Monday, March 30, 2015

Photographing the Milky Way

I am not an outdoor-type of person. Sure, I like to do long walks and hikes but at the end of the day, I want to have wifi, my bed, sometimes a bottle of beer. So when the wife said we will go stargazing, I wasn't 100% in...

Finally, I acquiesced. On one condition: I will not drive. I know I will not be able to sleep properly and I don't want to drive after having less than four hours of sleep; I had less than three...

So, with  a tent, a couple of sleeping bags, and a few provisions, we went up the mountain with 21 others. (Don't be fooled: it was not a long hike, after a 50-minute jeepney ride, the place was just maybe 100 paces away from the main road...)

I was armed with a Canon G15 and a GorillaPod. I didn't really plan to shoot some photos since I haven't done any astrophotography except when a lunar eclipse happened in Princeton, NJ. Anyway, the first thing that I noticed when we went up the mountain and after we set up our tent was that Metro Manila was really bright! I photographed the constellation Orion and you can see the glow of the metro - there is so much light pollution in the city!!! (I also thought, "Somewhere out there, Anne Curtis' billboard is calling out for me..." Don't ask!)

I was also able to photograph some of the constellations:

Big Dipper

Canis Major


Also, at around 3AM, I tried to photograph the Milky Way, the real purpose of why I am staying outdoors in the first place! But unfortunately, the G15 tops out at 15s! I wish it could be longer! And so, to my great dismay, all I got was this:

But then, while sitting in front of my computer, I realized that I was shooting RAW photos. So I thought, why not try to pull some images out by increasing the exposure of the photos. These were the photos that I got! There is a great amount of noise, hardly surprising considering the size of the sensor of the G15, but I was still able to photograph the Milky Way!!!

So, lessons learned?

-- Shoot in RAW!!!
-- Bring a real tripod
-- Bring a DSLR

Yes, the best camera is the one that's with you, and I have proven that here, but next time, I would bring a full frame sensor and a 50mm f/1.4 lens. I will have more leverage when it comes to the noise level and I will be able to control the time more.

The morning after...

Oh, and practice putting up the tent at your own home where there is plenty of light...

And for my friends who still doubts that I spent a night in the wilderness (not really wilderness; the house of the owners were just a shouting distance away...), here's a photo of the wife and I. And our tent. :) And yes, there will be a next time! :)

The place where this happened:

Monday, March 23, 2015

Jawbone Up Move Review

Some time back, I lost my Fitbit One.

It was one beautiful morning and while in a cab, I pulled my phone to read some tweets. If you are in Metro Manila traffic, you better have something to while away the time for a commute of 13 km (some 8 miles) can take an hour or two...

So, I pulled my phone out and little did I know, out came the Fitbit One also. It was such a tiny, slippery thing that it might have jammed itself at one of the creases of the back seat of the cab.

So, I decided not to get another one. First, Fitbit is not available in the Philippines. Second, since the iPhone 5s can now track steps with its Motion Co-processor, I thought that that will be enough to track my fitness goals.

However, three inconvenient things presented themselves when I used the iPhone as a fitness tracker. First, not all of my short pants have pockets, so, I have to hold the phone during those occasions. Second, the iPhone is essentially useless as a fitness tracker if you are charging it. And third, I wish to track my sleep patterns also; it is a minor inconvenience to have the phone on the bed while I sleep - yeah, my phone took several tumbles to the floor when I used it to track my sleep.

So, I decided that I needed a dedicated fitness tracker.

The wife, then, was scheduled to go to the U.S. I thought that it was a great opportunity to buy a Fitbit Charge HR. However, the Charge HR just came out then and I wish to read reviews first. I specifically want to know if this time around, the band will not cause rashes...

I decided also to look at what is locally available here in the Philippines and one of the thing I considered was the Jawbone Up24. I read reviews online and I have never seen such polarized reviews for a product before... A lot of reviewers like the product but a lot of people also say that the Up24 breaks down easily. Some even lose the cap that covers the device's charging jack. Jawbone promises that they will send the first replacement cap but I don't know whether they will honor the same here in the Philippines.

A lot of reviewers say their Up24 break down after 3 months. Jawbone promises, in the US that they will replace the unit the first time it breaks down but, again, the warranty thing, and secondly, why does their product breakdown after such a short period of time?

But another glaring thing was the problem I had with wrist-worn trackers: they are still in existence even after three iterations of the Up. For example, if, say, you are carrying something or pushing a cart, when your arms are not free to swing, then, even if you walk a mile, it'll will still not be detect your steps (the same is true for Fitbit). Conversely, when you are talking and you have a habit of swinging your arms while talking, then, even if you are seated on your desk, the Up will count your arm movements as steps.

I don't like that...

Also, there are some people who said, in the reviews, that they wear their Up on their ankles when they run...

Hmmmm... What?!?

So, the Fitbit's out by virtue of it not being available yet and not being available in the Philippines. And, for me, the Up 24 is not a viable alternative because of its fragility and because the tracker can easily be fooled.

Then I saw the Jawbone Up Move.

This is a relatively cheap alternative to the Up24. At roughly ⅓ the price of the Up24, the Up Move is a fitness tracker that comes with a clip. You either clip it to any piece of clothing on you (or, in one of the Jawbone videos, even on the strap of your messenger bag) or you can put it in one of your clothes pocket.

The tracker is splash resistant so it's ok to run with it in the rain. Just don't swim with it. Jawbone even said that you can go to the shower with it though I personally have not tried that...

It runs on one coin battery and has an expected battery life of 6 months. This I also have not tried yet for my Up Move is just three months old.

My tracker is paired to my iPhone 6+ and, reviewers and I agree, that Jawbone has one of the best health tracking app out there, even much better than the iOS app from Fitbit.

You can monitor your sleep pattern with the Up Move and you just have to remember how to put it to Sleep Mode. (Long press on the button) Jawbone recommends that you put the tracker on the separately sold wrist band, but, since that is not available here in the country, I just clip the tracker on the collar of my shirt.

You can put the Up Move on workout mode by pressing the button twice, holding on the second press. The tracker's perimeter lights will blink and the running man LED will blink twice. After your work out, you press the button twice again, holding on the second press and the perimeter lights will blink and the running man will appear solid.

After monitoring your sleep or after your work out, you should sync your tracker with your phone's app. With the Jawbone app, you will be able to see the quality of your sleep, assign the type of workout that you did and the amount of exertion that you made. The type of workouts is fairly limited though. One of my favorite activity, and the wife's also, is badminton; that is not one of the options. So I just assign running as my workout - hey, badminton is one of the fastest sports there is. ;)

The Up Move can also give you the time, something the Up24 cannot do. Just press twice on the tracker and a solid LED light will give you the hour while the blinking LED will give you the (approximate) minutes.

One of the things I don't like about the Up Move is the selection of colors. I don't know what went inside the minds of the designers of the Up Move, but our taste in colors do not agree. Some people might like the color schemes but some color combinations are too kitsch for me. So I chose the most palatable color combination for me: a blue tracker with an off-white clip. I would have chosen the grey tracker with the yellow band but when I bought my Up Move, that color was not yet available.  

Another thing I don't like? This Up Move cannot track the stairs climbed. Is putting an altimeter really that difficult that only Fitbit can do it (that I know of). Even with the iPhone the altimeter only appeared in the 6/6+.

Oh, the device will also not tell you if you have been sedentary...

But one good thing about the app? Challenges! The app will challenge you to sleep earlier, to add more steps to the previous day's, etc. if you meet the challenge, you will be challenged to do more the next day. If you fail the challenge, the app will tell you to do better the next day.

I like that a lot. And people who are extremely competitive will benefit from the challenges... ;)

Anyway, the iOS app has other functionalities like adding the food you eat, the calories you can still consume, the glasses of water drank, etc. But for me, the tracker's, and the app's, most important functionality is their ability to tell me how many steps I've done and whether I have been inactive or not. And every time I meet my goal, I get very, very happy. 

My Jawbone Up Move is now on its 3rd month. So far, it has exceeded the life span of the more expensive Up24 based on reviews. I will update this post on the longevity of the device and if it will last a year, then I will be extremely happy.

Highly Recommended!!!

And if Jawbone Philippines will be kind enough to send me a sample of the Up24, then I will happily test the devices longevity and whether the fitness tracker can be gamed or not.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

My First Philippine International Pyromusical Competition

Got treated to some great fireworks when the wife and I and my niece and her boyfriend watched The 6th Philippine International Pyromusical Competition. It's an annual event and this year was to be the 6th.

The barge where the fireworks will be launched was located at the Manila Bay.

So, we reserved a table that has a great view of the fireworks, albeit slightly blocked by a speaker and a tree... The competing countries that night were Grupo Luso of Portugal followed by Göteborgs FyrverkeriFabrik of Sweden. Before the competition and in-between the two countries, we were entertained by fire dancers. That was also a treat.

It was a great experience and it was a great way to celebrate the wife's birthday. And, yeah, I absolutely love photographing fireworks!


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