Growing Season

Our studious pupil was overfilled with excitement when he found out his radish seeds started sprouting today.

Its a great day indeed, not only for watching life science in real time, but also for a bio science project that is going well!  Unlike other sciences like physics and chemistry where you can mostly predict outcome, bio/life science just has that additional chance of working/not working.

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Cheap Closeups with Reverse Macro

Don’t own a macro lens, but want to fake it anyway?

Take your lens, and carefully hold the front end of the lens against the lens mount of the camera.  Get real close to what you want to shoot “macro”.  Focus by slowly moving the camera/lens in and out.  The focusing distance will be very close, and the in-focus range will be very narrow.  Use the camera’s optical viewfinder –don’t expect Live View to work.

We had some recent unwelcomed guests in the home that we had trapped.  Here’s a mugshot:


As with most modern electronically controlled lenses, there’s no aperture control without the electrical/digital connection, so Depth-of-field will be very narrow if you just use the lens as is.  (At least as tested with a Canon EF lens) you can “lock” an aperture by:

  1. Mount the lens normally.
  2. In Aperture priority mode, set the f/ stop.
  3. Hold the DOF-preview button, and then carefully disengage the lens from the lens mount.

The aperture will remain at the last “set” point.

If you locate an old Canon FD lens or manual Nikon F lens, they’ll have a manual aperture ring on them.

Another thing to note is in “reverse macro”, the focal points (mm) sorta work in reverse.  If you set your zoom lens to the telephoto end to use for reverse macro, the magnification will be less than if you zoomed to the wide end.

Disclaimer: consider your environment when performing reverse-macro by hand-holding the lens backwards.  Ambient dust can get through the non-seal and to the sensor.  If you intend to do reverse macro beyond a novelty and/or in dusty environments, look for adapter mounting rings.

Posted in Cameras, Close-Up, Lens, Macro | Leave a comment

Happy Summer 2016!

Man its a hot start for the summer.  At least tonight we got a break in the overnight temps.

This year’s Summer Solstice corresponds with a Strawberry Moon.  Check it out


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ChromeOS – the one that opens the door for many?

After food and shelter needs have been met, access to computing resources is quite the requiem for participation in today’s economy. Fortunately, access is continuing to be more affordable.

A frugal colleague and friend raves about his Chromebook, and the recent announcement of Android apps getting a play in ChromeOS (no matter how practical or not) got me looking into an actual Chromebook myself.

However, I am cheap and have other short-term priorities for the couple hundred USD. Meanwhile, here’s trying out Neverware’s CloudReady ChromeOS on my already-owned workstation laptop via VirtualBox.

Screenshot - 05312016 - 09:09:46 PM

As expected, at its core it’s pretty much Google Chrome desktop browser + Chrome apps that make up ChromeOS. Good enough for most daily online tasks, education/office productivity (Google Docs), and VOIP (Google Hangouts/Voice)

But wait. There’s a shell! And Crouton is available as a download, that sets up a chroot environment and a FULL Linux desktop! Things that run on Linux, like GIMP, LibreOffice, Firefox, and Steam (yes…we’re potentially pushing hardware limits here) are available.

Screenshot - 05312016 - 09:08:53 PM

It’d be tight, but you could run Eclipse, Android-Studio, MPLABx, or TI CCS for those software engineering projects.

Want to burn more CPU cycles? I run VirtualBox on Linux. I haven’t tried it yet, but there is a Crouton instruction page for setting up VirtualBox. As seen on a couple Youtube Videos, this means a configured Chromebook can run Linux, when then can run VirtualBox to run ….Windows. (Legally, buy a Windows License)

The value preposition here is that a Samsung Chromebook 3 11.6″ 4GB RAM Chromebook can be had for about $230, that gets you an ultra portable fanless Intel Celeron N3050 dual-core laptop with a 1366×768 screen that claims it can run 11 hrs unplugged. Hardware specs that are in-line with other laptops in the $300-$500 range, but those others tend to have weaker battery life. Screens may be larger but resolution is the same.

We live in an amazing time in our place, where a little over $200 gets you a decently built small laptop that brings you email, voice/video communication, research, networking, and document processing, which connects via WiFi at home or public free sites like libraries and coffee shops, or a cell phone’s hotspot.

A little guidance (and likely a $40 128GB SD/MicroSD card for expanded local storage) unleashes a full computing desktop environment if more capability is needed.


For what I probably paid for just a CPU a decade ago, is now the entry point for a NEW complete system that likely fits the needs for 75%+ of the computing user base. No matter how much of that 11hrs battery life is real, it’s still way better than the *almost* 2hrs battery life I’ve gotten with black-friday special stripped laptops.


Posted in computers, Information, thrift | 1 Comment

Get out of the (green) box

If there’s one single camera setting I’d advise against using, it would be the “Full Auto” mode – usually indicated by a green box, a green camera icon, and/or “AUTO” on the mode dial.


This isn’t about photography elitism.  Its just that if you’re owning a complex (though hopefully not complicated…) photographic tool, I’m sure you’re aiming to get the best results from it.

Full Auto does have its place.  When you’re at the store or unpacking the camera and need a quick-and-dirty test to make sure the lens can focus on something, get some exposure, fire the shot, and store some image to the card, Full-Auto would be sufficient since you might not be as familiar with the camera/lens to tune settings any further just to verify the camera functions.

But what does Full-Auto do?  First, if you’re wholly new at photography, read up on the basics here to get an idea on what shutter, aperture, and ISO parameters do.

Full-Auto attempts to automatically determine a shutter speed, aperture, and ISO sensitivity for a given shot.  In addition, other camera parameters are also automatically selected, such as exposure mode, focus point selection, auto-focus mode, white balance, flash mode, etc.  Most everything that Full-Auto touches, it locks out control from the operator.

Sounds great…how does Full-Auto work then?  —I don’t really know.  Partly because I personally don’t use this mode, and other part because Full-Auto exposure mode is driven by software to control multiple variables with little input for expected outcomes.  And in software design, your output can only be as good as your input, no matter how fantastic the algorithm.

Think about it: the camera in Full-Auto mode does not know how much depth-of-field (aperture value) you want in your shot.  It also doesn’t know how much motion you want to stop or exaggerate (shutter value).  Full-Auto tends to focus on the closest object, but doesn’t know that you really wanted to focus on something a tad further behind.  It might guess that you needed flash, but you really intended to do a long-exposure without…

Speaking of flash photo, Full-Auto (at least on a couple of Canon’s I’ve used) doesn’t seem very smart.  Take a camera body on full auto with a general zoom lens without IS.  Set the lens on wide-zoom and half-press the shutter: the flash will engage and the expose will read 1/60, f/4.0.  1/60s is OK to hand hold at say, 28mm.  And f/4.0 might not be optimal for sharpness depending on lens quality, but nonetheless likely not too bad.

Zoom all the way in, and the exposure will still be 1/60, f/4.0 (or whatever minimum supported at the telephoto end).  1/60s shutter speed isn’t going to negate hand-shake from holding a non-IS lens at 105mm as well, especially on an APS-C sensor camera where its an effective 157.5mm (Nikon 1.5x crop) or 168mm (Canon 1.6x crop) focal point.  While f/4.0 may have passed at 28mm, it might be soft for this lens at the 105mm end.

On the flip side, Full-Auto may have progressed from my experience.  Face detection algorithms might be assisting in focus point selection, AI-focus mode entering motion-tracking might signal the Full-Auto to ratchet up the shutter speed.

But no matter what, the point is that the processor 6-inches behind the camera probably still has a better idea of what’s really being photographed than the embedded firmware inside the camera.

If you’re newly venturing out and would like the camera to give you hints, at least use Program mode (P).  It’ll give you a suggestion (like Full-Auto) will, but will listen to you when you tell it what to focus on, whether to use flash, that you’d like the shutter to nudge faster, and/or that you’re not as willing to trade off some sensor noise for speed.

You can still hand-off the camera in Program mode to someone to take a group photo within reasonable expectations.

*Your camera’s manual can help you determine how to set relevant parameters.  Since every camera make/model varies, the manual is likely the best resource for operating your camera.

Posted in Cameras, Information | Leave a comment

Keeping the temps low on the MasterRace

I had commented to a friend regarding his gaming PC’s CPU temps at the same time my “Lappy486” was encoding some videos, when I noticed that the core temperature of the i5-2520m was peaking at 97°C.  Fan was running full throttle and hot air was being exhausted, which indicated the heatpipe/heatsink/fan assembly was doing its thing.

With the laptop being nearly 5 years old, I figured it was a good time to remove the factory goo and replace it with the reliable standby Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound[*].

On a business/enterprise grade notebook, service guides are easily accessible, and so are critical system components.  Here’s what the innards of a Thinkpad look like:


Keyboard and keyboard bezel removed

"Thermal Module" removed, old past cleaned off to reveal shiny CPU die

“Thermal Module” removed, old past cleaned off to reveal shiny CPU die

A tad of AS5 was placed on the CPU die using the “spread the grain of rice with a credit-card across the surface” method.  System reassembled.

Powering up the system and repeating similar load showed an immediate improvement: CPU temps topped out at about 92°C.

The Product Page for AS5 does call out a 200-hour “break-in” time with several thermal cycles for optimal results.  During the past week, I’ve occasionally hit the CPU with Prime95 for a bit at a time, as well as shutting down the computer at night.

At this writing, peak temperature seems to manged to 92°C, and wavering around 90°C/91°C with default parameters Prime95 CPU test.  (so YMMV with the ~8 break-in days).

A -5°C result is quite a promising improvement.  It gives a better margin away from the 100°or 105°C max operating temperature for the i5 part.

*I did find a screenshot from 2014, also showing a 97°C temp under load.  So either thermal performance had degraded and stabilized by then, or the system always ran as designed under load from the factory.

A tube of good thermal compound is very handy to have around, whether you’re squeezing out the most performance or doing routine maintenance.  Time after time, applying the right thermal paste and keeping cooling components clear of dust keep systems running smoothly.  Plus, anytime a CPU cooler is removed, the paste has to be replaced.

Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound[*] has been a favorite among enthusiasts for a long time.  It was among the best when first introduced, and still a strong contender today.

If your CPU has exposed circuits or components near where the thermal paste will be applied, the electrically insulated Arctic Silver Ceramique 2 Thermal Compound
is also a good pick that I’ve also used on other computers.

[*] Product links included on this page lead to external merchant site(s) in which this site participates in a link referral program. Clicking through these links and purchasing referenced products or other products sold by the merchant helps this site. More information may be found on our “Support Us!” page.

Posted in computers, cooling | 2 Comments

What toy cars teach about car ownership expectations

My son is a fan of Hot Wheels [*] and similar branded die cast model cars. This red 21 SUV has been a favorite. When he wasn’t paying attention, I borrowed it for some close up shots.


IMG_6929ec IMG_6930ec IMG_6931ec IMG_6932ec

This truck is still very intact with strong axles, all wheels smoothly rotating, and retains a relatively good paint coverage despite being played well by a 4.5 year old since about 1.5 years old.  Even more impressive, is that I played with this same exact truck when I was about 4 years old.  My brother growing up also played with this car.  So this vehicle has at least a good 28 years life of traversing through thousands of inches of carpet, tile, wood, dirt, mulch, etc.

I suppose this longevity has instilled the “drive it to the ground” mentality when it comes to real car ownership.  –Yes, like this die cast car, I plan to also pass down my daily driver to my kids some day.

There’s really not too much more I can say about Hot Wheels [*] cars, seeing they and Matchbox are so prevalent in many homes. (Matchbox and Hot Wheels have been owned by Mattel since 1997). With an ASP of $1 per car, that 100 pennies affords practically a lifetime of play.

[*] Product links included on this page lead to external merchant site(s) in which this site participates in a link referral program.  Clicking through these links and purchasing referenced products or other products sold by the merchant helps this site.  More information may be found on our “Support Us!” page.

Posted in Close-Up, Toys | Leave a comment

Gỏi cuốn, almost like home

Nothing brings family together year round (but especially on warm lazy days) like cold served gỏi cuốn.

Boiled Shrimp, Boiled Bacon strip, rive vermicelli, and spinach together in banh trang (rice paper).  Accompanied with dipping sauce.

Boiled Shrimp, Boiled Bacon strip, rive vermicelli, and spinach together in banh trang (rice paper). Accompanied with dipping sauce.

Today’s dish was staged on our granite counter-top in our modern-day designed kitchen with typical high-volume builder-grade overhead can lighting.  To avoid unwanted reflections from the counter-top from showing up, I attached my handy Hoya Circular Polarizer Filter[*] to attenuate them out.  With the camera on the tripod, I composed the shot and triggered the self-timer.  The 10-second beeps were enough time for me to position the Diffuser Disc [*] for softening the overhead light source to reduce shadows.

A diffuser disc placed after the camera has metered the exposure (i.e. self-timer is running) does have a reducing effect on total exposure, since it is reducing the light into the camera that it originally thought it was getting.  This can be compensated by adjusting color levels post-process, and/or adjusting up the EV compensation on the camera.  On my shooter, +2/3 EV gets it pretty close when diffusing light.

If necessary, consult your camera’s documentation for exposure compensation.  Its typically denoted in the viewfinder and/or body LCD display by a linear gauge usually ranging from -3 to +3, in 1/3 increments.

As I’ve previously written, a circular polarizing filter is really nice to have on hand, as a versatile color enhancer (in the right conditions) and reflection tamer.  I’ve been happy with the Hoya line of Circular Polarizers [*].

For a lot of the close-up photos I’ve done, diffusing the light soruce with the diffuser disc core of a kit like the Neewer 43-inch / 110cm 5-in-1 Collapsible Multi-Disc Light Reflector [*] makes a difference in little-to-no shadows around the delicious tasty food items in the shot, vs having hard dark hues surrounding them.

[*] Product links included on this page lead to external merchant site(s) in which this site participates in a link referral program.  Clicking through these links and purchasing referenced products or other products sold by the merchant helps this site.  More information may be found on our “Support Us!” page.

Posted in Accessories, Cameras, Filters, Food, gluten-free, Lighting | Leave a comment

Eclipse…of the moon, not the IDE.

Just like everyone else on the internets, an supermoon eclipse capture, courtesy of PTvAvM


Taking photos at night requires longer exposure times, generally for longer than you can hand-hold the camera steady.  You could hi-ISO your way through it, but you get lots of noise grain that pollutes your night sky, and washes out your colors.

The key to taking long exposure shots (not too long though, since the moon’s position is moving) is a stable, easily manipulable tripod.  Which, I don’t own yet.  I’ve made do with a $10 budget priced set of legs who’s first stand-in was at our honeymoon, where lightweight and cheap fit the requirements.  But since then the camera bodies have gotten larger and with extra accessories have pushed the confidence and safety limits.  I believe after dealing with stiction and non-precision, non-repeatable adjustments tonight I’ve finally got enough justification to upgrade to a Davis & Sanford Provista 7518 Tripod with FM18 Head[*]

Also, if you’re diligent in protecting the front element of your lens with a UV filter, like a Tiffen Haze-1 Filter[*] this is one of those times you actually want to remove that extra glass. Otherwise you risk extra ghosting, flares, or reflections, like this early shot:

Don't use a UV filter at night to shoot light sources

Don’t use a UV filter at night when photographing light sources


There’s certainly lots of premium tripods out there for still photography and HD video, each with their strong followings, and the price tags to match.  With luxe Italian sounding names to boot.

I don’t make money with photography.  I just want to take better photos of people, things and scenery.  With that, after watching this guy’s review comparing 4 affordable tripods, the
Davis & Sanford Provista 7518 Tripod with FM18 Head[*] appealed the most to me.

Whether or not to use an additional piece of glass to protect your expensive glass lens assembly is also a contentious topic, depending on who you talk to.  There’s certainly a case against using it as I’ve shown above, but I will say for most other occasions a quality filter like the Tiffen Haze-1 Filter[*] will not have an effect on image quality while protecting your lens against minor scratches, and provide an easier surface to keep clean.  A write up that I came across years ago shows how much UV the Tiffen Haze-1 really blocks compared to other makes.

[*] Product links included on this page lead to external merchant site(s) in which this site participates in a link referral program. Clicking through these links and purchasing referenced products or other products sold by the merchant helps this site. More information may be found on our “Support Us!” page.

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Green Grape Tasting Bunny Rabbits

My sincere thanks to Jacques Pépin for inspiring today’s post.  Jacques has always been a reliable foodie source for recipes and techniques, and cutting grapes into bunnies is no exception:

Green Bunnies

With our handy Victorinox Swiss Classic 4-Inch Paring Knife [*], I was able to follow along with precision (for late night…) cutting of small fruit pieces.

[*] Product links included on this page lead to external merchant site(s) in which this site participates in a link referral program.  Clicking through these links and purchasing referenced products or other products sold by the merchant helps this site.  More information may be found on our “Support Us!” page.

Posted in Arts, Close-Up, Food | Leave a comment