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.

Nginx and Blocking Countries Redeux

After having some issues with this new server build and Apache2, I decided to move over to Nginx for the web server. This meant I had to figure out how to get a Linux, (e)Nginx, MySQL, and PHP (LEMP) server going.  Although I am not a DigitalOcean customer I used a great tutorial from them to determine what I needed on the Nginx and PHP5-FPM side of things and left off the other steps pertaining to Linux and MySQL.  I also had to recreate my self-signed cert for SSL which I did using these instructions from DigitalOcean. These portions of the upgrade, I actually did from remote while DJ’ing for an 80’s gig, but I did need to finish up swapping the Apache2 and Nginx daemon start ups the next day.  All in all, it was a pretty effortless job to make the Apache to Nginx switch until I started investigating what I needed to do to continue blocking web visitors by country.

So the next step was to enable the MaxMind GeoIP modules in Nginx and configure the web site profile to block countries other than the usual five. For this portion, I found another tutorial from  how-to-forge that walked through the process step by step. Just like the previous effort to do this under Apache, there are methods to allow all countries and specify a few to block or block all countries and specify a few to allow. The latter is the method I chose.  The one option that I really like with this setup is instead of giving a 403 – forbidden response to blocked visitors, I followed the tutorial’s recommendation to use a 444 – no response method which just keeps the browser at the other end hanging on and waiting for a response.

Between country blocking, using a self-signed SSL cert and a captcha requirement for administrative access, the number of attempted password guessing attacks against this site has gone from several an hour to zero.

Follow-Up:

ZP20In addition to WordPress, my site also includes Zenphoto 2.0 for the photo gallery.  While it initially looked like wordpress and zenphoto were functioning correctly under nginx, if you went into any of the albums you would get a 404 error.  Turns out that mod-rewrite and php needed some attention to get Zenphoto back to health.  Here is a post I made to the Zenphoto 2.0 forum on the adjustments needed.


 

Due to some problems with apache2 under a new Ubuntu 14.04 load, I decided to switch my web server to nginx.  I used a couple of nginx (LEMP) tutorials from DigitalOcean even though my server self hosted.  My primary site is wordpress with zenphoto 2.0 as a sub folder named zp.  Zenphoto detected the server change to nginx and prompted me to run setup.  This created two issues. One was setup did not detect a working mod_rewrite.  The other was a timeout error (504) waiting on the setup script to complete.  The timeout for php execution completion is probably set at 30 seconds on most default php installations. This is too short for the setup process to complete. This site (http://www.nginxtips.com/504-gateway-time-out-using-nginx/) has the settings needed for extending the timeout to avoid a 504 error waiting on Zenphoto 2.0 setup to complete.
You may have to make adjustments to the location of the files to edit, with Ubuntu 14.04, nginx, and php5-fpm these were the locations:
php.ini = /etc/php5/fpm/php.ini
www.conf = /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d
virtual host conf = /etc/nginx/sites-available/<default site file>
To fix the mod_rewrite issue I found one suggestion (http://www.zenphoto.org/news/nginx-rewrite-rules-tutorial#rewrite-rules-for-zenphoto-145) of this simple location section for zenphoto being hosted in a sub folder.

          location /subfolder {
try_files $uri $uri/ /subfolder/index.php?$args;
}

mod_rewrite is detected and seems to be working with this location portion added add to the default site config:

        location /zp {
try_files $uri $uri/ /zp/index.php?$args;
}

The nginx wiki has a much more detailed section of rewrite configuration (http://wiki.nginx.org/ZenPhoto), but I think the shorter one above is working.
Just passing this along for those that might hit these issues with nginx and zenphoto 2.0.

Updated SUP Board and Debby’s First Lesson

Glide1
Naish Glide AST 12′ 2010

As Debby and I prepare for vacation, where she might get a chance to try out Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP), she decided it might be time to get a lesson before possibly having to lay out some cash on a rental while on vacation.  So, if she wanted to learn, it meant I had to use one of my old sailboards as a SUP board or check into to getting one of the newer boards made for touring on flat water.  My previous experience has been using an old sailboard as a SUP. Those boards were a Magnum Nova and Hobie Alpha 230a.  Real SUP boards include an Ocean Kayak 11′ Nalu and the 12′ Naish Glide (2010 model).  I found the surf style nose on the Naish made me feel like a was pushing water a little bit when compared to the displacement nose on the Nalu.  Looking at what’s available in displacement touring boards, there are a lot of options with prices on the low end for the Nalu’s around $600 to high-end carbon touring boards going for more than $2,500.  I ended up closer to the low end with a 12’6″ Bic Ace-Tec Wing limited edition from REI.  More on that later…

Lake_Johnson
Lake Johnson (c) Wind Watcher 2012

Debby’s first lesson went well.  We showed up at a local Raleigh city park, Lake Johnson, where a SUP group lesson was just starting.  I gave Debby the quick instructions of how to hold the paddle the right way, where to put it across the board while going on to the board on one knee in shallow water.  She has seen me SUP enough to have a basic idea on paddling.  She ended up on the Naish Glide and followed the group class out to the back side of the lake which required me to go from standing up on my board to a crouching position on my knees to make it under the Avent Ferry Road Bridge.  Once on the other side, she was able to stand up pretty easily by following my example.  We hung out in that part of the lake for a while after letting the group lesson go their own way to learn important things like how to get back on the board after falling off, where Debby’s idea of good lesson was not falling off.  After about fifteen minutes, we headed back to the main part of the lake which gave Debby another chance to go under the bridge and stand up again.  We paddled toward the dam and Debby had no issues and no near falls over the hour that we were on the water.

My thoughts on the new Bic Wing are: Wow!  Now the first thing I will have to say is the board is a little heavier compared to the Glide, but not anything like the rotomolded Ocean Kayak.  I  ended up getting the blue topped limited edition during the Labor Day sale at REI with the ship to store option  that only took two days to arrive.  I had been looking at this as a potential displacement board for awhile, but the $1399 price tag was a little more than I wanted to spend and 15% off helped push me over the edge and pull the trigger on the purchase.  My only qualm with REI, being an REI member at least, is they did not give a dividend on my purchase stating that the discount I was getting was more then the dividend would be.  That is pretty lame if you ask me, but it was not enough to make me decide to try and see if I could get it for the same price at another retailer that had similar ship to store options.

We unboxed the board at REI and let them recycle the the card board before heading out to Lake Johnson.  Thankfully one of the staff that helped me get it out of the box took the extra effort to bring me the FCS hex key wrench they found when discarding the box while I was still loading the new board up on the car or it would have been a sad trip to the lake for me as I only brought a phillips and straight screw driver with me.  Getting it on the water was pretty simple once I got the FCS 9″ touring fin installed.  Sadly carrying this board and the Naish Glide on my roof rack at the same time will require removing the fin from the Bic.  On the water the Wing is very stable, from a stop you have to alternate your paddle from side to side to get going in a straight line, but once you are carrying some speed this board tracks truer in the water better than any of the four boards I have SUP’ed on the past including when I was lowering the daggerboard on the Hobie Alpha to get some stability back when I was first starting out.  With Debby going at a much slower pace during her lesson, I had to double back several times to get her caught up.  Initially I was back paddling on one side to turn around and since this board tracks so straight I was almost coming to a complete stop to make the turn.  Later on I started walking back on the board to get the nose to lift out of the water and torquing my core to twist the board as I paddled on one side to make the turn.  Turning this way was quick and let me maintain some forward momentum, but required my full attention to keep my balance.

Overall I think this is going to be a great board for my flat water needs here in the area.  As far as the aesthetics go on this board, I like the metallic royal blue on top and the white bottom.  I have not verified this, but a quick glance at a couple of the graphics on the side they did not appear to be integrated into the glossy finish, so it will be interesting to see how long these decals stay on.  The recessed deck padding is nice and you can see where the red swoosh is cut into the base white pad.  I did get a little bit of hot foot on my right side, but that is most likely due to some planar faciitus and me being off the water for so long and not the padding.  The weather was an intermittent light breeze with overcast to partly cloudy while we were out on the water.  That said, I did notice that if I slid the outside of my foot off the pad up onto the blue top, I could feel the increased heat level of the darker color versus the mostly white pad.  Compared to the normal edition of this board in all white non-glossy finish with red graphics, I really like the red, white and mostly blue look of the top on the limited edition.  One of the items to note on the limited edition is the glossy finish.  Long term I think this may show a little more of the scrapes and dings that come with loading, launching and landing, but the whole reason for the Ace-Tec construction is make these boards pretty bullet proof and I can tell you as the owner of two 1980’s sailboards using similar construction that you can probably poke a hole all the way through one of the boards and keep using for years to come as long as you don’t compromise the board’s structural integrity.  I have to make a note to myself  that if I am leaving the board out in the sun for a any long length of time, it is probably better to leave the white up and blue side down help the board keep its cool.

Hopefully I will be able to get it out a few more times over the Fall season and post some additional reviews.

Data Specs
Length: 12’6″
Width:  30″
Weight:  34 lbs
Volume:  285 Liters
Fin:  FCS SUP Touring 9″
Shaper:  Patrice Remoiville

Program

www.timbrown.us

HiFi $50 Headphones

I would have to call myself and audiophile from a pretty young age as my dad was always recording the band concerts and coming home and playing them on a decently high end stereo at the time.  My Dad and also had the pleasure of knowing Harry Grasser, a violinist, that would share some great classical LP pieces he had come across.  I ended up leaning toward early 80’s contemporary Jazz after growing up on Pop and southern Rock & Roll.  This was not from a dislike of those genres, but more of an escape.  In the early 80’s I was DJ’ing at a local roller skating rink, Sportsworld of Cary.  After playing Pop and a lot of R&B, the chill out music of choice, thanks to Jerry Rose, became a lot of what we call smooth jazz today.  At night, I could not turn up the stereo to get my fix, so I would fall asleep most nights listing to some music through  my headphones.  Back then there was not a large market place and you generally chose between Koss, Sony or some of the new Walkman style phones.  I ended up with some Koss Pro-4a’s and wore them out between heavy use and age.  Since then I floated between ear buds of various sorts and some cheap around ear styles that I did not care if they broke as I was using them each night when I went to bed.  Yes, I still listen to something every night as a fall asleep.  But these days the tracks are mostly binaural beats or self-hypnosis focused on various things from pain control to body asleep – mind awake.  With binaural beats there is a desire hear the low bass frequencies as they form the core of the tones sent to each ear at different frequencies to produce a harmonic within the auditory function of the brain which appears to sound like a beat.  People tend not believe this part of the binaural beat phenomenon, but if you pull the headphone off of one ear the beat produced by the different tones to each ear goes away.  So back to headphones.

Panasonic RP-HTF600-S Stereo Over-ear Headphones

Most of the cheap headphones I have bought have been really cheap Sentry brand from BigLots.  Like I said, I was just buying something that worked that I did not care about as I might pull the cord out or break the ear piece off while sleeping.  The specifications on the the Sentry around ear Studio model was 20Hz – 20,000Hz which is fairly standard for an average pair of phones or “cans” today.  Eventually I came across some V-Moda LP’s at Costco and got those, but needless to say, they did not get  bed time duty.  They are some pretty good headphones, but I found the around ear cushions were just shy of going around my ears which limits them to short term use.  Sound quality is definitely better than the cheap Sentry stuff and the ability to use them with the second cord that includes a mic that works with an iPhone is a nice feature and the storage case is added plus.  But like I said, these are a little over the top for use while falling asleep. So I kept looking at reviews on Amazon and everything was about $80+ for something with 4 stars, but then I came across the Panasonic RP-HTF600’s (600’s for short).  Most every review gave these guys 5 stars with very few low ratings.  The specs for the 600’s are 10Hz – 27,000Hz at $29.99 price point.  I have been listening to the 600’s about six months now and they find their way from the bed room to the computer room so I can listen to music, binaural beats or whatever else I decide to play through them.  I have played with EQ settings and find that I like the sound they produce without any EQ adjustments.  I have not really found any frequencies where they fail to produce a clear sound.  The mids are not overbearing or muffled and the highs are very crisp with super smooth bass.  One of the best traits so far are the new deeper tones I hear when listening to binaural beats.  Some of the self hypnosis sessions that I have listened to for years have been rejuvenated like old people in the movie “Cocoon”.   These are Amazon prices as of May 18, 2014.  But you said $50, well the additional cost comes from Beyerdynamics replacement velour ear cushions.  While the original ear cushions are okay, they would get a little sweaty being  pleather.  The Beyerdynamics velour cushions were recommended in a couple of reviews.  And I am very glad I added them to the order.  So far these cans have holding up on their own four over six months.   I still want to try and make them a little more closed versus semi-open by inserting some blue tack on the inside vents; leaving only a small opening for ventilation.  If I make that change, I will post an update on the improvements or detriments.

Koss KTXPRO1 Titanium Portable Headphones with Volume Control

Some other cans I own in addition to the V-Moda and Panasonics are: Bose Mobile in-ear (clearance shelf at Sam’s Club), Bose OE (Target clearance item), Monoprice DJ headphones,  Radio Shack Realistic Pro-35a (Titanium) also sold as Koss KTX Pro 1 on Amazon, and a pair of Koss from Walmart that have been discontinued.  The Bose in-ear are good with my iPhone, but they are not going to win any contests even though I do find the microphone better than most in-ear mobile headsets.  I have the OE Bose at work and find they are bassy with very good highs if my old ears can hear them, but they are missing some mid range that make the overall sound experience a little muddy. The Radio Shack Pro-35a could almost be a standard reference which is saying a lot when you think about the current Koss version costs less than $12.  I picked up the Monoprice headphones on a daily deal or sale and got two more pairs for my nieces as gifts.  They were 10 and 13 at the time I gave them to the girls and they have not broken either set in two years.  I like the Monoprice as far as sound experience goes, but the headband tended to cut into my head and the pleather ear cushions caused some sweating.  I made two mods to the Monoprice to improve them.  One, I took the ear cushions I removed from the Panasonics and put them on the Monoprice set and I took a strip of rubber cut from an old bicycle inner tube to create suspension headband inside of the original poorly padded head band.  If you take a look at the Koss Pro1 photo, the homemade inner tube head band looks sort of like that on my modified Monoprice cans.

No doubt I will probably keep looking at new cans and probably buy some higher end models if I come into some gift certificates or money.  But unless I am a producer behind a studio sound board for a professional musician, I can’t see spending upwards of $150 for my old ears.  So now I wait for the new Audio-Technica ATH-M50x to come down to my price range.

 

Photo Shoots

It was a busy weekend for photography.  So much so that I had to call in the reserves (my wife & father-in-law) to help.  The first event was the Raleigh Police 5K Run For Our Heroes in downtown Raleigh.  The other event was the first annual Bed Race held by the Caring Community Foundation.  If you are looking for the images, you will find the 5K photos here and the Bed Race photos here.  As always thanks for your support of these great charities, the Raleigh Police Memorial Foundation and the Caring Community Foundation.

The memorial foundation has been working hard over the past few years to raise funds for a proper fallen officer memorial for the Raleigh Police Department.  Sadly eight officers have given their lives while protecting the citizens of our capital city, but they are finally recognized through the memorial which was dedicated Friday night before the 5K on Saturday.  If you get a chance, please visit the Raleigh City hall to pay your respects at the memorial.

The Caring Community Foundation continues to be the little cancer charity that can.  While many cancer charities raise funds for research, CCF is unique in that the funds raised are used to assist cancer patients in our area that have  financial needs which are many times identified by their oncologist.  The goal last year was 365 patients assisted and that goal was met and this charity has raised over $1 million in the 10 years since its humble start with a backyard BBQ.