Samsung Galaxy S10

Posted: 6th January 2020 by Cheap in Technology
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Last October, somewhat on impulse, I upgraded my phone to the Samsung Galaxy S10.

It all began when I met up with a friend of mine and saw that she was taking photos with her phone, not with a DSLR.  This was a surprise to me, since the photos she had been posting looked like they came from a DSLR, with shallow depth of field.  However, she was using a Samsung Galaxy S9.  I filed this knowledge away, thinking that Samsung had made remarkable improvements in their camera technology.

When the S10 line was announced, I had a brief chuckle over the number of cameras.  Up to five, in the case of the S10+, and then later they introduced the S10 5G with six cameras.  However, I could immediately see the value.  It is essentially an optical zoom solution without the bulk.  The cost of a camera is so low that including multiple cameras in a device is an economically justified solution to providing multiple angles of view to the user.  Apple is doing the same thing with their iPhone 11.

That was a while back.  The S10 is not new now.  However, on Thursday, I began to yearn for a better camera on my phone.  On Friday, I ordered one (and in less than an hour, a team of “Enjoy Experts” was at my house, handing it to me).


First of all, let me be clear: I did not get DSLR quality in a smartphone.  Samsung has a new feature they’re calling “Live Focus” which detects the subject and digitally blurs the background.  It worked well enough to fool me into thinking I was looking at DSLR photos.  However, now that I know what I’m looking at, I can tell the difference.  I have also found some cases where it doesn’t quite work correctly, such as selfies of my bald head.  It will be a while before I decide whether I want to use this feature much.

The S10 is in the middle of the line with three rear-facing cameras and one selfie camera.  The selfie camera has an 80° diagonal angle of view.  The rear-facing cameras have 123°, 77°, and 45° diagonal angles of view, which they call Ultra Wide, Wide-angle, and Telephoto, and in the camera UI they are called x0.5, x1.0, and x2.0.  These are equivalent to 12mm, 27mm, and 52mm lenses on a 35mm film camera.  I personally think the Telephoto camera is misnamed, but in the context of a smartphone camera, I can see why they chose to call it that.

The Ultra Wide camera is fixed focus with a fixed aperture of f/2.2, but it is 16 MP.  Samsung has pointed out a fact that many people may not appreciate, which is that panoramic photos using this Ultra Wide camera will be much wider (vertically), and will therefore have a considerably more panoramic appearance.  The Wide-angle camera is auto-focus with optical image stabilization, and it has two aperture modes, f/1.5 and f/2.4, but it is only 12 MP.  The Telephoto camera is also auto-focus with optical image stabilization, has a fixed aperture of f/2.4, and is 12 MP.

Upgrade Process

Both Samsung and AT&T provide tools for transferring configuration, apps, and data across from an old device to a new one.  I used both.  On top of that, some media got transferred over from the cloud.  Consequently, much of my media is duplicated in two or three places on the new device.  I still haven’t cleaned it all up.


The device came with Android 9, but a system update soon followed (in December?) that upgraded it to Android 10.  I have noticed only minor changes with Android 10.  The only one worth complaining about is that format of the recent battery history has changed, and I have not yet been able to make sense of the new format.

Android 9 loses the old Memo app that was built into Android 7 and earlier versions (was it in 8?).  I have been using the Samsung Notes app instead.


The S10 does not have the battery life of my S6 Active, and I assume, without having tested it, that it won’t be as durable.  Live Focus, what I mistook for shallow depth of field, isn’t all that great, and I haven’t been using it.  The wide-angle and telephoto cameras are useful on occasion, and I have been making use of them, but they alone weren’t worth the upgrade.

The S10 is slimmer and lighter than the S6 Active.  Though the S6 Active has been working well, upgrading has put my mind at ease about having a device that was released four years ago.

I Welded Something

Posted: 16th July 2019 by Cheap in Fiction, Firearms, Photography, Television
  • When my infrared camera came in on Friday, I played with it a little that afternoon, but I couldn’t spend my time with it because I had a party to prepare.  I snapped some photos around the house, and they showed some promise.  The next morning, I played a little more with them in Photoshop, and then I went out to the park.  The first park I went to wasn’t a great setting, so thinking about where else I could go, I remembered the Shaw Nature Reserve.  I had time, so I went there, with no other planning than to eat something along the way.  I took several photos, mostly just experimenting, but one of them was actually a fairly great photo.  When I got home and processed it with Photoshop, I was really happy with it.  I posted it to Facebook, along with another.  I kept coming back to look at this one all evening and the next morning, which told me that I really liked it.  So, I’ve ordered a print of it, which I will have mounted and framed.
  • I stumbled across a video about an easy way to remove broken exhaust manifold studs from the cylinder head using an arc welder.  I had a broken stud (broken before I touched it), and I own an arc welder, so I gave it a try.  It was unbelievably easy.  However, what has really made me happy is that I think I actually understand arc welding now.  While I have technically owned an arc welder for many years (probably ten), I never got the hang of using it.  I tried it when I first got it, and I was hopeless.  I concluded at the time that I would have to devote lots of practice to becoming even passably competent with it.  However, watching this video (which isn’t even a tutorial about arc welding) kind of showed me how I was doing it wrong, and how it was supposed to work.  So today, I screwed around with the welder a little and I was able to make it work.  Then I tried it on the broken stud, and it worked very easily, just the way it worked in the video.  So not only did I save myself from an otherwise frustrating job of drilling out the stud and trying to remove it with a screw extractor, but I may have actually learned how to weld.  Suddenly, I am thinking about all the welding jobs I could do.
  • I cleaned my garage.  For the first time, after having lived here for more than five years, I am able to fit two cars in my garage.  It’s a big deal, potentially life changing.
  • I binged the third season of Stranger Things all in one night, getting to bed at four o’clock in the morning.  It was pretty good.  Tightly written and suspenseful throughout.
  • I have been very interested in in the upcoming Star Trek: Picard, even though there has been almost no information about it.  One piece of information that was released is that the show runner will be Michael Chabon.  I have had three of his novels on my reading list for years, but I hadn’t gotten around to any of them.  When I learned of his involvement in the new Star Trek series, I bumped him up to the top of my list, and I have begun reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (a Pulitzer winner).
  • My recent reading has all been good.  I enjoyed Spinning Silver, which is a Hugo award nominee and just won a Locus award for best fantasy novel.  The Thin Man was a quick and enjoyable read from the prohibition era.  Hunger Makes the Wolf was a surprisingly good read (surprising because I bought it solely for the title) that seems to have received very little recognition.  A Memory Called Empire, a novel pushed heavily by Tor, was good.  I knew Head On, a sequel to John Scalzi’s Lock In, would be good.  By the time I reached the end of The Ruin of Kings, I found I was happy with the whole, though I must say that the format annoyed me quite a bit at the beginning.
  • Though I tried, I did NOT read Space Opera.  I hated it by page 5, and I should have stopped there, but it is next month’s book club book.  The difference between this book and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the difference between randomness and creativity.  Where Douglas Adams writes in finely crafted sentences, Catherynne M. Valente writes in lists of loosely unrelated shit.  When my oldest niece was three years old, she tried to make up jokes without actually understanding humor, and Space Opera is slightly better than that.  After two chapters, I started skimming, and then realized that was hopeless too.
  • A while back, I brought home a Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus Deluxe.  I purchased it not for carrying or hunting, but just for shooting.  I as disappointed by the trigger.  Smith & Wesson triggers, at least in their revolvers, are legendary for being perfect, but this one wasn’t.  I could feel some trigger creep and some roughness in that creep.  Yesterday, I disassembled the thing, in contemplation of stoning the trigger engagement surfaces.  In the process, I discovered that this point had never been lubricated.  A little oil in the right place, and it works just as it should.  A little more dry firing, and it should be as good as my other two Smiths.

Whip-poor-will Overload

Posted: 22nd June 2019 by Cheap in Camping, Filmmaking, Outdoors, Photography, Technology
  • I haven’t been to all of them, but I suspect that the Hercules Glades Wilderness is the crown jewel of Wilderness Areas in Missouri.  It is not the biggest, but it is scattered with glades — some quite large and picturesque, has an extensive and well maintained trail system, and even has a set of pretty little waterfalls.  On top of that, there is relatively little poison ivy and no sign of feral hog damage.  If it wasn’t so far away, I might be tempted to call it my favorite.  It was Memorial Day weekend, but I didn’t see anyone all day Saturday except at the trailhead, or on Monday morning on my hike out.  I saw several groups on Sunday, most of them at or near The Falls.  However, there is evidently a thriving population of whip-poor-wills, which threatened to keep me awake both nights.
  • A couple decades ago, I bought a rain poncho made extra long in the back so it could be worn over a backpack.  I’ve carried it with me every time I’ve been backpacking, but Sunday was the first time I’ve actually been rained on significantly will hiking with it.  It found out that it sheds water, but it is not waterproof.  I think I’m going to try making my own, using a fabric that is actually waterproof.
  • I must be getting better at packing light, because my backpack is too big.  Again.  When I was first fitted for a backpack, I got a 65+10 liter pack (most lightweight packs throw off my center of gravity, and the local REI store didn’t have a huge selection of the ones which didn’t).  After one trip, I ordered a smaller 50+10 version of the same pack.  This three-day weekend, even that pack was too big.  I will either have to buy an even smaller pack (Deuter makes a 40+10 version, and also a 35+10 “women’s fit” version), or I will have to start carrying more gear.  More gear would mean a decent camera.  To save weight, I have been bringing only the camera on my smartphone, but I have frequently wished I could get better photos of things.
  • My straw hat fits better after having dropped it in the creek.
  • Label makers are fantastically useful devices.  I have owned a few, but more than a year ago I bought one made by Brother that accepts several sizes of label tape up to one inch in width.  I bought it so I could print large labels on clapperboards, but I have amassed a collection of different widths and colors, and I use it for everything.  Today, after owning my air compressor for more than two decades, I printed clear “AUTO” and “OFF” labels for it, because I was fed up with trying to read tiny little lettering, stamped in black-painted metal, in the dark.
  • I have been working out details for a road trip to New Mexico that my brother and I will go on this September.  I wouldn’t normally consider New Mexico to be a tourist destination, but a few small attractions started to add up.  There is the Hatch Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend.  There is the city of Truth or Consequences, upon which my brother has been modeling his train layout, even though he has never been there.  For a long time, we have kidded around about traveling to see those individually.  Then I discovered the Chile Pepper Institute at the New Mexico State University.  They’re all in the same area.  Add on White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and you have an action-packed vacation.  We will probably also get on the tour of Spaceport America and check out Cadillac Ranch along the way.
  • I had another screening party at my place last night.  It was a similar success to the one I had last year, and I guess it will be an annual thing.  The timing is intentionally such that it comes after the 48 Hour Film Project screenings and after the selections (and rejections) of the St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase.  In any case, it was a good time.
  • My infrared converted Panasonic GH4 arrived yesterday.  I have been playing around with it, but I am going to have to wait some time for a sunny day to really give it a good test.  Panasonic still has a lot of luminance noise in their sensors, but it is a little better than my old GF1.  I need to get some experience with this camera, in preparation for shooting a film with it.

Five years late to the game, I am picking up a Panasonic GH4 for filmmaking.  This is for a specific project, which I needn’t discuss here.  I have just spent some time making sense of the crop factors and the 4K windowed video, and here is what I have figured out.

First of all, “crop factor” has to do with differences in the physical dimensions of the image sensor.  A “full frame” image sensor is one that is the same size as the film frame of a 35mm still camera*, about 36×24mm.  Most digital cameras use a sensor that is smaller than that.  The result is that the smaller sensor sees a smaller portion of the image projected by the lens.  This is exactly as if an image from a full frame camera had been cropped to a smaller size, hence the name.  The ratio in size between the smaller sensor and a full frame sensor is known as the “crop factor” or the “35mm equivalence factor”, and it is useful in comparing the angle of view of different lenses based on their focal length.  For example, an APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.6, so a 100mm lens on an APS-C camera will have the same angle of view as a 160mm lens on a full frame camera.

All of that is broadly understood, but what most people don’t realize is that a crop factor is somewhat meaningless if you are comparing image sensors with two different aspect ratios.  A Four-Thirds sensor (which is 17.3×13mm) is known to have a crop factor of 2.0, but that is actually the ratio of the diagonal dimension.  The horizontal factor is 2.08 and the vertical factor is 1.85.  So is a 12-35mm Micro-Four-Thirds lens equivalent to a 24-70mm EF lens?  Well, yes, but only diagonally.  How often are you trying to fit a subject diagonally across the frame?  Still, it is a reasonable rule of thumb.  However, the aspect ratio situation gets even more complicated when you digitally select a different aspect ratio.  The Four-Thirds sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio.  If you use that sensor to record an image with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the portion of the sensor being used is even smaller (17.3×9.75mm).  The horizontal crop factor remains the same at 2.08, but now the vertical crop factor is 2.46.

For 4K and C4K video, the GH4 uses a “window” of the sensor.  Instead of the 4608×2592 pixels on the portion of the sensor that covers a full 16:9 aspect ratio, it uses only the 3840×2160 pixels in the middle of the sensor for 4K, and the 4096×2160 pixels in the middle of the sensor for C4K.  I assume this solves a problem with aliasing or processing performance.  In any case, this means the effective part of the sensor is even smaller: 14.44×8.12mm for 4K and 15.4×8.12mm for C4K.  A smaller sensor means an even more significant crop factor: a 2.49 horizontal crop factor for 4K and a 2.34 horizontal crop factor for C4K.

What is the bottom line?  Well, here are some horizontal angles of view for common Canon lenses on a full-frame sensor: 16mm = 96.7°, 24mm = 73.7°, 35mm = 54.4°, 50mm = 39.6°, 70mm = 28.8°.  Here are some horizontal angles of view for Panasonic lenses when shooting 4K on a GH4: 7mm = 91.8°, 12mm = 62.1°, 14mm = 54.6°, 20mm = 39.7°, 35mm = 23.3°.  This helps me know what lenses I will want when shooting my project.

(* 35mm still cameras and 35mm film cameras have difference frame sizes.  Film moves through a still camera horizontally, so the limiting factor is the height of the frame, about 24mm high.  Using a 3:2 aspect ratio, the width of the frame is about 35mm, hence the name.  The same film moves through a motion camera vertically, so the limiting factor is the width of the frame, about 24mm wide.  The height of each frame will then depend on the the aspect ratio and whether an anamorphic lens is used.  Nothing about it is actually 35mm, except that it uses the film stock designed for a 35mm still camera.)

Hey, Baldie!

Posted: 16th May 2019 by Cheap in Fiction, Film, Technology, Television
  • I just realized that I can’t remember the last time I saw a film in a theater that wasn’t a superhero film, a Star Wars/Trek film, a James Bond film, or a Harry Potter film.  Maybe it was “Ready Player One”.  I decry all the superhero films and sequalism, and the audiences who won’t risk watching anything new, but it looks like I’m contributing to the problem.  Then again, I hardly ever encounter any marketing for other films.
  • Looking for a reason to keep my CBS All Access membership now that season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery has finished, I watched the first two episodes of Instinct.  They never used the words “consulting detective”, but it is clearly intended to be a knock-off of Elementary.  I wasn’t impressed, and the writing is the problem.  They try to fit too much into a single episode.  The character arc of one episode would take Elementary a half or even a whole season to savor.  Also, Alan Cumming’s character is very lighthearted, nearly a clown (to a large extent, that is Alan Cumming).  He plays across from Bojana Novakovic, whose character barely has any personality by comparison.  It all comes together to make Instinct feel like it has no depth.  A cheap cardboard cut-out of Elementary.
  • Speaking of Elementary, CBS claims they are about to air season 7, yet it appears that season 6 was never made available on CBS All Access.  Perhaps “CBS Some Access” would be a better name for their streaming service.  Season 6 is available on Hulu, so I watched it there.  I have cancelled CBS All Access, until another season of Discovery comes out.
  • I read Gingerbread.  Substantial portions of it are written in the present tense, which generally irritates me.  Relating a story as if it has happened should be done in the past tense.  The only form of fiction that present tense is good for is netsex.  This is the third book written this way that my SFF book club has sprung on me.  Carefully looking ahead, two of the next three books are that way, also.  I have decided to boycott them.  I pushed through Gingerbread, but now I’m done putting up with this.  Is this a new trend in publishing?  Or are the people running the book club following some bias that leads them to these?  (They’ve also been picking many books that are speculative fiction, but aren’t SFF — like this one.)  I almost didn’t go to the book club meeting for this book, because I didn’t think I wanted to talk about it, but it turned out to be a pretty good discussion, so I’m glad I went.
  • I shaved my head.  I had been planning to for decades.  My father’s bald spot finally caught up with me.  Of all the places to lose your hair, that spot at the back of your head is the only one that seems ugly and degrading to me (probably because that’s where my father lost his hair).  I told myself I wasn’t going to do vain things like a toupee or even surgical hair replacement.  Instead, I’ve always planned to shave my head when it came time.  Well, it came time.  I was a little worried that I would have an oddly shaped head, in which case I would be disappointed by the result, but that did not turn out to be.  My scalp is quite pale now where I used to have hair — but not where my bald spot was.  I’m still trying to get the hang of shaving my head.
  • The monitor I have connected to my work laptop died.  (At a highly inconvenient moment, but when is that sort of thing ever convenient?)  It was an el cheapo Acer monitor that was at least six years old, so not terribly tragic.  I looked on Micro Center’s web site for the cheapest thing, which turned out to be another Acer monitor for $75, and then I went to go get it.  Luckily, they had a demo unit hooked up, because wow was it awful, mainly because it was super washed out, with the blacks nothing like black at all.  I’m not using this monitor for photos or anything, just the usual office plus system administration type tasks, but it was so bad that I knew it would grate on my nerves every time I looked at it.  I started looking at the other inexpensive monitors in the story, and I ended buying a $100 LG monitor that is actually quite good.  Evidently, IPS has become completely affordable.  It looks much nicer than the one I had before, and I don’t mind paying a little extra, because I’ll be looking at this display for several hours each day.

CentOS vs. Ubuntu

Posted: 11th May 2019 by Cheap in Technology

The newest release of WordPress requires a minimum of PHP 5.6.4, and so does Laravel.  My primary web server has been running PHP 5.4.16, so I needed to upgrade.  It was running on CentOS 7.0, so I figured it was time for a complete refresh.  I spun up a new VPS with CentOS 7.6 and installed PHP, which resulted in a huge leap forward to PHP … 5.4.16?  CentOS has been shipping with the same version of PHP for five years?  Yes, they have.  CentOS’s excuse is that they’re just doing whatever Red Hat does, so what’s Red Hat’s excuse?

I jumped through some hoops and got PHP 5.6.4 installed, but I eventually got to thinking, maybe other distributions aren’t so behind the times.  Maybe it is time to re-evaluate some other distributions.  The default OS from my VPS provider is Ubuntu, so I thought I would start there.

Out of the box, Ubuntu 16.04.6 LTS installed Apache httpd 2.4.18 and PHP 7.0.33, the last of which is a huge improvement.  A release from this year.  That part made me happy.

So far, I haven’t found many differences, but I haven’t really been looking very hard.  apt-get instead of yum.  SELinux is not enabled by default.

Spring Has Sprung

Posted: 24th April 2019 by Cheap in Camping, Fiction, Gardening, Hiking, Hunting, Television
  • I picked up a pair of Salomon Quest Prime GTX hiking boots (in a color called “Swamp/Night Forest/Titanium”), and they are working out quite well.  I’ve finished two hikes in them.  Today, with good hiking socks, there was not even a hint of blisters.  They provide much better support for my feet.  They do fit a little large, though.  I really put the Gore-Tex to the test today, tromping through streams, puddles, and mud; my feet stayed perfectly dry inside.  These are mid-height boots, and there really is a bit of ankle support, but perhaps more importantly, I feel more confident walking through trails filled with piles of leaves hiding who-knows-what underneath.
  • Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery was pretty good.  A little more episodic in nature, and they didn’t jump any sharks this season.  I really liked Anson Mount as Christoper Pike, but I didn’t really dig Ethan Peck’s version of Spock.  In my opinion, the massive space battles were too much for that time period, but it was entertaining television.  However, the writers need to learn more about computers and time travel.  The second season of The OA was nearly as good as the first.  It was weirder, and in many ways it was evocative of David Lynch.  Season 5 of Bosch was very good.
  • I read Spock’s World, and it was alright.  The story itself is fairly mundane, but the book is padded with a series of vignettes about life and the evolution of civilization on Vulcan, and that was more fulfilling for the Trek fan inside of me.  Cat Out of Hell was decent, but I wish authors would stop trying to tell stories through alternate forms of narration.  I read Black Leopard, Red Wolf, and it is by far the most vulgar novel I have ever read.
  • I have built a new web server and I am migrating my web sites to it.  They have been on a “temporary” server for nearly four years, and much of the software is becoming out of date.  It has been a good chance to clean things up and make improvements.
  • I took a day off of work to go turkey hunting on the opening day of the season.  Five years ago, I bought and patterned a shotgun specifically for turkey hunting, but I never got to go.  This year, a friend of mine invited me to hunt on his 200-acre property.  He swore that turkeys had been gobbling there recently, but on the morning I went, there was nothing.  Still, it was a beautiful morning to be out.
  • I backpacked Rockpile Mountain Wilderness again, with much better results.  I went on some good hikes on each of the weekends since my last trip there, and it really paid off.  I managed to explore the rest of the trail system.  I think I have talked myself out of volunteering or adopting the trails at the wilderness.  I just don’t have the time to commit.  I don’t need to backpack there anymore this year, although I might go there for some squirrel hunting.  My next backpacking plan is for Hercules Glades Wilderness.
  • I have fourteen pepper plants in two rows of my vastly expanded garden, and they are doing quite well.  I need to prepare a third row, but it is time consuming and hard work.

Film Adaptability of Various Novels

Posted: 27th March 2019 by Cheap in Fiction, Film

Here are some novels I’ve read recently, and my thoughts about how easily they could be adapted to screenplays.

Cat Out of Hell, Lynne Truss — There is quite a bit of action that is directly adaptable.  The novel is presented as a mish-mash of formats, including interview transcripts, emails, and descriptions of photographs.  All of that would need to be discarded, but that would create some challenges about how to unfold the story.  I don’t envy the filmmaker who must direct a considerable amount of action involving cats, let alone talking cats, but that’s really not the writer’s problem.

Spock’s World, Diane Duane — The main story would quite easily adaptable to film, and by itself it would undoubtedly be an appropriate length for a feature film.  However, the novel also includes a series of vignettes that contribute to world-building of Vulcan.  Each of them ought to be reasonably adaptable, but I’m sure the final product would be a film that is too long.  One could simply omit the vignettes and have a solid story, except that the story depends somewhat on the vignettes for mood and a little background.  While the vignettes would increase the total production cost considerably, enriching the film cannon of Vulcan would have more value to Trek fans than would one more otherwise mediocre Star Trek story.  Who would produce such a film?  With Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley dead and William Shatner in his late eighties, the could only be done in the J. J. Abrams reboot series, but this story doesn’t have the requisite amount of action to fit.  Could it?  This could only be a writing exercise.

The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin — There is much said in this novel about gender and gender roles, and I’m afraid much of it would be lost.  Furthermore, the central invention of the story is the concept of a humanoid species that is neither and both male and female, but could you show that in film?  In the book, it is described, but no actual sex takes place in the story.  Furthermore, even if there were the opportunity, how could you possibly show what needed to be shown?  It would be a weird kind of pornography.  Therefore, you simply cannot show it, and the writer must figure out another way to get the point across.  Today’s appetite for media about gender issues is quite large, but could you do the story justice in those ways?  All of the feminist observations are Genly Ai’s private thoughts.

The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie — The obvious challenge here is how to tell a story from the point of view of a rock.  Actually, a good portion of the story takes place in a fairly normal way.  Sooner or later however, the rock needs to be brought into it.  A talking rock.  I’ll have to think on that.

The Cloud Roads, Martha Wells — Adapting this story to film would be fairly straightforward.  Of course, the film would require a significant amount of CG, but that’s not the writer’s problem.

Trail Report: Rockpile Mountain Wilderness

Posted: 18th March 2019 by Cheap in Camping, Hiking, Outdoors

This was my second time backpacking at Rockpile Mountain Wilderness.  Previously, I had simply hiked more or less straight to the peak of the eponymous mountain, camped there overnight, and then hiked out the next morning.  This time, I had ambitious plans to explore the whole trail system.

I was thwarted.  For one thing, I was in much worse physical condition than I thought.  Looking back, I realize that I have done very little hiking this winter, or even last fall.  On top of that, I had a heavy pack filled with a heavier 4-season tent, a warmer sleeping bag, and extra clothing layers.  The miles took a toll on my body, and I was in pain.  The other problem is that the trails are less of a system and more of a smattering.  I have personally verified that some of the trails on the map simply do not exist anymore.  Other trails are supposed to connect, but I was unable to follow them, and I ended up cutting cross country.  I wasted a good amount of time and energy searching for lost trails and backtracking.  In the end, I cut my plan short, and even then the last couple of miles back to my car were grueling.

I very much enjoy finding beautiful rock formations and waterfalls.  It is even more amazing when you discover them on your own because no one thought to mention them.  I had previously thought that the most interesting thing in the Wilderness Area was the man-made circle of rocks near the peak of Rockpile Mountain.  However, getting off the trail this weekend, I discovered shut-ins in the stream known as Cave Branch and some really spectacular rock formations.

I hiked at least 17 miles, though a few miles were without a pack.  I drank almost 4 liters of liquid.

This was my first time backpacking with my Eureka Alpenlite 2XT.  It is rather heavy for backpacking, but it is a really great 4-season tent.  I enjoyed sleeping in it more than I ever have.  It’s too bad there was no snow or high winds to justify hauling it.  I was also testing for the first time my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XTherm Max air mattress and my Marmot Col -20° sleeping bag.  The air mattress worked great.  The sleeping bag was way overkill for the temperature (a low of 35°), so venting left me uncomfortably hot in some places and uncomfortably cold in others.  However, the performance was excellent, and I look forward to trying it out on colder nights.

I always eat fewer meals than I expect to.  I planned for lunch and dinner on Saturday, and then breakfast and lunch on Sunday.  Plus snacks.  However, hiking tends to curb my hunger.  I ended up eating a late lunch on Saturday, and instead of dinner, I ate a snack in my tent (rice krispie treats made the night before!).  Instead of the breakfast I’d planned for the next morning, I drank a protein shake I had thrown in at the last minute.  (I love Kellogg’s Special K Rich Chocolate Protein Shakes, but they are no good warm.  However, I realized that if the temperature got down to near freezing, they would be perfect if I simply left them out.  And they were!)  I ate trail mix a couple of times in the late morning and early afternoon, and then I had another late lunch.  I could have saved a few pounds by not bringing two canned meals and the stove.  I didn’t touch the four energy bars or two energy gels I brought.  I’d also brought a bag of no-shell pistachios and a bag of Moon Cheese, which I snacked on with my Sunday lunch, but didn’t really need.

I’ve decided that my Merrell Moab 2 GTX shoes suck.  I previously had some Merrell Reflex II Low Hiker shoes, which I loved.  I used them for about five years until the tread started breaking apart.  I figured anything by Merrell would be good, and the Moab is their most popular line, so I ordered a pair of Moab 2 GTX shoes.  However, I’m not in love with them.  I’ve never gotten them to fit well, and they don’t do anything special for my feet.  No matter what, they chafe at the back of my foot and cause blisters.  Now when I look, I see many negative reviews, suggesting that Merrell shoes aren’t what they once were, either in terms of fit or durability.  I’m going to have to find something else.

The power bank I brought to charge my phone only brought it up to 89% and the leveled off there.  The power bank claimed to be still mostly full, so it wasn’t a matter of capacity.  It was some other problem.  I need to do some testing.  The temperature may have been a factor.  The phone is young and gets good battery life, so I would have survived in any case, but I’d really like to understand what happened.  Update: The power bank works fine at home.  I’m certain the problem was the cold temperature.  In the future, I’ll have to charge my phone inside my sleeping bag when it’s cold.

The road leading to the trailhead is awful.  My car couldn’t handle it, so I had to park a steep mile away this time.  I really need to fix my truck.

I saw a feral piglet.  It was just about the size of a football, and it was brown with black longitudinal stripes.  It was running right down the trail toward me, and if I had realized sooner what it was, I could have shot it.  Or stomped on it.  I thought it was a dog coming down the trail.  A fat chihuahua.  When it got about ten feet away, I realized what it was.  It passed close by and then veered away from the trail, and I stood there like an idiot as it ran out of sight.  Before that, I had just been remarking to myself how much the area had recovered from hog damage from the last time I had been there.  Later on, I did find quite a bit of hog sign.

I also saw a permanent hunting stand, which is illegal in the National Forest and doubly so in a Wilderness Area.  I’ve sent an email off to report it, complete with GPS coordinates and photos.

Next time I visit, I want to explore the rest of the trails, and I want to find the source of Cave Branch (to see if it is a cave, of course).

Lessons learned:

  • Get some hikes in before committing to miles of backpacking.  Don’t start the season with a heavy pack unless I’ve been backpacking through the winter.
  • Don’t pack a 4-season tent that weighs 9 pounds unless I have reason to suspect snow or high winds.
  • Get some sleeping bags with ratings in between 30° and -20°.
  • A pint bag of trail mix is excessive if I also bring a whole gaggle of other snacks.  Be prepared, but also be reasonable.
  • Get off the ridges once in a while, because some of the most interesting sights are in the hollows.
  • Test my technology before relying on it.

Gun Sale!

Posted: 17th March 2019 by Cheap in Camping, Fiction, Firearms, Gardening, Hiking, Outdoors, Photography, Television
  • I finished Elantris.  The characters that seemed so unrealistic and two-dimensional became much more realistic and grew to have more depth than my initial impression at the beginning of the story.  I’m glad I finished it, because I did quite enjoy it, though I would still say it’s not Brandon Sanderson’s best work.  I also read The Cloud Roads, another work by Martha Wells.  It wasn’t as brilliantly awesome as the Murderbot Diaries, but it was still a good read, and I will go ahead and read the rest of the series.  Ann Leckie just released her first fantasy novel, The Raven Tower, which was pretty good, and unique, and told from the point of view of a god.  I labored through The Left Hand of Darkness for my book club, and now I think I’m finished reading Ursula K. Le Guin, because her characters are too boring and without apparent feeling.
  • A thing happened while I was reading The Left Hand of Darkness.  I live in a rural county in a red state.  I went out to eat dinner, at a chain restaurant that seems to employ nothing but high school age girls.  I went alone, and brought my book.  As the hostess was leading me to my table, she asked me what my book was about.  The answer that popped into my head was that it was about a planet of humans who were neither and both male and female.  However, I didn’t really want to say that.  I judged the hostess to be not particularly open-minded, for the reasons I’ve just mentioned, and it seemed like too much complication to give her that answer and then to have to explain it, and be judged during my dinner, etc.  So, instead I just told her I hadn’t actually figured it out yet.  Later, I realized I would have been delighted to inject some controversy given the opportunity, but that my new anti-social tendencies made it much less appealing.
  • The ABC Murders was quite good, if disappointingly short.  The Fall managed to make a full third season after they caught the bad guy.  Russian Doll was somewhere between comedy and introspection, but failed to connect with me in any deep, meaningful way.  I generally enjoyed Chance, although the ending of the second season was a completely anticlimactic cop-out.  The second season of Star Trek: Discovery has been rather more grounded in the normal format for Trek: more episodic and less like a crack addict’s soap opera.  Rumor has it that new seasons of Bosch, The OA, and Stranger Things are coming soon.
  • Ever since the .300 AAC Blackout was announced, I have wanted a bolt-action rifle chambered in the caliber, set up for subsonic loads with a suppressor.  Savage had an interesting rifle for a while, but they quickly discontinued it, citing stabilization problems.  Then Remington introduced the Model 700 SPS Tactical in this caliber, with a 16½” barrel, threaded for a suppressor.  It has been on my wish list for years.  I had never made it a priority.  However, I noticed that Cabela’s had it on sale for a very good price.  I braved the snowy roads, and I bought it.  It has a surprisingly heavy barrel, a pretty good trigger, and a well made synthetic stock, and I want to believe it will be quite accurate.  However, I won’t know for a while, because I still need to buy optics for it, and I might as well wait until I have a suppressor for it before I do much accuracy testing.
  • I had to have it shipped all the way from England, but I finally own a Benbo Classic No. 1 Tripod.  I have paired it with a Manfrotto 405 geared 3D head for the ultimate macro photography tripod.  The setup is strange and burly, but it works great.  It makes me want to go out into the woods to take macro photos.  So far, I’ve just used it to take time-lapse images of my pepper seedlings and some macro photos of .300 AAC Blackout cartridges.
  • Speaking of pepper seedlings, they’re going great.  I started them a little earlier than I had intended, but it won’t hurt.  They should be in good shape by the time I am ready to transplant them outside.  I have sixteen varieties of hot pepper in seedling form, plus two other plants that have been wintering over in pots.  I have crazy, ambitious plans for a garden this year.  I don’t know what I’m going to do with all the peppers, but I can’t wait to try them.
  • March really is a good time of year for hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities.  I was not bothered this weekend by mosquitoes, ticks, spider webs stretched across the trail, or pollen.  Low humidity, and just generally not feeling hot.