I’m sure folks have heard of The Great Twitter Migration – after Elon Musk took on his scorched earth policy regarding his ownership of Twitter, and the fears that it will turn into a right wing fascist pit of despair, many have decided it was time to leave.
Mastodon, the opensource federated service that has many twitter-like features, seems to be winning the race, which, according to the stats tracker MastodonUserCount, is showing a staggering increase in users.
Because of the ActivityPub protocol, Mastodon basically acts as a messaging service – sometimes for ‘toots’ (short messages like tweets), notes, or other activity. It’s also very easy to link other services to.
To that end, Planet-Geek is now federated into mastadon, and posts I make here will show up via ‘@firstname.lastname@example.org’. THis is similar to the existing RSS feed, except the posts will appear as normal Mastodon posts under this user, and comments and replies will also appear as mastodon replies. If you reply on Mastodon, it’ll appear on the blog. Pretty cool huh?
Somewhere in the 2nd year of the pandemic, I stumbled across a posting on Hackster.io about a design for a ‘Cyberdeck’.
A what now?
For those who don’t know, the term Cyberdeck was coined by William Gibson (the inventor of the terms “Cyberpunk” and “Cyberspace” by the way) to describe a piece of computing equipment used to to jack into the net in the future. These fictional machines were basically the hot rods of the grunge tech and hacker scene, able to do anything from simple education stuff all the way to allowing a talented hacker to penetrate the most well protected systems out in cyberspace. They were fast, personalized tech that marked the owner as someone serious about hacking.
I’ll admit, I’ve read everything by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson (you know, the guy who actually invented the term ‘metaverse’?), Bruce Sterling, and Philip K Dick. In particular, Gibson’s portrayal of Ono-Sendai decks that could jack into and surf cyberspace are well wedged in my psyche. The idea of building and customizing my own ‘deck was too good a concept to pass up, so I took the plunge.
There are basically 3 major components to a build like this. The case, the keyboard, and the computer. While it’s possible to build your own keyboard and computer, I wasn’t ready for all that, so I used off the shelf parts for that. The case, however, I’d manufacture myself.
The first phase of this was to get my 3d printer up and running again. I’d been doing a bunch of printing, learning the ropes as it were on how to use TinkerCAD and Cura to take a shape and turn it into a Real Live Thing. I built a healthy respect for people who operated industrial equipment. 3d printing isn’t a push a button, get an object system. It requires constant tinkering, adjusting, repair, and fiddling to keep it all working, and there’s a million small ‘tricks’ you learn in the process to keep a 3d printer running smoothly. It’s a good feeling when you can get your system dialed into the point where you can just power it up, prep the surface, and say “PRINT THIS”, and it works.
My printer (a Creality CR10) had been acting twitchy for a while. I’ve used it for a couple projects in the past, but nothing serious in the last year or two. The problem(s) turned out to be a combination of bad bed levelling, bad bed prep, and a completely horked print nozzle. Once I got those straightened out, I was printing clean, flat prints without any fiddling. I was ready!
Printing the frame, hinges, panels, and other components took about a week. In that time, some of my components had started to arrive, most importantly the Raspberry Pi 4 that was to be the heart of the system, as well as a Geekworm X728 LIPO battery/power module. Nowadays the Pi4 is sometimes hard to get – as of posting this article, the link above had them in stock. Screen, keyboard, and other componentry arrived over the next few days.
This was my first decent ‘build from scratch’ project, and I learned early on I was missing a lot of build supplies. M3 screws and nuts, bolts, a good rotary tool (I had been using an old Craftsman tool I bought 30 years ago? But it died a horrible death partway through the build. The Ryobi rotary tool is excellent, though it really does sound like a dentist drill while in operation).
When doing this sort of build, you really need an entire inventory of tools and accessories. Some items I found extremely useful:
T-type tap set – for setting machine threaded holes in the printed plastic. I was skeptical this would work, but it did.
Eventually I had all the pieces I needed, and I could get on with the build.
I wanted to make one relatively large change – I wanted to use a touchscreen. The 7″ HDMI display I used has a ‘mouse’ function in it that connects to the Pi via USB cable. The problem though is fitting it into the lid of the deck was problematic. I ended up redesigning the lid to give it more ‘depth’ to allow the driver board and cabling to fit. Probably my first real 3d design project – I also had to redesign the component bay lid to make room for the new larger lid and hinge. Multiple prints later, it all fit together the way I wanted it to.
This is one of those projects that will really never end. I’m constantly modifying the design, adding new components, removing others. I found that the power connection setup on the back was really awkward, so I designed and printed a USB-C port to go in the opening. This means the whole thing can be recharged via USBC cable, or just run off a power adapter. Win!
I also ran into a problem with the touchscreen USB cable, which, as it came from the supplier, had a 6′ long cable with a ferrite core on it. I picked up a kit to allow me to truncate the cable and put a new end on it, but it turns out I got the wrong connectors. So I ended up just chopping the cable in half and soldering it into an older USB-A jack. I only need about a foot of cable, so that worked great.
The Final Product
I love how this looks. I love knowing that I built it, and there’s no other one thats just like it.
The rear panel needs more love. The system is supposed to support a secondary Wifi interface to allow it to run Aircrack-NG and other tools without taking down the primary interface. I have the parts, but haven’t put it all together.
Finding the final location for the ‘stack’ (CPU and power board) is proving slightly problematic, as I need space for the USB connections and other wiring. Until that’s locked down, I really can’t mount the boards. I may just drill and mount them anyway to keep things from banging around.
Still need to get hte lid closures working – this can be done with a magnetic plate, but it seems a little iffy. May come up with something else.
Mouse input. Sigh. I had hoped the touch screen would work for this, but it really doesn’t. The screen is small (7″) and my finger is fat. I may explore using a stylus, but I think I’ll need some sort of trackball or thumbwheel or something.
Viewing angle – this may be the killer for me. For the lid / screen to work well, the viewing angle has to be relatively laid back. To do that, the hinge and cabling need to be very flexible, and finding that space is mighty hard. If I can’t solve the viewing angle problem, this will be likely remain a toy project, and not something I can use seriously.
I LOVED doing this project. It looks cool, I can say “I BUILT THAT” and I can keep tinkering and making it better. The Pi4 is enough horsepower to have fun on it, while still having decent battery life. Once I get the mobility stuff fixed up, I’ll start carting it around more.
I’m on my sabbatical. That means I get a month off from work to do whatever the heck I want. And what I wanted to do, was go hike. Go camp. Get out. Get off the grid. Turn off the gadgets and the internet and the netflix and the news, and just… detach.
I’ve already spent time up in the White Mountains this year, hiking in Tuckerman’s Ravine and enjoying the wintery landscapes. For all those visits, I’d stay at Pinkham Notch in Joe Dodge Lodge. That’s awesome, and the AMC does a great job hosting, but I hadn’t actually ‘gone backpacking’. I wanted to get more out on my own, and do some ‘detach’ time.
I’ve read about High Cabin, on Cardigan Mountain in western New Hampshire, and even walked by a couple years ago, but I’ve never stayed there. The idea of being in a completely off grid, hike-in only, no power, no water cabin on a mountain, by myself, for a couple days sounded like just the ticket. After a couple phone calls with AMC, I booked the cabin for Monday through Friday. It would be just me. So things were set.
This trip, as mentioned, would be the most ‘committed’ out-back adventure I’ve done. While I wasn’t completely in the wasteland with just a buck knife and my wits, there were a lot of details I had to figure out. I set some guidelines for myself. First, I’d only take what I could carry in one backpack up. I wouldn’t depend on the lodge (a 1.5 mile hike downhill, and then back up on the return) for anything. Second, I’d minimize the ‘distraction’ aspect. I’m a nerd. I like gadgets and toys. But this trip wasn’t about the gadgets and toys. It was about detaching, taking care of myself, and getting as much outdoors time as I could. Which brings me to third: I needed to push myself physically. Vacations are wonderful, and travel and getaways are great. But they’re also recipes for just sitting around and getting fatter. I’m old enough now that I’m very aware of how my body is dealing with idleness. I need to stay physically active to stay healthy. So this trip wasn’t going to be sitting around basketweaving all day. I needed to get on the trails every day.
With these guidelines in place, I looked at what the cabin provides. The short version is – it’s a rustic cabin. It has windows, a roof, screens (yay), a wood stove, bunks, a propane stove, and a limited number of pots, pans, and dishes. Also a composting toilet. That’s… pretty much it. 200 feet from the cabin was a spring that intermittently went dry, so I had to make sure I drew water and kept it on hand in the cabin for cooking, cleaning, and drinking. Everything else I had to bring with me.
Okay, right, this is the fun part. What did I bring? Backpackers / hikers LOVE talking about gear. And I’m sure there’ll be endless discussion about (“you have a WHAT? That’s Junk, you should have a…”), but screw it. This is what I brought:
REI 40 liter internal frame backpack
Generic ’45 degree’ mummy sleeping bag
Sleeping bag liner
Camping pillow (loaned by a friend, very lightweight)
Camelback-style water system
2 1 liter plastic bottles (carried up empty, used for filtering water)
Sawyer water filter
First aid kit
Toothbrush and Toothpaste
100% Deet bug spray
Leatherman tool and belt holder
Food / water:
2x tubes Nuun electrolyte water tablets (one with caffeine, one without)
8 packets of Trader Joes Instant Coffee
4 Mountain House scrambled egg breakfastw
2 Backpackers Pantry Three Cheese Mac and Cheese
2 Backpackers Pantry Lasagna
3 Swiss Miss hot chocolate packets
4 Nutri-grain bars
4 Soylent Mocha packets
Nylon long pants with zipoffs
2x hiking socks
1 lightweight flannel pajama bottoms
1 long sleeve tee shirt
1 fleece vest
1 long sleeve cotton sweatshirt (this was an absolute indulgence)
1 pair underwear
Wide brimmed hat
Lightweight flipflops (for wearing around the cabin)
Foul weather rain jacket
Electronics / Gadgetry
Garmin inReach GPS satellite receiver / messaging / SOS tracker
Anker 25000 mAh battery
LED flashlight + fire starter
Canon TG-6 waterproof camera with 2 extra batteries
Samsung cell phone
Samsung watch and charger
Kindle Paperwhite Reader
Total pack weight – around 32lbs. Considering this was my entire kit for 5 days, it was a pretty good weight. I was 100% OUT of storage space though. I may have been able to stuff in an extra napkin or two, but that was it. No room left.
Day 1 – Monday – Arrival
I had spent the weekend packing and repacking and making sure I wasn’t forgetting anything. This was one of those “get it right the first time” adventures that challenges my OMG SHINY THING brain to organize and plan down to the oz. I tossed my backpack into the Jeep and headed up the Cardigan Lodge. The drive was pretty straight-forward, about 2 hours or so. I had checked with AMC to make sure it was okay to leave the Jeep parked there for the week, and they were fine with it. I had one last sandwich and coffee from Dunkin Donuts on the way.
By 1:30 I had checked in, gotten the combination for the cabin, and gotten a briefing on Things To Do and Things Not To do. The woman at the checkin counter in the lodge was super nice, and almost apologetically gave me the list. “Don’t write on the furniture or walls. Don’t leave ANYTHING behind, even if you think it might be useful to the next person. Filter your water. No fires other than in the wood stove.” Seemed like pretty basic stuff to me, but they did have to go through the list. Avoiding the incredibly noisy 13 year olds there on a school trip, I filled my water reservoir, settled my pack on my hips, turned on my GPS tracker, and I was off.
It was pretty much perfect hiking weather. Cool, dry, breezy. But, the bugs were DEFINITELY there. I was glad I had my bug spray (I use it very sparingly, just on the back of my hands, and lightly wiped on my neck and forehead). My long sleeve shirt kept them off my arms, and my hat worked well to keep my head all set. I knew from a previous time up Cardigan that the ‘lower half’ of the trail system was relatively easy. I took my time and settled into my rhythm. It took about 45 minutes to reach ‘Grand Junction’, a point in the middle of the lower part of the mountain where a ton of trails come together.
I was amused at the sign warning against going up Holt Trail – I’ve heard that that route is very rough, and that sign definitely warned me off it. I turned to head up the ski trail, but another sign warned that it wasn’t a hiking trail, and we shouldn’t walk on it. Ooookkay fine, a slight adjustment and a consultation with GaiaGPS, and I was off on a slightly different route. This took me a little wider than I had planned, but the route looked smooth and steady, so I headed up.
I made it up to the cutoff for the cabin and definitely was feeling the pack weight by this time (about an hour and a half in). I was pacing myself carefully, I wanted to make sure everything was ‘working right’. Last thing I wanted to do was injure myself on the first day.
After 2 hours I was on the cabin porch, going into what would be my home for the week.
High Cabin is… well, a rustic cabin on a mountain. It’s been on the site for almost 100 years, and has gone through a lot of changes and upgrades and repairs, but it still remains a building with no plumbing, no electricity, and no insulation. The latter wasn’t a problem for this trip, but folks up there in the winter, I’ve heard, go through a prodigious amount of firewood. There was a big pile of wood just outside the porch (I was told later it was 3 cords of firewood that was delivered by helicopter). This is perfect fuel for the woodstove.
Inside, there’s 12 bunks, a big central table, some very well worn plastic/metal chairs, and a kitchen area that has 2 work surfaces, a dry sink, a cabinet with wild assortment of cookware and dishes, and an old-ish Coleman cooler. More about the cooler later
I spent an hour or two familiarizing myself with my new home, unpacking all my kitchen supplies, my bedding, etc. During this time I changed into what would be my ‘casual’ outfit – my flannel pajamas and my sweatshirt, with my flipflops. I’m really glad I brought these because they were a comfortable and a nice change from my backpacking outfit. Downtime wear.
By this time it was into evening, and I started thinking about dinner. The cabin has no water, so I took one of the big soup pots the couple hundred feet over to the spring and filled it. The times of drinking ‘pure unfiltered spring water’ are long past, so my plan was to use the big soup pot as my inside ‘water tank’, and filter water from it as needed for cooking or drinking. The process I settled on was fill one of the 1L plastic bottles with water from the pot, screw the filter onto it, and squeeze the bottle to push water out into whatever I was going to use, be it the other plastic bottle (so I could mix up the Nuun tablets), or into a cup for Soylent, or into the tea kettle to be boiled for dinner or coffee (TECHNICALLY I didn’t need to do this last, as the filter’s main goal is to make sure I don’t get giardia or other nasties into my stomach. Those things would be eliminated in boiling water, but I was also slightly concerned about sediment and other muck in the water, so I filtered the stuff I was going to boil just to be safe.
Once I had water ready to boil, I had to light the propane stove. I absolutely love my littler plasma lighter / flashlight gizmo. It’s like having a rechargeable set of matches. But as I was trying to get the stove started, I realized the propane tank was empty. There was a second tank, so I swapped out the gas line for the new tank (this was behind the building), turned on the valve and… immediately smelled propane. This is why the old tank was empty – there’s a slight leak on the feed line by the valve. This wasn’t bad enough to prevent me from using the tank, but it DID mean I had to turn off the valve after every use. Okay, I could do that. I tightened down the line as best I could, turned it on, rushed back inside, and held my lighter to the burner while turning the inside valve on… hisss… hisss… VOOMPH. It lit. Right. One drawback of the plasma lighter is you have to be VERY CLOSE to what you’re lighting. I figured out a good angle to set the lighter so the lit flame on the burner woulnd’t get close to my hands, but it was dramatic.
I boiled up my water (yay whistling kettles!), and poured it into my vegetarian lasgna packet from Backpackers Pantry. It takes about 10 minutes of a combination of stirring and waiting for it to get ready, but it smelled great from the start.
In what was to become basic ritual, I sat down at the big table, turned on my Kindle, and just… ate and relaxed. The area was incredibly quiet, and I found myself settling into what I’d come to think of as ‘downtime’. No internet, no distractions, it was basically just ‘sit, eat, and read’.
By the time I was done, it was pretty dark. One of OTHER challenges for this trip was I only brought one backup battery. I could recharge my devices from it a few times, but after that, I had no other way of making power. I had considered bringing along some solar panels, but I just didn’t have the pack space (or the money for that matter) to indulge. Given that, I couldn’t just leave my lights on all the time. So I got used to sitting in the dark and turning on my flashlight only when I needed it. I got very comfortable with the Kindle backlighting (which was giving every indication of being able to run the entire week without recharging), but when it got dark there, it got DARK.
I cleaned up from dinner (tricky again because no running water. Used an open flat bottomed dish basin to wash everything up in, then drained it into an outside sort of sump like thing that’s used for dishwater. It drains water into an underground rock field, I believe, so the animals don’t dig around where they smell the food.
I did take a little bit to start the woodstove. It’s been a while since I set a fire, but after only a little bit of fumbling, I got it going. That stove became one of my best friends, because when it gets rolling, it turned the cabin into the tropics. I had to modulate it with the front vent to keep it from melting the furniture. But I was warm and cozy. It continued radiating heat until about 3 in the morning (after I had let it burn down on its own), so while the morning wasn’t that warm, I was able to go to sleep in a warm room, and as it cooled off overnight, I just snuggled further down into my sleeping bag.
I read for another hour or so, then started to settle into bed. The bunks were functional, if not luxurious, but with the little pillow I had brought, and rolling up my sweatshirt and my vest, I was comfy.
A note about the cooler in the kitchen. I came to really appreciate it when I realized late at night that… there’s quite the family of mice living in the cabin. It really gave me pause, as there’s nothing relaxing about going to sleep listening to mice scrabbling / chewing around the walls, and wondering if one is going to scamper across you in the night. But mice are mostly interested in food, and I’m not very tasty (I’m also a big carnivore, so they mostly avoided me). HOWEVER, they absolutely will go after anything that remotely smells like food. I made the mistake of leaving out a couple of my cocoa packets the first night, and lo! One had a hole chewed in it when I went to see what the noise was. From then on, I stored all my food inside the Coleman cooler, with a heavy pot on top of it. The mice lost interest in the kitchen after that, and my food was safe.
Day 2 – Tuesday – Let’s go hiking!
Tuesday I slept in longer than I expected to. I remembered from previous trips it’s common to… go to sleep when the sun goes down, get up when it’s light out again. I somehow missed this memo, and even though sunrise around this time is about 5:30am, I didn’t get up until almost 8. I powered up the Garmin and sent a message to Mrs. Geek saying good morning (turns out the Garmin needs to be out on the porch to be able to reach the satellites, so when I was in the cabin and it was on, I left it on the railing outside. I could hear if it beeped with a new message).
I started the meal ritual, but this morning would be scrambled eggs with bacon and coffee. Everything went fine, and I was pleasantly surprised at how good the Trader Joe’s Instant Coffee Packet thingies were. They include cream, sugar, and instant coffee, an two of them in a decent sized coffee mug was JUUUUUUUST right. Those morning cups ended up being the highlight of the day. I could only haver one cup each day, unfortunately, but it was SO good.
My friends Dave and Perley had said they were going to come up on Thursday for my last night in cabin, so I knew there’d probably be a summit hike with them. I wasn’t in a mad rush to get up on top, so I planned out a route for the day that would take up to the Cardigan South peak, the Cardigan Rim Rock, and then if I was up for it, out to Mount Gilman – about 3-4 miles total, with not much ups and downs.
I changed into my hiking gear, put on bug spray, reconfigured my backpack into ‘day hike’ mode (water, first aid kit, emergency stuff), enabled tracking on the InReach, sent a message to Mrs. Geek that I was heading out, and… headed out.
Of course, it can never go perfectly. I realized halfway up to the South Peak that I had forgotten my camera. Well, the trip was all about covering a lot of ground, so I trudged back to the cabin, picked up the camera, and headed out again. I didn’t want to rely on my cell phone for photography this trip — mostly because it was needed for mapping and communication if needed. Running down the battery on the camera isn’t a problem. Running out my phone is.
The views from South Peak were glorious as expected, and I could clearly see the summit of Cardigan (and darnit, those kids on the school trip were swarming all over it. Even though it was a good 3/4 mile away over open air, I could hear them whopping it up. I was glad I was over on my own). I did chat with a nice couple sitting at the South Peak, they were super polite and enjoying the views.
After that I decided to go down to Rim Rock, and then continued on to Gilman. The Gilman hike was really enjoyable, as it was a lightly travelled trail and wound through some beautiful woods and trees. It was quite the hoof, and took about an hour and a half to reach, but was worth the alone-thinky time. The bugs were definitely active when down in the trees, as there wasn’t enough of a breeze to keep them at bay. Hooray for bugspray.
At Gilman I paused for a quick snack (just a bar), and headed back. Eventually I made it back to the cabin, having been on the trail for 4-5 hours. A good first full day on the trails. Once back at the cabin, I changed, rested a bit, and pretty much repeated the previous night’s pattern.
One thing this did start to underline though, and something I was worried about. Boredom.
This cabin is remote and quite primitive. I can’t hike 10 hours a day, so there’s going to be downtime. How do you fill that time?
I preloaded a Kindle Paperwhite with a bunch of books as recommended from friends, and that really covered my ‘downtime’ entertainment. I kind of wished I had enough capacity (carrying, whatever) to have something else for fun. For instance, I didn’t have a way to listen to music (long term battery usage was a problem), and the quiet times would have been nice with some quiet tunes. I did end up using my phone to listen to some Spotify playlists I had downloaded, but only mid-week after I knew my batteries would hold out for the entire week.
Day 3 – Wednesday – In which Dave screws up
Wednesday I decided to go ahead and summit Cardigan, and extend the hike to a ‘full loop’ – basically going all the way around the ‘valley’ that was the mountain approach, with Cardigan Mountain at one end, and the lodge at the other. Mapping it out, it should have taken 5 hours or so, which is what I was hoping to be my average days hike
I headed out around 10am as usually, and after an hour or so, was on top, admiring the views as always. It really is a spectacular area, with the summit 100% open granite, with a fire tower jutting up. The day was clear and sunny, with a light breeze. The bugs on top were a little busy, but if you stayed in the breeze, it was okay. I got to get my face licked by a very cute puppy who had excitedly made the journey up top and they splashed happily in the rain puddle in the rocks.
I continued down the other side of the valley – it was a sharp descent, and involved some scrabbling and clambering, but all in all wasn’t too bad. I decided I was going to make the cross down one of the ski trails (which are marked “NOT FOR HIKING”, but it was going in the right direction and seemed okay. The trail actually wasn’t bad. It was open vegetation with a narrow path through the middle, but was definitely in ‘deep forest’ for most of the time. BUG CITY. About a third of the way down the ski trail (now about 3 hours into the hike), I started… not feeling great. Remembering back to the Pemi hike I did, I began to worry I had blown out my electrolytes again, but that didn’t seem quite right. I had half a bottle of the Nuun water before I left, so that shouldn’t be it. As I continued, I was feeling worse and worse. Fatigued, slightly nauseous, weak. The problem was I had to climb back up to the cabin after crossing the bottom of the trails, and I was NOT looking forward to that. Stopping to rest was problematic because of al the bugs – I really wanted nothing more than to just curl up in a ball on the side of the trail and hide.
The rest of the hike up to the cabin was horrible. I was tired, weak, worried my water was going to run out (It didn’t. But you can’t tell how much is in the reservoir without pulling it out of the backpack. When I got in, turns out I had about half a cup left). I remembered this feeling from other hikes. I do not recommend it. All you want to do is crawl into a corner somewhere and hide. “Why am I doing this? This is dreadful. I hurt, I’m uncomfortable, I’m tired, I’m hungry, ahhhhh!”). I was worried I had hit my strength limit, but that didn’t seem right as I’d been doing a couple days of hiking already… I didn’t know what was wrong.
Eventually I made it back to the cabin, and the relief of being out of the elements and away from the bugs was immense. I dropped my pack, drank some Nuun water and had a bite of a cereal bar, and laid down for an hour of absolute black-out sleep. I was vaguely worried about killing my sleeping schedule, but screw it, I was WIPED.
After I woke up, changed into my casual clothes, and settled in, I tried to figure out what went wrong. I was feeling slightly better, but still weak, and my appetite was GONE. I made dinner but only ate half of it. Considering I planned to eat about 1200-1400 calories a day (which is far less than I was burning), I should have been starving. But I couldn’t finish dinner. Just had no appetite. I was thirsty though, so I was drinking a fair amount… hmmm.
It took until bed time before I started having a clue what was wrong. When I hiked on Monday and Tuesday, I wore my long sleeve t-shirt, and my fleece vest. The fleece vest has… a collar. And that collar and the vest covered my neck and shoulders. On Wednesday I didn’t wear the vest because it was so warm. So my shoulders and neck were exposed. And on top of a mountain, that means sunburn.
I had burned a stretch of my shoulders quite bright red. That explained the fatigue, the nasea, and the lack of appetite. Fortunately, the burn didn’t seem to get beyond “turn my shoulder bright red” in terms of skin damage, but it did affect my entire state. It didn’t sting so badly I couldn’t sleep or anything, so thank goodness for that, but what an error on my part. It’s made slightly more embarrassing because Mrs. Geek had warned me to bring sunscreen. Sigh. Oops.
That night I turned my cell phone off ‘airplane mode’ for the first time on the trip. I’ve been deliberately staying offline, only using the InReach to stay in touch. Perley was planning on coming up Thursday, but Dave said he had to bail. I wanted to check in with Mrs. Geek just have a quick phone call. It was nice talking with someone close for a little bit.
Day 4 – Thursday – Company’s coming!
Hey, I’m going to have visitors!
Today Perley was going to come visit and stay over Thursday night. We had coordinated a bit over messages, and he said he’d make it up around 2pm. No problem, I’ll take a casual morning. I was still a bit wobbly from Wednesday, so I had a late breakfast and read for the morning. At one point he messaged me and asked if I needed anything… and asked if a vanilla shake is worth dragging up… I tried to dissuade him, but…
Friends, he did in fact put the milkshake in a Nalgene bottle and hauled it up the mountain for me.
He got there around 2:15, and… the milkshake was delicious (and appreciated), but… it was really rich. After 4 days of dehydrated food, this was.. maybe a bit much. But it sure did taste good!
After a lunch of (MILK SHAKE) and other snacks, we headed out for an afternoon of hiking and exploring. I took super-extra care to cover up my shoulders and neck (put the vest back on, and put a handkerchief around my beck),
to keep the sun off the sunburn. I never felt any more ‘burn’, so I guess it covered it up fine. It was a good, breezy, cool day, and we had a lovely hike.
That night I had my normal meals, showed Perley around the cabin and how to prepare stuff, as well as warning him about leaving food out, and we turned in around 10:30.
Day 5 – Friday – Time to go home
End of the week. Time to go home.
To be honest, I was READY. I wanted a shower, I wanted to sit on a comfortable chair, I wanted to see my wife, I wanted a cheeseburger in the worst way. I was ready to go home.
Packup and cleanup was super-easy. We followed the posted procedure and swept out the cabin, cleaned all the surfaces, cleaned out the wood stove, and locked up on the way out. Our packs were back up to ‘full weight’, though for me I had eaten through all my food, so that lightened things up a bit (I think I weighed it out – something like 6lbs was food).
The hike down and out was uneventful and remarkably quick (“Wow this seems shorter than when we went up.”). We had a lovely conversation with the staff at Cardigan Lodge where I let them know of any of the small problems I found (like the mice and the possibly leaking propane line). The fellow there was super nice and he told us some stories about previous visitors and stuff left at the cabin.
After that, it was a matter of climbing into the Jeep, reveling in the feel of a comfortable chair and air conditioning, and driving home.
For the record, I didn’t get a cheeseburger, I got a chicken parm sandwich at the Hooksett rest area, and that was just as magical.
Coming home was great. We had a sleepover scheduled for the (now) 14yo and his friends, so that was a bit busy in the house, but not as bad as you’d think. The kids were great, and it was just awesome to be HOME.
So how do I feel about the trip? Mostly good, but also a lot of thinky stuff.
Wednesday was awful. It reminded me that there are times on the trail that are just despair and sadness. It left me with the constant “Why am i doing this? This isn’t fun. This is just a way of making myself uncomfortable. Why do this?”
On the other hand, I did detach. My very busy brain… stopped being busy. For those 3-4 days I was alone, I slowed down, like an engine going to idle. It was VERY good for me to get that in at the beginning of my sabbatical.
Does it make me want to do more backpacking? I honestly don’t know. I need to think on this. I think the strongest feeling / experience I got from it was those 4-5 days my entire… experience was based on me and me alone. I took care of myself, I took care of my food, my living space, my body, my gear. The success of that time was based solely on me, my planning, and my execution of the plan. And it WORKED. I didn’t forget anything, I didn’t miss anything, I was fed, healthy, and comfortable the entire time (save aforementioned sunburn). That’s huge. I like that feeling. I wonder if I can do it again, but maybe just be a little more comfortable, and a little less bored? To be honest, the ‘boredom’ thing may be fixable with the ‘comfort’ thing. I didn’t have a comfortable place to sit or relax (just the hard chairs or my bunk), so spending 3 hours reading a book wasn’t the best. I had considered packing one of those tiny nylon hammocks so I had a bit of recreational ‘furniture’, but space in the pack ended up being too tight. Maybe if I do this again, I’ll add that to the list.
Conclusion and Thanks
I have to thank a few people for helping make this trip possible
My awesome wife, who makes it all worthwhile. She enables me, supports me, and keeps me going. Thank you.
Zachary, my awesome kid. They were invaluable for support, advice, and just being a sounding board when I wasn’t sure if this whole hiking thing would work, and if I was going down the wrong path. Thanks Z for listening.
My friends Perley and Dave, who were enthusiastic and supportive and wanted to be In On It. Thanks guys.
The Appalachian Mountain Club, who maintain the trails and the cabin (among other lodges and huts all through the White Mountains).
At the beginning of 2021, when the Pandemic was in full swing, I took up baking. Nothing particularly fancy, just learning how to bake breads and cakes and similar stuff. It’s fun, people really enjoy it, and, heck, lets be honest, it’s SCIENCE!
As the summer rolled around, I took a bit of a hiatus, and didn’t bake for a while. It’s hard getting motivated to work in a hot kitchen when it’s a bzillion degrees out. So the mixer and bread pans went idle.
Mosaic has a yankee swap every New Years. The pandemic has made this challenging of course, and even though we were optimistic, this year we did it virtually again (believe it or not, it went really well). The 13yo suggested that I bake a cake for our gift item, since ‘no one has ever done that before!’ (honestly I suspect he wanted some himself). So M and I dithered around a while and decided on a standard yellow cake but tried something new for the icing. The icing ended up being a Italian style maple meringue that was AMAZEBALLS. Once we realized we didn’t have a double-boilers (so we put a pot in a big skillet of boiling water, and also realized we REALLY needed a hand mixer to make this work – and was saved by a neighbor who brought one over in mid-stir), the meringue eventually cooked and turned glossy and thick.
Then we burned the cake.
So I ended up cutting out the middle of one, and took one of the bundt mini cakes we had used the extra batter for, and made this , which we able to ‘wrap’ as a gift without making a mess. The little dark bits are cruzilles, which are AMAZINGLY tasty, and bits of caramel on the top.
My home automation projects has been churning along for over a year now. I’ve been able to set up motion detectors for stairway lights, LED strips for colorful lighting, and voice control integration through the whole house. Even my wife admits that having voice control in every room is convenient as heck.
We’ve gotten very used to the ability to turn on or off all the lights in an area, like saying “Downstairs lights off” which shuts off the 3 lamps in the living room as well as the kitchen and dining room lights.
But one thing that has been a steady thorn in my side is the difficulty setting up a wall mounted tablet to show the status of the lights, heating, and motion detectors, and allow you to turn things on and off via this panel.
Nowadays most folks use tablets – anything from an iPad down to the cheapest Android tablet you can find. They work fine, but for me the problem has always been power. The tablet needs to be turned on full time, and to do that, you need power. Running power to a spot in the middle of the wall is problematic and cumbersome. This is doubly irritating in that most tablets only require a simple USB cable to keep running.
This lack of easy access to power has stalled my ‘tablet’ rollout for quite a while, until I found this combination USB port / lightswitch from Bryant Electric (model USBB102W). Using this plus a short jump cable, it seemed possible to mount the tablet just over the light switch. And lo, it was!
The lightswitch was a basic “interruptor” – it was wired with 2 black wires, plus a ground. The black wire is the “hot” feed to the ceiling fixture, so opening or closing the switch would open or close the circuit. Fortunately, the people who wired the house also had a neutral wire in there. It wasn’t wired to teh switch, but had a 6 way insertion connector, so it would be easy to wire it up.
Once I had the fitting apart, the wiring on the new USB enabled switch was a little confusing. Fortunately, I found a very nice post (on Amazon’s feedback page interestingly enough) that described how to wire it up:
I was able to replace the press-in connector on the neutral lines with a wirenut, and used proper gauge for the jumper. Reset the breakers, and yay! Everything works!
Once I reassembled the switch and put a new plate on it, I was ready to mount the tablet. I’ve been using ActionTiles to control Smartthings connected devices, so putting that on the tablet was the goal. I ordered a couple short USB cables (making sure the orientation would work for the tablet), and then 3d printed some wall brackets for the tablet. A little VHB tape later, my tablet was mounted and working!
I enabled developer mode on the tablet, and set it to ‘never turn off while plugged in’, and my setup was complete!
So now what?
So where to next? Well, doing the Alexa integration with Smartthings is cumbersome (I’ll write this up at some point). I’ll need to solve this at some point – Alexa is just too useful to have, but the lack of a programmatic API for integrating display devices (like this one) with it is a problem (You can use a ‘kindle fire’ tablet for this, but the interface is not good, and ONLY controls Alexa devices :-/. Same problem, just in reverse.
I also want to add more items to the display board – like indicators about the status of my motion detectors, and possible a camera feed to the front porch. We’ll see!
It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Warner Brothers cartoons. My sister and I were basically raised on this stuff, and so much of our cultural reference points (and humor) comes from watching Bugs Bunny when we were growing up.
So, as Halloween approached, I thought it might be cool to recreate an iconic image from the 1952 cartoon “Water Water Every Hare”, where Bugs is taken to a big scary castle on the edge of a waterfall. The castle is inhabited by, naturally, an Evil Scientist, who advertises the fact with a blinking sign on the towers of his castle.
Okay, I’m not really a scientist, I’m an engineer, but I figure I could apply a little artistic license and make a sign like that for my house for Halloween.
I wanted it big enough so I could put it in an upstairs window and have it visible from the pathway. We get a LOT of kids through our community over Halloween, and tons of parents as well (since mostly the parents would get the reference), so it needed to be visible. In order to constrain the glare, I decided to put it in basically a shadowbox configuration. An enclosed box, LED lighting inside, with a cutout pattern on front that would show the text.
First step was to use the laser cutter at the Makerspace to cut out the lettering. As anyone who does stencils will recognize, the second line (“BOO”) would have floating elements in it, and would have to be glued down after the box was made.
I found some old acrylic sheeting that still had one strip of white backing on that, and that made a dandy diffuser, as well as a place to mount the center parts of the lettering.
Next, based on the size of the lettering, I whipped up a box out of some scrap wood, and painted it black. I also painted the letter stencils so the shadowmask wouldn’t show up at night, but the lettering shining through would.
The colored lighting was done with some LED strips and an arduino. The sketch was painfully simple. Just first row on, wait a second, off, wait a half second, second row on, wait a half second, off, then wait a half second and then repeat. The most challenging part was soldering up the strips (I needed 3 rows), and mounting the arduino.
The only thing I had to go ‘buy’ was the backing board. A quick trip to Michaels got me a sheet of the plastic corrugated ‘cardboard’ for $4. This stuff is awesome, and I think I’m going to use it more in future projects. I mounted the LED strips and the arduino to it initially using hot glue, but while that’s the default ‘go to’ for DIY projects, I ended up ziptying the strips to the backing board, and doing the same for the arduino. Since the board is flexible, hot glue just didn’t make sense.
Once everything was screwed together, it was just a matter of putting it in the window and plugging it in. Yay! It worked!
I slightly misjudged the width of the window, so it doesn’t quite have the margins I had hoped, but when it got dark, it looked great. Very happy with the end result!
The migration of the blog off my friends shared environment (Thanks Allison!) is complete. Welcome to the new service!
NameCheap has been advertising their EasyWP hosting service for a while, and given it’s relatively inexpensive model ($3/mo-ish), and the fact that I was having a hard time figuring out how to get full SSL service on the blog, I figured the time was right.
It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been having some serious problems with bandwidth from home. Since I work remotely, this has gotten to be a serious issue. Regular daily checks against Speedtest would result in abysmal numbers (we’re talking between 8 and 15 Mbps.) I knew my cable modem could do better, and after a bunch of debugging, I realized it was most likely the Archer C7 TP-Link router I was using. This was originally supposed to be a decent performer, but in the end, it’s turned out to be absolute crap. So I went shopping.
The fix turned out to be replacing the router with a Nighthawk AC2300 Dual Band Router The installation was super-duper easy, and setting it up with my reserved IP addresses, guest network, customized DHCP range, etc was a breeze. The initial config was done via an app on my phone, which was pretty helpful, as it allowed configuration while hopping around on the new Wifi network I was creating.
So how fast is it? Well, here’s what Speedtest is showing me now. To say this is an improvement would be a gross understatement. This is epic.
Thanks Netgear for providing an excellent product with excellent performance results. I’m a fan.
I’ve been using my Olympus PEN-F Micro Four Thirds for about 8 months now, and on the whole, I’ve been super-happy with a number of aspects of it. It’s small, it’s light, the picture quality is excellent, the glass available is very good, and after a relatively busy learning curve, the menus and controls are easy to work with.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have problems. There are several, lets run them down.
No external displays
I understand this is probably a factor of the small size / mirrorless nature of the beast. But not having any external indicators showing the camera is on, or how many shots are left, or battery level is a real problem. A very small LCD screen (even on the back) would have helped. Having to power up the camera, wait for the EVF to power up, and glancing through it to see if you have a decent battery is a pain. (BTW, there’s a noticeable delay on the battery reader. It can easily say GREEN, FULL, particularly right after putting hte battery in, but 10seconds later it’s showing almost empty. Beware!
Slow Focus Speed
This has been noted elsewhere, but the focus time on the unit is quite slow. If you’re working a shot that has multiple depths of field, the camera can ‘hunt’ around trying to set AF. I tend to run my camera in AF/MF mode, which means it’ll autofocus, but then you can use the focus ring to adjust it to where you want. This is a win, but if the camera is ‘hunting’ for an AF spot, you can’t stop it until it gives up and locks onto something. THEN you can use the manual focus ring. I’d like to see the camera automatically try to stop focusing if I touch / move the focus ring.
The controls can be confusing
There’s 8 turnable dials and 5 pushbuttons on a device half the size of a paperback book. Many of these are unlabelled, because they have a ‘variable’ purpose – they can be reprogrammed to do different things, and this doesn’t include the interface controls on the back (another 10 buttons), but at least these are labelled and make sense. I like the big ‘index finger’ wheel on top which is used to twiddle whatever variable setting you’re currently tuned to (For instance, I tend to shoot in A mode, which means exposure is automatically set, but my aperture is set by the finger wheel. This allows me to change DOF on the fly to get the ‘feel’ I want. I can’t imagine if I’m running in full manual mode trying to keep track of what dial does what.
This is relatively minor, but I wish the camera had either better battery life, or an external power connector. The 2000mAh battery will last about half a day of heavy usage, so I carry 3 of them with me. If I want to do any long exposure work or time lapses, I’m pretty much SOL.
Poor “No Card” handling
Okay, this is the big one, and the reason I decided to write this post. Now, to set the stage, I’m running the latest firmware available (v3.0), so this problem has not been fixed (though it can be with a simple software change). Here it is.
It is TRIVIALLY easy to go out for a shoot and not have a card in the camera, and not notice it.
The camera will operate normally, triggering the shutter, showing all the information in the EVF, but obviously won’t record anything. The ONLY indication there is no card is if you’re looking through the EVF and do not have your finger on the shutter release in ‘half press’ mode. Which, honestly, you never do. If I pick up my camera to take a shot, my finger is already on the shutter setting focus for the shot. I don’t just stare through the EVF unless i’m trying to get a focus point and setting in place.
I’ve caught this problem several times, and it was just annoying. This past weekend, I went out for a long walk in the city, and didn’t realize I had left the card out. I took 20-30 shots and when I got home that night… saw my working card in the laptop.
“But wait, Dave, isn’t there an indicator in the EVF?” – yes, but it’s very easy to miss particularly in bright light, AND only if you’re not touching the shutter release. The left image is a view through the EVF touching no controls, with no card in it. The right image is with my finger on the shutter release, still with no card in the camera. If I trigger the shutter, it’ll act like it took a shot – blanks the EVF, makes a click-kerchunk sound, and goes back to that display if I leave my finger in place (which I do) :
So, after 8 months carrying the PEN-F full time, what are my thoughts? Would I recommend it?
On the average, yes, I would recommend it, but with some caveats, not just the ones mentioned above. But lets start with some of the positives.
It’s a beautiful camera. Really, you can’t avoid that. The styling and setup are wonderful, and adhere to the Olympus PEN styling that goes back 50 years. I’m proud to carry it and use it.
It’s very comfortable feeling. The controls, though there’s a lot of them, are easily accessible, comfortable in my hand, and easy to work with. I added the leather carrying case in the picture, which lets me sling it comfortably under my arm when not using it, and it doesn’t get in the way.
The four-thirds lens platform is quite well supported, and glass is available for reasonable prices. I have 4 lenses now and being able to get things like a 300mm equivalent zoom lens for $99 makes it a great deal.
No need to recap the technical issues above. None of them comes close to a deal breaker – at the most they’re irritations. Olympus has patched firmware on the camera in the past to fix issues, I hope they’ll fix the No Card issue soon.
It’s expensive. The PEN-F body-only is $999. That’s not cheap, and in an increasingly saturated compact mirrorless market, while the camera is good, this is on the expensive side.
I would recommend the platform and camera for people who really are into the styling and are looking for a very good compact camera that is professional and competent enough to do serious photography on. Is it the same as carrying around a full size DSLR like a 7D? No, I’d say mostly because of it’s speed, battery life, and EVF. But do you really need that much weight and bulk for most of your photography? If you want a professional camera you can carry with you full time with exchangeable lenses and excellent features, and the price doesn’t scare you off, the PEN-F is a great camera.
So, I’m sure folks have heard the news about protests in Paris today. That did happen, and in fact I was right in the middle of it for a good part of the day. How could I miss the opportunity to take my camera into a real live protest?
The very short version is, yes, I was at the protests. Yes, there was tear gas and water cannons and lots of people moving around. There were really only a handful of instigators that were egging the crowds on to do damage, but that was enough.
I primarily stayed outside of the major crowds, but I had my camera with me the whole time. Pictures are here:
And yeah, now I know what tear gas feels like. I don’t recommend it.
I’m back in the US for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It’s already been a bit of a culture shock but I’m enjoying recharging my New England American needs, starting with my wife, upon seeing me at the airport, handing me an XL Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla coffee. Ahhh.
Lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (th French don’t do peanut butter. I missed it.)
Hopefully I can take this time to catch up on a few things before I head back to spend most of December in Paris.
I’ve become a huge fan of the WyzeCam IP cameras. They’re small, very high quality, and have a very good mobile client to connect to them. But sometimes, the mobile client will refuse to start. It comes up with the startup screen, and never proceeds.
Searching around the Reddit and WyzeCam forums, many people have seen this happen, but there’s not a clear reason why.
I’ve had this happen on occasion on my Samsung S9+, and I’ve finally found a pattern – it’s quite simple actually.
On the loading screen, the client is making it’s initial connections to WyzeCam’s cloud services. But it’s quite common for providers, corporate networks, and sometimes even hotels or wifi hotspots to block connections to certain services. If the phone cannot connect to the cloud service, it will sit stuck at that startup screen forever, without ever doing anything.
I discovered this when my phone had connected to a mobile hotspot in the office which required authentication to start operating. The phone was connected, but could not reach the internet. The WyzeCam app was sticking at the opening screen. Once I completed the registration, and reloaded the Cam app, it came up super-fast.
I was able to duplicate this experience at a hotel stay recently as well. The local wifi was extremely crowded and performing extremely badly. The WyzeCam app was hanging at the startup screen again. As soon as I switched my phone from the WiFi to my carrier data, the screen loaded correctly!
I think Wyze could fix this very easily by giving some feedback on the loading screen, showing it’s trying to connect, and giving a timeout message if it fails after X amount of time. But for now, this frustrating behaviour is easy to understand and deal with.
So it’s Friday, I have made it through my first week in Paris. All in all, things are going fine. My new apartment is comfortable and easy to deal with. I’m quite close to the Metro station I use to get to the office (half a block), and the ride is about 20 minutes.
I’ve mostly shifted sleep schedules (though for some incomprehensible reason, i couldn’t sleep well last night. Not sure what was up with that).
I’m trying very hard to get as much French and city culture into me as possible, but I fall back on comfort food and headphones when it gets overwhelming. There’s a lot of simple restaurants around the apartment that have been great for “tonight I’ll just have X” for food. Supermarkets are no problem, though sometimes it’s hard to decipher food labels.
For example, milk. “Lait entier” is whole milk, “demi-écrémé” is the equivalent of 2% (it’s closer to 1.5, but whatever), and “écrémé” is skim. Almost always sold in 1 liter bottles (I have yet to see the depth-charge sized GALLON milk jugs so prominent in the US.
There’s whole volumes of stuff I’m learning about paris, france, the people and the country. So far I’m enjoying it, though I do miss home. My coworkers are helping me enormously with my French, and if I can get more of that working, it’ll make the whole experience more rewarding. I can feel myself learning the idioms and I feel like i’m on the edge of assembling comfortable dialog, but I’m still in the “groping for the right word” phase. I’ll get there!
For map searchers, I’m living in the 15th arrondissment, which is on the western side of the city, about 8 blocks from the eiffel tower (which I can see outside my window every day). I take the metro about 1/3 of the way across the city to go to work. I haven’t missed having a bike or a car yet, though the electric scooters that so many people ride around may be a great way to get around. For now, I’m sticking with the Metro (I have a full 5 zone pass that gets me anywhere in Paris and the surrounding areas, as many times as I like. That’s a huge win).
Now that I’m relatively settled in, I’m going to start looking around for ‘things to do’. Volleyball, pingpong, biking, music, art, longer walks – dunno, I need something to keep me active, otherwise I just work all day (this week has been pretty much steady 10-12 hour days).
I have another 4 weeks until I have family folk coming to stay with me. I think it’ll be okay, if I can keep my brain occupied and not spinning off into lonely spaces.
Tonight I returned the Chevy Volt I leased three years ago. In the intervening time I drove 54,000 miles, at an average of 98mpg, using 550 gallons of gas. Had I continued with the Passat wagon I had before that, which got about 28mpg, I would have burned 1928 gallons. That 1400 gallons saved 28,000lb (14 tons) of CO2 from being emitted. That’s about a years worth of emissions for a fairly efficient house.
Nowadays I work full time from home, so my daily mileage has gone from 70-75 miles a day down to about 6. In a sort of weird reversal of history, where in the above article I lamented trading in my Jeep for the Volt, I now have a 2000 Jeep TJ as my only personal vehicle. Of course Mrs. Geek has a Subaru wagon, which we use for most errands, trips, etc, but the Jeep is mine, and I adore it.
I did have a reservation in to buy a Tesla Model 3 when they were available (which is now), but given the low miles I’m driving, and that I’m spending more and more time out of the country, it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive electric vehicle just sitting at home.
So here I am in mid-life with “nothing but an 18 year old manual truck in the garage”.