Canon Opportunity

I recently had the good fortune to come across an offering for some used Canon digital gear through my membership in the Photographic Society of the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham).  Based on the pricing, I knew the equipment would go fast.  So I acted quickly to get the first e-mail in stating that I wanted to purchase the gear.  Here is what I have ended up with after it was all said and done.

1. Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS with 1080p Full-HD Video Mode Digital SLR Camera (Body)
2. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens
3. Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens
4. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Standard Zoom Lens
5. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro Lens
6. Canon 1.4 Extender
7. Heliopan 77mm UV SH-PMC Filter (707711) with specialty Schott glass in floating brass ring
8. B+W 82mm XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating
9. B+W 67mm XS-Pro HTC Kaesemann Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Nano Coating
10. B+W 77mm Circular Polarizer with Multi-Resistant Coating
11. Canon Cameras US 2598A001 67mm Protect Filter
12. B+W 82mm XS-Pro Clear UV Haze with Multi-Resistan​t Nano Coating (010M)
13. Lowepro Fastpack 350 DSLR Camera Backpack
14. David Busch’s Compact Field Guide for the Canon EOS 5D Mark III
15. David Busch’s Canon EOS 5D Mark III Guide to Digital SLR Photography
16. Canon Speedlight 600EX II-RT
17. Canon 430 EX Speedlight
18. Canon 420 EX Speedlight
19. Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL Flash Controller with Canon connector
20. Yongnuo YN-622C-TX E-TTL Flash Transceiver (4)
21. Off Camera E-TTL Flash Cord (Coiled)
22. Lensbaby Spark for Canon EF Mount
23. Vello Auto Extension Tube Set for Canon EOS

As you can see, the gear offered a complete Canon outfit and my rating on the condition of every piece is Mint+ .  Now, those that know me are scratching their heads going, “But wait, aren’t you a die-hard Nikon guy?”.  I guess the answer to that is; yes, I was.  My history with camera brands goes back to a hand me down Kodak Bakelite Brownie and Kodak 126 Instamatic, before I got my first SLR, an Olympus OM-1.  I shot Olympus from 1978 – 1992 when I sold several bodies, many lenses and my Sunpak 422(?) flash gun to go toward the purchase of my Nikon gear, which was a Nikon N90 with 28-70 and 80-200 zoom lenses and one SB-25 flash.  Since moving to Nikon, I have been okay with the reliability of the cameras.  I did have a N75 I bought for my wife go completely dead after a year.  My first digital body, the D-70, got the flashing screen of death and had to go back for warranty repair.  Since going digital, I have bought a D-200 and sold it.  And currently have the D-70, D-300 and D-600.  I would have to say the D-600 has been biggest disappointment of any camera I have owned short of the N75.  The sensor blows highlights on skin if the exposure is only ever so lightly over exposed.  And the final nail in the coffin is the shutter lubricant getting on the sensor.  There is nothing like going on a three-day photography excursion and getting the first day’s images in Lightroom to find grease spots everywhere.  Other than charity events, I pretty much quit shooting for fun, and dropped small commercial projects after the disappointment of the D-600 on that trip.

Now in hindsight, I guess I could have sold or traded my D-300 and D-600 to upgrade to another Nikon body; but the opportunity to start a new with Canon L series lenses, which are better quality than any I have built up in Nikkor and third-party lenses; and the other included accessories at 50% off of discounted retail pricing (B & H), it was an opportunity I could not pass up.  The seller wasn’t willing to sell individual items and I could probably sell the equipment individually and make a profit.  So this may be more of Canon experiment than a total switch.  The wife expects me sell the Nikon gear and I will start doing that once I confirm there are no show stoppers with a Canon workflow.

Initial  Experience

My first real shoot with the Canon gear was Saturday photographing several purses with custom emblems containing initials that can be swapped between purses.  The project was fraught with challenges.  The need to keep the purse and strap in it’s exact same position between shots, a need to have the white background blowout for seamless presentation on the web site, potential exponential number of shots when there were about 30 sample emblems that could be shot in combination with all of the purses.  I ended up with about 220 images to post process including individual shots of some of the new emblems which were not on the web site.  I really need to re-shoot the emblems from straight overhead and will do that when I can get them back.  As far as the new Canon gear goes, I used the camera with the 24-70 lens and two soft boxed 600WS strobes from the sides and a 300WS strobe trying to bounce off the ceiling to help keep the background go white.  I was shooting at ISO 100 from F14 – F18 and all of the shots were clear and correctly exposed for the item.  There were a couple of occasions where I had to go manual focus as the purse texture without an emblem attached and my inability to change the static position of the camera resulted in focus failure.  For anyone that has done this type of product shoot, I think they would agree that getting a blown out or achieving high-key white background without blowing the highlights in the product is a challenge.  If I have the opportunity to do another shoot of these items,  I would shoot the emblems straight on, make a single photograph of each purse without an emblem and put the emblems on the purses using Photoshop.  Your question is isn’t that a lot of post processing work?  Yes and no.  Yes it is potentially a lot of work, but it avoids two issues I faced on this shoot which were blowing out the background to white and keeping the purses and straps from shifting position between shots when the emblems are swapped.  I think I would be better off getting a single shot and fixing the background and doing some selecting, masking and layer work to place the emblems virtually than having to use a custom +4.0 exposure brush in Lightroom on almost every background to achieve pure white.  While I was able to copy some develop settings from one image to another, the slightest movement in the purse strap or handle meant doing the manual exposure brush all over again.  I guess that is a lesson learned for the next time. The ultimate solution would be for the website to have base purse images without the emblem and a back-end web application to build the emblem image from the initials and colors the customer wants with the selected font and overlay it on the purse.  Then the only images that would be needed are the base purses and product use shots.

So back to the Canon gear.  I am pleased my purchase and will confirm my choice over the next few months.  Between the two books that came with the outfit, I was able to get up to speed pretty quick and never felt like I had to hunt down some setting during the shoot.  Now to forge on with my second challenge of moving away from Adobe products to something else.  Right now that something else is from ON1 and their newest version 10 and 2017 Camera Raw.  I plan to experiment accomplishing similar edits using the ON1 tool set and see how I like it.  Who knows, that might be the next blog entry.  I have abandoned the project to move away from Adobe products.  After one of the leading pros that On1 has used as  guest instructor over the past year came out with a book on Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, it pretty much clarified that On1 is going to remain a supplemental player in the digital photo editing market and not a complete solution.

Panasonic DMC-ZS50 Travel Point and Shoot

My most recent use of the new gear has come in the form of suburban wildlife photography.  While working in the yard the last few weekends, a Red Tail Hawk has been regular visitor to the tall oak trees in my front yard.  The first time, I went in grabbed my Panasonic point and shoot, a DMC-ZS50, and was treated to the hawk’s garter snake snack.  On the next opportunity, I went for the Canon with the 100-400 lens.  The effort was worth it as I came away with this shot.

 

Canon Camera Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark III

EXIF:

Aperture: f/5.6
Camera Maker: Canon
Camera Model: Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Exposure Compensation: 0.33 EV
Exposure time: 1/1250 sec
Flash Fired: No Flash
Focal Length: 400 mm
ISO Sensitivity: 640
Metering Mode: Pattern
Shutter Speed: 1/1250 sec
Lens: EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM

Stay tuned to see if the Canon stays or goes.  Right now, it’s staying.

Miracle League 10th Anniversary

After looking through some 4,000 dsc_1054photos I shot of the first year Miracle League games, I am a little bleary eyed and some of that is not just from looking at images.  I can remember holding back tears as I hid my face behind the camera while shooting a lot of these and that same feeling came back tonight.

If you are not familiar with the Miracle League concept, it is a baseball league for disabled kids and adults.  The field in Cary, at Henry Adams Elementary School, opened 10 years ago.  The field consists of rubact_2857berized turf that allows wheel chairs to roll and is laid out with the lines and infield already marked.  Each player gets a buddy assigned to them that will help with running bases and playing their positions in the field.  At the end of the each game, the score is miraculously a tie every time.  I still can’t figure that out after 10 years, but in reality the winner is everybody in Miracle League.

If you are around Cary on Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 11am, come check out the 10th Anniversary Celebration at the field on Cary Town Boulevard.

Here is a link to all of the Miracle League photos on my server.
act_3187

Shimano Upgrade on ’07 Raleigh Cadent Carbon

The components on my 2007 Raleigh Cadent Carbon, while functional, were getting a little long in the tooth and I was ready to move up to an 11 speed double from the 10 speed triple that came on the bike.  Originally the bike was built with a Shimano drive train by Raleigh with 105 Shifters and Ultegra Derailleurs.  The triple would usually stop shifting to the big ring at least once a year when the cable housing started splaying apart on the shifter end of things.  Luckily I got used to this and had some spare housing to fix when that would happen.  Other than that, the 10 speed triple set up has been very reliable for the last seven years.

I started looking at piecing the new groupset together over the winter and my friend that owns a local bike shop offered me the NikNik discount to get me going on the project, but I did not want to order the parts through him and put him to the trouble swapping out items if something needed to go back that he couldn’t sell in the store.  Being the procrastinator I am when it comes to big decisions, I held off until I came across some Ultegra 11 speed shifters on the clearance table at the local Performance Bike store.  According to the mechanics, the shifters were new and had been installed on a customer’s existing bike, but then the customer decided against the upgrade and returned everything and had the same mechanics remove the stuff they had just installed. The wasted effort of the endeavor was evident in the bike mechanic’s tone as the story was told. So I grabbed these up with no idea where I would come up with the rest of parts.  As I was checking out, one of the managers, Luke, said if you want those, take a look at this and we went back to the clearance table where there was also a FSA Gossamer compact 10/11 speed 170mm crank.  I wasn’t sure if it was my size or not, so I held off until I could check my current crank arm length.  Once at home, what I had thought were 172.5 mm crank arms were actually 170 mm just like the Gossamer crank on the clearance table.  So back to Performance the next morning to grab the cranks.  With two major parts down at a very good discount, it was time to figure out where to buy the other parts.

While talking with my friend at the local bike shop, I asked about Shimano pricing and how it was supposed to be cheaper now that they have limited the number of the distributors and he said he sees the same prices on Wiggle that he gets from Shimano directly.  Sure enough, my price comparisons showed Wiggle generally beats any of the online bike part retailers so I placed an order with Wiggle for derailleurs, cassette, bottom bracket, cables and housings.  I ended up needing a bottom bracket as the Gossamer crank set had a press fit bottom bracket included with it and I needed a 68mm english.  The final pieces for the project were not part of the drive train, but I wanted to upgrade to save some weight.  Those were the fork, stem, and seat post.  I ended up going with an Amazon source for the carbon stem in my size of 100mm 17 degrees, and Bike Nashbar for the full carbon fork and seat post.

Finally, I did want to spend some money with my friend’s local bike shop even though I would only pay cost due to my close relationship with NikNik. Maybe I will blog about NikNik one day.  This final purchase was a new wheelset.  I bought the Mavic Equipe S wheelset based on what was left in my budget and think they will work fine for me and my style of riding.

Once my wife had left for the weekend to kid sit the nephew while her sister did some house hunting in D.C., the bike rebuild started.  I don’t remember what order I did it all in, but eventually I ended up with all of the new parts installed and in need of some tuning and adjustments.  I watched a few YouTube videos, especially on the shifter install and cabling as I have no experience with routing the cables along the handlebar.  It was not too bad to get going once you get the shifters in the lowest or highest setting so the hole for the cable lines up so you can get the end to catch in the right spot.  Cable housing length was a guesstimate, but seems to be working.  The longest and hardest part of the build was the alignment and adjustment of the front derailleur.  I don’t think it would take half as long next time, as I now know that with a compact crank and an 11-32 cassette it’s almost impossible to get the set up to be completely silent.  The rear derailleur was easy compared to the front, but it was the one that needs some adjusting after the first ride.

One issue I did hit while doing the rebuild was trying to get the crank spindle installed into the new bottom bracket.  I was pretty much convinced that I bought the wrong bottom bracket or the crankset was not compatible with the bottom bracket.  Finally a timely YouTube search lead me to a Park tools video that explained it could take a couple of hits with a rubber mallet to get the spindle through the bottom bracket.  A couple of whacks with the mallet and the crankset was installed.

Some other items I spent a little time researching before installing them were the cutting of the fork steerer and determining chain length.  YouTube was helpful and remembering I had bought a tube cutting guide a few years ago made it a lot easier to get a straight cut.  I did not wrap the steerer with tape where I planned to cut.  I just used a mini hacksaw and went slow and steady rotating the fork and trying to make as much of the cut to the outside of the steerer tube.  There was not any fraying of the carbon on the last cut from the inside to outside of the tube and I ran a sharpening stone (I couldn’t find my file) over the top of the steerer to smooth out everything before installing it.  The biggest pain with the fork was getting the crown race off the old fork and getting it installed on the new fork.  I was able to get it installed, but it was really tight on the new fork.  To determine the chain length, I used a video that walks you through using a little piece of coat hangar to hold the chain together while you adjust the chain manually from the smallest sprocket and small chain ring to check the rear derailleur tension.  Then repeat the process with large chain ring and largest sprocket.  I ended up cutting off about 6 links before installing the link pin.

By the time I finished everything on Saturday afternoon it was in the 90’s outside and I was mentally beat.  So I delayed a ride until I had some rest and cooler temps and that was this morning at 6am.  I took the bike out and did my normal route from my house to edge of Lake Jordan, which is 30 miles round trip.  When I got on the bike, front and rear shifting were working fine; but a couple of miles into the trip the rear derailleur did not want to go down to the 11 speed sprocket and there was some chain chatter in the smaller cogs.  Pulling on the rear derailleur cable let me know that tightening the tension on the cable should make that stop and it did, but it did not address the shifting into the 11 tooth cog problem.  What I think has happened is either the cable stretched or the set screw for the outermost position wasn’t quite right, but I am leaning toward another theory that when I wrapped the handle bars I had already made my adjustments and wrapping the cable housing on the handle bar may have resulted in adding some tension to the cable.  I also wrapped the bars too close to the stem which puts more tension on the cables, so I will cut that back and then adjust the set screw and see what I get.

Overall, the ride was great.  Being on the road between 6 and 8 am on Sunday was quite different from my normal ride times of weekdays between 6 and 8 pm.  The front derailleur shifted smoothly and looked like it was going to let the chain fall off onto the crank arm a couple of times, but never did so I think I need to tweak that set screw as well.  The wheelset is pretty quite and rolls well.  While I took meticulous measurements and tried to match all of the new parts so they were measuring the same, I may have missed something on the handlebar and shifter set up as I did get a little numbness in my hands on the ride and come to think of it I did the shifters and handlebar angle by eye and never did measure like I did on the seat and seat post re-install. Update: Measurement of the shifter hoods showed I was off my about 4cm to the high side and I was able to adjust the angle of the handlebars to get the new hoods within a few mm of the old measurement.

At this point I am very happy with being able to do the upgrade and stay around a $1,000 budget including the wheelset.  Would I try to tackle doing the tear down and rebuild on my own next time?  It’s hard to say, but I am glad I did and have that experience now.  There were times when I was so frustrated and tired that I made stupid mistakes like cutting cable housing to length while I had the new cable inside of it.  DOH!  And who knew a front derailleur could be such a pain in the butt.  If you remember the original Star Trek movie and Khan goes into battle with Kirk and Khan forgets to think in three dimensions and is easily dispatched by Kirk.  I think the front derailleur is the same.  You have height, angle and depth.  If any of those are off, then it’s not going to work correctly.  See the bottom of this post for some photos.  Here are parts and prices and weight information.

Parts/Price List and Sourcing:

Part Description Cost Source/Link
Bottom Bracket Shimano BB-R60 Ultegra 6800/105 5800 Hollowtech ii Black/Grey English Thread  $16.99 Wiggle
Crankset FSA Gossamer Crankset 34-50 CK-C6028  $83.00* Performance Bicycle
Chain Shimano Ultegra 6800 / XT M8000 11 Speed Chain Silver 11 Speed  $39.01 Wiggle
Front Derailleur Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-Speed Braze on Front Derailleur Grey/Black 11 Speed  $27.99 Wiggle
Read Derailleur Shimano Ultegra 6800 Rear Derailleur Black/Grey GS Medium 32T Max  $51.99 Wiggle
Cassette Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-Speed Cassette Silver Grey 11-32T  $49.99 Wiggle
Brake Cable Set Shimano Road Brake Cable Set  $6.99 Wiggle
Shifter Cable Set LifeLine Performance Gear Cable Set – Shimano/Sram Black One Size  $13.24 Wiggle
Shifters Ultegra 6800 11 Speed  $175.00* Performance Bicycle
Fork Nashbar Full Carbon Road  $128.00 Nashbar
Stem RXL SL 3K Amazon  $42.00 Amazon
Seatpost Nashbar Carbon  $40.00  Nashbar
Bake Calipers Ultegra 6800 $78  Nashbar
Wheels Mavic Equipe S & Tires  $357.44  LBS
  Total w/o Wheels  $752.20  
  Total w/Wheels  $1,109.64

*- Performance Bicycle Clearance Table Items (new condition and warranty)

For those interested in weights, here is a breakdown as best I can using either the specifications from the manufacturer or actually weighing the component.

Part Old New Old Weight New Weight Diff Grams
Bottom Bracket Truvativ GXP BB Ultegra 6800 106 76 -30
Crankset Truvativ Elita Crankset FSA Gossamer CK-C6028 compact 1095 770 -325
Chain Shimano 10s Shimano KCNHG900 11 speed
Front Derailleur Ultegra ’07 Triple FD-6800 11 Speed 113 87 -26
Read Derailleur Ultegra ’07 10s RD-6800 Medium Long Cage 32 max 218 210 -8
Cassette 105 12-27 10 Speed Ultegra 11-32 11 Speed 265 283 18
Brake Cable Set JagWire Shimano Road Brake Cable Set
Shifter Cable Set Clarks Shimano Road Shifter Cable Set
Shifters 105 ’07 10sp/Trip. Ultregra 6800 11 Speed 500 447 -53
Fork Raleigh Carbon Alloy Steerer Nashbar Full Carbon Road 715 367 -348
Stem Eleven81 100mm 17 degrees RXL SL 3K Amazon 49 39 -10
Seatpost Raleigh Carbon Nashbar Carbon 306 241 -65
Brakes Generic Road BR-6800 343 335 -8
Wheels Forte Apollo Mavic Equipe S 1650 1690 40
Total 5360 4545 -815

DSC_0460 DSC_0464 DSC_0465 DSC_0466 DSC_0468 DSC_0469 DSC_0471 DSC_0472

Two Weekends Shooting (Photos)

Last weekend I was asked to help photograph the Tour De Cure again after a couple of years away from this ride.  Hats off to the participants, some of whom rode both days from Cary to Aberdeen on Saturday and back on Sunday.  I saw lots of familiar faces and was truly astounded by the fundraising efforts of the champions who are are pictured here.

This weekend I had to pleasure to photograph my niece Raven and her boyfriend Andrew on the way to their high school prom.  She will hate me for this, but I can’t resist the opportunity for a before and after comparison.

They grow up much too fast these days.

Considering <$50 Fountain Pens

Sheaffers Snorkel
Nib of my parent’s Sheaffer Snorkel

“How It’s Made” has created a monster and that monster is me.  Let me explain.  While watching the show “How It’s Made” on the Science Channel, I saw the making of fountain pens.  This intrigued me enough to go through my desk drawers and see if I could find a few old fountain pens I had lying around.  The only one that I had ever used was the Parker Vector from many years ago.  It is an okay pen, but I have found my writing has gotten smaller and smaller over the years and the medium nib size was not close the Pilot Precise RT v5 (0.5mm) pens that I have been using for several years.  The other pens I found had not been inked by me.  One was a Sheaffer Snorkel that belonged to my parents.  The other was a Camlin 47 that I don’t remember buying.  I think it may have been a gift from a co-worker who went home to India and brought gifts back for everyone.  For a couple of days, I used the Parker Vector before I stumbled on a clearance item just before Christmas at Office Depot.  The pen was a Yafa Icona Cartridge fountain pen made in Italy.

Borghini - V110S - Yafa Icona
V110S – AKA Yafa Icona Mfd. by Borghini – FAP s.r.l.

I thought these would be some neat gifts for my nieces and other people and hunted around until I had about six of them.  I did not feel too bad about my investment as the markdown price was from $16 to $2. These pens came with about seven color cartridges and I went through the darker colors over the next few weeks before experiencing some issues.  The blue, purple and pink cartridges worked flawlessly until they ran out of ink.  Then the black ink cartridges were tried and they continually dried in the nib.  This was frustrating and made for a great excuse to start looking for a real pen as reviews of the Yafa basically equated to it being a $2 pen performance wise. (edit: Since re-inking this pen with decent Waterman ink, it is a good pen with a broad medium nib and a little more wet than most of my other pens sans the Camlin 47.)

You know what happened next, the Internet fountain pen community sucked me into the never ending debates of the best pen, ink, paper, etc… Can I just say for the record that there should be a 12 step program for fountain pen fanatics.  Thankfully I am not ruining my health or wasting my fortunes on the hobby, but I could see things going terribly wrong without some constraints.  So, I started with the same penny pinching scheme I always do. Which is, what’s the best I can get for the least amount of money.  Call me cheap, but I call it staying married.

While looking for a potential pen candidate I looked to the Fountain Pen Network, Amazon reviews, and The Goulet Pen Company website.  I think I spent most of a Sunday afternoon watching the Fountain Pen 101 video series and at some point found the best fountain pens under $50 video.  So my first new fountain pen was the Pilot Metropolitan with a fine nib along with a converter.  I really like this pen.  The flow is not too wet and it lays down a fairly fine line.  This pen is still the smoothest on paper of any of the pens I have bought so far.  For the price, this pen is a real value.  Then I started seeing the reviews on the TWSBI Eco.  I ordered this pen and it quickly sidelined the Metro, but the ink I first used in it, Noodler’s Q-E’ternity, tended to feather in my cheap Big Lots spiral notebook.  So then a little more research into Goulet’s top five under $50 lead me to the top of the list and the Lamy Safari in an extra fine nib.  I also ordered the fine nib for this one to see what it was like.  Compared to my TWSBI Eco, the Safari was a bantam weight as it lacked the balance the TWSBI had when the cap was posted.  But the Safari EF nib was laying down the finest lines of any pen so far.  For several weeks now I have floated between all of these pens and based on my work journal where I take at least two pages of notes per day, no pen has been used more than a few days before trying some other combination of ink and pen.  That was until I found an Amazon warehouse deal on a 2015 Al-Star Special Edition Lamy Holiday Gift set.

Lamy Al-Star Special Edition Gift Set
2015 Lamy Al-Star Special Edition Gift Set

For $50, I was able to purchase the Copper Orange Al-Star pen with six cartridges, a converter, and bottle of Lamy blue ink.  It came with a medium nib that I tried, but found to be too wide for my style of writing.  A quick swap of the EF nib from the Safari and now this has been my pen of choice.  It is interesting to note that I tried the fine nib that came with the Safari and compared it to the medium nib on the Al-Star and the ink lines from both had no perceivable difference in size.  I am pretty sure the feeds on the Al-Star and Safari are identical, but I have found the flow with the Al-Star is a little better than the feed on the Safari.

Some of the inks I have played with other than the Noodler’s Q-E’ternity are some Parker Quink permanent in black, Waterman serenity blue in the Yafa, and an expensive bottle of Pilot Ajasai Iroshuzuku.  My experience with inks so far is that if the manufacturer offers an ink it seems to work best in that manufacturer’s pens.  I know this is not what I see reported in the forums and other reviews, but when I had a cartridge that came with a pen and used it up and then used an industrial syringe to refill the cartridge with another ink, it did not perform as well.  What I did figure out with inks is buying a bottle you don’t like can be an expensive mistake.  So I have subscribed to the Goulet Pens Ink Drop program and just got a bunch of blue purples that I have tried with a calligraphy dip nib.  What was interesting about trying the inks with the dip nib is that some kept the nib inked much longer than others.  For samples of the different pens and nibs and ink samples see this gallery on my photo web site.  For those interested in the Camlin 47, it is an interesting pen.  It lays down a wet line and when I tried it using the Pilot Iroshizuku on some Oxford paper that is made from stone paper pulp, it made some puffy marshmallow looking fonts as it dried.  On normal paper this ink and pen combination were fine.  None of the other pens and inks exhibited this strange behavior on the stone pulp paper.  As far as that paper goes, it is a strange beast indeed. Were it not for the perforations at the binding, I think it would bend the wire binding before ripping away.  I also felt like the nibs started picking up some sort of coating off of the paper as I wrote on it.  I will probably keep that pad for ball points.

Now to start the countdown to the Triangle Pen Show the first weekend in June.

USB RC Controller Joystick & Simulators (Sailing and Flight)

Several years ago I got into Radio Control (RC) sail boats or yachts, depending on your perspective, and really enjoyed it.  I miss hanging out with the guys, but don’t miss the competitiveness on Saturday mornings.  Once it wasn’t that fun to get up early on Saturdays, I gave it up as I really needed to focus more on exercise than RC sailing and have taken a long hiatus from the hobby.  I miss sailing and several years ago wrote a post about sailing simulators.  I pulled up the old post and all but a couple of the simulators are no longer made.  One that I liked several years ago, but had not updated in a while, was Virtual Skipper (VSK).  I had the original VSK and upgraded at one point to Virtual Skipper 3.  When I Googled for the latest VSK version, I found it was at VSK5.  A quick update and I had installed the latest version.  I am not sure what the improvements were, but it looks and plays like the previous versions.  One of my personal feelings on VSK was that if I could use my RC Controller it might help my actual skills on the water.  So I started checking out the possibilities of using an existing RC controller or finding a RC controller purpose built to be recognized as a PC joystick.

The first option for hooking up an existing RC transmitter (TX) controller to a PC is through a connector on the back of the TX usually used for a buddy cable.  Buddy cables allow new RC hobbyist to have a buddy there with their controller hooked to the newbies’ controller to take over remote control of the model if needed.  There are cables that connect to this port on the TX and the cable has a USB connector on the other end that allows the controller to be seen as a
joystick.  I had a couple of old Hi-Tech controllers with a 5 or 6 pin DIN connector, but if I went this route I would need to charge the TX battery and these controllers are so old the batteries would need replacing.  So I opted for the second option, which was the stand alone purpose designed USB RC Controller.  I purchased the controller from Amazon.

To test it out and make sure it worked, I tried several free RC flight simulator packages and have continued using PicaSim with the new controller for a few weeks now.  As far as using the controller goes with VSK5, I have found it works pretty well even though I can only use one axis for the tiller and another for sail control.  While VSK5 can operate the sails for the player, hitting the Number Lock key puts them in manual operation mode which allows me to luff the sails at the start line to decrease the speed and avoid an early start penalty.  I also tried a SourceForge project CRRC Sim (review) that was okay and I admit I have not spent much time with it after PicaSim.  Another one I tried was ClearView (review).  It has a very time limited trial, but has many available models and you can update the scenery with images from your own flying field.  For a decent flight simulator, I found that the failure to include a quad copter model was a little disappointing.

My take on the controller is I like it for what it is designed to do, which is to allow it to be used a joystick controller on a PC or Mac and possibly Linux.  It appears the unit could have gone the way of a real RC transmitter as there are a couple holes plugged where an actual controller would have another meter, dial or handle.  The sticks are plastic, but do have the serrated concave tops like found on all higher end RC transmitters. The configuration is mode 2 as based on the mode listing chart here. When I look at Windows 10 calibration, the right stick has the x axis as right horizontal and y axis as vertical. The left stick has z axis on the vertical, which is not spring loaded to recenter, and z rotation on the horizontal. The knob on the top right of the controller is y rotation (0-100%) while the switch on the top left is x rotation and is detected at 50% or 100% depending on the position of the switch. There is also a mixer switch above the right stick.  There are a couple of items to note on my controller as received it from Amazon.  A couple of the axes never seem stop jittering.  This is okay if you can set the dead zone in the software you are using the controller with, but a total pain in the butt if the simulator software determines your control selection by asking you to move the stick you want assigned.  For example, in VSK you click with the mouse to start the controller stick selection and as soon as you have clicked the axis showing jitter is immediately selected before you can actually move the stick you want to assign.  I finally over came this by going the Windows game controller calibration routine and setting the problem axis to a point where it exhibited the least jitter.  This allowed me to select the correct controls in VSK.  Other than that, I have not really had any trouble in the other simulators once I understood some of the cryptic joystick settings they used in the controller configuration settings.  The quality of the unit is sufficient for my needs with only cosmetic defect noted being the front panel consisting of the sticks seeming like it is not tightly secured on the left side.  I could probably fix this if I opened it up and either tightened a screw or strategically placed some glue.

Thus far I am glad I went with this controller and the flight simulators and VSK offer some needed diversions with very little investment.  If wanted to spend the money on a new transmitter and flight simulator, I would probably look at the Spektrum 6 and Phoenix simulator combo package.

2009 Mac Book Pro El Capitan SSD Upgrade

Mid-2009 MBPIn trying to get a little more life out of my 2009 Mac Book Pro (MBP), I decided to pick up a Solid State Drive (SSD). My original plan was to clone the old drive over to the new SSD, but that plan was eventually discarded in favor of a clean install of OS X El Capitan.

The issues I ran into with the clone attempt were several. First, the new drive was 960GB while the existing drive was 1TB. In Yosemite, I could get into Disk Utility from the option key boot menu. The problem was the disk recovery partition booted from was part of the boot drive’s main partition I wanted to resize. That problem, on top of having to boot into single user mode and run /sbin/fsck -fy a couple of times to fix some problems before I could try to resize, made me give up as I kept getting a can’t unmount or mount error to complete the resize. So I updated to El Capitan on the MBP and was surprised to see that I could more easily resize the partition using the El Capitan version of the Disk Utility and there was not a warning that it did not succeed due to the mount issue.  I booted back into El Capitan and saw no issues after the resize. So another Disk Utility session was started with the new SSD connected via a USB adapter. I was able to start the restore from the 1TB to the new SSD. I left this running overnight and through the day, but the process appeared to be stalled and I eventually stopped it. At that point the disk recovery/disk utility boot option would start and get about two-thirds complete, based on the progress bar, before the machine would power itself off.  The MBP would still boot OS X El Capitan, but I could no longer access the recovery boot option to try another cloning session via the Disk Utility restore option.

I considered my options and actually booted with a live Gparted disk, but decided against a partition resize even though I had a Time Crucial M500 960GBMachine backup I made after the El Capitan upgrade. I also tried Clonezilla, but it did not like the fact that the new drive was smaller than the original and even when I did the expert mode option to allow the size difference, it failed to complete the clone of the main partition. At this point, I am thinking I have a nice SSD drive to use somewhere, but not in my MBP.

On the third effort, I started looking at doing a clean install of El Capitan OS X directly on to the new SSD. I will not try to completely recap that process here, but I leveraged the information at http://mashable.com/2015/10/01/clean-install-os-x-el-capitan/#iPW8YGRnrEqp. I will say don’t get discouraged during the creation of the bootable USB drive using DiskMaker X version 5 and the El Capitan installer application. I felt like it took forever during several of the steps, but it ultimately completed. So I opened up the MBP and swapped the SSD in and booted from the El Capitan clean install bootable USB drive. Again, I would say don’t get discouraged with the speed of this process. The time estimates and progress bars seemed like they were tied to some other universe’s clock.

Once I got past the first reboot of the install process, I was asked if I wanted to transfer any data from another Mac, a Time Machine backup or other source. I tried to chose the option for Time Machine and for some reason the My Book drive of my Time Machine data was not seen. I backed up one step and connected the old 1TB drive via my USB adapter and it was seen. I was given a list of items I would like to transfer or migrate over to the new install and I selected my data and applications only. I went ahead and clicked next a couple of times even though the install was still trying to compute the overall size of applications and my home folder. A few minutes later the transfer of data started and as I type this on my wife’s laptop, I have about six hours left to go on the transfer.

Update:  The migration of data and applications completed without any issues and my MBP looks like I just did an upgrade versus a clean install at this point.  If the folks in Redmond only got this concept, I would not dread a fresh Windows install to fix the cruft that builds up on their OS’es.  As far as the new SSD goes, a reboot that would take about four minutes is now only 30 seconds from clicking reboot until I get a login prompt and application starts are much more responsive.  One program, Microsoft Office 2011, did want me to go through the registration/activation process when I opened the program the first time.  Luckily, it was installed via an employee purchase program with the registration key delivered in e-mail or I would still not be able to use it.  I now keep my software keys in my password keeper, KeePass, to avoid having to sift through e-mails to find keys.

VPN Disconnect When Ooma Phone Rings

I have been using the Ooma Telo for VoIP phone service at home for several years.  Over the last few months my wife has complained that she loses VPN connectivity to her corporate network when the phone rings.  I had set up the home router with QOS for the Telo device and tried to adjust the settings available with the OpenWRT firmware to make sure the Telo was not getting all of the available bandwidth and creating the problem.  That did not seem to help as the problem continued.  So tonight I decided to troubleshoot the issue and ultimately found the problem and a solution.

To explain the solution I probably need to explain my network set up.  The home router is running OpenWrt which is connected to the cable modem.  The Ooma Telo device is connected to the LAN.  This is not the recommended set up by Ooma.  Ooma would like for the Telo device to be connected to the modem and the router connected to the Telo.  I don’t want to do this as I think it would impact my ability to host this server on my network.  In addition to the Access Point (AP) on the router,  devices on the LAN are a couple of gigabit switches and two AP’s providing a point to point wireless bridge for wired connections to the stereo receiver, TV, Wii, etc..  Actual devices on the rest of the network are computers, phones, tablets and an Epson 845 WorkForce printer.

To troubleshoot, I set up a ping to an Internet host and called the home phone from my mobile and there was no impact to the ping.  Then I started my work VPN (Cisco AnyConnect) and repeated the test, except this time I pinged an internal IP address on the corporate network.  Sure enough, as soon as the home phone started ringing, my ping failed.  Since the problem only started happening the last few months and the network was pretty stable up until that point, I started looking at other changes and the only thing that came to mind was connecting a phone line to the Epson printer a few months ago.  So I disconnected the phone line to the printer and ran the VPN test again and the ping continued with no problem. So, for now, the printer is disconnected from the phone line and I believe this will prevent dropped VPN connections and keep the wife happy and hopefully help some others that might experience this problem.

SAD Light Therapy Box (DIY)

My wife has always complained of having no mojo when the daylight hours get shorter and overcast Winter skies seem forever present from November to March. If you have ever looked at therapeutic Seasonal Affective Disorder light boxes as a treatment for SAD, you know they run from about $50 for very small ones to over $300 for larger models. From my research all of these devices try to provide over 10,000 lumens and should be used about 30 minutes or longer per day to provide enough light to counteract the effects of SAD. With that criteria in mind, I set out to see if I could construct SAD Light Therapy box as a Christmas gift for her. Below are the recaps of my efforts at version one and the final version that she uses today.  Skip to the photo section below for a quick review of the steps taken to build the final version of the light box.

495733_METAL RETRO RED BASKETWhile researching these devices, I came across a LifeHack where a brother made one for his sister using a wooden file box from IKEA and had to drill the box for the bulb holder mounts. While I could have gone that route and my initial hardware store purchases were of three massive fluorescent bulbs and mountable cleat bases, I 495733_METAL RETRO RED BASKETquickly found out that the massive bulbs also took a massive base known as Mogul type for which the standard bases I had bought would not work. I liked this design as I could get the lumens I needed with only three bulbs, which meant less effort to do the mounting in the box that I found to be base of the device. Speaking of the box, I located it at World Market and it is a red metal picnic box for lack of a better description. The dimensions are 14.6″W x 11.2″D x 7″H with the lid and opening being on the 14″x11″ side.

After returning the mogul bulbs and standard bases to the home improvement store, I spent a lot of time wandering the electrical and lighting aisles trying to come up with much easier design that would not involve drilling and mounting bulb bases or elaborate electrical wiring. The simplest design I could come up with was to mount power strips in the box with double sided tape and use electrical outlet to bulb base adapters to hold the bulbs.

IMG_0769Trying to keep the cost as low as possible, I went to Wal-mart to find the power strips and bulb adapters. I found four black standard six outlet power strips and eight bulb adapters as that was all the store had in stock at the time. I got home and mounted the power strips side by side with the double sided tape and placing the bulb adapters on the power strip outlets that would give me room to plug in the other power strips to the primary power strip that would received external power.  This design ended up having odd bulb placement and the power strips in the bottom looked pretty ugly, so I took some white poster board and cut it to cover the guts while cutting round holes for the bulbs to screw into the adapters. The bulbs chosen were 100W equivalent compact fluorescents with each one providing 1,600 lumens for a total lumen output of about 12,800. My wife was happy with the gift and used it for about a week, before I started realizing there were some design flaws.

What I did not like about the initial build design were, the bulbs being non-symmetrical, and the double IMG_0770_2sided mounting tape quickly giving into the forces of gravity and the bulbs flopping to down with the unit sitting on one end to provide light out to the room. Part of the problem with the bulb placement was due to the power strips. The ones I had bought had a hump on them at the end where the switch was located. This prevented using the outlet closest to the switch as the bulb adapter was too wide to fit due to the hump. I also did not like that I had to use four strips when two of the appropriate size, with adequate spacing and no hump, could do the trick.

IMG_0784So design and build of version 2 came about by finding two Philips brand power strips that had six outlets, with one being spaced out further on the end for transformers and no hump near the switch. Mounting these two power strips along the 14″ orientation allowed symmetrical bulb placement, but there was little if any space to daisy chain the second power strip into the first for power. Given there was not a need for electrical grounding in this project with light bulbs, the plug of the second power strip was trimmed of its grounding leg to fit in the small space between two of the bulb adapters on the first strip. To solve the mounting tape problem, self drilling sheet metal screws were used to mount the power strips to the bottom of the box with care taken not hit the wiring at that end or the plug on the other end. This design looked clean enough that there was no need to hide the internals with poster board as done on the first design. On the electrical side of things, the cord from the power strip was pretty short and plugging in and unplugging version one as an on off mechanism was not convenient. So with version two, I bought an in-line electrical cord switch and cut the very end of the cord from the power strip at the plug. Then I took an old PC power cord and cut of the end that went into the PC off. I soldered one leg (wire) of the two cords together and connected the other legs to the switch connections. So now the light box can be left plugged in and the switch makes it easy to turn on and off. Finally, one feature that I have not mentioned that I wanted from the start, was the ability to put the cord into the box and close it for storage, but since the wife has been using it each day there has not been a need to store it away to test that feature.

Project Parts List and approximate costs ($75 total):
Picnic Box ($25 World Market) – Wooden or Metal Box with enough space to accommodate power strips with bulbs and adapters
Philips Power Strips ($3.50 each x 2 = $7 Ollies)– Ones with more space between outlets  are better as are models that have the switch located on the side or at a minimum flat across the top – Possible Amazon Basics alternative
AC Outlet to Bulb Adapters ($1.27 each x 8 = $10.16) – Should be available at most home improvement stores or Wal-mart
CFL Bulbs (4 pack 23W 1600 Lumen Great Value Wal-Mart $9.88 x 2 = $19.76)– CFL or LED based on Lumens needed and available sockets. (Note: First batch of GV/WM bulbs had almost four bad ones, so save your receipt for an easier exchange.)
Mounting Hardware ($1) – Screws or another mechanism to hold power strips in place in the box.
In-Line Cord Switch ($5) – Standard Rocker Type with pass through of one leg.
Extension to Cord ($0) – Left over PC power cord.

To-Dos:

  1. Line the inside of the box with white contact paper or make another internal cover from poster board like version 1
  2. Check the output of UV light
  3. And depending on the results of #2, procure and install some sort of diffuser with UV filtering capabilities (I am thinking something like plastic drop cloth using a rod with a right angle on the ends to place in holes on the lid edge to the far side of the light compartment, as this should support the diffuser drape and also give the unit some stability while on standing on its side)

Update: January 17, 2015 – A quick test of UV output with some UV activated Transitions eyeglasses showed there was some UV output from these bulbs.  The solution I found was to obtain some clear UV filtering film from Tinted Atmospheres where I had my Mazda 5 windows tinted.  The film was not cheap, but it appears to be preventing the output of UV when tested with the glasses.  To mount it, I cut a 13 1/2″ square of the film and used some very small button magnets to hold it in place on the front opening of the light box. See step 7 below.

Step one – find an appropriate metal box
Step 2 – Mount the power strips from outside bottom. The markings on the right were the original location I planned to use, but decided to try and get equal spacing with the inner dimensions of the box based on measurements from the already installed power strip on the left.
Step 3 – Daisy chain second power strip into first and insert bulb socket adapters with spacing appropriate for bulbs.
Step 4 – Install cord switch and extended cord.

 

Step 5 – Trim poster board to correct size and cut holes for bulbs. An easy way to determine the places to cut holes is to use a dry erase marker and put ink on all of the socket edges, then press the poster board onto the sockets and you should have some very light circular marks showing where the holes need to be cut. Additional poster board was cut to line the inside of the box on the sides.
Step 6 – Install Bulbs and test.
Step 7 – Diffuser installed. Diffuser is made of Contact Paper brand translucent shelf liner with no adhesive and a layer of UV blocking automobile tint film. The two layers were held together with hot glue.  Some small fiberglass rods salvaged from a hover disc hoop was cut with about 1/3″ extra length based on the width of the box. Then these rods were threaded through the diffuser at the edge and in the middle and the openings and rods secured to each other with hot glue. To install the diffuser the rods are inserted under the lip of the box on one side and flexed to allow them to catch on the opposite side lip. This holds the diffuser in place and provides a bow shape that allows the heat to vent to the top and keeps the diffuser from touching the bulbs.
Final Step – Lightbox ready to store with diffuser rolled up and placed between the light bulb rows.

www.timbrown.us

Step Out Walk 2014

The photos from this year’s Step Out walk are located here.  Thanks to all of the volunteers, walkers and sponsors for making the event a success.  All photos at my PerformancePixel.com may be downloaded for free/no charge. So don’t use the order prints feature unless that offers a convenient means for you to get them.  The prices for prints that are ordered is the cost that the lab charges with no markup from me.  Again, thanks for your support of the walk.  It was great to see so many families supporting loved ones with diabetes.