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Old-style Polaroid photography

One day, [personal profile] fizzgig and I were shopping at a knickknack store and found chromed resin casts of old cameræ.

We remarked how they would fit our décor, but thought it was silly to buy a fake camera when there are plenty of affordable real ones out there. Accordingly, I picked up an old folding Polaroid 100 on eBay on the cheap. Reading up on it, I discovered that Polaroid originally made roll film cameræ for a few years, then went to the wildly successful "pack film" format. These were made for a long time, and in huge numbers. My Model 100 was the first, and probably well over a million of them were produced. The Model 100 was also quite capable with quality glass lenses, a range of film speeds, and an automatic electronic shutter capable of producing correct exposures at speeds from 1/1200 to 10 seconds.

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CRT power supply

My fondness for vacuum tubes extends to cathode ray tubes (CRTs), which were ubiquitous for decades in television sets, as well as technical equipment like oscilloscopes. I like the look of them in operation, an electron beam painting glowing lines on a phosphor screen. Accordingly, I'd like to make a CRT-based art project. To do so, I need to come up with an appropriate power supply. Like other vacuum tubes, CRTs need both a heater supply and a high voltage supply. However, CRTs need higher voltage than most vacuum tubes. An ordinary small CRT generally needs a thousand volts to operate. Additionally, CRTs need several different voltages to operate their various electrodes.

The first order of business is to come up with the high voltage itself. When vacuum tubes were common, high voltage power supplies were too. These days, electronics are solid state, and run on low voltage. For a long time, 5 volts was the norm, and now voltages are getting even lower to support both devices with smaller geometry and reducing power consumption and its attendent heat generation. 3.3 volts was popular for a while, and newer devices run on 1.8 volts. In this arena, parts to produce high voltages are uncommon. As I like to share my designs, I'd prefer to use current production parts that other people can obtain fairly easily and cheaply. Happily, there is a current source for high voltage transformers. LCD screens need backlights, and one popular technology for backlights is the "cold cathode fluorescent light" (CCFL). These are long thin tubes that are light by (aha!) high voltage. Since they're so common, the associated high voltage power supplies and the parts they're built from are also common.

I found a nice design at tubetime that used a CCFL transformer in a lashup using a voltage divider to sample the high voltage, a voltage reference for comparison, an operational amplifer (op-amp) to compare them, and a power transistor to control the CCFL circuitry. I figured I'd breadboard it and see how it performed. The CCFL transformer itself, while common, is still a specialty part. However, complete CCFL modules are, inexplicably, cheaper. Eyeballing the schematic showed that the core of the design was the same lashup used in the CCFL supply. All I had to do was add a rectifier and reservoir capacitor to convert the high voltage AC output to the high voltage DC I wanted, just as was done in the tubetime design. A quick breadboard showed that it worked as desired.

However, the tubetime documentation explained that the design was derived from a Jim Williams application note, so I read it and saw that Williams' original design didn't use an linear analog feedback loop like the tubetime version, but employed a switching voltage regulator chip instead. This was appealing, as it would be both more efficient and have a smaller parts count. The switching regulator chip replaced the voltage reference, op-amp, and power transistor with a single part, and added some nice protection circuitry as a bonus. I decided to build that version. In the process, I modified the CCFL supply slightly by cutting a trace to separate the low voltage ground from the high voltage ground. I did this because the low voltage "ground" wasn't actually ground, but the switching transistor, and I didn't want to ground an 800 volt signal through the low voltage switching power supply transistor.

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Major closet repair

A little while after I unpacked and hung a bunch of shirts in the closet, we were downstairs and heard a peculiar noise. We went hunting through the house, trying to figure out what had happened. Presently we discovered that the closet shelves had collapsed! A little investigation revealed that they hadn't been attached to the studs, and were therefore not very well anchored. I extracted all the clothing and stowed it in an assortment of bins and boxes, and stacked the rest of it on top. I then proceeded to remove the twisted wreckage of the original flimsy wire shelves. I hadn't liked the existing arrangement particularly, but the collapse meant I would have to go ahead and deal with it now.

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(no subject)

Two and a half years ago, I posted that I was debt-free. I've been debt-free ever since. Until today, when [profile] fizzygeek and I spent the afternoon with an attorney. Now we have a mortgage. And to go with it, a house.

It's a nice old farmhouse on 5 acres in Lovettsville, with a nice little creek running through the property. It's out on the edge of town, and they're planning on building a park in some land out behind the neighboring farmer's fields. The previous owners have done some beautiful work on the house, bringing the second floor bathroom up into the attic, giving it a higher ceiling and more light. They've added on a spacious kitchen/breakfast nook with a vaulted ceiling and skylights. There's a deck out back, surrounding a tree. There's a nice little sun porch, lots of built-in shelves, a finished basement, a cedar closet, and a fire pit. The yard has plenty of plantings of native plants, and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Bird Friendly Habitat. Fizzygeek will get to indulge her green thumb.

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Little teeny bulb, big complicated fix

The light for the clock in my car burned out. I looked in the manual to see what kind of bulb it took, but it just said “see dealer”. That seemed ridiculous, it was probably an ordinary wedge base miniature bulb like a #194, the sort of thing I might already have lying around. There’s no obvious way to change that particular bulb without taking the dash apart (maybe that’s why it said “see dealer”), so I took the dash apart, pulled out the clock, and had a look.

It turns out it’s a weirdie plastic twist-on bulb that apparently uses a notched hole in a printed circuit board as the “socket”.

clock and bulb

I don’t have anything like that in stock. So I walked down to the brand new Advance Auto Parts here in town to buy one. They looked it up and said those don’t normally burn out in a car only a few years old, and in any case, they don’t stock them and I’d have to get one from the dealer.

This did not exactly thrill me, so it occurred to me that I could probably find the bulb elsewhere, probably cheaper. But what was it? I didn’t have a type number or anything. Some research on the web revealed that there were a lot of people looking for this bulb, and that it was a Ford part number F5VY-13B765-AA (or perhaps F5VF-13B765-A or maybe E83Z-13466-A). There were a few mentions in the pages I found to this being an 80mA bulb, and that’s a believable current for a bulb like that. The existing bulb is marked “2W”, which might mean that it’s a two-watt bulb or it might not. There’s a chance that the E83Z bulb mentioned above is a 1.2 watt version. There’s also a chance that one of those isn’t a green painted bulb like the original. I don’t know.

I decided to try out the parametric search for light bulbs available on the Don’s Bulbs site. I could make good guesses at the glass type (T-1½), voltage (12-14V) and current (.08A), but what was that base? Happily, Don’s Bulbs has pages where you can search for bases by drawings. After peering at the “automotive” category for a while, I decided it was probably a “neowedge” of some sort, but couldn’t figure out which variant. No problem, the site lets you search on broad base categories, and even a vague type of base narrows down the huge pile of results nicely. The closest match I could find was a GE type 91646, which doesn’t seem to be available much any more. It does sport a B8.4D base, but I wasn't at all sure it was the right one.

I went back to searching the web, adding “neowedge” to my search terms. I found many more pages of people trying to find this bulb, and a bunch of pointers to LED bulb vendors. However, many people had bought the LED replacements, only to have them not work.

This gave me an idea - I could convert the existing one to LED myself and have it fixed the same day! I rounded up a blue LED and calculated that an appropriate voltage dropping resistor would be about 525Ω. Some rummaging around produced some 560Ω resistors, which should run the LED at slightly lower current, for a little less brightness and longer life. I crushed the burned-out bulb so I could solder the new parts to the resulting leads.

base, LED, and resistors

I then assembled the parts into something that should fit into the space occupied by the original bulb.

LED replacement assembled

I remembered the LED bulbs I had made for my pinball machine, which runs its bulbs on AC, so the polarity doesn’t matter. But my car uses DC, so any way I assemble it is likely to be backwards. Then I realized the base was symmetrical, so if it didn’t light, I could just install it the other way. I hooked it up to a power supply to make sure it worked.

LED replacement lit

Then I went to install it in the car. Unfortunately, it didn’t light. I pulled it back out to turn around, and saw that I had broken one of the fine wires. Rats!

I took it back inside, and attempted to solder the wire directly to the terminal, but without success. I tried every flux and solder I own, slowly melting the plastic base, but it was beyond me. I considered finishing building my tack welder, but that’s a biggish project and there’s a pretty good chance I would fry the LED in the attempt anyway.

Greatly annoyed, I called the dealer to see if they had the right bulb in stock. Naturally, they didn’t — and they wanted more than fourteen dollars for the stinking bulb! I reluctantly told them to order one and call me when it got in. They said it would be in by Saturday morning.

Back to the web. I noticed a lot of the references to LED replacements were to the same place, superbrightleds.com so I figured I’d have a look. They have a facility to look up bulbs by car make and model, but didn’t list anything for my clock. So I looked at their “automobile, instrument cluster and gauge, T1.5 Base - New-Wedge, B8 Type” page. After clicking around for a while, I saw they had some nice big clear mechanical drawings of the various bases, complete with 3D renderings. From this, it seemed that I had a B8.4D based bulb. They offer LED bulbs with this base in two brightnesses, and six colors, and they don’t cost much at all ($1.59 for the regular brightness). The original bulb had a green coating, but I thought red would be nice looking, and avoid impairing my night vision. I ordered one each of the red and green, in both regular and high power.

I went by the dealership on the way to Balticon on Saturday, but they had closed early for Memorial Day weekend. Fie on them.

The LED lights showed up in today’s mail.

LED from Super Bright LEDs

I popped the regular brightness red one in, it fit perfectly, and lit on the first try. I’m looking forward to seeing it at night. As for the dealer, I still haven’t heard back from them, and at this point, I no longer care about their overpriced bulb. Originally posted at Dreamwidth.org comment count unavailable comments

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Hollow-shaft nut drivers are nice tools to have

My dad had a nice set of hollow shaft nutdrivers that he and I both used. When he passed away, I ended up inheriting them, and I have used them ever since. I don't know when he bought them originally, but they've been getting used for decades, and are still in good shape, although one of the handles is a little melted looking from the time it got accidentally soaked in gasoline.

So why are they so useful? It's the "hollow shaft" part that does the trick. Rather like deep sockets can do some things that ordinary sockets can't, they'll let you loosen/tighten a nut that's threaded way down on a long bolt. And the hollow shafts on these extend the entire length of the shaft.

view up the shaft

If you look up the shaft, you can see all the way up to the handle. It's not just a 2cm recess, the entire shaft is hollow, accomodating anything up to that length. For example, using these tools, it's easy to install long-shaft controls in panels and neatly tighten the nut without fighting with pliers, trying to keep a box-end wrench in position on a thin part, or running the risk of marring the panel.

nutdriver in position on long-shaft control

That's one, on the right, in position to tighten the retaining nut, quickly and easily.

Recently, I realized that a metric set of these would be a very useful thing to have as well, so I went out to see what the offerings were. I was pleased to find out that the original Xcelite HS618 set is still available, as well as the individual drivers. It's nice when useful things are still in production, after all these years. Unfortunately, they don't seem to offer a metric version. Originally posted at Dreamwidth.org comment count unavailable comments

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An open letter to Canon

I had a need for a new, different printer. Ink jet printers produce beautiful images, but they're delicate and run and smear when wet. Worse, if I only use the printer occasionally, the nozzles clog and I use a lot of expensive ink getting them working again. If I want to print gold or silver foil, I use my ancient Alps MD-5000, which isn't supported by modern computers.

So I elected to buy a Canon Selphy ES-30 which is a compact dye sublimation photo printer that can also print gold and silver foil. It was listed as having Macintosh support, which is good because I don't do windows. It's a cute little thing, and takes its printing supplies as little cartridges that contain both the paper and the dye sub ink sheets. This makes it easy to switch between different media, and ensures that the ink and paper stay in synch and are compatible. They're specialized enough that they'll only ever be available from Canon, and they're not particularly cheap. But that's fine, it's cost effective for my occasional use.

But then it turns out that the Macintosh support is only partial - you can print color or black and white, but no gold or silver foil. It is my opinion that if you claim to "support" a computer for a product, that you support all the product's capabilities. Otherwise, it's partial support at best, and this should be stated clearly in all sales literature. Otherwise, you are lying to me, and I do not appreciate being lied to.

I waited a while to see if there would be an update that would add foil support, but none was forthcoming. Then I wrote Canon and asked if they would send me the protocol, so I could implement this myself.

They refused, saying the information was proprietary. What? Why? You're not selling printer drivers, you're selling printers, or more to the point, you're selling printer supplies. The more people who can use your printers, the more printers and supplies you will sell. Keeping the protocol a secret is nonsense. I offered to sign an NDA, but no reply at all. I realize that companies avoid giving out technical information because it might lead to more support questions. I explained that I would not ask for further support, nor use the information in a way that would cause this to happen.

Do you know what would have happened, if you had furnished the interface specification? I would have extended the existing Gutenprint Canon Selphy support to include the ES-30, including its metal foil printing capabilities. I would have provided my changes back to the Gutenprint project for inclusion in their core software. This would have given Canon ES-30 support to Linux and BSD users, and since Apple uses Gutenprint to provide their third-party printer drivers, you would have gotten Macintosh support for free. Better yet, customer support for this driver would have come from the Gutenprint project and Apple — saving you support money. I would have written a positive review of the printer, and all my adoring readers would have gone out and bought them. The underserved Macintosh, Linux, and BSD communities would have bought the now-supported printer, and supplies for it. As the cartridges are not easy to replicate (unlike refilling inkjet cartridges), you would have had a solid revenue stream for years to come, that no one could take away from you. You would have enjoyed a positive mindshare in a large, geeky customer base - and their friends, families, and employers.

But no. You decided to take the low road, keep things secret for no reason, and now you're stuck with unpreferred vendor status. I'll buy my cameræ from Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus. I'll buy my printers from Epson and HP. And I'll tell all my friends how you refused to play nice.

Your pointless corporate decision will end up costing you a surprising amount of lost revenue over the years. Originally posted at Dreamwidth.org comment count unavailable comments

huur

A very long day...

Today started with a 2½ hour dentist appointment. Then I drove to the airport to catch a plane to Charlotte. Then I dashed the entire lengths of the E and C concourses to just make my connecting flight to Miami. Miami has a BIG airport. We came in to gate J10, so the first thing I saw when I walked into the airport was the gate across the way: J9. Thanks, Jeanneane. Then I went down, collected my luggage and headed for the rental cars. Signs everywhere pointed out the Mia Mover, up two floors. It turns out you walk about half a mile on intermittent slidewalks to get to the actual Mia Mover tram. The rental car agency didn't have the car I had reserved, but a Suzuki. Erf. Work probably won't pay for an upgrade. It should be waiting for me in space B45. I find a row for B1-B40 but no B45. Eventually I realize B45 has been tacked on the end of the row, but the sign wasn't updated. It turns out the Suzuki didn't have gas in the tank. So I got back and beat them into switching cars for me, scoring a Ford Focus. Then I head out to the hotel. The address lands me in a seedy industrial neighborhood, where most of the buildings are for sale. No sign of the hotel. I call them, and get directed to a recording telling me to just go up 82nd Ave NW and it's on the left. 3655. Hmm, there's a 3650, then a 3725, then a 3680. No hotel. I call the hotel again and finally manage to get a person, who explains the hotel is actually behind an office building. I go back there, and the lot out front is packed. The lot on the side is packed too. I loop around and around, finally parking a couple of blocks away at an abandoned industrial building. Then I realize I haven't eaten since breakfast, so I punch Steak 'n Shake into my GPS and head back out. Turns out that Steak 'n Shake is now a seafood place. Feh. I go back to the hotel and park back at the industrial building a couple of blocks away. I drag my luggage back to the hotel, and choose to go around to the right, as there's a crowd of smokers to the left. It turns out there's not a way around to the right, so I ended up dragging my luggage over a bunch of grass to get to the door. The lobby is full of flight crews in matching red blazers. Finally all of them get done at registration and I go up, only to be informed there aren't any rooms. They've put me up at a fancy place across town. Said fancy place involves lots of twisty little roads, forking incessantly. I finally find a spot that looks likely and explain to the valet that I think this is where I'm supposed to be. He says no, I need to be back at the first hotel. I explain I WAS there, they send me elsewhere, which may well be here. He tells me to go inside and ask. The folks inside explain that I only have one night at the new place, then I'll check out and spend the rest of my stay back at the first hotel. Great. They give me a map of the property and pick out "Lodge 10" as where I'm staying. There's no parking near Lodge 10, as most of the resort guests apparently use valet parking. I finally choose a spot that seems like it might be nearby. This time, I leave my luggage in my car while I figure out where I'm supposed to be going. I end up in a courtyard between Lodge 9 and Lodge 10, and the only unlocked door is marked "meeting rooms". I go in, and find a young couple as lost and confused as I am. I wend my way around the bowels of Lodge 9, discovering it holds the 900 series rooms. I'm in 142, which is probably NOT Lodge 10, unless there's no Lodge 1. I pull out the map and see that there is a Lodge 1, way around on the other side of the ballroom. So I head around that way and eventually find it. I take the elevator up, and try my key. Sure enough, it works. So I hike back, around the other side of the ballroom complex, to see how the parking lot is laid out. Once I get back to the car, I retrace my steps, and park by the corner of the ballroom, so I only have to haul my luggage around that, the physical plant, another lodge, and some plantings to get back to my room. The room reeks of floral perfume. It's after midnight. I still haven't eaten. Originally posted at Dreamwidth.org comment count unavailable comments
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Peoples' beefs with Big Bang Theory

There seems to have been a spate of people complaining about The Big Bang Theory recently, claiming it's making fun of nerds and smart people.

Really? We've had decades of absent-minded professors, mad scientists, and nerds complaining about their childhood treatment and taking their revenge on the world. Now that is something we might complain about.

But Big Bang Theory? Please. Most folks focus on Sheldon, so I will too. Sheldon is portrayed as a good guy. That's right, he's shown very positively. Yes, he has difficulties with social niceties. But he tries. He really wants to learn how to interact with people properly. It's not his fault he isn't very good about it, but instead of making excuses ("I can't act nicer, I'm an assburger"), he tries to learn from his mistakes, learn how to recognize sadness and sarcasm, and react appropriately. When someone needs a large amount of money, he offers to lend it to them, for whatever amount of time they need it, interest free. When someone's feeling down, he tries to comfort them, even though he doesn't really know how. It's tough to attempt something you don't know how to do. But it's the right thing to do, and he tries. Even when it involves touching other people, he does so, overcoming his aversion to doing so. That sort of thing makes the character a good one, in my opinion.

"But they portray Sheldon as a buffoon!", I hear people whine. Really? Granted, Sheldon is often portrayed as a buffoon. But so is everybody else on the series, including most of the guest stars! Everybody's a little off in this show, it's part of the show, not an insult to anybody in particular. That was part of what I liked about In Living Color: they were evenhanded, making fun of everybody. I really can't object to that, as long as it isn't mean-spirited. And if there's mean-spiritedness in Big Bang Theory, I simply don't see it.

That's a subtle difference, and hard to point to, but it's important. Anybody remember The Man Show - the original one with Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel? Lots of folks objected to that, saying it mocked women and objectified them, treating them as nothing more than sex symbols. There were a lot of such shows before, during, and after it that did exactly that (and I include the reboot of The Man Show with Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan). But the original Man Show wasn't like that. The hosts (Adam and Jimmy) love and respect women, and I can see it in the show. A lot of their gags boil down to "I don't completely understand women, but I adore them". That's why I liked that show, and didn't really enjoy any of the others of that sort.

It's the same way with The Big Bang Theory. While the jokes necessarily revolve around the characters and their personalities, they're not mockery, they're poking gentle fun. And many of the gags are simply standard sitcom fodder - they're laughing at what it is to be human. And that's always going to be funny. If you've read Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, it has a similar feel. Yeah, a bunch of the characters are lesbians, and a lot of the story lines hinge on things lesbians do, say, and are - including some stereotypes. But the main message I get from the comics is "we're all human, and we all have the same sorts of fun, problems, and laughs." The same with The Big Bang theory - it's a show about being human, with the wrinkle that not all humans are alike. As someone who's "not alike", it's nice to see that explored, whether it's in a humorous vein or not.

And yes, sometimes I'll do or say something nerdy (like "I like to turn the plates so they face the sprayer in the dishwisher"), my sweetie will smirk at me and say "Okay, Sheldon!" It's not mean, it just reminds me that I can be picky about minutiæ. And it makes us both smile. Originally posted at Dreamwidth.org comment count unavailable comments

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A spider

As I was taking out the trash, I saw some motion as I went through the door. At first, I was afraid it was a stinkbug, but then I got a closer look and realized that it was just a spider. A pretty one, too.

After I had put down the trash cans, I went and grabbed a camera with a macro lense to get a picture of this beastie. I'm guessing it's Platycryptus undatus, the tan jumping spider.

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