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My Personal EDC Geek Kit

May 28th, 2018 (03:02 pm)

This month finds me in France for a few weeks, away from hearth, home, family, and all my worldly posessions. While getting ready for this trip, I spent a bunch of time reviewing what I carry in my backpack – cleaning out debris that had accumulated (A few handfuls of receipts, some cold meds, and cables that didn’t make sense anymore), and making sure I had everything I’d need while away from home for an extended trip.

Contents of my every day carry backpack.

I realized while double-checking my kit that it really doesn’t change much. And since I got here (about a week ago) I haven’t had to replace or change anything, and I haven’t gone “Dammit, I’m missing something, guess I’ll go buy it.”

Now I’m not off in the wild jungle or anything – Paris does in fact have stores – but I’m pleased to say everything I’ve needed for work, and for my various jaunts around the city, have all been pretty well covered.

Someone on Slack asked about what I’m carrying for kit gear, so I decided to quickly write it up…

  • OGIO Camera bag – I got this bag something like 5 years ago, and it’s been great. It’s starting to get a little worn, but nothing is broken, and it came with a rain shroud that I’ve used a few times. It has a special pouch along the bottom specifically for camera gear.

  • Macbook Pro 13 – this is my every day computer. I don’t have a desktop machine at home.

    This is both my work and my personal machine. I’m typing on it as we speak!

  • Camera Flash – A small electronic flash for my Olympus

  • Memory cards – This bag contains about 20 memory cards – some USB3, some SD, a few microSD cards, and adapters. I used to have a specialized plastic case for cards, but there’s no reason to keep them that organized. Just toss ’em in the bag.

  • Earplugs – These are wax custom forming earplugs. I’ve used them on overnight plane flights, or in hotels that are just Too Damned Noisy

  • Macbook power supply – The smallest configuration I could get

  • Checkbook – Yes, there’s circumstances where I may need to use a check. I will probably just pick a few checks off this and put them in my wallet soon.

  • My journal – I have a journal. This was a gift from my sweetie – it’s about 3/4 full of a lot of dense writing. I find the act of writing in it cathartic. It slows me down and lets me think without all the geekery

  • Brainwavez Delta IEM Headphones – This is my “>second set of these (and I’m using them right now). They’re still fantastic sounding, and roll up into a nice light zippered case. The only reason I replaced them was the laptop fell off my lap at one point and bent the headphone connector all out of whack. Oops

  • Yes, I carry a rubiks cube around. It’s a great fidget toy, and a great way to relax. Also tends to start conversations. Best time right now is 1 minute 14 seconds for a full solve. But I’m out of practice, so nowadays it’s closer to 2 minutes. Also, a friend just reminded me that I sometimes use it for showing scale in a photo. Everyone knows how big a rubiks cube is.

  • Generic clip-on Sunglasses – these are a pair of clip on sunglasses I got off Amazon. They work remarkably well

  • My work ID pass

  • My passport – I don’t keep this with me all the time, just for this trip. I keep it in a buried pocket in the pack, very difficult to reach unless you’re trying hard Pickpocket proof as best I can do it.

  • Cleaning cloth for glasses – I wear glasses. I have sunglasses. Not having a good cleaning cloth at hand can be infuriating, particularly if you’re not wearing a cotton shirt or something.

  • KMASHI K-MP816 10000 mAh battery – This is critical. This battery has saved my ass a dozen times. It’s your typical portable battery pack. The reviews on it aren’t particularly stellar on Amazon, but for $12, I’ve totally gotten my money out of it. It’s a good balance between weight and capacity.

  • LKY DIGITAL Travel Adapter – This is a nifty little cube (it’s int he black zippered case) that has also been a godsend. It is a multi country adapter, able to plug into most European countries, as well as Japan and others I don’t know about. The real kicker is it has 2 USB charging ports on it also, so at night I can plug in my laptop, my cell phone, and my watch for recharging (or my travel battery), and have enough plugs for them all.

  • Apple Displayport to Ethernet adapter – Sometimes you’re in a place where the wifi just plain sucks or isn’t available (like a datacenter).

  • Charge cable for my Android Smartwatch

  • WMZ Multi Charger Cable – I love this thing. It’s a single USB cable with 3 ends on it. Lightning, Micro USB, and USB-C. It’s pretty rare I need more than one at a time, but I have a very good cable in case I need to charge my SO’s iPhone, or charge my KMASHI battery. My phone uses USB-C, so I’m all set no matter what I need. The cable itself is very well built, with a little velcro keeper and everything.

  • A spare small USB multiport charger, just in case.

  • Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Multitool – So, this is a bit of a problem. This is a very small (and inexpensive) multitool that I like to have with me, because having a multitool is handy. I normally carry that inside the Altoids tin with the rest of my ‘support stuff’, but out of the last 10 plane flights, two of them have been pulled out by the TSA and confiscated. Now what I do is take the multitool out of my bag and put it in my checked luggage (if I’m bringing some). If I don’t have checked luggage, I leave the multitool at home. Frustrating, because this thing is tiny, and incredibly useful.

  • Altoids ‘kit’ – It’s a little hard to see in this pic, but there’s 2 altoids tins there. One is full of tasty altoids goodness. The other is a sort of emergency kit I build after reading some of the more sane prepper sites. In that second tin I carry:

    • Bandaids

    • Antibiotic ointment

    • Advil

    • A small LED flashlight

    • Some cash

    • Several rubber bands

    • Several paper clips (these things have come in handy SO MANY TIMES, I honestly cannot tell you. Seriously, carry some.

    • Some anti-itch cream

    • Alcohol wipes

  • The rest of the items are specifically for my Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Camera. A note here – this is the first long trip I’ve taken with the smaller camera, and I LOVE IT. I’m already having ideas for different lenses to carry but my current set is working quite well.

    • Spare lens caps

    • Olympus 25mm F1.8 Lens – The equivalent of the standard ‘nifty fifty’ lens so common on 35mm bodies. It’s been okay for my work, though I think I’d like faster glass.

    • Spare batteries and charger. I carry 3 batteries with me, because I’m almost ALWAYS having one go down, so having one to switch to that’s fresh, and one in the wings is great They charge pretty fast, so keeping them all charged isn’t much of a challenge.

    • Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 Lens (on camera) – A great landscape lens. Flat and easy to work with, great for scenery and tourism shots!

    • Olympus 40-150mm Zoom Lens – This is equivalent to a 300mm lens in the 35mm body family. It’s great for doing ‘long lens’ work, and is extremely light.

    • Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Four-Thirds Camera – See my other blog post about this camera, but this is now my everyday shooter. I love it.

    • Leather case for PEN-F – I freely admit one of the reasons I got the PEN-F was it’s retro styling. This brown leather case completes the image, and of course works really well protecting the camera. I leave the lens cover off when carrying it around on shoots, and bundle it up when it’s on it’s way any long distance (like on a plane).

Theres naturally other stuff I have that’s not in the pic, like my cell phone, but one thing I’d like to add in is I carry a Pocketmonkey Wallet Multitool. This is a super handy thin credit card sized piece of metal that has things like a bottle opener, screwdriver, wrench, etc etc on it. I’ve used it half a dozen times, and it is 100% TSA approved (I’ve only gotten nudged on it once, where an overzealous TSA agent asked about it, took it out of my wallet, went over to confer with his supervisor, and came back “Huh, these are 100% okay. Cool!” and off I went.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing. Leave a comment if you think of something I should change or get. I will probably be looking to replace my Ogio pack soon, as it’s a little long in the tooth. Something a little more outdoorsey would be nice.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Review: Tap Titans 2

April 29th, 2018 (03:14 pm)

For a while I was very into an interesting niche of games. Generally referred to as ‘incremental games’, these games combine “Sit back and watch stuff happen” with “click a bunch of times to do some small task over and over again.” The games tend to lea a combination of watching things run, and ‘click something to move the game ahead’. Some examples are Cookie Clicker, the Paper Clip Game and the Kittens game.

Naturally this made me look at games like this for mobile, and after some digging around, I found Tap Titans 2.

Now, this game has a cute backstory – Titans (big monsters) are appearing around the world, and you lead a band of heroes to head them off when they appear before they wreak havoc.

The basic idea is pretty straightforward. Click on the screen, your hero makes an attack and does damage to a titan. Do enough damage, the titan is destroyed, and the next one appears. Each time you destroy a titan, you get a certain amount of gold. That gold can be used to summon and level up other heroes to help fight the Titans. Every 5 titans there’s a Boss, if you defeat the Boss, you move on to the next stage. At some point, the amount of gold you’re getting can’t level up your heroes enough to defeat the Boss, and you stop progressing. When this happens, you have the option to Prestige, which basically resets the game back to the start, but you get a ton of bonuses (skill points, artifacts, etc) that help your hero be stronger the next time through. In the beginning, getting to a point where you Prestige may take a day or two. In the upper levels, it gets down to a few hours, and then with certain artifacts and other bonuses, you can do it in 20 minutes.

So where’s the challenge and interest, and why have I been playing this game non stop for almost two months?

Well, first, the graphics are outstanding. It’s a beautiful game to watch and interact with. The developers have taken lots of time paying attention to the animation and color detail.. almost to a fault! With the game in full graphics mode, I’ll drain a battery faster than I can charge it!

The second reason is… well, it’s fun. I know it sounds odd to watch a game mostly run itself, but it’s the small changes, upgrades, tweaks to the damage boosts, figuring out when to pay for what when… it’s… fun. Anyone who plays incremental games I think has a hard time explaining why it’s relaxing and enjoyable… it just is.

Lastly, the developers did a lot to keep the game interesting. There’s tournaments every week that pit you against similarly-levelled players. There’s regular drops of upgrades, ‘fairy boxes’ (big gold bonuses), and a simplistic, but pleasant Clan system where you can team up with other people to gain bonuses. Being in a strong clan can be a huge boost to how far you get in the game.

Do I recommend it to everyone? Nah. Do I recommend it to people who like incrementals? Definitely. It’s free, and is definitely not a “pay to win” game. I played for a month without contributing, and decided in the end to buy some diamonds, not because I needed them to win (I haven’t even spent them yet), but because I felt the developers had done a great job, and this was my way of supporting them.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Going Mirrorless. Switching from Canon to Olympus

April 12th, 2018 (02:17 pm)

The photography community is going through yet another sea change driven by technology. The first big adjustment happened when digital cameras got good enough to replace film. This was primarily driven by DSLR’s becoming price and performance competitive with analog cameras, and the entire industry pivoted to digital.

The next wave is the move from DSLR to mirrorless technology. This is fairly recent – technically the earliest digital cameras were ‘mirrorless’ in that they didn’t have the internal mechanisms that SLR’s have (and thus were considered inferior in many ways). But recently mirrorless cameras with sensor and lens ecosystems as good as professional (and ‘prosumer’) cameras have been gaining popularity, and it’s become pretty apparent that the DSLR’s days are numbered.

I went whole hog into DSLR land after taking pictures for many years with ‘point and shoot’ digital cameras. My first DSLR was a Canon Digital Rebel XTi (nee ‘400D’), and later a Canon 70D. I continued using both through weddings, portrait shoots, event photography, etc, enjoying the quality and ‘feel’ of the platform.

Eventually I realized I was using my camera less because of it’s bulkiness, and the fact that I was already carrying a pretty decent camera in my pocket. My cell phone camera was, to use the well worn phrase, the best camera you can have (ie, “the one you have with you”). I was using my phone camera for snapshots, shooting subjects I was interested in in the moment, etc, but my pictures stopped being ‘art’, and started just being ‘documenting’. I’m not interested in just being another snapshot phone cam photographer. I want to make beautiful images, and while some of that is possible with a cell phone, I wanted better. It was clear I wasn’t using my Canon (though I carry it in my camera-enabling backpack a lot) because it was heavy, bulky, and unwieldy. Hauling out 2 pounds of camera to take a picture of the beautiful sky or a street at night was just becoming a hassle.

Time to look at mirrorless cameras.

Canon had already been working on a mirrorless line, with the M50 and the M6 bodies. They were relatively expensive, and the reviews were okay, if not exciting. If I was going to invest in an entire new camera platform (and lets be clear, when you replace your camera, you’re also replacing all the accessories – lenses, flashes, etc – you’ve gotten for the old platform), I wanted it to be something I was excited about, and had a good ecosystem behind it.

I was attracted to the Micro Four Thirds family of lenses (referred to as ‘m43’ or ‘m4/3’ or ‘MFT’ by the technorati – I just use m43). There seemed to be a lot of support for the platform among many manufacturers, so I started focusing on what platforms were around. My attention was drawn to the Olympus PEN series of cameras – these cameras go back to the late 1950’s, and are easily recognizable in their styling and form factor. Olympus has made digital versions of the PEN cameras for a few years, but only recently have they gone all out and made a high end digital mirrorless version that supports the M43 lens platform, all in the same form factor.

And it looks cool as hell.

After reading many reviews and details online, I took the plunge, and ordered the camera. Because I knew I’d be banging it around a lot, I also added a very nice retro looking leather case for it, as well as a few extra lenses with associated filters, including a 25mm F/1.8 (what is equivalent to the standard 50mm fixed lens on most DSLRs), since much of my style works with shallow depth of field shots.

I received the camera just before a trip to California, so I basically bundled everything into a bag and got on the plane. My first real experience using the camera was during some walkarounds in San Francisco.

First impressions

San Francisco, March, 2018,

It’s small. In some ways, the camera feels a bit like a toy, but only because I’m so used to handling a large bulky device. Once I got past the size issues, the camera is pleasant to use. Fast on the shutter, good autofocus and it makes nice decisions about auto settings. I’m avoiding fiddling the manual modes for a while, because the manual is ENORMOUS, and there’s a lot to get through. I did change the autofocus setting to be a sort of hybrid manual mode. You can set it to autofocus for you, then you can manually adjust the focus off the initial setting via the lens ring. Handy.

I immediately ran into a problem where the camera would lock up after several shots. No amount of on/off, button pushing, closing / opening the display or anything would cause it to come back to life – and it would get HOT, draining the battery very quickly. It was obviously stuck in some software loop. Popping the battery out and back in cause it to reboot, and I could continue shooting, but having to do this every 3-4 shots was frustrating. Turns out it was a known firmware bug that was fixed in version 2.0. Olympus provides a (remarkably well written) download / update tool to upgrade the camera via a USB cable. Once the firmware was updated, no more lockups. Hooray!

The next thing I had to overcome was the viewfinder. Because this camera is not an SLR, which shows you, via the viewfinder, exactly what the camera sensor will see when it takes the picture, The PEN-F has a secondary digital display within the viewfinder that shows you what the sensor will see, but obviously at a much lower resolution. It has the advantage of showing you all the details you’ll need to know about the shot (ISO, aperture, exposure, battery life, storage information, etc), and has a neat presentation style after you take the shot (you half press the shutter button to set focus, then full press to shoot, just like most cameras… On the next press, you get a very fast preview of the last shot taken – about 1/4 second, but it lets you know what the last shot looked like. I found this extremely useful when taking multiple shots in a row, to understand if the last shot was focused right, got what i needed, etc). The digital viewfinder has drawbacks though. It doesn’t come on until the camera senses your face is near the display, so there’s a noticeable delay before the image comes on. This can be disconcerting. The display is a low resolution version of the actual photo you’ll be taking, and because it’s a luminous version of the shot, the colors and values can feel ‘off’ – this isn’t a reflective version of what your lens would see, it’s a replayed version of reality using glowing pixels. It has a very different feel, and takes some getting used to.

The back of the camera has a flip out high resolution touch sensitive display that is great for replays, working through the (VAST) menu system, or doing maintenance on the camera. The display can be folded out, flipped over, and hidden, which is how I prefer to shoot – I don’t like having a sensitive glass display open to being banged about in my bag. The menus and environment were snappy and easy to navigate, but the menu system is quite deep and detailed. I’ve had to refer to the manual and to online forums several times to find things buried in the multilevel menu system.

The PEN-F does have wifi support, and it looks to be much better than the Canon configurations (which I found all but useless). For now I’m using SD cards to move content from the camera to my Mac running Lightroom. I’ll try the wifi process at some point, but or now it’s something that’s not on my hot list.

So, how does it perform?

So far, I’m exceptionally pleased with the quality of shots coming off it. First, working with the fixed 25mm lens has been an experience pretty much dead on with my work with the standard ‘nifty fifty’s. The lens is fast and responsive, and handles light just fine. The focal depth is about what I’d expect for a fixed lens of this size, and the form factor is just right. In my bag, the entire assembly is hardly noticeable compared to my bulky 70D.

Olympus also offers a 150mm (300mm equivelent) ‘long lens’ for an extremely reasonable price (I got mine for $99). I recognized I wanted to do long lens shots, so picked up the 150mm, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Motion on the lens is excellent, and I was able to ‘snipe’ profile shots at a big social gathering beautifully. I also took this lens to a soccer practice, and was very pleased with the quality of shots coming out of the system.

925 grams

650 grams

So, lets talk physical comparisons for a bit.

The obvious part is – the Olympus is small. Roughly half the size of the Canon equipment. This makes it much easier to carry around and not have it be a burden. Batteries, camera body, lenses, associated gear, all half the weight, for roughly the same performance.

Weight wise, I compared the Canon 70D with a 1.8mm 50mm lens against the Olympus PEN-F with a 25mm 1.8 lens. The Canon weighed in at 925 grams, and the Olympus was 650 grams, putting the Canon setup about 50% heavier than the Olympus. That’s a pretty significant change.

In short, the Olympus is smaller, lighter, and easier to work with than the Canon, with comparable performance.

What about picture quality?

Easter Egg Hunt

I’m not the worlds greatest photographer. In fact, I’d argue I’m somewhere in the ‘meh’ to ‘okay’ department. Sometimes I luck out, and sometimes something I’m really trying to capture happens as I envisioned it. I love the work I create, and want to get better, but I know I have a lot to learn. Having said that, I don’t think i’ve come anywhere close to pushing the 70D or the PEN-F to their capability limits, so while some may argue the PEN-F has this or that deficiency or advantage over the 70D, that’s not really what is going to impact my work. I got the camera because I felt I needed something more portable, lighter, and easier to work with, which would encourage me to get out and shoot more. I believe in that I’ve succeeded.

San Francisco, March, 2018

I’ve done some street photography (which I enjoy), and have been super happy with the results. I’ve taken it out for your typical day of touristy fun, and I’ve shot portraits. I’ve used it at a soccer game for sports photography. In all these settings, it’s performed well and I’ve been happy with the results.

Wrapping it up – Conclusions and thoughts

After a month with the new camera, I have to say I’m pretty satisfied. The form factor, the picture quality, and the performance has been great. I won’t lie, part of my attraction to the camera was how it looks and feels. It’s got a retro affect that I find attractive and interesting. Very little of the styling is ‘there just for show’ – it’s all functional and useful (okay, maybe the on-camera post-effects set via a dial on the front of the body are a little strange), but overall, the controls are effective, well placed, and functinal.

I’m fully committed to using the PEN-F as my primary shooter. There’s no reason I’d need to bring my 70D with me for 98% of my photowalks or other events. Am I getting rid of my 70D? Probably not – having a second body is very handy for events and paid gigs. I’ll probably work with both cameras for weddings where having two cameras set up with different lenses is needed.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Curta Type 1 Handheld Calculator

March 24th, 2018 (12:27 pm)

Anyone who deals in collecting older computers, or heck even if you have just a few few nerd bits, has probably seen or heard about these calculators.

According to the Wikipedia article,

“The Curta was conceived by Curt Herzstark in the 1930s in Vienna, Austria. By 1938, he had filed a key patent, covering his complemented stepped drum, Deutsches Reichspatent (German National Patent) No. 747073. This single drum replaced the multiple drums, typically around 10 or so, of contemporary calculators, and it enabled not only addition, but subtraction through nines complement math, essentially subtracting by adding. The nines’ complement math breakthrough eliminated the significant mechanical complexity created when “borrowing” during subtraction. This drum would prove to be the key to the small, hand-held mechanical calculator the Curta would become.”

Curta Mechanical Calculator

I’ve been hunting around for one of these for years, and I’m happy to say I finally acquired a Type 1 a week or two ago. This one is serial number 20120, manufactured in November, 1952 in Lichtenstein, where all Curtas were manufactured.

My unit functions perfectly, and I’m happily going through tutorials learning not only how to do basic math, but also more complex operations like roots and long division.

Yeah, technically it’s not following my rules for the vintage handheld collection, in that it’s not programmable in the way most folks consider, but in many ways it is a programmable handheld computer, with registers, a clock, and a limited ALU.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Neil deGrasse Tyson's Five Rules of Science

January 15th, 2018 (06:41 pm)

I was excited to hear that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos has been renewed and will be airing new episodes next year. When I was in high school, I was absolutely transformed by Carl Sagan’s original series. I cannot understate the impact it had on my worldview and personal development as a critical thinker and supporter of science.

At the end of season two of Dr. Tyson’s series, he closed with, well, okay a slightly preachy, but still impactful commentary that included Dr. Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot” quote. This was given during a lecture in Cornell in 1994. As Voyager 1 completed it’s mission and was getting ready to leave the solar system forever, Dr Sagan convinced the JPL to turn the Voyager camera around and take one last picture of earth from a distance of 3.7 billion miles.

I hadn’t heard the entire piece in quite some time, and it still brought me to tears.

That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and in triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of the dot on scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner of the dot. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add, a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

This, by itself, would have been a wonderful end to the series. But Dr. Tyson continued and presented his Five Rules of Science. In so many ways, these points build on Dr Sagan’s deep philosophical thoughts, and add concrete rules and guidelines. These are the foundations we should build our debates, our discussions, our ideas on….

Only a few centuries ago, a mere second in cosmic time, we knew nothing of where or when we were. Oblivious to the rest of the cosmos, we inhabited a kind of prison, a tiny universe bounded by a nutshell.

How did we escape from the prison? It was the work of generations of searchers who took five simple rules to heart.

  • Question authority. No idea is true just because someone says so, including me.
  • Think for yourself. Question yourself. Don’t believe anything just because you want to. Believing something doesn’t make it so.
  • Test ideas by the evidence gained from observation and experiment. If a favorite idea fails a well-designed test, it’s wrong. Get over it.
  • Follow the evidence wherever it leads. If you have no evidence, reserve judgment.

And perhaps the most important rule of all…

  • Remember: you could be wrong. Even the best scientists have been wrong about some things. Newton, Einstein, and every other great scientist in history — they all made mistakes. Of course they did. They were human.

  • Science is a way to keep from fooling ourselves, and each other.

There will, naturally, people who pick and choose from this list to simply further their personal agenda. These things cannot be taken in isolation. Either you accept, embrace, and follow them all, or you’re doing it wrong. Humility must go hand in hand with discovery. No one has all the answers. Be a searcher. Learn, grow, and explore.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Doing finish work on a windowsill.

December 27th, 2017 (09:54 pm)

I don’t do much home finishing work, but I’m sort of proud that I got this thing done myself.

After finishing the attic, the windowsill on the one window was unfinished. I decided to do the work myself. It was an ugly and glaring flaw in the otherwise well finished space, it was time to fix it.

The first step was picking up some wood of the appropriate thickness from Lowes, and cutting it to shape in the sill.

I wanted a bit of a lip over the front of it, so I ‘notched’ the side of the front board (it required two pieces because of the depth of the sill) and fit it into place. I was working with relatively rudimentary woodcutting tools (skilsaw and jigsaw), so the fit wasn’t perfect. If I had a chopsaw and/or a scrollsaw, this would be much easier, but there’s only so many tools I can fit in my house. I used my belt sander to smooth / round off the edges of the lip and the nailed the pieces in place with finishing nails, using a small punch to countersink the nails so they wouldn’t stick up.

Because the fit wasn’t perfect, and I hadn’t cut into the drywall to fit the pieces in snugly, I used some silicone to fill in the gaps and seal the wood against the wall. After that, it was just a matter of using some leftover paint I had from when the room was painted, and voila! I had a lovely new windowsill.

Is it perfect? Not even remotely, but it’s a damned sight better than the raw unfinished sill. Onward!

shiny object detector [userpic]

Installing the Back Seat on my 2000 Jeep Wrangler TJ

December 23rd, 2017 (06:36 pm)

Winter means getting back into working on the Jeep (wait, does it? Oh heck, dunno. Vacation is a good time to do stuff). When I bought my Jeep TJ last year, it came with a rear seat, but the brackets needed to use the seat had been removed, so it’s just sat in the garage. A lot of Jeep purists remove it because it’s just extraneous, and takes up valuable storage space, but I’ve missed being able to take more than one passenger out for rides (either around town or on the trail), so I finally got around to getting this task done.

I bought new brackets and screws a few months ago, so I should have all the things neeed. What had been holding me up was the previous owner had painted the ‘tub’ of the jeep with Monstaliner, a very thick protective paint that protects the body of the jeep from rust. This paint was over everything, including the screws and bolt holes where I needed to mount the brackets. That paint would have to be scraped away before I could install anything.

I had help from a friend with some extra tools, and we were able to use a blow torch to heat up the monstaliner that was covering the side bracket screws, and, using a small pick, get the material out of the torx (torque?) heads enough to get a good solid mating of the socket. Those screws came out fine, but there was also material in the holes in the floor of the tub where the paint had dripped in.

We tried using the torch and screws on the floor holes to see if we could get the material out of the way, but it didn’t work (the screws would just jam up). In the end we used a tapping set to re-groove the holes and we were able to seat the screws into the floor of the tub

After that it was just a matter of putting the brackets in and dropping the seat in place. It fit like it was supposed to, but I realized I was missing a part. There’s a C-clip or something similar that goes on the front bar that keeps the seat from sliding sideways when folded up. That clip was missing, so I’ll need to go find that before I can declare this useable.

The next step will be to get a seat belt set (hellooooo ebay) and install those. When that’s all done, I’ll finally be able to take the family out for drives and wheeling if they want to come along! It’ll be nice being more than a 2 seater.

shiny object detector [userpic]

I Made Electronic Clocks with my Son

December 17th, 2017 (04:45 pm)

It’s always a challenge to find things to do with a teenager just going through his first year at college. What could ye ole dad provide that more interesting than his new experiences with friends, classes and living away from home? So it was with some trepedation I reached out to Zach and asked if he’d be interested in taking a soldering class with me at MakeIt Labs, the makerspace I’ve been frequenting the last two years or so.

The class was presented as a 3 hour introduction to soldering techniques and best practices. The lab would provide all the tools needed (soldering iron, tools, solder, and other bits), as well as the parts to build a nice little LED clock. This isn’t a ‘here’s your parts, you figure it out’ event, it was a guided walkthrough of basic technique, pitfalls to watch out for, and detailed instructions on assembly. Sounded like a great way to learn how to solder, as well as something we could do together.

“Sure Dad, sounds great. Lets go!”

So I signed for the class, and on Saturday Zach and I headed up to the lab and settled in at our stations.

Each of us had our own kit, consisting of about 30 parts, a printed circuit board, red retro LED displays, and a powersupply. The workstations were well supplied with a very good soldering iron, solder, wire snips, flux, needlenose pliers, board holder, and other small tools. Zach and I, along with 6 or so other students, got started. I had some experience soldering, having done lots of drone builds that require a fair amount of soldering work, but nothing this detailed, and certainly not mounting components on a PCB. Zach had none at all.

Our instructor had prepared well, with a full presentation on what we were going to do, what tools we’d be working with, and basics of how to use the materials and follow the instructions. After a 15-20m introduction on the hazards we should be careful for (“Soldering irons are hot, mmkay? They make other things hot too. Be careful!”) we got started. The first couple components were dirt simple. Just jumper wires across the board. After that we moved on to more and more detailed things, culminating in mounting the socket for the CPU and installing the chip. Through it all, Bill, our instructor, was patient, detailed, and obviously an expert on the subject. He answered all questions professionally and patiently, and, along with lab assistant John, helped the students when problems came up, or simple inspected work to make sure it was going okay.

Finally, after 2 hours of assembly, we were ready to test the boards out. Bill used one of the lab bench power supplies, and one by one, each student brought their board up, and it got powered up. Zach’s worked on the first try, showing bright glowing red LED digits ticking away time perfectly. Mine, of course, didn’t, and we quickly discovered 3-4 bad solder points. I went back to my bench and fixed these, and my clock came to life as well.

The kits were from a standard hobbyist supplier, and were meant for student workshops like this. they didn’t come with mounting hardware, so before the class started, Bill and John thoughtfully used the labs laser cutter to make some acrylic display mounts. A couple screws, standoff posts, and acrylic plates later, and lo, we had a lovely, hand built, LED clock!

The class was a great experience for both Zach and I, and we both had something useful we took away together. Each of us has an identical clock that we made at the same time, together, on a cold day in December.

Thanks MakeIt for providing a great learning environment, thanks Bill for putting together a great class, and thanks Zach for spending a cool day geeking out with his old man.

shiny object detector [userpic]

Atari Portfolio

December 14th, 2017 (02:12 am)

This one has been on my bucket list from the beginning, and I’m happy to say, I was able to make my way through an eBay auction and pick up a mint condition unit that looks great and works even better.

In 1989, DIP Research in Surrey England developed the DIP Pocket PC. They licensed it to Atari in the US and UK, and Atari rebranded it as the Portfolio.

The Portfolio is widely recognized as the first MS-DOS Compatible palmtop computer. It runs a slightly modified version of MS-DOS 2.11.

This unit is in pristine condition, complete with expansion cards with several applications, we well as a card reader that can be plugged into a desktop PC for transferring files.


  • Manufactured: June 1989

  • Operating system: DIP DOS 2.11

  • CPU: 80C88 @ 4.9152 MHz

  • Memory: 128 KB of RAM and 256 KB of ROM

  • Display: monochrome LCD (no backlight) 40 characters × 8 lines

  • Graphics: 240 × 64

  • Power: 3× AA size removable alkaline batteries (Optional AC adapter)

shiny object detector [userpic]

TI-74 Basicalc

December 2nd, 2017 (03:08 pm)

I had never heard of these machines until one came up on /r/retrobattlestations and I just had to have it.

The Basicalc is one of the early programmable calculators that was starting the trend in handheld computing from ‘calculator’ to ‘computer’. The TRS-80 PC-1 is another great example.

The TI-74 has a working BASIC interpreter, as well as the standard calculator functions. It also includes a ROM Module slot that allows for plugin expansion of pre-packaged applications.


  • TMS70C46 CPU

  • 31 5×7 character LCD

  • 32+4 KB ROM

  • 8 KB RAM

  • RAM/ROM memory expansion port

  • Hexbus port

  • 80 characters per line (31 visible)

  • powered by 4 AAA-size batteries

Happy to have this in the collection!

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