Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Scotland Trip: Basking Sharks and Puffins

I just returned from a trip to the Island of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the the wildlife that I encountered.

Five of us (Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, and Steve Ando) traveled to Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, and stayed there for six nights.  Tobermory is a charming small town, and it is the gateway to the wildlife and scenery of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow and involves a ferry ride from Oban on the mainland to the island of Mull.

We traveled to these islands hoping to see and photograph basking sharks -- the second largest fish in the ocean.  Nearly all of us had seen and filmed basking sharks off the California coast, 25 years ago.  However, since then, no one had seen any basking sharks off California.  The popular belief is that these magnificent animals had been fished to death, caught by open ocean driftnets off the California coast.  Basking sharks are, however, a known and relatively common sight off the coast of Scotland and Cornwall.  (True to form, while we were sitting out bad weather in our cottage in Tobermory, we heard that a group of 50 basking sharks had been sighted off the Big Sur coast -- in my backyard!). 

Our first four days were blown out due to bad weather and winds.  We were able to spend two afternoons on the Island of Lunga, where there is a wonderful puffin colony.  One morning, thanks to our friend Leigh Cobb, who saw and dove with 3-4 basking sharks the day before, we spent a windy morning with a few basking sharks.

The last day of our trip was the best -- as often happens.  We had encounters with several sharks, which were intent on feeding on swarms of reddish copepods.  You can see those small copepods in my photograph. 

Thanks to Henderson Aquatics, yet again, for making their Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  I own a 3mm Henderson Aqua Lock wetsuit, and it is the warmest wetsuit that I have ever had.  It's thin, warm, light, and flexible -- all good.  I wore this wetsuit and an old hood instead of bringing a drysuit.  The water there was a cold 55 degrees F, but I was just fine in the water.  I was in a group of four other professional divers and underwater photographers - - all of whom wore drysuits.  I was just as warm as these folks for a good three hours in the water, on the one day that we had so much time with the sharks.  I did give myself a good wash of hot water that was on the boat, and I was able to swim much faster than the others on the group since I was not encumbered by a drysuit (as always, I must add the caveat that Howard Hall swam and free dove better than me, even though he was in a drysuit).  That guy is too much -- a true underwater filmmaking artist, and a superb free diver and diver.

I came home to Monterey, and the surf off Asilomar Beach was going off pretty well.  I jumped in, the water is 60 degrees, and once again -- I have to thank my Henderson Aqua Lock suit for making this morning's boogie boarding session enjoyable and fun rather than cold and miserable.

We used a boat run by Sea Life Surveys.  The captain, and the force behind Sea Life Surveys, James Fairbairns, runs a great operation. The crew was splendid.  I really enjoyed my time with these folks.  James actually liked my sense of humor and suggested that he keep me on as a mascot.  

Thanks to my diving friends for hanging out and making this trip so enjoyable: Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, Steve Ando, and Leigh Cobb.  Thanks to James Fairbairns and Rona of the Hebridean Sea School and Sea Life Surveys for letting us get close to both the puffins and the basking sharks.  Thanks to Andy Murch for serving as a trip leader (well, for a few days at least).  Thanks to Henderson Wetsuits for making their truly awesome Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  And hey, thanks to United Airlines for actually providing comfortable travel to and from London Heathrow Airport from San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Solution: My MacBook Laptop Charger Won't Charge on on a Plane

I recently flew in a business class seat from  San Francisco to London and back, on United Airlines.  On the way over, I could not get my MacBook charger to charge my laptop.  United's new lie-flat business class seats have standard US 110V power outlets under the seats. 

I thought that perhaps my 85W MacBook power adapter was drawing too much current.  However, after browsing some online forums like flyertalk, I decided to use an adapter.  Voila! with the proper adapter, my MacBook charger started working 

I bought an international travel adapter at Heathrow airport.  It has a "Euro" style plug that has round pins, but fits deeply into the power outlet beneath the seat.  I could tell that this adapter was getting power, because a light for the USB ports turns on when the adaptor has power.  This was very helpful.  I then  plugged my MacBook power brick into the international travel adapter. 

The item on the bottom right is the international travel adapter that solved the problem.  The "Euro" pins stick out a bit further than the flat blades of the MacBook charger, as you can see in this photo.  These pins make a connection to the airline power sockets in the seats.  I plugged in the MacBook charger on the opposite end of the adapter. 

Other suggestions from forums:

Bring an international travel adapter with you (e.g. use the 3 pin UK plug on the power brick, and attach it to an adapter for the US 2-pin style -- if your adapter is a standard size, it's likely to fit into the recessed socket).

I've had that poor charging issue since the lie flats were introduced; my solution is to use a cheap 3 prong to 2 prong adapter - it seems to ensure a good connection that the apple power bricks cannot achieve. Or, bring along the long AC cable that comes with the MacBook power adapters.

The below suggestions could still be an issue, but I can confirm that once I got my MacBook charger to work, it definitely charged my MacBook Pro laptop.  I had no cycling or shut-off problems. 

I have had one instance (on a 777) where the plug didnt work. It kept cycling on and off like every second.

I carry an Apple 45W MacBook Air charger specifically for aircraft.

The common MacBook Pro 85W charger seems to overwhelm in-seat power systems; I've seen it super flaky on older UA, CO, and AA aircraft.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Keeping Under Your Data Limit -- Finding My Data Hogs

I spent a couple of weeks at our vacation house in Washington State.  We don't have wired internet access there (Comcast kept raising the rates) so this time, I relied on a wifi hotspot.  I only had 2 Gb of data to use in the two weeks that I was going to be there.  I was there a few months ago with a friend for a few days, and we used up 1 Gb of data way too fast -- I had to buy more. 

We weren't streaming video or doing anything data-intensive, so I was surprised.  I did not have time to figure out which of my devices and applications were the data hogs, but this time I tried to figure out who was sucking up the data. 

Here are the programs on my MacBook that were using a lot of data.  I recommend turning off these applications -- or preventing them from uploading updates -- if you are in a similar situation, where your data usage is a concern. 

I am not an expert on how to gauge network traffic.  I browsed some tips on the web and used Mac's Activity Monitor to see what processes on my MacBook Pro were most active.  I wish that there were a tool for me to see exactly how much data my various applications are using.  

Disable all updates on the Mac in System Preferences.  Otherwise, your Mac will try to download the entire new operating system while you are asleep, and BAM! all your data will be used up. 

Dropbox: Dropbox is a huge user of data.  Just turn it off and don't use it.  I have Dropbox on my Mac, iPad, and my smartphone -- so it used data to sync across all these devices.  

Programs and applications:
Adobe Reader is a data hog.  It is constantly uploading updates and doing other stuff.  I recommend simply closing it down and not opening or using it.  Use Mac's Preview instead. 

Firefox and Chrome browsers, from what I read on the internet, can be data hogs. 
In Firefox for the Mac, one goes into Preferences to dis-allow updates. 
In Chrome for the Mac, I found that the easiest way to disable updates was to use Terminal.  There's a good article on the web about this:
If this is a temporary change, make note of your current settings first by executing the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults read checkInterval
To change how frequently Google Software Update checks for updates, execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval
where  is the elapsed time in seconds between update checks.
To disable Google Software Update from checking for updates, execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval 0
To re-apply the current settings (after changing it to something else) execute the following in the Terminal application:
$ defaults write checkInterval
where  is the value from the read command above.

So here's the short note I have for myself before and after a trip:

For Chrome: enter in Terminal:
$ defaults write checkInterval 0

Upon returning home to an unlimited data plan: 
enter in Terminal: 
 $ defaults write checkInterval
 (my frequency was 18000)