Off Along The TJR – And I Think I Get Twitter At Last

09 Sep, 2011

Okay so this is many years behind several million other people, and speaking as an IT consultant I hang my head in shame, but; I think I finally ‘get’ Twitter.

Before I explain it I need to take a moment to explain what a blog is. “Hang on!”, you’re probably thinking. “He was talking Twitter and now he’s off onto blogs. What is this? Where’s all the hiking and kit and techniques?” – Bear with me – I’ll come back around to that.

I need to explain blogging since I’ve met more than one otherwise web-savvy person who didn’t know: blog is a contraction of “web log” which is a rather fancy name for a diary that you keep on the Internet. To write a blog, you use “blogging software” which is just a program that runs on a computer on the Internet that makes it easy to create a new web page, known as a “post”, with a title and a date, to which you can then add your ramblings about whatever you have been doing or are thinking of doing. That’s all there is to it.

But like many inventions, the use it’s generally put to isn’t really the original use that was intended. What I mean is; you are reading this posting that I wrote on some blogging software right now. Notice that it has a date at the top. But this site isn’t really much of an online diary. Like many other people I’ve been using blogging software to publish a series of articles on a particular subject (and this post will get back there, however tenuously).

So that’s what a blog is, but Twitter is what is termed a “micro blog”: some blogging software that only lets you “post” very short entries. Forcing you to boil down those little moments in your life to pithy evocative phrases (hence haiku is quite a popular form on Twitter). The little posts are known as “Tweets”.

So I can now read back over my postings from Corsica as we walked the GR20 (bet you can see the link to the main topic of the blog coming…). I love it, a little diary of moments in my life.

But just like ordinary blogging, Twitter has grown way beyond that. People use it to see what their friends are doing since you can see their Twitter pages (their “micro blogs”). But to make things easier, and stop you having to hop about to read all your friends’ pages, you can have their Tweets appear directly on your page. That’s called “following” someone. So you see your own diary mixed in with the diaries of your friends.

There are other aspects that have grown such as using the @ symbol to direct your Tweets at other specific Twitter users (read it as “at” as in “I’m directing this tweet ‘at’ RedYeti”) but such things are way beyond the scope of this posting!

What is also very handy is that you can post your tweets by text message from your phone, instead of logging in to Twitter in a web browser on your computer. Which is almost certainly cheaper than using the data connection when abroad. (Side note; all UK providers have some cheap option for data roaming if you just ask them! Edit Feb 2013: Except for “3″ at the time of writing).

Which means that if you have close friends and relatives that want to hear what you are doing on a trip, you can simply send them all a link to your Twitter page and tell them all with one text. Better still, if they sign up for a Twitter account (they don’t have to post any Tweets!) they can “follow” you, and then they can tell Twitter to send your tweets directly to their own phone. So you can effectively use Twitter as a way to send one text message to many people (and get a mini diary into the bargain).

So, to finally blunder back on topic; I’ll be tweeting my way around the Tour of the Jungfrau Region if you fancy seeing what we’re up to!

http://twitter.com/#!/RedYetiDave

We’ll also be using the (new, lighter) Spot tracker so you can see where we are, pretty much real time:

Red Yeti’s Spot Tracker

Sjökulla – Sommarstugan – Summer 2010

26 Mar, 2011

I’ve finally got to play with the video editing I wanted to do since I shot this last summer – just before life got rather busy with more pressing matters:

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Entertainment, Ramblings
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Publishing A Book Via Lulu

30 Jun, 2010

This post is simply my recipe for publishing a book via Lulu although a lot of it may be relevant for anyone wanting to write up and format a book.

Though to be frank, I’ve had a lot of trouble getting the images printed correctly. With a lot of help from Lulu support we finally got good copies last week. Hence the delay in posting about the  GR5 Honeymoon ebook.

Next time (and there may be a next time!) I think I’d use Blurb since they review well for image printing. I may still use an uploaded PDF with Blurb rather than using their (admittedly very good) downloadable book creation tool since I think I’ll want more control over how it hangs together (plus I believe you don’t get much choice as to the style of cover with that tool – though I may be wrong!).

There is a wealth of instructional material on the Lulu site. But because there are a great many different options, I thought a very specific path through it all might be helpful to someone.

Besides – I wrote all this out as I went along so it seems a shame to waste it!

Recipe for publishing a book via Lulu: Continue reading »

Category :

Big Walk, Entertainment, GR5
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GR5: The Book – A GR5 Honeymoon

29 Jun, 2010
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As we walked the GR5 we made diaries, audio for me, written for LB. “LB” being a nickname, like “Red Yeti”. Some may be surprised by her actual name. Some who know us have been mighty confused by the “LB” mentioned on this blog!

So, assuming you don’t want to spend silly-money on a real, harback book about our honeymoon, take a look at the:

Free ebook version (you need to register to download) of A GR5 Honeymoon.

Unfortunately the ebook version doesn’t come with the cover that’s on the real book – but that’s at the top of this post – just click the image and you’ll get the idea.

The first Big Walk we did together in the Polish/Slovak Tatra has now faded somewhat in detail with only the pictures, a single, rather retrospective blog entry and the odd good yarn that has been told and re-told to friends to remind us. We didn’t want the GR5, or in fact any other Big Walk in future, to fade so much.

I wasn’t sure that I would remember to make an audio diary every day but with the lack of other distractions I managed it almost without fail.

We then transcribed it ourselves, partly as a way of making it more accessible in future to look back on and partly to add the details that we didn’t think to mention in the original as we went.

And then the project grew…

We added LB’s written diary into the transcription, organised it into a semi-formatted document (using Google Docs which allowed us to both be editing and adding to the same document at the same moment).

We then decided it was very, very “dry” without some photos so they started to come in.

And eventually, we had something not far short of a book. So we decided to go that last mile and create one. Just for us, with a copy for each of our respective parents.

It was completed last November, a couple of months after we returned, but we had quite some trouble getting the images to print correctly.

At last it’s time to “publish” it to the world.

Not that I expect anyone to read it all! But it might be of interest to flick through.

I certainly don’t expect anyone to buy a copy. Particularly since it’s rather expensive. The price that you see is purely the price that the Lulu charges to print, there’s no profit margin on there for me.

But considering it’s around 260 pages with a photos on most of them, and it’s wrapped in a glossy, full colour cover and printed exactly to order – it’s not badly priced at all.

Category :

Big Walk, Entertainment, GR5
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GR5: Walking The GR5 Using Google Street View

06 Apr, 2010

As we walked the GR5, we used a Spot tracker to record way-points along the route. It managed pretty well and only missed one day (oddly, I’m sure it was on…).

As we walked, I had it uploading to a page on the Spot web site so people could track our progress, but sadly it only logged the last seven days of activity. I hadn’t realised that I should have logged in to spotadventures.com and created an “Adventure” so that the way-points could be recorded permanently. The Spot web site, rather like the Spot tracker, doesn’t always have a very intuitive interface.

Luckily though, Google Maps allows you to import several track formats, so in they went. (It only shows 200 track points at any one time; scroll to the bottom of the list of points, in the left hand panel, to see more of them).

The great thing is, since Google Street View has arrived in France, you can see a couple of landmark points on the walk in an “interactive” format:

The start of the walk, just by the roofed-over shelter by Lake Geneva.

Our favourite village, St Dalmas le Selvage.

And the end of the walk, on the tiny beach at the edge of the marina in Menton.

In ordinary map view, try left-dragging the little orange man (in the top left, at the end of the scale) and as you wave him about over the map, the roads that have Street View are highlighted in blue.

Of course, there are only a few points where the Street View images intersect with our walking route, but it’s remarkably evocative to be able to see the route in such detail.

Category :

Big Walk, Entertainment, GR5, Tech
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Iceland: Non-hiking Touristing

01 Apr, 2009
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Well I’ve said all I can think of about the hiking but Iceland is certainly a place that’s worth visiting regardless of whether you want to do any walking. Anywhere that the state weather forecast web site also includes a recent earthquakes map has got to be interesting.

And Reykjavik certainly is an interesting place. I’m not sure I’d go just to see it, besides it would be crazy to miss the rest of Iceland if you did, but it’s definitely worth exploring. For a capital city, despite the huge size of its suburbs, it’s surprisingly reminiscent of small-town Sweden.

We stayed in, and would highly recommend The Three Sisters Guesthouse. Thor and Sonja were incredibly helpful, allowing us to leave spare bags with them whilst we were away (twice) and also finding rooms for us when we turned up a day earlier back in Reykjavik after we’d double-dayed the last stretch to avoid a night at altitude in a severe storm. Like all the Icelanders that we met, they spoke perfect English (and even Swedish, in Thor’s case).

The Three Sisters is quite easy to find, being very close to the old harbour and the two Whale Watching companies. But it’s certainly worth printing a map and marking the location so that you can wave it at the cab driver at the BSI coach station.

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The ability to leave a bag at the place that you stay in Reykjavik is very useful and not uncommon (though often charged a small amount for). It means you can bring things like books, smarter clothes etc. and pack your rucksack into a larger “flight bag” to protect it, and also to use as the bag you leave behind.

Not far from The Three Sisters on the way back into Reykjavik was the Geysir Bistro that served truly excellent food, in great surroundings with really welcoming staff. Book it if you can – it gets filled up.

If you can find the Cultura Bar  (it’s easy, it’s directly opposite the old Opera House) pop in for excellent beers and very iceland-2008-197-smallnice food with great chilled-out music.

On the subject of beer – we never did manage to find the much searched for “ludicrously expensive pint” that we could spend the next twenty years complaining about in British pubs.

Sure the beer wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t more than a third or so more expensive than the UK. I’ve paid a fair bit more in Copenhagen (more than once – well, it’s so nice…).

Though maybe that’s less to do with how expensive the UK has become and more to do with how shaky the Icelandic economy was becoming. Overall Iceland is expensive, but if you’re doing some walking and camping for a stretch of your stay that will certainly reduce your average cost per day.

But back to the beer… One thing to be wary of, in common with the Scandinavian countries, is that shops often sell 2% versions of the normal beer in almost identical packaging. It’s cheaper and in fact is a generally perfectly good beer, great for lunch time. But it can catch you out if you’re expecting something stronger.

The only way to get around Iceland is by road. I imagine no one has ever been crazy enough to try laying train tracks on the shifting volcanic landscape. If you have a chance, hire a car. Though don’t even think about taking anything less than a properly equipped 4X4 into the highlands. You probably won’t make it, and you certainly won’t be insured!

iceland-2008-48-smallWe used the coaches out of the main BSI coach station. Which were fine for getting from A to B but for seeing the sites they were very rushed and on a couple of occasions the drivers were very uninformative.

On one occasion the coach left one person behind at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) (the site of the first Parliament) who then hitch-hiked to catch up with us. He was even more annoyed when he found that for the next stop we actually doubled back to the bottom of Þingvellir – within five minutes walk of the stop he’d been left at. Meaning that he hadn’t needed to hitch, and the rest of us hadn’t needed to spend 45 minutes in a boring road-side cafe in the mean time.

We decided to spend a night at the camp site at Geysir. If you’ve got a tent anyway it’s well worth it. It only cost around six UK pounds. Whereas the hotel was around ninety pounds, plus food. But since you can still use the geo-thermal hot-tubs, pool and bar even if you’re just camping, it seems crazy to pay that and miss the opportunity of iceland-2008-40-smallcamping within a few metres of bubbling fumaroles and spouting geysers.

We really were very glad to have stayed overnight at Geysir. Otherwise the coach only spends forty five minutes there so you hardly have time to walk once around the area and get a shot of Strokkur before being whisked off again. Spending the night let us soak the place up – in the hot tub. They sell cans of (full strength!) beer in the tourist shop across the car park from the pool.

You can sit in steaming sulphurous water peering across the plain at the distant peaks. Perfect.

Many people visit the first (Landmannalaugar) and the last (Þórsmörk – Thorsmork) huts on the trail by coach.

From Landmannalaugar you can go riding on Icelandic horses. Crossing rivers and tölting (an extra gait that other horses can’t do) across the crazy landscape is an experience not to be missed.

We also fitted in some whale watching (as mentioned – very, very close to the Three Sisters). It’s easy to book online and good fun scanning the sea for whales or dolphins. Don’t go expecting to see huge creatures breaching and falling back into the ocean with a fountain of spray. It’s more about hunting for a black shape breaking the surface or maybe some dolphins playing with the boat. We all enjoyed it though.

iceland-2008-184-smallBecause we double-day’d the last section of our walk we just had time to fit in a visit to The Blue Lagoon. The slightly touristy nature of the information I’d seen on it had put me off somewhat but I was wrong. It was very chilled-out in a well organised Nordic fashion, with a bar that allowed the drinks to be taken in to the steaming warm water. I’d highly recommend paying the extra for a large, luxurious fluffy towel as well. It turned out to be an excellent way to round off the trip.

When we go again, we will spend more time at The Blue Lagoon. The four hours that we had there flashed past. You need a day to enjoy it.

So, even if you’re not into the hiking get the Lonely Planet, and go!

Iceland: Entertainment – Well, Okay… Whiskey

03 Mar, 2009
iceland-2008-112-small

Extra entertainment in Iceland? Well, we didn’t need much.

As usual we were planning to take an audio book on my phone and then share the headphones. But then we found we could leave some kit at the guest house (of which, more in the next and final Iceland post) so we took real books and saved the phone trick for another trip.

There was one thing we felt we’d miss and that was a glass of red wine with dinner that we like to have in the mountain huts in the Alps. We’re not claiming to be climbing K2 here.

Carrying enough wine for even a very small glass per night would be very heavy so we decided to take Whiskey.

So at Stansted airport, we cleared security and bowled up to a specialist Whiskey shop and asked to try a few that I’d been recommended (thanks Gray!).

They obliged with samples for the whole party and we eventually settled on the Macallan Elegancia finish. The Elegancia is only available from duty free or a couple or very specialist shops online for some odd reason – and generally far, far more expensive than the £31 we paid.

But how to carry it?

Well I originally had decided to go for a Snow Peak Titanium Flask.

There are two flavours, but they are listed as being exactly the same weight. The only difference seems to be that one is flat (the 014) and one is round (the 015) and holds quite a lot more.

xmas-2008-140-small So I went for the 015 which I bought from a US based ebay shop: Camp Buddy along with the Snow Peak stove

But when it arrived I was disappointed to find that instead of 0.8 ounces as per the manufacturer’s site (and all the shops) it was actually 2.3 ounces (65 grams).

It’s not a huge deal I know, but then I realised that for an actual 0.8 ounces (22 grams) you can get a 500ml Platybottle. Which is about twice the size for a third the actual weight of the flask. And since this was supposed to last us both for the whole trip it was the only way to go. Besides – what we’d have done with all the rest of the whiskey left in the bottle on just one night doesn’t bear thinking about…

So for us, crossing rivers without a tiny celebratory nip just wouldn’t be the same.

I don’t take the Snow Peak flask on long walks but for over-nights and tour skating it’s great.

Oddly, I now find that drinking excellent Whiskey from a Platybottle valve is my preferred way to partake… (sorry Gray!)

Some More Tour Skating In Sweden

01 Jan, 2009
 

We’ve spent Xmas and New Year with LB’s folks in Sweden and have been very lucky with the weather. It hasn’t quite managed to get above freezing for the whole two weeks. It’s generally not been above -3 or -4 C and even touched -13 C overnight (and looks set to beat that tonight in fact!). And with little snow, we’ve therefore had some excellent tour skating conditions. So we’ve picked up from where we left off last year.

Ice is not always skatable apparently. If there’s a layer of snow or if the ice was roughened by being formed during heavy snow fall you can hardly move. Gliding strides simply grind to a halt.

But for us the ice was nearly perfect. With occasional sections of glass-like smoothness allowing us to glide and glide.

I’ve even managed to go out four times and only fall over once and that was only a sort of sliding, resigned laying down.

And I’ve now bought my very own tour skates. Unlike the ones I used last year, these have only got snow-board style bindings at the toes meaning that they fitted my Montrail Cirrus GTX even more easily (I miss my inov8 terrocs very much already this winter but they’d be little use for this).

The huge advantage with having my own skates is that I can set them up so that they are balanced specifically for me. The skate must be right in the centre of the heel and right in between the first and second toes.

Each day I’ve come back and spent some time in the garage tweaking the adjustment and it’s helped massively. I imagine that for a better skater it would be less critical but for me it’s made all the difference.

Until today when I spent twenty minutes wondering what I could have adjusted so badly… at which point I noticed I’d put them on the wrong feet! Well it is New Year’s Day. I’ve had a late night.

The other thing that has made a huge difference is wearing protective pads on knees and elbows along with wrist-protectors. Add in an old riding helmet (a childhood skating rink accident when I landed on my head still haunts me!) and my confidence, and therefore posture, improved enormously. Though I’m not sure it would have avoided over-stretching my shoulder somewhat last year when I tried to punch a hole in the ice with one elbow!

I also learnt a few more tidbits of tour skating lore. Like it’s best for the skate to be adjusted to protrude behind your heel for half an inch (1.5cm) or so, or else the skates want to shoot out forwards if you lean too far backwards. And that the skate blade itself is not straight but is in fact a section from a notional circle of around forty metres in diameter.

A smaller diameter circle obviously gives a more pronounced curve (if you can call it pronounced when you need a steel-rule before you can see it’s not straight). A more pronounced curve is apparently better for turning quickly whereas a straighter edge is more stable in a straight line.

A tiny extra bit of kit is the clips that can be used to hold the skates together to make them easier to carry and prevent the blades being blunted accidentally (my simple blue ones are visible in the picture along with the more elaborate red ones with velcro straps to ensure the skates stay together).

Skating clubs (who may do several tens of kilometres in a day) will have a leader who typically skates twenty metres ahead of a second leader with the rest of the group another twenty meters behind them. So if the leader misjudges the ice and “plurrar” (“takes a bath”) then the group has plenty of time to stop.

The specialist rucksacks that tour skaters use have a crotch strap so that the bag doesn’t rise up if you have a bath and thereby acts as a float with all your spare clothes in a waterproof bag. They also have a throw-line to be thrown to the swimmer (rather like in kayaking).
As you skate, you must be wary of weaker patches seen as odd patterns. They become safer as the ice thickens. But at the marginal end, when the ice is only just skatable at around six centimeters, then they must be avoided.
Finally, once off the ice, a nip of something very alcoholic from a hip flask that’s been chilling in the day-pack along with some Prinskorv heated over a fire is hard to beat.
Though some mince pies warmed over the embers made a thoroughly British addition to a very non-British pastime.

 
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HR Kit: Entertainment

10 Aug, 2007
Highland Cow - Isle Of Mull - Easter 07  

What entertainment can you want on a walk across the Swiss Alps? Well, very little to be honest. But for the journey in and out I’d go mad without a book. Also under this heading I’m including a couple of other items that are to be used along the way that aren’t strictly necessary and so seem to fit here best.

Phone

I’m not planning to take a real, paper book this year. I’ve bought some audio books on CD and have created MP3s from them to listen to on the phone’s MP3 player.

That way I save the weight of the book and replace it with just headphones. It also means I can potentially take more than one book.

We dug up some audio books that both of us would like to listen to so LB is going to have one earphone and I the other. We’ve got to get seats on the plane together!

Apart from playing things, my phone records better video than the little camera that LB carries. The occasional video can convey quite a different flavour of a place to a static photo, I’ve found. They help give someone who’s not been there a sense of the place as well.

Also it can record voice, so instead of a written log, which I must admit to being too lazy to fill in most of the time, I’ll be using it to record some notes as I go. Nothing likely to make it on to here, just for my own memories.

Binoculars

The Alps are big. I know it sounds obvious but if you’re used to wandering about in the UK mountains then the scale of them is something that takes a bit of adjusting to. Because they’re so big, things that are just across the valley from you can remain as puzzling dots even if you have good eyesight. A pair of good binoculars can be really useful for letting you experience that bit more of the Alps than you would do without them. And for deciding if that thing that’s moving across the way is a person, or a Land Rover.

I would reconsider taking them if I was camping but since we’re going hut to hut the weight seems justified – just.

An alternative is to take a monocular, mine weighs only 62gms. But I have a choice between a very cheap and not very good monocular and a very good pair of binoculars. Even at 288gms I think the binoculars might have the edge.

Kestrel 3500

The Kestrel 3500 is an anemometer, thermometer and barometer. But it also works out things like wind chill and heat stress to tell you what the weather feels like as opposed to what the thermometer is saying.

This really isn’t necessary and I can see why a lot of people wouldn’t consider carrying one for a moment. But I really enjoy knowing what the temperature and the wind speed is.

The 3500 is a pretty accurate bit of kit. It comes with all kinds of certification about the accuracy of the sensors and you can send it back to be re-calibrated if you like

I like the way the thermometer is exposed through a hole punched through the case meaning that it responds very quickly indeed to changes in temperature. It’s also waterproof so it doesn’t need to be wrapped up in a bag.

There are one or two suppliers in the UK but I found Red Oaks Trading in the US to be cheap enough that it was worth paying the import duty on since it still worked out about £35 cheaper (50€/70$).

 
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