Monday, July 30, 2012

Backpacking In Willamette Forest

This weekend Jessi & I embarked upon an epic backpacking trip in Willamette Forest near the McKenzie River to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary. We actually hiked around 4 small lakes: Scott, Hand, Tenas & Benson Lake, and up one mountain: Scott Mountain. The map above shows our approximate 9 mile loop.

We started Friday morning near Scott Lake & headed for Hand Lake. There we stopped & ate lunch, relaxed a bit and practiced filtering water from the lake. See the beginning of the video below. We eventually came to a choice: Go over Scott Mountain or go around it. Going over involved snow and steep elevation changes. Going around was MUCH longer (easily 3 times), and didn't appear to have as many water options. We decided to go over the mountain.

Sitting by Hand Lake for lunch

We stopped on the hill for the night, with absolutely nobody else around. It was awesome! Unfortunately, the mosquitos were bad, but manageable.

Our little camp-set up

Just the trees and us. That's it!

For dinner we ate toasted bread, cup-of-noodle soup, boxed wine (yup!), and enjoyed raspberry crumble for dessert. Vinnie enjoyed several special snacks including some beef jerky and string cheese.

The stove that made it all happen. It worked like a champ.

Celebrating in style. The raspberry crumble was very delicious.

Vinnie still had room for his food after all the snacks we fed him.

The next morning we broke camp and were met with snow patches. Thankfully we talked to a couple people the day before and they told us to follow their tracks. It's a good thing too because we never would have been able to follow the trail! During this part of the hike we let Vinnie off the leash and he ran around like crazy! We were a little concerned about how far he would be able to go, he is pretty short after all , but he did amazing. He easily walked 4 miles each day and probably could have gone further.

We made water from snow. Here we are finding a clean spot to shovel from.

One of the many snow patching covering the trail.

Vinnie ran all over the place! He loves the snow.

He surprised us by jumping into a mini-lake and ran around in it for a bit.

The one thing he didn't like was sleeping in the tent. At first he fell right asleep, but then he woke… and wanted out… He proceeded to walk laps inside the tent looking for an exit. I even got a good picture of him looking at the door practically begging me to let him out. As a result, none of us really slept much.

This was him at first. Totally calm an awesome.

This was him a little while later. Ready to do out and play. We did... at 2am, 4am and 7:30am. This was at 7:30am.

Anyways, the second day we arrived to Tanas Lakes and found a nice spot near the water where, surprisingly, there were no mosquitos. Yes! We hung out there for a few hours. I managed to push Vinnie into the water once, and he managed to fall in once all on his own. Poor guy - he's not designed to swim… ha ha. Hanging out at the lake was easily our favorite part of the trip: beautiful view, warm sun, cool water, no bugs.

Pretty awesome, right?

I took a nap & Vinnie decided to join me. I guess this was payback for pushing him into the water.

Another view of the lake. Pretty.

We made it to our second spot around 4pm and set up camp. This time the mosquitos were horrible! I literally had trouble seeing because of the cloud around us. When it's this thick, no repellent works. We set up the tent and hopped inside. Once we killed the 50 mosquitos inside the tent we relaxed and talked about options. After a lengthly discussion about the purpose of the trip, we decided to walk the last mile to the car and go home. The mosquitos were so bad that all we wanted to do was stay inside the tent: the exact opposite of what Vinnie would want to do once he woke up.

He literally climbed onto my lap and passed out for a bit.

Looking at the map and realizing we're only about a mile away from our car.

So, we hiked out and drove home. Once home, we set up our camp gear and made Mac & Cheese for dinner in the drive way. We also toasted marshmallows & finished off our boxed wines. It was really nice not worrying about bugs.

We even busted out the car-camping stove to speed up the cooking. :)


All three of us went to bed completely exhausted. It was a fun, adventurous weekend. Definitely an anniversary we'll remember for a while. The next day we counted how many mosquito bites we got.
Vinnie: 22 just on his face & ears that we could see pushing up fir
Jessi: 141. Check out the picture of her shoulder as an example
James: 248. What can I say? I must smell delicious.

Here's a video of a couple different times during the trip.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

SimCity Social: Not The Game You Know And Love

Rant alert!

EA recently released a game called SimCity Social on Facebook. Since I love the classic SimCity games, and currently play a game called Millionaire City by Digital Chocolate on Facebook, I was pretty excited.

I started playing, had fun with it at first, but unfortunately the fun cannot continue for my humble city pictured above.

Why? Because EA decided to make the game "Social", and I'm clearly not in their target market.

To do anything requires "power". Collect rent? Power. Build a building? Power. Plant crops? Power. Everything requires power. The game puts a cap on how much power you can have and the only way to get more is to wait for it to regenerate over time. I've played other games like this and it's LAME.

I think the point is to get me visiting again and again to get me into the habit of visiting. Or, and I didn't even look, to get me to pay money to get my power back quicker. Either way, what it really does is stop me from playing. Is this really what EA wants?

For some buildings to function properly you need to fill them with "friends". Since I currently have no friends playing this game, these buildings are completely useless. One of the buildings I didn't even put there, yet I'm forced to look at a stupid exclamation mark reminding me that it's not complete. SimCity is nice enough to give me a pop-up each time I click the building with friend suggestions, but I don't want to be "that guy".

EA understands that I might not have enough friends to complete a task, so they give me another option: Diamonds. For all buildings, upgrades, etc, I can choose to use diamonds to pay for it. The game does dole out a couple each time you reach a new level, but not very many. Want more diamonds so you can keep playing? No problem. You can buy diamonds with real money at any time. Thanks, but no thanks.

Random Items
Another feature of the game is the ability to upgrade buildings and complete quests. It's a cool idea. Except that many upgrades and quests depend on using items I collect during the game. The problem though is that the items I collect seems pretty random. For example, to upgrade a car dealership I might need 5 bottles of wax. How do I get these mystical wax bottles? No clue. Everyone once in a while there's a hint, but this part is not transparent enough.

Land Expansion
Everything so far is just annoying. I can deal with it. Sure, it means I'll grow slower, but that's OK. It still provides fun for loners like myself. But then I hit a problem: My city expanded to the limits of the land. Expanding requires 2 permits, some Simoleons, or 12 diamonds. Like I said earlier, diamonds take FOREVER to accumulate, and I'm not about to pay money (I'm assuming those banner ads aren't there for free), so that option is out. I kept playing a while (which at this point is just collecting rents every once in a while), waiting for the random drop of a permit, but it never happened. Meanwhile, I kept collecting Simoleons. I'm up to 95,000 right now, but don't have a way to spend them because I can't expand my city. How dumb is that? I want to play and game won't let me.

I finally searched online about the permits. It turns out that the only way to get them is to have friends gift them to you. Of course, I can send a friend request asking people to gift me permits. Again, I don't want to be "that guy". If someone was already playing, I'd totally ask, but alas, I'm a loner.

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that a game called SimCity Social requires me to actually be social with friends. Oh well. I guess it's back to Millionaire City which doesn't limit my play with power, or require me to have friends (though that will speed things up).

I suppose my biggest frustration is that I can tell EA had a good idea for a game. Then they slowly added complexity and layers to the game, not to make it more compelling and engaging, but to artificially increase player counts or force people to pay money. Instead, what they made was a game that feels forced and surprisingly given the franchise's history, extremely limited.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Harbor Freight Tools Heavy Duty Foldable Utility Trailer

For reasons I'll explain later, Jessi and I are going to sell our truck (Anybody want a truck? :-). However, there are times when we need to haul large items, which makes a truck pretty convenient. So, we set out to find an alternative for those few times we need something. We actually started this process back in September, but it wasn't until a month ago that we finally pulled the trigger.

I learned that our Jeep, which already had a tow kit, could pull up to 2,000 pounds. This would be more than enough for our purposes. Then, I found Harbor Freight Tools' Heavy Duty Foldable Utility Trailer. It can carry 1,200 pounds. Again, that's enough for the types of things we'll be moving.

So, what's awesome about this trailer?
  • The jeep can pull it. A must.
  • It's foldable! Easy storage was a must.
  • It's also small enough that one person can easily move it around. A must.
  • The bed of the trailer is actually 2 feet longer than the truck. A perk.
HFT sells the trailer for $300, and you can use any coupon they promote, like the 20% discount coupon I used. Now, the only downside is that you have to assemble the trailer on your own. They literally gave me two heavy boxes and a set of instructions.

The instructions are in english, but I don't think that helped much. My favorite part was that the instructions kept referencing part numbers (4A, 2B, etc), but as far as I could tell NONE of the pieces had such markings on them. Thankfully, I have years of practice with Legos and was able to match the pictures.

Here are a bunch of photos of the process. It took me about 8 hours to put the frame together. Yeah, that was a long day.

The hardest part was tightening the nuts because they are nylon nuts. That's good because it means they won't jiggle loose, but they're a pain to put on. I just had to take my time and lots of breaks.

I also spent a fair amount of time trying to get the wheel hubs off. It was not easy! It was necessary to assemble the trailer and then I added new, higher quality grease because I read online that they can burn out easily.

The electrical was a little tricky too. I got everything hooked up, but it only half worked. After researching online, talking to my dad & brother, and testing with a multimeter I figured out the problem: The ground wasn't making a complete loop because the metal bars were completely painted. After I scraped some paint off where the metal connects everything worked great. Then I added some protective plastic and tapped up all the splices. It looks good.

Then I added the wood. First was the bed. I cut it in two so it could fold, and then drilled the holes for the bolts. Then I chiseled out little spaces for the bolts so they sat flush. I'm sure they make little machines to make that easy, but I kept telling myself I was enjoying the sun, getting exercise and saving money by manually chiseling out each hole. This was another multi-hour part of this project!

For the sidewalls I added a couple extra features. Each of the studs are held in place by quick-release wing nuts.

I also added 4 rings that I can attached my tie-downs to.

I also bought a set of locks online. These are super cool because the walls just slide together and lock in place.

Here's what the trailer looks like folded up:

To make that easy to do, I exchanged the bolts they provided for locking pins. As you can tell, I tried to make it as easy as possible to set up and store. I timed myself & it takes me 15-20 minutes to get it completely set up. That's not too bad of a price to pay for the ability to store it with a foot print of only 5' x 2'.

The only other weird part is the size of the bed. It's actually slightly less than 8' long because of the side walls. As a result, anything 8' long has to be put in at an angle. Here's an example of some 8' 2x4's. When we get plywood, we'll have to stand it up on edge at an angle.

Here is one more picture of the trailer. I think it'll be a good tool to have around. If you need something carried (that's less than 1,200 pounds of course), let me know.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Midsummer Night's Garden

Snap Peas

After a hard days work on our fence project I got some time to finally tend to my little garden! We have lots of tasty treats that are ready including snap peas and strawberries!  Here's some pictures of all of our beautiful plants!

Snap Peas Going Crazy
Yummy Carrots! Not Quite Ready Yet

Cherry Tomatoes With Lots Of Buds
Delicious Strawberries

Red Potato Plant
Striped Zebra Squash Flowering Promisingly 

My Herbs Are A Little Out Of Control :)

 Hope you enjoyed the tour...more to come later I'm sure! 

Tonights Bountiful Harvest