This should be an interesting few weeks

As I sit here on the plane flying north to meet the M/V Nat Geo Sea Bird I wonder what great new fun surprises await me. My last rotation was the most difficult I’ve ever had, from a technical stand point, and things don’t appear to be a whole lot better in the near future. We have been suffering ever since we had our generators rebuilt last December, the couple guys that came down and did the work were inexperienced and that is showing now. On top of all that, a machine can only be rebuilt so many times, after a while all of he little things start failing and that’s where we are at now. Chasing down wires that are corroded, grounded or broken is never easy, especially when it’s more than one of these items on the same circuit.

While I don’t think that all of this is a safety concern at this point, there are several recent incidences on large cruise ships that come to mind, and that makes it all a little scary. When you live in a world where you have backups, but other than that you have nothing, it’s not so comforting to know that the backups are as bad or worse than the primary system. There is no tow truck, AAA, or service station on the corner out there on the ocean.

I have no doubt that I can overcome all of any issue that might come up, but I am mostly talking about this today as a reminder of the fact that there is inherent dangers that go right along with being on a ship at sea. Some times things go bad, some times things go bad and people are inconvenienced, and some times people even die. Am I saying that you should avoid ships? Not at all, because if we live life afraid of what could happen we would never make good things happen. Just remember something if you do ever make it out to sea for a trip or even better to work, it’s a fragile thing, enjoy it, and appreciate the hard work that makes it possible. There’s a guy in a room somewhere down below making it all happen. Appreciate it.

Winch bumpers

When it comes to winch bumpers for Toyota 4×4’s there are quite a few options. No one is better than the other, but instead what needs to be decided is just how much protection is desired, at the cost of added weight.

ARB BULL BAR $906

AOR Winch bumper $540

4x Innovations $475 with turn signals and frame brace

Trail Gear $418.75

Skys Offroad Design plate bumper $524

Warn 68450 Rockcrawler bumper $739

Marlin Crawler winch bumper $399

Which one will I choose? Or will I make my own? Time will tell.

General Grabber AT2 tire review

The General Grabber AT2 All-terrain tire.

I recently picked up a set of the new General Grabber AT2 tires and I thought I would talk about them a little bit. General’s website says that they are “Tough all-terrain tire designed with an aggressive, self-cleaning tread pattern that provides off-road traction, durability and impressive paved road performance.” All of that, I would agree with, but lets talk about what else these tires have going for them.

The AT2’s are a nice all-terrain tread pattern, which means that they wear better and are quieter on the road than mud terrain tires, but in my experience they handle every offroad situation but mud as well or better than any mud-terrain style tire I’ve tried. Dirt, rocks, sand, and snow are right where this tire excels. The tread pattern grips well and leaves me feeling confident that I have traction when I’m on dirt tracks or in the snow. Since this is a smaller tire, on a stock hieght vehicle, I can’t say that these are a supreme rock crawling tire, but my experiences with them on rocky uneven trails recently showed that they grip very well, and are capable of anything that my stock rig can dish out.

The Grabber AT2's excelled on fire roads and rocky trails.

In the snow last winter I had several chances to test the tires abilities, and was never even a little let down. They were actually the best tread pattern that I’ve ever used on the snowy highways and roads around my house, and since they are snowflake approved and studdable I would guess that these would make a great winter tire for folks like me that live in the snow country. All of those traction edges and siping really do grab good in the snow.

Some offroad tires are loud and difficult to balance, but not the AT2’s. They balanced on my rims with almost no weight and road noise is considerably better than other all terrain tires I’ve owned in the past.

General Tire has built a quality product with the Grabber AT2 tires, not only do I recommend them, but they get the best value award as well. A high quality tire that will go almost anywhere, for a decent price is what makes this tire great. I highly recommend them for anyone looking for an all terrain tire on a street driven 4×4 that sees light to moderate off road terrain.

Did you know….

Do you know that F-stop numbers are determined by a simple formula? The measured diameter of a lens opening, 50mm for example, is divided into the focal length of the lens, 100mm for example. So our hypothetical lens opened up to the widest or smallest number f-stop would be 100 divided by 50 or 2, this lens would open up to f2.

Camping is good for the soul

There are many books written on the subject of what and what is not good for your soul, but I’m sure that I could write one on why camping is the best thing ever.

Whenever life is a little bit stressful, or things aren’t going too good, taking a trip that involves sleeping outside is the thing that cures what ails me. Having to worry about things that are so simple at home, like cooking and going to the bathroom keeps my mind occupied and off of whatever else is happening back in reality. Breathing some fresh air and returning to the simple things in life, now that is what we as humans need to do, it’s our life check and it helps keep balance in our world.

I took the kids up the mountain for a camp out this weekend, and it was the best kind there is. Simple, easy and fun. No worries, no problems and no issues. My camping kit is working pretty good nowadays, and the kids are starting to get trained, so it only gets easier from here.

4runner suspension upgrades

I’ve been thinking of outfitting the suspension on the 4runner quite a bit lately, since it’s the next step in the process. What I come up with, if I want to do a solid axle swap using a front axle that I already own is below, with links to where I found the parts at.

Front:

Trail Gear spring hanger kit $187.95

5 leaf stock wagoneer leaf spring from the junk yard $100

Trail Gear U-bolt flip kit $57.75

WFO Ford style shock mounts, pair $39.98

Rear:

4crawler offroad panhard drop bracket $54

OME 2″ rear coil springs $169

Or possibly FJ80 rear springs that should net 4″ of lift $150 a pair

Steering and Brakes:

Trail gear high steer kit $313.95

Skye Rebuilt rebuilt steering box $149.95


Extended rear brake lines for both front and rear axles
$82.95

Total with no drive shaft or shocks $1078.78

I believe it’s around $400 for a front drive shaft to be lengthened these days and shocks will run about $350 for four. Maybe I can get around this some how and make it cheaper.

The advantage of going with a solid axle swap and a bit of lift is that I can worry a whole lot less about strength and durability with this design. The parts have all been proven to handle quite a bit more than I will be dishing out, and in some cases might even be over-kill. Another factor in all of this, though is that I would need to install larger tires and gearing that would add to the cost as well.

On the other hand, I could leave the suspension fairly stock and just go through it one by one until it give me the performance that I want and need. As you probably know by now, I’m far more into vehicles that take me where I need to go and leave me with money to actually get there, then I am about having a really nice rig that I can’t afford to take out. In reality, I can fit 33″ tires on the car now, and that is most likely all that I will ever need. With gearing, lockers, and skills a vehicle doesn’t necessarily need gobs of wheel travel or a stout front axle to get the job done.

If I were to keep the 4runner in stock configuration I would do something like this:

Old Man Emu 2″ lift rear springs $169

4crawler 1.5″ Ball joint spacers $79

As a side note, there are many modifications that can be done to the IFS front and coil spring rear suspensions on these trucks that are not as common place as the popular leaf spring swap that is easy to do. some thoughts on this are that I could tweak as I go along and try to make up a suspension that not only is different, but just as good or better than what I would get if I went the usual route.

One possibility is upgrading the rear lower suspension links like this or this, with a better bushing in one end and a swiveling johny-joint type attachment on the other end.

Which do you think?

New Canon 70d

Snooping around on the net recently I came across an article on the new Canon 70d body that is due to be released in mid September. With a street price of $1199 for the body only, this thing is quite a reasonably priced power house.

Some things like the 20.2 megapixel sensor and ISO up to 25,600 are not earth shaking, but 7 frames a second burst rate could be aweful nice while capturing those breeching whales off of Cabo Pulmo next winter. Considering these numbers are all almost double what I am currently using now, it all seems so incredible. I’ve been getting more and more into shooting nightscapes and stars, the high ISO with low noise is something that I’m starting to see as more and more important.

What’s incredible about the new 70d is the autofocus. When you need good, clean and fast autofocus Canon is the best, and this new system looks like it will be even better than what we have seen previously, because they doubled the number of photodiodes in each pixel which allows for phase detection autofocus in live view and video modes rather than diverting some of the light to a separate sensor. The autofocus is now 19 points instead of 9 on the previous generation. The other big improvement is the LCD, which has touch screen controls to clean up the back of the camera, which is very nice for the random button pushing types like myself.

Canon’s new 70d looks like a winner, and by the time I have saved up for it the feeding frenzy will hopefully be over.

Micro four thirds review

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My experiment with the little Olympus E-P1 camera has been going on for a couple weeks now, and I figured I should fill everyone in on my findings. As a recap, my point for diving into the mini-interchangeable lens world is to gain a portable camera that can serve not only as a backup for my DSLR, but can serve as a lower profile camera for times when that is necessary. During my trip to Kuwait last year, there was several times when I was frowned upon for pulling out my DSLR, so I started using my point and shoot which was not quite up to par for what I was trying to do. I found that something in between was needed.

Of course, whatever I was going to do for a back up camera had to be cheap, and enter the micro-four thirds system. To start off, I gave myself a $300 budget, and set out on an eBay adventure. After a bit of perusing I came across the Olympus PEN E-P1, which had some good reviews on DPReview.com and other places. After the usual bidding game I picked up a real clean one for $112.50, shipped, but no lens was included.

From there it was time to research some lenses and see what folks were saying. The 14-42mm lens looked like a dud, but the 17mm “pancake” lens has some great reviews. More research brought me to the “legacy lens” and the adapter. This seemed like a good solution, since there are literally thousands of lenses from 35mm film days floating around for cheap. The conclusion I came to was that I would try some legacy lenses out and see what happened, then if I needed to fall back on the 17mm olympus lens later, I could always do that.

My first legacy lens was an olympus om-zuiko 50mm f1.2 prime lens that I found on eBay in a bundle with an adapter for $30 shipped. This is an awesome lens, but 50mm with the micro four thirds crop factor is like a 100mm on a full frame SLR, not the best focal length for all around shooting. At about the same time I found a “lot” of lenses and 35mm cameras on eBay for $50 shipped, that included a bunch of good stuff. Among this lot was a Minolta MC lens in 70-200mm f4 lens with 2x teleconvertor, something that could be fun to play with when I’m whale watching here in a couple weeks, but I’ll come back to this one later. Also in this lot was a 35-70 mm Olympus zoom lens, that I though might be a bit more friendly for walking around, but this is still equivalent to 70-140mm and not really ideal.

Honestly, I was a little worried at this point, since getting much below 35mm focal length lenses would be getting more expensive, and my thoughts were starting to go with ordering the 17mm lens. I was at $192.50 and that left me $107.50 to get this figured out, which is just enough for a used 17mm.

Through a little bit of horse trading I ended up with a guitar for my daughter and a Minolta MC 28-70mm lens. This being a slightly more usable focal length I spent some time playing around with it, having some fairly good results, but still wanting for something wider angle for the style of photography I generally use. Even on my APS-C sensored Canon with 17-40mm lens I often wish for a wider angle lens.

Now, with a bit of luck I found a newer lens on a minolta auto focus 35mm body at the pawn shop, and picked up the whole package for $20, but I also had to order a $30 adapter, since the Minolta auto focus lenses are a different mount then the older style manual focus lenses. The lens is a Sigma 17-35mm lens, and I’ll mention that the adapter will not allow use of the auto focus, but will let me manually control the aperture and focus. Maybe this will be the lens I’ve been looking for.

At this point, here is a summary of what I’ve learned. I’m almost at my $300 budget and I still don’t really have an ideal backup camera. The E-P1 does not have an optional electronic view finder, and honestly it needs one. Focusing a manual focus lens in low or super light conditions is very difficult. I’m thinking that buying lenses that can be controlled with the camera are the only way around this, which is ok if you understand this. With the E-P2 model they introduced the electronic view finder, so I would recommend spending the extra money on this model or an even newer version.

“Legacy lenses” are no different than any other lenses. You get what you pay for, simple as that. More often than not the older lenses have a fungus growing inside of them, and the coatings on the lenses are degraded. Image quality is degraded considerably as well. There are nice lenses out there that can be had for decent prices, but look at the glass carefully. I will say that I really do like the ability to control aperture by a ring on the lens itself, and wish Canon would make lenses like this still.

What’s my next move? As I look from this vantage point I see that investing in lenses for my backup camera will be just like lenses for my DSLR, paying for quality glass pays for itself in time. There are many micro four thirds lenses made by Olympus,Panasonic, and others of high quality that will put this mini might right where I want it. In stealth mode.