Fixing Broken Mazda 5 Sliding Door Power Locks

I guess faulty power locks are in my blood.  After dealing the issue multiple times with my 2004 Pontiac Vibe (see blog posts), the same issue started with my 2012 Mazda 5 about six months ago.  This time the front door power locks are working fine.  The problem child is the driver side sliding rear door.  For a while it was hit miss and sometimes it would lock and other times not.  Finally, it just quit doing anything when either the key fob lock and unlock  or the internal front door lock and unlock buttons where hit.  While I would try to remember to lock the door manually after getting out my backpack  in and out for work everyday; I often found I left it unlocked.  Not Good.  So today I had a little time and tried to tackle the issue.

I started by googling a video on removing the door panel.  This one is pretty good and matched what I ended up having to do with mine to get the panel off.  On the drivers side, I went way over board and took a lot of parts off that probably could have stayed on while I made the fix.  I also decided to do the passenger side sliding door too, as it was starting to sound a little sketchy.  Here is what I did and what I needed after lessons learned on the drivers side.

Tools and Supplies you will need:

  1. Take the door panel off per the video.  It is easier to disconnect the wire and connector that go to the power window control at this point so you will be able to get the panel completely out of the way while working on the actuator.
  2. Find the plastic milk carton white box that has an actuator rod going to the door lock slider.
  3. On the rear of this actuator body there is the electrical connector and just above that connector is an empty connector that has an open slot into the body of the actuator.  Locate this empty electrical connector slot.
  4. Take a rag or paper towels and stuff them up under the actuator to catch the overflow of electrical cleaner spray.
  5. Insert the tube coming from the can of electrical cleaner spray in the open slot of the empty electrical connector and spray an abundance of the cleaner.  Wait about two minutes and repeat spraying cleaner into the slot.
  6. Try the lock and unlock button on the key fob or the lock button on one of the front doors to see if the power lock is working.  If the power lock does not operate on the door in question, repeat step 5.  If you have time, you may want to leave the door panel off for a while to allow the electrical cleaner to evaporate or you may have the strong smell of the cleaner riding around with you for a few days.
  7. If step 6 is successful, make sure any of the snaps that held the door panel in place are on the back of the door panel and not stuck in the inside of the door.  If there are any snaps stuck to the door side, those will have to be popped of with the popper tool and inserted into the slots on the back of the door panel.  You will not get the panel to re-seat correctly if you leave the snaps that are in the metal door.
  8. Make sure the connector and cable that goes to the power window is fed out the hole where the door handle connects before starting to reinstall the panel.  Take the panel and align the lower edge of the window just above where the panel would normally sit.  Then push the top of the panel over the metal ledge at the bottom of the window and slide it down until the panel is hanging on the metal ledge.
  9. Check to see if the screw holes line up around the door handle.  If they do, go ahead and start the screws, but don’t tighten them.  Now use your hand to apply pressure on the door panel where you know there are snaps that need to go into the metal side of the door.  Make sure all of the snaps engage and  screw in the screws completely at this point.
  10. Finally reattach the shroud that goes around the door handle and the vertical window trim piece.
  11. Enjoy working power locks again.

What I have learned, after dealing with this issue on two vehicles, is either the grease being used in the actuators is migrating to the bottom of the actuator case and causing an electrical contact problem or the motor is getting gunked up to prevent actuation.  I did test the connector to the power door lock actuator on the driver’s side and could see voltage when the actuator should see a signal from the lock/unlock button or key fob.  So I knew it was not a wiring or electrical issue outside of the actuator.  The fix is electrical cleaner and I think it would work to remedy either of the potential issues causing the problem.   While I would have liked to reintroduce some grease on the gears in the actuator after the electronics cleaner probably dissolved them away, I did not take the chance to reintroduce another potential electrical contaminate into the mix.  We will see how long the fix lasts, but I suspect they will continue to work until I trade or sell of the car.

Approximate time to complete the whole job on one side: 45 minutes.

HiFi $50 Headphones

Originally published 8Aug2014 updated below – 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 sets 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.

UPDATE 20Nov2017 – Venturing out of the $50 range & $10
So it has been a little over three years since I blogged on headphones and considering additional headphones now in the stable; I think it is time for an update.  I finally picked up some of the Audio-Technica ATH-M50x when they were on Prime Day or a Black Friday sale.  I also grabbed some Bose Around Ear QC-25’s from the Bose outlet.  And I had the opportunity to try some Bose SoundTrue Ultra in-ear headphones after my Bose in-ear Mobile’s were stolen from the DJ booth at the local skating rink where do my every Wednesday 80’s night gig.  The SoundTrue Ultra in-ear were totally isolating like I was wearing noise reduction plugs for the gun range.  So I ended up finding the Bose ebay store and picked up another pair of the old in-ear Mobile model.  When I made the return of the SoundTrue Ultra by taking advantage of the Bose return policy, I updated to the new Soundwave Companion around neck speakers from Bose.  If you remember the old Bones that you could wear around your neck, think of them updated with bluetooth and some decent sounding speakers with bass ports.  If you are considering buying Bose stuff from the outlets, the return policy is 30 days for refunds and 90 days for an exchange.  The latest find for a true set of cans are some Sennheiser HD 380 pro’s I found at the local pawn shop and negotiated down to $50.  For alternative to the Bose Mobile’s, I also picked up some of the highly rated Panasonic Ergo-Fit in-ear, which I have to admit have pretty impressive sound for an under $10 price point.

A quick grade (A-F) on each one while listening to…
1. Barber -Adagio for Strings (Overall sense of sound field capacity)
2. Delta Rae – If I loved You (Ability to carry vocals)
3. Lindsey Stirling – Crystalize (Bass response and mid-range separation)

  • Panasonic Ergo-Fit in-ear:
    1. – B (good overall sound picture for style of headphone)
    2.- C (volume seemed weak, but decent vocal renditions)
    3.- B (amazing bass response for in-ears)
  • Sennheiser HD 380 pro around ear:
    1. – C (seemed to be a little hot in the midrange – correctable with a little EQ)
    2.- A (very clear definitive vocals with full coverage of the light raspiness of her voice)
    3.- A (great bass response with overpowering the violin even with the ultra low frequency bass at 3:05)
  • Audio-Technica ATH-M50x around ear:
    1. – A (very even across all ranges – best at carrying the crescendo up the 6:00 minute mark)
    2.- B (vocalist seemed a little distant, but good balance between instruments and vocals)
    3.- B (separation between low frequencies and violin was good and bass was a tad better than the 380’s)
  • Bose QC-25 around ear noise cancelling connected via Bolle & Raven
    AirMod Wireless Bluetooth Adapter:
  • 1. – A (the Bose haters will say what they will, but these render this adagio with the gracefulness it deserves)
    2.- A (clear vocals and almost overbearing with full band and backup vocals)
    3.- A (crisp violin with ability to carry the bass off without distorting the other frequencies)

At some point, I will do a proper review of the Bose Soundwave Companion.  I sit in a semi-open work environment and have these on most of the day for listing to music and I can usually keep them at a low enough volume that no one around me hears the sound as the speakers are directed up at my ears.  I guess the only issue is, as they become unnoticeable to me, I get some looks when I forget to take them off and leave my desk when headed out for lunch or a break.  I have been told they look like a mini neck rest for travel.  When the volume is up on these they are pretty decent for full coverage of most all of the frequencies, but the mobile app does allow for cutting bass if needed.

Bike Brands and Conglomerates That Own Them

The list below was quickly assembled from Google and sourced back to the respective company website, but it should not be considered an exhaustive list.  I decided to put this list together to look at the bicycle market and how it seems like there are fewer choices in today’s market.  There is also the proposed tariffs here in the U.S. on the imported bicycles from overseas.  While this Bloomberg report covers that angle pretty well, you have to wonder what it means the American bicycle market.  Will the tariff make it much more expensive to pick up a kid’s BMX bike from a big box store or make the price of the average entry level road bike increase by 25%?  I guess we will have to wait and see on that, but I won’t hold my breath while we wait to see high end mountain or road machines being manufactured here in the U.S. due to the tariffs.

Accell ASI* Dorel Cycleurope Pon
Raleigh Diamondback
Fuji Bikes
SE Bikes
Kestrel Bicycles
Breezer Bikes
Oval Concepts
Phat Cycles
Kid Trax
Charge Bikes
BBB Cycling
Raleigh UK

*Owner of Performance Bike stores

Note: Pon has offered to acquire Accell, which would certainly make the others look at each other as potential buyers, but the tariff situation could make for an interesting outcome for all of them.

So which bike brands are not owned by a conglomerate?

  • Trek
  • Specialized
  • KHS
  • Kona
  • Colnago
  • Pinarello
  • Merida
  • Ok, I give up. Check this Wiki list for another few 100

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


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.

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 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.