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Paddling with Gators

May 13, 2009

I had been to Florida several times by now from my home in Southern California, but had yet to see an alligator that wasn’t asleep at an amusement park. Having those in California as well, I was beginning to think this gator thing was a ruse dreamt up by the Florida tourism board.

We had been hiking through several ‘parks’, which is what Florida calls their many swampy areas, without ever spotting any of these alleged reptiles. Most of these parks have a mile or two of boardwalk a few feet off the ground, which is covered with water, depending on current drought status. In a state with 11,000 miles of rivers, 8,000 lakes and 22,000 miles of coastline, there are a lot of these parks to enjoy.

Today’s journey was to take place in Myakka River State Park. It was March, and we were between race days at Daytona, so we wanted to explore and get some paddling done while I was out here in Florida. We found a place online called the Myakka Outpost to rent kayaks and canoes, and off we went.

The Outpost was situated on a small bay of a large lake. My first alligator sighting was a large fellow sunning himself on the opposite bank of this small bay. The locals didn’t seem to mind at all, but I was suddenly not so sure getting into the water with this guy was such a brilliant plan.

Deciding the biggest and strongest boat would be best in this scenario, we decided to go with a Canoe for this trip.

We paddled out into the main body of the lake, carefully noting that the gator on the bank stayed put. Staying near the shore and skirting around the lake in search of wildlife seemed like the best course, and we followed the shoreline around to a small dam.

Having seen no other alligators for some time, we were beginning to believe the monster on the shore was just a tourist lure. We heard all the talk of gators being masters of camouflage and all of that nonsense, but we were enjoying our nice day, and such things were likely exaggerated. Steve Irwin said American Alligators were basically scardey cats compared to his Aussie Crocs.

What’s the worst that could happen?

We paddled around the shoreline even further away from where the other tourists were boating, hoping to find other wildlife to see, confident that the “Great Florida Gator Myth” had been busted.

We paddled around the edge of a small cove, and began to round the corner of this small peninsula that jutted out into the main lake. The side we approached from was just another beach, and we could not see what was around the sharp corner.

She was in front, and as the boat peeked around the spit of land, she stopped paddling, and motioned for me to be quiet. Figuring another sleeping gator would be on the bank, I rested as the boat drifted forward.

Well, there was certainly another alligator sunning itself on the shore. And another. And another. And another. I was quickly trying to get a count as we drifted slowly in the slight breeze, when most of the smaller ones (they were up to maybe 5-6 feet in length) popped up and ran into the water, obviously to come and eat the two tasty tourists who were dumb enough to paddle this far back away from civilization. The larger ones had obviously eaten recently, as they remained on the shore to let the younger ones have the free meal.

We sat in the boat clutching our paddles in hopes of mounting some type of last stand, and of course snapping pictures as we continued to drift in the breeze. We noticed our fearsome demeanor seemed to keep the youngsters at bay, though they could be seen popping up in the water to try to get an idea how to attack us (I’m sure of this, anyway…they could have just been breathing, I suppose).

Paying close attention to the water around us, we hadn’t realized how close to the shore the slight breeze was pushing the canoe. It apparently got close enough that only the biggest of the gators on shore felt safe enough there by himself, as the rest of the larger adults joined us in the water.

About the time she suggested we should move further away, the boat was turned away from shore, so I was looking back. I heard the sound of one of the gators surfacing, and glanced down to see it staring at me from about a foot behind the boat. As soon as I looked down at it, he went back under the surface. Assuming I’d scared him away, I thought perhaps her suggestion to move along might be a good one.

When the same gator popped back up a moment later in the same place, I knew then he wasn’t going to leave.

As soon as her paddle hit the water on her right, the gator that was under the surface next to her wildly jumped what looked to me like completely out of the water. She leaned hard to the left as it splashed both of us. I yelled out in the calmest way I could for her to NOT tip the boat, and hoping she didn’t realize that whipping tail came as close as it did to her.

Thankfully we could see the gator that we had spooked move off into the open water, so we were fairly sure (“desperately hoping”? Same thing.) that it wanted nothing further to do with us. But just to be sure, we made certain to loudly drag our oars alongside the aluminum canoe with each paddle stroke, as well as bang the sides of it every few seconds, until we could get our heart rates down.

It measured about a mile on the map from the point we left the gator beach, in the direct beeline we made across the lake and back to the dock. An airboat might have covered the distance faster than we did that day, but I doubt it.


Team Mammut: Iditarod 2009 – We made it!

April 2, 2009

Team Mammut: Iditarod 2009 – We made it!

My friend Karin Hendrickson writes about her rookie Iditarod experience.  Amazing conditions during this race, and it is amazing that the dogs and mushers can do it and enjoy doing so!

Renaissance Man

January 17, 2009

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

-Robert A. Heinlein

VHS joins 8-Track, Beta, Cassette Tapes and LP’s in the Media Graveyard

December 30, 2008
We all knew it was coming. If you didn’t already think that nobody made VHS equipment anymore, that is. VHS is officially an expired format.

The huge video rental chains have long switched to DVD. Even DVD is now being replaced with Blue-Ray, which is being replaced by downloaded media streamed to your through set-top boxes or directly to your laptop. The last major Hollywood release to be distributed to VHS format was (the excellent Viggo Mortenson flick) “A History of Violence” in 2006. Now the last manufacturer of the format has finally thrown in the towel, and there is officially nobody on earth manufacturing new VHS tapes.

My father had a 16mm camera from around the time I was born. I have seen several dozen hours of old, early-70’s sound-free footage of people bobbing around in not-quite synchronized to the correct speed films he took in those days. Much of it me walking around as a toddler, drinking coke and wearing a camouflaged Boonie hat. Seeing a young Marine father in Okinawa, filming himself playing Tennis to send to his young wife, interspersed with various other shots of his buddies horsing around and an SR-71 taking off to go spy on the badguy of the month from on high.

Of course I’ve seen these all within the past 5 years also, as we had the reels all transferred to VHS, since there were no working projectors to be found any longer.

We always seemed to have the latest and greatest tech growing up. We had the Atari 2600 (dad still has it, along with probably 100+ games), Intellivision, Colecovision, the Atari computers (400, 800 on up through 5200, if memory serves). We’ve pretty much stopped with PS2 at this point, as far as gaming consoles go, but we always had proper computers as well. Whether the TRS80, Compaq sewing machine “portable”, computers with punchcards, reel-to-reel, cassette storage, etc. I remember how awesome 5.25″ floppies were. A buddy had an Apple II running a BBS system on it with only 2 floppy drives. And you could still DOWNLOAD stuff!!

Oh how times change.

When VHS came out, it was the dawn of a new era. Before that, all there really was to do with your TV was watch whatever programming you had. Cable channels were the hot ticket with channels like HBO showing movies, though there were no such thing as theme channels yet, like an all sports channel. HBO replayed a lot of the same movies over and over. They did this for several reasons, but one being that you could only watch it when it was being aired. If you got home late, the power went out, you had to get up and go to the restroom, had a sneezing fit, whatever: you couldn’t rewind and playback. You could only watch it again the next time it aired.

When VHS came out, we could now record anything off the tv set, just like we’d been doing with audio cassette tapes off the radio for a while. It was an amazing change of technology, despite how limiting it seems in today’s era of instant track-selection DVD.

I don’t recall whether Laser disk came out before or after, as it never really gained popularity. If you’re not familiar with them, picture a DVD 12″ in diameter, just like an old LP Record (if you even remember those), and 3 times as thick as a DVD. They were hyper-sensitive to dust and scratches, expensive, and never gained popularity with studios or consumers, so there was little selection. The quality was quite good for the time, though the relatively cheap VHS format was far more popular. Betamax was Sony’s version of VHS, but they lost the popularity war, despite being a better picture quality than VHS. Think HD-DVD vs. Blue-Ray, except Sony now has won that format battle with their Blue-Ray.

Being one of the few people in our small town to have a VHS player (as well as the other electronic toys), all the local kids loved hanging out at my house watching movies and playing video games. We thought turning over the score on Activision’s Laser Blast made us amazing, gawd-like creatures, and we must have watched “Porky’s” a hundred times. That may still hold the record for the movie I’ve seen the most times. I don’t know if I necessarily learned anyting from it, though as a 12-year-old boy, I’m sure it was somehow enlightening.

We had a lot of great times there and were fascinated by this ability to go back and rewatch things we might have missed. Playing back fight scenes frame by frame, slowing down the punches to see which ones were obviously misses, when it looked so real at speed. Deconstructing special effects by attempting to pause on certain frames where they switched to the dummy head from the actor before it blew up. Of course we only had a handful of films at the time, so I really can’t see how we got so much enjoyment out of Porky’s, Footloose, Flashdance and Stayin’ Alive. I don’t even recall watching the last 2 more than once, but I could just be trying hard to forget.

We were fortunate enough that one of my friends had a dad in the Hollywood business. We had a copy of Empire Strikes Back on VHS. I don’t know if it was still out in theaters, or it was just that it wasn’t supposed to be out on VHS anywhere at the time, but I remember he and I being concerned that George Lucas would have us all killed if he discovered our watching it. It was not a final production copy, and it even had the frame counter countdown thingie across the bottom of the screen. Some of the scenes did not have all of the final sound tracks on them, so it was definitely not a theatrical experience, even on our largish set and stereo speakers. Being able to replay scenes over and over, seeing every explosion and detail made up for the ticker thingie, which we learned to tune out, anyway. I am not naming names here, because that friend is someone whose name you’d recognize now, having “gone to Hollywood” himself, and I’m pretty sure Lucas would still have him killed.

Though I was never as much of a music fan as I was into movies, I had long resisted going to both CD for music and DVD for my video collection. I think the first time I ever bought a CD player was because it came with the new car I bought. I never had much of a music collection, and most of my old cassette tapes were worn to the point of being useless by the time I bought my first of only a few CD’s. My DVD collection started slowly, then grew to be fairly large before a series of life changes occurred, and I had to start that collection anew.

I haven’t bothered to restock the DVD collection much, with yet another change underway to newer technology. Even NetFlix’s outstanding service has gotten old with new streaming services they offer. I’ve been fortunate enough to see several dramatic changes in formats and methods of media use over the years. Everything keeps getting smaller and smaller. Which is fine by me, being a lazy person who despises moving boxes of stuff I rarely use or watch, but can’t bear to toss, as
I invariably want it at some point. I have begun condensing old media collections to newer formats, and hopefully won’t be losing any this time. I’ve done this both because I dislike moving boxes of heavy crap every time I need to move, dusting piles of things I rarely use, and paying rent/mortgage to store said boxes and shelves worth of stuff. I’ll write up some details on that in a bit.

I’m not sure how far it will go in my lifetime, but it doesn’t look like the technology will ever stop developing. While it irritates me to know that all the VHS tapes I still have are going to be worthless if my VHS player dies, it makes me feel like that 12-year-old kid pressing play on that VHS player for the first time all over again.

YouTube doing HD Now

December 8, 2008

This is old news from last week, but YouTube has been slowly adding HD-quality videos to it’s regular service. Anyone who has been on YouTube in the past couple of weeks has seen that they went to a wide-aspect 16:9 ratio.

Now the service will show videos made in HD at their best trying to keep up with SmugMug’s great video services.

Many people feel most web video is “good enough”, but the difference in HD video is pretty great. I took this side-by-side comparison of the 2008 Where the hell is Matt video and captured this screen shot, showing the difference in quality between the two versions.

And if you aren’t familiar with Where the Hell is Matt, get familiar with it. It’s good stuff.

Behind the Scenes of latest Laforet video

December 3, 2008

Vincent Laforet posted the behind the scenes footage of the short video he released the other day.

Go to his blog to check out the SmugMug-hosted video.

More Canon DMkII Video goodness from Vincent LaForet

November 26, 2008
Vincent Laforet has added some new footage to his blog from the Canon 5D Mk II camera. He’s doing the transition to video quite nicely, I would say. He definitely has that “eye” I long to develop. Thanks to SmugMug for hosting the video again!