Cisco kills the Flip and travelers just move on

cisco flip camera videocamera camYesterday, Cisco announced that it would be closing down its Flip camera operations as part of an effort to refocus on the company’s core business. Cisco bought Flip a mere two years ago and quickly made it the most recognizable brand of consumer HD video cameras. Suddenly, every Tom, Dick and Harry (and Mary, too) could record their kids, vacations and random acts of police brutality in 720p HD video. Travelers embraced the Flip because it was small, had no extra components to pack and allowed them to record their trips in stunning HD. Well, stunning assuming that the conditions were perfect (read: well lit and no background noise). However, as more and more smartphones and consumer cameras added HD video capabilities, the idea of having a second video device quickly became archaic. Why tote around a Flip when your DSLR, point and shoot or, heck, even your phone can do the exact same thing? And, with one simple press release yesterday, Cisco pulled the plug on the Flip. It burned hot, it burned quickly and now it’s gone. But, does anyone care?I own a Flip. Many of the videos that I have recorded for Gadling were made using the Flip. However, I always recognized and bemoaned the tiny camera’s limitations. The editing software that was bundled with the Flip was useless. I always deferred to iMovie and, more recently, Final Cut Pro. The internal microphone on the Flip was abysmal. It required you to be uncomfortably close to the camera or to speak in an unnaturally high volume. The lack of a port for an external microphone was an issue that users complained about from the Flip’s inception. The Flip also necessitated optimal lighting conditions to record anything even close to watchable.

All of that said, for your average traveler, the Flip was a revelation. When the conditions were right, consumers could record lasting memories in a quality never before imaginable to anyone other than professional videographers. The Flip was affordable, tiny and simple to operate. Sadly, it never evolved while other segments of the technology market surpassed it.

If you’re looking to point fingers in the death of the Flip (and don’t feel like blaming it entirely on Cisco’s poor management of the brand), look no further than the iPhone 4. Apple put an HD camcorder inside its already popular smartphone and showed that merging all of your key portable devices did not require sacrificing any single one of them (except for maybe call quality in New York City, Chicago, San Francisco…but that’s another story). Now, Android phones have HD, consumers are more comfortable upgrading to DSLR cameras that shoot HD and many point and shoots, including the popular Canon S95, put HD video in the palms of people’s hands. And since travelers rarely want to carry extra gear, the Flip, that simple unitasker, is no longer necessary.

Would phones and consumer cameras have upgraded to HD video as quickly as they did if the Flip hadn’t become so popular? It’s hard to say. The Flip certainly did change people’s thinking about video quality and made HD a consumer standard rather than just the professional standard. Cisco, it seems, was either lazy or unmotivated. Other companies with handheld HD video cameras such as Kodak never seemed interested in pushing their products through marketing the way that Cisco did in recent years. Perhaps they realized that the market for pocket HD video cameras had a ceiling and that it was reached almost immediately.

Are travelers sad to see the Flip go? Probably not. Cisco says that their transition plan will support current Flip customers. However, most people who are now interested in taking better videos – people who may have been inspired by using the Flip – have probably already moved on to a new product. Most likely, their phone and/or camera already does what the Flip did for them before.

In the history of travel gear, the Flip is but a blip. Its influence, however, may be underrated. We can all shoot in HD now. Most of our trip videos are still boring and poorly edited, but boy do they look sharp.

RIP, Flip.

The East Highland Way day two: hiking into the hills


Haggis is not breakfast food. Yes, Highlander is a cool movie, and haggis is Scotland’s national dish, Robert Burns even composed an Address to a Haggis, but don’t have it for breakfast. In fact, I’d suggest not having it at all.

OK, you have to try it at least once, like you have to try sheep’s head when you’re in the Middle East, just don’t expect to like it. On my first morning in the Scottish countryside I’m served a “full Scottish breakfast” of eggs, toast, bacon, baked beans, sausage, and haggis. Basically a “full English breakfast” with haggis added.

Haggis is sheep lungs, heart, and liver cooked with onion, salt, oatmeal, suet, spices, and stock. The traditional recipe calls for this witch’s brew to be simmered in a sheep’s stomach. Coming as two thick patties on my plate it looks like mealy, low-grade sausage, and somehow manages to taste both spicy and bland. I expect to be revolted, having never eaten lungs before, but instead I’m simply underwhelmed.

You don’t have to come to Scotland to try haggis now that the U.S. government has lifted its ban on haggis, but you’d be missing some amazing countryside. After the first day on the East Highland Way I’m in Spean Bridge, an old village of tidy stone cottages, friendly pubs, and a small museum about the WWII commandos who trained in the area. It’s not far from my clan homeland around Loch Fyne. In fact the local history pamphlet is written by a schoolteacher named MacLachlan, who gleaned some interesting anecdotes from elderly residents, such as the fact that kids in the 1920s looked forward to springtime because they could take their shoes off and not wear them until autumn. All the boys were keen shinty players back then. Shinty is a bit like full contact field hockey and is not well known outside Scotland. In fact, until I got here the only meaning I knew for “shinty” was that it’s the Amharic word for “piss”.

Puzzling over this linguistic curiosity, I head east towards Tulloch, eleven miles deeper into the Scottish Highlands. Within moments the village is left behind and I’m all on my own in a wooded area following a dirt road. I’m using Ordnance Survey maps, incredibly detailed maps showing not only the topography and landmarks, but also individual buildings, ancient sites, and fences. My compass rarely leaves my pack.

%Gallery-99965%Hiking a new trail has pluses and minuses. At times the route follows dirt logging roads or even paved roads. This is not ideal and hopefully proper trails will appear in these parts. A big plus, however, is that when I’m not on the few stretches of paved road I don’t see anyone for hours. That, and stunning scenery, is why I hike.

The trail follows the contours of a chain of steep hills. To the north is the River Spean and beyond it more hills. The woods open up, giving me a clear view of the rugged hills and the river gleaming dully under a cloudy sky. While I see nobody, this is not an abandoned land. Sheep graze on short grass amid fields of blooming purple heather. An occasional fence shows this is private property. Much of the countryside is open access, meaning I can legally pass through. Not all farmers are happy with this, especially when they discover their once-remote property is on the route of a new trail.

I come to a gate that’s been tied shut. A ladder has been lashed across it with heavy rope to make the point doubly clear. A farmhouse stands nearby, dilapidated but obviously inhabited judging from the trash scattered all around. I can see that the gate on the other side of the property is also tied shut. I check my map. Yes, this is the right place. I have the right to cross here but obviously the landowner doesn’t want me to.

What to do? If I assert my rights I risk getting shot by a Scottish redneck. Shot in Scotland? Yes, farmers and hunters can own guns here, and while Scots aren’t as hyperprotective of their land as Americans, I am not happy about this situation. With the river on one side and almost sheer hillsides on the other, a detour isn’t an option. After a cautious look I scramble over the fence, run across the yard, and scale the other fence. I walk down the farmer’s driveway, legs pumping, hoping he didn’t see me. I don’t feel comfortable for another mile.

Soon all is serene. I’m crossing an isolated field with a sweeping view of the Highlands. A cluster of ruined farmhouses provides a good rest stop. My first impression is that these date from the Highland Clearances. After the Scots lost the rebellion of 1745, the English evicted thousands of families and burned their homes. Many got shipped off to the colonies. It wasn’t the first time. After the failed Argyll Rebellion of 1685, some of my ancestors were sent as bonded labor to the West Indies. Slaves, in other words. But why hold a grudge? In later years Scotland was the industrial powerhouse of the British Empire, as responsible for all its glories and sins as England herself. If I held a grudge against England for past misdeeds, I’d have to accept grudges from everyone whose ancestors were ever hurt by the British Empire. Not a pleasant prospect.

There’s not much left of these old farms. The walls only come up to my waist, except for one house where the chimney and hearth stand to their original height. I sit eating my sandwich where a family once ate porridge and haggis. It’s an eerie feeling. I wonder what happened to them and feel better when I notice the stone walls have mortar in them. That means this house dates to the nineteenth century. These people left to find their fortune in the city or another country. They may have left because of poverty, but at least they weren’t forced out by soldiers.

Bidding the ghosts goodbye I tromp into some woods and up a steep slope before descending again, crossing a bridge, and entering the “village” of Tulloch. It’s actually only a train station and two houses. The bunkhouse is part of the train station. A few other hikers are staying here, using it as a base for daytrips into the hills. As we sit in the lounge drinking beer the Flying Scotsman, a luxury train, stops at the station for some reason. I and a fellow hiker hurry out onto the platform and peer through the windows at couples in formal evening wear dining under crystal chandeliers. A woman wearing diamond earrings looks out at me and smiles. I smile back and toast her with my beer can. She laughs and toasts me back with her champagne glass. Her considerably older husband is too busy with his steak to notice.

It’s a bit surreal, these two worlds of grungy hiker and bejeweled heiress meeting briefly at a lonely rural station on a Highland evening. The train chugs to life and starts to pull off. She waves at me, husband still devouring his steak and what the hell, I blow her a kiss. She laughs and blows me one back.

It’s the closest I’ll ever get to marrying a millionaire.

Coming up next: Exploring Scotland’s lochs!

Check out the rest of my journey hiking the East Highland Way.