The Vector is Dead

Tragedy struck this week.

Whilst I was getting my stair climbing session in at my office building, I looked to my trusty Suunto Vector watch to see how much time I had left and all I could see was some crazy pixelated dots. It’s acted crazy before and a new battery would always resolve the problem. Today though, a new battery couldn’t revive it. So after more than 18 years of reliable service, it was officially dead.

This Suunto watch was probably cutting-edge back around the early 2000s when I got it, but by today’s measure, it’s a dinosaur. The only functions I wanted back then were the current time, waterproof, shockproof, altimeter, barometric pressure and compass. It also has, or I think it has, stop watch functionality, lap counter (?) and probably a few other things I never once used or cared about. Being from the pre-tech crazy era it was, it scandalously had no Bluetooth connectivity or any way to download any of the information to my computer or iPhone. It was a basic watch that gave me the basic functions I wanted without many extra bells and whistles. Simple but functional.

My plan from there was to just get another Vector. Uh, no. They hadn’t made those in years.

When I started looking through the Suunto lineup of watches for something similar, it took about three minutes until I was dizzy from trying to sift through the minutia of technological iterations each model offered. Geez, I just wanted something simple and “Vector-ish”.  It seemed however, the closest model was one with options to measure the pace of your fingernail growth, which was of course downloadable to your smart device AND had the ability to simultaneously re-arrange your music playlist, post updates to your social media accounts, check your email and order your skinny-organic-free range latte and hail an Uber to go pick it up. WTF? No.

After I whittled down the options to a couple of models I thought might work, the next wave of bad news came in the way of lots of reviews saying the buttons are prone to sticking. My old Vector’s buttons would occasionally get stuck, but I knew that was from sweat/salt/grime build up over the years and it was easily fixable around a campfire with some water and a pointy object to clean it out. But these reviews seemed to suggest it was common even for people wearing the watches for casual use.

I loathe over-technologisized things (I know that’s not a word), so the thought of having something I wanted to keep super simple as a baseline measure becoming even more fussy than necessary reluctantly led me to look outside the Suunto family.

One word…OVERWHELMED.

Why is the simple act of buying a simple adventure/outdoor watch…not? It seemed I could either pay $700 for an “adventure” watch that had 1,000 irrelevant functions (to me) that I would be terrified of destroying if I actually took it outside, or, get one that was more of an email/text/Facebook/step-counter checker than a watch.

To make a long story short, I finally decided on the Garmin Instinct. The reviews were good (4.6 stars overall) and there was no mention of buttons sticking after a month of use. It also wasn’t exorbitantly expensive, especially since I found it on sale. It wasn’t as over-technologisized as the Garmin Fenix model and wasn’t a delicate looking state of the art social influencer “adventure” watch either. Although the Instinct model has about 50% more functions than I would ever use, it was truly about as close to my old dead Vector as I could find in these techno heavy days.

I just wanted a simple, but tough, dirtbag adventure watch that will last me another 17-20 years of backcountry skiing, mountain biking, travel and daily life. Dear Suunto and Garmin, this isn’t hard stuff.

What time is it? At what altitude am I sitting? Which direction am I going? Does my barometer indicate a weather change? Maybe I’m what Jimmy Buffet refers to when he sings about being a Cheeseburger in Paradise, but I’m okay with that. More adventure, less connectivity.

Pedal far. Climb High. Ski Fast. Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Does A New Camera Equal Better Experiences and Photographs?

Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Sandpoint, Idaho, Nikon D7200, 50mm f1.8, ISO 100, 1/1000

I’m currently considering buying a new full frame mirrorless camera. Because of the expense involved, there is naturally a lot of thought going into my decision including a nauseating amount of research and the associated technical comparisons. I’ve finally got it narrowed down to two or three options but the lingering question for me is this, “Will having a “better” camera with more technology actually change my experiences, make me a better photographer and consequently result in better photographs?”.

I’m not typically the kind of guy who buys the latest and greatest of anything simply because I feel the need to stay current. I held onto my flip phone until it died and my wife forced me to get an iPhone 4 so she could actually text me. I typically drive my vehicles for more than ten years and have no problem looking at 150,000 miles as the benchmark for when I start to think about getting something else. I’ve been wearing the same Suunto Vector watch for more than fifteen years and as beaten up and worn looking as it is, it still reliably let’s me know what time it is, the barometric pressure and what altitude I’m playing at! Newness doesn’t matter much to me, but dependable functionality reigns supreme in my world. I know that’s not sexy, but it’s the way I roll.

When I went to Nepal, Bangladesh and India a few years ago I took my old and trusty Nikon D90, a couple of good prime lenses and a handful of memory cards. In today’s measure, that “archaic” 12 MP crop sensor dinosaur would have a hard time competing with the technology of a middle of the road cell phone’s photographic capabilities. Regardless of the fact that that little camera had already traveled with me to lots and lots of countries, been beaten up in the backcountry for years here in Colorado, dropped a few times and been dried out after snowstorms on our kitchen counter many, many times, it was a reliable piece of kit and I never hesitated once to take it with me. I was never easy on it, but it never let me down and helped me capture some of the best experiences of my life.

A couple of years ago I sold the D90 and bought a new camera with twice the megapixels, faster processor, better sensor, faster continuous shooting capabilities and all the things Nikon promised would make me a better photographer. I mostly justified the purchase at the time because I’d literally put those benchmark 150,000 miles on it and it was maybe finally time to move on. The new camera has been fantastic and held up under some rowdy treatment including some rough crashes on backcountry ski days and some rather nasty weather duty, so so far so good. To my delight, I know for sure the D90 is still being used and still delivering a reliable experience to the new owner.

Have my photos gotten better with this new camera?  I personally think so, but I also believe a lot of that is my continuing development as a photographer. Getting the new camera re-stoked that creative fire in me and I’ve spent more and more time learning the craft. Yes, in the photos I’ve subsequently blown up I can see a difference those extra megapixels make, but are my compositions better? Yeah, probably, but again, that’s simply a function of ME getting better, not the camera.

This morning on the commute down to my office, I wondered to myself if having my current camera, or the even more expensive camera I’m considering would’ve made my past travels and experiences different or “better”. The short answer is I really don’t think so.

I travel around and play hard in the mountains solely for the experience of living the fullest life I possibly can. The photos I take are a byproduct of those experiences and sometimes I’m fortunate enough to sell some of them. Having a different camera with more technology may give me sharper images and the ability to print larger formats, but I highly doubt having another camera would’ve changed a single thing about the experiences themselves. Chasing the experience puts me there, not having a better camera.

I’m a firm believer that a better photograph is simply a function of the quality of glass you put in front of the camera and the creativity of the person standing behind it, not necessarily the technology inside that little box. Ansel Adams did pretty well for himself with a fraction of the technology we have today, right?

Yeah, I’ll probably add the new camera to my fleet, but I know in my heart it won’t change the way I see life.

Climb high, ski fast, live simply.

It Wasn’t As Hard As I Imagined

 

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be.

It took me about a week to contact the people I actually know on Facebook in order to make sure I had their current email addresses and also jot down the website data of a couple of businesses or blogs I enjoy keeping up with. More importantly, I was candidly evaluating WHY I should or shouldn’t keep my account before finally clicking the “deactivate” button.

In this process, I paused to ask myself if I was doing this as a knee jerk reaction to the recent privacy issues surrounding Facebook, or, was I somehow being too anti-social in even considering closing my portal into what has become one of the most ubiquitous social media platforms on this planet?

Was I being heartless for not caring what people’s daily eating and binge drinking rituals were? Could I possibly know how to vote or know what religious deity was right for me? How would I know what state my personality would best fit in? Would this be the cataclysmic end to the fantastic world of cat videos? Geez, could I possibly think for myself?

For a while now I’ve been thinking about the people who are registered as my “friends” on Facebook. When I thought about who I really know, like who I’ve actually interacted with in the last year, my list of 230-ish friends diminished into just a few, maybe two dozen. To take that one step further, I thought about out of those couple of dozen, how many have I had a meaningful conversation with in person, on the phone or even emailed when the physical distance dictated. That list was immediately cut in half, if not more.

One thing I was always extremely careful about when using Facebook was never to divulge much personal information about myself or my family. Sure, lots and lots of biking and skiing photos because that’s what I enjoy, but NEVER anything about my political views (apolitical in my case), my spiritual self, any medical ailings as is so popular, or my work. The people who needed to know, or I wanted to know, already knew. The information listed under my “About” tab was actually blank.

I have a few friends scattered around the world who I consider close friends. There are some who live close by here in Colorado, Montana and one just a little way over in Utah. I also have a couple of good friends who actually live on a sailboat in the South Pacific and even a friend living in China. These are the people who I know I could sit down with to share ideas, dreams, theories on art or just talk about anything really. Though we may not agree 100% of the time, I am secure in knowing we’d walk away still having a respect and appreciation for each other and look forward to the next chat. Trust is probably what I’m getting at.

I read an article recently, one obviously not written with me in mind as an audience, which went into great detail about how people weren’t optimizing their personal “brand” on Facebook. I managed to gag my way through the article, just barely, and it made me realize that more than likely I don’t know anyone anymore (other than those people I mentioned above). You can stage any photo you want to make yourself into something you’re not. It’s simple, just imagine the persona you want to portray (real or not), post it on Facebook or wherever, generate likes and eventually you can probably make yourself believe you are way cooler than you really are. Rarely do I see the not-so-sexy photos of people puking or slobbering all over themselves while they’re suffering up the skin track in the backcountry. I’ve seen very few (i.e. none) posts from the #vanlife hashtag explaining how much it sucks sometimes to be living in a van without a shower or other conveniences after only two months…and I know firsthand how livin’ in a van down by the river can sometimes suck. Nope, it’s probably more often than not just smoke-and-mirrors photos with beautiful backdrops, perfectly tanned girls in skimpy bikinis and of course those thoughtful quotes or words of inspiration to let their followers know their lives are awesome and everyone else’s sucks. #authenticlife #icallbullshit

I guess my question is what happens when you get asked to back up these staged images with action? Oh, you can’t really ski, ride or climb that hard? What happens when you run out of excuses NOT to go because you really aren’t all that. Maybe you just keep people at arm’s length forever, become a social recluse and keep posting those photos for the benefit of the people who really don’t know you at all? I’m sure this new way of living (and I use that term loosely) is a psychologists dream come true when pitching ideas for research grants.

My friend Ellen recently said something that struck a deep chord with me, and maybe that’s what got me thinking about once and for all putting an end to my Facebook relationship. She simply stated, “Less virtual, more reality”. I have to agree.

Climb high. Ski fast. Pedal far. Live simply.