July Challenge #1 - Build a Rig to get Broadcast Video & Audio Bike-to-Bike

This little camera rig allowed me to get shots I'd previously been unable to achieve.

July is frequently a busy working month for me.  Many events that are covered by The Adventure Show take place in this month, so I knew there wouldn't be much time for my own personal challenges.

There is a big one coming this week- more about that when/if I complete it.

Towards the end of last month I filmed Ride to the Sun and came up with a great way to shoot one of our presenters bike-to-bike.

Previously I've held a small Sony camera, but the sound wasn't great and the shots were liable to wobble.

Using the GoPro wrist mount with the GoPro Hero 5 attached allowed me to keep my hands on the handlebars until needed (safer), then because my arm was at full reach when taking the shot it acted like a counterbalance, soaking up any bumps and vibration from the road.  The audio from the GoPro 5 wasn't great, but I was pleased with the footage.


Then the producers at The Adventure Show said they wanted the same type of footage, but from a gravel race endure event.  Could I ride an eBike alongside the competitors as they transitioned between the stages, and crucially, interview them about the previous stage?

The shot and the audio would have to be broadcast standard, while riding along a rough gravel track.

I already had the Rode Video Mic Pro in my kit for use with a DSLR, so I cut into a GoPro 4 housing and, using some Sugru mouldable glue, made something which worked pretty well.

Then I bought a metal housing for the GoPro 5 and the external pack that camera needs to run a mic.  The latter system is more bulky, but the screen size and quality of footage seems better from the 5 to the 4.

I bought the 'dead cat' windshield for the Mic and I was set, but I hadn't tried everything in combination until the event itself (I only managed to buy the mic adaptor while driving to the event!)

Using the mic without the dead cat just didn't work - there was too much wind noise while travelling on the bike.

While the dead cat cut the wind, it was much larger than the plain mic and intruded into the shot, with the GoPro 5 field of view set to Linear.  Actually, it bounced into and out of shot as I rode, which was even more distracting.

Switching the field of view to narrow seemed to fix this, but meant I had to either ride further away from the cyclists I was interviewing to get a wide enough shot, thus risking poorer audio, or ride close for audio and accept a fairly tight framing.  I went with the latter.

Rode make smaller mics, but I'm not sure whether they'd help.  Due to its battery pack, mine already sits well above the lens.  The smaller ones would be closer, so are more likely to go in shot.

If you decide to make something like this (it is easy if I can do it) then I suggest building the Sugru higher than you might think to keep the mic away from the lens.

There was another work challenge this month which involved me spending 25 hours in a rocking prawn boat crossing the Minch, but more about that when the item is closer to transmission.

Oh and as to that other challenge - more to come very soon.

June Challenge #2 - Donate Body to Anatomy Department

While working for the BBC, I filmed in the dissection room at Dundee University.

The boss, Professor Dame Sue Black, wanted to go on television to appeal for more people to leave their bodies to anatomy departments.

The doctors, anatomists, surgeons (and more) of tomorrow learn most from human cadavers.

We expressly did not record pictures of bodies.  We focused on the students doing their work.

It made a big impression on me,and I must have spoken about it quite a lot because, years later, I discovered it made an equal impression on Liz.  In particular, I was impressed by the respect shown to the ex-humans, for whom they hold a group memorial service to which relatives are invited.  Students almost always attend too.

I've always carried a donor card.  When I die, the nearest transplant team can have first call on any organs.  But as I approach my 60th birthday I have to be realistic - they might not want my bits!

However, my body and that of Liz, might still help someone learn a little more about what goes on inside a human.  So six months ago, I telephoned the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee and asked to be sent two sets of bequest forms.

Then we paused.  This is not something to rush.  On and off, Liz and I talked about it, during drives, over dinner, whenever.  Then we read a book.

All That Remains is written by Sue Black and is an absolutely fabulous book.  It's about death, based on which Professor Black has made a fascinating career.  Few people have been on such nodding terms with the grim reaper.

Her book answered many of our outstanding questions and more we hadn't even considered.  For example, we know for sure we wouldn't want to be part of the USA style 'fresh/frozen' approach, where universities can order 4 legs and a couple of arms.  Where's the dignity in that?

Since I filmed at Dundee, the centre has pioneered a new form of preserving a cadaver that makes the flesh more realistic.  The old approach, preserving in formalin, left the bodies looking and feeling like air-dried tuna.  The new method is the one we would prefer.

So Liz and I signed the forms with witnesses and sent them back.  I also dropped a line to Professor Sue Black to explain this background and to thank her for writing such a good book.

Oh, and to hope it's a long, long time before I meet her students again.

June Challenge #1 - Tackle Another SwimTrek

Day one, and if I look apprehensive, it's because I am.

Firstly, I'm the only one swimming in a wetsuit.

Secondly, my injured shoulder hasn't fully healed and swims over 1km hurt.

But mainly because I'm read the bios of the other swimmers on this SwimTrek.  Oh boy.

Most had been swimming competitively for well over twenty years; one was hand-picked at 5 for special development squad; another played serious-level water-polo for twenty years; oh yes, and one has swam the English Channel.  Twice.  Once doing butterfly stroke.

Don't Buy Winter Swim Socks Until You Can Get These

The Tri-X swim gloves have been my favourite for winter swimming for several years.

Now the team at Lomo are making swim socks.  I have tested samples and they're every bit as good as the gloves.

The production versions might be several months away, but Lomo will put them on their website as soon as they arrive (so please don't email asking when they'll be in stock).

Hopefully, they'll be for sale before next winter.

I'm writing this now because, if you're planning ahead and thinking of buying some new socks now, it might be worth waiting.

They are different to the Lomo Surf Socks because the samples have a cuff around the top.

May Challenge #2 - Charity (Video) Work

I started this particular challenge earlier in the year.  Now seems an appropriate time to explain it in more detail.

Last year I helped organise and photograph a few local charity swims. This year we put the organisation on a formal footing and registered as a charity.  I'm one of the five trustees.

You can read about the swims we're running at HighlandOpenwaterSwim.com and on Facebook.

As (bad) luck would have it, the best weekends for our swims are also weekends when I'm already committed to filming work for The Adventure Show or I am out of Scotland on holiday or business.  Consequently, I'll miss most of this years swims.

I did manage to attend our swim across the Sound of Mull last weekend, so I used it as the basis for our promotional video.  Soon it'll find its way onto our website, but until it does you can take a look here.

May Challenge #1 - Attempt a Craft

When I told friends we were heading back to the Isle of Muck, one of our favourite places on Scotland's west coast, they assumed we'd be kayaking, swimming or running around the island.

"We're doing a two-day basket making course", I explained.  I was greeted by stunned silence.

Basket making was never on my bucket list, but my #yr60 campaign is more subtle than that.

It's about doing things I'd never got around to doing - for whatever reason.  Crafts are really not my thing, but I suspected basic basket making might be more about knowledge and experience - time actually doing the thing - rather than specific skills.  Turns out it was great fun, in good company, with great food, in an idyllic location.

Cyclists Visiting the Dordogne

Cyclists heading to the Dordogne, looking for good routes to ride, could do a lot worse than hooking up with The Dordogne Cyclist via his Facebook page.

Over 9,000 sq km in size, Dordogne is a big Department, and very popular with British visitors.

It does, however, have at least one quiet corner which I've marked on the map alongside.  This is Perigord Vert, so called because of the trees and lush fields.

It's great for cycling.  There are no massive climbs, sweeping vistas, or huge tourist attractions.  Those might sound like negatives but the locals love it that way, because it means the roads are amazingly quiet.