Archive for the 'Tools' Category

New Toy: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

I have been wanting a new lens for a while (what SLR photographyer — amateur or otherwise — doesn’t?) and had been eying up some serious pieces of glass.

Roger Climbing Tree

After doing a bunch of research, I ended up with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Complete opposite end of the spectrum from the various L series bits of glass linked above. Instead of dropping $1,500 or even $5,000, it cost me all of $76.30.

Why such a cheap lens?

Because it is a total gem.

The build quality is crap, but the image quality is outright amazing — doubly so for less than $100.

It is an all plastic lens with a focus motor that sounds akin to an old 110 film camera with an autowinder. Yet, that also means the lens is extremely lightweight. Combined with my Rebel XT body, it makes for one very small picture taking machine. It is probably 1/3rd of the weight of my 100mm Macro lens (that was pretty much my default lens until now).

With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, the lens eats light. Better yet, I’m finding that I can use the ISO 200 and ISO 400 settings of the camera without worrying too much about noise.

For example, the picture at right was one that I could not have taken with my other two lenses (the 100mm and a 17-85mm IS EF-S lens that is effectively a kit lens). I was shooting under a fairly dense pine tree in a relatively dark environment (all things considered). This is at ISO400 so could capture the always-in-motion nature of a 7 year old in a tree at a fairly high shutter speed (1/200th at f/4). It isn’t the best picture in the world — legs are a bit washed out — but I’m just happy I could take it at all and much more so that I could take it without really having to work at it much.

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Random Ebay Purchases; Confiscated Tools

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2007
Random Tool Assortment

At whim, I did a search of ebay for “ confiscated “. I figured that any of the random NTSA security theater booty would likely show up on ebay and “confiscated” would be a reasonable search term.

While most of the auctions show lots and lots of stuff with only 2 or 3 items in the actual auction, there were a handful of “random tools by the pound” auctions. I put a bid in on an allen wrench assortment and actually won! All total, it cost me $25.43 for the pictured set of tools.

I needed allen wrenches, but got so much more. Beyond the allen wrenches, of which there are several very nice sets, there are also a bunch of miniature screwdrivers, some random nut drivers, some driver bit sets, a spark plug wrench and– oddly– a single arcade joystick handle.

Strange. Worth the money and entertaining, to boot. Why the TSA might find an arcade joystick threatening is beyond me. Hell, why was someone carrying such a thing in the first place?!?!!

Or, for that matter, why are allen wrenches a big deal? Or miniature screwdrivers?

Fatblogging: Flat tires blow. Slimed tires do not.

Friday, April 6th, 2007

Blown Bike Tire

Update:The tube finally gave up the ghost after another 20 miles of riding. In the future, I’ll fix it shortly after the tube gets holed at the first convenient opportunity.

And, yes, I will be using this stuff all the time from now on.

I’m overweight; 240 lbs on a 6’1″ frame just isn’t healthy. But 240 isn’t my peak weight. That was the year before last before I started biking to work. Didn’t really do it consistently in ’05, but did in ’06 and managed to lose about 17 lbs in the process (and in combination with a voluntary diet change to address a bit of an elevated cholesterol #).

This year, I’m riding every day that I can, starting to do so seriously with the earlier time change. Now, I had my adventures with flat tires. Six flats in 2 weeks when I first started riding. And a handful of flats in the year in between.

Today, I tangled with a flat tire, but it fixed itself. Read on for how…

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ClampTite Tool: A must have….

Saturday, March 24th, 2007
clamptite tool

Update: A couple of folks of asked where I bought my tools (I have two). I picked it up at Gemplers, which has proven to be a great company.

I’m a higher primate. I like tools. Can’t stand bad tools, though.

The clamptite tool is an amazing tool. One that every tool oriented primate should have.

With this tool and a bit of wire, you can create wire clamps of any size or tightness. I find myself using it for all kinds of tasks, ranging from emergency fixes to craft projects to gardening to permanent repairs. I use it so often that I picked up a 1,000 foot role of 19 gauge galvanized wire specifically for use with this tool.

Seriously, this thing is amazingly versatile. I have used it to:

  • Attach vinyl tubing to a copper pipe. Zero leaks. Super strong.
  • Fix wooden handles. Simply wrap in a little duct tape to keep things aligned and then use the clamptite tool to add a few wire clamps around the duct tape.
  • Fix loose tool heads. I had a rake that kept falling apart. I drilled a hole in the handle and made a wire clamp through the holes and around the head of the tool.
  • Connect posts together. For the crab party, I needed 8 foot tall posts for the corners of the tent over the back yard. Ben and I drove 6 foot metal posts deep into the ground and then used the clamp tool to tightly bind 8 foot tall wooden posts to the metal posts.
  • Brew beer. Ben created his own counterflow chiller (pain in the ass, btw) and one of the ends was leaky. To seal, we wrapped it tightly in duct tape and then added tight double-wrap wire clamps at either end of the tape. Not a single drop leaks now!
  • Repair my car. The silly little plastic wing thing on the back of my subaru forrester broke. I drilled a couple of small holes in it and used the wire clamp to tie the two pieces back together. Works great and looks neat (as in neatly done, not “cool”). The wire clamps can be used quite effectively to pull the ends of things together.
  • Make Stuff. I used the clamp tool to tie together 4 candle holders to make a candelabra that hangs over our table in the back yard.

Excellent tool.

Aperture 1.5 is out. Awesome stuff!

Saturday, September 30th, 2006
Blue Bubbles
Blue Bubbles

Aperture 1.5 shipped on friday. Brilliant update. Wow.

I live on a laptop, a MacBook Pro. As such, my hard drive is a bit constrained. Prior to 1.5, I had moved my Aperture library off to an external hard drive. A bit of a pain to have to carry around and plug in the external drive just to use Aperture.

With 1.5 I can move about 90% of the photos– the master images– in my library off to an external drive, keeping only the most recently taken and most frequently accessed on the internal library. Sweet.

Beyond library management, Aperture adds several new image processing tools that are simply amazing (bearing in mind that “amazing” equates to “even a clueless user like me produced something that I found pleasing with relatively little confusion”).

For example, the two images to the left are a sort of before/after 1.5. The top image takes advantage of the new color adjustment tools and the edge sharpening tools. I took the original photo to try and capture the cell-like nature of the bubbles and I think the new-and-improved image does a much better job of doing exactly that.

Purple Herb Flower
Purple Herb Flower

This is another example of using the individual channel color adjustment tool to improve a photo. In particular, I was able to adjust the colors that were specific to the background to decrease the distraction of the gunk that was behind the flower when I took the shot.

Beyond the new tools, the existing tools within Aperture have been improved. For example, the loupe is far more powerful than before beyond also not getting in the way nearly as much. I really like how I can lock the loupe to one location and then drag it to a new location. It makes fine grained adjustments, especially spot/patch/red-eye editing much easier and more precise.

Neat trick: With the loupe visible and set to “focus on loupe” mode, stick the cursor over some interesting spot in the photo and hold down the ‘`’ (show/hide loupe key). The loupe will slide to that new location. I end up using this all the time as I make adjustments or view images.

Blowing Bubbles

I have no idea if it has been improved, but the “spot” and “patch” tools feel much more responsive and powerful in the 1.5 release. Previously, dealing with spot/patch was just too damned tedious to play with the adjustments enough to actually get a decent result.

The Flickr integration is totally brilliant, too. Thank you, Fraser, for a brilliant bit of engineering, there.

Roger Catching Bubbles
Caught Bubbles

Seriously, the whole release feels faster and I think it is making some of the tools feel more powerful even if they are otherwise unchanged. I am nowhere near a professional photography. I really have little clue what I’m doing beyond futzing around to discover things I like and don’t like. It really feels like Aperture 1.5 is letting me explore more possibilities and better refine my photos.

Subversion 1.4 adds Keychain Support

Tuesday, September 12th, 2006

Update: Alert! Language Police Action in the Comments! (Which, btw, I totally dig. Thanks!)

Subversion 1.4 was released recently.

Among a whole bunch of bug fixes and enhancements comes a significant new feature for Mac OS X users.

Subversion 1.4 now supports the Mac OS X Keychain. But don’t go looking for useful documentation or information in the release notes. There isn’t any. It was covered by ticket #2339 and committed as revision 17619. svn log -r17619 reveals the details of the change.

Still, no information on how to use it. And that is because it “just works”. So, how to “upgrade” my existing authentication information to use the keychain (instead of storing the passwords in clear text in ~/.subversion/auth)?

Quite easy, but not automatic. If you remember all of your repository passwords, simply delete the ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple directory.

Svn will recreate it and populate it as necessary.

Me? I can’t remember my damned passwords, so I moved the directory aside for reference and am deleting each entry from it as I re-authenticate with 1.4.

To verify if a repository is using the keychain, have a look in the appropriate server’s file within the ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple directory. It will be named something like dd6654cecce24382249525337a2b0a4a (grep is helpful about right now).

For servers using the keychain, you’ll see something like this:

K 8
V 8
K 15
... more stuff deleted ...

For servers using the old-school, plaintext password in an unencrypted text file, you’ll see:

K 8
V 4
K 8
V 8
... more stuff deleted ...

Spammers vs. Spam Karma 2 (and Akismet)

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

Since moving to WordPress 2, I had been relying on the built in Akismet to take care of all the rat bastard spammer droppings. It has done the job nicely, averaging over a thousand spams filtered a month.

Akismet contacts a central server to check if an inbound comment is spam. It is free for personal use and requires an API key to use.

Akismet generally works great but, occasionally, a large batch of spam would end up in my moderation queue. By large batch, I mean 30 to 100 spamments a day. This may have been because Akismet’s central server was down or because the spammers hit my weblog with a pattern that hadn’t been updated in the central store.

Who knows? It was seriously annoying.

In WordPress 1, I had used Spam Karma to block spam. It worked quite well. Spam Karma applies a huge number of configurable tests to each comment, calculating a total karmic value to the comment. If the karmic value is positive, the message is passed through and posted. If negative, it is blocked. Any comment with a Karma between 0 and -20 is sent to me in a daily email digest for verification. Anything below -20 is tossed (I have seen comments with karmic values less than -500. Ouch.)

Fortunately, the two work together just great. Since installing SK, I have yet to see a bit of spam make it through the filters. More importantly, I have yet to see a legitimate comment dumped into the bit bucket.

Total time saver. I dropped $20 in the Spam Karma donation box — worth every penny. Akismet is free for personal use until your weblog(s) generated $500/month. I’m nowhere near that limit, but I bought a $55 annual subscription to support the worthy cause of stomping spamming rat bastards.

Printable Tools (The PDF Revolution Is Here)

Wednesday, January 18th, 2006

In the previous post, I linked to Bolt Depot’s rather awesome collection of printable fastener related tools.

A friend mentioned that he ran across a site that has printable graph paper. I did a bit of google searching tonight and came up with some neat stuff.

It seems that PDF’s ability to describe the exact geometry of output has yielded wealth of such tools.

There are lots of examples of printable graph paper. Some sites let you create graph paper to your specifications.

Rulers are also available. This site includes Ruler PDFs along with lengths of common objects (like currency) so you can check the accuracy of your printed results.

There are also protractors.

And lots of math stuff. Including one with a smiley face and a couple of pac-men making out in the corner?

Battle maps.

Speaking of maps, there are incredible maps of various state parks in California.

Sheet music. And customizable sheet music.

Tons of education related content.

This site contains an incredible array of basic electronics information in a series of PDFs.

Both JameCo and Digi-Key offer full catalogs online. I’m certain many other companies do, as well.

There is also the Subversion Book, the Twisted Documentation in PDF form, the Python Documentation, and loads of PDFs in Apple’s support site.

Since Tiger so nicely indexes PDFs, I grab every PDF of interest I run across and toss ‘em into a directory in my Library. Same for every interesting web page that I may want to refer to later — it is converted to PDF and squirreled away.

Monday, January 16th, 2006

The kind folks at sent me a set of their thread gauges in response to my article about my amazing screw oriented fastener acquisition. Thank you!

The screw guides are quite handy, incorporating diameter and thread pitch measurements into a single piece of flat plastic along with a handy ruler useful for measuring bolt length. The diameter measurements don’t go below 1/4″, so a lot of the fasteners commonly found in pinball machines are off the scale on the small end. However, the thread gauge does go down to 28 TPI (threads per inch)d which is plenty small enough to cover just about all of the screws I run into.

Beyond having an excellent assortment of bolts, screws, and related fasteners, Bolt Depot also has an incredible online library of fastener information. It includes everything from fastener type charts to various standards tables (Like the recommended torque table) to material guides.

The neatest resource is the set of PDFs that, when printed, yield thread and diameter guides. You can find these on the Printable Thread Gauges and Other Tools. They encourage folks to link to and use the various guides!

Thread Gauges and other Printable Fastener Tools from Bolt Depot


Happiness is a Box of Screws

Thursday, December 29th, 2005
Box Of Screws

When I was growing up, we had a neighbor who was quite mechanically inclined. If he didn’t have a lawnmower disassembled and strewn across his shop, then his car hood was up and the engine was in parts.

He had a most impressive coffee can — one of the really large ones — that was completely full of random screws, nuts, bolts, washers, and other random fasteners. And he used it often. At the time, I couldn’t understand how taking something apart and putting it back together with no modification beyond cleaning might require additional fasteners.

Box Of Screws 2

In the intervening 25 years, I have reassembled my share of computers, mowers, pinball machines, and other random bits of hardware. It always seems that some random screw is either lost, missing, or simply needs to be replaced.

Whereas my neighbor collected his fasteners over 50+ years of collecting parts wherever he might find them, I took a short cut. I bought 4 scoops ($2) of random fasteners from Weird Stuff. And I have already used a half dozen parts in the 4 hours of pinball maintenance I did today.

I think I’ll get more. Can’t have enough random fasteners.

And the photos make for some really nice desktop images.

I have already used a half dozen of these to replace various random stripped, destroyed, or lost screws from the Cyclone.