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Joby’s Gorillapod SLR-Zoom – an 85-Second Review

Gorillapods aren’t new. Which is why I’m a little surprised that I don’t see more of these sensationally sturdy and flexible tripods out in the field and on the streets.

Introduced by Joby back in 2006, the Gorillapod design traded in traditional extendable tripod legs for a brawny but flexible trio that could be bent to fit around and cling securely to a variety of objects and at the same time easily adjusted to stand level on almost any terrain.

I got my SLR-Zoom model in 2012; it’s since been attached to small trees, bars, fences, and poles in more than 20 countries, and is no worse for the wear.

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Each leg is comprised of 10 balls joined at bendable points; rubber rings on each ball provide the grip to whatever it is you choose to wrap the legs around.

At 25cm X 6 X 6 (9.8in X 2.4 X 2.4) and weighing in at just 0.19kg (6.7oz), it’s compact and very light, yet built to hold a max load of 3kg (6.6lb). I haven’t tested that limit, but found it more than adequate to support my Canon D60 SLR with an 18-135 zoom. Needless to say my Sony Handycam or GoPro2 won’t be testing its limits either.

It doesn’t replace traditional tripods, nor is it meant to; but it is a phenomenally versatile tool to have in your bag. Or on your desk. I’ll be using it to hold my webcam when I began hosting Hangouts on Air.

Wear and tear is the only concern: when the joints begin to loosen, the Gorillapod will obviously become less effective. I haven’t heard much about this though yet, making this little pod a great value for as little as $33.99 (amazon.com).

I have however heard about a few cheaper rip-off models. Unless you want to watch your $1,000 camera plunge to the ground, I wouldn’t recommend buying one of those.

Joby offers a wide range of shapes, models and sizes, and plenty of add-on accessories, too. Word to the wise: before wrapping your DSLR / zoom combo from a tree limb six feet off the ground or a fence on a bridge over a raging river, check out the handy how-to videos on the Joby site.

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Salamiad 2012

Today’s LJ Pic of the Day is another call to action if you happen to be in Ljubljana tomorrow (Saturday 5 May), happen to not have afternoon plans, and happen to not be a vegetarian.

It’s the Salamijada 2012, in the village of Dvor pri Polhovem Gradcu, just west of Ljubljana, sponsored by the Vetrnik Tourist Association (Turistično Društvo Vetrnik). It’s a very pretty area and just about a 30-40 minutes bike ride west of the center.

Links (Slovenian only): [TD Vetrnik] [Salamijada] [Map Link]

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LJ Pic of the Day – Friday 13 April

Today’s Ljubljana pic is  a little something for Friday the 13th, taken in the old town center last week. Just pretend that the gentleman is walking towards the light, not away from it, and everything will be just fine.

Enjoyed a fabulous day yesterday exploring the coastline and villages of the northernmost reaches of Normandy. More is in store for today as well.  :)

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Stealth mobile street shooting – lesson two (LJ pic of the Day)

I was inspired enough by my first lesson in stealth mobile street shooting last weekend to wander out for more these past few days. At top is a gentleman patiently waiting for something in the train station’s ticket office on Wednesday afternoon. I’ve been in that position myself on occasion and have found that a book helps.

While on the topic of trains, I wanted to pass along a few newsy links of interest from Slovenia Rail, but since the English language section of their site’s news section hasn’t been updated for more than two years, I won’t bother. I hope the guy in the picture isn’t waiting for it to be updated.

Agent Orange’s Golden Anniversary

These are a few shots I took exactly one year ago today at the Thanhxuan Peace Village, or Lang Hoa Binh Than Xuan, an orphanage, school and clinic in Hanoi set up specifically for victims of Agent Orange. It was also the last time I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star before an appreciative audience.

Fifty years ago this month U.S. forces began dropping Dioxin on Vietnam, a milestone that passed without much fanfare. I mentioned the jubilee anniversary to a colleague. Jaded by a job that forces him to live in an ever-changing 24-hour news cycle, he simply said, “That’s old news.”

This too, I suppose, is old news: wars never end. They leave stories of the dead and legacies for the survivors and maimed. In Vietnam, some of those legacies take on the chilling form of children born with twisted, disfigured limbs or severe retardation. Some enter the world without eyes or sockets, never meant to see. Others have eyes that appear to be just a heartbeat or two from bursting out of their badly misshapen heads. Some are missing fingers, hands and arms. Others toes, feet and legs.  Not much unlike some of the victims left on the battlefield. This is Agent Orange’s third generation.

Even in the bustling streets of Hanoi, home to more than six million people who get around on more than four million motor scooters, it’s not uncommon to still see veterans of the American War, some maimed, some disfigured, many destitute.

From 1961 through 1971, United States forces dumped 20 million gallons, or about 80 million liters, of Agent Orange, a chemical defoliant containing an especially virulent form of dioxin, on southern Vietnam. Manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemical, it was housed in 55 gallon barrels adorned by orange stripes, thus its name. During the aptly named Operation Ranch Hand, whose goal was to deprive the enemy of cover by ridding the countryside of forest and jungle, dioxin was sprayed on more than 20,000 villages and hamlets, leaving more than three million hectares of forest destroyed. “Only we can prevent forests,” was the wry motto. And it worked. Double and triple canopy jungles were wiped out.

The operation ultimately left nearly five million people infected with dioxin. Estimates vary, but on the conservative side of things, some 150,000 children today live with the fallout. Epidemic doesn’t remain too strong a word.

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Lang Hoa Binh Than Xuan is in a gritty neighborhood on the northeastern fringes of Hanoi, about a 40 minute scooter ride from the Hoan Kiem Lake area. I found a reference to it in my pre-trip research – I can’t remember precisely where, sorry. The staff at my hotel had never heard of it. Neither did Thanh, My guide/scooter driver for the afternoon. When we eventually found it, his friendly demeanor and insistence gained us entry.

The facility has three buildings – the first combines dormitories on the second floor and a physical therapy unit on the first. The second is a two-story school, and the third, a three-story building, is the domain for medical treatment. All three combine to wall a fairly large courtyard. We were finally let in a little bit after two. Classes were back in session and the playground was quiet, empty.

We didn’t enter the clinic building, but the other two were modest but functional. In the school building, the paint on the walls of many of the rooms was flaking and peeling. It looked like a dirty map of a far away winter.

The ground floor hallway was musty. Strong odors emanated from one of the restrooms at the far end. In one small room, three young boys cried out towards me. One smiles, one waves shyly, another begins to drool. A fourth, catatonic, simply stares into the ceiling.

According to Vu Son Ha, the administrator we spoke with, 130 children live at the center while others come to attend classes or to receive physical therapy. Their ages vary wildly, from pre-schoolers to twenty-somethings who are forever trapped in the bodies of ten-year-olds. Some are orphans, but most are here because their families can’t afford the care their conditions require. About 50 doctors work at the center along with 10 teachers. Funding initially came mainly from overseas; since 2002 the Hanoi municipal government has provided some assistance.

On a typical day, the children wake up at 6, have breakfast at 7 and then attend classes until 11. Then it’s time for lunch, which is followed by a nap. Then there are more classes from 2 to 4 in the afternoon and dinner is at 5.

We visited a classroom where we were met with an overwhelmingly warm reception. We watched some visiting volunteers guiding the class in a sing-along, and when they were done it was our turn. Thanh jumped right in, leading the class in a Vietnamese folk song. Upon request, I followed up with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Some knew the words.

The largest and most brightly lit area was the art room. Paintings and drawings covered the dirty walls. Several kids were busy working on beautiful, vividly colored needlepoint landscapes. I bought one, a sun-lit pagoda scene. I still have to get it framed. Maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.

A few more shots.

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Previous posts from Vietnam 2010:

LJ Pic of the Day

This was taken about two weeks ago in the central Prešeren Square. They were playing the Theme from the Godfather on two of my favorite instruments.

I had an accordion forced upon me at an early age – I wanted to play the guitar and saxophone when I was seven but my parents insisted I be a good little Slovenia boy and bought me an old squeeze box instead. The passion was never really there so I reached my accordion peak in the fourth grade. I’m holding out hope that my sax peak has yet to be reached.

The Prince of Hàng Bè

I’m too tired to plow through the 800 pics I snapped today at Tam Coc and Vietnam’s ancient capital of Hoa Lu, but I have to put in a good word for Duc, my motorbike taxi, or xe om, driver the past few days. He’s now officially The Prince of Hàng Bè Street.

Motorbike is the best way to get around — at 10,000 to 50,000 VND ($0.50-2.50) a ride it’s cheap, and it’s a rush. And it’s difficult to walk more than 30 seconds without being offered a ride. Take note: If you’re not comfortable riding on your own, Hanoi is probably the worst place on the planet to learn.

Vietnam, Northern Highlands

The second day of a four day/four night trip between Hanoi and Sapa in the furthest reaches of northern Vietnam, and back. Today began in Nghia Lo and wound through and above the extraordinary Tu Le Valley, up and over the Tram Ton Pass, the highest in Vietnam, and ended in Sapa, the focal point for this now-heavily visited area.  More specifics about the trip another time, but here are a few quick shots.

The first is about an hour north of Nghia Lo (itself about 200km northwest of Hanoi) where the day began. Saw LOTS of rice paddies today.

These are overlooking the Tu Le Valley.

We made a brief visit to say hello at a primary school in a village just north of Mu Cang Chai, just in time for gym class. I made a quick guest appearance at an English class.

A view of the Tram Ton Pass road, absolutely breathtaking. Highest point is 2074m.

And finally, a woman in the market in Sapa who sold me a cheap pair of pants I’ll probably never wear.

Tomorrow is a trek to some fairly isolated villages, and a homestay with a local hill tribe family. I requested a bunk with wifi, but my hosts haven’t gotten back to me on that yet.

DICAPac WP-S10 waterproof housing test run

That’s what a foam seahorse, courtesy of the Monte Carlo Bay Hotel, looks like when shot underwater in my bathtub. Great smile, no?

That was the best I could come up with on short notice to test drive the DICAPac WP-10 SLR waterproof housing I bought on a whim late last week. I’m not much of a diver, but the ability to shoot underwater does sometimes come in handy – that’s how the rationale played out in my mind when I found this staring down at me on a shelf, with a 99 EUR price tag.

The lighting in my bathtub isn’t quite ideal – the shot above, and the last one below, were taken at 1600 ASA, f5.6, 1/30 – so forgive the grain and crappy light. That had nothing to do with the housing, which worked remarkably well.

The first test involved some paper towel scraps and my kitchen sink. Several dives from all directions and a full force rush of water from the faucet, and not a single drop was discovered.

From its bulky predisposition, actual usability was predictably awkward. There are some finger sleeves in the lens casing portion and another on the back right side with access to controls and for snapping, but its design at the front, with plenty of spare space when using a smallish standard lens, is quite tricky. At least when it’s being used in a bathtub. I’ll see how it works when I’m actually positioned behind it. (By the way, Vinakoper’s Shiraz is getting better with each vintage.)

The trickiest part is the casing around the lens. Made to fit slightly longer lenses, it can be extended and retracted, but doesn’t stay in place very well. The ‘lens cap’ is similar to a UV filter.

This model is built to handle depths of up to five meters. But I bought it mainly for security’s sake when rafting or kayaking. I’ll be doing some sea kayaking in Vietnam in a few weeks, where I hope to snap something of interest below the surface of Halong Bay that isn’t litter or pollution. Maybe even a sea horse.