This month I was greatly blessed by the opportunity to serve as an adult advisor on my son’s first backpacking “high adventure” trek to Philmont Scout Ranch in northeastern New Mexico. We spent 11 days and 10 nights on the trail, and I probably lost somewhere between 5 to 10 pounds on the journey! In this post I’ll share a few photos and some of the ways I was a “storychaser” of our adventures using my iPhone in the Philmont backcountry. All 212 photos from our trip are included in this Flickr collection, and 7 of the 8 videos I recorded are chronologically connected in this 4.5 minute video I uploaded to YouTube.
The number one reason I wanted to use my iPhone4 as my camera at Philmont, instead of a battery operated digital camera, was its ability to take HDR (high dynamic range) photos with the Pro HDR app which Dean Shareski told me about several years ago. I absolutely LOVE this app and the high quality images it enables me to capture. Especially in the mountains where landscapes have dark shadows as well as bright sunshine and clouds, the HDR app is priceless. Here are a few of my favorite HDR photos I captured on our trek.
The other iPhoneography app I really like on my iPhone4 is Pano, which takes great panoramic images. It’s incidentally also available for Android and Windows 7 phones. Here are a few of my pano shots from Philmont this month.
Since we were on the trail for 11 days and did not have ANY access to electricity, I needed a way to use solar power to charge my iPhone. (I could have opted for a battery charger, but I didn’t want to carry all the extra battery weight.) I purchased a $35 G24i Solar Innovations Power Curve Solar Charger at Academy Sports before our trip, and was pleased with the performance overall. It came with a USB female plug which I could directly use with my iPhone USB dock charging cable.
The Power Curve has a rechargeable battery built into it, so I would charge it during the day and then recharge my iPhone at night. I generally was able to get a 30% to 40% charge of my iPhone4 each night with a full solar battery charge. Near the end of the trip during the day I got down to less than 10% battery at some points, but I was able to boost the iPhone battery enough that I was able to take all the pictures I wanted. I did turn the brightness down to almost zero (probably about 15% of max brightness) for the entire trip, along with turning on airplane mode to conserve battery. According to the instructions, the solar charger needed 6 to 8 hours in direct sunlight to become fully charged. I found this was not possible when the charger was just hanging on the back of my backpack on the trail. I needed to set the charger in direct sunlight at camp for many hours each day, when possible, to obtain the maximum charge available.
I was able to make a couple calls at different points of our trip, mainly on top of mountains and high ridges where cell phone service was available. Since the Oklahoma City Thunder was in the NBA finals during our trek, it was ‘critical’ (in the minds of several of our boys) to get score updates. Overall, however, I was ‘unplugged’ from the grid for almost two weeks and really enjoyed it.
Since I had my iPhone, instead of keeping a written journal during our trek I decided to make an audio journal using the free app AudioBoo. (In addition to iOS, AudioBoo is also available for Android and Nokia phones.) I recorded a short audio journal entry each night before bed, and selected a photo from the day to accompany it. After getting back home to Oklahoma City, I uploaded all of those AudioBoo recordings to the web. This worked great and is an audio journal option I highly recommend to others taking trips you’d like to document.
I came very close before the trek to buying a Spot Connect satellite GPS device which would allow me to tweet from the backcountry with our updated GPS coordinates. Our Philmont ranger told us these are discouraged in the backcountry, because of the possibility of accidentally hitting the “panic / come rescue me” button and inadvertently calling in a rescue helicopter. It’s possible in the next couple years my son and I may go on another high adventure trek canoeing in the Minnesota / Canadian boundary waters. If so, I might again explore that option. As it turned out, it was great to be largely disconnected from technology and information during our trek, and the option to “tweet from the backcountry” might have been more of a distraction in our journey than it would have been worth.
If you ever have an opportunity to go on a backpacking trek to Philmont, I highly recommend that you go. I went on a trek with my scout troop from Manhattan, Kansas, (Troop 74) back in 1986, and was a Philmont “zoomie” ranger in the summers of 1990 and 1992. Philmont is a truly magical place and it casts a spell on you that will last a lifetime. It was a tremendous blessing to be able to share these experiences with my son this summer!
This evening Alexander answered a few of the questions using AudioBoo on an iPad. He actually asked to answer with just audio, since he didn’t need to show anything on his actual project in a video to answer the questions. Here are the student questions written by some of Mr. Buist’s students and Alexander’s recorded answers. There were many more questions shared by students, but these were the ones Alexander was able to answer tonight. Thanks Mr. Buist and students for your interest in Alexander’s project and his learning journey as a designer and engineer! I hope the information we share is helpful to you in your own engineering design projects.
Questions from Jonah C:
Did you have fun doing this project, or did you just do this for a good grade? If you did have fun with this project, what were the most fun parts of the project that you had?
If you did not like this and just did this project for a grade, then what did you not like about the project? What kind of help did your dad give you, or did you just do the project by yourself?
Question from Braxton B:
One of the questions that I have about the second design is why even use the pulley when you still have to use your hand to help it along I hope you can answer my questions a thank you for listening.
After actually building his planned design and working with different materials (largely scrap wood from our local Lowe’s hardware store and various bits of hardware pieced together with a drill and Gorilla Glue) we finally created a product which resembles this design, which he drew tonight.
Last night, he recorded a three minute video explaining his design and what we’d changed from the original plans.
Overall science class this year for him has been (I think) largely a disappointment and a big frustration on several fronts. I won’t elaborate here in detail, but it’s been a case as a parent where I dearly wished there were more opportunities for both student and parental feedback to be integrated into the formal teacher evaluation process. Those frustrations aside, I want to observe that good things can come from projects and specifically engineering challenges which students are given. We spend far too LITTLE time in school and outside of class actually BUILDING THINGS we design and tweaking those models until “they work.” Alexander’s project isn’t likely to win any STEM awards and I’m not even sure what his grade on the project or in his class will be… but those things really don’t matter much. What matters is this science and engineering project gave him a chance to design and build something he imagined in his mind. It gave us a chance to work on building his design together. It was fun, and I think we both learned some new things as well as creating something we’re proud of and will remember for a long time.
He takes his project to school tomorrow to show his teacher and his class what he made and what he learned. “Success in learning,” however, has already been achieved and we don’t need a teacher’s grade or evaluation to know it. We DID, however, need a teacher to assign this project and thereby provide a catalyst for designing and building together. For that I am thankful both to his teacher and his wonderful school, Classen School of Advanced Studies in Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Long live science and engineering projects for students which require creativity, imagination, and really “making stuff!”
Today we worked in our flower and vegetable beds in our front and backyard. Among other things, we planted some pumpkin seeds. We’re not sure if we’ll get any pumpkins (or cantaloupes, or ears of corn) but we’re going to give it a shot! Later this month we’re going to plant some tomatoes too. Here are a few photos from today’s inaugural planting, along with a short video narrated by Rachel. I’m thinking these photos will make a great narrated slideshow if we keep taking pictures as the plants grow in upcoming weeks.
This week as I was looking through my minecraft youtube videos, as I often do, I found these really awesome videos made by a youtuber named CaptainSparklez. He has spent a lot of time on these as well as bringing in to do the Parodies and some of the animating. They are some of the best videos I have seen not only for the amazing animating but it’s also the extremely creative lyrics that are packed with minecraft references, some that everyone should get but even a few more hidden ones that only real mincrafters would recognize that make them so great. My favorite one is actually called “Revenge” that is a parody of the song DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love by Usher which is actually a song I hadn’t heard before but that makes it even better for me in some ways, but I really love it for its awesome lyrics. The next best for me is called “Fallen Kingdom” which is a parody off of Coldplay’s Viva la Vida. Even though this video has good lyrics too, the visual effects are really what makes this one great. Another cool thing that this youtuber did was make a behind the scenes video for how he and his team made both of them. I found all of these really neat and hope you do too!
Alexander is designing a “complex machine” for his 8th grade science class. He recorded a short AudioBoo today and described his design, which I photographed and embedded below. Please share comments and feedback.
This week I’ve been gearing up for tonight’s Chili Cook-off at our church in Edmond, Oklahoma, and I’ve prepared a “New Mexico Green Chili Chili” inspired by Dan Tubb’s creation last year. I based my recipe on “Karen’s Classic Old-Fashioned New Mexico Green Chili” with a few modifications. Last Sunday I ‘practiced’ for the first time, and yesterday I made my second and ‘real’ batch. In the initial attempt I used tomatoes, but in today’s version I did not.
I used six Anaheim green chilis in addition to 4 small (4 oz) cans of Hatch green chilis.
I roasted these in the oven using these instructions, basically turning them every 1.5 minutes under the oven broiler for a total of 10 minutes cooking time.
Then I covered them with saran wrap for 15 minutes and they were ready to peel.
I added about a tablespoon of oregano to my recipe, which wasn’t called for in “Karen’s” version. I also added some sliced and sautéed new potatoes, which Dan had encouraged me to use.
Now we’re off to church to see who wins and taste everyone’s creations! For more inspiration, check out the video I made last year at the Chili Cook Off! I may try to make another documentary this year.
Update: My chili was well received, but there was not NEARLY enough of it. No prizes this year. Next year if I make it again, I’ll double or triple the recipe.
Strolling through the open doorway of the classroom, he made his way to the back. Weaving in and out of desks, he only stopped to pick up a random pencil someone earlier had left, not even noticing that it was pink. even while slouching with his backpack slung lazily behind one arm he would stand out from the crowd.
He is Asian, yet he towers above everyone like a skyscraper in a farm town. You can pick him out from his stocky build, tan skin and cropped black, Asian hair. He also has his always present red jacket zipped up all the way so that you rarely see his shirt. It is ripped half way around the right sleeve and has not left his back since we started school even in the hot Oklahoma summer. His light-brown backpack that he’s had since elementary school looks even more beat up.
As he tosses it on the ground next to a desk, his last two colored pencils tumble out. He sits down heavily in the old wooden desk that does not have enough leg room and proceeds to lay his head down with his forearms covering his face still grasping the pink pencil that he had grabbed not a moment ago. He continues to sit like this for awhile until I walk in, only the second person to enter the classroom, and open the heavy door.
Immediately his head popped up, quick as a fly, and grabs a textbook on the desk next to him proceeding to open it to a random page and pretend like he had been reading it the whole entire time. I laugh and joke with him on how he thought I was the teacher while making my way back to him. In response to my joke he just flipped his hair to the side by looking to the side and uttered a very dramatic, “Well.” This was usually his way of responding to my jokes whenever he couldn’t come up with a response.
He has been getting better at putting up more of a fight ever since he joined me in our debate class. That’s another thing we share, love for arguing, and we love to practice whenever we’re together, even if I win most of the time. He’s also been getting better at chess since I started playing him even, when no one at school can repeatedly best me.
But, probably one of the best things I like about him is that he will never back down from a challenge and will never give up no matter what happens. Just recently he went up and challenged our best debater, a senior, to a match. He knew he didn’t have much of a chance but he still stood up there and did his best to prove himself, and he did an awesome job. From all of this I know, that Phu Tran is my best friend.
We surprised our kids in April 2008 with a train trip to Fort Worth from Oklahoma City. This is the best resolution version of this movie that I have at this point. What FUN this was!
I found this video tonight as I was looking at data on an old hard drive. Unfortunately the new version of iMovie isn’t compatible with the older version I created this with. If I find a copy at some point I may encode this at a higher resolution. At least we have this version!