It’s an ENTS Miracle

The second worst thing about this time of year is the static charges that build up due to the complete lack of humidity. The worst thing about this time of year for a geek is the hardware you kill because of those static charges.

I almost killed my netbook today. I’d just finished burning a CD with a USB attached external and when to close the burning app and *ZAP*. Hurt like all hell and the netbook immediately powered off. I unplugged the USB drive and fired up the netbook, all seemed OK. I’d zapped the thing in the past and it’d been just fine so I wasn’t too worried at first.

And then the back-light cut out just after I remarked that “I’m surprised I haven’t killed this thing yet”. 2 minutes later, the back-light comes on again. It cycles back and forth time and time again, each time the on period becoming shorter and the off period becoming longer.

Out of an amazing stroke of luck one of the other guys in the hackspace today not only had an Acer Aspire One 110 with him, but he also knew his way around an oscilloscope too. I pulled my netbook apart and we attached my LCD module to his Aspire One and let it ride for a while. It behaved perfectly. So we started thinking the issue wasn’t with the back-light but either the power provided by the motherboard or with the dimming signal sent to the display module. With Matt’s netbook still powering my display we spent some time noodling around with the oscilloscope and with the help of possibly the correct data-sheet for the LCD module we verified that the LED back-light was powered by +5V and the brightness is controlled by a +3.3V PWM signal. Once we determined what the cause of the problem was, either the +5V line cutting out or the +3.3V signal getting mangled we could route around the problem. If it was an LED power problem then I could borrow some +5V from the USB lines to the webcam. If the +3.3V PWM signal was borked I could just wire the +3.3V line that fed the LCD module to the brightness control line and deal with a permanently-100%-bright LCD. With all that determined we shut down Matt’s netbook and connected my LCD module to the internals of my netbook.

I fired it up and waited for it to fail. And waited…. and waited… and it hasn’t happened since. I put everything back together and it’s been behaving. All that planning and geekery and I don’t even get to claim to be responsible for the resurrection of this netbook. Apparently I have a self-healing netbook. It’s an ENTS miracle.

Playing in the big blue room

Last year I aimed to camp at least once a month for the year. Between April and November I managed 9 trips out, so on the whole I would say I hit my goal. I’ve been thinking about what will be a lofty, though attainable, goal and saw in a ZS forum signature that one member is going to attempt 50 nights outside. Averaging just over 4 nights a month may be difficult, but I think it’s worth striving for. Effectively that doubles my last years goal as well as requiring 12 months of activity instead of the 8 months I managed in 2009. This may be a little too ambitious considering the amount of out of town work I’ve got lined up in the first 5 months of the year, but I think with a little determination and a lot of crazy I should be able to make it happen. Here’s to a obscenely fun and educational 2010!

AAR: 2010/01/02 Amisk Wuche Trail


AO: Amisk Wuche Trail, Elk Island National Park, Alberta
Conditions: -16, slight wind, mostly cloudy
Trail Distance: 2.5km
Time Taken: 1 hour
Photo Album

I’d done this trail before with Steve in November but I decided to tackle it again now that a blanket of the white-stuff had fallen. I picked up a pair of MSR Denali Evo Ascent snowshoes last week on clearance at my favourite toy store and decided I needed to start the year off right with a quick hike through the park. I got to the park just before noon after having spent the morning fretting about what to pack in. As per usual with most of my endeavors the answer was: too much. I really wasn’t sure how quickly I was going to tackle the trail so I brought more than I needed with me, partially in the hopes of testing out my Vargo Ti alcohol stove in the cold, but I didn’t stay out long enough for that to come up.


I re-waterproofed my Montrail GTX boots in preparation for the outing, as well as picked up a pair of inexpensive GoreTEX gaiters from the aforementioned toy store. Feet stayed quite dry with the above combo, and warm enough with a pair of medium weight merino wool hiking socks. Wore my expedition weight long johns under a pairof cargo pants, the expedition weight thermal vest over a long sleeve merino wool shirt and my NorthFace Honcho jacket. MEC mitts (waterproof shells and polarfleece liners with chemical handwarmers), OR NinjaClava, Northface Hoser Hat and a cheap pair of Bolle goggles rounded out the clothing.


Unfortunately the ninjaclava and the goggles were not a good combination, the moisture I exhaled was directed into the lower vent of the goggles and they fogged up quickly. The balaclava and hoser hat work together though, I may look into some other form of face shield to keep the goggles fog-free. Luckily there wasn’t much wind and dropping the goggles didn’t make things significantly more uncomfortable. About halfway through the hike I did have to seriously start opening up my jacket to keep myself from overheating. The merino wool works well to pull moisture away from the body and I was able to regulate my body temperature pretty well. The dummy strings on my mitts were a great feature allowing me to pull off my mitts and grab the camera without having to find a pocket to stuff them in. Having the chemical warmers stuffed in the mitts meant that no matter how long my hands were outside of the mitts they were always ready and waiting to warm up my fingertips. I have rather poor circulation in my hands so this was a great help.


I need to rethink the snacks I bring on winter outings. Either I go with mostly cookable dehydrated stuff or I find foods that I don’t need to worry about trying to eat while semi-frozen. I would like to have tried out the alcohol stove this trip as I do wonder about its real cold-weather performance, I’ll make a point to do so next outing. Goals for the next snow-shoe trip will include finding some undisturbed powder and try my… foot? at breaking trail. I will most likely need the tail extensions for my Denalis for that and should look into a set of hiking poles with snow baskets so I can use them in the non-snowy months as well. At some point in the future I would like to go out snowshoeing at night as well, but that is going to require a better headlamp than I currently have.

All in all I’d say it was a successful first test of my gear and I look forward to upcoming trips. I think I’m going to seriously consider getting a parks pass by the end of the month.