Hammock Camping Improvements

I continue to improve my hammock camping experience. Last time out I was greeted by this little fellow in front of my campsite. (You can tell it’s a young gator by the yellow stripes.) Messing with the flashlight and phone camera did not seem to bother him. He stayed in the general area for a few minutes, let me take a few pictures and then slowly crawled away. (Click for larger image.)

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I did not spend much money ($118) on my starter hammock, but I’ve come to appreciate that it is a complete system for three season camping. I did not have to spend more money on separate components (i.e., net, fly, skins). Here is what it looks like when hung between two trees with the skins pulled to the center…

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This is the head-end. Note the extra green loop [mod #1]. I added this to let the fly relax and fall to the side when not needed. It turns out that having the fly connected normally is the best way to get the correct tension (after which I slacken it). Note also that the foot is slightly higher. This was counter-intuitive for me since I like my legs lower than my head. Basically this prevents you from sliding and getting all bunched up. It just works!

Next I turned to the bug netting. With no instructions and very little info online I had to improvise. The included cords had little slide-locks to help get the right tension. The problem was that once you got into the tent, the tension changed. So I replaced these with thin bungee cords [mod #2]…

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I also moved one of loops for the spreader bow (not shown). I suspect they had a quality control problem with the stitching. Here is a closeup of the head end…

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[Lt to Rt: fly, bungee, green loop (behind) and main hammock]

Next I fixed an obvious flaw—not being able to reach the foot-end zipper pull. I simply replaced the short inside tab with an 18 inch cord [mod #3]…

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Finally I turned to the free corners of the diamond-shaped fly. It suffered the same problem as the bug net, no good way to keep the proper tension once inside the hammock. Here’s where a bit of serendipity came in. I had purchased a set of tarp tie-downs as a source for the bungee material. They came with orange knobs on them for fast tying. This turned out to be a perfect fit for the fly [mod #4]…

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The ends can be staked down as is, or extended with the slide-lock cords and tied off to a tree or other object. This provides a nice taut fly that can recover from gusty winds. As an added benefit, when I need to fold the fly back the bungees can be hooked together on one side with minimal flapping. <smile> They also help keep the fly furled when not in use. I’m still working on the best way to do this…

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Here is the whole rig in action (click for large panorama)…

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Note that the foot is higher and the fly is furled but not relaxed. I’m still getting insect bites because parts of my body rub up against the fly as I toss and turn, and wherever bare skin lays against the hammock itself (the little devils bite right through the ripstop!). My biggest problem is getting the sleeping bag arranged under me. This is non-trivial when there is no solid surface to push off!

Finally a note about the overall design, on a clear night this hammock only needs two points of suspension. Using the fly brings that to four. One of the things I love about this type of tent is how simple it is to deploy and pack up!

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Two or Four Point Suspension

Here are a few examples from Amazon.com. The number of suspension points goes from six to eight and beyond. And that’s before you add the fly!

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Imagine putting these up in a rain storm with bugs biting!

Binge Watching Great Movies about Real Conspiracies that Affect Us All

I was on a short business trip recently and had a chance to view three new movies about real conspiracies that affect us all. This prompted me to go back and re-watch some documentaries from the recent past. Talk about dark night of the soul! Here are my brief reviews in no particular order…

spotlight-2015Spotlight

I was aware of the ongoing scandal of pedophile priests but I had no idea how extensive the cover-up had/has been. This movie is almost pitch-perfect as it depicts the true story of reporters following leads ever deeper into a black hole of institutionalized criminality.

 

The Big Shortthe-big-short

This is a great film in all respects. The protagonists are quirky and imperfect, but each has a moral compass and limits on what he will do to make a buck. The basic premise is that everyone from the Fed Chairman on down to the home loan sharks in Miami could not or would not see the reality that was right in front of them. The rogues gallery of financial malefactors is both comical and repellent (see next). The main characters all confront the truth in different ways. I was struck by how sad this film is in spite of the heroes’ success.

inside-job-2010Inside Job

This documentary from 2010 is the logical compliment to the Big Short. The best parts are when they catch actual high-placed financiers and government officials telling lies on camera (amazing really!). The end of the film documents something I’ve felt since that time… In terms of effect on real people, the crimes were/are monstrous, and yet only a handful of the actual criminals have been punished! Blame for that outcome lies squarely with President Obama, who hired many of the same players for his administration rather than prosecute them. I still can’t get my head around it. We may never recover!

CitizenFourcitizenfour

Arch criminal or whistleblowing hero there is no doubt that Edward Snowden changed everything. In light of what has happened since released NSA secrets have mostly supported his whistleblower status. Watch it and make up your own mind.

 

united-states-of-secretsUnited States of Secrets

This PBS Frontline Series from 2014 is the logical companion to CitizenFour. Bulk Data Collection is now the norm, the FISA Court is nothing but a rubber-stamp and the Fourth Amendment is nowhere to be seen when it comes to electronic communication. I also recommend reading The Shadow Factory by James Bamford, where it becomes clear that with a little intelligence sharing between agencies and good police work we might have disrupted the 911 plot. Instead we let fear run away with us and gave our government free rein and an unlimited budget to spy on us. The dust-up over iPhone encryption is just the latest chapter.

merchants_of_doubtMerchants of Doubt

Also from 2014, this documentary reveals the techniques used to manipulate us by sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt. Hosted by a magician who is a self-described “honest liar”, the film shows how real lies are told and re-told on a massive scale. I was surprised that most of the techniques used today were all worked out by the Tobacco Industry decades ago! The art of telling a little lie to sell a big lie using deception, obfuscation & misdirection. The successful feint of big tobacco to get us focused on flame-retardant upholstery rather than the cigarette that actually caused the fire was a genius move. On the hopeful side, several past and current heroes are profiled including Stanton Glantz and James Hansen.

taxi_to_the_dark_sideTaxi to the Dark Side

I’m embarrassed to admit that I had forgotten most of the events covered by this 2007 documentary of our acts of brutality at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The “Taxi” of the title belonged to an innocent Afghani man who was picked up by the US and died a few days later during interrogation. The basic point is that these atrocities where not the result of “a few bad apples” but rather a normalized fact accepted by the chain of command. See it! I can’t do it justice in words. The interviews with Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney are especially chilling.

the-fog-of-war The Fog of War

I was eligible for the draft near the end of the Vietnam War. (I “lost” the lottery.) I remember hearing Robert McNamara on TV explaining our intricate plans to “win” the war and prevent the dominos from falling. His regret and contrition are obvious in the film, but what is more important are his observations about the limits of power and intellect. Regrettably the lessons he had to teach were lost on the Bush Administration and a new generation has been forced to give up their lives in political wars.