At least one problem was obvious: the plastic gears were crumbling (this being a common failure mode).
We remarked how they would fit our décor, but thought it was silly to buy a fake camera when there are plenty of affordable real ones out there. Accordingly, I picked up an old folding Polaroid 100 on eBay on the cheap. Reading up on it, I discovered that Polaroid originally made roll film cameræ for a few years, then went to the wildly successful "pack film" format. These were made for a long time, and in huge numbers. My Model 100 was the first, and probably well over a million of them were produced. The Model 100 was also quite capable with quality glass lenses, a range of film speeds, and an automatic electronic shutter capable of producing correct exposures at speeds from 1/1200 to 10 seconds.
The first order of business is to come up with the high voltage itself. When vacuum tubes were common, high voltage power supplies were too. These days, electronics are solid state, and run on low voltage. For a long time, 5 volts was the norm, and now voltages are getting even lower to support both devices with smaller geometry and reducing power consumption and its attendent heat generation. 3.3 volts was popular for a while, and newer devices run on 1.8 volts. In this arena, parts to produce high voltages are uncommon. As I like to share my designs, I'd prefer to use current production parts that other people can obtain fairly easily and cheaply. Happily, there is a current source for high voltage transformers. LCD screens need backlights, and one popular technology for backlights is the "cold cathode fluorescent light" (CCFL). These are long thin tubes that are light by (aha!) high voltage. Since they're so common, the associated high voltage power supplies and the parts they're built from are also common.
I found a nice design at tubetime that used a CCFL transformer in a lashup using a voltage divider to sample the high voltage, a voltage reference for comparison, an operational amplifer (op-amp) to compare them, and a power transistor to control the CCFL circuitry. I figured I'd breadboard it and see how it performed. The CCFL transformer itself, while common, is still a specialty part. However, complete CCFL modules are, inexplicably, cheaper. Eyeballing the schematic showed that the core of the design was the same lashup used in the CCFL supply. All I had to do was add a rectifier and reservoir capacitor to convert the high voltage AC output to the high voltage DC I wanted, just as was done in the tubetime design. A quick breadboard showed that it worked as desired.
However, the tubetime documentation explained that the design was derived from a Jim Williams application note, so I read it and saw that Williams' original design didn't use an linear analog feedback loop like the tubetime version, but employed a switching voltage regulator chip instead. This was appealing, as it would be both more efficient and have a smaller parts count. The switching regulator chip replaced the voltage reference, op-amp, and power transistor with a single part, and added some nice protection circuitry as a bonus. I decided to build that version. In the process, I modified the CCFL supply slightly by cutting a trace to separate the low voltage ground from the high voltage ground. I did this because the low voltage "ground" wasn't actually ground, but the switching transistor, and I didn't want to ground an 800 volt signal through the low voltage switching power supply transistor.
It's a nice old farmhouse on 5 acres in Lovettsville, with a nice little creek running through the property. It's out on the edge of town, and they're planning on building a park in some land out behind the neighboring farmer's fields. The previous owners have done some beautiful work on the house, bringing the second floor bathroom up into the attic, giving it a higher ceiling and more light. They've added on a spacious kitchen/breakfast nook with a vaulted ceiling and skylights. There's a deck out back, surrounding a tree. There's a nice little sun porch, lots of built-in shelves, a finished basement, a cedar closet, and a fire pit. The yard has plenty of plantings of native plants, and is a Certified Wildlife Habitat and a Certified Bird Friendly Habitat. Fizzygeek will get to indulge her green thumb.
( pictures )
It turns out it’s a weirdie plastic twist-on bulb that apparently uses a notched hole in a printed circuit board as the “socket”.
I don’t have anything like that in stock. So I walked down to the brand new Advance Auto Parts here in town to buy one. They looked it up and said those don’t normally burn out in a car only a few years old, and in any case, they don’t stock them and I’d have to get one from the dealer.
This did not exactly thrill me, so it occurred to me that I could probably find the bulb elsewhere, probably cheaper. But what was it? I didn’t have a type number or anything. Some research on the web revealed that there were a lot of people looking for this bulb, and that it was a Ford part number F5VY-13B765-AA (or perhaps F5VF-13B765-A or maybe E83Z-13466-A). There were a few mentions in the pages I found to this being an 80mA bulb, and that’s a believable current for a bulb like that. The existing bulb is marked “2W”, which might mean that it’s a two-watt bulb or it might not. There’s a chance that the E83Z bulb mentioned above is a 1.2 watt version. There’s also a chance that one of those isn’t a green painted bulb like the original. I don’t know.
I decided to try out the parametric search for light bulbs available on the Don’s Bulbs site. I could make good guesses at the glass type (T-1½), voltage (12-14V) and current (.08A), but what was that base? Happily, Don’s Bulbs has pages where you can search for bases by drawings. After peering at the “automotive” category for a while, I decided it was probably a “neowedge” of some sort, but couldn’t figure out which variant. No problem, the site lets you search on broad base categories, and even a vague type of base narrows down the huge pile of results nicely. The closest match I could find was a GE type 91646, which doesn’t seem to be available much any more. It does sport a B8.4D base, but I wasn't at all sure it was the right one.
I went back to searching the web, adding “neowedge” to my search terms. I found many more pages of people trying to find this bulb, and a bunch of pointers to LED bulb vendors. However, many people had bought the LED replacements, only to have them not work.
This gave me an idea - I could convert the existing one to LED myself and have it fixed the same day! I rounded up a blue LED and calculated that an appropriate voltage dropping resistor would be about 525Ω. Some rummaging around produced some 560Ω resistors, which should run the LED at slightly lower current, for a little less brightness and longer life. I crushed the burned-out bulb so I could solder the new parts to the resulting leads.
I then assembled the parts into something that should fit into the space occupied by the original bulb.
I remembered the LED bulbs I had made for my pinball machine, which runs its bulbs on AC, so the polarity doesn’t matter. But my car uses DC, so any way I assemble it is likely to be backwards. Then I realized the base was symmetrical, so if it didn’t light, I could just install it the other way. I hooked it up to a power supply to make sure it worked.
Then I went to install it in the car. Unfortunately, it didn’t light. I pulled it back out to turn around, and saw that I had broken one of the fine wires. Rats!
I took it back inside, and attempted to solder the wire directly to the terminal, but without success. I tried every flux and solder I own, slowly melting the plastic base, but it was beyond me. I considered finishing building my tack welder, but that’s a biggish project and there’s a pretty good chance I would fry the LED in the attempt anyway.
Greatly annoyed, I called the dealer to see if they had the right bulb in stock. Naturally, they didn’t — and they wanted more than fourteen dollars for the stinking bulb! I reluctantly told them to order one and call me when it got in. They said it would be in by Saturday morning.
Back to the web. I noticed a lot of the references to LED replacements were to the same place, superbrightleds.com so I figured I’d have a look. They have a facility to look up bulbs by car make and model, but didn’t list anything for my clock. So I looked at their “automobile, instrument cluster and gauge, T1.5 Base - New-Wedge, B8 Type” page. After clicking around for a while, I saw they had some nice big clear mechanical drawings of the various bases, complete with 3D renderings. From this, it seemed that I had a B8.4D based bulb. They offer LED bulbs with this base in two brightnesses, and six colors, and they don’t cost much at all ($1.59 for the regular brightness). The original bulb had a green coating, but I thought red would be nice looking, and avoid impairing my night vision. I ordered one each of the red and green, in both regular and high power.
I went by the dealership on the way to Balticon on Saturday, but they had closed early for Memorial Day weekend. Fie on them.
The LED lights showed up in today’s mail.
I popped the regular brightness red one in, it fit perfectly, and lit on the first try. I’m looking forward to seeing it at night. As for the dealer, I still haven’t heard back from them, and at this point, I no longer care about their overpriced bulb.
So why are they so useful? It's the "hollow shaft" part that does the trick. Rather like deep sockets can do some things that ordinary sockets can't, they'll let you loosen/tighten a nut that's threaded way down on a long bolt. And the hollow shafts on these extend the entire length of the shaft.
If you look up the shaft, you can see all the way up to the handle. It's not just a 2cm recess, the entire shaft is hollow, accomodating anything up to that length. For example, using these tools, it's easy to install long-shaft controls in panels and neatly tighten the nut without fighting with pliers, trying to keep a box-end wrench in position on a thin part, or running the risk of marring the panel.
That's one, on the right, in position to tighten the retaining nut, quickly and easily.
Recently, I realized that a metric set of these would be a very useful thing to have as well, so I went out to see what the offerings were. I was pleased to find out that the original Xcelite HS618 set is still available, as well as the individual drivers. It's nice when useful things are still in production, after all these years. Unfortunately, they don't seem to offer a metric version.
So I elected to buy a Canon Selphy ES-30 which is a compact dye sublimation photo printer that can also print gold and silver foil. It was listed as having Macintosh support, which is good because I don't do windows. It's a cute little thing, and takes its printing supplies as little cartridges that contain both the paper and the dye sub ink sheets. This makes it easy to switch between different media, and ensures that the ink and paper stay in synch and are compatible. They're specialized enough that they'll only ever be available from Canon, and they're not particularly cheap. But that's fine, it's cost effective for my occasional use.
But then it turns out that the Macintosh support is only partial - you can print color or black and white, but no gold or silver foil. It is my opinion that if you claim to "support" a computer for a product, that you support all the product's capabilities. Otherwise, it's partial support at best, and this should be stated clearly in all sales literature. Otherwise, you are lying to me, and I do not appreciate being lied to.
I waited a while to see if there would be an update that would add foil support, but none was forthcoming. Then I wrote Canon and asked if they would send me the protocol, so I could implement this myself.
They refused, saying the information was proprietary. What? Why? You're not selling printer drivers, you're selling printers, or more to the point, you're selling printer supplies. The more people who can use your printers, the more printers and supplies you will sell. Keeping the protocol a secret is nonsense. I offered to sign an NDA, but no reply at all. I realize that companies avoid giving out technical information because it might lead to more support questions. I explained that I would not ask for further support, nor use the information in a way that would cause this to happen.
Do you know what would have happened, if you had furnished the interface specification? I would have extended the existing Gutenprint Canon Selphy support to include the ES-30, including its metal foil printing capabilities. I would have provided my changes back to the Gutenprint project for inclusion in their core software. This would have given Canon ES-30 support to Linux and BSD users, and since Apple uses Gutenprint to provide their third-party printer drivers, you would have gotten Macintosh support for free. Better yet, customer support for this driver would have come from the Gutenprint project and Apple — saving you support money. I would have written a positive review of the printer, and all my adoring readers would have gone out and bought them. The underserved Macintosh, Linux, and BSD communities would have bought the now-supported printer, and supplies for it. As the cartridges are not easy to replicate (unlike refilling inkjet cartridges), you would have had a solid revenue stream for years to come, that no one could take away from you. You would have enjoyed a positive mindshare in a large, geeky customer base - and their friends, families, and employers.
But no. You decided to take the low road, keep things secret for no reason, and now you're stuck with unpreferred vendor status. I'll buy my cameræ from Nikon, Fuji, and Olympus. I'll buy my printers from Epson and HP. And I'll tell all my friends how you refused to play nice.
Your pointless corporate decision will end up costing you a surprising amount of lost revenue over the years.
Really? We've had decades of absent-minded professors, mad scientists, and nerds complaining about their childhood treatment and taking their revenge on the world. Now that is something we might complain about.
But Big Bang Theory? Please. Most folks focus on Sheldon, so I will too. Sheldon is portrayed as a good guy. That's right, he's shown very positively. Yes, he has difficulties with social niceties. But he tries. He really wants to learn how to interact with people properly. It's not his fault he isn't very good about it, but instead of making excuses ("I can't act nicer, I'm an assburger"), he tries to learn from his mistakes, learn how to recognize sadness and sarcasm, and react appropriately. When someone needs a large amount of money, he offers to lend it to them, for whatever amount of time they need it, interest free. When someone's feeling down, he tries to comfort them, even though he doesn't really know how. It's tough to attempt something you don't know how to do. But it's the right thing to do, and he tries. Even when it involves touching other people, he does so, overcoming his aversion to doing so. That sort of thing makes the character a good one, in my opinion.
"But they portray Sheldon as a buffoon!", I hear people whine. Really? Granted, Sheldon is often portrayed as a buffoon. But so is everybody else on the series, including most of the guest stars! Everybody's a little off in this show, it's part of the show, not an insult to anybody in particular. That was part of what I liked about In Living Color: they were evenhanded, making fun of everybody. I really can't object to that, as long as it isn't mean-spirited. And if there's mean-spiritedness in Big Bang Theory, I simply don't see it.
That's a subtle difference, and hard to point to, but it's important. Anybody remember The Man Show - the original one with Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel? Lots of folks objected to that, saying it mocked women and objectified them, treating them as nothing more than sex symbols. There were a lot of such shows before, during, and after it that did exactly that (and I include the reboot of The Man Show with Doug Stanhope and Joe Rogan). But the original Man Show wasn't like that. The hosts (Adam and Jimmy) love and respect women, and I can see it in the show. A lot of their gags boil down to "I don't completely understand women, but I adore them". That's why I liked that show, and didn't really enjoy any of the others of that sort.
It's the same way with The Big Bang Theory. While the jokes necessarily revolve around the characters and their personalities, they're not mockery, they're poking gentle fun. And many of the gags are simply standard sitcom fodder - they're laughing at what it is to be human. And that's always going to be funny. If you've read Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, it has a similar feel. Yeah, a bunch of the characters are lesbians, and a lot of the story lines hinge on things lesbians do, say, and are - including some stereotypes. But the main message I get from the comics is "we're all human, and we all have the same sorts of fun, problems, and laughs." The same with The Big Bang theory - it's a show about being human, with the wrinkle that not all humans are alike. As someone who's "not alike", it's nice to see that explored, whether it's in a humorous vein or not.
And yes, sometimes I'll do or say something nerdy (like "I like to turn the plates so they face the sprayer in the dishwisher"), my sweetie will smirk at me and say "Okay, Sheldon!" It's not mean, it just reminds me that I can be picky about minutiæ. And it makes us both smile.
After I had put down the trash cans, I went and grabbed a camera with a macro lense to get a picture of this beastie. I'm guessing it's Platycryptus undatus, the tan jumping spider.
And they bungle it.
Up to here, this is like real life — in reality, this also happens. Whether you realize it at the time or not, life offers up these oh-so-brief opportunities, where, if everything goes right, wonderful things can happen. Sometimes it does, and that's wonderful. But, many times, either reality doesn't coöperate (the party closes just as she was about to offer you her lips, the phone rings, the cat throws up, whatever), or you do or say the wrong thing, or freeze up, or screw up some other way. And then the moment's gone, never to be retrieved. And it socks you like a sucker-punch to the stomach. You realize what could have been.
I've gotten to the point where I occasionally recognize these cusps when they're happening. "Everything hinges on what you do at this moment", I'll realize. Unfortunately, that realization doesn't come with instructions as to what to do. Many times, it's far from obvious what would be the best thing to do. And I'll choose wrong. A lot.
"Quick!", the universe will tell me, "make the right choice — instantly — or lose out. Forever.
And that's the kicker. Many of these things, you only get the one chance. The odds were you'd never get a chance, and you're lucky to have had the one. And you blew it. And you'll never get a do-over.
And that, my friends, is my beef with romance movies. In these stories, the heroes always get another chance. Against all odds, another bizarre occurence happens, and they get another crack at it. And it's always even more hurried than the last time, and they have to deal with the repercussions of the previous disaster, but they somehow make the right choice, they don't get interrupted, and they find true love.
I admit, otherwise, it would be a depressing reminder of how dismal real life can be. But it seems hollow. The characters turn from (sort of) realistic, human people with imperfections and failings, to this blessed couple that magically gets everything right, apparently because they "deserve to" or somesuch. We're all rooting for them, they're made for each other, we're willing to suspend disbelief so they can be together.
But that just makes it sting the more that we don't have our own cheering sections, we don't get the second chances, we just get that one fleeting sliver of possibility, and have to fend off all the external things that can go wrong, as well as make a snap decision on insufficient data and act on it immediately, or spend the next few weeks/months/years second-guessing ourselves and suffering the regrets of the beautiful thing that might have been.
I'll admit that there are films that are more realistic. Chasing Amy was one such. The hero got a cusp handed to him, and it was reasonably clear what he needed to do (good job, Kevin Smith), and he choked. He blew it. And he lost out. He never got a second chance. I hated it the first time I saw it. How horrible, how cruel. I read Smith's writeup, how he felt that his cusp was tied to that film, and his take on it was he could only get the girl in real life if the make-believe character didn't. I find myself having such superstitions beliefs myself, so I can't fault him for that. And I can't blame him for sacrificing the
companion cube film version of happiness for a chance of real life happiness. But it stung.
However, over the years, I've come to really like that film. It's painful, yes, but at least it's honest. Life is like that, like it or not.
I still wish I magically knew what to do in these situations. And I wish I was better at detecting them in the first place.
* The Ugly Truth, if you're curious
Then I read it again, noticing that the first word was really "outsmart".
Nickelodeon offered him a few choices, and he elected to go on a day that had a long shooting schedule. The package came with 2 nights at the Roosevelt hotel in Hollywood, a visit to the Nickelodeon Animation Studios, a visit to a taping of the Ellen show, and some goodies like script excerpts and an autographed cast picture.
fizzygeek would come with me, so it would be the three of us. We'd be in the LA area more than two nights, so we needed to find somewhere to stay the other nights. As it happens, our fronds keighsie and ayasdollz had moved from Phoenix to LA since we'd seen them last, and were willing to let us stay at their place, and (better yet) get to hang out with them more. Looking forward to seeing Dan Schneider and the cast again, I rounded up the Zoey 101 key I had made (I'm such a fangirl) and made myself a "Generation Love" T-shirt in honour of cast member Jennette McCurdy's charity project.
We'd never been to LA, and we weren't quite sure what to expect. As it happens, LA is a bustling city with gorgeous weather and plenty of things to see and do. We had a fun time hanging out with our fronds, who basically let us have the run of the house when they were out at work, and play with their cat and dogs (including one grandly named PooPooButt!). We had a great conversation about how our lives just refused to be ordinary (my running into someone at an airport, resulting in a set visit to one of my favourite TV shows was a great example of this). The so-called "law of averages" simply doesn't seem to apply to us.
Presently, someone wandered by and asked if I had been at the iCarly event last night. I said I had, and he shook my hand and said he thought he recognized me as a big bidder for the day on the set. It turns out he was the winning bidder, but didn't really have any friends or family who enjoyed iCarly. He said he'd try to find out if I could come with him, as I was obviously interested enough to be willing to put down major money. We exchanged contact info.
Finally the ticket windows opened up, and I went to the USAir window to try again to get my flight changed to terminate in Charlotte (where I would be catching my flight to Florida) instead of Dulles. It was still impossible. So I asked if I could just have my luggage marked to come off at Charlotte. The agent looked very flustered and asked why I would want to do such a thing. I explained that I'd be abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment and catching some other plane. She snapped "I don't want to hear about that!" and turned away. Hopefully there won't be anything in my luggage that I can't carry on the plane.
After a bit, I wandered back inside, where there was quite a crowd waiting to get in. Occasionally cast members would exit the elevators and squeeze through the crowd into the function space. I wasn't really sure what to expect, would they be hiding behind desks, protected by handlers, or what?
Finally they let us in, to a generously sized area with several activities scattered around, big screens running clips of the shows, a big food table, and the things to be auctioned. I looked around to see if I recognized anybody. Sure enough, just a few feet away, Jerry Trainor was chatting with a couple of people. I hung around until they wandered off and went to say hi. I blurted out that I was glad to meet him, as my sweetie had told me I really should. I phrased this in a really clever way, and he said "She really said that? Wow!" I wish I could remember how I put it! I saw someone else standing nearby with a fancy camera, and asked him if he could take a picture of me with Jerry. He was happy to, if I'd return the favour. As it happened, he and I became photo buddies, taking each others' pictures with various celebrities through the night. ( more (with pictures) )
That said, fizzygeek and I were hanging around in an airport waiting for a flight, and I was browsing Dan's facebook feed when I saw an announcement: he was having a charity meet-and-greet to support St. Jude's Hospital. Dan had asked the casts of both iCarly and Victorious to participate, and they all agreed!
Hoo boy, I wanted to go to this shindig! I asked fizzygeek if I could go, and she said I should probably think about it first, see if it would be feasible. I considered it for a while, and decided that this would be a popular event and would sell out quickly. I could either pounce on it immediately, and take the chance of paying for it and not being able to go, or think about it on the plane ride and take a chance of wanting to go, but all the slots being gone. Additionally, Andrea couldn't go anyway. I pounced on it anyway, to her vague surprise.
When I got home, I started making arrangements. I booked a room at the Peabody, the hotel where the event would be held, and found an affordable flight to Memphis, connecting through Charlotte.
Then I got another notification - NASA had freed up some additional VIP tickets for the (then) final space shuttle launch. I had tried to buy tickets earlier, but they were sold out, so I got on the bus company's mailing list. This mailing included a URL to buy the tickets, but the URL was mangled in transmission. I reverse-engineered what it should have been and bought the tickets pronto. I remember Spider Robinson writing in one of his books that seeing a shuttle launch from the VIP area was an incredible experience, and it was worth going to a large amount of effort do do so. I had seen the Apollo moon shots go up from across the river, those were awesome, and I'd seen a shuttle launch from on top of the bridge, which was wonderful, but not like a Saturn V. However, a shuttle launch from close up was something I wanted to experience, and chances were running out.
Then I realized it was the same weekend! Now what am I going to do? Okay, calm down, they're not the same day. I can fly to Memphis, meet Dan and his TV show casts, then fly to Florida and catch the space shuttle launch with Andrea. So I went to the USAir web site and tried to modify my flight. Unfortunately, USAir's reservation system isn't too bright - I have to work with the complete flight between Memphis and Dulles, I can't just delete the Charlotte-Dulles segment. And I can't convert Memphis-Dulles into Memphis-Orlando, because there are no more seats on the Memphis-Charlotte segment! Even though I'd be on that plane either way, the computer simply can't accept that I'd be vacating a seat that I'd then occupy. Okay, I'll just call the airline directly and deal with a human instead. No dice - the human uses the same broken reservation system, and can't accomplish it either.
Fine, I'm not going to miss out on the shuttle launch. I went to another airline and bought a ticket from Charlotte to Orlando, and one from Orlando to Dulles. I'll just get off the USAir plane in Charlotte and board a plane to Orlando, abandoning the Charlotte-Dulles segment.
I'm not sure what I'm going to wear - I'm tempted to wear a Gibby's Ice Cream T-shirt, as one of the characters on iCarly is called Gibby. But it might be a fancy shindig, so I also pack a really nice but somewhat outrageous striped shirt that had once listed for $200, but we found on a clearance rack for $20 or so. I emailed the event coordinator asking if there's a dress code, but hadn't heard back.
I get to the hotel and unpack, and find that I have a reply to the dress code - it's supposed to be reasonably fancy, no jeans. And I somehow neglected to pack nice pants. Time to go shopping! I call a cab to the mall. The cab driver takes a phone call on the way, and speaks a language that sounds faintly familiar, but I can't place it. When he gets off the phone, I ask him about it. He explains that he's speaking Ethiopian. No wonder it sounded familiar, I love Ethiopian food, and have learned several of the terms for the dishes. He and I have a great time discussing Ethiopian food.
I get to the mall and do some power shopping, picking up a nice pair of slacks, a belt, and some cufflinks. I'm going to look good. I also scarfed down some food, as I didn't know when I'd have another opportunity to eat, as I'd be getting back to the hotel not long before the event began, and I still had to change.
I have a nice chat with another cab driver on the way back - he's curious as to why I'm in town, and I explain that I'm attending a fundraiser for St. Jude's Hospital. He says they're a wonderfully deserving place, and tells me a tale. There was a boy who'd gone to a conventional hosptial with cancer, and they told him he had maybe two months to live. His parents took him to St. Jude's instead, where he had done quite well. After a year, he was well enough for a trip to the zoo - and that cab driver had driven him and his parents to the zoo.
When I got back to the hotel, there was a huge crowd of people in the lobby. I figured the TV stars had showed up and I was missing things! Out by the elevators was mobbed, so it would be problematic to even get back to my room to change. It took a while for me to figure out what was really going on: the Peabody hotel has a tradition where a family of ducks lives in their fountain during the day, and the ducks march back to their home on the roof at night - via the elevator. Once the ducks had made their journey, the lobby cleared out and I was able to go back to my room and change into my fancy duds.