Diving with Sway (or What I Did on my Autumn Vacation)

Although I threaten to do so in the description of this blog, I rarely talk about diving. I think that the last time that I did so was about 3 years ago. However, I recently encountered an intersection of my vocation and my avocation that I thought was worth sharing.

In September/October this year, my wife and I went on a liveaboard dive trip down the entire Sea of Cortez (or the Gulf of California to you folks in the USA). A liveaboard is a cruise of sorts where you live on the boat and go diving multiple times per day. You get to see some amazing things that would otherwise be unavailable.

I like to document my dives using mostly photos and simetimes video.  The GoPro given to the Office MVPs last year (thanks, Microsoft!!!) at the MVP Summit has increased my use of video. Ultimately I return from these dive trips with a large collection of pictures and video, which I share out via Flickr, Facebook, OneDrive and YouTube. The problem is, these collections are disconnected, and while i try to tag and title the items, none of these collections really tell the story.

Thats where Sway comes in.

I’ve had access to Sway for a while, and while I did dabbble in it a bit originally, I didn’t really “get it”. I had a lot of video this time, and the trip warranted more “narration” than a simple collection of pictures could provide. I decided to give Sway another shot, with (I think) good results. You can see for yourself below. Click on the “Made with Sway” icon at the bottom left to open in full screen.

I found the Sway was exactly the right tool for this task. I was able to bring together diverse media elements from the trip, and organize them in ways that suited the narrative (not always chronologically). Adding the narrative itself completes the picture, and the presentation can stand on its own. I think, to sum it up, that Sway adds context to content.

Sway is an online tool. There are native clients available for Android, iOS ans Windows 10, but you are always working with online content – there are no files stored locally. Creation is simple. There are a number of preconfigured layouts which can be tweaked to some degree, and content addition is a simple matter of dragging and dropping from a set of cloud based repositories. You can share (and collaborate) at any time, and when ready, you can publish it on docs.com, where it will be available in galleries, search engines, etc.

In addition to travelogs, I can see this having great usefulness in the education space. I don’t think it will be replacing PowerPoint anytime soon – they serve different purposes. I would say though that in the absence of a presenter, I would likely rather have access to a sway than a PowerPoint deck – the Sway can do so much more on its own for explanations.

Finally, Sway is free. You’ll need a Microsoft account (either consumer or organizational) to use it, but you can simply point your browser at sway.com and get going on it. Give it a shot! I think you’ll like it. I do, and I think I’m going to dip into my back catalog to create more. WHen I do, I’ll be posting them in my diving collection on docs.com.

Playa Del Carmen – Dive Report

It’s been quite some time since I blogged anything substantial, so why not start the New Year off with a dive report? Two days after New Years, we packed up the family and headed back to the Mayan Riviera. We stayed at the same resort that we did last year, the Azul Sensatori just outside of Puerto Morelos. If you have children (or even if you don’t) it’s a fantastic place. I have to make a shout out to Miguel, who worked at the bell stand, and went out of his way to make our stay a good one.

My only complaint about the resort was that it was a bit far from Playa Del Carmen, and when in the area, I always dive with the Abyss Dive Center – I originally certified there, and have done all of my certifications there since. Also diving with me this time was my son John, and our good friends Allyson and Rich.

Around December-March every year, bull sharks can be found right off the beach in Playa Del Carmen, and last year, I had hoped to see a few of them. Alas, at the time, they had left the area for some inexplicable reason, only to return after I had come home. This year it was different. This time I got to dive with them twice, and each time there were between 10-20 checking us out. One morning we saw 5 at one of the regular dive sites. All of my diving pictures for the trip can be found here but just to highlight a few…

To celebrate my reconfirmation as MVP on Jan 1, I had my son take the shot of me below

Swimming with the sharks - literally

A few other shots of the attractions in question:

Bull Shark

Bull Shark

Bull Shark

In addition to the photos, I wanted to try out the video capabilities of my Canon T2i. From the footage, I was able to put this video together:

Swimming with the sharks

 

In addition to the sharks, on our last diving day, we headed inland to the cenotes. For those of you that don’t know, cenotes are underground rivers that only exist in the Yucatan peninsula, and you can dive in them. Since there are frequent openings into air, it’s not quite cave diving, but it’s close, and on a nice sunny day, like the one we had, the light show can be spectacular.

Ally and Rich - Ponderosa Cenote

Ponderosa Cenote - Looking Up

Ponderosa Cenote

Ponderosa Cenote

Guardian of the Ponderosa Cenote (driftwood)

Tajma Ha Cenote

That pretty much wraps up the fun for this year – now it’s back to work. I have a mountain in front of me and a lot of writing to do to!

Happy New Year

Nice to be Away, and Good to be Back

I’ve been a little quiet here of late. First was because we were uncharacteristically busy during the month of December, and recently because I was able to take a well needed rest with my family to the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. Because in my banner header I threaten to blog about diving, I’m going to go ahead and do so now, and share out a few images.

My wife and I and our two kids stayed at the Sensatori Azul resort, between Cancun and Playa Del Carmen. Frankly, I really don’t like the whole all inclusive resort thing, I much prefer to get a more local flavour, but when travelling with family, these things make too much sense. I was however very impressed with this resort – they have an excellent kids program, the food is fantastic, and you feel much less like cattle, as you do in most resorts. My only problem was the location,which was a $40 cab ride away from Playa Del Carmen,which is where my favourite dive shop is located.

The Abyss Dive Center, in Playa Del Carmen, is where I originally got my Open Water dive certification back in 2003. Since then I’ve done my Advanced, Navigation, Nitrox, and Rescue Diver certification with the Abyss. I really can’t say enough good things about these folks. Operated for 15 years by Dave Tomlinson, an expatriate Canadian, they have exactly the right mix of fun with a focus on safety. They manage to do this without cramping the style of advanced divers. While the staff at any dive shop turns over fairly quickly, I’ve always really liked everyone there, and have been friends with several after they have left. This time was no exception.

II was pretty excited to try out my new camera gear, a Canon EOS 550D (Rebel T2i) which shoots lovely stills and full 1080p HD video, along with a couple of lenses, a 60mm macros and a wide angle that was borrowed from a friend.  It’s bull shark season down there, but unfortunately they weren’t there when I was, and it wasn’t for a lack of looking. My first day we headed to Tiburon Flats and while we were skunked on sharks, I managed to see these two interesting guys:

Southern Stingray

 

They grow large remoras here. Given that these guys hang around sharks, we were hopeful, but no dice.

Both of these were shot with a wide angle lens at about 80 feet.

As for stills, I can’t really pick out one favourite picture from the trip. So I’m posting two:

IMG_1715

Lionfish are an invasive species, only appearing in the area in the past year. They’re a scourge, but they sure are pretty,

IMG_1813

On the other side of the attractive scale, scorpion fish are very adept at disguise, and pretty dangerous. You don’t want to touch one, or you’re off to the hospital. Actually both fish in these two pictures are poisonous, which is not the norm for the area.

These two were both shot on the same dive, at around 40 feet with a Canon 60mm macro lens. If you’re interested in seeing other shots from this trip, you can check out my Flickr Photo set.

I’m pretty happy with the way that the camera performed, but the real test will be next month when I dive at the Wakatobi Dive resort in Indonesia. I’m very much looking forward to it.

That’s enough fun stuff. I’ll be back to some technical posts shortly!