Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tabletop Demonstrator

Knot-tying instruction is a difficult subject to film. If you don't believe me, go onto YouTube and just search for knots. The problem is that the easiest angle to film is from the front, but if you try to follow along and tie the knot, everything is in reverse. The best angle for instruction is from the perspective of the knot-tyer. But most videos from that angle are really jerky as someone attaches the camera to their head to get a "point of view" recording.

So I came up with a PVC contraption, originally called the Knot Demonstrator. It allows you to film directly downwards, which works pretty well for filming knot-tying. But then my wife wanted to digitize some artwork that wouldn't fit in the scanner, and we discovered that the Knot Demonstrator works for that, too. So after a lot of experimentation and changes, I've come up with a stable design that allows you to film and photograph anything from directly above. The new name is Tabletop Demonstrator because it can be used for much more than just knot videos.

(All 3/4" sch 40 PVC or fittings)

Legs -- 4x 21.5"
Crossbeams -- 4x 9"
Z-Beams -- 4x 10.5"
Stabilizers -- 2x 7"
Hidden Connectors -- 6x 1.5"
* A note on lengths: These lengths are set up with my specific camera in mind. Depending on how wide of an angle your camera has, you may need to change the dimensions slightly. If, when you have everything set up correctly, you can see any of the PVC, you either need to shorten the legs or make the Z-Beams or Crossbeams longer.

2 End Caps
8 90-degree elbows
8 Tees

By the way, you may notice that there's an extra Tee between the lower crossbeams. I don't know what it's doing there, but it seemed to be a handy place to put a connector (possibly for future modifications).

Price: Around $10.00, unless you have all the parts lying around (like I do)
Build time: 15 minutes, more if you need to adjust the height or width
Availability of materials: Readily available
Durability: It's PVC. Plenty durable for indoor work
Functionality: Works very well for what it's designed for
Portability: Somewhat large and bulky, but it can fold up into a smaller size (see future post)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Steripen Prefilter

I'm a fan of reusing bottles. I'm using a 1 quart/1 liter Gatorade bottle instead of a Nalgene for holding/purifying my water. I'm terrible at remembering to clean stuff after coming back from a camping trip, and I'd rather a Gatorade bottle go slimy than an expensive "reusable" bottle.

99% of the time, this isn't an issue. My Steripen fits inside the bottle barely, and so I can still use it. As long as the water comes up to the very top, the contacts can be submerged, and the Steripen will operate.

The problem comes when the water isn't deep enough to fill the water up to the top of the bottle. Quick and easy solution is to create a water scooper. This can be made from the bottom of a water or soft drink bottle.
The other problem is that when using a bandanna to filter out guck, you either have to pour the water very slowly or expect to lose most of it off the sides. If you use a funnel, however, the water can take as long as it needs to filter through the bandanna. And fortunately, the top of the same bottle as above can be used as the funnel (see diagram). You simply place the bandanna over the Gatorade bottle, insert the funnel, and then pour water from the scooper into the funnel. It takes a few minutes to fill a 1-liter bottle with this method, but it works. And this would only be needed if the water is cloudy or has floaties.

The final question is, how much space does this take up? Well, if you have external water bottle pockets, I put the funnel at the bottom of the pocket, then my Steripen, and then the scooper upside-down on top of both. It keeps the Steripen from falling out of the pocket as well, so it works great for my usage.

Price: Between one and two dollars for the bottle, plus a bandana
Build time: 5 minutes
Availability of materials: Smart Water is sold everywhere around here; a soft drink bottle would probably work just as well.
Durability: Should last for a while, and it can be rebuilt at any time
Functionality: Works efficiently, if a little slowly
Portability: Fits with the Steripen into a water bottle pocket

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Review: Steripen Adventurer

I've been looking into water purifiers for a long time. It's a pain to have to carry 3 liters of water with me for an overnighter. Half of my gear weight comes from my water. I've looked at filters, but have read horror stories of them clogging or breaking, and the replacement filters can be very expensive. I've looked into chemicals, but some of them taste terrible, and they all take a long time to work. I even considered going with no purification, but that has always made me nervous. I wanted something small, easy, and safe to use that would give instant satisfaction when on a day hike.

Enter the Steripen. The Steripen line of water purifiers use ultraviolet rays to "deactivate" viruses and bacteria (it alters their DNA, so that they can't reproduce). The same thing happens in nature, where the sun purifies water. The appeal of the Steripen is that it's small, usable for years with only replacement batteries, and will purify a liter (quart) of water in 90 seconds. This means that I can go out with almost no gear at all and still drink as much as I want, as long as there's a water source nearby. Plus, I get to connect with nature and taste everything in the stream. That may sound gross, but I'd rather drink what comes from the mountains than what comes through a municipal supply.

Now, on to my review. I can't tell you anything about the effectiveness, since I've never gotten sick with or without water purification. So instead, I'll talk about my impressions.

The Steripen Adventurer is light. According to the official website, the Steripen Adventurer is 3.6 oz. (105 grams) with batteries. That doesn't mean much to me, but it weighs less than half a cup of water. That's pretty light! It also takes up very little space in my pack. It's about the size of a small water bottle, and actually fits in the water bottle pocket of my pack.

It takes CR123 batteries, a common camera battery (they look like half-size AAs). While not as easy to find as AA batteries, any Wal Mart or Target has them. Supposedly, they last for 50 liters or so, which is plenty for an entire season of camping for me.

Using the Steripen is easy. You take off the cap, push the button, and then stick it in the water and stir it for 90 seconds for a liter of water. In practice, it is slightly harder than that for me. For the Steripen to work, the two contact points must be submerged (the little silver oval on the above picture). While this isn't a problem with Nalgene bottles, I'm using a Gatorade bottle, and the contact points barely fit in the mouth. It does work, but the bottle has to be filled up all the way to the top. This is difficult when drawing water from a shallow stream, so I've come with my own system (more on that in another post). Just be aware that if you're using a Gatorade bottle user, you'll need to be able to fill it up to the very rim.

The other thing that makes a Steripen a little more difficult to use is that the water needs to be clear. Murky water blocks the UV rays, making it ineffective. However, I did find some good information in the owner's manual that I hadn't found online. It says it will work with relatively clear water. In their words, it wil work with water that looks like"weak lemonade," the kind that you can still see through, but is slightly cloudy. Plus, with water that is a little more cloudy than this, it suggests using the Steripen twice. And you can always prefilter the water with a bandana, which helps somewhat.

As for construction, the Adventurer seems pretty sturdy. It has a rubbery feel, and is easy to grip when wet. The cap is very secure, to the point where I had a hard time getting it on and off. I don't think I'd want to drop it on the wand when the cap isn't on, as I'm pretty sure it would break, but I think that it could sustain a drop with the cap on. And when in its protective cloth case, I wouldn't be worried about it at all.

All in all, I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It loses slight points for needing clear water and the slight difficulty of use in Gatorade bottles. But I still think it's the best solution out there!

Price: $79.95 w/free shipping from
Build time: N/A
Availability of materials: You can buy it online almost anywhere, and I've found it in a couple of local outdoor stores. The batteries aren't hard to find, either.
Durability: As long as you don't drop it with the cap off.
Functionality: Works quickly and easily with clear water; not as good with murky water.
Portability: Will fit in a cargo pocket or on a belt.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

UmbrellaPod Redux

I've now built an UmbrellaPod, and I've modified my method slightly. My new method doesn't require destroying the umbrella, but it does require using a hacksaw to cut the PVC. I'm including a drawing below, with all parts labeled, but keep in mind that you do not need to follow my dimensions exactly. Also remember that the two 90 degree elbows are adjustable, and when using the UmbrellaPod, you will want them turned so the PVC Camera Mount is horizontal instead of vertical.

Parts Needed
All PVC Pieces are 3/4" Sch 40

A. One round end cap
B. Two slip tees
C. Two 90 degree slip elbows
D. One 4 foot pipe
E. One 14 inch pipe
F. One 2.5 inch pipe with a
1 inch by 1/4 inch slot cut
in the top and bottom
G. One umbrella
H. One PVC Camera Mount

(Not Pictured)
One 9 inch bungee cord
Two 1.75 inch sections of pipe (between the 90 degree elbows and the tee)

Here is the video version of the above.

Price: $10-15, if you don't already own an umbrella.
Build time: 20 minutes, mostly for cutting the notch in the PVC.
Availability of materials: Readily available.
Durability: As durable as the umbrella you use.
Functionality: A windy day may blow the umbrella around, making the image jerky, but it should work on a non-windy rainy day. Section D can be removed, turning it into a walk-around device.
Portability: About the same as a PVC monopod.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Brushing Alternative

So one time I was out camping by myself and didn't bring a toothbrush or toothpaste (too much of a hassle). On this trip, I also had a summer sausage, which I ate before going to bed. In the morning, my breath stunk so bad that I was grossing myself out!

Here's a quick alternative to brushing your teeth while out backpacking. Go to your local Wally World and pick up one of the dollar travel mouthwash bottles. Rinse and spit in the morning, rinse and spit at night. It may not be as good as brushing, but it will kill those bacteria, and eliminate the breath that can stop a bear at 50 paces.

And when you return to civilization, you can always refill the bottle for your next excursion.

Friday, April 3, 2009


Here's an idea I've had kicking around for a while. Go to your local dollar store and buy a cheap umbrella (not an automatic). Take off the handle, but leave the long neck tube. Slide the tube into a 1/2" or 3/4" PVC pipe, and connect like the diagrams show. Use the PVC Camera Mount (shown in blue) to connect the contraption to your camera (in dark grey), and there you have it.

There are two basic configurations. The first has the camera coming off a pole (in actuality, two pieces of PVC pipe divided by a T connector). The weight of the camera makes it front heavy, but it will allow you to turn the camera sideways for profile shots.

The second design puts the weight of the camera directly over the monopod pole, but it also eliminates the ability to turn the camera sideways.

And of course, you can eliminate the pole altogether and use it for mobile shots.

Price: Under $5.00, if you can find a dollar store umbrella.
Build time: 10 minutes, assuming the handle comes off the umbrella.
Availability of materials: Readily available.
Durability: The PVC is durable; if you buy a cheap umbrella, I doubt it will last too long.
Functionality: Having never built one of these, I can only speculate that with any sort of wind, the umbrella may go flying (once I actually build one, I'll see if I can think of an easy way to secure it). Other than that, I can see how this could come in very handy.
Portability: About the same as a PVC monopod.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

PVC Camera Mount Secured

One of the possible drawbacks to the PVC camera mount is that the entire thing is only held together by friction. Theoretically, the camera mount, and the camera, could slip out of its socket and then bye bye $3,000 digital SLR.

The first solution is to never trust an expensive camera to my setup. I mean, it is homemade out of a dollar's worth of hardware. If you can plonk down a couple thousand for a camera, you should be able to afford a $50 tripod.

The other solution is a locking mechanism that I haven't tested extensively, but seems to work pretty well.

The mechanics are simple. Drill two holes in the camera mount on each side. Do the same for the PVC fitting. Align the holes in the two pieces, then bend a coat hanger or bike spoke so that it fits snugly into the holes. Slide the clip into the holes, and there you go -- a secure connection that won't slip out no matter how hard you shake it.

One thing that I've found useful is to make the wire clip off-centered a little bit. It helps make slipping it into the holes a little easier.

Having shown this design, I want to point out that I probably won't be using it normally. It adds one more element of hassle, and the basic mount is secure enough that I've never worried about my camera falling off.

However, there are a few designs I've got running around in my head where a little extra security might be nice.

Price: Free, if you've got a metal coat hangar lying around.
Build time: 10 minutes, with a drill, wire cutters, and some pliers.
Availability of materials: Readily available.
Durability: Medium to High. The metal clip may fatigue eventually, but it should be fine for a while.
Functionality: Quick and easy, works great.
Portability: Only takes slightly more room than the camera mount.

Monday, March 23, 2009

PVC for PVC Camera Mount

I've gotten a few questions about the thing-walled PVC tubing for my PVC Camera mount. I've looked it up, and when you go to the hardware store, if you want to sound smart, ask for the 3/4 inch PVC SDR Schedule 21. You can read more about it here.

Around here, I know Lowe's carries it, but I don't know where else to find it. But Lowe's doesn't carry the flat top caps; only round ones. The person helping me at Lowe's suggested trying a sprinkler supply store or a plumbing specific store.

Hope this helps!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Cous Cous a la Spam

This is actually one of my favorite foods while either going on a day trip or doing an overnighter.

3/4 cup whole wheat cous cous
1 packet Spam Single
1 one quart Ziploc freezer bag
Seasoning, to taste
1 cup water

At home, put 3/4 cups of cous cous into the Ziploc bag. Add seasoning to fit your taste (I generally use seasoned salt, but anything would work). That's it.

In camp, cut up the Spam and drop it into the bag. Boil one cup of water (check out my SuperCat Breakfast for my preferred method of boiling water) and add it to the bag as well. Seal the bag and let sit for five minutes. Open, and eat directly from the bag. When you're done, drop the Spam package into the Ziploc, wash off your spoon or fork, and you're done!

Before you say "Eww! Gross!" about the Spam, let me say that it's not as bad as you think. The Hawaiians eat it all the time. It doesn't need refrigeration, and contains 13 grams protein. Add that to the carbs you get in the cous cous, and you've got a pretty healthy meal.

Spam is high in fat, sodium, and calories, but when backpacking, none of these are necessarily bad things. You're expending so much energy and sweating out enough salt that a little bit in return isn't going to hurt you.

This recipe is enough to be plenty for one person, and can be prepared cold if you forget your lighter (trust me on that one). It feels great to hold the steaming bag on a cold morning/evening. Just be sure to take the saltiness of the Spam into consideration when flavoring the cous cous. And be sure to have plenty of water as well.



So this is my newest creation (at least, that I have a prototype for). I call it a SpearPod, 'cuz it looks like a spear. Clever, eh?

This is a device that works for the most part, with at least one problem. In a breeze, it tends to wobble a bit. I had that problem while filming the YouTube video, but remedied the situation by resting a brick at the base of it to hold it steady. Without a breeze, it's not a big deal.

The other thing is that when you slide the PVC over the stake, it doesn't sit completely parallel, but that can be remedied with the adjusters at the top (see my snowpod video to see how that works). I also wouldn't recommend using a heavy camera, but for compact ones, it works fine.

I envision that instead of the long piece of PVC, a stick could be whittled to fit into the PVC fittings, which would allow you to use this anywhere that has sticks lying about. I'm sure there are plenty of other uses people could come up with. Tell me if you think of anything!

Price: Under $5
Build time: 10 minutes, with the right hand tools.
Availability of materials: Should be available, if you can find the thin walled tubing.
Durability: Medium to High. It should be as durable as a cheap tripod.
Functionality: As long as you can find something to pound the stake into the ground, it's easy.
Portability: You have to carry around a long pole, but it can double as a walking stick.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Very Insulator

I've discovered a premade insulator for my hammock. It's not the warmest method, but it is probably the lightest and simplest. Go to Wal Mart or some other super center. In their automotive section, you will find the sun shades. Look for the kind that are metallic on one side and foam on the other. Here is an example. They should be less than five bucks.

To use, just stick it in your hammock, foil side up, and lay on top of it. The shiny side reflects the radiant heat back towards you, while the foam seems to be enough to protect against conduction (heat loss though contact). I wouldn't suggest using this method in sub-zero weather, but it could be used in connection with other hammock insulating methods to give you possibly an extra 10 degrees of warmth.

Here are some pictures of the setup.

This is the sunscreen folded up. Not very nicely, but I wanted it to be small.

This is it unrolled on the foam side. In front is a yardstick, so I'm guessing the entire thing is about four feet long or so. They also make larger ones. Normally there isn't a chunk taken out of the upper righthand side, but I was initially using this for a different project.

This is the sunscreen in the hammock, foil side up. Obviously.

As for durability, I wouldn't take a knife to it, but it has a fabric edging to it which mostly keeps it from tearing. Once a tear starts, however, it rips easily. But then again, for the price, you can just go buy another one.

I call it the Very Insulator because it's very cheap, very easy to make (or find in this case), and very easy to use.

Price: Under $5
Build time: None!
Availability of materials: Readily available
Durability: Relatively low
Functionality: Super quick setup
Portability: Weighs next to nothing, folds up pretty small

Welcome to my hopefully soon-to-be used blog!

Welcome all DIY fans! So far, nothing has happened here yet, but hopefully I will start to use this soon. If I don't have time to make a video, maybe I'll post something here instead.

So what is Good Enough Stuff? This refers to my personal philosophy of resource-light homemade equipment for photography, backpacking, and miscellaneous situations. What are these resources? They would include-
  • Time
  • Money
  • Tools
  • Skill
  • Materials
Can you make a hammock at home? Absolutely. But if it takes 10 days, requires a $500 sewing machine, expensive high-tech fabric, or a PhD in sewing, then to me, it's not worth it. So instead, I build a hammock in an hour or two for less than $20. Will it be as good as the $800 hammock? Probably not. But, it's "good enough."

Anyway, I hope you check back over time as I get more of my projects up here. And if you want to see what I've already built, try my YouTube account (search for PacoWarabi). Have a great time building stuff!