Chill: Gorilla post hike review.

Before my February 7 degree hike I reviewed the Chill Gorilla tarp – the replacement for my older Hennessy Hex tarp. I was pleased with it in general.

First, the Chill Gorilla is a bulky tarp. The same bulk as the older hennessy hex tarp, about twice as bulky as their smaller silnylon tarp, but it has more coverage and the fabric is heavier. It packed well for its size.

The first night I put the tarp up I had some issues with my lines. Not Chill Gorilla’s fault at all, but the tarp has some weight to it, and if you’re using a continuous ridgeline, just throwing some lines around the tree and pulling doesn’t work the best. The solution would have been some Dutchware Tarp Flies, which I had on my other tarp and didn’t want to move. So, my bad, but know that hanging the thing can be an issue.

Unlike the Hennessy tarp, the Chill Gorilla has no pockets for the tie-out lines. This was sort of a pain in the butt during my trip, as I was fighting lines when hanging the tarp.

Once hung, the tarp was large enough to offer plenty of protection from the elements, and I was using a 10’6″ hammock with a ridgeline. Because of wind and cold, I put a Grizz Beak door on each end. the beaks worked very nicely on the Chill Gorilla, providing coverage all the way around and leaving me with no way in, so I crawled under one side on all fours. The tarp is black, and although it doesn’t keep out all light, it does a nice job at darkening your sleep experience if there’s a full moon or something.

I used 4 tie-out stakes. I just wrap the line around my MSR Mini-Groundhogs. I really want to put some line locks on the end though. I have them on my silnylon tarp and love them. Just tie off the stake and pull. You have a weight penalty of maybe 5 grams for 4 of them, but you get much easier setup when it counts, like in rain or snow.

Packing up was as easy as putting up. I had to shake off the ice (it was 7 degrees) from the inside from condensation, but the ice wiped right off. I didnt really worry about the lines, just tried to stuff them in before my hands froze.

Yet more Trailtertainment. It’s movie time!

Since I haven’t been hiking recently and I don’t have any new gear to make, I’m kind of stuck with nothing to talk about. I’m going back to a previous post I made on putting movies on your iPhone. I’ve run into some… issues.

AnyDVD was, for YEARS, the Go-To movie decryption and copying software. It ran in the background, stripped the copy protection from discs, and allowed you control over your movies. Region coding? Gone. Forced previews? Gone. Unskippable sections? Gone. Put movie in drive, play movie. The best part was, with a single click, you could copy that movie onto your hard drive. With free software like Handbrake, you could turn those 5gb (or 32gb blu ray!) files into 1 or 2gb files, perfect for itunes and your phone on the trail.

Here’s the problem: AnyDVD shut down last year because of legal issues in Antigua. So they’ve moved to…well, no one really knows, but some think Russia. But – they have a new name called “RedFox” and are selling the same software. Here’s the kicker: Have you ever tried to convince your credit card company to let you buy a license for software from Russia using a Chinese payment processing company? No? Well, give up now. It’s all but freaking impossible.

BUT – RedFox will accept BitCoin, the preferred digital currency of shady transactions around the world. BitCoin has legit uses too, but it’s not popular yet because of it’s volatility. Its a bit like trying to buy something with a stock. Bitcoin trades like securities instead of money, so its value fluctuates. That $100 you had last week? Well it’s worth $85 this week, but next week it could be worth $105. Which is the reason it will remain a fringe currency probably for a while.

Bitcoin is actually easier to use than I thought it would be. You set up an account with an exchange, buy your coin and store them in an online or offline “wallet”, and then send them to the merchant. The problem, much like paying for Russian software with a Chinese payment processor, is getting your bank to let you pay for the damn things. There are some frustrated people online that say their credit card companies won’t even let them buy bitcoin because of chargebacks.

So, in order to buy your DVD copying software, you’re going to have to jump through a few hoops. Interestingly enough, although AnyDVD is strongly linked to DVD Piracy, the people running the company don’t like to be associated with it. A company statement was basically saying they want people to be able to copy movies that they own, in order to back them up or play them on different systems.

So, I started poking around on the net. It seems there may be an alternative… MakeMKV and Handbrake.

MakeMKV is a software that seems to strip DVD files without the need for a separate copy-protection breaking system, unlike cloneDVD or Handbrake. The problem is, it becomes a two-step operation. MakeMKV strips the files into single file packages, but iTunes won’t play it. You have to use something like VLC player or HandBrake (both free) to convert the file (again) into something iTunes will be happy with. I have been using HandBrake for several months with no problems. It works pretty well for free stuff.

 

I tried it with the DVD movie “Up” since I own it, and I know Disney encrypts the heck out of their stuff. For brevity’s sake, it is also a shorter film, only 96 minutes.

It took a few minutes, but it finally spit out a series of files, 10 in total, containing various versions of the movies and previews. I opened Title 00 in Handbrake, since it was the largest and I figured it had to be the movie and not something else.

It opened the Title 00 file just fine, and with a few clicks I told it what size I wanted it, and where to put it. After about 40 minutes of processing, it produced a nicely done 1.5GB file for the movie “Up”. Very satisfactory, although a bit clunky.

Now – onto something a bit harder: Game of Thrones. GoT is an Episodic disc, with some forced closed captions. Each disc has 2 episodes on it, and when people are speaking foreign languages, the English captions are displayed for those of us that don’t speak Dothraki or Volantian.

MakeMKV opened the files easily enough.

Now, on to HandBrake for processing and adding the forced captions for English languages. That took the longest to figure out when I used it the first time. There is a “Foreign Language” option, which you would assume applies to things like Klingon and whatever. But you want to pick English and “Forced Captions Only”, as well as “Burn In”. You want the translated captions saved as part of the film so they are always on.

Handbrake handled opening the files well enough, with no issues. After about an hour, it finished. Success.

So yes, the freebie method works. Why do I still suggest AnyDVD if you can get it? They have regular updates to try and make sure you can always copy your DVDs and Blu-Ray discs. When companies come out with new methods to try and keep you from doing what you want with your property, the team at AnyDVD tries hard to fix it so you can do the conversions.

As always, only copy and convert movies you OWN. Copying movies you don’t own (like netflix and redbox) is obviously a copyright violation and can get you into trouble.

Netflix is now allowing certain movies to be downloaded and played later on your device, so all this may be moot for netflix rentals. BUT – if you own a big collection of discs, and want to back them up or take them with you on vacation or into the woods, this is the way to do it. You will lose a little quality converting movies, but you’re watching on a phone, so its obvious you’re not looking for cinematic quality anyway.

Trail Entertainment… old school style.

I wrote a month or so back about converting DVDs to phone size for in-tent entertainment on cold winter nights. When you’re spending 12 or 13 hours in a tent, you need something to do besides look at the ceiling.

Someone on one of the facebook groups mentioned weather radios the other day. The question was something like, “What do you guys use for a weather app?”

My typical smart-ass response was: “I look up”. Of course, I try to follow smartass responses with actual information, so I said, “I generally don’t worry about the weather, because there’s not much you can do to change it. If it rains, put on the raincoat. If it’s cold, put on more stuff.”

That’s really about all you can do. For weekenders you generally know what the weather will do, because you checked it before you left home. You have already determined if there is a chance for snow or thunderstorms or hot weather. If you’re really good, you’ll check the weather around each shelter for the night you’re supposed to be there, and you can kind of figure out based on elevation what you will be facing.

But for the long distance hiker, it get more difficult. 20 days from now, there’s no way to know if there will be severe thunderstorms. The Weather Channel App is great if you’re in cell service range, but you also have to know about where you are in relation to the closest town that the app will show you.

Another response to the same thread was, “I carry a small radio”. That made sense to me. They make little FM radios that fit in the palm of your hand and are slightly larger than the AAA battery that goes in them. I have read that cell phones have FM receivers built in, but some companies won’t turn them on. Apple doesn’t have one or won’t turn it on… a pity, because listening to FM on your phone would be nice in a pinch if you needed local news.

I also remembered reading a thru-hiker’s story. He had a little shortwave morse code transmitter he made himself. His goal was to talk to someone over it, from every state he walked through. At night he would toss a little weighted bag over a limb, with his antenna, and try to talk to people.

Shortwave is pretty cool. Where else (okay, the internet) can you listen to people from around the world. Shortwave was the international news before there was cable, before their was even TV. I’ve even used it to talk to people over seas using only 8 watts of power, back when I had a converted CB radio. It’s a fun medium but can require a lot of fiddling. It’s nowhere near just picking up a phone and hitting “play”, or even scanning a few seconds to find your favorite FM station. The shortwave band is between the AM dial and somewhere around 26mhz (your car radio ranges from 88-108mhz. If you could turn your car radio down to between 2 and 15… thats the range of most international shortwave stuff). I listened to Radio Croatia the other night. Now, it’s bad AM radio, so yeah, that’s what it’s like listening to. Music comes across pretty poorly, and voice sometimes isnt much better, but it can be interesting.

So, I happened to find this online:

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It weighs 6 ounces, has shortwave, AM, FM, and scans the weather band. It runs off 2 AA batteries OR your USB phone battery pack. Pretty cool for in-hammock entertainment or just weather stuff.

The only problem these little radios suffer from is bad antennas. The antenna length should be around 1/4 of the meter band you’re listening to. Something to do with the speed of light vs. the frequency of the signal… but if you’re listening to a station around 7mhz, that’s the 40 Meter band. at 1/4 that, your antenna should be 10 meters, or 30 FEET long for best reception (actually, a 40 meter antenna would be perfect, but no way anyone is putting up one of those).

In my old listening days, I would just stretch a long wire out of the window and clip an alligator clip onto the end of the built-in antenna. That still works today, if you cared to haul around a little loop of wire and turn your tent into the biggest lightning rod in the woods. But of course, the weather channels should tell you all that, if you can’t be bothered to look up. Interestingly, Winter is the best time for shortwave listening. Something to do with the atmosphere and the position of the sun affecting it. I don’t remember it all, but it’s kind of nice that the time you’re huddled in the tent the longest makes for the best time for in-tent entertainment via the oldest form of electronic voice communication.