WNC Waterfalls App for Android Released

We’re happy to announce that our new WNC Waterfalls App for Android phones and tablets is ready for download!

WNC Waterfalls App for Android

Starting today, you can visit 50 of the area’s popular waterfalls using this guide on your Android device. It’s packed with the same information we provide here on the web – but with no data connection needed after installation.

Photos are provided to help you decide which of Western North Carolina’s beautiful waterfalls you’d like to visit. Search for waterfalls by name, hike difficulty, and distance from your location.

Each waterfall is described in detail, with comprehensive hike descriptions, along with full driving directions. Several waterfalls in the app are wheelchair accessible, many are family friendly, and others are perfect for adventurers, requiring a longer, more strenuous hike through the backcountry to reach.

Each waterfall also has a detailed topo map that can be used with your device’s GPS to track your location while hiking.

Made to complement our long running waterfall web site, the app represents the next stage in WNCOutdoors.info’s quest to provide comprehensive, guidebook-quality information about the outdoors in Western North Carolina.

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Download the app now in the Google Play Store!

The WNC Waterfalls App for Android is compatible with Android devices running version 2.3.3 Gingerbread with 106 MB free space. We hope you enjoy using the app, and look forward to hearing your feedback as you use it during your own waterfall exploration!

If you have an Apple iOS device instead of Android, you may want to check out Todd Ransom’s Waterfalls of Western North Carolina app in the iTunes store.

September 30, 2014Permalink 1 Comment

No, the Forest Service is Not Planning to Charge You $1500 to Photograph the Wilderness

Put away the pitchforks, folks. After reading some of the recent horribly misleading media coverage of a proposal by the US Forest Service, you might think that members of the media (down to – and yes, including! – us lowly bloggers) are about to be banned from all National Forest lands. You might even be forgiven for thinking wildlife, landscape, or casual photographers selling their prints online or at a local art show or gallery are about to be hit with an onerous fine. Just take a look at some of the articles that have popped up today, in order of increasing fearmongering:

There are plenty more where those came from, but fortunately, most of that is simply false.

We don’t like to really get political on this blog, but this round of mainstream media ineptitude starts to expose why they might legitimately need a permit to do some of the stuff they try to get away with on a regular basis.

So here’s the actual story. The Forest Service has long required a permit for some types of commercial photography and most commercial video production on National Forest lands, and, when you stop and read the rules, they’re actually fairly reasonable. The permitting requirement is clearly designed to prevent gross misuse of public land for profit – not to blast a bird watcher into bankruptcy for documenting her latest find.

The rules for what requires a permit are pretty clear, but every news article I’ve seen has failed to incorporate those into its story. So here it is, outlined clearly in 36 CFR §251.51:

  • Still photography—use of still photographic equipment on National Forest System lands that takes place at a location where members of the public generally are not allowed or where additional administrative costs are likely, or uses models, sets, or props that are not a part of the site’s natural or cultural resources or administrative facilities.
  • Commercial filming—use of motion picture, videotaping, sound recording, or any other moving image or audio recording equipment on National Forest System lands that involves the advertisement of a product or service, the creation of a product for sale, or the use of models, actors, sets, or props, but not including activities associated with broadcasting breaking news, as defined in FSH 2709.11, chapter 40.

We’ve researched this before, since part of what we do involves photographing and filming on National Forest lands for what might be construed as “commercial purposes”. (Our original question was, does it count as “commercial” if you put it on a blog or web site that is ad supported?) But when you read those definitions, it’s clearly not, and none of that applies to the individual photographer, taking pictures of the wilderness, from a generally accessible area – even if they plan on directly selling those in the future. (Videos are an exception, even for an individual, if they are an ad or offered for sale directly. We don’t do that.)

And most importantly, this still does not apply to media covering a breaking news story – only to those making documentary-style videos for sale, and it is not an attempt at silencing anyone from legitimate news gathering.

What’s changing is not what kind of photography or filming requires a permit, but the guidelines by which the agency will even approve or deny a permit. The definitions above are not changing. Not all Forest Service land is designated wilderness, and not much is changing outside the wilderness areas. The real changes come only when someone actually applies for a permit for commercial filming in federally designated Wilderness areas. They’re trying to clarify under what conditions they will approve or deny the permit. And that’s all.

Now, it is true that the guidelines used for approving or rejecting your permit are going to get pretty strict. Your commercial filming (because – media or not – that’s what it is) won’t be able to cause resource damage, disrupt the public’s ability to use the area, be a risk to public health, or involve pornography. And if it’s inside a designated Wilderness area, it must be about the wilderness. It must be necessary that the filming take place on wilderness land (as opposed to other suitable locations that are not federally designated wilderness). And it must not require motorized or mechanical travel, which is already prohibited in the Wilderness.

That’s pretty strict, and I can see how first amendment concerns might be raised, but the assertion that there will be some sort of a “pay-to-play” system where $1500 grants you filming rights is particularly egregious. The funny thing is, if anything, these new strict requirements will ensure that even fewer people have the opportunity to pay such a fee than do now. Regardless, this is not some sort of a money making ploy by an under-funded federal agency, nor an attempt at squashing Sasquatch-in-the-wilderness photos from making the rounds on social media and stock photography sites.

There are legitimate concerns raised by this rather high level of restriction on filming in wilderness areas, but as a supporter of wilderness, I’m in favor of the spirit of this overall. I think the media does a disservice to its customers to mis-report the facts the way it’s being done here – and ultimately, to itself.

You still have time (until November 3rd, 2014) to submit your comments regarding this proposed change. I certainly will be. But if you’re thinking about writing to plead for permission to take pictures with your iPhone next time you go hiking, don’t bother, because that’s already allowed – and nothing about this proposal is going to change that.

Edit 9/26: here’s a link to the Forest Service’s Special Uses handbook, which is what this whole proposal is about amending. Here’s a link to a Q&A document about the proposed changes from way back in July 2013, where it is stated “The Proposed Directive makes no changes to the policy on still photography. No permit is required for most still photography, including still photography in wilderness areas.”. The US Forest Service has also issued its official response to this whole debacle.

September 25, 2014Permalink 25 Comments

My Experience with MiMedia

Edit November 2011:

I’ve been using MiMedia for over a year now. Some great new music lockers (from Amazon and Google as an example) have shown up since this was written, making MiMedia’s in-browser mp3 feature a bit less distinguishing and the continued lack of organization of your songs a bit more disappointing.  But overall, I still highly reccommend the service, and have paid for another year myself.

Also, it’s been suggested that this review is an ad (see comments) – that’s not the case, it is all original, un-solicited content about a new service I was genuinely interested in.

A Look at Online Backups

Normally this blog is topically limited to subjects directly involving the outdoors in Western NC, but behind the web site is a lot of technology that is needed to keep it running, which I like to mention from time to time. So I wanted to share my experience with a new Online Backup provider that I think deserves some serious attention to anyone who wants to backup their stuff online (and everyone should!) The big players in this space are currently Mozy and Carbonite – which have great products – but the new service MiMedia should be giving them a run for their money soon.

Why MiMedia is Different

Like Mozy and Carbonite, MiMedia keeps a copy of everything on your computer in a secure digital locker on servers far away, so that even if your computer is completely destroyed, you’ll be able to get your stuff back. But what sets MiMedia apart is that you can access your files from anywhere through their Web Portal, and you don’t need to do a complicated restore process to get to them.

For most people, a good deal of what they backup is media related – music, photos, and videos. MiMedia was built with this in mind from the start. So using their Web Portal, you can listen to your MP3’s anywhere, on demand – even from an iPhone (I hear support for Android is coming soon). You can look at photo slideshows and watch videos anywhere you have Internet and a Web browser. And sharing them with family and friends is a piece of cake. MiMedia even gives you an “M” drive which you can upload files to from anywhere. This can replace those USB thumb drives everyone carries, if both computers are online.

If you’re a geek, like me, MiMedia feels like a backup service, YouTube, Flickr, the old LaLa music service, and Dropbox all in one!

Next – and this is a big deal – MiMedia offers a shuttle drive to “seed” your initial backup so you don’t have to upload it all through your Internet connection. And they ship the drive for free! If you’ve ever used something like Mozy or Carbonite and have *lots* of data, you know how important this is. My initial backup with my  last online provider took a good solid month, during which time I didn’t have that safety net for disasters. But when the MiMedia client is first installed, it looks at what you’re backing up to determine if your Internet connection is fast enough to handle it. Mine wasn’t, and MiMedia shipped me a USB shuttle drive  in the mail.  A couple of days later, I plugged it in and everything was copied to the drive in a matter of hours. Slap the postage-paid return label on the box, and put it back in the mail. A couple of more days later and everything was backed up, safe, and available through the Web Portal. This is an excellent advantage that MiMedia has that the other companies don’t yet offer. (One smaller online backup provider – CrashPlan – does offer this “seeding” service, but at the cost of $124.99. Yuk!)

Support

MiMedia is still in Beta, meaning that they’re still working on polishing this new product to make it shine. That’s not a bad thing – you can expect the product to improve as they continue making fixes and enhancements, and it’s already better than other online backup services out there. I did notice a few small things that needed improvement as I came on board. Seriously though – little things. Like the prompt for copying to the shuttle drive appeared twice after I plugged it in (I just closed the second one), and my online portal shows all my songs twice in the list. One slightly bigger issue is that the client takes up system resources noticeably as it is running. This is to be expected and happens with any backup service, but MiMedia always runs continuously, backing up new files and changes in real time. You don’t have an option to “Pause” or schedule the backups to run overnight. But for now, I just shut down the client while I’m working and start it back up when I leave and let it do its thing. (Update: Support told me to try setting the new bandwidth utilization setting to 0% to keep it from running while the computer is in use. I’ll check out this brand-new feature and post another update when I do!)

Issues like this give beta users, like me, a great chance to test out another facet of a service – their support! Which I did, with an email I sent shortly after signing up with the service. I listed about 9 things that seemed wrong or could use improvement (again – mostly minor). They responded within a few hours, and all of the issues have been fixed or addressed, and support was quick and courteous. After speaking with several folks there, I have no doubt that the company is committed to solving any issues that arise and continuing to improve the technical aspects of the service. They are enthusiastic and really understand the problem users of the various backup and media sharing sites face. They get a solid A+ in this area.

Support options currently include phone, email, and live chat (business hours) and self-help guides and videos online.

Pricing

Pricing for MiMedia is a bit different than the two big online providers, which provide unlimited space for a flat rate, in that you pay for the amount of data you need to back up. Pricing for the lowest data tier – 25GB – is just $5/month or $50/year, which is comparable to Mozy’s and Carbonite’s of the world. Honestly, this is more than enough space for most people. From there, the monthly price increases to $14 for 100GB (my plan), $24 for 250GB, $39 for 500GB, and $70 for 1TB (this is a huge amount of data – much more than most people will ever need to backup!).

So if you’re in the market for an online backup service, or maybe lamenting the shutdown of the LaLa service like I was and need a place to store your mp3’s for remote listening, MiMedia might be a good one to look at. Check it out!

October 19, 2010Permalink 2 Comments

Leave the Snowshoes at Home

Fall is long gone, and winter is actually drawing to a close. Though the drought continues, it has lessened some, meaning that waterfalls are back up and the trails are somewhat muddy again. But the big story this winter: the lack of snow. What reminded me of this is that as of tonight, almost March 1st, the mountains received their first significant snowfall with totals over 6″ in many locations. Global warming? Who knows, but if you like winter, tomorrow might be your last day to enjoy it as warmer temperatures and rain are back in the forecast for the weekend.  Here’s to hoping for a blizzard before the end of March.

February 27, 2008Permalink 2 Comments

Fall Hiking on the Walton Trail (Shared with Yellowjackets!)

Well, it’s definitely that time of year again. The summer heat held on into late September, and the blasted drought continues unabated, but this weekend finally offerred some truly fall-weather hiking. Lows in the 40’s and highs in the 70’s with crystal-clear high pressure overhead signify that the great change is coming. There are even a few leaves changing color above 4000′ in elevation, and above 5000′ there’s even been a first frost of the season.

Today I had the opportunity to re-hike the Walton trail Continue reading

September 30, 2007Permalink 2 Comments