A Return to Camping

20 August 2015

It has been almost since my kids were born, around 35 years, since the last time I’ve actually done what I would call camping. I’ve been out and spent the night in a tent or in the car, as you’ve seen in my other posts and pictures, particularly the astrophotography posts. But it’s been decades since I’ve actually gone camping as in the family going up in the hills and spending the weekend in a campground.

That’s what we did this last weekend. And that’s when I discovered just how much I missed it. The really cool thing about it, though, is my wife even said how much she enjoyed it. That gives me even more motivation to get the Vardo done.

So, on to the camping….

We left Friday morning and headed up, planning to go to Warm Lake and stay in one of the campgrounds there called Shoreline. We stopped at the gas station south of Cascade to get some treats and so found out about the Cougar fire in the area. For those unfamiliar with “Cougar fire” and the like, fires in the US NW are usually named after a creek, mountain, or other geographical landmark in the area and this one was named after Cougar Creek. We called the lodge for a status, discussed the situation and decided to go on in to Warm Lake if we could. On the way in we saw some side roads off Warm Lake Road that were blocked off, including one with the sheriff sitting there to keep people out but still keep it open for the firefighters to access the Cougar fire.

The Shoreline campground was full when we got there, which didn’t really surprise me. Around here, during the summer, unless you reserve a campsite in advance, some places a year in advance, it’s hit or miss whether you’ll be able to stay in any particular campground. However, we had noticed a really nice campsite along the road to the campground, and wound up staying there with room for all of us in “one” spot: my daughter’s family (7), my son’s family (4), my sister-in-law and one of her sons (2), and my wife and I. Fifteen of us in one camper and three tents, as you can see in the picture below. No services, just campsites, but it was a few minutes walk to the lake and outhouses and water was available at the lodge just a few minutes away by car so it was really pretty convenient. Happily, the temperatures were cooler there than at home, as well.

A full circle panorama showing the campsite in the woods with the trailer, tents, hammock, trees, road.

Campsite panorama

We set up a canopy over our tables near the firepit and that served as our kitchen for the weekend. The firepit was our communal center. And of course, we had a hammock to relax in, when we could get the kids to quit playing in it.

Shows the yellow canopy we set up over the white camp tables with my daughter and her husband by them and my wife in the hammock in the foreground, playing a game on her phone.

The kitchen and the hammock.

Naturally, since it is camping after all, both nights had campfires and S’mores. We also cooked a few trout and hot dogs over the fire. One of the funny highlights was when my nephew roasted six marshmallows on his trident and crammed them between full-sized Graham crackers on top of a bar of Hershey’s Chocolate. Boy, was that one huge, messy S’more! I wish I had a picture of that to include here.

SHows a little red flatbed trailer, 4' by 8', with wooden side rails behind a blue Geo Tracker. Grey tarp creates a dome over the rails to provide a sleeping area.

The little red trailer rigged for sleeping in.

We even managed to jury-rig a small “camper” out of a utility trailer, some tent poles, and bungie cords. For a cot we had a reclining camp chair. The railing at the back was removed to provide access.

We had a blast! It was a really dusty campsite and also smokey from the Cougar fire two to three miles west of us. Because of the fire, either a sheriff or firefighter would come by each evening to advise us of road conditions. Friday night, the sheriff said we didn’t have to evacuate, but he wasn’t sure that he would personally remain camping in the area. We discussed that and decided that if we had to leave, they’d come by and let us know, so we stayed put. The next evening we learned that the fire had jumped the road and so the road was currently closed. The next morning it was opened up again, so even with the fire related conditions, we actually had a really good time and no problems getting back out Sunday afternoon.

Dutch oven cooking was supper Saturday. My son fixed up a chicken stew around noon and we maintained coals and fire throughout the day.

12" Dutch oven in coals in fire pit with lid off showing chicken stew comprised of 1" pieces of corn on the cob, baby carrots, chopped onion, chopped potatoes.

Dutch oven chicken stew

Paper plate in my lap loaded with chicken stew as described in previous picture.

Chicken stew served up! YUM!

Shows tripod created from long poles found in the area over the fire pit with a 12" Dutch oven hanging from a hook made from a small stick. Also shows other 12" Dutch oven in coals to side of fire pit. Chairs in background around the fire pit with the little red trailer and Geo Tracker in the background.

Field assembled tripod with proper lashing at top and a field made hook for the Dutch oven and coffee pot to hang from.

This was the first time in about 50 years that I made a tripod and only the third hook I made. It worked really well and we even used it for coffee in the morning. We did have one problem with the Dutch ovens that we initially blamed on the tripod: the bail on the one hanging from the tripod apparently got pulled out of shape. We couldn’t lay it over and just lift up the lid, we had to slide the lid out the side. Later, when cleaning up we discovered we’d swapped the lids when we prepped and put the food in the Dutch ovens. When we switched the lids, the bails on both ovens worked just fine. Now we know what to check next time.

Playing in the lake, Saturday, I discovered muscles I hadn’t used for decades. For that matter, I only survived three swings on the rope before I was afraid I couldn’t hang on for the next one. Come the next morning, I found I had sore muscle under the sternum and my underarms. It was a good feeling, though, and made even better when I realized I had gained back another notch in my belt by the end of the weekend.

Rocky ground with a big crack in the rock. Red Bocce ball in the crack.

That was NOT where he wanted it to stop!

One of the games we played was introduced by my nephew: Cross Country Bocce. We only played to 5 points per game, and we got a real workout. The rules were simple: start from one point and the person going first throws (yes, throws, not tosses!) the little white target ball anywhere they want. Then he or she throws his Bocce ball (one per person playing) to try to get closest to the white ball he just threw. Then the person that threw the white ball has to go find it and point out to the rest of just where the white ball was. Sometimes we could see it on the ground, but a lot of the time we couldn’t and had to try and guess what was there to deflect our balls into the right spot. Whoever gets closest (and sometimes that’s a couple of feet or more away) gets the point and throws the white ball for the next round. Repeat until someone has 5 points. With all the rocks and trees, there was no guarantee that the white ball or your Bocce ball would go where you aimed. After all, that little white ball fits between trees better, for one thing and bounces off rocks more. So we were up hills, through brush, on the road, and watching our balls roll or carom all over the place as we tried to allow for slope, rocks, trees, bushes, and so on.

Little target ball and several red, blue, yellow, grey Bocce balls on the ground around a tree. Ground is covered with twigs, sticks, rocks of assorted sizes.

One of the very few times most everyone got to the white ball.

The above is one of the few times most of the balls were clustered around the white ball. It is a picture of the type of ground cover we were playing in, too! One of the throws of the white ball was hilarious: It hit a tree, bounced off to hit a tree close by, bounced off that second tree back to the first, rebounded back to the second, once again off that back to the first…I think there were five or six bounces between the two trees before it fell to the ground. Kind of like a Japanese Pachinko game, I think. There were many more hilarious throws, too, but this one was particularly funny.

Shows my son bent over his son's shoe taping the front half back together with silver duct tape after he walked the sole off. Granddaugther stands to the side watching.

Thank heavens for duct tape!

We had at least one casualty that required major treatment. Fortunately, there was some duct tape to hand and we were able to properly ensure the continuity of the weekend. As a matter of fact, when we left for home the next afternoon, this shoe was still going strong after playing all over the place in the rocks, hills, sticks, and riding bikes.

Like I said, we all had a blast and we’re looking forward to more camping. I’m eager to get the Vardo done and get out camping with it.

A Return Update

5 March 2015

It has been a weird beginning to the year for me.

I fully meant to return to this blog well before now, but somehow writing for my blog just wasn’t a priority. From time to time, I’d think of something to write about, but I just never sat down and actually did so.

From an amateur radio standpoint, I’ve been working to develop something I refer to as The Thumper. It’s based on something I read about in a blog post where the ham described his fondness for CW (Continuous Wave, aka Morse Code) and an on-the-air experience meeting a group of deaf learning ham radio and cw. The original Thumper was mentioned only in passing, and described as “a device that attaches to their forearm and taps them to indicate the Mose Code being received.” I have various issues with LED displays and my current tactile transducer setup leaves much to be desired. For The Thumper, I’d started by utilizing an Arduino driving a RC servo and while that does work to an extent, it has an inherent speed limitation that I don’t like. Almost anything over 10 wpm keeps the servo at the end of travel, making it impossible to detect the characters. I’m now looking at using a vibrator similar to those in cell phones, compliments of a good friend and fellow ham. Although not what I originally envisaged the vibrator does show better promise and a nice theoretical response to faster CW speeds. Coupled with a LED, it may turn out to be the best solution for me to listen to the radio. I know, but the combination might turn out to be better than the parts. Right now, I’ve only got the Arduino driving the vibrator. Still to be done is receiving and converting over-the-air CW signals provided via the audio jack of my radios.

Plans are under way for more Owyhee explorations, and while doing that I fully intend to try HF radio work from way out in the middle of nowhere. I’m building an end-fed, multi-band wire antenna that should be tuned to each band: 10m, 20m, 40m, and 60m. It’s only mobile in that you can easily carry it coiled up in the vehicle, to use it you have to park and deploy it. We’ll see how that works in practice, but I’ve got good expectations. I’ll be focusing, of course, on CW and PSK but when solo. If I have a friend along, I’ll be trying some phone work as well. More than likely, I’ll be band scanning and if I hear anything, I’ll pause on that and see if I can contact the other person.

Photography-wise, I’m currently teaching a beginning photo class, but with a twist. In all my previous classes I noticed that there was never a deaf or hard-of-hearing person attending. This time, I told the community education group that I would teach a beginning class in sign language. When I shared this idea with the few deaf community members I knew, the enthusiasm was outstanding. In the end, due to various reasons, there were only three in my class. We’re having a blast and there would have been at least two more were it not for an age limitation posted on the community education web page. That limitation didn’t apply to my class, but that exemption information was not passed on to the people that wanted to sign up. Word’s starting to get out there about this class, though, and I’ve mentioned I’ll offer it again, the same way. One of the reasons for doing this is that I just felt like turning the tables on the regular offerings…they’re oriented towards hearing people, the deaf have to get an interpreter. This time, though, it’s the hearing that have to get an interpreter if they try to attend.

I have also been investigating the use of the Shutterbug Remote with my Pentax K3 DSLR. Testing with an iOS device showed that the remote works well with the K3, but I’m getting crashes using the Android version of the app on my Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Testing with a Samsung Galaxy S5 shows it works reasonably well with that phone, so now I’m trying to determine whether or not it’s a setting, a FW, or a HW issue with my Note 4. An email to the developers has not provided any response, so I’m very unimpressed with the customer service aspect of their website. Enough that I’m not providing a link to it. It would be really nice to get this remote working with my phone as it’s a great little device which when used as an intervalometer provides better timing control capabilities than the built-in intervalometer mode of the K3. If I can’t get it working, I’ll definitely have to create an Arduino intervalometer or something.

I’ve built a new woodworking bench (above) in my garage along with a DIY woodworking bench vise (below). These will come in handy when I start building the Vardo.

On the Vardo front, I’ve started gathering materials to modify the trailer for the Vardo. It took me a while to figure out the best way to use my flatbed trailer for the Vardo, and still be able to easily use it as a flatbed trailer. One of the things I had to deal with was me being “greedy.” The flatbed trailer is 12’ by 6’ and I had been doing my designing based on that entire area.

Image of a 6 foot by 12 foot utility trailer with one pair of wheels. Sides are an open framework of angled metal. Tail gate is about 4 feet tall when up and contains a metal mesh. Parked next to a blue-green 1992 Chevy Blazer in front of the garage in the driveway.

This is the new utility trailer that will become the base for the Vardo. I’m especially happy to get the all metal bed.

I was going to have a big Vardo that had luxurious room inside. Kind of a contradiction to my original plans for a simple, cozy Vardo, actually. As a result, one of the things I had to figure out a way around was the six tie-downs on the trailer bed near the sides. I finally realized that they provided a perfect way to fastend the Vardo to the trailer, a la pickup campers: straps built onto the framework of the Vardo that connect to the trailer tie-downs via turnbuckles. To do that meant I had to narrow the width of the Vardo box to fit inside the tie-downs enough that I could hook them into place and tighten. It’s only a 6” loss in width, give or take, but it also freed up the solution to another issue: I wanted to put the same kind of mesh that I had on the tailgate along the sides of the trailer. That way, things put in the trailer wouldn’t roll out under the existing side rails. And I could use that now open area to store poles for awnings, and other such gear.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of fishing lately, for rainbow trout. Normally I would catch and release trout, but my wife and I have found that we like the fish. I’ve learned to fillet them so that we don’t really need to worry overmuch about bones while eating. Only about 15 minutes from my house is a great little pond where, so far, I’ve always managed to catch my limit every day. I didn’t use to fish that much, or to enjoy it, but I’m finding I do. I’ll probably go fishing rather regularly while retired, using that to supplement our diet with fresh fish on a regular basis. It’ll be interesting to see how the fishing goes as the weather warms up.

K3 First Light – M42

17 December 2014

To paraphrase the narrator in a YA fantasy trilogy, “Say what you will about the Pentax K3. Say that the K3 is fast.”

All images here are shown without any post processing other than to convert from RAW to JPEG. I did resize them smaller to save space but you can still see the noise and M42 for comparison.

Sunday I got up about 0300 to get a drink of water and looked out the window at the night sky. It was so clear, the stars were so bright, I could see Orion, and it was 30° F.

I went back to bed. I lay there, thinking how great the night sky was. I thought about my new camera and how it would be a great chance to check ISO vs shutter speed. I thought about how I would set up that test. I thought how Orion was right there. I thought how I really should go out and take some astrophotos.

After the third time through all that, I thought, “Geez! Quit thinking about it! If I’m going to think about it this much, I should just get up and do it!”

So I did.

M42, the Orion Nebula, aka the Great Nebula in Orion, taken with my new Pentax K3, 400mm, 5 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1600.

M42, the Orion Nebula, aka the Great Nebula in Orion, taken with my new Pentax K3, 400mm, 5 sec., f/5.6, ISO 1600.

I mounted my Tokina 400mm on the K3, set up the tripod, connected the cable release, and went to work. My plan was simple: to run a series of shots to explore the results of different shutter speeds applied to each available ISO suitable for astrophotography.

First of all, this was from my driveway, which is not exactly a dark sky site. The light pollution isn’t all that bad, fortunately, but it’s there: you can’t see the Milky Way, but you can make out M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, as a fuzzy patch.

Given the 400mm’s small field of view, I decided to make M42, the Orion Nebula, my target because it was right there in plain sight, at a comfortable angle, and easy enough to line up on. Since this was just a test to see what I would get, I set up everything and did the shooting without checking each image immediately afterward. After all, I just wanted to see what each combination of ISO and shutter speed would give me. Plus it was 30° F and getting colder.

From experience using my K10D, and to some extent my *ist DL, I knew that I needed to expose for 10 or more seconds to get anything. I wanted to see how much noise there was at the higher ISOs. I decided that I would test with the following string of shots:

ISO: 51200, 25600, 12800, 6400, 3200, and 1600

Shutter speed: 30, 25, 20, 15, 10 seconds

The remaining variables were constant: aperture was wide open at f/5.6 and the focus was manually set. Since this 400mm doesn’t have an autofocus or auto-aperture, the K3 required me to manually enter the focal length. There was no setting on the K3 for 400mm but there was 600mm so I used that. Afterwards, for just the photos posted here, I used an EXIF editor to correct the reported focal length (changed from 600mm to 400mm) and effective focal length (changed from 900mm to 600mm).

The first new thing I played with was the focus. The Pentax K3 has Live View, and I was eager to try that. My 400mm is fully manual, so I set the camera to manual focus mode. Then I made sure the aperture ring was turned to 5.6, wide open. Next I focused through the eyepiece as best I could, triggered Live View and zoomed in on one of the stars visible. Watching the Live View, I adjusted the focus ring on the 400mm until I had the sharpest possible view of the star. I don’t think it was perfect, but it was definitely at the best possible focus.

The next step was to compose my shot. I was using a cable release to avoid any shaking from pressing the shutter release. For the timing, I wanted it to be consistent, so rather than using Bulb mode I used Manual mode and set the shutter speed to each of the desired values as the shoot went on.

I started with ISO 51200 and 30 seconds. Then I went to 25 seconds, 20 seconds, 15 seconds, and finally 10 seconds. At that point, I dropped the ISO to 25600 and worked my way back up the exposure times. Next, ISO to 12800 and downward on the speeds…you get the idea. I shot all the times against each ISO before changing ISO settings.

At the top of this post I mentioned that the K3 was fast. I’m used to every 30 second exposure needing 30 seconds to store the image to the SD card. Even with my old, non-high speed SD cards, storage to the card even with noise reduction on was still well under 30 seconds. It even seemed to speed up as the shoot went on, perhaps due to the cold?

While changing the ISO, I accidentally went to 5 seconds exposure when I moved the wrong wheel. I was about to change it back to 10 seconds when I decided, “Why not?” So for the end of the downward run at 3200 and the upward start to 1600 ISO, I had two 5 second exposures.

It wasn’t until the next later that morning that I actually looked at the pictures to see what I got. The results, as they say, were nothing short of astounding. For one thing, I flat out did not expect to get the purple/pink of the nebula in the images. I simply had never tried imaging M42 with the 400mm before. Hades, I hadn’t even expected that simply with the 400mm I could achieve a “classic” image of M42! I thought you needed a big telescope for those.

At only 5 seconds of exposure at 1600 ISO, I fully expected the whole image to be black, with maybe a couple of stars showing up. That was NOT the case and I was floored with the result.

The unprocessed (other than to convert from RAW to PNG) 1600 ISO 5 second image is at the top of this post. Even the 3200 image below is awesomeness.

M42 Orion Nebula Pentax K3, 400mm, f/5.6, 5 sec., ISO 3200

M42 Orion Nebula
Pentax K3, 400mm, f/5.6, 5 sec., ISO 3200

There is more noise with the 3200 than the 1600 ISO, as would be expected, but more of the nebula is visible in the 3200 ISO shot, again as expected.

At first I didn’t expect to see star trails, but then I realized that the field of view through the 400mm is so small that it would take less exposure time for the stars to move across the image than for, say, a 135mm lens. Or a 50mm.

At the higher ISOs, the image is actually washed out from being overexposed! I absolutely did not expect that. Things really only start getting visible in the 10 second 51200 ISO exposure.

M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, buried in the overexposure. This is the first image (see text) where M42 is truly visible in a test image. Pentax K3, 400mm, f/5.6, 10 sec., ISO 51200.

M42, the Great Nebula in Orion, buried in the overexposure. This is the first image (see text) where M42 is truly visible in a test image.
Pentax K3, 400mm, f/5.6, 10 sec., ISO 51200.

Working through the images afterwards, it was very noticeable that there is a line in the sand related to noise and it’s at the 12800 ISO vs 6400 ISO point. This is clearly evident in the two images below.

Showing the dividing line between ISO 12800 (left) and ISO 6400 (right). This is the point where the noise level really drops between ISOs. To either side of this line the noise level is gradual, here it's somewhat abrupt.

Showing the dividing line between ISO 12800 (left) and ISO 6400 (right). This is the point where the noise level really drops between ISOs. To either side of this line the noise level is gradual, here it’s somewhat abrupt.

All in all, I am very pleased with my new Pentax K3 camera. I certainly didn’t expect to get such a “classic” image of M42 with just the K3 and my old manual 400mm Tokina. And with the pink/purplish glow of that nebula, to boot! This camera has several tools such as internal stacking that are ideal for astrophotography and I’m really excited to play with them.

Hmmm. I wonder what’s possible with my Classic Celestron C8 mounted on the camera? Or even just with the K3 plus 400mm piggybacked for tracking. ISO 1600 for 3 seconds each, stacked? ISO 3200?

I can’t wait to get out and try again now that I know what this Pentax K3 is capable of.

The best of the season to you all!

See you next year.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 230 other followers