Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Winter Vandwelling

Recently, I wrote a short blurb about Falia Photography Travel Journal, a blog by a courageous woman who sold her house and is now vandwelling, living in her Volkswagen van. This is not something she was forced into, it was a conscious decision to simplify her life, see the world and have some adventures while she is young.
At the time, The Traveler as she calls herself, was still remaining near her home in Michigan, living in her van and visiting friends. Now she and her partner Dan have made the break and headed out on the road, looking for adventure, prospecting opportunities and warmer weather.
Believe me, it takes guts to do that. Vandwelling is one thing when you are near friends and family to fall back on when you need a hot meal, a warm bed for the night or just psychological support; and quite another when you are in unfamiliar surroundings and hundreds or thousands of miles from home. She is counting on us, her online friends for support, tips on good places to visit, and perhaps even a place to park her van for a night or two.
So check out her site, and while you are there, perhaps buy some products or just donate a few bucks for a hot meal.
Oh, and leave comments on her posts, so she knows we're here.

Monday, November 17, 2008

How To Get The Most from your Digital Camera

How to Understand Your Digital SLR

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

When they were first introduced, digital SLR cameras were enormously expensive and a tool for professionals only. Since then, they have come down in price into the consumer price range. Because of this, many people buy digital SLRs without understanding how they work -- and, consequently, not making the most of them. This article will guide you through the most common functions they have, and to show you how to learn to use one by experiment. The principles herein are the same for any camera; but you will probably not be able to set your shutter and aperture manually on most non-SLR cameras. Read on nonetheless.


  1. Look for a subject. We're going to be taking photographs at a wide range of settings, so it's important that you don't take photographs of anything too dark. Remember that human sight can perceive a much wider range of light intensities than a digital camera sensor (which is referred to as the camera's dynamic range). We can look through a window and still see what is inside at the same time, even though the light conditions inside are totally different from these outdoors. Cameras, and especially digital cameras, can not. So on camera, you will only see what's outside through the window or what's inside. Consider this when picking your subject.
  2. Put your camera onto something. If you have a tripod, use one; if you have a solid surface to rest on, then do so. Not that a tripod is as necessary as many people say it is; but to observe the effects of various camera settings, it's best if you get several shots of exactly the same thing.
  3. Set your camera to Program (P) mode.
  4. Play with your camera's ISO speed. This will be the first camera setting that you will experiment with. You can set this in the camera's menus; many cameras will allow you to change this with a couple of button presses, too. The ISO speed is a measure of your camera's sensor's sensitivity to light; a lower number is less sensitive, and a higher number is more sensitive. Take a photo of your subject at its lowest ISO speed (or "slowest", typically 50, 100 or 200), and then take one at its highest (800, 1600 or more). Observe the following:
    • The photo taken with the slower ISO speed will have forced the camera to use a slower shutter speed (which we'll get to later on), while the photo taken with the faster ISO speed would have used a faster shutter speed. The difference between the two may have been significant enough to be audible. Being able to use a faster shutter speed means that you can, for example, freeze motion (and, similarly, avoid camera shake) in poorer light than you could with a slower one.
    • The photo taken with the slower ISO speed will have less noise (random discoloured pixels) than the one taken with a faster ISO speed (although digital SLRs, owing to their larger sensors, have much better high-ISO performance than small point-and-shoot digital cameras do). Hence, you're left with a trade-off between image quality and usability in low-light conditions. At a concert, for example, a higher ISO speed may well be more appropriate; in bright daylight, or when you're using a tripod and remote release, lower ISO speeds may be more appropriate.

  5. Set your camera to aperture-priority mode for a moment. We'll get around to exactly what this means in a second. This will usually be called "Av" (for Aperture value) on your mode dial.
  6. Set your lens' aperture (also called the diaphragm). This will be a dial on your lens with a series of numbers on it (which will typically fall anywhere between 1.4 and 22 on most lenses). The diaphragm is just that: a diaphragm towards the front of your lens that lets more or less light onto the sensor. The size of the diaphragm is expressed as a ratio of focal length to aperture size (hence, they are referred to as, for example, f/5.6); consequently, a smaller aperture (less light onto your sensor) is expressed by a larger number. So, take two photographs, one with a larger aperture, and then stop down and take one with a smaller aperture. Observe:
    • The background of your subject is less sharp with a larger aperture than it is with the smaller one. This is called the depth of field. So, if you want to make a subject stand out from the background, use a large aperture to blur the background; if you need to get more of your scene in focus, use a smaller aperture.
    • The smaller aperture let less light onto the sensor than the larger one would have, forcing the camera to compensate for this by using a slower shutter speed. This is what "aperture priority" exposure control is about. Usually the camera will adjust either the aperture or the shutter speed to get the right amount of light onto the sensor; Av mode forces the aperture to take priority and the camera will only adjust the shutter speed. However, this means you won't see the effect of the changed aperture in Av mode on overall exposure, because the camera would have automatically compensated for it. So try setting your camera into fully manual mode (M) to see the effect of the aperture on light.
    • Hence, there is a trade-off between depth of field and low-light performance. You can either have a wide open aperture, which will give you little depth of field but plenty of light onto the sensor, or a smaller one, which will do the opposite. There are also problems with diffraction effects stealing sharpness at very small apertures; as a general rule, don't use one smaller (remember: larger number!) than f/8.[1]

  7. Set your camera to fully-manual (M) mode. This will tell the camera to give up all control of trying to expose your picture properly. Most of the time, you will not need to use this (and shouldn't; exposure control exists for a reason). But we'll need to do this if we're going to show the effects of shutter speed.
  8. Play with your shutter speed. See your manual for the exact details of how to do this. Shutter speeds are numbers which go up in a sequence that roughly doubles each time, and normally expressed as a fraction of a second; i.e. 1 second, 1/2, 1/4, 1/16, 1/25, and so on (each one usually being called a "stop"). Take two pictures at shutter speeds a couple of stops apart. Observe:
    • The photo with the fast shutter speed will be darker. This can either be a good or bad thing, depending on lighting conditions.
    • The photo at the slower shutter speed might show some motion blur if you were holding it by hand. Even if you're setting your camera on a tripod, at very slow shutter speeds (of half a second or more, such as one would use at night), you might see some blur because of camera shake.
    • Hence, in very dark conditions, you will need to use a slower shutter speed; but such slow shutter speeds can cause motion blur. In brighter conditions, you will need to use a faster shutter speed, which will have the effect of freezing motion. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

  9. Memorise these things. Think about it in terms of light; you can adjust either your aperture, ISO speed, or shutter speed to compensate for various strengths of light. Adjusting either of them will have effects on your image, for better or for worse. Memorise these effects, and for a time, think about these things while you are taking photographs, until they become second nature.
  10. Put your camera back into Program (P) mode for now. It's nice to know the above things, and you should always feel free to use one of the manual modes if you know what you are doing. But much of the time, you won't want to worry about these things.
  11. Play with different lenses, if you have them. If you don't, the chances are good that you have a zoom. Either is fine. Fixed lenses of different sizes have different focal lengths; zoom lenses have a variable focal length. The focal length is the distance in mm between your lens elements (the glass inside) and your film/sensor. The perspective you get is completely different for each focal length.
    • The standard 50mm lens is more or less equal to the field of view of human sight, if they are paired with 35mm film or sensors. However, be aware that most digital SLR sensors are smaller than regular 35mm film. Therefore, your effective focal lengths are multiplied by about 1.5 on most digital SLRs (this is called "FOV cropping").
    • Wide-angle lenses, like a 28mm, lets you put a lot on your film. It has a wide view. It also creates the impression that you are looking at your object from a distance. It therefore is good for taking pictures of small rooms (makes these look bigger), landscapes, ...
    • The telephoto lens, like 80mm or longer, will bring things closer to you. Therefore this is used for portraits (because it forces you to be further away from the subject; the perspective at longer distances makes noses appear smaller), and wildlife photography. However, bear in mind what was said about apertures earlier; for a long telephoto lens to let in the same amount of light as a smaller lens, it has to be a lot larger. A 200-500mm f/2.8 zoom lens, for example, weighs nearly 35 pounds, and is still nearly twice as slow as the 50mm lenses of 30 years ago.[2] Short of these kinds of extremely expensive lenses, a long telephoto lens will tend to be slow (i.e. its widest f-number will be relatively small compared to that of a smaller lens), forcing you to use longer shutter speeds if it is not a very well-lit situation. This can be compensated for by using faster ISO speeds, as described above; this is a trade-off you have to make.

  12. Get out and take pictures. Now that you have a better understanding of how your camera works, and how to use it in situations that your camera cannot do automatically, you need to get outside and start using it.


  • Keep your camera in Program mode as much as possible. This mode allows the most flexible option for you to favor shutter or aperture based on the creative results determined by shutter or aperture choice. Depth of field or action? Think Motion or sharp detail. Shifting the P exposure is easy and fluid. Use semi-manual mode Tv (shutter priority) if the light is changing and you need say, 1/1000th of a second for sports action; Use Av (aperture priority) when you want to pull a scene into focus with f/22 and the sun is playing hide and seek behind a cloud. Manual mode gives you the most control. Keep in mind a digital camera has 30 plus aperture and shutter settings, so be patient and persistent in Manual mode. And don't forget to check your histograms.
  • If you find you need to take photographs of unmoving objects (such as a city skyline) at night, using a tripod will allow you to use a less noisy ISO setting by keeping the camera still during longer shutter speed exposures. This can allow you to take beautiful nighttime shots without a lot of noise.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Understand Your Digital SLR. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

How To Sleep Comfortably in a Car

Here's another one about crashing in a car...uh, make that crashing out out in a car.

How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

This is for people who want to travel cross country without hotels, want to save on rent, or just don't feel like driving home after a long day.


  1. Plan ahead and get a station wagon. Station wagons are the most useful cars anyone can own -- they can carry luggage or passengers, are fuel-efficient, and are by far the most comfortable.
  2. Keep your car clean. All the emergencies supplies you really need are some essential tools and fluids, and a backpack for ONE set of clothes (unless you are traveling), and a towel. A clean car is a pleasure to sleep in -- a large space to sleep provides a surprsing amount of comforts.
  3. Get a gym Membership, if possible, for a place to shower. I have had a Y membership for awhile when I stuck around in an area, but they are expensive and aren't portable (i.e. a Y membership won't work out of state). I'm not sure whether places like planet fitness memberships work throughout the country, if you are doing a cross-country thing.
  4. If you are going in the summer, public beaches are a great place to shower, or any public bathing facility, pools, etc..
  5. Do not underestimate a sleeping bag -- they are the greatest inventions in sleeping technology, ever. A $60 sleeping bag will keep you warm in -20 winter OUTSIDE, not to mention a car.
  6. Cold air respirators -- (such as are usually difficult to sleep with -- and I have found to be a waste of money. There is no easy way to sleep in the extreme cold (sub-zero) -- the sleeping bag will keep you warm, but a source of warm air is difficult, and you might wake up with a sore throat. It might be helpful to compromise (between fresh air and warm air) and make a "tent" out of a havy blanket near your face.
  7. Get a Tarp!! They are only $5 and will keep prying eyes away -- no one ever sees a tarp and suspects that someone is sleeping in their car, unless the windows are fogged. Plus, this will allow you to sleep in public places (libraries, shopping center lots, etc.). A tarp is also stiff enough to allow for ample ventilation.
  8. Lull yourself to sleep by thinking about how sweet a bachelor's life is.


  • Some possible places to sleep:
  • The parking lot of Wal-Mart. A lot of stuff goes on in Wal-Mart, it's open 24 hours so there will always be cars there, and its relatively safe. Park near the back, but not in the middle of nowhere, blend in with the employee cars. The tarp should be sufficient for privacy.
  • Any 24 hour shopping center is nice -- Hannaford's, Price Chopper, etc. -- any place that does inventory at night. People who work third shift are pretty cool in general.
  • I would stay away from Hotels -- I work at a hotel and the cops make rounds there up to twice a night. They might bother you if they see fogged windows. Plus, hotels sometimes take license plates.
  • A library is nice too -- under the rationale that you were reading a book and went out for a nap -- plus, a library is a great place to spend a day, although it would mean associating with the local homeless crowd .. so, dress nice. The key is to think of some stories or situations where you wouldn't just be a hobo.
  • Keep a map so you know where to find these places in whatever town you are in, and try to plan ahead, so you save gas and time.
  • Cops are NICE! I've never had a problem with a cop before -- just be cool and be honest.
  • Handguns ... are relatively expensive. I am in the process of getting a handgun, so I'm not too knowledgeable in this regard. I'll update if anything come up, but, with the way I live, I increasingly feel like having one would be nice.
  • Read one couple's crazy story about how they drove across the country in the middle of winter and slept in their car for 28 nights--at temperatures as low as -18 degrees Celsius. [1]


  • Safety should be your top priority, and this is by far the most important safety measure: always be sure lock all of your doors.

  • A car cover will provide protection against the cold, and it will provide privacy. However, if it is hot outside, do not use one without good ventilation. Also, never run your car while it is covered as you could get carbon monoxide poisoning.

Things You'll Need

  • A station wagon
  • A decent sleeping bag. Get the heavy (therefore cheap), warm ones, since portability is not an issue, and you can always unzip on the warm days
  • Alarm clock (if you dont have a reliable cell phone, kitchen timers are great)
  • Ear Plugs (unless you are paranoid), blindfolds, etc.
  • A 6' x 8' Tarp
  • A pillow

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Sleep Comfortably in a Car. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Enjoy Life in a Down Economy

How to Enjoy Life in a Bad Economy

from wikiHow - The How to Manual That You Can Edit

Living in a bad economy can be hard to do, but there really are a lot of possibilities to have a happy and enjoyable life. Friends, family and fun activities can bring lots of joy!


  1. If you have lived in a bad economy for a while, and can't enjoy life, get familiar with your possibilities. Check out your area, find things that motivate you, look for things to do constantly.
  2. Obtain a camera, and take photos, this is a great way to make dull surroundings interesting again. Use photo manipulation to emphasize the parts that contain the base emotion of the picture. Like loneliness in an abandoned house. Creativity is a great way to enjoy yourself.
  3. Meet people! Having a good conversation with friends is always great fun. You don't need money for that.
  4. Go hiking! Nature is full of change and energy, and in many cases, it's inexpensive or free. Take friends and your camera for the best experience. Go swimming and fishing. Climb trees. Make a swamp bed, or a fort. After observing restrictions, make a campfire and roast marshmallows or the fish you caught over the fire. If you have a tent or even just sleeping bags, camp out (or sleep in the car). If you have access to a water source, purify your own water. Go foraging or hunting, if you know how (this is not the time to experiment) or bring canned and dried food with you.
  5. Having an Internet connection is a good way to do or set up any kind of activities that involve creativity or just plain fun.
  6. Reading, going to a movie theater, taking a walk in the park, stargazing at night, having a snowball fight, fishing, pottery can all be great fun. You really don't need a lot of money for those.
  7. Having a long-term relationship is a good way to bring joy to your life! And if you live together, you could make double the money, so paying the bills will be much easier.
  8. If you celebrate christmas, making ornaments yourself can be much fun for weeks! You can make decorations for any occasions, or even seasons. Making presents by hand will make others happy too.
  9. Don't use gas, water or electricity when you don't need it. This will save money. Or just get off the grid, you'll help to save your environment this way too.
  10. Start a community activity. Countries with bad economies often don't utilize environmentally friendly ideas. Recycle your garbage, get together with your neighbors and clean your immediate area. Doing something good is always fun!
  11. Many activities don't require having a lot of money. Money isn't what people are looking for anyway. Everyone is looking for ways to enjoy their life. Some have bigger perspectives others don't. Having bigger goals in life often require having more money, but it depends on you to achieve your goal not your countries economy.
  12. If you're not satisfied with the state of your countries economy, consider moving somewhere else. Countries are not physical boundaries, they should not contain you. We all are at home here on the whole planet.
  13. If you've lived in a country that has better economy than the one you are living in right now, you must find a way to accept the change. Spending money can be enjoyable, but there are so many things you can do without having a lot. You can always try to work your way out of a bad economy anyway, make enough money to move to another country and start a life there. It's never too late to change.
  14. Bring music into your daily life. For many people around the world who struggle with a bad economy every day, song and dance provide a way to come together and have fun without spending anything. If you don't have the means to play music or instruments, you can make your own! Learn to sing and beatbox. Any flat surface can become a drum. You can even make a rubber band guitar from a cardboard box! If you're not musically inclined, now is a great time to learn. Get some family and friends together, and start making music. Sing and dance along. Learn some new songs and dance moves together. Get everyone involved.
  15. Make a new hobby out of old skills. What did people do before they had electricity, running water, and even houses? How did they live? What did they eat? How did they spend their days? People are remarkably adaptive. Research your local history and ask: What were people doing 50 years ago? 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Try to replicate some aspects of their lifestyle--odds are, it won't cost you a dime, and you'll gain valuable insights into people of the past. Share these interests with your family and friends; kids are especially curious about low-tech, do-it-yourself projects.

  16. Ponder life. During hard times is when many people explore their spirituality; some people renew it, some people refine it, and some people change their views altogether. Whatever is your journey, take the time to dwell on your purpose in life, and be thankful for what you have. Pray, meditate, or do whatever it takes to remind yourself that you're lucky to be alive. Live in the moment.


  • If you don't have much to spend, plan your monthly expenses. Save money every month if you can, it can be useful later.
  • Living in a bad economy does not mean you'll have to stay there forever, plan your migration to another country, or area and get moving!
  • Having little money means you'll value everything you buy even more than others! When you can finally afford something, it will make you proud of yourself.
  • You can always sell items you don't need anymore. Money can be recycled too!
  • If you choose to stay in a bad economy don't think about how others live in better economies. Try to enjoy yourself with what you have!
  • Save money for an emergency.Clarify with yourself and your family what you financially need.


  • Don't spend more than you make.There is no point of making your life even more difficult and stressful.

Related wikiHows

Article provided by wikiHow, a collaborative writing project to build the world's largest, highest quality how-to manual. Please edit this article and find author credits at the original wikiHow article on How to Enjoy Life in a Bad Economy. All content on wikiHow can be shared under a Creative Commons license.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

New Vandwelling Blog

I've been reading a new (to me, at least) vandwelling blog called Falia Photography Travel Journal, by a young woman who is living and traveling in a VW Vanagon. It contains lots of interesting writing about living in a van, and life in general.
My favorite article is the one about treasure hunting and prospecting, which is a special interest of mine. Follow the link, and check it out for yourself.