The Perfect Pack

My first version Direct Action Dust backpack. I added the SAW magazine pouch and the grenade pouches for some extra storage.
Over the last ten years I have been searching for the perfect backpack. In the end, there will probably not be just one, because the mission determines the loadout and different missions will demand different loadouts (and maybe different packs).

It started with my desire to carry a few things just in case — the prepper’s approach. I watch a lot of bushcraft videos (to learn as well as curiosity), so I have some ideas about what to put in my pack. There is also an element of just having things on me that I might need if I cannot get home or to shelter. The details are not important (to this essay), but the point is. I see a need to carry a few things with me on the trail or in the rig that can support me if required.

Enter the tactical packs. MOLLE is cool — there are lots of military surplus pouches that can be attached and serve as additional storage, but more importantly as organization. My Dust (on my kitchen table in the photograph to the left) is one such instance.

The problem came in the summer. With the heat came a lot of perspiration when I was out hiking. I found the skin on my lower back chafing because of the sweat and the shifting of the pack.

I found myself buying an Osprey Stratos (24l) to try. It has a wonderful suspension system. The hip belt works well to secure the pack and shift the weight (such as it is) to my hips. My chafing problem went away.

But, although the pack is rated as 24 liters, I cannot get nearly as much stuff in it as I could my smaller Dust. And that is notwithstanding the MOLLE pouches affixed to the outside of the Dust. The rucksack of the Stratos is not shaped will and the Camelbak takes up a lot of the internal room.

In the field with the Direct Action Dust pack.
So this morning I decided to try one of my tactical packs again. I retrieved the Dust from the garage, where it laid unattended for a couple of summers. The grenade pouches and the 240-round SAW pouch were still affixed to the pack. I transferred the gear from my Stratos to the Dust and organized a little. There remains a lot of room in the Dust.

I took The Girl out for our walk with the pack. It was nice to have the Kenwood HT on the shoulder strap and I listened to some of the chatter on the CARLA system as I walked. The pack sat well on my shoulders for the 2-mile hike. If I can find it, the waist belt will provide a little extra security from the pack shifting around, although it did not shift much.

I think it will work fine for those times when it is cooler outside. I am going to wear it a few more times before I make up my mind. The the boxy interior compartments of the tactical packs offer a lot of organizational advantages that the hiker’s backpacks do not have. The tactical packs really suit me better because of what I like to carry — and my objectives for carrying said equipment.

WP-34s Pocket Reference

A couple of months ago I ordered a Whiskey Papa 34 sierra from the HP Users’ Group. The calculator is a repurposed Hotel Papa 30 bravo (HP-30b) financial calculator into which is flashed an user-developed ROM that converts the financial calculator (yawn) into a significantly powerful scientific calculator (yay).

A friend introduced me to the unit last summer. I was immediately intrigued and decided I had to have one.

The 30b is one of the newer HP designs — light, inexpensive, and with marginal keys. It does not compare well at all with the classic HP designs. Even my HP-48GX has much better keys and a much better heft to it, although I do not particularly care for the larger form factor. The 48 is a big calculator, not a pocket calculator at all, and that is required because of that large screen for display of graphics.

But I digress. I can (and probably will) write about calculators at some length. I think that I mentioned that I purchased one of my long-past objects of lust, the Hotel Papa 41 Charlie Xray (HP-41CX), some time ago. Of all the calculators I have used over my long career, I still think that is one of the best, if not the best handheld.

The 34s is not nearly as expensive, it is small and light, and will likely serve as a carry calculator to go into my kit. The unit conversions built into the software are very useful. The 30b has a decent display that is legible even with old eyes. I think this will be a useful machine.

In my search for beginner’s reference material, I came across a pocket reference guide in PDF format (here). So I downloaded the files and set about creating a pocket reference for myself.

The instructions recommend hand stapling the booklet once printed and the first cut is completed. That means drilling holes for the staples and manually folding them. (This can be avoided if one has access to a saddle-stapler.)

I thought this was less than elegant, so I drilled my first instance of the manual and stitched the binding. The end result is not perfect. I expected this because such projects usually require an iteration or two to iron out any wrinkles. Therefore, I think I will make another sometime over the next few weeks and do a little better job on the stitching. I will also take the cover to the print shop and have it printed on card stock in color. I think a little more attention to the fold (probably need to score the pages at the fold before assembly) and a bit of bookbinder’s tape on the spine will produce a nicer finished product.

The end result fits into the calculator slipcase behind the calculator nicely.

Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 Macro

The Girl is often my model, being the girl I have handy and being good-looking.

After months of hunting and waiting on the-bay, I finally bought a Vivitar Series 1 90mm f/2.5 macro lens — the Tokina build. This lens is called the “Bokina” for obvious reasons. Something spectacular happened in the optical design that resulted in very smooth out of focus backgrounds. Hence derives its nickname.

I bought mine in Nikon mount, which means it will work on all of my Nikons, be it a film or digital camera. I am going to enjoy working with this lens. It is a classic by numerous standards.

40mm Machine Gun


I stopped in Rigby, Idaho on my way east. That would be a few weeks ago, now. The Girl needed an outing and I don’t really like to stay in a motel room all the time, so we got out and wandered over to the city park. While we were there, I noticed this old gun. My guess is that it was once mounted on a warship, perhaps from WWII or the Korean War. In any event, it now resides in a city park — a reminder of our veterans and the machines they used to do the job.

After a little research, I found this article on the Bofors 40mm Gun. If you have an interest in such things, be sure to look through the archive of images. I love historical images and there are some great captures in this archive.

I can only imagine what it must have been like to be one of crew members operating this gun. I know that the crew hand fed the magazines using stripper clips of cartridges. That must have been crazy, with all the racket going on, not just of this weapon, but all the others adding to the noise and confusion.

There’s a nice video here: FPS Russia [YouTube]. The video is a fun watch.

I had so much fun with the gun, that I made a second image. I’m still amazed by this machine… no, I’m in awe of it, especially after watching the video.

40mm Side View

Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 Reprise

After the unsatisfactory experience of test shooting the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 manual focus telephoto lens in Nikon mount, I decided that the reputation of the lens was not illuminated (heh) with the particular sample I used. I happen to have a second sample in my stable, but in Olympus OM mount. That’s OK, because I have an Olympus adapter for my Sony NEX-5N handy.

So, I mounted the lens on the tripod and waited for the birds to appear one morning. Of course, with the lens mounted and ready, there were no birds for several days. I finally gave up and shot the empty tree. The first image is the lens shot wide open, f/5.6. (Excuse the beschwitz in the upper right of the images — there was a bit of dust on the sensor.) Although not tack sharp, it’s definitely useable at the aperture.

Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 at f/5.6

The second image is at f/8. It’s much better than wide open. I would not call this tack sharp (again), but it’s quite useable.

Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 at f/8

Although I shot all of the apertures down to f/22, I think one more at f/11 will suffice. Again, it’s a bit sharper than f/8 (not a lot) and completely useable.

Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 at f/11

So, my sample of the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 in Nikon mount is going to the shop for a check-up. I think it’s a little sick. The Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 is capable of producing solid images and is a bargain at its price point.

My friend Jimmy told me he produced good images from the lens and was surprised by its poor performance. I’d like a 400mm telephoto in my Nikon kit because I like to shoot wildlife and sometimes the 500mm and 800mm lenses are just a bit too much.

Vivitar Series 1 800mm f/11 Cat

I don’t have a lot of use for an 800mm lens. But, now and again, it’s a useful tool to have when shooting wildlife, especially from long distances. It’s a catadioptric lens, meaning it’s a mirror lens. It’s an unusual piece in that the glass is one solid part. It was unusual and expensive when it was made, so not very many were sold. It’s also a decent piece of glass and can get the job done.

On my crop-sensor Nikon D300, it’s the equivalent of a 1,200mm lens. That’s a lot of reach. I have a Nikon 1.4x extender that I can use (and lose a stop), but there’s not much out there that needs to be shot that can’t be reached with an 1,800mm lens.

I made some minor adjustments to the image, mostly exposure and contrast, and added a bit of sharpening as a final step. Enjoy.

Little Buck

Vivitar 400/5.6 Testing

After comments from my friend Griff, I decided to mount the Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 telephoto on a tripod and shoot a few frames with my Nikon D300. The D300 is a crop-sensor dSLR with an APS-C sensor size and a crop factor of about 1.5. So, the 400/5.6 is equivalent to a 600/5.6 on a full-frame camera. I shot the lens wide open, f/5.6 , stopped down one stops, f/8, and stopped down three stops, f/16. The first frame (follows) is at f/5.6 (wide open). It is not very sharp.

Vivitar 400/5.6 Test III

The next frame is the test shot at f/8. It’s better.

Vivitar 400/5.6 Test II

The final frame is the test shot at f/16. It’s reasonably sharp.

Vivitar 400/5.6 Test I

So, here’s my take-home lesson. The Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 telephoto lens is unacceptably soft wide open. It’s better at f/8 and good at f/16. That means if I need a large aperture because the light is failing, this is not the tool to use. If it’s reasonably bright (where Sunny-16 is good), then the lens is useable at f/16 (maybe f/11) and can produce decent images. But, don’t let your friends shoot one of these wide open. It’s irresponsible photography and will frustrate everyone.

Vivitar 400/5.6 Test Shot

Vivitar 400/5.6 Test Shot

I have a Vivitar 400mm f/5.6 in my stable. The 400mm is not a focal length I use a lot, but it has its place for long shots, particularly of wildlife of both four- and two-footed varieties. The shot was handheld (braced against the door) from my back door. The birds were in a tree about 80–100 feet away. They are sharp enough, but not the kind of razor-sharp image I’d like.

I’ll have to put this lens on a tripod and reshoot. I don’t know if it’s inherent in the design, the focal length, or is a reflection of poor camera technique.

Tokina 28–85/f4 Zoom

Tokina 28-85-4 Test IMy friend Jimmy loaned me a Tokina 28–85/f4 zoom lens in Nikon mount a couple of weeks ago. The lens isn’t particularly fast, but it’s the right focal length for both my D300 and my Nikon film cameras. It’s a chunk of glass and the build quality is excellent. Focus is smooth but not too light. The zoom action is internal (it’s a two-touch zoom) and has no creep. It’s a good match for the dSLR although it’s a bit of a chunk on the Sony NEX-5N, but then what isn’t a chunk on that itty-bitty body?

The lens has been out and about with me several times on the D300. On the crop-sensor camera, it’s in the range from normal to medium telephoto. It’s a little slow to isolate a subject well, but the optics are quite good. I shot the image on morning walkies a few days ago (with the Girl) at 85mm and about f8. It’s sharp enough, especially for a zoom. Color rendition looks neutral to me.

When I grabbed the lens for a closer look, Jimmy said “That’s the last I’ll see of that lens.” He’s probably right.

BioLite Camp Stove

I’m in the market for a small camp stove. I was originally thinking about a charcoal grill that I could use while solo car-camping. However, this is an interesting device and they manufacture a larger device that can be used at home.

I can see the larger device as an event stove should I lose power for more than a few hours. However, until they elect to sell them here in the US, I’ll have to do with the campstove and not the home stove. It will eliminate the need to get the big grill going if I only want to grill a hamburger or two and a couple of hot dogs for me. The big Weber grill uses a lot of charcoal and it’s too much for just one man. I need something smaller.

I’ll think on it a bit more, then make a decision. It’s sure a neat device, though.