Here is my first trip report which is also a gear report of my hammock, tarp, top quilt and under quilt (see diy section). Here is a scorecard for the gear:
hammock and bishops bag = pass
tarp and snake skins = pass
tarp setting up skills = fail
top quilt = pass
under quilt = fail
fuel stove = pass
cosy packs for cook kit = pass
beer can cup = pass
pillow = pass

non diy:
Falkniven F1 = pass
Wetterlings axe = pass
Rio Grande backpack = borderline fail Texas State Fair Chili = pass!
imusa 12cm pot = pass
thermarest seat pad = pass
Princeton Tec EOSR Headlamp with Cree XML led mod = pass
Minus33 Merino Wool base layer (midweight) = pass
Canon S100 = fail!

So Saturday morning my fiancee and I headed to the reserve where she was supposed to drop me off at the entrance and leave me pretty much for the next 24hrs there. However, since the weather was so nice, she decided to join me for an hour of my hike and we started together. Since this was a new place for both of us, I was carrying 25lbs on my back and I was about to have a questionable night, I decided to basically follow trails for the entire hike and not be a hero walking through the bush.

The park was beautiful. Fall colors had started and there were plenty of fallen leaves on the ground. It was also sunny and cool.

I’ve never been a mushroom person, but If someone can tell me what this is, I’ll try to remember it for next time:

As you will see later on the google earth screenshot, the beginning of the hike was fairly flat. Later I realized it was also a popular part of the park, because the trails were so wide, two cars can probably pass there. They were also really well maintained.

Fortunately for me there were so many trails in the area that it was easy to come up with fancy routes. Of course I still needed a map.

I saw plenty of weird growing things, but here is one that I noticed from really far away. This white mushroom was so ‘off-place’ on the tree that from far away it looked like someone went there and just put a big piece of styrofoam. ID?

My first nice view was about 35mins into the hike. It was the Cross River Reservoir, and it looked great with all the fall colors.

Of course it was a great spot to get some sunlight 🙂

Next I was headed to check out a cave. I figured I must be close when I started seing huge boulders like this:

Sure enough, it wasn’t too far. Nothing really special. Just a nice 20 or so feet deep shelter

I continued going south, finding even more unknown to me mushrooms like this one:

About an hour and a half later, I made it to another nice vista place, and this is where the first gear FAIL happened. I managed to take this horrible photo with my canon S100 when it decided to give me a Lens Error message (apparently Canon owned up and is replacing these for free because they had a bad batch).

Unfortunately the rest of the hike was without photos until I made it to the camp ground. However, here is a good place to share what the trek looked like and the highlighted area on it, which was about 30 minutes after my camera died. Take a look at the elevation. This section caught me by surprise. I had been walking for 3 hours with the huge pack on my back going up and down the hill, and I needed a rest, but I figured I’d get to the camp site because I had some friends waiting for me (to put the ribs on the fire, but that’s another report 😀 ).

At one point, in that last section of the climb, it was literally a 4 limb climb. I guess the note ‘Highes point in the park’ on the map should have triggered some thought process in my head…

Anyway, I made it to camp pretty tired and hungry. I didn’t stop for lunch anywhere and, of course, I forgot my salami and cheese bag in the fridge in the morning. So when I arrived at the camp, I setup my diy soda can stove with some HEET fuel and boiled myself some water. This is where I should give big thanks to the guys at for sending me my dehydrated food asap so that I had it on Friday. I put a pack of their texas state fair chili in the Imusa cup and put it all inside my DIY reflectix cosy (pretty straight forward stuff, plenty of guides on youtube on that). 5 mins later I had a really tasty, late lunch.

Next, I setup camp. I borrowed a camera to take a few quick photos of my setup, but didn’t take as many as I wanted (damn canon!). Here is what the final setup looked like. I only used the side pullout at my head end so it looks a little goofy from this angle:

One side of the tarp was left open during the day:

For hammock suspension I use whoopie slings with tree straps, using a marlin spike hitch

For the tarp suspension, I used a continuous ridge line on which there were two short pieces of rope on Prusik knots which then hooked to the d-rings on the ends. This allowed me to move the tarp easily on the ridge line.

So we had some fun (and brats and ribs). Everyone was waiting for my axe to show up to start chopping dead wood :). When we ran out of firewood we headed to bed.

Initially I jumped inside my top quilt in just a top polyester shirt and socks (no long underwear). Since my underquilt is 3/4 lenght, I used a piece of reflectix under my heels, as well as a half-inflated thermarest sitting pad for insulation. It was all fine, until the wind kicked in. That’s when all kinds of things started to go wrong. My tarp wasn’t tied as taut as I thought so one side of it (the one I had left open during the day) basically became like a flapping wing. The bottom tie outs were no longer holding that side in place, because the entire tarp had shifted from the strong wind and was basically touching the ground where the stakes were. I didn’t really care much for it because the wind was coming from the other direction so I didn’t get out of my worm top quilt to adjust it.

The slightly noisy tarp didn’t bother me as much, but my underquilt started to give in at some point and I started having cold spots on my but and back. This is where I put my minus33 wool baselayer pants and decided to give that a go. It almost worked, but for some reason my back kept getting colder and colder. I put the thermarest seat pad under my but and put on another layer on top of my polyester shirt. That helped a bit, but then it started raining, and I woke up again a little chilled. At that point I just grabbed my extra pants, hoodie and hat and put them all on. I tried for a bit to remove the pad under me and see of the underquilt would be enough, but it wasn’t. I spent a few moments tried to adjust it, thinking there is some wind entering under my hammock but above the quilt, but that still didn’t work, so in the end I just took out my second thermarest seating pad ( I was kind of expecting something like this might happen so I made sure I had a backup insulation under me) and put it under my back. At that point I slept like a baby.
One thing that kept me from having a really good sleep, though, was the constant breeze on my face. I’m definitely not used to that, because my tent is pretty good and keeping the wind out.

This was the view from my hammock when I woke up and remembered that I have a camera on my phone!:

And this is the view of someone who just spent his first night on a hammock with bad under insulation and 11-12 m/s gusty wind and rain:

At least in the morning I realized that my tarp had kept me, my backpack and my axe dry. My top quilt worked like a charm too, though at some point I tried sleeping on my side like a baby, and I realized I didn’t have enough width to tuck myself on both sides to try and make up for the cold insultex underquilt. 🙂

As I was taking down my stuff, I noticed that the waist strap on my rio backpack had broken somehow. It was still holding, but the buckle had snapped and it was ready to give up. The back also lacks pockets, which I usually use a lot to organize my stuff a little better. I might consider investing in a better pack, or maybe modding this one by adding some more side pockets and maybe a mesh pocket on the back.

All in all, It was a nice trip. Today, the morning was a bit gloomy and windy, but by 11 the sun came out so we did another mile and a half hike before we left the park and made our way home.

So there you have it. That’s my first hammock night. I guess, as with everything it takes a few tries to get used to a new ‘bed’, so that’s probably what needs to happen with my hammock as well.

I think I might spend some more $ for another pillow from ebay and make myself a real underquilt with down, or get a nice Exped/Thermarest insulated pad for under me and call it done.

I’d like to show you and share with you this small LED driver I’ve been working on in the last few weeks. It is based on the LM3409(HV) buck ICs from National and supports both PWM and analog dimming. It can work from 6V to 75V input voltage and drive LEDs at up to 5A. The schematic is basically the reference design plus a few small additions for dividing 5V into what the driver expects for analog dimming (useful for arduino and similar other controllers).

Here is the schematic:

The board is entirely SMD components and is about 38mm by 31mm. Unfortunately the main IC is available in 10-eMSOP package only, which isn’t the easiest to hand solder, but I have a video at the bottom that shows one way of soldering it.

The latest version of the board looks like this:

And in 3D:

The BOM is for 12 LEDs (48V input) with max 1A current:


Part Description Mouser Part # Future Electronics
R1 Current Sense Resistors - 1watt .22ohms 1% 2512 71-WSL2512R2200FEA  
R2 1/10watt 49.9Kohms 1% 0603 71-CRCW0603-49.9K-E3  
R3 1/10watt 6.98Kohms 1% 0603 71-CRCW0603-6.98K-E3  
R4 1/10watt 1.0Kohms 1% 0603 71-CRCW0603-1.0K-E3  
R5 1/10watt 16.5Kohms 1% 0603 71-CRCW0603-16.5K-E3  
R6 1/10watt 91Kohms 1% 0603 660-RK73H1JTTD9102F  
R7 1/10watt 30Kohms 1% 0603 71-CRCW0603-30K-E3  
C1 100volts 2.2uF 10% X7R 1210 80-C1210C225K1R  
C2 100volts 2.2uF 10% X7R 1210 80-C1210C225K1R  
C3 1.0uF 16V 10% 0603 810-C1608X7R1C105K  
C4 0.1uF 50volts 5% X7R 0603 80-C0603C104J5RAUTO  
C5 470pF 50volts C0G 5% 0603 810-CGA3E2C0G1H471J  
D1 Schottky (Diodes & Rectifiers) 3A 100V SMC 863-MBRS3100T3G  
L1 Power Inductors 33uH 3.42A 0.108ohms 12.5x12.5 704-DRA124-330-R  
Q1 MOSFET Power P-Chan 100V 5.6 Amp DPAK 844-IRFR9120PBF  

BOM LibreOffice
BOM Excel

For different combinations of current and LEDs there are a few things that need to be computed which you can find about in the data sheet:

For PWM dimming, R4, R6, R7 and C6 need to be left unpopulated. Also the middle two pins of the 4 pin header need to be shorted.
For analog dimming, all components are required and the outer two pairs of pins need to be shorted on the 4 pin header.

All this is under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 license and all files can be found in this archive:

Here are a few photos and video of the driver:

And this is a time-lapse of me populating a board. I’m not an expert, but I’m good enough. Flux and thin solder make life easy when you deal with SMD components!

UPDATE January 23 2012:
Well 5 months later I think I have a final version for this board and I’m quite happy with it so far. Quite a few changes have gone in.

I’ve added a 12bit i2c DAC on the board that allows for nice 4000+ step analog control. I’ve also changed the PFET to a TO-220 package and added a space for a monster heatsink. I also had to add a comparator circuit to switch off the LEDs when the control voltage is at the bottom since the LM3409HV doesn’t shut off even if the Iadj pin is grounded.

About I2C dac:
There were really only a couple of options for a DAC choice. MCP4725 and MCP4726. The two are basically the same DAC, but one has external addressing, while the other has external reference voltage. In general, either chip will work with the board, however with the MCP4725 you need to set the last address bit via the smd jumper.

Both chips use 1100 for first 4 bits + 3 additional configurable pins.
On the MCP4725, you have 4 options when you order 110000X, 110001X 110010X and 110011X where X is set to either 0 or 1 via the external smd jumper.
The MCP4726 doesn’t have external configurable pin, so there are 8 available options from Microchip. However I was able to find only the first 4.

What does all this mean?
It means that with current availability, you can put 8 drivers with MCP4725 or 4 drivers with MCP4726 on a single i2c bus.

Now if you don’t need more than 4 drivers per bus, the MCP4726 can give you one extra feature: external maximum override via potentiometer. Basically you can use the 3 pin jumper to wire a potentiometer and you’re effectively using that potentiometer to set the maximum control voltage that will go to the driver.

Since this is now i2c and not just a PWM, you can’t just digitalWrite(LEDPIN, 255); 🙂 Howerver it is not very hard to talk to the DAC. It takes 4 bytes:
1 byte – address
2 byte – commands
3 and 4 byte – registers of the 12 bits (last 4 bits are ignored)

I’ll probably have a library for it sometime in the near future.

As always, open source and all files can be found here:
BOM, Schematic and other files here


The last few weekends it has been raaining here. So I decided to make a small target for practice from close range. I did some research and found that a lot of people are very happy with … a box full of clothes :). I figured I should give it a try. Darina and I went through our clothes, I also asked a few colleagues to give me anything old they had and I was all set. It works like a charm. Stops my arrows 4-5 inches in without damaging them and they are super easy to pull out. I used 1×8 boards for the frame, 3/4″ ply for the back (didn’t want to risk going through and into the wall), some chicken wire for the front and a piece of tarp:

And here are a few shots at it: 🙂

As I already wrote, when the OS HDD on my desktop died, I realized how often I need to access our external drives which store all of our data. That is when I decided to research some NAS solutions. My requirements were fairly simple:
– software RAID
– low power consuption
– hold at least 4 drives (I had 4x1TB drives already)
– support CIFS or DLNA so that I can watch movies without having to keep my desktop on.

Quick check on newegg showed that I’ll have to spend at least $350 to get a decent NAS solution. I also looked at the development of ZFS – Sun’s latest and greatest filesystem. It turned out that ZFS is very nice for home NAS solutions that give you features of commercial products like NetApp.

Second check on newegg for cheap Atom PCs showed that I can put together a PC for less than $350, which would work for ZFS.

Before I got the hardware, however, I decided to do some more reading on the forums of who’s buying what, what works and what doesn’t and in general to educate myself a bit more on the ZFS NAS topic. HardForum was very useful place for that. As I was reading, I realized that an Atom computer might be a bit underpowered for a ZFS NAS box, but because I wanted low power solutions, I didn’t have too much choices.

Fortunately for me, only few months ago, Intel had released their SandyBridge cpus and specifically the low power i3 model with 35W TDP, which for a powerful CPU is pretty good. From there I settled on a system based on the i3-2100T CPU and started looking for motherboard. Initially I was considering an Asus one, but the folks at HardForum convinced me that for the same price I could do a proper server setup so I ended up with a SuperMicro X9SCA-F MB which supports ECC memory, IPMI, KVM over IP, has a video card and two excellent GBE Intel NICs. I added 8GB of ECC memory, a good PSU (Antec Neo Eco) and one IBM ServeRAID-BR10i SAS/SATA controller for extra 8 SATA ports and I was all set to support up to 14 hard drives :). All this I stuffed in a Norco RPC-250 2U rack chassis. Only downside is that it holds only 9 drives, but that’s more than I’d need in near future (I think) :).

So after the server was all set, it was time to select a the hard drives. I ended up getting 6 Hitachi 5k3000 2TB drives and to my benefit, newegg kept offering them with rebates and instant discounts, I I got some nice deals on them.

The drives are configured in raidz2 (RAID-6 equivalent with ZFS) to give me a little over 7TB useable space.

For OS I picked OpenIndiana (OpenSolaris fork after Oracle bought Sun and ditched it). In a few words I’m very happy with it and very pleasantly surprised of the ZFS features and tricks you can do. So impressed, in fact, that I’m wondering how come it has not become the standard filesystem of choice for every hacker or technical user and OS like Linux.

As far as speed goes, I get about 90MB/s over the GBe, which is faster than my previous USB2 drives. Local speeds are 371.69 MB/s Write and 474.07 MB/s Read average of a 20GB file with dd. From power usage stand point, the system uses 65W with all 7 drives spinning (compared to 280W for my desktop) when idle and about 85-90 under load.

Soon, I’ll write about setting up the DLNA and NFS servers, as well as the napp-it web interface.

Few weeks ago, the OS drive on my desktop died. Fortunately Time Machine had backed up everything so I wasn’t worried, but still had to wait about a week for a replacement drive. Meanwhile, however, I realized that all our personal files are not accessible when the desktop is offline, because they are raided USB drives. So we couldn’t use the laptop to access any of our data. That made me put together a NAS box (which I’ll talk about in another post) so that we can play movies on the TV and access our data without having to keep the desktop on all the time.

After I moved all the data, however, I realized how slow is our WiFi. I was barely getting 14MBit/s on a 54MBit connection. It turned out that my wrt54g was not able to handle it (cpu wise).

So I figured I’d spend some $ on a new router, making sure that its CPU is fast enough to handle the traffic and that supported either DD-WRT or Tomato firmwares. After some reading I settled on the Asus RT-N16, which is almost like a small computer with wifi and a built-in gigabit switch.

First, I tried DD-WRT. The installation process was quite painless. Just followed the wiki on the DD-WRT web site. In about 10 minutes I had a working 802.11n WiFi under the latest dd-wrt firmware. So I connected with the laptop to run a speed test and I got 600KB/s! I changed the settings to 802.11n only wifi – no change. I tried all kinds of combinations of channels, encryption settings, radio settings, but the best I could get was around 1.2MB/s while the laptop was showing a 130MBit/s link.

Little before I was ready to return the router I decided to give TomatoUSB a try. Installation, again, was quite fast and easy and 10 minutes worth of setting up I had an identical 802.11n WiFi. I started a file copy over the network and was pleasantly surprised. The average speed got to 6.5MB/s with peaks at 7.2MB/s. In theory that is still less than half the 130MBit/s link but for WiFi that’s pretty good. Also, the laptop is limiting the connection to 130MBit/s, otherwise the router supports a 300MBit/s link.

The moral of the story is, that one should try different software solutions before giving up on the hardware.