The State of White LEDs
LED technology has advanced significantly in the last ten years. Twenty
years ago, you could choose between red, green, and yellow LEDs, with the
green and yellow significantly more expensive than the red. A decade ago,
blue LEDs started becoming popular, though they were many times the price of
the other colours, which had by then gotten cheaper. In the tail end of the
nineties, white LEDs made their debut, but it's only today that we are
seeing decent pricing, volume, and creative uses for them. This little essay
will summarize what today's options are for white LEDs, and how they compare
To start, small traditional incandescent bulbs, often called wheat bulbs
for their colour, have existed for a very long time, and have been used in
scale hobbies throughout that time. They are great except that they produce
significant heat and do burn out eventually. However, they produce a
brilliant spectrum of light, which is very soft at the center and picks up a
deep orange-brown tone at its fringes. Producing this same effect with LEDs
is not possible, as their operating principle relies on a single frequency
of light. Nonetheless, options are expanding...
The original white LED (far left) is an offshoot from the technology used
to make blue LEDs. This is why a typical white LED has a bluish tint,
particularly in the halo, or otherwise lower-intensity region. These lights
are good for internal lighting in models, mimicking the custom-made
fluorescent tubes that Industrial Light and Magic typically used for
interior model illumination.
The next LED is the same white unit painted with Tamiya Clear Orange
paint. It doesn't look quite right from the side, but the light reflecting
from the paper it is shining on is of a very similar temperature to the
colour from the mid-range of a traditional wheat bulb diffusion gradient.
The reason it is weaker is that the paint affects the lens of the LED;
through a fiber optic strand it still makes for decent scale light. For some
time, this was the only way to soften the light from white LEDs. Some
manufacturers have even produced LEDs with a clear orange resin to achieve
the same effect. The advantage of paint is that the level of orange can be
controlled by the thickness of the coating.
A few years back, breakthroughs occurred that made it possible to produce
softer light. The first "warm white" LEDs are actually closer to a cold
yellow everywhere except at their brightest point. Really, they are just
white LEDs with a tiny yellow lense over the silicon. These are not very
useful, but started the right kind of thinking to get us to where we are
Finally, recent advances make "soft white" LEDs a reality. These LEDs
produce a light that is very similar to what is produced by soft white
compact fluorescent tubes. Unfortunately, as with CCFLs, there is a very
confined spectrum, leading to a much less interesting diffusion colour than
what emanates from classic wheat bulb. This photographs with a very
"sepia-tone" quality. However, the colour at the source is virtually
identical to that of the bulb's filament.
With the colour of modern soft white LEDs, it is finally practical to use
these in lieu of wheat bulbs in scale models. This has always been
difficult, as many studio models have used a combination of technologies to
achieve the right look. For example, the refit Enterprise from Star Trek:
The Motion Picture included white fluorescent lighting for the windows,
while using wheat-bulb spotlights on the exterior. Using a combination of
classic white LEDs and the new soft ones, it is finally possible to get the
right effect, or at least come close to it.
Why am I bringing this up at Christmas? The stores are already having
clearance sales to get rid of Christmas decorations. More to the point,
every $8 chain of soft white LED lights contains 35 of the latest in soft
white LED technology. The string of interior lights produced by Noma is
actually even more interesting, because their LEDs are the 3mm variety,
normally quite difficult to obtain. At less than 25 cents per unit, the
price is right!
Update: I have been informed by several people that "grain of
wheat" bulbs are so called because of their size and resemblance to a grain
rather than their wheaty colour. Learn something new every day.
] | posted @ 20:46 | link
Ottawa weather has broken several records this winter, even though it's not
winter yet! We got 35cm of snow today, and that's on top of the 40cm we have
gotten over the last week or two. Today's snowfall is an all-time December
record. Even the amount of snow we had before today's storm was more than
what we had by the end of last January.
I have never seen the view out of my brother's window as obstructed as it
was today. The drift there is easily 1.2m tall. And, for once, the deck is
completely invisible; only a bit of railing clears the snow.
Having snow at Christmas has been touch-and-go in recent years, but I
think it's safe to say this year will be a white Christmas. Let it snow, let
it snow, let it snow...
] | posted @ 04:49 | link
Asus eeePC - My Thoughts
In the last entry I promised that I would write more about my thoughts
regarding the eeePC. As mentioned, I have been involved with the project for
quite some time, having worked on the software that ships with the units
since day one. There was always the geeky temptation to write something
here, but practical considerations (aka "NDA") kind of got in the way.
From my point of view, it all started from "Pat, we have a new
motherboard from Asus we want you to see to evaluate if our product can run
on it." My first reaction was that it was a regular, albeit completely
bleeding edge board, that will need some serious driver work to get going.
Writing drivers is not exactly my area of expertise. But it quickly became
clear that the tiny motherboard sitting in front of me had well-established
hardware and was meant for a tiny laptop.
We ended up putting together a demonstration of a possible concept for
the product in remarkably short time, and that demo is actually quite close
to what ships with the units today, if much less polished. Even then, before
seeing what the thing would look like there was a very high energy level
amongst those involved with the project. Optimizing a distribution to boot
in 12 seconds from BIOS to desktop is a fun challenge. The challenges
continued right up the stack, and the software is quite true to the Unix
philosophy of "one tool for one job," as there are many simple GUI programs
that are designed to do one task as simply and quickly as possible. That
alone really is quite refreshing.
The enthusiastic energy not only continued, but boosted significantly
when the first full unit came in. It was only subtly different in appearance
from what ended up shipping. I was impressed, and still am. The tiny laptop
is cheap, jam-packed with features, surprisingly ergonomic, and feels more
solid than one might expect.
One of the things that Asus did very intelligently with a computer this
size is to not over-embed. In other companies there may have been some
pressure to make it a PDA-like device. However, the laptop is a standard PC,
and the user is free to install whatever OS and software they like. The
default software is optimized for the unit, and thus encouraged, but there
is no locking in. The default installation contains many hacker-friendly
features like quick access to a shell, a full suite of GNU/Linux utilities,
even all of the man pages that come with them. At the very least it makes
one of the most portable ssh terminals, and at the most, it introduces
potentially millions of people to Linux.
At this point, after solid effort on the eeePC project, including many
late nights, weekends, and a trip to Taipei, I am very happy with how it's
being received. There are generally very positive reviews. Most people are
not making the mistake of comparing it to a full-sized laptop in terms of
capability; obviously, its small size does bring about some limitations; no
surprise there. It's actually the #1 selling laptop on Amazon.com at the
moment, which certainly speaks for itself regarding its success. There is
even a thriving user community.
As for me, I am simply proud of my contribution.
] | posted @ 05:20 | link
eeePC Talk at OCLUG
For the last six months or so, my main project at work has revolved around
the new ASUS eeePC. My company, Xandros, got the contract to develop the
Linux software that ships on the unit by default.
From then until now, I haven't been able to talk much about the eeePC, as
ASUS obviously wanted to keep its new baby under wraps. Besides, the specs
changed frequently, and the only thing worse than leaks are inaccurate
eeePC's software was developed very quickly and efficiently. Now that the
product has shipped, there is nothing to hide, so I gave a talk about eeePC
and its software to the local Linux Users' Group this week. The talk went
well (aside from my little lapses into la-la land), and I think the eeePC
was well received. I am no marketoid, but people seemed genuinely excited by
it. Several people from the audience now own one. People seem naturally
attracted to the features and the price tag of the unit. The phenomenon is
global, with the eeePCs selling as quickly as they can be produced, and they
are produced at a few thousand per day. Even having worked on the project
day-in-day-out, the project remains fresh. The word for the last half year
of my life has certainly been "exciting." I hope that was adequately
reflected in my presentation.
However, it is bad writing to be describing a talk given about a subject
that has not been properly introduced. I will have to reflect more about the
eeePC itself at some point in the near future.
Until then, my regards to Richard Briggs for the photo. My camera is
still at Canon's service depot in Montreal.
] | posted @ 04:44 | link
Bye Gentoo. Hello Ubuntu.
Gentoo is pretty cool. As a self-compile Linux distribution, it has inspired
more to learn about how things work in Linux than any other distribution.
Aside from people reporting bugs when they set their compiler optimization
to a gazillion-and-one, it has probably had a generally positive effect.
I've been using Gentoo since early 2002. I had it on my laptop until it
became clear that the hard drive was far too slow to handle the ever-growing
Portage tree. I still kept it on my desktop with the intention of always
having the latest versions of software as it's released. Unfortunately, time
has been short in the last few months, and more often than not I just had a
The solution has been to completely free myself of Gentoo. I now use
Debian at work and Ubuntu at home. In truth, it would be nice to follow
Debian unstable at home as well, but a relatively slow internet connection
coupled with a frequently updated pool of packages would still be a big
strain on time.
For now, the "just works" option is my preference.
] | posted @ 01:13 | link
So, here I am nearing the end of my visit to Taiwan. I meant to write more
about this rather spontaneous trip, but an unbelievably busy schedule kept
me from it.
Taiwan is not at all as I expected it. Most things are as "normal" as
anywhere else. Indeed, it's supposed to be mainland China that is truly
"different"; even the locals consider it so. Still, many differences exist
between the cultures I am familiar with and those over here.
The most striking difference is the food. Acknowledging that I'm a picky
eater, I truly cannot believe the kind of things they eat here. It really
shocked me how different the food is, from the pig ears, to the shrimp, to
the "smelly to-fu", to cow stomach, and bits and pieces that lack
identification. These are all considered delicacies by the locals. To me,
they constitute a source of apprehension. It wouldn't be so bad, except that
these items and those containing all manner of fish (which I avoid) make up
about 90% of the menu. There is a McDonald's every other corner, but going
to one of those would be considered rude. Some dishes are excellent, many
are not. Food has been a problem during this visit.
Typhoon. As luck would have it, we arrived in Taipei just in time to
witness a category-4 typhoon, the largest anyone here has seen in years. My
first tropical storm. Winds well in excess of 100 km/h. Magnificent power.
Women. Spending time at a high tech company, I can't help but notice the
ratio much closer to 50-50 of men-to-women than what we have in North
America. There are a good number of downright hot women in engineering
positions here. A gorgeous woman handling a soldering iron? Unexpected.
History. On National Day, we took a trip to the National Palace
Museum. This museum contains artifacts and treasures, taken from
mainland China at Taiwan's birth, that date back all the way to Chinese
cultule of 5000BCE. I found the meticulously crafted jade the most
impressive. Some of the pieces are undoubtedly the result of entire
lifetimes of work.
Driving. Insane. Between cars screaming by every which way and people on
scooters flying in between, it's a wonder the country maintains the
population it has. I've seen entire families on a single tiny scooter.
Drivers need to pay attention here. The average taxi driver is very sharp.
Some people on scooters are downright nuts.
All in all, this visit has been enlightening. I have been given the
opportunity to explore an entire culture that is new to me. While much of it
remains beyond my comprehension, this trip is a change of routine that is,
as walways, very much appreciated. Doing this sort of thing in the name of
business is far easier than doing it in the name of vacation. I had good
(busy) times, and met great (busy) people. Perhaps I will come here again
] | posted @ 02:33 | link
Boston Gnome Summit 2007... Taiwan?
This weekend is Thanksgiving, Columbus Day in the States. That means I would
normally be attending the Boston Gnome Summit. This year, my travel schedule
has been plentiful enough that I decided to spend Thanksgiving with the
Of course, as soon as that was firmly decided, work decided to send me to
Taiwan. Ha! I leave tomorrow.
] | posted @ 03:21 | link
OPP Looking Sharp
This afternoon I came across an Ontario Provincial Police car like no other
I had seen before. Apparently, the police force is using at least one Honda
Civic SI, with the new paint scheme. Nice cruiser! There were a few things
that struck me as interesting.
First, the car is not an American brand. Unusual.
Second, a quick peek in the window indicated that it has a stick shift.
Very unusual. In fact, I never thought I would see the day when a public
service vehicle in North America would not be an automatic.
In the past, the OPP has had a donated Mercedes, a Ford Focus, and a
Dodge Caliber. But those were single cars. Maybe this Honda is a sign of
more to come?
] | posted @ 03:20 | link
As mentioned in an earlier post, my model of the USS Grissom is
finally done. After fifteen months of hard work, the details are good, and I
think the effort shows.
The kit is Sci-Fi Spaceship Miniatures' "Survey Class Vessel," a kit from
(I believe) the late eighties. What started out as a fairly simplistic 11"
vacuum-formed kit is now a finely-detailed model. I had the pleasure of
being told by the person who created the masters for the kit that it was the
best build of the model he had ever seen.
Here is the run-down on the model. The ship is internally lit with LEDs,
fifteen in all. I scratchbuilt details for the various bits where machinery
is exposed. The paintjob is done with Testor's Acryl, airbrushed, and was
difficult because of the lack of any reference lines in the plastic. The
decals are an excellent set from JTGraphics. I weathered the details lightly
with pastel chalk dust.
There was much procrastination in finishing this model, as there always
is. One always wonders how far to take things. The perfectionist never wants
to finish. The pragmatist wants to get the job done. A balance of the two is
necessary. It worked out.
] | posted @ 03:56 | link
After almost a year and a half of hard work, I have finally finished the
model of the Star Trek ship Grissom this week.
This afternoon I set up a small photography studio to take photographs.
The experience of past knowledge trying to photograph my models let me
revisit a few things and should result in better photos.
First, a little background. I build models with internal lighting. I
consider it about half of the hobby in being able to photograph the model as
they have been doing with motion control photography for about three decades
now. While my camera doesn't move on a sophisticated rig, the principles of
compositing still hold true. The idea is to take several photos under
different lighting conditions and combine them together. That way, the
internal lights can look brilliant even if they are much weaker than
whatever external lighting is used for the overall composition. It's
complicated, but worth it. I've gotten fairly good results using basic
techniques in the past.
The most obvious new addition to my equipment is my Canon Rebel XT
digital SLR camera with a decent lens. In the past, I used an old SLR
Praktica. It worked, but film is not very friendly for trial and error,
unless you have months of time to kill. To complement the camera, a now own
a sturdier tripod than before. This is important, as the exposures are up to
30 seconds in length, and multiple exposures have to line up precisely. The
remote I built for the camera also helps.
Aside from the camera, the overall setup has been improved as well.
Shelling out the money for a real black velvet backdrop was worth the
expenditure. Initial tests show it is many times better than the felt I had
been using. I made a new stand for the models themselves, on a
longer-than-usual stainless steel rod nested in a solid chunk of aluminum.
This will allow for the model to be held sturdily, as well as more low-angle
photos. Finally, although I hate fluorescent lighting, a cheap 18" cold
white light provides a true colour capture of the model without having to
play with white balance after the fact. The length of the tube helps as
well, as any point source of light within reasonable distance does not
provide even lighting.
All of this is in the basement, on a steady concrete floor, and where all
light sources are controlled. If everything goes according to plan, I should
be doing some serious photography tomorrow night.
] | posted @ 03:57 | link
Guns are Fun
This weekend Phil invited a bunch of us to his parents' new cottage. I was
surprised when we got there, because this cottage was to other cottages as a
palace is to a house. Great place, with acres and acres of land, lakefront,
and a killer view.
With the land came the opportunity for some target practice. Phil owns a
.22 calibre rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun. I had never fired anything like
those before, and it was a great experience. The shotgun was quite a
powerful thing, with OO buckshot the kickback was really a new experience.
Exploding cans of club soda and cinderblocks as targets with the rifle was
good fun too.
Additionally, we spent the weekend fishing, barbecuing, and the like.
However, the guns were the best part. Novelty? Perhaps. But it's rare to
take a candid photo of me really into something, and when this photo was
taken I was downright giddy.
] | posted @ 02:21 | link
The Most Amazing Organ
One thing that I visit whenever I'm in the Gdańsk region in Poland is the cathedral in Oliwa. The cathedral itself is a very tall and narrow building from the romantic style. While at 107m, it is the longest in Poland, and is not particularly interesting, save for the exquisite pipe organ which dominates its interior.
The organ was once the largest in Europe, and is still amongst the largest. At last count, accounting for all the stops, it amounts to around 7900 pipes. It has an astonishing sound, and the various figures and carvings move as the instrument is plays. In a single word, it is magnificent.
Of course, the day we came by to see it, it was a holiday in Poland. And in that region, a holiday is literally a "holy day" -- no concerts, only masses. Coming in 15 minutes into the mass, there was still a long sermon to get through, and the music was rather dry. I was most satisfied when at the end of the mass the organist let loose and played a piece that was more suited to the brilliance of the instrument.
Arcade Fire has long won me over by their original approach to music and their use of not just one, but two violins. This weekend I happened across a music video someone on YouTube created for a song of theirs called "My Body is a Cage." I was most intrigued that they released this song, and in fact, an entire album, without my noticing. Moreover, in this album, titled "Neon Bible," the band uses a full-blown pipe organ to its fullest in several tracks. The organ is allowed to scream at its full potential. Very unusual in rock music. Very Arcade Fire. Very cool.
] | posted @ 05:10 | link
It's been a week since I returned from a three week trip to Europe with my brother and father. We flew direct to London, then spent a few days there until the RyanAir flight which took us to my grandparents' city in Poland, and then we did the same thing in reverse on the way back. No need for a detailed summary, I'll just mention some highlights.
First and foremost is the fact that when I returned from London in early winter 2001, I claimed that it was one of the few cities I could live in. I based that on my winter impressions of transportation, population density, and so on. I don't like taking things back, but I have changed my mind. This time, the trip was in the summer, there were millions of people everywhere, with long lines, and while the transportation was still very good, the temperature in the tube was about 10 degrees warmer than comfortable.
Aside from the mentioned nuisances, something that drove me nuts is that two-thirds of the time if someone opened their mouth on the street it was either Polish or Arabic. This really irked me. I expected English in England.
In contrast, on the trip out to Stonehenge, we took the train to Salisbury. Salisbury was a nice small city and proved to have all the things I would expect in an English town. It was like the archetypal sort of English town one expects. Strange as it may be, I don't think London fits its stereotype any longer. It has lost much of that uniqueness.
Enough about England. It really wasn't that exciting, aside from the various methods of transportation. While time in Poland was very limited, we packed the days full of activities. Outside of the usual family obligations, we took a larger trip up North to the Baltic, at Gdańsk. On the way, we stopped at Malbork; that castle the Teutonic Knights built is amongst the largest in Europe. A truly amazing place, and getting better, as can be said for everything in Poland as time grows since communist regime.
It is interesting that every time I go to Poland someone ends up asking how I find it compared to life over here. Everytime I go, I am forced to answer less and less, as the gap is shrinking exponentially. I could live there, go to the grocery store in the same car I have here, buy the same brands of food, and use the same credit card to pay for them. There really is a lot less contrast than there used to be. It almost takes the fun out of travelling.
The new lens proved to be a very good thing during this trip. At 17mm, it was wide enough to capture even the largest buildings, and in at 85mm it got the closest details.
The photo here is of me standing in an archway in Toruń, where Copernicus was born and where he lived. It was on the way during our trip to the Baltic. Through the archway is the Vistula and the bridge we used to get into the city.
] | posted @ 03:58 | link
New Lens, Photos.
Leaving for my first ever time-off-work vacation today. Going to Europe:
England, then Poland.
Having procrastinated buying a 200 or 300mm lens for the Canon for much
too long, I decided to go out and get what is considered to be one of the
best general-purpose lenses Canon sells: the Canon EF-S 17-85/f4-5.6 IS USM.
It's a lens that costs almost as much as my camera's body itself, but I
think it is well worth it. While the aperture isn't the widest in the world,
the zoom range is good. There are barreling and distortion issues at the
17mm mark, but I can live with those. The focusing is fast and quiet, and
the image stabilization is awesome. It's a solid, real lens.
Speaking of photography, it's interesting that in the last month or so,
I have had three requests to use photos from this log in two books and a
company's promotional material. I am flattered. Does this thing rank high in
Google's database, or do I just take photos of things no one else bothers
] | posted @ 14:20 | link
"All I ask is a tall ship..."
The past several weeks have been exciting as I nearly became the proud
co-owner of an abandoned O'Day 27-foot yacht. Not much is known about it, it
even lacks a name; the closest to a name is a large painted snowflake.
"Snowflake" it is.
The story starts a month ago, when I found out that the Nepean Sailing
Club was trying to get rid an old abandoned boat. Upon contacting them, they
made it out to sound as though it was in really rotten condition. When I
went to see it, it just didn't seem that bad. The Club was convinced to
allow the boat to remain until next year, provided it gets launched by next
This all sounded really good: a 27-foot boat, with sails in relatively
good condition, an inboard engine, a full kitchen suite, a full washroom, a
bedroom, and a total of five berths. Sure, lots of it would need
replacement, but it was still all very exciting.
To make a long story short, we paid a nice man a decent sum of money to
survey it and tell us what is wrong that we cannot see. The hull itself was
in fantastic condition. Unfortunately, the top deck was soft, with about 75%
of it having rotted. While a worthwhile project, there is no way that kind
of work could be completed by next spring.
So, sadly, Snowflake will be heading to the scrappers at the next
convenient time. It truly is unfortunate.
] | posted @ 23:00 | link
I'm back from the San Francisco area now, so it's time for the tourist
stuff. Of course, there is the obligatory Golden Gate photo.
Saturday afternoon and evening there was finally some time to explore
some of the city's famous tourist places. I rented a bike and did the trip
through Golden Gate Park, over the bridge, down to Sausalito, and a return
ferry via Tiburon and Alcatraz.
The bridge is, indeed, much larger in real life than one would imagine
from any photo. Standing on its surface, the support columns still reach
about 100m overhead. And it's about 50m down to the water. It's massive.
Of course, there are other things, too. The style of houses, steep roads,
weather, all contribute to what is uniquely Bay Area. So much of everything.
Regarding the weather, I was completely unprepared. It was always cool and
windy, but the sun was still always there. My head got a rather bad sunburn.
There will be peelage.
As always, it's fun to do a panoramic shot or two. It's a lot easier now
that I have a camera with exposure locking. Here is a panoramic shot from
the beach area of Golden Gate Park:
Here is a panorama looking out over the ocean:
Initially I was disappointed to be flying back on, and thus missing
Canada Day, but in the end it turned out really great. I was landing in
Toronto at 22:30, and during the approach I witnessed hundreds of fireworks
shows from London, Hamilton, Kitchener-Waterloo, and of course, Toronto, all
from the comfort of my airplane seat. It was like little colourful
explosions all over the ground. It turned out being the coolest fireworks
display I had ever seen.
] | posted @ 03:08 | link
Office With A View
It's been a while since I updated this thing. There is a lot going on. Not
the least of which is that I'm on business this week, across the continent
in the San Francisco area. This trip is, unfortunately, making me miss Linux
Symposium. I can deal with that. There will be another conference next year,
but a well-warranted trip is always difficult to fit in.
It's been a busy, physically demanding week. The building I'm working in
has an astounding view. Everything is so green. It seems that the whole Bay
area is always temperate. The weather has been amazing: sunny but breezy.
While I haven't been outside much during daylight, I can appreciate the
climate on my way to and from the hotel. Simply put, life here is
Tomorrow may finally allow for some time away from the office. Assuming
that works out, I will take the grand tour of downtown San-Fran, Golden Gate
Park, and so on. I'll be travelling back on Canada Day.
] | posted @ 08:02 | link
I am a frequent user of Carleton University's swimming pool. After a
month of being closed for major roof work, the pool reopened this week.
I went swimming yesterday. When I entered the pool area, I felt like I
was coming home after a long trip. Basically, during the four weeks the pool
was closed, I went to just about every City of Ottawa run pool; it provided
me with variety and it let me compare the facilities.
Long story short, the city pools seemed a little cleaner. The maintenance
schedule includes someone hosing down everything each and every
evening. However, without a doubt, the Carleton pool is the largest and most
spacious pool in the city: even Sportsplex seemed claustrophobic in
comparison, with a much lower ceiling and much less floorspace around the
pool. Also, the hours are more suitable, with later evening swims.
The worst change I have seen on the city side of things is what they did
in last month's repairs to the Kanata Leisure Centre. This is a pool that
has always been "my" pool. However, I don't know that I ever want to go
there again, seeing as some manager at the city decided to rip out the nice
mercury lamps that were thoughtfully embedded in the ceiling decorations,
and replaced them with -- wait for it -- ultra cold, ultra bright, ultra
flickery fluorescent lighting. This person should be shot. Everyone
hates it: lifeguards, building management, and patrons. They took what used
to be a nice warm family-oriented facility and made it feel like a 1970s
prison, visually dropping the temperature about 10 degrees. I am all for
renovations, but they must provide some improvement if they are meant to be
worthwhile. This change was unnecessary.
In contrast, the work on the Carleton pool turned out great. It's good to
] | posted @ 03:24 | link
I was having tea with my mother today, when something scared the bejabbers
out of us when it hit the window next to us. My first instinct was that it a
snowball, as my brother frequently throws them at the windows to scare
people. But the snow is gone. So it must have been a tennis ball. But who
threw it? Was it actually a bird?
I went outside, and indeed, there was a woodpecker, motionless, on the
ground under the window. Actually, it was breathing. When I approached it,
its eyes were blinking. It was stunned, but otherwise fine. He had only
managed to break the top of his beak off.
Still, the bird lay motionless. So, we picked him up and held him for a
while. Eventually, we placed the woodpecker on a branch in the back yard. He
sat there for about an hour, then went on his way.
This is the sort of thing that I didn't think actually happens in real
life. Hopefully the little guy is alright. Either way, it made for some fine
bird photography without the expenditure of a big lens!
] | posted @ 03:55 | link
Quarter-Century and New Phone
So I turned a full quarter-century old last week. I thought it was a pretty
big deal until I went to the Hallmark store to get a card for my buddy Raf's
25th birthday, and they don't have those. They have cards for just about
every other year, except twenty-five; anniversaries excepted. So, in that
spirit, it's just another year, another tax season. I can keep counting. I'm
bald; mid-life crisis averted.
Nonetheless, I had a pretty good get-together at Patty's Pub.
In other news, no one has been calling me for a while. This is because my
cell phone has been dead for a pretty long time. It is surprisingly
difficult to find a good replacement for my six-year-old Nokia 3390. I had a
few spares, but one was given away and the other didn't work. While I
finally managed to fix the broken one this week, I still opted for a new
phone. Fido doesn't carry any phones I like, and their list prices are
upwards of $300 for most models. The criteria is simple; I want a Nokia, no
flip, no camera, with a keypad that has normally-shaped buttons, and not
larger than the 3390. Not easy.
I ended up finding and buying a unit that fits my criteria on eBay. It's
the Nokia 6200. It's a few millimetres smaller than the old phone in every
dimension, has a good square-shaped keypad, and nothing fancy. Hopefully it
will work as well as its specifications look.
] | posted @ 03:58 | link
Final Word on PDP-8 Switches
Last week I got to try out how the switches turned out. Installing them
was somewhat difficult and time consuming, as slipping in the switch
into the brackets is made difficult by the hinge pin and limited space
The final result is good. The switches do not align perfectly, but
I'm not certain they ever have. They do toggle very nicely, and the
panel certainly appears complete. I would say the project was a success.
Now, we just have to make the electronics actually work. That should be
easy. Or not.
I bought a new time-waster this weekend. Both GTA: Liberty City
Stories and GTA: Vice City Stories were marked down, so I got
them both. GTA is my favourite game universe, so it is surprising that I
held out this long without buying them. Perhaps it is because they are
only for PS2, and I find it really difficult to use that controller.
Also, compared to my PC, the resolution, framerate, and responsiveness
are low. Still, the games are good.
] | posted @ 23:42 | link
Update on PDP-8 Switches
Over the past few weeks I have been working on-and-off at producing the
switches required to replace the ones broken on the PDP-8 at Carleton. And
Of the 26 toggle switches on the panel, only three were still intact. Ten
needed new hinge rods, which I produced out of stainless steel. A total of
13 needed to be replaced altogether, eight brown and five gray. I made a
two-part mold using Alumilite's rubber, and then cast the switches using
their quick-set resin. There were a few bubbles, but only the visible ones
were filled. The 1/16" stainless steel rods used for the hinge pins, 12mm
long, were cast right into the resin.
This weekend was spent finishing them off. I primed with Krylon. For the
brown switches, I found that Testor's "1166 Flat Brown" enamel was a perfect
match. This is in the small, cheap bottles. The gray switches were a little
harder; I started with Testor's ModelMaster Camouflage Gray and tinted with
the brown paint until it matched the original switches very closely.
The finish is not perfect, but when mixed up with the original switches
as in the linked photo, the copies are hard to pick out. "Good enough"
is good enough.
] | posted @ 04:48 | link
Life's a Box (Bowl?) of Chocolates
Forrest Gump was on TV last night. I still don't get the whole point of that
movie. Is it just simply stating that you don't have to be smart to get
M&M's come in a chrome-gold bowl that makes for a great external
equivalent of a fish-eye lens. You can see my entire bedroom in that thing.
Somehow, the "box of chocolates" brought that up.
I spent the entire day working on my models. It seems that there is a
sort of pattern where I work for a day, then nothing happens for about a
week, then something drives me to work another entire day or evening on
them. It's peculiar, because it never works out when I plan it.
It has been pointed out to me that my last post, about "gigakliks" is off
by several factors. In fact, it does not take into account that a kilometre
is already a thousand metres. So, the car has travelled a quarter-gigametre,
or a quarter-megaklik. Clearly, my distance away from university is starting
to set in...
] | posted @ 04:59 | link
Skiing and a Quarter-Gigaklik
So, Markus got me out skiing tonight. It was really, really cold, at 25
below zero without windchill. Naturally, while skiing, one produces ones own
windchill as well. We went out to Camp Fortune, and I think this was the
first time I have ever night-skied. It was good fun, I got to try those
little short skis called snow blades and they were refreshingly different.
At one point, one of my feet got so cold I could not feel my big toe, and
the feeling only came back after about 5 minutes of thawing it; scared me,
but everything turned out okay. To fix this freezing flesh problem, on the
way home, I stopped by Carleton to warm up in the sauna. Long story short, I
think every ski resort should be mandated by law to have a sauna. It was a
On the way to the ski hill, my car surpassed the 250,000km mark. That can
be called 250 mega-kliks or a quarter giga-klik. Still
considering what sounds better. I am aiming for it to pull through to
] | posted @ 04:59 | link
Homebrew Canon Shutter Remote
This evening I put together a shutter remote for my Canon Digital Rebel XT.
I got the idea to do it earlier this week. For some reason, it never before
occurred to me to build one myself; I always assumed I would end up buying
one at some point.
Long story short, for less than ten bucks, I have a very functional unit.
It has a focus button (black), shutter button (red), and a little toggle
button that keeps the shutter open for longer periods without having to
constantly hold the red button down. The cable came from a broken mouse I
had laying around. The case had been meant for a high school project that
never materialized. The only things I bought were the two large buttons and
All in all, the unit worked out great. It has been a long time since I
last did some cheap gadget hackery; awesome feeling. I spent the whole
evening taking photos of science fiction models and compositing them.
] | posted @ 04:52 | link
Clarinet Cleaning with Brasso
Like most of the things I do on weekends, it was completely out-of-the blue
that today's major activity should take place. I had a sudden idea to try
cleaning the various badly-tarnished pieces of my clarinet with Brasso. I
bought my clarinet on eBay about six years ago, and when it came, I realized
it had badly tarnished chromework. It had brown rust spots, green rust
spots, and an overall rough yellowish haze.
I have not been able to find much about this clarinet. I had searched the
internet when I first received it based on its markings, which indicate it
was made by "H. FREEMAN N.Y", a stamp indicating it was made in France, and
the serial number 1723. Suffice it to say that there is no real information
out there. The spattering of message board posts indicates it is probably
about 50 years old, but that is it.
On to the cleaning. It became quickly apparent that it would not be
possible to clean up the metalwork without getting a lot of liquid onto the
wood body, so I disassembled everything. It took approximately three hours
to clean the lower half. I will have to do the upper half at some other
point; it is smelly and tedious work. Nonetheless, it worked very well, the
clean parts really shine. The clarinet looks as it should, silver and black.
In other news, my one-year membership to the Carleton Athletics Centre
expired today. The plan was to go three times per week over the last year,
and I went three times per week with few exceptions. I have renewed for
] | posted @ 04:44 | link
I meant to wrap up some 2006 items here over the Christmas break, but the
network connection this web server is plugged into was down the entire time.
Anyway, last June, during the Carp airshow, I stumbled about a large
FirstAir scrap plane. I was very curious, so I went next to it, reached up,
and pulled on the handle to open a hatch. Couldn't see inside. Little did I
know, the hatch on the starboard side could only be closed from the inside.
Feeling bad about leaving it open, I went to the other side, opened the
other hatch, and tried jumping in. You have to understand, floor level was
at my eye level, and there was nothing below the bottom of the hatch;
suffice it to say it was very difficult to jump/climb into. I did it
eventually, getting my perfectly new white clothes very dirty in aluminum
dust in the process.
The plane was an Hawker Siddeley 748 (HS748), originally made by Avro.
The inside of the fuselage was sad. What is now a pile of junk used to soar
the sky. Now, it was just sitting in an aviation field, stripped of anything
valuable, slowly rotting away. I eventually closed the hatches and left. It
was a neat experience.
As I was swimming tonight and thinking about this, I had a bit of a
daydream. I was a passenger on a 767 flying near Ottawa, and both of the
pilots were disabled for some reason. No one else knew how to fly a plane,
and since this was my dream, I decided to take charge. It was weird, because
I had visualized the whole thing, from contacting the airport, to asking for
a diversion to Mirabel where there would be less chance of hitting
something, to asking for a pilot plane that could lead a glide path. Ten
minutes of this before I interrupted myself! Bizarre!
] | posted @ 04:40 | link
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