Kyle’s Weekend of Solitude

Jess, Heather, and Corinne went down to Texas to visit with her family for about a week.  This left me in the unprecedented situation of having a weekend with no one home.  I decided to take the opportunity to go do something that no one else in the family would want to do with me.  So I drove up in to the forest and hiked a mountain.

There are a handful of old fire lookouts scattered across the American West that you can rent out.  I thought that’d be fun to do, but when I was making these plans a couple months ago everything was already booked.  So I thought it would still be fun to hike up to one anyways.  Turns out the one I was looking at is closed for repairs so I could hike up and not bother anyone.  I found a little hidden gem of a cabin nearby.  I wasn’t sure it really existed as I could find no information about it except the one Recreation.gov information page.

Hirz Cabin

I’m a bit reluctant to share my find because right now it’s basically unused and easily booked.  But that runs the risk of it being closed down due to inactivity and it could use a few repairs.  So, here it is: Hirz Cabin on Shasta Lake.

It is fully off grid with solar panels and a battery bank to provide electricity.  It has a propane tank for heat, hot water, and refrigerator.  I had never seen a propane refrigerator before; didn’t know they even existed.

It has two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining table, living area, and deck.  Nothing else around it with a private gated driveway.  The introvert’s dream.

Finding it is not easy–even with directions.  So I’ll help out with that.  Here are the geo-coordinates of the cabin: 40.868194, -122.255826.

Here are some pictures.  You should find all these same pictures on the Recreation.gov page (once they’re approved) as I uploaded them all to their site as well.

Driveway and gate, coordinates 40.86750, -122.25534
Front of cabin. 2 picnic tables. Grill.
Back of cabin. Deck with Adirondack chairs.
1 of 2 bathrooms. Mirror images of each other. Shower stall, toilet, sink, heater.
Kitchen
Dining / Living Area
Downstairs bedroom
Upstairs Bedroom 1
Upstairs Bedroom 2

I arrived Friday evening and hiked along the lake for a couple of hours before heading to bed.  On Saturday I slept in, ate breakfast, and swept and mopped the floors downstairs as they really needed it.  I did some reading and preparing of my gear.  I cooked myself a nice dinner to load up for my hike.

The Hike to Hirz Mountain Lookout

As sunset approached it was time to head up the mountain.  Since the day was about 109F my plan to was to take off in time to reach the top before sunset and then hang out and cool down before returning after dark.  The location of this lookout was also not entirely clear.  Some Google-maps sleuthing led me to correct location of the trailhead, but I wasn’t able to identify the location of the lookout.

So, here’s the geo-coordinates of the trailhead: 40.873803, -122.292095.  You can drive up the dirt access road using a 2-wheel-drive vehicle until you reach 40.886311, -122.287697.  At that point the road becomes 4-wheel-drive / high-clearance only.  The lookout itself is at 40.897022, -122.245674.

Trailhead to Hirz Mountain Lookout

I drastically underestimated how long it would take me to get up the mountain (5 miles with a 36-pound backpack) so I did not make it up in time for sunset.  I took a picture with my phone along the way, but it does not do it justice, it was a really nice sunset:

I did, however, get up in time to catch moonset–which was awesome:

Moonset from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Venus, I believe, was hanging out with the Moon that evening:

Venus and the Moon from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Since it was dark I wasn’t able to get a picture of the lookout itself, but here’s the plaque at the base as proof I did make it up:

Hirz Mountain Lookout Plaque

And the last full view of the moon before it slipped below the mountains:

I had originally intended to hang out at the lookout past sunset and take some pictures of the stars.  But, I discovered that during my 3-hour hike up I had drunk all but a cup of my 100 ounces of water.  So I figured I better start heading down again while that water was still in my system as I had no way to replenish it.

2 hours and 40 minutes later I was back down the mountain and my legs ready to collapse.  I drove back to the cabin and dropped in to bed.

Shasta Dam

Eventually I got up the next morning and while my legs were not happy about it, they did support me.  I packed up my car and locked up the cabin and headed in to Redding to find a whole pile of food to eat.  Pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash browns from a Country waffles made for a nice breakfast (and lunch).

After filling up I drove out to Shasta Dam to catch a tour.

You can catch the resident ospreys in one the nests near the visitor’s center:

I like this sign because it reminds of something that would have appeared in a late-1990s / early-2000s video game set in the future.  And now we live in the future:

Shasta Dam is one of the largest in the country.  Not as tall as Hoover, but larger overall.

On this tour you do get to go through the generator room.

After my tour I loaded back up in the Civic and drove back home.  It was a fun little trip.  I think we’ll have to take a family trip up to the cabin some fall when it’s not too hot and maybe rent a 4WD vehicle to drive everyone up to the fire lookout to watch sunset.

 

Kyle’s Birthday 2018

My birthday happened to fall on Saturday this year which is always nice.  I “helped” Heather and Corinne assemble birdhouse kits in the morning.  Which is to say I built a birdhouse for Corinne and helped Heather build hers.

After lunch we went over the library where they were having engineering projects for kids.

Heather got to play with a hammer (turns out all you really need for “engineering” to entertain kids is hammers, nails, and blocks of wood), played with some large blocks, built a maze, and worked on a raft.

Corinne, on the other hand, tripped on the sidewalk as soon as we got there and badly skinned up her knees.  She spent the time there in pain and crying.  So we ended up leaving earlier than planned and going home to open presents.  They both enjoy helping unwrap gifts.

We went out to dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and then home again for cake.  We didn’t have enough candles, so I had Jess use a binary format to describe my age.  What you can’t see well in this pictures is the holes poked in the cake between the candles to represent the zeros in 100001.

And if you want to talk on the phone in our house this is how it’s going to happen:

Home Board

Okay, “Home Board” is a dumb name, but I don’t know what else to call it.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about this cool thing I built.

This is a 7.5″ e-ink display mounted inside a picture frame.  It’s hooked up to a Raspberry Pi and updates the weather and calendar information every 15 minutes.  During “special events” it displays an additional celebration message (see example below).

This is a product I’ve wanted for a long time, but no one made such a thing as far as I could find.  So I finally decided to make it myself.

As you can see, the back is a bit of a mess; but it’s all attached, so you only have to run the power cord.

It would be cleaner if I were using a newer Raspberry Pi. The display comes with a “hat” (zip-tied to the frame stand in this picture) that fits directly on the GPIO pins of the newer Raspberry Pi.  It doesn’t fit on the version 1 (which I’m using here), so I had to use the provided multi-colored wires and connect the pins myself.

Also, the newer RPis use microSD cards that don’t hang over the edge of the case (behind the power connectors).  And they have built-in Wi-Fi so there’d be no additional dongle (the blue glow at the bottom).

The 7.5″ screen was the largest e-ink display I could find.  Someone used to make a 10.2″ one, but it appears to be discontinued.  The refresh rate is terrible (about 15 seconds to change images, with lots of flashing throughout).  But for my purposes that’s fine.  I’m only updating it every 15 minutes.

Here’s a sample image of a birthday display:

I wanted a e-ink display for 2 reasons.  The first is that it doesn’t glow, so being on all night isn’t annoying. And the second is that it’s super low power.  Power is only needed while updating the display.  It pulls its power from the Raspberry Pi, which, at full draw, maxes out at ~2 watts.  Which means, assuming some loss in the power adapter, is less than $5 a year (I’m pretty sure I did that math right).

It’s awesome.

Parts

  1. Waveshare 7.5 inch e-ink 3-color display with Raspberry Pi connector.
  2. Raspberry Pi with case and power supply (I’m using a version 1, but the display works with 1, 2, or 3).
  3. 5×7″ Picture frame
  4. Some miscellaneous mounting hardware to attach Pi to back of frame

The total cost of hardware is about $125 (display, RPi, SD card, case, power supply, cord, frame, mounting hardware).

Software

  1. Weather Underground API (low-volume developer key is free)
  2. Google Calendar Python API
  3. Waveshare driver to interact with the display (included in my code, below)
  4. My custom written Python application that pulls the data together, generates the image, and sends it to the display.

Further Thoughts on My Experiences with the Court

I was summoned to jury duty last week and was selected in to the pool for a criminal case.  We met to hear the charge and receive instructions from the judge.  Then we filled out questionnaires and were asked to return this week–unless called and told otherwise.  The charge in the case was rape.  A somber topic.  The outcome of the case is going to affect the lives of many people for years to come.  And I took the responsibility of (at that point only potentially) sitting in judgment very seriously.  Yesterday, when my name was read to sit as juror number 2 “it got real” (as they say).

After sitting through a few hours of voir dire, the defense attorney asked that I be excused from the jury.  They do not give a reason for a juror’s excusal.  The few in-person questions directed at me were rather benign.  The defense attorney asked something like, “Is it possible that a police officer may color his remarks to reflect a certain view?” which I agreed with.  The prosecutor asked something like, “How would you feel if you learned there was some piece of information like a police report that would not be available to you?” which I said would probably be frustrating to wonder what was in the report, but I would do my best to work with the facts presented.

Based on the verbal questioning, I would have expected the defense attorney to prioritize other jurors for excusal before me.  For example, the woman who stated she would essentially trust anything a police officer said without question; or the man who admitted he had a hard time seeing the defendant as not having done something if he was here in court; or the woman who said she would, as a default position, believe the testimony of the victim because she felt that a woman wouldn’t lie about being raped.

I would have to assume it was the answers I gave in my questionnaire that led to my excusal (I’m just not sure why that didn’t happen during the week they reviewed our answers and informed some people they did not need to return).

On the questionnaire they asked if we knew anyone who had been a victim of sexual assault.  I responded that I had a friend in college who was raped by another student while on a date with him.

They also asked if we knew anyone that worked with victims’ groups or crisis centers.  I responded that Jess was a volunteer, rape-crisis counselor when we met.

I expected those two responses to put me pretty high on the list of people the defense would not want around; though I do feel I could have acted fairly and conscientiously.  I do not feel angry or have a desire for vengeance that I would misplace on to the defendant.

Once my name was called to take seat number two in the jury box I fully expected to answer further questions about those responses.  Since I didn’t, I can only assume that the defense attorney intended to excuse me as soon as he knew I would be called.

The story of my friend who was assaulted is not mine to tell in full, but I want to share some parts and I believe I have sufficiently obfuscated any identifying information to protect her anonymity.

Her attacker was another BYU student, a returned missionary, a supposedly-righteous priesthood holder (for those LDS readers who believe that should mean something).  He threatened her life if she went to the police and she fully believed him capable of following through with the threat.  She came to me for help some days or weeks later, I don’t know the exact timeline.  Not that there was anything I could do but try to console her.

She was too scared to go to the police. Not just scared of her attacker (who made repeated threats, in person, over the course of several weeks).  She was scared that she would not be able to remain anonymous.  Scared that if she reported it she had no evidence, would not be believed, and nothing would happen.  Scared no man would want to be with her knowing she had been raped (YW lessons about chewed gum and licked cupcakes are life-destroying, Elizabeth Smart can provide more insight on that).  Scared about her status in school.

(Sadly, that last concern was well founded given that BYU was recently mired in controversy over mishandling sexual assault reports and subsequently taking disciplinary action against women reporting them.)

Were I continuing on as a juror on the trial, I honestly don’t know how I would have tried to handle the competing demands of being a compassionate human being, wanting to let a victim know that she will be believed if she speaks up, not be accused of being yet-another-man who oppresses and dismisses women–to balance that with the requirement to hear her testimony as one part of the trial, to presume the defendant innocent, to weigh the facts of the case as a whole.  How can you, potentially, say, “I believe you, but the prosecutor didn’t convince me past reasonable doubt?” or, “I don’t believe you, but other women should still speak up.”  Actions speak louder than words and I can understand why anyone would feel that returning a verdict of not-guilty in such a case is equivalent to saying, “we don’t believe women who claim to have been raped.”  But at the same time I’m very wary of accepting an accusation per se as sufficient evidence to convict someone.  Unfounded accusations can destroy lives too.

It sucks.  The whole thing sucks.

For my own mental well-being I think it’s good I was excused from the jury.  I was burned out when I got home just from grappling with these thoughts throughout voir dire.  I would have been exhausted and beyond stressed out by the time the trial concluded.

I don’t have a point I’m trying to make.  I’m just trying to apply some order and closure on to these thoughts that have been keeping me up at night.

Kyle’s Birthday 2017

Heather’s last day of school was Thursday, so I decided to take Friday off from work so we could go on an adventure for my birthday, which sounded much more fun than work.

We went up to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience in Walnut Creek.  They have a wild animal hospital and outreach program and provide homes for animals that can’t be released back into the wild due to injury.  They have a roadrunner with bad eyesight, a peregrine falcon that can’t fly, and a barn owl with a bum wing (as well as many other critters, particularly raptors).  It’s a bit of an island-of-the-misfit-toys kind of place.

Unfortunately, after getting the camera all prepped and ready, I left it on the couch, so the only pictures we have are phone pictures, which aren’t nearly as nice.

Despite lack of quality pictures, the trip was great.  The birds were really cool to see so up close.  We watched a flight demonstration by the barn owl (with the bum wing).  We had lunch in the park.  We’ll have to go back again sometime.

Due to the timing of the trip and a very late lunch (and Heather and Corinne were exhausted from the excitement) we postponed birthday dinner until the next day.  So we went home and got some quick food into the girls and had cake and opened presents.  It was a good day.