Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Nauticam's New Monitor Housing for the Small HD 4.3" Monitor

I have been intrigued with the video capabilities of the new DSLRs like the Canon 7D and Nikon D7000, both cameras which I own and use regularly. However, until now, it has been virtually impossible to shoot good video with these cameras in a housing. The problem is that when shooting video, the photographer must use the back LCD screen on the back of the camera. When you are underwater, trying to keep the camera steady on a small or large subject, then holding the housing out in front of you and trying to judge composition using the back LCD screen just results in shaky, crapola video.

I'm happy to report that this problem has been solved. I've been using Nauticam's new monitor housing for the Small HD 4.3" monitor. I've been shooting stills and then taking video on the same dive, with the same camera (the Canon 7D), and have been immensely happy with the setup.

The Small HD monitor:
Small HD is a small company based in North Carolina that makes a nice 4.3” monitor. The monitor is very bright. I had no problems whatsoever viewing the image on the monitor in the bright conditions on a shallow coral reef. The monitor has all kinds of features and is updated regularly with firmware. I can tell that this is a young, energetic company that is dedicated to customer service and great products. The first monitor came within two days, but when I connected it to my 7D body, it caused the camera to show an “ERR” message. I chatted with Small HD’s technical support department, and they immediately confirmed that I should get another monitor with newer electronics to solve this problem. They shipped out a new monitor in two days along with sending a label that took care of return shipping for the old monitor.

I personally just want a monitor to show me what I am shooting, and I want to have the ability to focus critically using the monitor. I am used to being able to do this with my previous professional-version HDCAM monitors that cost in the thousands of dollars to buy and to house in custom-made housings. The monitor needs to be bright enough so I can see the image in bright sunlit conditions, and the resolution has to be high enough so that I can tell that the image is sharp.

Other features such as peaking, focus assist, blue levels, etc are available on the Small HD monitor. I rarely if ever use these features, but they are there. This is a professional-level monitor.

Small HD can put on a range of powering options for their monitors, such as using AA batteries, Canon LP-6 batteries, and Nikon batteries. I chose to power my monitor with two Canon LP-6 batteries, and this gave me anywhere from 2 to 5 hours of runtime. I can’t give a better estimate since I recharged the batteries often and only ran out of power once, after three dives.

I found that I was not able to judge critical focus using the Small HD monitor while shooting a Canon 60mm macro lens. The image would look sharp, but it could be out of focus without my being able to tell. I therefore started using the optical viewfinder to judge critical focus and composition, then would switch to video mode and use the monitor to see the action. After much trial and error, and some useful hints from Ryan Canon at Reef Photo, I started using the slower but precise Live View autofocus mode, to focus the camera before starting video. From Ryan Canon:

“I focus with live view, using af-on on the back of the camera. I don't have a 7D on me, but I use the standard "back focus" control mapping (af with af-on, no af function on shutter release). It is slower and less accurate than the phase detect focus through the viewfinder, but when that green square does light it up it is always right.

“Focusing with live view on is the same slow contrast detect system that is used when rolling, and it can take 2-3 tries to get critical focus where you want it, but I can execute those three attempts in less time than it takes to focus through the viewfinder and switch to live view.”

I did use the monitor with a Tokina 10-17mm wide-angle lens, and it worked perfectly. The issue of keeping critical focus on the subject was not a problem since the depth of field was much larger. Following a subject around a reef while shooting wide, using the monitor to view the action, resulted in nice, smooth video. I have no more excuses for not shooting great video!

The Nauticam Housing:

Nauticam’s housing for the DP-4 is, as always, elegant and functional, with no wasted space. The monitor sits neatly inside the housing, and a rotating latch seals the housing quickly and without any fuss whatsoever.

It can be a bit tricky getting the HDMI cable inside the housing to go into the monitor, but once I did this a few times, it was quick and easy. A cable from the housing goes to a bulkhead on the housing, and once there, an internal HDMI cable goes to the camera body. Nauticam thoughtfully provided threaded holes in their 7D housing to accommodate accessories like this, so mounting the monitor housing on my camera housing with ball arms and a clamp was easy and worked perfectly. The housing gives full access to all the controls on the monitor.

I love my Nauticam 7D housing. It has two bulkheads (maybe three), and Nauticam provides bulkhead plugs which can be easily machined to accommodate any strobe syncing method a photographer may desire – Nikonos TTL, Ikeilite ICS, or my preference, Electro-Optic (EO) – a relatively simple two-wire method of firing strobes which requires manual settings, but allows me to attach and disconnect my strobes while underwater.

With two bulkheads, I was able to use my EO bulkhead to fire my Ikelite strobes, and I was able to put the wiring for the Nauticam monitor housing in the second bulkhead. I was in photographer’s heaven! For the first time, I am able to take still photographs using my underwater flash units, and then take video by using the Nauticam monitor housing and Light & Motion’s small but powerful Sola lights (I used their Sola 2000 lights, a step down from their top-of-the-line Sola 4000s, but a perfect way to light macro subjects). I even was able to take stills of macro subjects using the Sola 2000 lights. This is the future – small but powerful video lights along with a camera that can take stills and video. Well, the future may just be a video camera from which you grab stills.

There is a delay of a few seconds from the camera to the monitor when changing settings. For instance, if the monitor is turned on and I am shooting stills, then the image review screen shows up on the monitor – not the rear LCD of the camera. This can be useful since I then don’t have to constantly “chimp” to review what I just shot – but unfortunately the approximately 4-second delay from shooting the image to the image showing up on the monitor is too long to make this really useful. Pushing the “Q” menu button to bring up the camera settings also results in a delay. Simply turning the monitor off and reviewing the rear LCD screen solves this problem. There is no delay in showing the image when shooting video. The monitor does show all menu items, viewfinder information, etc – just as the rear LCD screen would show.

I am disappointed that my Nauticam D7000 housing has only one bulkhead. This means that I will have to choose between using my EO-wired strobes or the Nauticam monitor housing. Because this housing can fire my strobes using the optical bulkheads, however, I may not have to make this choice. Shooting the D7000 using optical cords will free up the bulkhead for the monitor. I may use my D7000 housing for wide-angle shooting only, which optical sync is best suited for.

Buy the Small HD monitor and the Nauticam housing as soon as you can! It will vastly improve your underwater shooting. I'm a bit disappointed that I can't judge critical focus using the monitor -- but this is not an issue when using a wide-angle lens. It's only a problem when shooting close-up stuff, and it can be solved. Having the image up on top of the camera in any position I want it, makes all the difference in the world.

Thanks to Ryan Canon and Reef Photo in Fort Lauderdale for loaning me the Nauticam housing to test. I ended up buying it, which shows how important this new piece of gear is for my shooting. Thanks also to Marcel Hagendijk and Maluku Divers for making the photographs for this review possible. All photos of Norbert Wu were taken by Marcel Hagendijk.

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Experience in Traveling to Ambon, Indonesia

Diving in Ambon, Indonesia with Maluku Divers:

I recently traveled to Ambon, Indonesia, to live and dive with a resort called Maluku Divers. I had a great time and recommend the resort wholeheartedly. I’ll write about the Maluku Divers operation in another post.

Getting to Ambon involves multiple transfers at various airports in various countries. If you are headed to Ambon, here are some tips that might help you on your travels.

I live in Monterey, California, about 2 hours south of San Francisco. On this trip, I wanted to spend some time in Australia with a diving buddy, so after a lot of research, I decided on the following itinerary:

1. Fly from San Francisco to Sydney on United Airlines. I let my United elite status expire a few years ago in favor of American Airlines, but I am making an effort to fly United as much as possible this year. I made a huge effort to pack only three bags was quite nice and did not charge me any excess baggage fees. The fact that I was upgraded to business class (using my frequent flyer miles) probably helped. I also have a Continental Presidential Plus Mastercard which gives me two free pieces of checked baggage on Continental and United flights.

2. Overnight in Sydney. I stayed at The Blenheim in Randwick, a suburb of Sydney. I review that hotel in another post.

3. I bought a $1350 round trip business class ticket on Garuda Airlines from SYD to Jakarta (CGK). The business class seats were awesome – lots of space, lie-flat beds, etc. I used to avoid Garuda Airlines, but they have improved their service since I last flew them. The ticket was inexpensive for a business class seat. I could see this price on the Garuda website, but someone told me that I would not be able to buy the ticket if I had a US-issued credit card. My travel agent therefore tried to find an agent in Australia or New Zealand to buy the ticket for me. No go. The folks at Maluku Divers tried to buy the ticket, but it would cost them over $2700! I finally tried my credit card on the Garuda website, and it worked fine.

The attendants on the way to Jakarta on the Garuda flight were clueless; they acted like they had never done their job before. But the flight on the return was impeccable – smooth sailing and great service all the way. Kudos to Garuda Airlines.

4. At Jakarta, I had about 7 hours before my flight to Ambon. I stayed at the Jakarta Airport Hotel, which was not a bad decision, but it had some real downsides. Take a look at my post on this hotel for more details on the good and the bad.

5. From Jakarta to Ambon I had a coach class seat on Garuda for something like $170. The agent at the SYD airport charged me $60 in excess baggage charges after I haggled with him. I gave him a postcard of my images, chatted with him about diving (this always helps grease the wheels with bored airline and customs agents), got him to apply an extra baggage allowance for diving gear (I believe that surfboards and boogie boards get extra baggage allowances on most Indonesian airlines), and generally haggled in a nice, polite fashion. Garuda was the only airline flying to Ambon that would confirm an aisle seat, something that I insist on.

6. Once in Ambon, I was greeted by the representative from Maluku Divers, and spent the next 16 days having a fine time diving the reefs and muck around Ambon.

7. On the return, I unfortunately did not have any helpers from Maluku Divers accompany me to the airport. This was a huge mistake and not something that I would have done if it were up to me (going to the airport alone). It would have helped to have Maluku Diver’s usual representative meet me at the airport to help me through the maze that is Lion Air.

I had booked a business class seat on Lion Air for $350. This gave me 30 kg. I struggled mightily to put all heavy, non-battery, and non-weapon-like items in my carry-on bags, so I was carrying a backpack, a wheeled carryon case, a very heavy Cabela’s reel case that I use to store and carry camera gear in, and another soft case with camera gear.

Because there was no local contact to help translate or argue, I end up sitting at the counter wrangling with the Lion Air folks for a full hour. I was only 10 kg overweight in terms of checked baggage, but they don't know what to do. I waited for them to figure out what to do for so long that people behind me started getting angry, frowning at me and shoving past me to the counter. Security guards and men in uniforms with stern faces started staring at me and asking where I am going, how I got to Ambon, what I am here for.

People were rude and pissed. I was begging for the Lion Air agent to just let me pay. I would have paid them $500 just to end the ordeal. I end up paying a measly $25 but it still took EONS for the Lion Air people to get my credit card done, paperwork, etc. They were constantly calling their managers and then leaving for their back office. I was sweating buckets, getting nervous about missing the plane, and the security guard guys are also making me nervous, eyeing my four large, very heavy carry-ons.

To make a long story short, I finally was cleared to leave for the gate after paying $25 in excess baggage fees. If you are going to Maluku Divers, try to confirm that one of their representatives will meet you at the airport and accompany you to the airport when you leave. You will not want to fend for yourself at the Ambon airport!

8. Upon arriving at Jakarta Airport, I had to get from the domestic to the international terminal. I have absolutely no idea how I did this on the outbound part of my trip. I really lucked out; the Garuda flight from Sydney must have arrived at the domestic terminal or my Ambon flight must have left from the international terminal. Whatever – I was lucky.

My great, helpful friends Douglas and Emily Seifert left the resort with a similar itinerary a few days before me, and their tips were extremely helpful:

“When you get to Jakarta and pick up your baggage, near the conveyor belts is Golden Bird Taxi Limo. Get a big van from them. 210,000rp. The International terminal is not walking distance and the free shuttle buses overcrowded slow and few. Pay for the taxi and enjoy the experience. “

I took their advice and it was absolutely great advice. You book and pay for a limo right in the baggage collection area. Then you simply collect your bags, follow the Golden Bird limo guy, and you are whisked pain-free to the international terminal, which is a couple of miles away. No way do you want to try to walk there. I paid only $18. I always travel with a great deal of gear, so any way that helps me avoid lugging bags around in tropical heat is welcome and worth the money.

9. Now, I have some domestic flights from SYD to Adelaide. I had a terrible experience with Qantas several years ago (well, OK, 20 years ago) and I have avoided flying them ever since. Other travelers have echoed my experience of being hassled and charged for excess bags; and for carry-ons, repeatedly. Qantas has a reputation for being super and overly picky about carry-ons. If your carry-ons weigh too much, are too big, or you have more than the allotted two, then they seem to make travelers jump through all kinds of hoops.

Airlines take note! There are surely many of us out here, who have a bad experience with an airline like Qantas, and will never fly that airline again!

I was therefore looking to my domestic flights with dread. I arrived at Sydney International Airport and was told that getting from the international to the domestic terminal was a real hassle if you have a lot of bags. My travel agent pointed me to this page that details the ways one can get between the two terminals:


All three choices – taxi, shuttle bus, or train – cost at least $5 and more! I was stunned to learn that Sydney Airport does not provide free bus service between terminals.

This page did mention a Qantas shuttle service. When I arrived at the international terminal, I asked for the Qantas shuttle, and it was a pleasant surprise. If you are going out on a Qantas flight, or have arrived on a Qantas flight, then you can take the free Qantas shuttle that goes between terminals.

I checked in my three bags at 50 pounds each (putting in some of the carry-on weight I had been carrying to avoid excess baggage charges from Ambon to Jakarta), and the nice Qantas agent (I try to get male agents to help me as I believe they are less strict) only charged me $30 for the third bag. The weight did not seem to matter much to him. The Qantas flight from Sydney to Adelaide was just like any United or American flight in the US. The coach was jammed and uncomfortable, but the Qantas flight attendants did not hassle me when I walked on with three carry-ons: a backpack, my Lowepro Pro Roller, and a small soft case on top fo the Pro Roller.

I hope that my experience will help other travelers who are going to Ambon to dive, either with Maluku Divers or some other operation. But there is only one diving resort on Ambon that Americans who want comfort will want to dive with – and that is Maluku Divers.

Why We No Longer Donate Images to Nonprofits or "Causes"

Are you asking my office to donate images for your nonprofit, your good cause, etc? Here’s one example of why we no longer donate images to ANYONE.

Read on. It’s amazing how someone in the nonprofit realm will compliment us when they want something, then turn around and insult us when they’ve gotten what they want and don’t need us any more. “WE LOVE YOU, WE LOVE YOU” at first; then “how dare you question us, we have tons of photographers ready to contribute their images for our cause, so go fly a kite…”

Here's the summary: Graham Buckingham contacts me to ask to use an image of mine in his annual Bite Back calendar project. The funds raised are to go to try to stop shark finning. I support this cause. I agree on two conditions, one stated and one implied: I get copies of the calendar in which my image is used, and (implied) I get credit for my image, and if there is publicity, my name is mentioned along with the other photographers included in the calendar. This happened the first year. The second year, none of my two conditions were met. I did not get any calendars, and in the marketing, Graham and Bite Back listed other photographers in the press releases, neglecting my name. When I pointed t his out, Graham was too shocked to reply, and when he finally did reply, he basically told me that there were plenty of other photographers that he could call on to donate images. FINE. OK. I've been burned so many times like this, that my office will no longer donate our images to any "good causes." When photographers do this, somehow the organization and individuals lose respect for the photographer. I am always mystified by this.

From: "Team Bite-Back" Date: Fri, 1 Jun 2007
14:43:27 +0100 Subject: Bite-Back Shark & Marine
Conservation - Request

Dear Norbert

Hi. Hope you're well.

Your web site clearly says 'don't ask', but then I've always been told 'if you don't ask, you don't' get'; so forgive me for daring to ask you to join a select number of acclaimed underwater photographers including Doug Perrine, David Fleetham, Chris Fallows and Alex Mustard (so far) in support of the shark and marine conservation www.bite-back.com

Despite being a voluntary organisation, Bite-Back has become one of the UK's most exciting and significant groups campaigning against over-fishing and over-consumption Sˇ with some notable and groundbreaking success. In three years, Bite-Back has inspired four of the UK's six biggest supermarkets to drop key species from stores including shark, swordfish and marlin whilst encouraging a number of nationwide restaurants to stop selling identified species.

In the past week, Bite-Back has been blessed with an offer of support from a scuba diver who runs a litho printing company in the UK. After some conversations, we've developed an exciting idea that would help publicise our marine conservation initiatives and help raise some hugely needed funds for this organisation.

It is our ambition to unite the 12 most exciting underwater photographers in the world by inviting them to donate a favourite image and 80-100 words of commentary on the image and marine conservation, so that Bite-Back can produce a high quality calendar for 2008.

Not only has the printer told us that he will provide the materials and machinery to complete the project free of charge, we have managed to win the support of a top graphic design team who will create the artwork without it costing us a thing. All we need are the images.

The plan is to produce the calendar before the end of August, so that we can publicise it through the international diving press, web sites and at UK diving shows. All the funds raised will go towards developing Bite-Back's marine conservation initiatives including a landmark project that could minimise the consumption of threatened species in the UK and provide a template for international adoption.

Significantly, we will have failed in our mission to produce the best calendar without one of your images. Already you've been a considerable inspiration to millions of people in your work and promotion of marine conservation issues. If we don't get your backing, I feel the project will be flawed. I know it's a bold request, but please can we rely on your support to help add momentum to this project? I hope the answer is 'yes'.

Many thanks.

Graham Buckingham Campaign director -- Campaign Director Team Bite-Back www.bite-back.com

> From: Team Bite-Back > Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2007 19:55:04 +0100 > Subject: Re: Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation - Request > > Deanna > > Just following up on your email reply. I am truly keen to get Norb involved > with our 2008 calendar ... but time is pressing now. Will he join David > Doubilet, Doug Perrine, Brian Skerry, Jeff Rotman, Michael Aw, Tim Laman, > David Fleetham, Alex Mustard and Chris Fallows in making this a remarkable > stand for marine conservation? > > I hope the answer is yes. I look forward to hearing from you. > > Best wishes > Graham

************** From: Norbert Wu Date: Sun, 22 Jul 2007 16:08:26 -0700 To: Team Bite-Back Conversation: Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation - Request Subject: Re: Bite-Back Shark & Marine Conservation - Request

Hi Graham:

OK, you've convinced me, which is very, very hard to do in these kinds of requests. The main reason that I do not contribute to marine conservation initiatives is because I and my staff usually then have to deal with unknowledgeable and unprofessional nonprofit staff who do not know what they want. We are then faced with the task of educating them on scan sizes for publication, and sometimes we have to educate them on what one-time use is -- so that they don't give the photos to other possible clients.

This web page gives information on how to search our files, what scan sizes you may ask for, etc. I attach a PDF that may be useful. http://www.norbertwu.com/FAQ.html

Deanna will be in touch with an agreement that we will need you to agree to. Basically it will state that you are allowed one-time use of the selected image in your calendar below.

Because you've managed to have at least one other link in this chain donated at no charge, rather than the usual nonprofit that asks FOC use only of the lowest links on the chain -- photographers -- I can waive the $75 research fee mentioned in our PDF. If this is something you need, please tell Deanna specifically. Otherwise she will bill you for the research fee which covers staff time and expenses. BTW, mentioning that you have a printer and graphic artist donate their services is the reason I am agreeing to this.

Shark images can be searched on our searchable database at www.norbertwustock.com. And shark images are also at these web photo galleries:

http://norb.homedns.org/nwp/storycode/shk-web/index.html http://norb.homedns.org/nwp/storycode/bsk-web/index.html http://norb.homedns.org/nwp/storycode/bah_shk_web/index.html http://norb.homedns.org/nwp/storycode/bah_shk2_web/index.html http://norb.homedns.org/nwp/storycode/pew-web/index.html

Please make a selection, send us the ID number, such as SHK0152, and we can send a high-res scan of the image.

Thanks for asking, and for realizing that other entities in the publication process should donate their services, not just us lowly pond-scum photographers, who are always the ones getting hit on by nonprofits, and always the ones getting reamed by corporations. We're the lowest of the low on the totem pole, with no power, and no time.

Norb ---------------------------------------- Norbert Wu Productions Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA

************** From: Team Bite-Back Date: Thu, 9 Jul 2009 19:57:26 +0100 Subject: Bite-Back 2010 Calendar

Dear Norb

It’s with genuine excitement that I’m writing to ask for your ongoing support for Bite-Back, the UK based shark and marine conservation organisation.

For the past two years you’ve selflessly supported our work by contributing an image and words for our high quality calendar and for that, we're truly grateful.

In fact, the combination of breath-taking imagery and inspirational text has prompted supporters from every part of the world including Peru, Dubai, New Zealand, South Africa, Iceland, USA, Finland, Canada, Fiji, Honduras, Australia and Singapore to buy the calendar.

Each calendar sale has provided Bite-Back with funds to pioneer its retailer-led marine conservation initiative with increased success and recognition.

In the last month the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times have both acknowledged Bite-Back’s work. It would mean a great deal to me if you'd read the revealling Daily Telegraph article http://tinyurl.com/nh6n6n

I hope you'll see that we're big on ambition and determination, even if we're small on funds. Either way, we’re in it for the long run and busy getting results.

The money raised from calendar sales has helped Bite-Back accelerate its ambitions to make Britain 'shark-free' while continuing to inspire retailers and restaurants to stop selling threatened species.

Just three weeks ago, Waitrose (a nationwide supermarket chain) finally heeded our advice and stopped selling swordfish. It’s a breakthrough for common sense and the oceans.

Given that 75% of Britain’s biggest food retailers have now been motivated by Bite-Back to stop selling identified species, we’d like to think that we're positively changing the country’s relationship with seafood.

At the same time, supporters excitedly write to tell us that they've used Bite-Back materials to encourage local restaurants and fishmongers to reconsider the sale of shark, swordfish, marlin and monkfish.

We're proud of our successes and inspired your support.

Now, in anticipation of this year's annual International Dive Show in the UK, we're planning to create a 2010 Bite-Back calendar.

We hope you enjoyed being part of last year's unique collaboration of underwater photographers and it would be very exciting to think you'd agree to be part of it again.

To bring the project together, we would need your chosen image and 150 words of commentary before 01 August [we've been bold enough to send across a checklist for image resolution, format and captions etc]. This will allow us sufficient time to work on some layouts and get them to you for approval before going to print.

Once again the design and artwork for the calendar has been kindly donated.

And, this year, to cover the cost of printing, we plan to engage with two sponsors from the world of scuba diving.

We’d love it if you’d agree to support this initiative. Please can you let us know?

With very best wishes



140-150 words on status of the oceans / marine conservation issues / call to action

**************************** Dear Graham:

Thanks for letting me know of the progress you are making. Shark finning is, in my opinion, one of the few marine conservation issues that we can really, assuredly make a change in.

That said, obviously I need to pick and choose whom I donate my time and images to.

Whenever I and my office are asked to donate time, money, or images, I do so reluctantly. If I am asked to support the organization multiple times, I must ask if the organization is accomplishing its goals, and whether the organization is smart and diplomatic enough to "give back" to its contributing photographers. Am I and other photographers being appreciated and recognized along with the organization?

One example is if my office receives a copy of the resulting calendar. A deal-killer is if your organization did not bother sending photographers a copy of the calendar. I have no memory of receiving a copy of a 2009 calendar -- and I hope you agree that the least an organization can do is to supply photographers with a copy of the end product to which they've donated their images. I could very well be wrong but bring this up since it is so important if you wish to keep photographers in your stable. I do remember receiving four copies of the 2008 calendar -- but no 2009 calendar. Our office actually keeps records of this sort of thing and a check of our database confirms my memory.

The other is whether photographers are mentioned along with the organization and the calendar during press releases, and particularly on the organization's own website, where it is quite easy (if not essential) to recognize all contributors. For whatever reason, some photographers' names were not mentioned on any websites including yours and the feature article about your work, even though the names of several of my colleagues were. I attach a screen grab of one of your web pages that illustrates this point. While I can understand that you can't make everyone happy all the time, surely you can thank all your contributors on your own web pages rather than ranking some as "legendary" and others as not worthy of mention.

If I google " Bite-Back Norbert Wu" then I see this entry from wetpixel, which lists all the contributing photographers:

> For the second year, Bite-Back has inspired 12 of the world’s leading > underwater photographers to support them in the unique Oceans 12 calendar that > celebrates the oceans and draws attention to urgent marine conservation > issues. The photographers who have donated images and an individual commentary > on the exploitation of the marine environment are (in month order) Brian > Skerry, Doug Perrine, Chris Fallows, Alexander Mustard, Thomas Peschak, David > Fleetham, David Doubilet, James Honeyborne, Michael Aw, Tim Laman, Norbert Wu > and Jeff Rotman.

The above strikes me as a very good sort of mention. I have to ask whether this above clause was sent in to wetpixel by Bite-Back, or if it was created by wetpixel.

Now, I am not refusing to contribute this coming year. But perhaps you can respond to this, decide on your own whether you want to continue dealing with someone as picky and pissy as I am, and take the above comments into consideration.

And for my Chinese relatives, along with the gigantic Chinese restaurant in Cupertino (yet only one of hundreds in the US alone) that must serve 1500 servings of shark fin soup every weekend night for weddings in the area --could you send me a flyer that I can print up to show them, preferably written in Chinese? Regardless of all the publicity and good efforts about shark fin soup, it is embarassing and saddening to me that we've hardly made a dent in this practice.

Here's my story. I was invited to a wedding banquet for a cousin at Dynasty Chinese Seafood Restaurant in Cupertino, California. All my relatives know that I ask them not to order shark fin soup for any dinner. Yet when I arrived and soup was served, it was indeed shark fin soup. See, my relatives are all older Chinese folks, and it is dang hard for them to see me as the knowledgable 48-year-old, mature person that I am, rather than some stupid kid in diapers. I did not throw a tantrum but did state that I did not want any of the soup. The older adults tittered about how Norb was doing his usual bullshit/liberal stuff, and my younger cousins asked me why I was against shark fin soup. They nodded as I explained (their ages ranged from high school to first year in medical school), then every goddamn one of them turned to their soup and gulped it down.

That was a year ago. After that, I have not been to any more family functions. I can't stand it any more.

And I have to ask -- despite the woman hanging herself from fish hooks in Paris, all your efforts, WildAid, Sharkwater, films, books, magazines -- have we really made even a small dent in the practice? And really, are we fooling ourselves to think that we are making a difference and can?

Norb ---------------------------------------- Norbert Wu Productions 1065 Sinex Avenue Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA

************** From: fish Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2009 12:00:19 +1000 Subject: RE: Bite-Back 2010 Calendar

Hi Norbert

Thank you for writing to Graham - to an extend I can understand and share similar concern; I was fortunate to be in UK last November and picked up a copy of the calendar. I trust Graham has reverted to your mail.

Meanwhile please find enclosed text in Chinese - this is targeted to Chinese consumer and as well as restaurateurs. Indeed the battle language for the shark fins trade is in Chinese - the battle grounds are the Chinese restaurants all across the principal cites in the USA, Europe but largely in SE Asia and China. With limited resources, our focus are now with children and young couples - we educate children and appoint them as Ambassador for Sharks. We encourage young couple not to serve shark fins soup at their wedding. An average size of a Chinese wedding is 300 people in Singapore and HK - without the dish, we 'save' about 30 shark; we offer the couple at no charge glossy tasteful greeting cards to disseminate to each of their guest explaining why shark fins are not serve at the wedding dinner. With this exercise, results are measurable.

On another note I know of some campaigners for samilar cause who go around selling stickers, pictures, DVDs in Europe for $10 to $20..,whilst the intend may by legitimate, I questioned the effectiveness of the exercise....

Meanwhile, I trust Graham is making progress in the UK and insert some Chinese texts in the next edition of his calendar.

Best Wishes

Michael AW

************** From: Team Bite-Back Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2009 10:29:34 +0100 Subject: Re: Bite-Back 2010 Calendar


I don't know whether you read the article in the Daily Telegraph about the work that I do and the breakthroughs that Bite-Back has made in the UK? I'd be good if you could.


Please understand that I didn't write back straight away because, importantly, I wanted to find the right words to bring you back from the brink of saying 'no'.

However, I must admit, your latest correspondence (with Michael) has knocked me back again.

In fact it makes me really sad. I sweat to make marine conservation interesting, accessible, newsworthy and inspirational and when someone challenges what I do, or the validity of it, I find it hurtful and blinkered. I'm sure it will only serve to make me stronger.

If you read the article you'll know that I have a full time job (5 days a week, 10 hours a day) and dedicate most of my spare time to raising public opinion about the plight of the marine environment - that's how much I care! I don't take any money and no one profits from the work we do.

Your concern about 'whether or not groups like Bite-Back make a difference' is fair but, somewhat, resigned. Imagine if we didn't do anything? All of the most inspirational people in the world had one thing in common - they never gave up.

Please know too, that we sent five examples of the calendar to your office. All the photographers got copies. I'm truly sorry if you didn't receive yours.

Already we've have a long list of photographers keen to take part and I'm glad to say that it's these individuals who will help us inspire others to take on marine conservation issues with enthusiasm and passion.

We've loved having your involvement and remain extremely grateful, but if you would rather not give up an image and 120 words for a 2010 fund raising calendar, that's okay too.

Please can you drop me a line with a 'yes' or a 'no' so that we can move on from here?

With thanks and admiration Graham

************** Date: Thu, 16 Jul 2009 09:57:28 -0700 To: Team Bite-Back Conversation: Bite-Back 2010 Calendar Subject: Re: Bite-Back 2010 Calendar


We are not on the same page in terms of communication and understanding. You are going to ignore receipt of my initial email for five days while you gather your thoughts? Not even a peep, like, "I've received your email, please give me a few days to respond?" Then you are hurt when I respond to Michael Aw that I have not heard back from you?

Of course I read your article. I work just as hard as everyone else so I am not sure why your working hard has any bearing on the issues that I raised in my initial letter to you. We're all working hard out here on issues that we care about.

I'm glad that you have a long list of other photographers -- feel free to have them contribute instead of me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Long Version: Hotels Near the Sydney Airport

I had a heck of a time finding a hotel that seemed right in Sydney. I only had 24 hours between flights and did not really want an expensive downtown hotel. I just wanted something fairly close to the airport that was reasonably priced and close to shopping and restaurants.

One big concern was that I was arriving in Sydney International Airport from California at 8AM in the morning. I’ve had the experience of arriving early in the morning, before a hotel’s check-in time, in London, Buenos Aires, and now Sydney. It is a real pain in the butt, especially if you are exhausted from an international flight. Clients and hotels routinely lie and say sure, we will let you check in early.

London and England has always been the worst for me – I’ve had clients (the BBC and the BG Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, for which I served as a judge) promise over and over again that they would book a hotel which would allow me to check in early and go to sleep. Sleep! The reality, every time in England, was that I arrived and the hotel refused to let me check in early despite their promises. I was left to wander the streets for five hours in a jet-lagged daze. My experience in London in 2006 or so, as a judge for the British Gas Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, was the worst. I urged my wife to come along on a fun English excursion. We were forced to wait for hours for our room, then got a room the size of a closet! I have some photos of this hotel, which had corridors that barely let me pass through. I'll post them in another blog entry so there's no confusion.

Anyway, back to Sydney:
I narrowed my search down to a few places. I’ve been a fan of Rydges Hotels since I stayed with them in their Christchurch, New Zealand location.

I must commend John Ackary of the Rydges North Sydney for replying to my query about checking in early. He wrote back,

“Dear Norbert,

We'd be delighted to oblige, I don't think we will fill the hotel the night prior and if this were to occur by 10am we would typically have some rooms ready & clean to go.

I will trace your request and check a few days prior.

We look forward to welcoming you to our Hotel.

Warm regards

Jon Ackary
General Manager
Rydges North Sydney”

Wow!! It is rare to find this kind of welcoming attitude and hospitality these days, and I congratulate Mr. Ackary on this.

However, I decided to try to find a hotel closer to the airport than North Sydney. A taxi to North Sydney would cost $60 to $80, as opposed to a hotel in the main south bay area.

The hotel contact at the Rydges Camperdown was not as gracious. She replied, “

“Hi Norbert,

Thank you for your email and for choosing Rydges Camperdown for your next stay in Sydney.

Unfortunately I am not able to guarantee check in until 2pm as this is our standard check in time but if you wish to check in at 8am I would suggest you book a room on the Friday evening and this will guarantee the room to be available to you that time.

The rate for the Friday 3rd February 2012 is $189.00, if you would like me to make this amendment to your reservation please let me know and I will forward your request to the Reservations Team.

Kind regards,

Natalie Robson
Sales Manager
Rydges Camperdown”

Really? Your hotel can’t accommodate a guest and at least offer an early check-in if rooms are available from the night before? You’d really charge someone for two nights if he were to check in just a few hours early?

I found what looked like a nice boutique hotel called The Blenheim Randwick on Booking.com. The reviews were good, and I wrote to ask if they would accommodate an early arrival. They were gracious and welcoming,

“Good Morning,

We can try and get your room ready by 10am as our housekeepers also
work at our other lodge up the road, usually when we have a request
from a guest asking for an early check in we do try get the house
keepers down here to get your room ready asap. I can not promise you
10am but can get it close to that time.

if you have any more questions that i can help you with please don't
hesitate to ask.

Kind regards

I can say that the manager Dion was welcoming, and got me into a very nice room as soon as I arrived. I was a happy camper.

A few notes about the Blenheim:

It’s in a great location. Shopping and restaurants are a 5-minute walk away, and I am told that the Coogee Beach is a 10-minute walk away. I never made it as the area immediately around the hotel had tons of restaurants and shops.

The internet works fine, but you do need to use a password and username, and I found myself having to enter my password to regain internet access quite often, perhaps a dozen times during my stay. I could not get on their wifi network with both my ipad and my MacBook Pro at the same time.

I am in a room facing High Street. Many review complain about the lights and the noise for rooms facing High Street. I am finding that the blinds in the rooms are quite heavy and the room is soundproofed enough so street noise is not that bad. This is nothing compared to the constant sirens and noise of New York City, for instance.

The air-conditioning works fine, the room is not huge but it is fine. The room and bathroom are clean, and the bed is very clean and comfortable. I did my routine check for bedbugs and did not see any sign of them.

There are very few shuttle services that come out to Randwick, which is only 3.4 miles from the airport. This is because almost all shuttles go to the downtown Sydney area to the north of the airport. Randwick is to the east. I did find this shuttle service which I met at Bay 35 of the airport shuttle service area (to the right out the international terminal):

Eastern Suburbs Shuttle: he says call him when I get there, he will tell me how long it will take, call him on his mobile 61 416 066 408 or 1300 739 766 between 5.00am and 9.00pm daily.

I paid them $20 for a one-way ticket with my three giant rolling duffel bags, carry-on and backpack.

Short Version: The Blenheim: A Great Hotel Near the Sydney Airport

I did a great deal of research before booking this hotel. It is fairly close to the Sydney airport, located close to shopping and restaurants, and is clean and comfortable. The price is comparable or better to other hotels near the airport or downtown -- Sydney is just expensive at times, folks!

The best thing was the hotel's response to my request to check in early at 10AM -- they responded "No problem, we'll get the staff to clean the room early so you can check in early." That kind of hospitality is rare to find anywhere these days, and makes this place special.

A few notes: this is not a regular giant hotel. These are converted apartments. The reception area is very small. The hours are limited, something like 8am to 6pm on weekdays with a break from 12-2pm, and very limited on Sundays. If you arrive when the office is closed, a sign directs you to their sister property up the block. This will be a problem if you have a lot of luggage and have to either leave it or haul it all with you another block. I would advise calling the hotel if you are arriving anytime after 6PM to confirm their hours of reception.

The room is not huge, but it is perfectly adequate. The bathroom is the same -- not huge, but perfectly adequate. It was very clean. The air conditioning worked fine. There are three floors, but they do have an elevator to all floors.

I have a room facing High Street that some folks have complained about. The room has blinds that will completely block the light. There is some road noise, but it is not a problem. I am not bothered by noise; if you are more sensitive to noise, then ask for a room that is not facing High Street.

Just keep in mind that this is not an overpriced and overdone Westin or other luxury hotel. It’s an upscale boutique and quite good for the price.

The hotel is located in Randwick, only 3.4 miles from the airport, and close to Coogee Beach. A taxi will cost $25 to $30, according to the hotel. I found a shuttle called Eastern Suburbs Shuttle to take me to this hotel for $20. Few airport shuttles service the Eastern suburbs.

I was very impressed with the location and the hotel itself, and would definitely stay here again.

Jakarta Airport Hotel: Stay Here Only If You Must

This hotel is strange, and I've discussed it with other travelers to this dive resort that I am now at.

The hotel location is convenient, as it is right by the domestic terminal of Jakarta airport, and close to the international terminal. But I would recommend that you stay here ONLY if you have 12 hours or less between flights. Any longer, and you should go to a nearby hotel near the airport (I am told that there are many of them).

Let's set the tone first. You've arrived to the Jakarta Airport. It is quite hot and humid. If you are a photographer, particularly an underwater photographer, you have a ton of gear and are very hot and tired. You've collected your six giant bags, wrestled them onto three carts, and navigated the lines through customs. You've picked up and wrestled the bags onto multiple conveyor belts through multiple X-Ray machines and metal detectors.

If you are smart and lucky, you find and hire a porter who helps you get your baggage to the airport hotel, not too far and upstairs from the international terminal. You reach the domestic terminal, which is open to the outside air, hot and humid. You are sweaty and tired of bickering with the porter who wants more of a tip and has squabbled with you (you've already generously tipped him twice what you would in the US, but he has thrown the $20 bill back at you).

You see a sign for the Jakarta Airport Hotel, but all you really see is a tremendously steep, outrageously daunting escalator that goes up and up and up. This escalator goes to the lobby. If you are lucky or have read this blog, then you will do the smart thing and ask the guys at the bottom of the escalator to store your bags. This takes another 30 minutes in the tropical heat as they don't usually do this, and the closet for bags is very small. Again, to get to your room, you are first faced with a very long, steep escalator to the lobby. If you have a lot of bags, be sure to check them in with the porter BEFORE going up the escalator to the lobby.

Then you go up the escalator. The staff at the lobby is not at all happy to see you, and they will delight in putting you in a room that is literally one or two kilometers from the lobby. You check in, get a room key, and then follow the porter while you are sweating under the weight of your backpack or handcarry. The porter walks endlessly down an ceaseless corridor, until you finally get to your very hot room.

Quite often at this point in my stories, the room key does not work, and I have to walk back to the lobby. However, this time the key did work. But I did walk back to the lobby anyway, to ask for a room closer to the lobby. The clerk refused to give me a room closer, lying through his teeth, stating that the closer rooms were deluxe rooms that cost more. I could tell that he had lied to me when passing said rooms that were being cleaned, and seeing that they were exactly the same as mine.

Thankfully, the air conditioning in my room worked well and cooled the room down after 30 minutes. Just hope that your room key works and wear good walking shoes, as the trek to your room will be equal to running the Boston Marathon. The room itself is a bit dated but was clean, as was the bathroom. I slept for a few hours, had an awful meal in the hotel restaurant, checked my email, then caught my 1:00 AM flight to Ambon.

It's an airport hotel. Stay there only if you are in transit.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Using GMail and Google Voice to Call While Overseas

I was recently in Australia, at the Sydney Airport. I had no way to call a shuttle that I knew about. I had used Google Voice from the US to call them.

I almost did not think about this, but the airport had free wifi. I used GMail (funded by my Google Voice account) to call them and it went through fine. I took the shuttle to a part of Sydney that most airport shuttles don't service -- the Coogee Beach area.

Anyone can get a free Google Voice account. I added $10 to my account a while back and it's lasted forever -- $.02 per minute to call Australia, for example. Google Voice works by calling you back. When I am at home and need to place a call, I just enter the number in Google Voice, and it calls me back on my landline and places the call for me, for free anywhere in the US and Canada, and $0.02 per minute to places like England and Australia.

Anyone can call free within the US using GMail. If you have a GMail account, just go to www.gmail.com and find the "call" page. It's like using Skype -- you use your laptop to make the call. It's like using Skype, except without the monthly charge that they try to trick you into constantly extending.

I also went to a local shop in Sydney with my cell phone (a quad-band GSM phone). They tell me it is dirt-simple to put in a SIM for a carrier here and start using the phone. I have my choice of several carriers like Virgin Mobile, Optus. The guy gave me some SIM cards at no charge and told me to just sign up on the carrier's website for a prepaid plan.