Archive for April, 2008

Last Pinball Factory Around

Friday, April 25th, 2008
Addams Family Playfield

The New York Times has an awesome article about Gary Stern of Stern Pinball, the last pinball manufacturing company around. This may not be entirely true. There was a company in Australia that bought the rights to a bunch of Bally/Williams IP and is supposed to re-making some classics, but they seem to have disappeared (or it might have been a scam — I honestly don’t know what happened).

Pictured at left is Addams Family. It was the most popular pinball machine ever made, selling 22,000 machines (which is more than Stern’s entire annual production run, these days). Pat Lawlor, the designer, is now at Stern and continues to design some truly great tables.

I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn that most pinball machines are sold individuals and placed in homes. The economy of route operated — corner store / pub — pinball machines was always based on conflict that was quite easily resolved by simply replacing all the machines with video games. Lower maintenance, less square footage, easier to move, and easier to simply swap software (these days) to “upgrade” the play experience.

I currently own 2 machines; Cyclone and Addams Family SPecial Collectors Edition.

Both are fully restored and both will be appearing at next month’s Maker Faire, along with a Dr. Who that I restored a few years ago and gave to a friend.

I may likely also be bringing a PIN-BOT. It is quite thoroughly beat and is going to be the target of some radical restoration experiments, I think.

Early Spring Critters in Missouri

Sunday, April 20th, 2008
Ringneck Snake (Diadophis punctatus) on Glass

Of course, any time we spend a while visiting my parents in Columbia, Missouri, Roger looks for any and all wild creatures.

Within minutes of arriving, Roger had already found one of these cute little Ringneck Snakes (Diadophis punctatus). Two more followed shortly thereafter.

They are each well less than a foot long, don’t bite and are quite calm.

One did get out of the cage. Of course, it crawled about 15 feet across the floor and onto Roger’s foot. After that, though, the snake cage stayed on the outside porch

More critters on the click through…

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Water & Light

Saturday, April 19th, 2008
Sunlight Scribbling on Water #3
Sunlight Scribbling on Water #2

Roger and I (and Christine, for most of the week) have spent the last week in Columbia, Missouri visiting my family

In other words, Roger and I have spent most of the last week hiking around the land that surrounds my parent’s house every day.

I took a handful of photos of water tumbling over the rocks in the creek below the house. To capture that “blurry moving water” essence, I cranked the aperture to maximum and used a nearby rock as a tripod to keep the shutter speed open as long as possible.

I specifically positioned the camera such that it would catch the reflecting sun off the surface of the water. As the sun was acting as a point light source, I figured that it would be interesting to see the sun traverse the water surface over the course of the exposure.

Certainly was! Surprisingly so! The end result looks like someone scribbled with a light pen on the surface of the water!

Detailed explanation (for my seester Ann): I used the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens to capture these 2″ tall waterfalls. They were taken in very bright afternoon sunlight. I cranked the aperture to f/32 to achieve as long of an exposure as possible. For these, the shutter was open for all of 0.2 seconds (1/5th of a second). To keep the camera steady, I propped the camera on a [somewhat muddy, oh well] rock and held the shutter button down to take multiple exposures, hoping at least one would be steady.

Sunlight Scribbling on Water #1

Given the angle of the sun and the water, the water was acting as a mirror for the sun. Reflecting a point of light directly into the camera lens. Unlike a mirror, water is… well… fluid and, thus, the surface is ever changing and the point from which the sun is being reflected changes constantly as the shape of the surface changes.

The key to the squiggles, though, is that this particular waterfall is moving at just the right speed such that the surface tension of the water is never broken in the primary flow. The surface remains smooth as it flows over the small fall.

Neat! I suggest clicking through to the largest size to get the full impact of the light scribbling on water.

Now, this little tumble of water was not exactly natural…

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Castle Rock State Park: A Walk in Four Micro-climates

Sunday, April 13th, 2008
Roger Ready for Another 3.2 Miles

During the first weekend in April 2008, Roger and I headed to Castle Rock State Park for a bit of a walk in the woods.

Castle Rock State Park is located about 20 minutes from downtown Saratoga, CA off of Skyline Boulevard.

The park has lots of trails and there is an excellent high resolution PDF map made by a third party. Roger and I hiked a 3.5 mile loop.

Rocky Landscape (With Trail)

The terrain is quite rocky and the trails hug the mountain side.

This is actually a photo of the trail we hiked along from the distance. You can sort of see it carved into the side of the mountain.

While it looks treacherous, the actual trails are quite nice. Generally fairly level and wide with only a few areas where you need to scramble over some rocks.

Castle Rock

While the 3.5 mile loop we took dropped and climbed several hundred feet, yet we spent the entire time near the top of the mountain.

Thus, the views are often spectacular. On a clear day, you can easily see all the way south to Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay.

Looking north, you can see the Pacific in the direction of Half Moon Bay.

Rarely, though, is it that clear.

There is typically a bit of fog rolling off of the Pacific ocean that obscures the view.

Small Waterfall

You can see the haze in this photo. Instead of the dirty brown of heavy pollution, it is a bluish fog off the Pacific.

While the haze limits the ability to take sweeping landscape photos, it makes for some very interesting flora and fauna.

Which is what the rest of this post is about. As the fog rolls in each evening, the lay of the land guides the fog in very specific areas more than others.

Thus, a simple 3.5 mile hike led us through 4 different micro-climates. Given that it was early spring, there were tons of early blooming spring flowers out — the little ground hugging flowers that try to get out and bloom first in their competitive efforts for the attentions of the various pollinators in the area.

So… for a photo tour of the flowers (and a few critters) of the area, click on through….

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Using a Vertical Stack Counter to Debounce Switches

Saturday, April 5th, 2008
3 bit counter

At left is a simple EMSL AtmegaXX8 Target Board (same board I have written about before) 3 bit up/down counter circuit.

Push the left button? Counts down. Push the right button? Counts up.


Sort of.

The switches are fully debounced using an extremely elegant algorithm that I ran across while trying to figure out how to efficiently debounce switches with an AVR controller.

Specifically, the software uses a vertical stack count to efficiently debounce up to 8 switches in very few instructions and only 3 bytes of memory.

Read on for schematic and a description of the software…

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