Waterfall Hunting

I had planned to go hiking this weekend, mainly to try taking my digital camera and doing a long time-lapse of stars in the deep woods, and to enjoy some cooler weather. The mountain temperatures were in the mid 80s, compared with the high 90s at my house. However, with the threat of rain and the wife wanting to see some waterfalls, instead we loaded up the car and took off. The mountains of SC/NC are always beautiful, although they are 3-4 hours away.
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In preparation for the event, my wife had found a web site called “6 drive up waterfalls in NC”. In retrospect it should have said something like “5 drive up waterfalls that are spaced all over the western part of the state, and one extra one that has a really shitty view” The shitty view one is below, called “Toxaway Dam Falls”. Most of what you see is above, because the only halfway decent view is from the highway overpass, where you have to park the car and walk to the edge of a 4 lane highway. If you rent one of the condos in the picture, you’d have a really nice view, but there’s nothing for miles in either direction so you better just like sitting on the porch.

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The second falls was along the same route, US 64. Google needs to REALLY do a better job estimating time. US 64 near Brevard, NC has been my experience: 4 lane highway with gentle turns. US 64 west of the French Broad River turns into a 2 lane twisting, turning mountain road. It takes MUCH longer to navigate. We stopped in Highlands, trying to find a ice cream/sandwich ship that apparently went out of business, and wound up at a pizza place/video rental store and had some really decent brick-oven pizza. Yeah, I didn’t know they still had video rental stores, either. But, this being the mountains, there are probably a lot of people without cable and internet, so maybe the DVD store is the only place they can catch up on hollywood’s latest sequels and reboots.

After Highlands, we quickly found Bridal Veil Falls. There are several falls of the same name in NC, it seems. This one was a drive-up walk under falls that was pretty neat, yet not very impressive in volume.

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Kaylee was ordered not to fall in the hole and get wet.

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At Bridal Veil, it started raining, and before we reached the next falls, it would be raining quite a bit.

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The last falls of the day was Dry Falls. Right off 64 and down some stairs, Dry Falls was Bridal Veil Fall’s big brother. They call it Dry Falls because you can walk behind them and stay dry.

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It was quite impressive in scale and beauty.

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I tried my hand at a long exposure by tricking the camera into a closed aperture, and got some misty, filmy looking water.

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After Dry Falls, one of our group wasn’t feeling so well and we started looking at the map. The falls I really wanted to go to (Looking Glass) would have required going all the way back down 64, through Brevard and  then back home. The other, SOCO falls, was going to require a jaunt up the Blue Ridge Parkway, and despite Google assuring me it was only 45 minutes, I know Google lies.

So, not wanting to be driving home through storms at midnight, we pushed the “Go Home” button on the car GPS and listened to our Crackhead GPS (Emily II). She found some nice 4 lane easy-turning roads for us.

We had fun but it was a LOT of driving for one day. It reminded me of why we don’t do many day hikes in our hiking group. 8 hours round trip in the car for four hours of hiking just isn’t practical. Next time, I think, we’ll have to drive up, see some stuff, and stay in a hotel. Then see stuff the next day and go home.

On the plus side though, the wife and kid found a LOT of Pokestops, since there’s one at every corner in these little mountain towns. Every stop light they were saying “I got it!” We also got to eat at the Blue Ocean seafood place (thanks Jim) at the Clinton exit on I-26. Great place, always packed.

 

How about some Raspberry Pi for dessert?

A while back – around X-mass I guess, I got a Raspberry Pi microcomputer. I played with it a bit and then put it aside to work on other stuff. But recently I started messing around with it a bit, trying to learn some programming and such.

That’s it in the picture below, on the left side of the keyboard. Completely self contained, about the size of an iPhone but maybe three times as thick in its case. 4 USB ports, ethernet, WiFi, even bluetooth, and no fans needed, just a little metal finned heat sink. It comes with an HDMI port which means it will plug into any modern TV, but I bought an HMDI-to-Monitor cable for it so it will work on my monitor. It runs off a USB port plug, or a cell phone charger at 2 amps! The black box on the right is a 1 Terabyte Hard Drive.

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So, what can I do with the Pi? I’ve learned a tad bit of Python programming, mainly controlling what happens in a small version of Minecraft that comes with the computer. I’ve followed instructions online and built a practice morse code keyer, which will use a python program to read what you punch in, and print the letters back to you. Useful if you wanted to become a licensed ham operator I guess.

I’ve messed a bit with the GPS card I bought for it. It was cheap too. The problem is, I can’t get the GPS to initialize on it’s own. Oh I can get it to work pretty well, but every time I reboot the thing I have to type in a few complex Linux commands to restart the GPS software.

It should work, I shouldn’t have to drop into a terminal window and type

sudo gaps /dev/ttyUSB0 -F /var/run/gpsd.sock

to get a reading from the GPS. That’s just crazy.

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Maybe I’ll figure it out sooner or later. There’s a nice series of instructions for encoding GPS signals and sending them to a wireless device, the type that people have been using to send weather balloons into the edge of space and recovering the camera and such later. Also useful if you wanted to track anything moving, like cars or something.

So I gave up on that after several hours of headaches, and decided to try something simple. Networking should be easy, right? I’m not a super computer geek, but I know a bit about Windows. It didn’t take me very long on Windows to share a hard drive across my home network, so I could copy music and movies and such back and forth. My wife got a Macbook and I did the same thing, so she can move files and fonts back and forth for her craft machine.

But no matter what youtube instructions I watched and what forums I read, I couldn’t get into the darn shared drive of my Raspberry. I could see it, but it wouldn’t let me in.

A word about drive space: The raspberry comes with very limited memory – only 8 or 16gb on a micro SD card, and a portion of that is taken up by the operating system. But – I got a bigger card (32gb) and copied the files over. So I have a little breathing room. With the USB ports, though, you can use flash drives or hard drives to greatly expand its storage. I found some instructions online about creating a cheap Network Attached Storage system. I wanted a central drive that I could put any files on and get them anywhere across the home network, plus it would be something I could take with me on a trip and watch movies on a TV or play music.

Raspberry comes with a simplistic windows-looking desktop (think windows 3.1, not windows 8) that lets you do some basic things graphically, although most of what you have to do with the thing involves using linux commands from the terminal window. If you have a Mac, the Mac Operating System is basically the same thing. You can open a Mac terminal and enter commands. Don’t: because if you type something wrong you could trash your computer. Linux is unforgiving. Once you type in your command and enter the password, it does exactly what you ask it to, as wrong as it was.

Raspberry’s free OS is a bit lacking in the help department, and everything I found online was telling me to do different things to share a drive. Finally I ran across a thread where someone said, “I messed with the raspberry for hours and hours and couldn’t make it work. I loaded Ubuntu and did it in 30 minutes”.

U what Bu? This was intriguing, anything had to be better than the Raspberry’s faux-Windows. I loaded Ubuntu onto the thing. Ubuntu is basically another linux-based operating system. It just looks a little different and is somewhat more user friendly. Oh yeah, and it’s free too. All this Linux stuff is free, which is nice, but because so many people program Linux stuff, you never know what might work and what might not work. Also, some things WONT work, like my Wacom Graphics tablet. There’s no Linux driver for it.

Unfortunately I loaded Ubuntu on the Raspberry FROM the Raspberry, which is a bit like trying to put your car in neutral and change the engine  while it’s running. I crashed it something bad, pulled out the memory card and loaded everything on the card using the Mac and a free tool online called (oddly enough…) PiFiller. No terminal commands to type, because one slip-up and I could write the Raspberry files as my Mac’s OS and lose everything.

At the end of the day (actually about 2am) I had an Ubuntu Desktop, which I modified to look a little matrix-y.

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Ubuntu comes with the same free stuff that the original Raspberry system has, but it has a better web browser at least, and more on board commands that you can use graphically, such as moving and deleting files. It has a simple right-click menu for sharing drives, once you download the right file-sharing add-on. Ubuntu also comes with “Software Center”, something akin to the App Store on your cell phone. Need something? Browse the software center and click on it. Of course, Ubuntu runs on MANY computers, and doesn’t really care what it’s on. I doubt the Raspberry could handle some of the stuff, like Non-Linear Video Editing or Multichannel Audio Mixing. I did try Gimp (think Photoshop, for free) and it worked pretty well.

So, once I finally got the right OS loaded and everything working, I shared a drive, added myself as a user for the drive (linux is touchy with security. With Windows, you can let anyone in with no passwords. Linux is more security conscious with who can do what), and went to my Mac. Boom, there was my drive. Actually, I have several drives shared across the network. In the photo below the “16gb share” is the extra 16 gb part of the 32gb card in the raspberry itself. It goes everywhere with the raspberry. So it’s like a built in flash drive.

The drive you don’t see is my 1TB drive (because I unplugged it for the night) called BigAssDrive. But if I plug it in, it shows right back up and I can log into it and access it.

The other two drives are on my old windows XP machine. It desperately needs an upgrade. At this point it’s only real use is converting DVDs to MPEG-4s for my iPhone/iPad (great for traveling!), and running my XMrecording software. Butthead is my main storage drive on that computer, I can see stuff anywhere across the network but not change it. Daria is my temporary drive – I move stuff there and can read/write/delete stuff from any other computer.

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The Raspberry is proving an interesting, if headachy, little device. The great thing about them is they are so cheap. For $50 you get a whole kit with the case and power plug and pre-loaded card. I spent more total on the mouse/keyboard ($20), the big SD Card ($11) and the HDMI-VGA converter ($25) than I did for the computer. When was the last time you could say that?

One of the interesting things about the Raspberry is the removable SD card with the operating system. You could theoretically have several cards with different preprogrammed functions, and just pick the one you want based on the project at hand. Want the Raspberry to automatically load a script and be the brains for a robot? Pop in the card you set up for that. Want it to be a fully functional computer with a free version of what looks like Microsoft Office, for traveling with work? Pop in your other card. Want to turn it into a dedicated security camera server? Different card. Instead of one computer trying to be everything, you can use whatever flavor software fits its function.

So what’s in my future for this thing? It has a little camera board that will do slow motion movies, I want to play with that some. Definitely get the GPS working. Learn more about programming. I’d like to try writing something to control my XM receiver. I got the control codes from an XM forum. The Raspberry comes with a pretty good set of documentation and programmable input/output pins so it can interact with the real world.

My only disappointment with the new operating system is movie playback. Under the pre-loaded Rasbian OS, there was a free movie player called TBOplayer. It worked pretty well at playing movies. Ubuntu seems a bit more processor-hungry. TBO player doesn’t work on Ubuntu, and VLC player (which works GREAT on Windows and the Mac for playing anything); while it runs on Ubuntu, doesn’t seem to work worth a damn. The audio plays and the picture doesn’t, or they get out-of-sync. So, I want to figure out what I need to do to it to play movies. It’s not a hardware issue, I just tried playing the Mpeg-4 of a movie through BigAssDrive over the network, and it plays fine. So it has to be a software or display thing.

Anyway, less nerding, more hiking, in the future. But right now it’s just too damn hot.

Pancakes Anyone?

I have experimented several times recently with trying to cook pancakes at home, over my camping stuff. The results have been – interesting – to say the least. The pancakes have stuck to my titanium plate, they’ve stuck to aluminum foil, they’ve been burned in the middle and raw on the edges.

While strolling through Wal-Mart today on our regular Saturday morning adventure, I happened across the “easy eggs” pan. Its a small aluminum pan, about 4″ in diameter with a non-stick coating, a ridged bottom, and a long plastic handle with a daisy-shaped cooked egg printed on the end. I was thinking, this would be perfect in the woods. Four dollars later, it was mine.

In case you can’t find “easy eggs”, Bed, Bath and Beyond has a similar thing:

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I got the Wal-Mart pan home and pulled off the plastic part, leaving just a little metal tab with two rivets. In the example above, I guess you could just cut off the handle right near the pot. Leave enough to grab with your multi-tool, or leave it all if you don’t carry such a thing. I just weighed the handle, it’s .6 ounces, whereas my multi-tool is 1.2, so if I can get rid of that, the little eggy handle is even lighter.

13645198_10206925291107801_6370442571228869173_nThe pancakes were easy to mix. Hungry Jack makes a pre-mixed powdered  box of “pancake mix”, just add water. So I got my squishy bowl and spork, and mixed up a cup of mix. The tricky part is heating the pan. I set it on my Snow Peak gigapower stove and and turned the flame on low. Even with the ridged heat-spreading bottom, it stayed a lot cooler on the edges than the middle, because I had to run the flame on low, so it was all right in the center. I poured a little mix in the pan, and moved the pan around with the pliers, in slow circle to heat it all evenly. Shortly the bubbles formed and then stopped filling in when they broke. I grabbed a spatula and flipped it over. I’m going to need to get a spatula and cut it down to about 2″ by 3″ just for this pot. I flipped the pancake, and heated the other side.

In this picture it looks like a full size pan, but trust me, it’s only around 4″ from side to side, and at a weight of 1.9 ounces, it weighs almost nothing. The pancake was as good as any on the big griddle, so I judge it a success.

13692622_10206925291187803_471067045881760445_nNow I just need a hike and some cold weather.

 

Water Hiking

Since the south is in the middle of a terrifying heat wave known as “Summer”, and I was going to be unable to do anything on the water for the next two weekends or so, I worked feverishly Friday night, all day Saturday, and part of Sunday morning to finish my boat rack.

I started with a basic premise that I would be putting the boat on and off the car by myself, that I really wouldn’t have much help at all. So the system had to be totally workable by me. Also – since the back of the car has a lift gate with a decorative plastic piece, I had to get the boat over that when loading and unloading.

The first thing I did was make a trip to lowes Friday, and picked up 6 of their 8 two-by-fours, and 3 pieces of 4 foot 1×4 oak boards.

Measuring a LOT on top of the car, I managed to put together the main body of the loading rack. IMG_3870

The problem I had was, nothing was square. The back of the car is not as wide as the front. I used the foam boat sponges as a guide, and constructed the rack around them and the luggage rack. In this picture I’m not done yet, there are now blocks in place to prevent shifting side-to-side, and moving back and forth. There’s also a block and extension under the front piece, to prevent the rack from lifting upon the front when the boat is loaded on the back. Initially there was more 2×4 material in the design, but the oak is thinner and I think lighter overall. The rack only serves to load and unload the boat, when it is fully loaded, it rests on the sponges on the luggage rack, taking all the weight off the wood piece.

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Here you see the underside of the rack, while I’m putting on a layer of duck canvas. The side blocks and the front-to-back shifting blocks are visible now. I slopped a layer of stain on the wood to protect it from water in the future. In addition to the rack, there are a set of loading ramps that attach to the back with a steel rod acting as a hinge. The ramps themselves are two 8 foot 2×4 pine boards, also stained and covered in duck fabric.

My main issue with the ramps was: How to make them long enough and still portable? I initially tried a hinge in the middle, which when flipped upside down, provided a straight board. Any weight on the center point bent and twisted the hinge, destroying the pivot. It “unwound” the hinge at the joint. I scrapped the hinge and got 8 pieces of 1/8″ thick construction straps, a foot long each with 5/16″ holes. I bolted four straps to one piece of wood with carriage bolts, and then slotted the other board into the makeshift slot. Four more bolts and wing nuts make a temporary joint strong enough to hold the weight of the boat as I slid it up the ramp. I left a flap of fabric good enough to cover the bolts and protect the boat.

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Here you can see the boat loaded on the rack, and the ramps on either side of it. I put on a little guid on the sides I could strap down the ramps (the little arched piece of wood). You can see the ramp pairs with their strap joints sticking out. Right now the boat is on the car backwards, but it works just fine like this. In face the car’s luggage rack runs a lithe uphill, and the back of the boat is downhill from the from, so putting the boat on backwards levels it with the road a little better. After tying everything down, it was time for a full-up test.

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My daughter volunteered to be the front seat paddler and leak-test the boat with me. She had a lot of fun and it worked out well. The boat unloaded fine from the car and slid down the ramp as designed, slowly and controlled. She did help some by pushing from the front.

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We paddled for around two miles on the lake in the hot sun, and headed back to the car. It was easy to tell which way the current was running, and some wind helped push us downstream. Next time we will explore the upper end of the lake and the creek that feeds it.

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I learned a lot during this build/engineering experience. First – the south is damn hot in the summer. I sweated more Saturday than I have in a LONG time. I went through 5 shirts, 3 pair of underwear, and 2 pair of shorts. Thankfully the 4 trips to Lowes to get different size bolts, replace the crappy hinges, and buy a forstner bit to countersink some of the bolt heads, helped cool me off. I missed out on a hiking trip, but I had fun anyway, and the Air Conditioning was only 30 feet away when I needed it.

I need to make a few upgrades to the rack as it is. The steel rod hinge pin for hooking the ramps to the rack fits too snugly, I need to open the holes up just a bit, maybe for 3/8″ to 1/2″. Some fabric underneath the rack’s oak side pieces will help it slide on and off the car easier, and I need some bungee cords to make securing the side ramps a bit quicker than lengths or paracord. But overall I’m pleased with the design and it’s usefulness.

Now I have to make a rail system for sliding the boat underneath the back porch to keep it out of the sun.