Thursday, July 31, 2014

10 Most Spectacular Bridges You Must Cross

Langkawi Skybridge is in the list and featured the video made by us. Awesome!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Gua Tempurung 2014

After 44 years, I finally set foot in Gua Tempurung. As is often the case, we tend to miss a lot of our local attractions and end up paying thousands of dollars visiting far flung places overseas instead. We  often hear of Mulu Caves or Batu Caves but Gua Tempurung's name never really struck a chord with potential visitors. Quite why so I can never tell, except that it is one heckuva cave worth your time. Well, better late than never I say.

Get ready for some 1,300 steps along metal ladders that will take you to the far end of the cave. Legend has it, the cave has 2 magical white pythons resident within Peninsular Malaysia's largest cave system. This is a thoroughly entrancing cave, complete with whistling wind corridors, amazing stalactite stalagmite formations and crystal clear underwater river.

KRU filmed Vikingdom to take advantage of of this stunning cave, but unfortunately it was not enough to save the movie :p

The main entrance to the cave - visitors will descend into its belly before ascending to the end of the cave

Steps galore - some 1300 worth
What does this look like to you?

Every Malaysian should go!

Tracking Langkawi Island : Langkawi Sky Bridge Aerial Video

This is a world class suspended sky bridge that is 410 feet long and located high up in Gunung MatCincang at 700+ m above sea level.

Although the video looked serene, the flying conditions were atrocious with really high winds and clouds constantly rolling in. This is one of those places where recovery of fallen gear would be nigh impossible!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Flashback 2011 : Town of Manong, Perak

Nuvi owner wrote to us asking for his town of Manong to be mapped. And we obliged. :thumbsup:

Manong is situated along the Perak River and is shielded by a mountain range. The name is taken from a girl named Sarbanom who rebelled ("derhaka") against her mother.

A hamlet called Manong
Manong is famous for being close to Pulau Semat - an islet on the Perak River itself. Legend has it that before the Sultan of Perak can take the throne, he has to wet his feet at 7 rivers found all over Perak. Pulau Semat is one such location and the ascending Sultan would make his way from Manong to the little islet.

The island itself is mythical for another reason: Makam (grave) Sultan Tajol Ariffin is located on this island and tradition requires his grave to face where the sun sets. Instead it faces the rising sun. As such, this islet is known by locals as "pulau keramat" or a mystical island where 4D punters would flock in search for lucky numbers to buy. Mapio anyone ..

Further up the road, there is Laksa Pak Ngah, a favourite eatery amongst the locals. Next time you travel to Perak, take a trek along unusual roads and you may find an interesting village steeped with mystery and intrigue :wink:

Manong map and all POIs along the way was mapped in MSM NT 5.21 back in 2011.

Upping the Stakes - mini review

If you had dabbled with your Dad's tent when you were young, you'd be acquainted with the traditional steel tent pegs. They are sturdy and heavy that the joke was it can be used to nail a vampire behind its head to kill it. Tents found at Tesco, Aeon invariably come packed with these. And they are fine - long, robust and heavy. They do the job, you can hammer them in any kind of soil, even tough, rocked filled hard packed soil. Just bang it in! Sometimes they bend but it's steel - can always bend it back like Beckham.

Weight : >20grams per generic piece. In each tent bundle, they will often give you 10 stakes (10x20gm = 200gms), but for this comparo I will use 8 = 160gms

In Malaysia, there are some alternatives for those wanting to shave weight off their backpacks. Introducing the MSR Mini Groundhogs (RM11.00/pc), MSR Carbon (RM20/pc) and generic aluminium (RM7/pc) (2013 prices).

From top to bottom : MSR Mini Groundhog, MSR Carbon, Generic aluminium
As expected the carbon stake weighs in at only 5gm per piece
MSR Mini Groundhogs is not too shabby clocking in at 9gms
Generic aluminium @ 13gms including cordage.

Weigh-In (8 stakes)
Using steel pegs as the benchmark @ 160gms (RM0.00 - they come free)

1. MSR Carbon = 40gms (less 120gms, 75% weight savings) @RM160.00
2. MSR Mini Hedgehog = 72gms (less 88gms, 55% savings)  @RM88.00
3. Generic aluminium = 104 gms (less 56gms, 35% savings)  @RM64.00

I have used the carbon stakes and honestly, I do not like them. By their very design, you need to stake it in at an acute angle to prevent your guy lines from slipping. You could make a simple knot but that's just too much work.

The Hedgehog and generic aluminium : honestly not much in between them. They are strong, sturdy and can be pegged into any soil. Hedgehog has a 3 fin design vs 2 of the generic. The only problem these two have is when staking into soil that has pebbles or rock underneath. Whereas the traditional steel pegs can easily circumnavigate around the rocks with a little bit of force, it is not so easy with these two. You may have to adjust your staking points a few times.

Both have notches, so your guy lines can be snared by them easily. Unlike the carbon stakes.

My choice? The hedgehog, for its 3 fin design, ultralight and being super strong. The generic is fine but you don't really need a peg that big or long in most cases. At least I havent personally found a need to have a stake as long. When you are going for ultralight, the minimalist design of hedgehog fits the bill and does the job with aplomb.

Note! The hedgehogs are shiny beautiful out of showroom - but after first use, they become smudgy and scratchy. The hedgehogs comes standard with any MSR tents - they will give you 6. You really need 8 to be safe, so buy another two separately.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

OP Series Mininet - expand your backpack storage by 18 L!

There will be times when you need more space out of your backpack to stow more gear and supplies. One common way is to make use of straps or bungee cords - often this is limited to the location and number of anchor points on the backpack that you can use.

When it's full, it means Full Stop
OP Series Mininet hopes to solve this very problem. It's simple yet ingenious solution. You can attach the hooking points ANYWHERE on your backpack without causing any damage or tearing the fabric of the bag - and create an additional 18L of space.

The magic lies in the custom center ring - sufficient for fabric to pass through

Insert the custom center ring anywhere INSIDE the backpack

Attach the carabiner on the OUTSIDE

The results? This. You can even use this for any imaginable bag possible and not limited to just backpacks. The net adds 12in x 12in coverage on the bag and yields an additional 18L space with cords that have a tensile strength of 300lbs.

Price paid RM90 (2014).

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Tracking Perlis : Gua Kelam

Sure, I have heard of Gua Kelam the name - but never been here myself until recently.  I ended up wishing I knew of it much much earlier. This is a beautiful park - it has 2 cave systems and the park at the OTHER end of the caves is a park worthy of your time and visit : you will be amazed that this is in Malaysia but not much is publicised about it.

Picnic spot at the Cave entrance

Pack snacks and budget time to spend on the other side of the cave
Cave system 1# is now closed - a tram used to run and enables the visitor to punch out on the other side of the limestone hill. The tram is now broken down and some millions obviously wasted. So we're left with cave system 2# which is an elevated gangway that cuts through the hill whilst being suspended above the underground river. All lighted up with railings so it is safe for little children as well - this facility and the park spaces will cost you a princely sum of RM1.00 (2014) only. It is a short walk through the cave which opens up to this :

One of the many wakafs you can set down for a picnic

Like a little hidden paradise

Pack lunch, a hammock with an afternoon to spare - and you're all set. There are toilets and changing facilities should you decide to swim in one of the creek network. There's a deer farm and the mystical Sintok Tree (Pokok Ajaib Sintok). At last count (we literally lost count), this single tree has it roots creeping up to more than 32 other adjacent trees! You could say it is a spineless tree. Indeed.

Get your kids to count how many trees that this parasitic tree has decided to creep upon.

DISCLAIMER - please DO NOT do the following:

Fully equipped with proper gear, supplies and torches - we sought out the second cave system. It was not difficult to find and the egress was located somewhere higher up against the limestone hill wall. Inside - there is absolutely zero light so reliance is solely on your (hopefully very reliable) torchlights. What's inside is a network of caves - complete with concrete paths, steps, rest areas, railings, multiple junctions and lightings which leads you to the end of the line of the tram. Of course none of the lights work now. As we moved further into the cave, it got warmer and before long we were sweating buckets. The trek ends where the tram rail meets. We were tempted to trek out along the tram rail but decided to backtrack to avoid tangling with the Park Rangers.

now disused pathways

secret stairway to the underground river

If you're in Perlis - don't brush off a visit to Gua Kelam : you must go!!

Is it far? In Perlis, everywhere is just "15 mins away". So wherever you are in Perlis, it will take you no longer than 15 minutes to get to Gua Kelam. Really!

History has it that Gua Kelam was previously used a rice trail or a smuggler's run where supplies made its way to and from across the Siamese border.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Fitbit Flex Reviewed

Purchased this in Perth for under RM400. A health band was something that was never on my radar but I spent all of 1 hour before deciding to buy it.

First things first : why did I not buy the Garmin Vivofit instead? It has a nice display, 1 year battery life, connectivity to Garmin Connect. Only thing going for Flex which has no display is the Battlestar Galactica Cylon blinking lights. Because I would look like a dork wearing two watches : unless I am willing to just wear the Vivofit to work and leave the other watch at home. To wear watches on both hands, IMO, looks dorky - and would elicit too many questions from work colleagues.

Plus 1# - understated and not attention grabbing.

Activity for Larian Gegar 2014 - the run started at 7:30 am
Sleep analysis - sound asleep like a beruang

Minus 1# - Battery life : needs to be recharged every 5 days! You can easily forget to do this - or happen to not have the proprietary charging cradle handy. I'd leave the charger at the office or a place where you spend the most time during the week. 

Plus 2# - all fitness bands do not tout having 99.99% accuracy and uses oblique words like "representative", "guide" or "reference" but never "accurate". Because it is not. It calculates based on motion - despite their best algorithms to distinguish between movements by walking or movements when sitting down - it is not a perfect science. However! After tweaking the stride length settings, I found that I could get the calculation near the ballpark. If you look at the summary of Larian Gegar 2014 during the morning session, it recorded a distance of 13+km. The run itself was 10km and add the milling around at the start finish line, the warm up, walking from carpark to race site  - I'd say that is pretty close to being accurate!

Minus 2# and Plus 3# - after 5 months of having it - I would confess that it is rather faddish. I no longer diligently sync the unit every day nor do I key in my food intake anymore. In a word - it is pretty much forgotten. For big activities like hiking or races, I have my Fenix which can make the Fitbit rather redundant. Until my recent 8 day trip overseas. Switching GPS on for Fenix would do little since I would be in and out of subway stations and shopping complexes. That was when Fitbit came into its own : the logs gave me a nice overview of my entire trip - and I could corroborate certain time of the day as being "Oh this was that long walk at the Arishiyama Bamboo Grove .." and I could determine with reasonable certainty that on average I was walking 8.95kms per day in Japan! 

Which is why - the Fitbit still has a place on my wrist till today.

Price paid (RM380)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

MSM 2014 NT v6.68 released!

Life With Garmin VIRB Elite - Mini Review

This is a private purchase and not a sponsored item by Garmin. What I purchased was quite a lot - it was the Garmin Virb Elite and most of the mounting accessories - including the shoulder harness.

You can read detailed reviews elsewhere and I would not try to repeat the same stuffs covered by other reviewers. There is an outstanding review here by DC Rainmaker. Check it out. The reviews out there will tell you it has built-in GPS, accelerometer, a lo-res display screen and connectivity with other Garmin devices. I will share with you how the unit has performed for the past month or so I have had it.

The tempe sensor is optional. Got it online for USD$29.

Conclusion : The Short End of It
Virb Elite DOES NOT produce the best video quality out there but as an overall complete package with enhanced features, it is HARD TO BEAT. The low down is : it all boils down to Virb Elite vs Sony HDR-AS30V vs GoPro Hero 3+. I am not a videographer nor a movie maker where perfect image (color rendition etc) is a must. All I want is decent footage with overlaid GPS data. You can fine pick picture quality all day between the 3 units but for me, the clincher is that the Virb can talk to other Garmin devices and accessories. And because it does so - it opens up new features and data fields that neither the Sony nor the GoPro has. You can tell me Hero 3+ renders color more beautifully and that Sony does better low-light recording than the Virb and I simply don't care. You will understand why as you read below.

KEYWORDS on things I like about it : GPS, remote connectivity, display, When Moving Mode, sensors, data overlays, TimeLapse mode.

Out of the Box
First the bad : it came with Firmware 3.0. And honestly it was a real pain. The unit freezed up on different occasions. When I thought the unit was recording, it actually was not and there were footage which were simply not recorded. For the first 3 days, I felt I really had an expensive lemon in my hand. The WebUpdater could not detect FW3.0 and it tells me that my FW is uptodate. It was not - FW 3.70 was already posted by Garmin. I had to manually update the Elite by finding the physical update file of 3.70 on the  internet and putting it on the SD card.

The good - the manual update went smoothly and the unit since update has performed flawlessly for the past month. No more freezes.

Life with Virb Elite 

Garmin:"We chose white so that you can find it easily if it falls in the mud."

Virb Elite comes only in white and you can see why white is a bad choice! It is an action cam, where the photographer you know, may come into contact with dirt, water, mud .. or did that escape Garmin's designers? For a unit which has not spend more than 40 days out of the box, it looks like it has spent life outdoors for the past 2 years. The Garmin lettering is not in black - that is a botched experiment of using Black Plastidip spray ..

Customisable everything with all the GPS and sensor data!

Its a simple lo-res VGA display that tells you all you need to know : how the video is being framed, what it is recording and playback. It is not backlit so you won't be able to use it in darkness but for most other occassions, it is mighty fine enough for you to even select and delete clips that you do not like when you are out doing your activities. After living with GoPro Hero 1 for many years, the display is a big leap in terms of assisting video composition as well as excising useless clips on the fly.

The display also has a GPS style dash - which shows you the speed and sensor data. For example, it will draw an elevation profile of your location - so if you have the unit turned on for the past 1 hour, the graph will show the elevation profile for the past 1 hour. Ditto for temperature readings. It also shows the G readings in real-time. All these data are displayed live together with a Min / Max reading. Very nice.

Virb writes on the SD card the .mp4 video files, .gpx files and .fit files.Presumably Fit files come into play when you pair the Virb with, say, a heart rate monitor or a tempe sensor. All the GPS and sensor data can be put into good use when you edit the videos using Virb Edit.

Apart from the conventional continuous recording, it can also record "When Moving" mode. So when the vehicle stops - say at a traffic jam or a traffic light - the recording stops. It restarts automatically when the car moves again. On this mode, as you pull out of the garage, it will automatically start recording, even though the Record button is in the OFF position. It cuts out a lot of useless motionless footage. It also has a SKI Mode which only records when the camera detects you are going downhill. If you are going uphill, the recording stops. MTBr downhillers may find this function useful.

Garmin connectivity and sensors!
My Montana 650, Garmin Fenix watch can remotely operate the Virb Elite. The Android app allows my Samsung Note 8 to remotely operate the camera too. You even have a nice preview of what the camera is seeing with your Note 8. But once the shutter is triggered, live-view is disabled (you see a blank screen on your tablet).

If you are a Montana user - there is another plus point - Virb uses the same batteries! So whilst you plug in the Montana in the DC charger of the car, you can use the Virb for (it says 3 hours but I have consistently got 2++) and the swap the batteries with the Montana. Rinse and repeat. For a long journey, you basically have a continuous supply of batteries :)

This connectivity enables you can mount the camera on the roof of the car and use your Fenix watch or Montana GPS whilst driving the car to remotely operate the cam. Wonderful. The Fenix will even tell you how long it has been recording. Superb! I have a GoPro Hero 1 - how may times do I have to check and double check if I am recording or if the unit is on? TOO MANY! No reaching out to the unit to fiddle with it every time you can to start and stop recording.

It talks to the Tempe, HRM, cadence and power meters. And you can overlay all these data on your video. Seriously do you need more justification? :)

Tempe readings and graph for the last 5 mins

PLEASE NOTE THAT NONE of official Virb Garmin mounts can be mounted on the external surface of the car (short of gluing it). For this job, I use RAM Mount - the suction is rock solid that it ain't gonna fly off even if I mount it on the roof and going at 150mph.

RAM mounts are the bees knees of all mounts out there

Video Recordings & Camera

With a 64GB SD card, I am able to record some 6hrs 30+ mins at 1080p 30fps. The  max file size per video is approx 3.5GB+ before Virb splits and create another file is the recording exceeds the limit. So if your footage is 12GB long, then you may end up with 4 separate video files.

The Time Lapse mode is super neat. It takes 16MP pictures at selected intervals of 0.5 secs, 1 sec, 2 secs, 5 secs, 1 minute etc. The moment you stop recording, Virb will stitch all the pictures into a videoclip. Great to film mundane things which would seem boring otherwise- like eating, setting up bike gear or better yet : sunrise or sunset. For the latter two, you should plug the camera into an AC outlet if you intend to do time lapse for many hours. On time lapse mode with 64GB, you can record more than 99+hrs.

Time Lapse and 1080p are the only 2 modes I normally use. It has a wide-angle 16MP camera. The performance is actually pretty good - even in low light. 

My personal impression is that this camera does admirable night recordings and I am honestly impressed. I read that Sony betters Virb but since Sony cannot talk to the Tempe, HRM, cadence sensors, I did not particularly care :)

Virb Elite on FW3.70 performed flawlessly whilst it traveled the length and breadth of Japan in 8 days - including 2 days in the rain and a waterpark. 

Photo mode. Night shot. Not bad eh?

Sungai Besi Toll Plaza
Virb Edit

Virb Edit - this software is far from the best out there, but it gets the job done for simple editing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Gunung Rajah (up to Y Crossing)

Y Crossing
This was a leisurely hike along the Gunung Rajah trail. The complete trail to summit and back is about 27km but this is the short hike to Y Crossing. You have to take your boots off to make this crossing - and depending on weather, the water could be calf height to totally uncrossable (after heavy rain). On the other side, the trail continues on to Lata Naning and Kem Hijau and all the way to summit. 

Vital Stats
Min / max temperature : 27 deg / 33 deg C
Elevation gain : 565m
Max elevation : 618m
Avg HR / Max HR : 141bpm / 163 bpm
Distance : 17.81 km (Fenix)
Avg Pace : 14:03 min/km

Trail conditions : very good, well maintained, deadfalls all cleared, log crossings all intact. A good part of the first 8 km is exposed, so you are well-advised to start early.

Out and back profile
 If you don't mind the sun, the hike up to Y Crossing in one word : wonderful - gradual grade that saw us gain almost 600m in 9km. That is gentle by any standards and made for a wonderful stroll amidst cool forest settings. No hard climbing, no knee-to-chest climbs and it was literally a walk in a forest park. You will pass a Mini Hidro station and a tiny orang asli settlement with its neat houses.

At Y Crossing, dip in the sub-22 deg waters (measured at 3pm on a sunny day!), break out your stove, eat and head on back.

  •  proper hiking boots
  • trekking poles here pay dividends on a hike this long - use two to trek alpine style.
  • a hat for the exposed hike along the logging track
  • at least 3L of drinking water - or stove to purify river water at Y Crossing
  • there are leeches in the trail but not in abundance, you would be considered lucky if you are bitten by one.