we arrived, 92% when we finished).  We were at the Furnace Creek Ranch, one of only two real places to stay in Death Valley, the whole time, they though we worked several locations, including the Furnace Creek Inn, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Basin, andthe abandoned town of Rhyolite just over the border in Nevada in addition to the ranch itself. The workshop was led by Tim Baskerville, a Nocturne veteran (one of the first) and a great guy.

Overall, I give this workshop an experience a very positive score.  It was a small group – 6 of us – and we shared some good tips and comraderie.  Not as much as I would hope among all 6, but, in addition to the one good friend and one acquaintance I already knew, I can think of at least one other person with whom I spoke and interacted quite a bit.  So that’s not bad.  And I did get a lot out of it.  Working with the light, understanding how working in just moonlight vs. a mixed lighting situation vs. daylight was very different, and I became more comfortable with the uncertainty of this type of photography.  But also the wonders of the results.

The full flickr set of my photos is online.  I will admit that I messed up a lot of the color exposures, though the black and white turned out better.

Read on for more comments


(Short) Review: Almaden-Quicksilver Park, McAbee Road entrance

1924I am pretty sure I did a review of this trailhead before, but it was lost when the bulk of my blog vanished.  So this is just a short one, since I haven’t been back on this trail in a while now.  I found a roll of film that I shot while on a hike starting out from this trailhead into Alamaden-Quicksilver Park.

I was not particularly impressed by this trailhead, to be honest.  The trail starts off basically as a road, which means lot of joggers, bicyclists, power walkers, etc.  Of course, I have no problem with others that use these parks – none at all.  But it isn’t really a trail for quite some time.  The first photo here is of a post on a little bridge that makes up part of the path.  Again, it’s more than just a trail at the outset.

There are also a barn right when one gets onto the beginning of this trail, with at least one old, rusted out car abandoned there.  It’s not from 1924 – it’s an old VW Beetle.  But it’s still kind of cool. 

Eventually, however, the trail does appear. I don’t know exactly the combination of paths I took, but I know I ended up on the Guadalupe Trail at one point.  This is a relatively flat path but it’s also out in the open, meaning that it’s hot and really tires you out if it’s sunny.  It’s not a particularly scenic route, either, though it has its moments.  

along the trail

This second photo was taken somewhere along the trail.  I believe towards the beginning, before it opens out into the sun.  That part of the hike is pretty well covered, with nice foliage, big trees that hang over the path and provides pretty nice shade.  I am fairly certain this is the Senador Mine trail.  

I might go back just to try and remember what trails I took…

Review: Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

fingersLast weekend, I went on an “exploratory” hike in the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve, which is located between Rancho San Antonio, Skyline Open Space Preserve, and Upper Stevens Creek Park.  It’s basically straight west on Page Mill Road, well past 280 and almost to Skyline.  Windy road, and lots of fun if your car’s suspension can take it.  This park is also part of the Mid-Peninsula Open Space Preserve, which is a large collection of parks in that area.  There is a flickr group for it, though it’s not very active.

I say exploratory because I really was going in for just a short, 4-5 mile hike to see what the place was like.  How shaded, what kind of foliage was there, etc.  I also went relatively late in the day – about 2.5 hours before sunset – so just looking around was about the most I could do.  You can get a PDF map of the park if you want to follow along with my review.

As always, I planned a route and managed to take a different one anyway.  It was not quite the featured hike from the link above, but my goal was to take the Stevens Creek Nature Trail just to the White Oak trail and be back.  That would be only about 3 miles or so.  However, I got a bit waylaid and turned onto the CAnyon trail rather than making the right onto Stevens Creek.  I eventually looped back onto the Stevens Creek Trail and back to the parking lot.

The signage in the park is really quite confusing – I honestly could not figure out which junction I was at most of the time.  I also managed to sprain my ankle when I thought I was about halfway, which made me keep going.  Turns out I was about 1/4 of the way, and should have just turned around…

The park is a very nice place to hike.  Bikes are allowed on many of the trails but no horses for the most part, and it wasn’t very crowded even for a Saturday afternoon.  You walk in and out of tree cover so it’s not a hike exposed to the sun.  Also, Stevens Creek is just a trickle now but apparently moves quite a bit of water in the winter and that all feeds into a great big bloom of wildflowers in the spring.  Even now, in late November, there was decent greenery and some small amount of flowers about.tiny

The trails can be a bit narrow the path often takenas one walks around and you have to make way especially if a bike comes around, but they are more than manageable and in a way it’s part of the park’s charm.  It’s not that crowded (perhaps the windy road dissuades some people) so the trails aren’t huge, nor are there tons of trails that lead off into nowhere.

I will be visiting it again soon.

Review: International Plaza Resort and Spa, Orlando

This will be cross-posted to tripadvisor in order to share my thoughts, and stroke my ego. 🙂

The standard phrase is to not judge a book by its cover.  This is usually about not being negative based on appearances.  Sometimes, however, it goes the other way.

I stayed at the Inernational Plaza Resort and Space in Orlando for the Eduause Conference, which is coming to a close today.  When I first arrived, i read about the 2 pools, the hot tubs, the jacuzzi, the min golf course, and even the putting green so that one could get ready for a round on a neaby course and called my wife to tell her how cool the place was.  It really had a tropical feel.

However, after just 1 night the cracks started to show through, an indicated of a hotel that hasn’t been kept up as well as it should.  For instance:

  • my toilet had this magic capability to auto-flush every 10 minutes or so.  Maintenance could not fix it.
  • my a/c was either on completely or off entirely.  Even turning it down to “low” for the fan didn’t help – when I’m gone for 7 hours at a conference it’s might cold.  And when it was off the air was incredible stagnant.
  • The soft pillows were offset by the painfully firm bed
  • The LCD tv was nice, but it really demonstrated the problem of a crappy tv signal looking horrible on a high resolution screen
  • The coffee maker wasn’t just not plugged in, but there wasn’t even a plug nearby.  So I made coffee with it sitting on the ground.  You know, a standard spot for that.

The good news is that the pillows are soft.  And that the carpet wasn’t any dirtier than usual.  So I guess that’s a plus.  I would not recommend it.