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.

A fix!

Disabling a udev rule that calls part of libata and does some other magic seems to prevent the HSM Violation. This is a temporary workaround until the kernel bug is resolved. Infohere.

For the record, this is on an Acer Aspire One ZG5 with a SuperTalent FEM32GF13M 32GB SSD running Debian/Squeeze and 2.6.30-2-686.

Good way to start the day

[ 121.816110] ata2: lost interrupt (Status 0x58)
[ 121.820044] ata2: drained 2048 bytes to clear DRQ.
[ 121.823588] ata2.00: exception Emask 0x0 SAct 0x0 SErr 0x0 action 0x6 frozen
[ 121.823697] ata2.00: BMDMA stat 0x4
[ 121.823821] ata2.00: cmd c8/00:08:d5:2c:ce/00:00:00:00:00/e1 tag 0 dma 4096 in
[ 121.823829] res 58/00:08:d5:2c:ce/00:00:00:00:00/e1 Emask 0x2 (HSM violation)
[ 121.824093] ata2.00: status: { DRDY DRQ }
[ 121.824240] ata2: soft resetting link
[ 121.996468] ata2.00: configured for UDMA/100
[ 121.996507] ata2: EH complete

To be fair, I noticed it last night but I didn’t bother looking into it. When time allows today, I guess.

Breaking radio silence, though I’m composing this offline

I’m actually writing this while on a plane at 30-some thousand feet, between Yellowknife and Rankin Inlet. I’ve neglected this blog, as is fairly normal for me to do, over the summer as I was mostly consumed by my new hobby of playing in the big blue room a using that as a justification to buy new toys.

So far I’ve manged 9 camping trips in three provinces since April of this year. From camping in William Switzer Provincial Park just outside of the Rockies to in the badlands near Drumheler lakeside at Lesser Slave Lake, AB and Emily Lake, SK, in the sand at Sombrio Beach on Vancouver Island, next to the river in Red River Lodge Provincial Park and two weekends in a row in Elk Island National Park, I’d like to say that this is one of the rare times I’ve decided to throw money into a hobby and made proper use of the gear accumulated. That’s not to say I haven’t picked up gear along the way that I no longer use, I’ve a few kits that I could probably stand to shed. But I’ve researched and tested and refined my gear, trip after trip, for many different environments. Lessons learned while camping on the edge of a temperate rainforest sometimes do translate to camping in a grassland/prairie forest mix. I’ve challenged some of my childhood notions about what it takes to stay warm during an Alberta winter, not that it’s anywhere near full on winter though. I’ve been acquiring wool clothing, something I’ve never really done in the past.

I’m going to attempt to document the lessons learned so far.

Stoves and Food

I switched from an Swedish Army Mess Kit with a trangia alcohol burner to an MSR Whisperlite Internationale liquid multi-fuel stove. The Swedish kit, while bombproof was too big and heavy for what it provided. While it worked decently while camping on Sombrio beach it simply couldn’t put out enough heat to be useful when temperatures dipped below freezing and I was trying to make some morning tea in William Switzer Park or down near Drummheller. I liked the concept of a multifuel stove and wasn’t ready to accept a canister stove as an option. I paired my Whisperlite with a 1.8L pot and bowl set, the GSI Dualist. I immediately ditched the sporks that came with the set, and after the first weekend in Elk Island Park, I ditched the two bowls it came with as well, leaving me with a 1.8L pot, something similar I’m sure I could have acquired for a much smaller pricetag. Most of the food I bring with is homemade dehydrated single-servings, all prepared in the Freezer Bag Cooking method. I have a GSI FairShare mug that I eat my meals out of and a GSI insulated mug that fits inside the fairshare for my drink. I appreciate the upgrade that the Whisperlite has been and it will always have a home in my coldweather loadout, but I believe come spring I will be looking into some lighter weight canister stoves, the MSR Pocket Rocket is a prime contender.

Shelter and Sleep Systems

I started the season with a Mountain Equipment Coop Tarn 2 tent, a 3+ season 2 person single entrance tent, well made and relatively inexpensive I found it a compelling place to start. As a single person shelter it did well, however in the colder temperatures as well as with a second person in the tent, condensation becomes an issue. The single entrance to the tent is also the only vent in the fly. Despite there being a good amount of no-see-um mesh in the canopy of the tent, the single vent doesn’t provide enough airflow to reduce condensation in cold temperatures. Mid summer I attended the MEC Gear Swap and I picked up an Exped Aries Mesh tunnel tent (3 season, 2-person) and a MSR Fusion 2 (4 season, 2 person). The first weekend in Elk Island we tried both tents. The Aries Mesh will serve well for a two person backpacking shelter in the warmer months, it is a single entrance tent and the canopy is almost entirely mesh, much like the Tarn2. However the Aries has a larger vestibule, more floor space and a vent at the back of the tunnel for much improved ventilation. Due to the dual-hoop tunnel design though, it will not serve well into the winter months as I doubt it could take much of a snow load. I do look forward to taking it out in the summer months, perhaps lucking out with a few clear nights and setting it up without the fly. The MSR 2 is a good sized 2 person tent that is well built and has a great number of venting options, however once I started factoring in the bulk of winter gear, it quickly became apparent that during the colder months it would only be comfortable as a solo shelter. The vestibule is not as large as that of the Aries Mesh, but it is still quite usable for a single person. The 3 pole dome design is quite sturdy, the fly attaches with SRBs on 1” webbing and has many guy-out points to sturdy the tent in inclement weather.

My first weekend out in April I brought both my Thermarest RidgeRest and MEC Kelvin 2.5 sleeping pads. My intent that weekend was to try them one night each. After laying on the RidgeRest for 20 minutes the first night, I could feel the cold seeping up, and quickly stacked the two pads on on top of another. This worked, but I quickly learned that such a setup would not be practical if I intend to keep camping in colder weather. As the temperatures rose I picked up a MEC Kelvin Summer pad, a 7cm inflatable with no insulation. While it was quite comfortable it did eventually start leaking as many reviews on said it would. I returned the pad for a credit (which I used towards a hiking pack) and in September I bought an Exped Downmat 9 Pump sleeping pad. A down filled inflatable pad with an integrated pump and a listed R-Value of 8.0. The lesson I learned with the Kelvin Summer pad, outside of trust the reviews on the MEC site, was that I need a thick inflatable pad, I find myself sleeping on my side often and a thick inflatable is the only thing that keeps me from waking up sore. When I picked up the Downmat I also picked up the Exped Pillow Pump. While not necessary to inflate my pad I hoped being able to have a more substantial pillow than the compressed synthetic one I’d been using would also improve my sleeps which it did quite handily. There is an adapter tube that can be used to connect the pillow pump to the Downmat which I may look into, I do believe the pillow will inflate the pad quicker.

Last year I purchased a MEC -20 Hybrid sleeping bag for my solo drive to Vancouver and Victoria, partially as I was couch surfing and partially as backup in case I spent the night in the mountains. The bag is synthetic on the bottom and downfilled everywhere else. I’ve found it quite warm, especially paired with the Downmat. Unfortunately the spring-summer-fall bag I used doesn’t get quite a glowing review. I picked up the MEC Oasis bag, which has two different fill weights, giving it a dual rating of 0 and +10 depending which side is up. While it makes sense in theory I found that I would roll with the bag exposing the less insulated side in fall and end up rather chilled in the middle of the night. Rearranging the bag would return the warmth until the next time it shifted with me. It’ll make a fine bag for summer, but I think I’d rather replace it with a 0 down bag or lightweigh sleeping quilt to be paired with my Downmat.

Under other notable mentions, the Gerber Sport Axe combo with the hand saw that slips up the handle has proven to be quite useful. The head has taken a bit of a beating, but sharpens up nicely despite the abuse. My leatherman k503 works well as a stout utility knife, though the extra features aren’t really necessary and it could be replaced with a sturdy fixed blade. Filling a 1L Nalgene with boiled water, slipping a sock over it and tossing it in the sleeping bag before turning in to the night adds a nice amount of heat to the bag and helps me get to sleep. Another bonus is that you have liquid water in the morning even if your water resevoir freezes overnight. On that note, I have 2 10L MSR Dromedary water bags. They’re very convenient, pack down small and are easy to suspend from a tree or table with some paracord and a carabiner. Another option for ensuring water that can be cooked with come morning is to fill your cookpot before going to turning in. It may freeze overnight but it will warm quickly over the stove, and the heated water can be used to thaw out the water resevoir and break up the ice inside. Cotton balls smeared in petroleum jelly have proven to be the most convenient premade tinder and work nicely with most fire sources, I quite like using a swedish firesteel with them as I don’t need to worry about keeping the firesteel warm, unlike a butane lighter.

That’s about all I can pull off the top of my head. More as I think of it?

I’m sitting in the corner

of my new room, in my new apartment. I’ve slept the last few days on an inflatable camping pad, in my lighter-weight sleeping bag as I haven’t had the chance to move my bed over here yet.

The old apartment is getting stupidly hot again, the new place has AC. Overall the place is bigger, but I have roommates and a smaller amount of space to myself. I think I need to take this opportunity to shed yet more useless shit. I think I need to embrace the hobo life. I’ve been freeing myself of desire, now I need to free myself of stuff.

There are currently, in my room, two guitars, two pillows, some clothes, my alarm clock, my humidor, and my pipes. That’s pretty much it. Oddly enough, I can’t say as I’m really missing the stuff that’s over at the old place, it’s just weighing heavy on me as I know I need to move it all soon. The idea of paying to store it is becoming more revolting the longer I think about it.

Time to start harassing people to take my excess crap, I think.

Netbook Upgrades

A few months ago I was having issues with the keyboard on my Netbook. I found some keys just simply took more pressure than others to register a hit and I found that results of my typing looked like I was from myspace.

Ebayed a new keyboard with a standard layout instead of the international layout and that problem was solved.

Shortly after that, the power adapter bit it. Ordered a new brick in through a local shop and all is well. Bonus is this one uses a double barrel cord instead of a triple barrel cord and is physically smaller so it’s easier to pack around.

And last but not least, I picked up an 9-cell extended battery from DealExtreme. I found that the 3-cell that came with my AA1 just wasn’t enough to be willing to leave the house without the power adapter. Now instead of 2ish hours of battery life I can run around with 6+. Not bad for $55.

With the above issues resolved I’m finding I like the netbook more and more. I spend less time on my workstation at home, and I leave the work-laptop at work unless I’m going on the road for more than a few days. I’d tried out Ubuntu Netbook Remix 9.04 and it’s stuck. I like the netbook launcher over default gnome. This has definitely been one of my more successful toy purchases to date.

Back online

I’ve finally got most services recovered. The old VM had issues that I had no interest in hunting down so I built up a new one. Just this week did I finally get around to migrating the old data over.

I’ve got the galleries to fix still, and some sites to update the software for, as well as a few things to post about which I will probably forget about anyways.

Things fall out of my head and hit the keyboard

Having just re-read Spider Robinson’s Melancholy Elephants and posting a link to it on Facebook, I had a realization as I searched for a title to tag the link with to entice people to read it. I chose “Society must be able to forget.”

Immediately my brain lurched forward with that thought, is that true? Sure it’s true for art, or intellectual property, but that makes it a maxim. Is it true? Universally applicable? What if when we say “those who don’t understand history are doomed to repeat it” we are making the argument for the true nature of mankind’s existence? What if we need to repeat our mistakes, what if we need to repeat history. An existence of perfect memory could be an existence of perfect actions and perfect sterility.

Or maybe I need to be wary of caffeine-fueled inspiration at 0900.