Saturday, September 20, 2014

Toronto to almost Kingston

So I set off on my first fully packed bike tour on Thursday after work. This is something I've been wanting to do for ages. I've been planning this in detail for months. Though this is a compromise as I originally wanted to ride from the Bruce Peninsula National Park back to Toronto.

Day 1

I took the Go train after work to Oshawa to bypass what is probably the worst part of a bike ride east. This also allowed me to save a vacation day. This was mostly uneventful other than frantically trying to switch trains at Union with all that baggage.

Darlington provincial park isn't very nice, mostly because you can hear the constant traffic from the 401 and the CN train line. It was also a very cold night. It went down to 2 degrees and my sleeping bag was only rated for 4.

Day 2

The next day was the longest distance of the tour. Just over 100kms to Presqu'ile Provincial Park. Right from the start things were not going well. OPG had closed a part of the waterfront trail, making me loose 5km.
The other problem with the day was the constant head wind. Normally, you want to travel east and not west as the wind tends to come from the west. Not today. I was facing 20-30km winds all day. I had a mid way point marked out in Cobourg, which I was supposed to arrive to at 1pm. Instead, I was in Port Hope at 2pm.
I had lunch at a pub just off the main street. It was nice to sit and be warm away from the wind for an hour.  I was ready to give up on my original plan and tried to cancel my next two camping reservations. I was able to cancel Sand Banks for my last stay, but not that nights stay at Presqu'ile. After the one hour rest and food, plus the thought of failure motivated me to go for it. I had just over 50km to go.
I ended up making it to Cobourg at 3:30pm, 2.5 Hours behind schedule.I went to Green Canoe outfitters in Cobourg, where 2 weeks before, I had ordered a new sleeping bag for +Laura Krick. I then set off to my next camp site. The wind had died down and the going was slightly easier. I saw a lot of fields.
And a lot of views of the lake.
The waterfront trail in these parts isn't well signed, if at all. So someone had gone around making cute heart shaped road signs. Thank you rode sign painter. I love you too.
The last 10kms were very hard, but I finally made it.
The notable thing about this leg of the tour is that it's also my first metric century. I've never ridden 100kms in a single day before. It would be another 4kms from this sign to my actual camp site. The longest 4kms ever. Presqu'ile caters to cyclists with bike lanes on the roads, bike paths and even offering to drive your firewood to you so you don't have to try to lug it on your bike.
First order of business was dinner. I never let myself get hungry on the ride, constantly downing nuts or energy/granola bars. Still, it was nice to sit down and eat a warm meal. Thanks to +Laura Krick for helping me plan those. The MSR Pocket Rocket stove is very good and compact. Thanks to +Jane Sobil for the camp cookware set.

At this point I realized I was not going to make it to Kingston. Luckily, Laura had agreed to pick me up vs. me taking the train back from Kingston. Laura and I discussed me being picked up a day early. That night was one of the deepest sleeps I've ever had. I don't think I woke up once during the night.

Day 3

Though the next day I woke up at 7am, and it was overcast but warm. Laura and I sent a few messages back and forth and we confirmed the pickup to happen in Trenton. She had to drop her days plans which was great of her. That night was supposed to rain right into Sunday. Not a great prospect for camping, or packing up. I decided to head out and see the park and the bike paths it had to offer.

I rode out to the light house at the end of the park. There were a lot of bird watchers all over the park, as the birds like this area. This lighthouse is lime stone covered in ceder.

RVers also like this area

I went back to my camp after riding around. Laura sent me the GPS coordinates of where we would meet because I had screwed up loading maps onto my GPS and only had the basemap and routes for the tour. 
And then packed up and had lunch
The set off to Trenton, the agreed upon pickup location. The weather was really great by this point. The wind had intensified but changed direction. I was cruising at over 30km/h now. I ran into a paramedic fundraising group biking from Toronto to Kingston!
Spent quite a while chatting with some of the riders. They were riding to raise money for a monument to paramedics who have lost their lives. Their ride was a supported ride over two days. I managed to keep up with their pace, even though I was fully loaded until I got stomach cramps from starting out too soon after eating lunch.

I made it to Trenton with 1.5 hours to spare. I was sad I didn't agree with Laura to meet in Belleville instead. The wind and 25 degree temperatures made the ride enjoyable, unlike the previous day.

I did get to ride around Trenton and see the town though. at 1:55pm, Laura arrived to greet a very tired me.

Even though I failed in my goal, I'm happy I did this. I learned a lot about touring and my abilities. I look forward to the next one. You can see my entire ride in Strava.

What I will do better next time around

  1. Only pack the food I will need on the ride itself. Buy lunch and dinner items along the way so I'm not lugging all that food weight.  This will also avoid the expense of freeze dried meals or the unhealthiness (saltiness) of shelf stable packed meals. 
  2. Do not reserve any campgrounds, especially in the Spring and Fall. It costs more at provincial parks to reserve and also forces you to keep to an itinerary you may not be able to keep. 
  3. Purchase and break in a Brooks saddle.
  4. Eat a small lunch and then often during the ride. Stomach cramps suck.
  5. Double check your GPS has all the data you need.
  6. Check wind direction forecast to better plan your distances.
  7. Buy a small multi purpose pot instead of a pot set like I took for weight and packability.

Other thoughts and learnings

One of the things I picked up for this tour are Continental Travel Contact tires. I got the folding versions at an amazing price from Chain Reaction in the UK. These tires have an amazingly low rolling resistance for their size and recommended pressure. I had no flats on the ride. When it was time to traverse gravel or dirt roads/paths, the tires offered enough traction to keep my comfortably controlled with or without load. 

I might look into butterfly bars or trekking bars. These appeal to me much more than drop bars on my commuter, and would allow me to continue using the existing shifter/brake leavers.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Windows 8.1 recovery image

File corruption is something that happens to all systems. With a lot of operating systems, the only course of action is a re-install. With windows 8, Microsoft introduced a method to "refresh" your install. The problem is, that you need something to refresh from. If you purchased a PC installed with Windows 8, or purchased a Windows 8 upgrade when Microsoft was practically giving them away then you may have a slight problem. If your media is Windows 8.1 you're fine, and can just use that, but it's still not ideal. If you're most likely running Windows 8.1, and your installation media is Windows 8. You won't be able to do a refresh at all as the media doesn't match. There is a great right up on how to create a "recovery partition" and a USB recovery drive from your current install.

However, that is still not enough. Once you have created your recovery image, find it, rename it to INSTALL.WIM and then the following:

reagentc /SetOSImage /Path "D:\refreshimage\INSTALL.WIM" /Index 1

Change your path to wherever you created your recovery image from the linked post. Then use your recovery partition checkbox in the create recovery dialog should be available.

The advantage of doing a refresh image, is that it will include all the drivers and settings and core software installs for you. For your actual files either use file history or skydrive backups.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Sigma stepping up it's game with the new 50mm Art

Sigma has always been a discount brand. A cheaper alternative to the big name lenses from Canon and Nikon. Over the last decade though, they've started filling in niches where the big guys have left gaps. An excellent example is the 30mm f/1.4 EX DC, a lens that gave a field of view similar to 50mm on cropped sensor cameras with a wide aperture. This wasn't the best performing lens, but at the price it was a great one to have. The 10-20mm was another example. In the last few years though, Sigma is attacking the big guys in the high end. The latest camera to do this is the 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.

This lens is apparently a beast. Sigma wasn't going after Nikon or Canon here, but Zeiss! How is that for ambition. From all acounts, they may have not beaten Zeiss's 55mm f/1.4 Otus, but at less than half the price it's a clear winner. The first review of this lens is over at SLR Gear.

We now have a price, $1030 USD. Amazing for a lens of this level. Source

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Monday, December 30, 2013

Finally upgraded my camera

It was a long time coming, but I finally upgraded my camera. Thanks to a tip from +Adam Maas, I'm now the owner of a "new" Nikon D600 for $1200. Open Box Boxing week sale at Henry's. Full warranty though. Wasn't planning on buying anything on Boxing Week, but ended up buying a new dryer today too! :)

Patiently waiting for the battery to fully charge. Only thing missing from the camera was the triangle eyelets for the camera strap. Someone managed to remove these. I didn't notice until this posting so I'll have to call tomorrow to see if I can get my replacements. 

My camera gear was sitting unused a lot as cell phones started coming out with cameras that took better pictures than my ageing D200. Will see how things go now that I have this. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Alternative Instant Messaging clients for Android

So +Google has seriously screwed their instant messaging client. The one new feature that was going to be amazing in Hangouts, notification/read syncing between devices works so poorly it looses messages. When it did work, it worked inconsistently. I know that this only affects a small set of users, but I'm one of them. I longed for the days where my messages were simply sent to all my logged in devices. On the desktop I tried using the web client, but it didn't compare to using a multi-protocol client like Pidgin. So I was forced to try out alternative third party clients on Android similar to what I use on the desktop. One thing to note ahead of time, if you want Hangouts for video chat, you're stuck with having a broken Google Talk implementation as none of these clients support the video feature.


 This client has been around for a long time and I knew it without having to research. It's available for almost every platform and has a trusted name. I found the interface to be a bit dated, but functional. It supports cloud message history syncing via their own services. Skype is also supported which is nice as Microsoft has been talking about dumping MSNM for some time now. This app costs $5. However, if you want OTR, that's another $5. I find that a bit steep for something that should be based on GPL code. I'm actually going to investigate that. You can try IM+ for free with adds and some features missing.


I didn't get far though. Even though it's free, or because it is, you have to sign up with them first. They ask for a lot of details and apparently kill your account if it smells like you didn't enter your full and proper details. From what I have seen though they have the cleanest and nicest interface.


This client also worked well but I couldn't get past the interface. The talk bubble interface got old very quickly. The full featured Pro version
 costs $10, which considering it doesn't include OTR like encryption was a bit steep. I didn't find the price justified over the $5 price of IM+. They do have a free version available as well.

So in the end I stuck with IM+ and paid for their pro version. It  seems to be the best by far in terms of features, usability and value. Yes, some of the clients are free, but require you to sign over your IM privacy to some third party. This app, at the time of purchase cost $5 and you can leave the company out of your IM or choose to benefit from their history syncing.

The one annoying thing I ran into with all the clients has nothing to do with the actual clients but that some of the other IM protocols, unlike Jabber, do not support multiple device sign-in. Wish they did as logging in/out all the time is annoying. Still it's a small price to pay for an actual working IM client that doesn't loose your messages.

Lastly, I know there are complete alternatives to these like Whatsapp, but this is not what I was after and have no interest in it. Hopefully you will find this mini review of value as I know I'm not the only one that is having issues with Hangouts.

 Update: Since posting this I got some other recommendations which missed my radar as they are not multi-protocol.


An open source Jabber client which will interface happily with the old Google Talk gateway. Looks clean and full featured and OTR is included. If you're just looking for a Google Talk replacement, this looks like the best I've seen so far, and it's free.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Do not use Windows 8s "Windows 7 File Recovery"

Windows 8 carried forward the disk imaging backup and restore feature from previous versions of Windows. They call this "Windows 7 File Recovery" as it's a feature Microsoft hopes to remove in future versions of Windows. When trying out Windows 8.1 I can confirm that it's gone. This is warning to anyone to stay far far away from this method of backing up your data. In fact, Microsoft leaves you high and dry in terms of proper disaster recovery for your system in Windows 8. Yes, your personal files can be backed up using their File History feature, but that's not the same thing as a full system restore.

Windows disk image backup is severely broken. It expects your drive configuration to be the same as when you made the backup. If anything is out of place, you will get the following error:
Windows image restore (Error code 0x80070057; "the parameter is incorrect")
What this error means, is that the number, type, size and order of the drives as they were when you made the backup are not the same as they are now.There is no way I could find to see what that was during backup. There is no way to manual write the image file to disk and no way to properly convert the backup VHDX file to anything usable. This means, that if your primary drive dies, and you get a new, different one, you won't be able to simply re-image the drive. What's worse, is that I made this backup less than one week ago, but even having a memory card in a reader can screw things up.

So my files are safe. The reason I'm restoring is not due to hardware failure but me simply screwing around. I haven't lost anything other than hours of time. I've learned a valuable lesson, do not trust Microsoft with your data, they will find a way to screw it up. Chose a reliable 3rd party tool to do your backups. I'm probably going with Clonezilla.