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 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.


  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.