Sunday, June 29, 2014

Kayaking the Hooch

Susan and I set off on our first river kayaking adventure on Saturday.  We joined in on the first of a three part series sponsored by the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper called the CRK/CRNRA River Discovery Series.  Our trip is described as follows "Buford Dam to McGinnis Ferry (9 miles). Designed for beginners and advanced paddlers alike, the series consists of three trips running the length of the river within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA). Hosted by CRK in partnership with the CRNRA."  The other two trips are on July 19th and August 16th.

We left home at 7:30AM and arrived at the drop-off point just below Buford Dam at the Lower Pool Park at 8:45AM.  Everyone was instructed to meet at the park before dividing up to caravan to the take-out point north of McGinnis Ferry Road.  Passengers stayed with the boats and drivers drove to the take-out point.  Since McGinnis Ferry Road is south of the put-in point and closer to home I left our vehicle there and hitched a ride with another paddler back to the Lower Pool Park.  Other drivers hauled the rest of us back to the start.  We had already driven over an hour to get there.  The logistics of kayaking seem to center around coordinating the retrieval of either boats or vehicles.   It's a small price to pay!

Susan at Lower Pool Park below Buford Dam
The group consisted of about 30 paddlers including several riverkeeper guides and Ranger Jerry with the National Park Service.

We hit the water at about 10:30AM just as the fog cleared from the river.  The water temperature was somewhere around 50-degrees.  It was cold!  Fortunately, Susan and I ended up in the "drink".

The planned course would take us about 9-miles over a duration of about 4-hours, 3 1/2-hours not including breaks.

Kayaks ready to to get wet
Susan is excited and ready to go
Paddlers line-up as they head down the river
Break-time as Ranger Jerry in the distance gives us some instructions
We stopped for lunch at the 5-mile point
Lunch-time on a rock outcrop
Susan made us some sandwiches
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper guides came well prepared.  One of them had a bag of home-made chocolate chip cookies, peach cobbler, and... wait for it... vanilla ice-cream that he freely shared.  You can see the bowls of ice-cream and cobbler being passed out in the image below.

Ranger Jerry on the left was the only canoe paddler
The rock outcrop had several small harbors
Susan and I at lunch rock
Two paddlers were in OKU kayaks.  They are made of corrugated plastic and fold into something about the size of a large suitcase. When set up they seemed robust and were obviously well thought-out. 

Two of the paddlers were in OKU Kayaks - they fold up
The Chattahoochee River from Lower Pool Park to McGinnis Ferry Road was very clean and almost devoid of any trash.  That's likely due to the groups frequent planned river cleanups.  There were fisherman all along our route.  I didn't see any fish from my kayak but several fisherman showed us their catch.

The clear water - 2-feet deep here
Our group passes under Settles Bridge
I wore a long-sleeve shirt over a short-sleeve shirt, kayaking shorts and my Tilley hat all day and only felt warm a few times later in the day.  The cold air off the water felt good. 

Me in my kayak
The take-out at McGinnis Ferry Road
Folding up the OKU kayak
The headwaters of the Flint River start at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Clayton County just a few miles north of where Susan and I live.  It's a shame that it is the 2nd most endangered river in the USA after the Colorado River.  Apparently there is a Flint Riverkeeper organization.

I saw this Flint Riverkeeper sticker on another boat
Overall, the trip was a lot of fun.  We got to do something new and meet new people.  It was a nice way to spend a Saturday and far better than the lake paddling we had done previously.  There were a few areas of very light rapids.  Only a few of the paddlers had skirts on their boats.  I probably accumulated about a gallon of water in my boat all day.  Susan was a little less fortunate.  The weather was great.  We did have one brief period of light rain but not lightning or thunder.  We're already checking our calendars for the trip.

See all my pictures here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Garmin Virb Elite Camera

I ordered a Garmin Virb Elite action camera from last week.  They were on sale for $299.  It arrived the following Monday.  I was very excited.  Along with the camera I ordered the Garmin dive case, large handlebar mount, vented helmet mount, and tripod mount.  I also ordered a 64MB microSD memory card.  The camera came with a short USB cable, a large lithium ion battery, 2 mounts and related swivels and tightening screws, and an anemic quick user guide manual.  I had already downloaded the real users manual from the Garmin support site.

I laid it all out on my desk at home and opened the camera box first.  I had already read DCRainmaker's in-depth review of the camera so that was a plus.  I then removed the memory card from its little plastic box and put it securely inside the camera.  The battery installs over the memory card inside a latched compartment on the bottom of the unit.

With the memory card and battery installed I connected the USB cable to my laptop computer.  I was surprised to find that the computer did not recognize the camera.  It didn't know it was there.  The battery didn't charge and the icons on the camera's small LCD display didn't indicate as I had expected and as the manual showed.

I spent the better part of an entire evening resetting the camera, swapping cables, reseating the memory card and battery, and looking for a solution online at Garmin support.  I ended the day frustrated.

The next day was more of the same.  I installed the Virb Edit software on my PC, read the manual some more, and took a test video of my dog.  The camera recorded nice video however, I had to remove the memory card and insert it into my PC to import the file.  This is not an ideal workaround because the card is very small and the bracket that secures it in the camera is equally as small.  

The video below is that of my first Garmin Virb Elite test recording.  Starting and stopping the recording was very easy.  The slide bar switch works as designed.  The GPS seemed to acquire the satellites in short order.  It took about the same length of time as my Garmin 910XT watch.  The unit felt a little heavy in the hand as compared to the GoPro Much of that weight must come from the battery which is significantly larger than the GoPro battery.  Overall, I prefer the design of the Virb compared to the GoPro.  The small and hard to see LCD display on the Virb is better than none at all which is the standard for the GoPro.

Even though the camera itself worked, I was disappointed.  The fact that the unit would not connect to my computer was a real buzz-kill.  I e-mailed Garmin support but their website didn't even have an option for Virb specific inquiries although, all the other Garmin devices were listed.  With that questionable support issue and the 3-day expected e-mail response time, I returned the camera to Amazon for an exchange.  That was after only having the camera about 28 hours in hand.  A new Virb should arrive in about a week.  I'm hoping  the second unit will perform better.

On a side note, Garmin could take a few cues from Dropcam.  My Dropcam Pro installation and overall user experience has been awesome.  It's no wonder that the company was purchased by NEST.

Thanks for reading.

Update 6/30/14:  Garmin support finally replied to my e-mail.  They said I need to install the USB drivers on my computer.  We'll see if that;s the case when the replacement camera arrives in a few days.

Update 7/9/14:  My new Virb arrived this week and I'm much happier with it.  You can read about that experience here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Atlanta Streetcar Run the Rails Race Report

Race banner
The 2014 Atlanta Streetcar Run the Rails 5K is in the books.  My first race in over 7 months went better than expected.  My entry was decided last minute earlier in the week after finding out that my longtime running buddy Jim Macie was racing.  I figured that I'd race too and we could keep each other company on the drive to and from Atlanta.
The race finish
The finish again
The finish was at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta.

Woodruff Park information and race packet pick-up booth
Race bib
Race t-shirt
Jim's hat was not very aerodynamic and that probably slowed him down a bit.

Jim ready to race
Jim and I arrived about 30 minutes before the 8AM start time.  Runners and walkers were milling about.  There were a few Atlanta Track Club guys there.  They were 6' 2" and 145 lbs.  I knew I wouldn't be seeing them for long.

As the runners lined up behind  the start line timing mat I positioned myself about 20 feet or 100 people back.  The horn blew and we were off.  The first 1 mile was a gradual downhill slope which I conquered in 6:24.  With the race only a third done, as I looked west up Auburn Avenue I could see the ATC runners in the distance well ahead.  The rest of the race wouldn't go so well.  Auburn Avenue was mostly uphill and my pace slowed because of it.  I clocked in at an 8:07 pace.  Jim remarked after the race that he thought the course was short.  He was right.  The distance was 2.88 miles.   I had expected to finish in about 23 minutes and if the course was 3.1 miles I probably would have.  Since it was over 2/10th of a mile short, I finished in 21:00 on my Garmin and 21:10 on the race clock.  The course was, as one might expect, pot-marked with pipe covers, metal plates, and divots although I didn't see anything that would qualify as a pot-hole.
The general make up of the racers seemed to be college aged men and women and young professionals. There were very few kids and older people, which is a good thing for Jim who received two awards at the end of the day.  He collected a medallion for finishing 3rd in his age-group and another award for being the "Oldest Runner" to participate.  Jim said that the second award will probably not be displayed prominently at the Macie household.

Me receiving my award
Jim receiving his award
My results - a 20th place finish changed to a 21st place finish in the final results
I finished 20th overall and masters male winner - first finisher over 40 years of age.

Jim's results
My "Masters Male Winner" award
Jim's "Oldest Runner" award
Jim's 3rd Place Age-Group award
The streetcar rails look like a serious hazard for cyclists.  The slick metal rails adjacent to a 2" deep trench will likely catch a number of cyclists off guard before throwing them to the pavement.

The streetcar rails

See all my pictures from the race here.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dropcam Pro

Dropcam Pro - As the communications committee chairperson for the Lake Spivey Civic Association I've tried to introduce a few technology changes.  One of my more interesting projects has been installing a webcam for the lake.  I had planned to install a hi-def digital camera but I found that even though it took great pictures, it had a few drawbacks for my needs.  You can read about that setup here.  I heard about the Dropcam while doing research for the other camera.

When I read that the Dropcam was WiFi enabled I decided to buy one.  I went with the Pro version because it has better low light capability.  The Pro version cost $199.  The non-Pro version is $149.  Both cameras can be purchased through  The camera arrived this week.  It arrived well packed safely strapped to the center of a cardboard cocoon.  Inside the box was the Dropcam box below.

The box is covered by a cardboard sleeve.

The Dropcam is nicely packed in the box segmented like a school lunch tray.  The camera is the entree.

In the box behind the camera is the plastic mounting bracket.

The wall-side of the bracket.

The camera base side of the wall mount with a slot for the cord.

The FCC Regulations page.

The camera box half unpacked.

The instructions are as easy as 1, 2, 3.  There's located on the back side of the box's compartment divider.

The bottom half of the box includes a AV/DC adapter, 10' USB to micro-USB cable, a small bag of 3 mounting screws and mollies, and a desiccant pouch.

The adapter has retractable prongs.

Here's a better view of the micro-USB cable connection at the base of the camera.

The cable is shown here connected to the camera with the Dropcam logo facing out.

I setup the camera in a window for test purposes.

Here's a view from the outside looking in.

With the camera connected to my laptop I created a Dropcam account and easily setup the camera to record like I want it to.  When I say "easy", I'm not kidding!  It took 5 minutes.

The camera interface is shown below with the settings and sharing menu options on the upper right.  Changes to the settings are are easy to do and take only seconds.

After I got my settings where I wanted them I used the embed script from my Dropcam account to embed the camera video in the new Lake Spivey Civic Association Website.

That was all there is to the setup.  I can move the camera to anywhere there is a power outlet nearby and it is still within WiFi range.

The test is now complete.  The next step is to move it to a location where the camera will overlook the lake.

Here are some points worth noting. 1) the camera base appears to be anodized aluminum - well constructed (not plastic), 2) setup was super easy, 3) I'm still using the free 14-day trial cloud recording account.  There are two cloud recording options offered by Dropcam.  I haven't purchased either yet.  The 7-day recording account records 168 hours of video and the 30-day account records 720 hours of video.  They cost $9.95 and $29.95 per month, respectively.  There is a nice discount if you purchase the entire year's worth of recording, 4) the video is 720 not 1080 but it still looks great on my laptop and cellphone, 5) there is about a 12-second lag time between recording and display on the website.  That should be expected, 6) the system can be configured with several cameras, 7) it has audio capability which I have disabled, and 8) there's an App for that.

Thanks for reading.

Update 6/30/14:  The camera has been installed in its final location overlooking Lake Spivey.  See it here.