Dashcam Catches Tire Blowout on Mass Pike

(“You won’t believe what happens next!”)

I’ve been interested in getting a dashcam for my car(s) for a while, and when Woot had a had an Armorall Dashcam up for $29, I decided to give it a try. The verdict? This thing is worth about as much as I paid for it. Yes, it records video and audio. Yes it datestamps it. Yes it turns on and off automatically when I start the car, and yes it loops data on the MicroSD card just fine. Other than that, I can’t find a lot to recommend it. The field of view is narrow, the interface is painfully obtuse, and the mirror mount is… weird. Works, but weird.

Anyway. What did happen though was while driving to work this morning, a trailer in front of me had a tire blowout. The sound was funny, a squeaky whoosh (as opposed to a bang), and I missed seeing it happen (it’s at 7:53:17 in the video). I only understood what was going on when I saw smoke and bits of tire flying off the trailer. I backed off and put my my 4-way flashers for folks behind me, and let the guy pull over to the side. The wheel was pretty wrecked, and the sparks and tire debris were pretty dramatic.

If this had actually damaged my car or something more serious had happened, having the recording to show my insurance company and/or police would have been a huge win. But that’s what dashcams are all about, right?

And getting really cool videos like this. ūüôā

Revisiting Tethering

For the longest time I was stuck in a weird no-mans land regarding WiFi Tethering on my cell phone. I’m referring here to the practice of enabling a hot spot on the phone so other devices, such as a laptop, can share the data connection the phone is using. This is super-handy when in an area that either has no Wifi service, or the service is sketchy as hell.

Problem is, I had an Unlimited data plan with AT&T. And with that unlimited plan, hotspot service was not available.

A year or two ago I made the change and moved my data service to a family plan with a shared data pool. 5 gig a month spread over 4 phones. We haven’t come anywhere near that limit, even with some heavy duty usage, so all in all, a good choice. What I forgot though, was that by going to a metered billing structure, I was able to start using tethered mode.

My cell phone is a Moto X, aka a Moto X Pure Style.

Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
Speeds over tethered wifi with my Moto X
I’m deliriously happy with it, so setting it up as a Wifi Hotspot would just bring it to a new level of functionality.

Enabling it was easy. I was initially worried about performance, but after connecting to it with my laptop and running Speedtest, the numbers are pretty good.
Working from my laptop over the tethered connection is just like sitting at home. I’ll need to set up a better “show how much data I’m using” mechanism, but right now, this is pretty cool.

Jeep Build Log

As noted in my post “Finding the Balance in Toys and Escape“, I’ve acquired a lovely 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ, which I’ve taken to calling “Ol Yeller”, for obvious reasons. ¬†I’ve managed to connect with some wicked smaht folks over on¬†the Wrangler TJ Forum, and they’ve been giving me great advice for fixing and upgrading this thing.

I’ve started a¬†build log¬† where I’ll be posting pics, chatting about mechanicals, and probably going over all the points where¬†I screw this up. ¬†Feel free to browse along and be amused.

Lars Anderson Museum Best in Show
Lars Anderson Museum Best in Show

One last bit. ¬†I took Ol Yeller to the Lars Anderson Museum for one of their lawn events (this one on American cars) and… I won Best Jeep in Show! ¬†Go me! ¬†Course, um, I was the only Jeep. ¬†But hey, I’ll take it!


Finding the Balance in Toys and Escape

When I was a kid growing up in what most people would call ‘the countryside’ (yes it was New Jersey, but we had horses, cows, hayfields, cornfields, and dirt roads), I had the advantage of being able to hop on whatever toy machine I had that year (snowmobile, ATC, mini bike, whatever), and just… ride. ¬†I could go through the woods, around the fields, over to my friends house, explore new streams… it was pretty much wide open. ¬†My friends and I had made trails between all our houses, and I could be adventurous, finding new paths to local towns or abandoned locations.

Now as a grown adult, I miss those things. ¬†A couple years ago, when my VW Passat was dying, I bought myself a 2012 Jeep Wrangler JK. ¬†It was a beautiful truck, and I took it on fun adventures in the mud and the woods, but… in the end, it just didn’t make sense as my primary vehicle, and I sold it, replacing it with an electric car. I don’t regret this decision, as the Volt has been a wonderful commuter vehicle, and as many say, once you drive full time electric, it’s hard to consider a combustion engine as a primary means of transportation. It just didn’t make sense to drive a Jeep to work every day.

In the midst of this, I was also reconsidering my motorcycles. I had two, my venerable Suzuki GS850 (1976! A Classic!) which I’ve owned since I was 25, and the newer DL650, which I got 5 years ago for more adventurous riding, and perhaps finding an efficient way to get around. Alas, I haven’t ridden either of them in almost 2 years, so they were just taking up space in the garage.

And I missed the Jeep. I missed the woods rides, I missed the fun of having a vehicle to just bang around in, and I missed four wheel drive.

So, I changed things.

I’ve sold both Suzuki bikes. Both went to neighbors – the GS850 has been serviced back into useability and I take great joy in seeing it rumble by. The 650 is going to a close friend as his first bike, and I’m looking forward to it getting a new lease on life.

And I bought another Jeep.

My yeller Jeep
My yeller Jeep
Now, lets be clear here. This is not a ‘new’ Jeep. The JK I mentioned above cost somewhere around $34,000 and was enormous. It was my primary vehicle, and was expensive as heck to drive on a daily basis. I still have my Volt, and that gets me to and from work all on electric. But now I have a lovely 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ I paid $7k for that has almost no rust, and runs beautifully. The previous owner has done a bunch of work on it, adding things I would have added myself, and setting it up for the next steps.

Night before last, I was home and feeling a little quiet and sad… so I hopped in the Jeep and went driving in the night. The doors and top are off it, so it’s wide open. It was the 4th of July, and I drove past fireworks and breezy weather… stopping at the top of a hill and turning off the engine just to listen to the night and distant fireworks. I thought back to the times I did this when I was a kid – I’d take my snowmobile or my ATC out into the woods or fields and just stop… or drive quietly around in the night.

Over the weekend I spent a couple hours with Zach working on it. We fixed a few problems, determined a few other problems, but had some great 1:1 time. Tonight we’re taking the Jeep up to MakeIt to put it up on the lift and do some wheel work. I would never do this with my ‘primary’ ride, but the Jeep is like a big tinkertoy. It’s fun to work on.

Am I reliving my childhood? Sure. Nothing wrong with that. I’m filling a need that my previous Jeep awakened – the want to be out playing in the dirt and woods and having fun. I get some of that hiking, but boy I missed the trailrides and the driving.

How To Determine the Size of an S3 Bucket

This one came up while working on my home network / photo management setup. I’ve set my Synology DS216+ NAS to use Cloud Sync to back up my files to an Amazon S3 bucket (see this post for some more information on using S3 for backups). The problem was it was taking a very long time, and I needed to figure out how much had transferred.

Unfortunately, Amazon has no simple mechanism for determining the size of an S3 bucket. I found a couple posts on StackOverflow showing how to do it, but they seemed overly complex.

While you can get a bucket size using several third party GUI tools, the command line approach is quick and easy. It does require the Amazon Command line Tools to be installed, and access keys generated, but once that’s done, you can quickly query Amazon for just about anything.

Here’s the command I used to determine the size of my bucket. This is on a mac:

$ aws s3 ls s3://BUCKETNAME --recursive | awk '{total+=$3} END{print "total =",total/1024/1024," MB"}'

This will give back something like:

total = 245032  MB

Voila! Time for that command can vary depending on the size of the bucket. For me, with around 20,000 photos stored, it takes about 20 seconds.

Wherein Dave learns that Podcasts are Kinda Awesome

Face it, I’ve been on the net a long time. Usually by the time some buzzword I’ve heard gets enough attention that I check into it, it turns out the hype doesn’t even remotely match the reality. And thus it’s been for me with Podcasts. You can’t swing a dead cat without hearing someone say “And subscribe to our podcast!!!”

Maybe it’s just my early trauma dealing with downloaded files / iTunes syncing problems / PalmPilot lack of audio, whatever, but I never listened to podcasts, even when a friend would say “Hey, did you hear that podcast by Bubbitah Bingah? Dude was awesome.” “Uh huh, what’s the link to the text of the article again?”

Well, even old dogs can learn new tricks. I’m into the third year of dealing with a 40 minute commute, all along highways, with nothing but XM radio or NPR to listen to, I decided to finally take the plunge and check out podcasts. Herein lies what I’ve learned.

Get a good a podcast app

First things first. You need a way to listen to podcasts. For me the important mechanism would be something that allows for downloads ahead of time (say, over Wifi), and then I could catch up as the week went along. I’m fully wedded to Android now, happily using my Motorola Moto X for gaming, music, mail, calendaring – heck, everything. So a decent Android app was needed. I settled on Podcast Addict. It’s a great app that categorizes all my subscriptions, and lets me download all or some of the episodes ahead of time.

Now all I needed was content

So, what do you want to listen to?

There’s seriously no shortage of podcasts out there. And, frankly, most of them suck. When you have no need to limit your time to a 10 minute slot on a radio show, and can blather on for an hour and a half about navel lint, the field gets crowded pretty quickly.

I recommend starting with things you know – being an NPR addict, these were easy:

Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
This American Life

But after that, we start getting into things that are related, but you don’t get to hear quite as often.

The Moth
Ted Radio Hour

And then we get into fun stuff. Up until this point, all of that stuff I’d hear on the radio from time to time (either on NPR or on Public Radio Remix – a station I highly recommend, btw). But what about independent stuff? This is what I came to share with you.

First, I have to highly highly recommend Our Fake History. This podcast focuses on deep dives into historical myths, legends, and stories, and digs out what parts of those stories are true and what has been embellished over time. I got completely sucked into their first ‘big’ series, “Was There Really a Trojan War”. I learned more about the Iliad, Greek mythology, and 19th century archeology than I had ever known before. The current series is going into Helen of Troy, and it’s equally fascinating. Highly recommended!

Following along after is Lore. In a similar vein, this podcast talks about history with a sort of dark bent. Vampires, missing persons – where did all these stories come from? It has a darker, more ‘sitting around the fireplace telling stories’ feel, but all of it is well researched and detailed.

Moving off the dark history bit, I also listen to the Petapixel podcast. This series follows the website pretty closely, but has extra commentary and thoughts by Mike “Sharky” James. Great stuff.

One last shout out. My friend Tim pointed me to Welcome to Night Vale. This is the fictional broadcast of a public service radio station in the town of Night Vale. Think of it as a sort of Prairie Home Companion meets HP Lovecraft. It has it’s ups and downs, but has some great moments in it.

So, if you’ve ever thought about fiddling around with podcasts, I recommend getting Podcast Addict (it’s free), anv giving these podcasts a try. There’s lots to be learned.

I went Sailing Again.

Sailing on Boston Harbor
Sailing on Boston Harbor
This afternoon Zach and I took advantage of a Meetup group in Boston to go sailing on the ‘C’est si bon’, a 46ft Formosa out of Marina Bay, south of Boston. I’d sailed with Ralph before, but this was the first time I was able to go with my son Zach. It ended up being awfully hot, and not much wind, but as many have said before me, a bad day out sailing is better than a good day in the office. We had enough wind to take us from Marina Bay all the way to Deer Island and back again over around 5 hours.

We had a great time, and Ralph was as always a wonderful skipper. We had a crew of 6 total, which was just the right number of people, with skills ranging from newbie on up.

I ended up being completely wiped out by the trip, and once I got home, fell into a zombie-like sleep. I’m still sore and worn from 5+ hours on the water, but it was a great day out.

Lightroom at Home – Managing All the Bytes

When I started doing semi-professional photography a few years ago, I knew that I’d need to step up my game when it comes to photo management, processing, long term archiving, and, of course, the ever neglected marketing. Some of these I had a CLOO about, others were rocky roads of experimentation, research, and late night frustrations.

After a lot of research, blog-reading, chatting, and hard decision making, I think I’ve boiled things down to a workable, relatively elegant, yet flexible environment. I present here the results of two years of “How the HECK am I going to¬†do this???”

The Players

This article¬†is primarily about my infrastructure, e.g. the components I’m using, how they interact with each other, and some of the lessons I’ve learned. A full walkthrough of my actual photo process will come in a later post, so for this installment, lets look at the players…

  • Adobe Lightroom CC
    Love it or hate it, Lightroom is the undisputed champeen in the photo management world. People can argue one way or another about whether Lightroom is One True Photo Tool, but lets face facts. They own the space right now. Sure there are issues with speed, and Adobe isn’t exactly the warmest and fuzziest company on the planet, but Lightroom is the best supported, most actively used, and best known of all the options. Coupled with Photoshop and other toolsets, it’s hard to make an argument against it.
  • Apple Macbook Pro
    I love my Mac. You hear that a lot, and you’ll also hear the detractors going on about Mac Fanbois and
    Macbook Pro 13" Retina (Early 2013)
    Macbook Pro 13″ Retina (Early 2013)
    all that hoohah. When it comes down to brass tacks, you can’t beat a Mac for fostering the kind of creative environment needed for artistic work. And let’s not beat around the bush. Photographers are artists. Our tools should enable us to create and share images we see through our viewfinders and in our minds. You can’t do that when you’re dealing with crapola environments like Windows or spending all your days tinkering with configurations in Linux just to get a youtube video to play. (Full disclosure here – I LOVE linux. I work on it every day. But it can’t hold a candle to a Mac for the fit and polish of it’s desktop environment. Srsly.)
  • Synology DS216+ NAS (Network Attached Storage)
    Now we’re getting down to it. You can’t take take pictures in the digital age without a safe place to
    Synology DS216+ NAS
    Synology DS216+ NAS
    store them. My Mac can only hold so much data, and there’s something very iffy about storing unique, critical files on a device that you frequently toss around your living room, sling on your back, or carry on the bus. One thing I’ve always said is consider your laptop as expendable. No critical information should be on it that you absolutely cannot afford to lose permanently on a moments notice. Cuz every laptop is one “oops!” away from being run over by a car, falling in the sink, or getting stepped on. My NAS is 3 terabytes of mirrored storage (6TB total) that stays on the shelf at home. I don’t carry it on the bus, and it’s unlikely to get run over by a car. It’s fast, easy to work with, and relatively affordable.
  • Amazon S3 Glacier Storage
    Even with a home NAS, you still need backups. And I want to underline something here. “Backups” are not just cloud-based ‘PC backups’. Many services are simply copies of your local hard drives in the cloud. If you mistakenly overwrite a local file with something wrong, or delete a local file, and your backup system runs, congratulations! You now have a backup… OF YOUR MISTAKE. The original file is now gone in both locations! Many services do allow for ‘historical’ archives, where you can retrieve a previous version of a file from the cloud, but be very careful when choosing your offsite storage environment. I use Amazon Glacier, but I understand this may not be for everyone. Glacier is a service built on top of Amazon S3, which is part of AWS. Glacier a simple upload service where files ‘settle’ into long term storage, meaning that once they’re copied to S3, they’re available immediately, but I’ve set it up so that after a month, the files are ‘archived’ into Glacier. They’re still retrievable, but it may take a few hours to get them back. Why do this? Because Glacier storage is 1/10th the price of standard S3. As of this writing, Glacier is $0.007 per GB / month. My entire photo archive is approximately 400GB, so storing this in Glacier costs me $2.80/month. If I were to use S3 in ‘standard’ mode, it would be $0.03 per GB / month, or about $12. (There’s a middle tier called ‘infrequent access’ that is $0.125 per GB / month, which works out to $5.) Regardless, these prices are VERY low, and are easily within reach of a humble photographer. My NAS allows for easy synchronizing of my raw photos directly to S3 and Glacier, so I always have an off-site copy of my photos.
  • Sandisk 128GB USB3 Thumbdrive
    When I first got my Mac (now over 3 years ago), it came with an internal SSD drive with a whopping 250gig of storage. “PLENTY OF ROOM!” – haha. I laugh now. That’s not enough to do all the other things I do on the Mac, and also do my photos. It’s very difficult to upgrade these machines, so I had to look around for options. Initially I was carting around an external 1TB Toshiba USB3 drive, which was… ‘fine’, for a while, but extremely fragile. If the USB cable came out while working, I immediately had to do a rebuild of my Lightroom catalog, and things went pretty squirrely. Since this is, after all, a laptop, that drive was always dangling off the edge of the couch or in other precarious positions. With thumb drives getting larger (storage wise), 128gig in something literally the size of my thumbnail, that could live in the USB slot full time seemed like a good answer. So now my catalog and working photos live on the thumb drive… bye bye 1TB external!

Pulling it all Together

Now, those who have gone down this road, if you’re still reading, have probably already seen problems with how all this is supposed to work. “Nice NAS, Dave, would.. be a shame if.. you couldn’t access it all the time!” – This is, alas, a true problem.

Having oodles of disk storage at home is all fine and dandy, but that doesn’t help when you’re parked at your local Starbucks, jammin to some tunes, and want to get all creative while slurping that double-mocha latte grande moobah moobah drink thing. (Okay, I don’t spend a lot of time at Starbucks. Sue me). But the problem still stands. If you don’t have access to your photos while away from home, how can you get things done when the muse strikes?

My solution was to split my photos into “Things I’m working on now” and “Things I’m pretty much done with”. The latter lives on the NAS, and when I’m home, I plug in an ethernet cable to my Mac, and voila! High speed access to the NAS! (Note for the geeks – Yes, you can access a NAS over wifi, or even remotely over the internet. But this is not a speedy process, in particular when working with Lightroom, really large photo libraries, and photos that are 26meg a pop. Go hardwire or go home).

Initially I was concerned this approach would cause Lightroom to have kittens. It would mean a large portion of my photos would not be available when I was on the road. But I’ll give Adobe credit. They did things right.

Lightroom is essentially a database. It indexes the ‘raw’ photo files, and keeps track of all the changes that have been applied to them. If the raw files are not available, Lightroom basically goes ¬Į\_(„ÉĄ)_/¬Į and just shows you a low resolution preview of the last time it worked with that photo. You obviously can’t do much with that, but Lightroom doesn’t seem to care that the source file is unavailable. When I get home, plug in the cable and remount the NAS, ding! I have a high resolution image to work with again.

The next good thing is that Lightroom has a decent file manager. Moving files from my Mac (which is where I import raws from SD cards) to the NAS is simply a matter of dragging and dropping the directories in the Navigator. Lightroom updates the local database to keep track of where the files are. Badabing, badaboom, the files get moved, Lightroom updates it’s database, and I’m all done.

The Workflow

So what actually constitutes a workflow? Well, as I said earlier, I’ll detail my post-processing steps in another article, but here’s the steps from a pure photo management perspective:

  1. Shoot using the Canon cameras, storing RAWs on SD cards
  2. When ready to load the photos from the shoot into Lightroom, import the photos from the SD card (using the Mac SD slot) into Lightroom, storing the photos on the 128G thumb drive.
  3. Do whatever post-processing is needed. Photographers know this process can take a while. With the 128gig drive, I can have many sessions stored locally on the mac, and work through whatever is needed without worrying about space.
  4. Eventually, after photos are delivered or published, I don’t need them locally anymore, so I use the Navigator to move the raw import folders over to the NAS. The files are copied over, the local database is updated automatically, and I free up a couple gig for the next shoot
  5. The NAS, sometime in the next few hours, automatically backs up the photos up into Glacier

Does it work?

After all that, how well does it work? Turns out, pretty durned well.

It took me about 2 months to put all this together, involving a bit of trial and error. There were some tricks with network configurations that won’t affect most users, so that complicated things. I tried working with pure wifi service to the NAS, but that was too slow for words. Installing a small dedicated gigabit ethernet switch was the final step that made the whole thing useable.

I find performance with the NAS to be quite good. It’s on a par with working with a local USB3 drive. I don’t feel having my files “over there” has any real impact (other than mobility) on things. Admittedly, there’s a comfort factor knowing my files are stored on a relatively stable, mirrored server, as well as being backed up into the cloud, and the convenience factor of just plugging in my cable at home to gain full access to them really can’t be downplayed. I CAN get to my files remotely over wifi, or, if I do enough juggling, even reach them over the internet. But for sit-down, true post work, this configuration is stable, fast, and useable. I’m a fan.

Abbreviated Pemi Loop Hike – Lessons Learned

So this week is vacation week across much of the US, and while my partner is off in distant corners of the world, I found myself with an open week. So I decided to go crazy, and hike The Pemi Loop, a 31 mile set of trails in the white mountains. I chalked 4 days to do it, got all my gear together, and Monday Morning, set out on my adventure.

First, lets get a couple basic things out in the open here.

  • I was slavishly refreshing the Wunderground page for Lincoln, NH, the town nearest to the loop. It showed a chance of rain (moving to certainty) for Monday afternoon into evening. Okay, that’s fine, I just need to plan for that.
  • I mapped all my camp sites out, how far to each, printed maps for reference on the trail, and continuing refining my loadout right up until the night before I left.
  • I read tons of trail reports, describing conditions, best routes, what to do if things go wrong, etc. I was ready
  • I was carrying a Delorme Inreach satellite communicator, which was reporting my position to friends and family each day. I could send and receive short messages, but most importantly, it has a big SOS button on it, in case something really dire happens.

Or so I thought.

On Monday morning, I drove up to the Lincoln Woods Trailhead and parked. Paying my parking fee, I hoisted my ~35lb pack, checked my gear one last time, and headed out. My goal was the Lincoln Springs Campsite, approximately 8 miles away, and 3000′ higher in altitude. Oh, and don’t forget 3 mountains – Osseo, Flume, and Liberty mountains I needed to transit before I could get to the top of the trail down to the campsite. I planned on getting to the site by 2:30, to be able to set up my tent before the rain started. Setting out at 9:30, I gave myself 5 hours.

It took 7.

Top of Mt Liberty

This is not an easy climb, even in good weather. It’s a very long distance, and as mentioned goes over 3 summits. The views at the top of Flume and Liberty were absolutely glorious, and were worth the price of admission. I wish I could have taken more time and rested more, but I knew I needed to make the campsite before the rain set in.

Adding to the fun was the fact that everything above 3000′ was still ice covered. This means Micro Spikes are an absolute requirement. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, these things are miraculous, allowing you to walk straight up (and down) frozen trails. On bare rock, they’re a little squirrely, so moving around on top of Mt Flume and Mt Liberty was a little disconcerting (since I was reaching complete exhaustion at that point), so I moved very carefully.

Liberty Springs Campsite is about 1/3rd of a mile off the Franconia Ridge Trail, which is about 1/10th of a mile from Liberty Mountain summit, all downhill. I reached the campsite around 4:15, with a bit of water spitting from the sky, but (thankfully) still mostly dry.

Now, understand at this point I’d been climbing rocky, icy trails for 7 hours, carrying 35lbs of pack on my back. I was absolutely exhausted, but I needed to get my camp set up. After saying hi to the group of college kids that had also set up at the site, I chose a platform a nice long distance from them, and set up my tent. I paid a visit to the privy, also located the spring and the bear box, and started dinner preparations. By this time it was getting cooler, and I still had to make dinner, when all I wanted to do was crawl into my tent and sleep.

I have a Biolite camping stove, which is pretty nifty and has the magic ability to recharge electric components when it comes up to heat. For dinner, I only needed to boil a few cups of water, so I set it up and went to find some firewood.

Which brought up the first major problem.

The area I was camped in is only just now coming out of wintertime, and therefore was still damp and only recently snow-uncovered. So finding ‘dry’ wood to burn was nigh on impossible. I gathered enough to run the stove for the night, but I had to use two of my ‘starter bricks’ to do so. I only had 4, so if I were to continue, I needed a better starting system. Because I knew we’d get rain overnight, I spent an extra 20 minutes collecting as much dry wood as I could find, and tucking it under the rainfly for use in the morning. Dinner was uninspiring (Beef Stroganoff made from dehydrated ‘kit bags’) and I used a little too much water, so it was soupy, but it still felt good to have hot filling food.

After cleanup and scoping out / chatting with some other folks that showed up (bringing the total number of people there to 7 – during the summer, I could see 50 or so occupying the site), I crawled into the tent and journaled for a while, eventually putting things down, turning off the headlamp, and nodding off around 8:30. By this time, the rain had finally started, though it was light… the pitter patter of rain on the tent was comforting, so snuggled down in my bag (with several layers of clothing on), I was relatively comfortable. My Big Agnes backpacking tent is not particularly roomie… it’s better than the microlite tent I had been using a few years ago, (I could sit up inside it, but only just barely), but the footprint ground cloth plus my nice portable insulated sleeping pad meant I stayed, at least initially, relatively warm.

WTF? Who ordered SNOW?

Around midnight I woke up to sounds that were no longer rain… but were sleet. The temperature had dropped , and the unmistakable sound of freezing rain on the tent was pretty clear. “Oh well…” – and I turned over and went back to sleep. Later I woke up again (around 3am I think) because I was FREEZING. I was wearing long underpants, plus my nylon pants, synthetic hiking socks, and 4 layers on my upper body (shirt, polyester shirt, and 2 fleeces). Even with that, wrapped in the down sleeping bag, my teeth were chattering. My watch thermometer said it was 40 degrees in the tent, but lo, the sound of sleet had stopped! It now had a nice… hissing sound, which got me suspicious… I stuck my hand outside, and.. yep, SNOW. It was snowing. By the time morning broke, 2″ of new thick heavy snow had fallen on my tent and on my campsite. I had tucked all my gear under the fly, so nothing got actual snow on it, but this was NOT what I signed up for when I decided to hike the pemi loop in late April.

Well, no crying over spilt milk, I had things to do. First was making breakfast. I had my dry wood from the night before (thank goodness!), and it was JUST enough to boil water for scrambled eggs with bacon (dehydrated) and a cup of mediocre coffee (instant). By the end of that, I was feeling relatively human, and moving around my now snowy winterland was going fine (again, microspikes).

At this point though I started having a suspicion. I looked at the wrapper for the eggs and bacon to check the calorie count. 250 calories per serving. Whaaaa… this is a problem. When I was hiking in Tuckerman Ravine, I had my Jawbone Up Move calibrated up to count calories, entering in when I was doing heavy hiking. According to those trips, I was burning 5000+ calories a day (I’m a big guy, so hauling that weight around plus the pack uses a lot of energy). If I ate the meals I brought, I would take in only 1000-1200 calories a day. That is not enough.

I didn’t bring enough food.

At this point, the nagging thought that this may not be the best time / opportunity to complete the Pemi loop came to final resolution. I needed to turn around. It would be unsafe for me to attempt to cross 3 major peaks on the way to Garfield Shelter (my next destination), while I didn’t have enough food to support me, the weather was poor, and it was an unfamiliar route.

Sure it's pretty, but not what I planned for
Sure it’s pretty, but not what I planned for

So I packed up my gear, mounted up… and returned to the Lincoln Trailhead. The descent took 5.5 hours (an expected faster transit), but it was NOT easy. The new snow made the walking conditions worse. The microspikes work by giving a hard grip into ice. The problem is the new snow was heavy and wet, and would clog up on the spikes, rendering then useless. So on steeper areas, I had to clear the snow from the spikes every couple steps (usually by banging on them with one of my trekking poles). Even with that, I fell at least half a dozen times, sliding down rocky icy trails on my ass. Definitely unsafe.

By the time I reached the trailhead, I was exhausted all over again. Looking back on this now, I think the problem is my pack and my clothing was carrying a lot of water, and that probably added another 5-6lbs to the total weight. I was drinking water at a phenomenal rate. I’m not a huge water drinker, but I was going through a 20oz bottle of water every 2 hours. I replenished it from stream runoff, dumping fresh fallen snow into the bottle and shaking, or whatever else I could do. I found one great dripping stream on the way up that was almost on top of Liberty, and I was able to park my bottle under it and whhhooop, it refilled. That was satisfying ūüôā

Once I was back in my car, the only thing I could think of was drinking (no, not that kind). I went to a local food place, assuming I was super-hungry, but all I wanted were sweet cold drinks. I chugged 2 24oz cups of root beer, and that took some of the edge off. The burger was ‘eh’, but I also downed a chocolate milkshake, and it still wasn’t quite enough.

I tried to drive home, but realized I was scary-tired. Pulling over in a dunkin donuts parking lot, I put the seat back, and was out like a light inside 30 seconds. It’s not uncommon for me to take fast naps in the car, they usually last 10-15 minutes, and I wake up refreshed. I was asleep this time for almost an hour, and I remember nothing of it. I woke up thirsty again, so DD provided me a big orange juice and a cup of coffee, which I wolfed down. By then I felt human enough to drive all the way home.

So, if that wall of text didn’t slow you down, here’s the salient points that caused me to come back early.

  • Not enough food by calorie count to complete 3.5 days of hiking. I can probably supplement for the next trip – the common filler seems to be peanut butter, which is 190 calories per 2 tablespoons.
  • A cooking stove that was not appropriate for the conditions. I own an MSRP IsoPro camping stove, and all things considered, next time I’m just bringing that. The gadgety bit of the Biolite recharging stuff isn’t worth the weight and inconvenience.
  • The weather changed on me in a way that made the walk much more dangerous. ¬†Walking in winter conditions is doable, but backpacking a challenging trail in it is too much for me. There may come a time when I can attempt this again in these conditions, but I need to up my game dramatically. I’ve now been home 5 hours and my knees are still hurting. Note that I didn’t intend this to be a winter hike. No where in the forecast did it say snow. Grump.
  • The hardest thing to acknowledge is… I may not be physically up for this. ¬†It totally kicked my ass. ¬†Maybe in warmer months where the burden for survival is lower things will be better. ¬†It’s possible my pack weight was too high. ¬†Postings on the web are saying 7 day packs should be around 17% of your body weight (which would be about 42lbs for me). ¬†I was hauling 35-37lbs of pack for a 3.5 day hike. ¬†That seems high, but it was also midwinter. ¬†Lots of wiggle room here.

Am I glad I went? Hell yeah. I learned a lot, and I challenged myself to do something scary and intense. Do I consider this a failed outing? Nope. Will I do this again? With some different planning, sure.

And now, I go to bed.

Heading for the Hills

Assuming all goes well, the weather holds, and nothing tragic happens, by this time next week I’ll be well ensconced in the White Mountains, one day into 4 days of backwoods backpacking.

All my outdoor adventures have been leading in this direction, and this is the logical next step. I’m taking 4 days to hike the Pemi Loop, a 31-ish mile loop of trails that covers a half dozen 4000′ foot peaks. Even though I have done hiking like this before (90-miles-ish on the Appalachian Trail when I was a young lad), this is the first overnight in the wilds I’ve done since then.

I’m going alone, but I am taking a few precautions. Probably the biggest is that I’ll be carrying a GPS tracker that will report in my position every half hour or so (a couple close friends will have a way to check up on me). The tracker also has a big red SOS button on it that once activated, functions similar to an EPIRB on boats. It’ll keep broadcasting my position until someone comes to help.

Other than that, I’m on my own. I’m carrying my own food, bedding, shelter, clothing, and rain gear, plus maps and all the other things that’ll keep me healthy, warm, and fed for 4 days in the back country.

Why? A good question, and one I and my loved ones have asked a few times. Part of it is my strong self-reliance streak. I’m not going to be dependent on anyone, anywhere for days. It’s a personal challenge to make it to the waypoints I’ve mapped out, through conditions that can and do change. I’ll be watching the weather pretty closely leading up to departure time, and if it appears unsafe, I won’t go. I’m not foolhardy. But I know there’s a good chance it’ll be cold, and wet, and certainly not giving me all the comforts of home, but to me that’s good.

I’ll have a small camera with me (not hauling my full kit with me, natch), so expect photos at some point, and if I can pull it together, there’ll be a decent writeup.

I Played With Lasers, and I Liked It

It’s no secret I’ve been having a great time hanging with the folks at MakeIt Labs in Nashua, NH. Many of the projects I’ve been working on have only been possible with their help and collaboration. Not in a “here lets do this for you” sense, but in providing a community where ideas can be bounced around, coupled with a physical space with every tool a geek could ever need at hand.

I’ve unofficially become the person organizing the parts supplies. These are ranks and ranks of bins that hold everything from capacitors to stepper motors to hot glue sticks to arcade pushbuttons. Understandably, these things can easily get out of control, so constant pruning and management is sort of a requirement. I can do that!

80w CO2 Laser in use
80w CO2 Laser in use
A new set of drawers we picked up are super-handy, but they’re just empty metal boxes. About 10″x12″x4″. Nice, useful, and stackable, but we tend to store lots of little parts, so we need to be able to divvy up that space a little more. We needed something like trays that could go into the drawers (which are all about the same size), to store small parts. The tray should be easily removable (take the tray out, use some of the parts, put it back), and easy to make many of them. We have about 120 drawers that need inserts. This sounds like a job for our 80w CO2 laser!

I had done some basic work on the laser, but this would be my first ‘build from scratch’. After measuring out the drawers, I decided to make a 9″square baseplate, with 4 sides, and a single divider down the middle that could easily be picked up. I used Adobe Illustrator to set where the cuts would be (Illustrator is great primarily because drawings measured in it translate perfectly to the laser cutter. No scaling / stretching problems. When I say ‘cut something 9″x9″‘, what I get is something 9″x9″.)

I manually did all the crenelations where the pieces would fit together. A fellow maker pointed out there’s software that helps do this, but for this first runthrough, I was okay doing it by hand. The material I was using is 1/8″ acrylic sheeting. Somewhere the lab picked up a metric buttload of the stuff, so we literally had dozens of square meters to work with.

First complete cut of the tray inserts.
First complete cut of the tray inserts.
Total cutting time was about 3 minutes. The laser had no problems working with the material. After removing the pieces from the machine and taping them together, I had a mocked up tray insert! Hooray!

It wasn’t all peaches and cream. I did mess up measurements on two of the tabs, and forgot to put in a cutoff for one small extension. After assembling what I’m referring to as the ‘1.0’ version, I realize there should be some changes. The central divider should tuck under the end pieces to give it better strength (it’s slotted in on the top now), and I should make a version of this that has 3 spaces in it, not just two. Tighter tolerances on the slots are needed (I measured 1/8″, but the ablation from the laser takes off a little bit more, so the slots are wider than they need to be).

Next step will be to re-do the cuts with the supporting tabs, remove the paper from the acrylic, and glue things together. If all goes well, I’ll have a nice insertable tray, and the ability to crank out many more without much work. Going full-on production of over a hundred of these trays will require an inventory of how much acrylic we have, and a decision on if we want to just pick up a few dozen sheets of 1/8″ birch (which would negate the ‘peeling off the paper’ problem).

I’ll post when there’s an updated sample. But for now… I played with lasers, and it was awesome.

Pilot G-2 07 – The Best Pen Ever?

I’ll admit it. I hang out with geeks. But not just geeks who love computers or tech or whatever, but also writing geeks, library geeks, and, well, you get the idea. Among the literary circles, I’ve found people sometimes go on and on about a certain pen or pencil they love. This always mystified me, as to me, a pen is a pen, a pencil is a pencil, and the greatest amount of thought I put into the process is trying to figure out where I just put one down.

pilot gel pensAlas, I may have levelled up. I’ve moved into the realm of “This is something I really like”. About a year and a half ago I started writing a fulltime journal (on paper, sorry, no URL). Naturally, I used whatever pen I had lying around. Somewhere along the line I picked up a Pilot G2 07 pen, and… wow. I found a pen that was comfortable, had a great flow to it, and looked good.

Have I finally gone off the deep end? I found myself two weeks ago placing an order with Amazon to keep a stock of these pens in my carrying bag, and at my desk at work. I have never, ever done this before (okay, qualified – I did it once for mechanical pencils, which I use when sketching out projects), and certainly never for a single style, brand, whatever of pen.

Maybe it’s the fact these are ‘gel pens’, which have a smoother stroke than your typical roller ball pen. That combined with a good feel (rubber grip, etc) just make them a joy to use.

I’m going on about enjoying using a certain pen. Definitely cracked.


I’ve been on the lookout for a new game to put my new Moto X Pure Android through, a device that’s extremely high powered and seems perfect for games. Ever since I saw the tablet revolution taking over gaming, I’ve been hoping for a decent, realtime, immersive game that I could get behind. (Why WoW and Eve aren’t on tablets yet is beyond me).

My son Zach was a huge booster of MOBA games before they were cool. DOTA2, and later League of Legends were daily activities. I tried them off and on, but found the complexities and knowledge curve too much for casual gaming.

Enter Vainglory.

Many companies have claimed to make the MOBA experience enjoyable on a mobile device, but this is the first one that’s gotten me completely hooked. I’m still in casual play mode, but I’m finding it intensely enjoyable. The graphics are magnificent, the characters interesting and varied, and the gameplay is perfect. It’s a dead-on implementation of the MOBA ideals (and yes, it has last hits :).

I’ve put in a couple hours so far, getting a feel for 3 of the heroes. There’s so much more to learn – if you watch the videos on the Vainglory channel on Youtube, watch the detailed rundowns of how to play each hero. The technicalities are vast and deep, and it’s unlikely I’ll ever get to that point with more than 1-2 favorites, but I’m ecstatic that the company behind the game (awesomely named ‘SUPER EVIL MEGACORP‘), spared no expense in making the game easy to get into, but also having huge depth to it.

Anyone want to team?

RC Racecars are AWESOME.

Yeah, I’ve been pretty focused on drone racing, but this is pretty epic.

My first ‘radio control’ experience was building a Tamiya “subaru brat” model when I was in my 20’s, and that helped later when I started building drones. These cars are a little different, but the feeling is similar. Pretty nifty stuff.