Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Musings’ Category

21
Jul

eMail Spoofing

There’s rarely a day goes by at the Wanch here where some email doesn’t arrive that is either spam or a spoof.

And while I’ve been using computers and programming them when most of the droolers who create this fodder were still rolling around in their Pampers, I do have to admit the quality of said crap is actually getting better. To the point where I can see a lot of people might actually fall for it.

Spam is pretty easy to spot. The big red flag is you’re going to get something for nothing.

Right.

Like that happens a lot in our everyday lives.

So whether your private parts are going to rival that of a pachyderm, or you’re saving some dictator from his countries IRS by sending him more money (have to think about the logic behind that one), you’re going to get something for nothing. In actual fact, if you fall for it, they get something, your something, for nothing.

Apart from the fact that you get something for nothing, the wording in the spam is almost, well, in English. I guess the nose pickers never majored in ESL, or Google Translate is doing a heck of a business.

On the other side of the dung beetle heap, we have email spoofers. Works like this. As humans we tend to trust people. So when we get an email and the FROM address is something we recognize, we initially tend to trust it. Ultimately it’s proven time and time again that we don’t know if that FROM is truthful, or its one of room temp IQ crowd trying to make the email seem real.

Therefore, we have to read it. Or at least we should read it, if for no other reason than to educate ourselves.

But again, there are red flags if you pay attention to the email. Is there an attachment that “needs” to be run before you can “view” the document? Really? eMail can handle darn near anything, so an attachment that requires a program to be run to view the attachment is a HUGE RED FLAG! Danger Will Robinson! The spoofers probably wouldn’t get that reference, they weren’t even a gleam in anyones eye at that time. Probably still aren’t.

The second big red flag is “Click On this Link to” whatever. Reactivate your account. Stop court proceedings. Verify your bank password. Right.

Luckily I’ve never heard of ANY company that provides any link of that sort in their communication emails. Ever. If you have a company that does that, I’d suggest dealing with someone else. Fast.

Today I get an email that says my AppleID has been suspended and by clicking the link I can reactivate it. Oh, let me think. Apple would do that wouldn’t they. Never.

MailScreenSnapz004

I just let the mouse in Apple Mail hover over the link to read the URL. RawPixel seems like a front for Accredited Online Training. For spoofers I assume since it rates right up there with mail order drivers licenses. Now perhaps AOT doesn’t realize that Rawpixel is linking to them. In which case, neither one is anything more than a lowly part of the food chain.

The point here is, don’t just click, read. Educate. There will always be others whose total life ambition will be to take what you’ve worked hard for your whole life. You know, because, well, they deserve it. In my view, what they deserve, probably isn’t legal but it might be fun to watch.

18
Jun

Garmin Approach G6 – Golf GPS

Since Callaway is dropping all support for their GPS systems in September 2014, my original uPro is destined to go the way of the Dodo bird.

If you only play local courses and have less than 50 of them, the uPro will still work fine. However, no new courses will be added and support will be gone. Not that there was any significant measureable level of support to begin with. And Callaway even thanked me for supporting them in the same email they informed me that I was about to own an orphan product and suggested I should check out their club offerings.

So maybe it’s just me, but I don’t get any of the warm fuzzies from a company that treats me thusly. Therefore, thanks Callaway, but not a chance.

I’ve been shopping around for a replacement golf GPS and wow. Does that take some concentration. A good site for some information is over at Critical Golf. Obviously I have specific criteria when it comes to a golf GPS.

  1. Unlimited Courses
  2. Unlimited Updates
  3. Mac friendly
  4. Ability to keep score
  5. Accurate
  6. Good customer support

Previously I’d owned a Golf Buddy. Bit of a nightmare to use on a Mac. I’d tried a SkyCaddie but I’m not big on the annual subscription but now I may not see that as a bad thing like I once did. Maybe it encourages fixes and updates.

In the end I settled on a Garmin G6. My feeling is that Garmin should know GPS, mapping, software and fit my prior list requirements. They get a good solid 4 out of 6. I was worried about the touch screen, there was no need. The only drawback to it is that you need to keep it away from stuff, like tees in your pocket, that will touch it’s screen. I keep mine in the netting on my ClicGear cart. But I can’t toss in a golf ball or it bumps the screen.

NewImage

True, I could lock the screen, but nah. Couldn’t be bothered. I got used to the rather cartoonish looking graphics quite quickly. I have yet to find a local course, even new ones, that are not on the GPS. Even the executive Par 3′s are there.

Connecting it up to my Mac with a USB cable and it mounts as an external drive. Theres a Micro SD slot on the bottom of the GPS but the only reason it’s there is because Garmin repurposed the case from another GPS product. So it does nothing.

Pressing the buttons to get a green view, or score card is easy. Touch screen areas are easy to use and the GPS has been rock solid for GPS signal.

All, a very nice GPS. But it falls flat on its butt when it comes to the scorecard and customer support. First off, I keep score without handicapping, so it’s strictly a stroke score for me. If, some how you forget to enter in a score for a hole, the GPS adds one in for you. Now you’d think it would make the mistake of say, oh, giving you a par. Yeah, well it doesn’t. It gives you 255. That’s right. 255 strokes on a hole. BUT that 255 doesn’t show in your total score.

You figure that one out. I gave up. Here we have this nice GPS, when we advance to the next hole, if the score is 255, it should have the brain to prompt you for the proper score. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’d like it.

So…fail #1.

Due to the fact that I’m a Mac software developer, I get more into things than a lot of people do. Actually probably more than most do. So what follows is what I found by looking under the hood. That’s the kind of guy I am.

The GPS comes with Mac software that serves two purposes. It updates the maps, it updates any firmware. There is no software that gives you a score card, stats or anything else. There’s some 3rd party stat software from Approach Stats. If stats are where you need to go, check them out.

I’m not much on stats, more on score cards. So I modified my uScoreCard app to read the files from the Garmin G6. If you have a Mac, Garmin G6 and you want an app, email me and ask. No charge.

So lets look a little more under the hood.

Inside a subdirectory on the GPS (it’s just a flash drive to the computer) there are your score cards as XML files. If you examine this file, there’s some interesting stuff in it.

First off: Distance Walked: 3.93 Miles – Elapsed Time – 4.14. That’s right. It tells you how far you walked (in yards, I just converted it to miles) and you get the elapsed time of the round. For the round time, keep in mind that it starts when you hit the PLAY and select a course. So it you set up the GPS for the course before getting to the first tee, that time will be in there.

Secondly, “Mel – 10 out of 13 fairways hit – 10 greens hit in regulation – 34 total putts“. Thats right. Fairways hit, GIR. However the GIR is CALCULATED. There is no where you can actually enter in that you got a GIR. If you are playing a par 3, hit onto the green, then proceed to putt off the green, have a bad chip, then finally chip back onto the green and finally two putt in. You didn’t get a GIR for that 6 stokes.

Is that right? Or not. I did some research and read that in the prior situation, the first hit was a stroke, once the ball is on the green, every stroke after that is a putt. Even if you knock it off and chip back on. The chip is a putt. I have no idea if that’s buried in a rule book or not, I found the info on a forum. So, take it for what it’s worth.

For accuracy, the GPS, for the most part is right on with the yardage markers (1-2 yards at maximum). One of the nice features is that you can move the pin for the hole to the rough location on the course to get the real yardage. I do this once in a while and I match it with a friends laser range finder. Works nicely as it remembers the new location until you advance to the next hole.

But hold on, let’s step back to the XML file…we have a local course here that has two different par’s depending on the tees your playing. The mid tees make the hole a par 4, the forward tees call it a par 5. There are THREE of these dual par holes on the course (Surrey Golf Club). The G6 gets one of them correctly. The two on the back nine show as par fives, with a back nine total of 38.

The frustrating part is you can not change it. Your strokes will be correct, but your pars and GIR’s just went out the window on two holes.

The finishing hole on Surrey Golf Club is a par 5, 559 yards. Yea, it’s long. I’m a senior and it seems forever. No amount of anything can get me to a wedge into the green. Always at least a mid-iron. Ugh.

When I examine the XML file for that last hole, this is what I find:

G6 18

Now if you’re anything like me, you’d LOVE to see a par five at just over 92 yards. It would make an Eagle look doable!

But no, it’s wrong. 100% wrong. And. Not. Even. Close.

Which leads me to the conclusion that the reason Garmin doesn’t have any software to show these “stats” is because the XML file generation is a mess. They DO have a “scorecard html” file on the G6 itself that you can run from a browser. So long as the browser is not Safari on the Mac.

G6 No Safari

But you can use Firefox:

G6 Firefox

Notice the 255 on the 15th. Yea. I forgot to put in the score. I can go back on the G6 and edit it I think. But I usually just do it right on the G6 once it mounts on the Mac.

Then notice the 10th and 15th are Par 5′s? From the mid-tees they are par fours. I found no way to change this.

Lastly, if you add up the strokes, notice I got a 79? But there’s a 255 on the 15th? Really want to trust your stats with a company who has seemingly bad math? No? So what the G6 does for a 255 is gives you par. If you want pars, just don’t enter in any score. You’ll be a scratch golfer in, oh, 4 hours…

So what does my software do, for one it fixes the par’s, and adds correctly. It will also tell if you have a 255 in there so you can edit it.

Surrey Golf Club ~ Main Course 2014 06 17

I admit that I use the same sort of calculation that Garmin does for GIR’s. My preference would be a box to actually enter that.

This information has been emailed Garmin. They are noticeably unresponsive. I think they’d just prefer that I go away and stop trying to hold them accountable for their blunder. As surprising as it might seem, Callaway had better support than Garmin does. But Callaway is getting out of the GPS business so that doesn’t say very much for Garmin. Does it.

So, Garmin, guess what? You get a fail for this half baked product. Now, scurry back to the oven and finish it properly.

24
Apr

Advertising…resume polishers

I doubt there’s any of us alive on the internet that aren’t bombarded on a daily basis with advertising…er..spam.

Like most I tend to glance and delete, or just delete. Today was just so typical of any of those lacklustre advertising days. And then I got this ad.

GFAY

My eyes immediately snapped to the “gear”. Band instruments like a trumpet, clarinet, big piano console, DJ mixing station, Fender guitar, MIDI controllers, powered PA speakers… Wow. Now that’s some nice gear.

Then I read the “fine” print. $100 gift card every month for the next year. Yep. $1200 in the year. Roughly the price of one Fender Strat (USA model). So you wait a year to buy your gear for a year.

Judging from the price of even the lowest cost item in the photo, you aren’t going to win it right off.

Thus, the caption should have read, “Win, and wait up to a year for your gear!”

I know it’s me, but “contests” like this have never even remotely interested or motivated me. So, apart from that, I find these amusing. I’m sure that’s not their intention, but it’s all I get out of them.

18
Mar

Under The Microscope

I’m doing more SMD work (that’s using very small surface mounted electronic parts) and checking my work, even with a headset magnifier is difficult. I’d purchased a “budget” USB microscope from fleaBay last year but apparently you don’t get a lot of quality for $12. Surprise…

I’d read that the 5mp cameras with a 50-500x magnification and controllable LED lighting are the best way to view your stuff, so, I ordered a USB microscope:

USB Microscope

Of course when it showed up, the first of note was the total lack of Mac support. There was a MINI CDROM for Windows though and I did manage to install that in VMWare Fusion under WinXP to make sure the thing worked. The software is sort of “iffy” though with a non-intuitive interface. But then I find my Windows application tend to look cartoonish and sport functions they don’t explain. Anywhere, including the “Help” menu. Begs the question of why put in a Help menu in the first place.

For the Mac, there are some software choices, none of which I could find that take advantage of the two push buttons on the microscope. Namely SNAP and ZOOM. I was sort of disappointed until, I realized that when you’re hitting those buttons at a high magnification, you shake things. A lot. Thus, they are really kind of useless.

I found that the Macs PhotoBooth and Quicktime could use the “USB Camera” so all wasn’t lost after all. The third party software for the Mac didn’t really appear to have a lot of options I’d use any way.

While this microscope had good clarity and ample zoom, it also had a problem. A flickering set of LED ring lights inside. There is a POT on the cable that allows you to adjust the brightness, hopefully to get a better photo or image. If I wiggled the cable where it went into the microscope head, the lights would flash on and off. Like an intermittent connection. Not good.

I naturally contacted the eBay seller who offered me $5 to buzz off. Or ship it back at my expense (about half of what I paid for the scope). Eventually we settled on a higher amount and I thought I’d just build my own LED lighting for it.

This thought lasted an entire afternoon. Indeed. It bugged me. So, rather than leave things alone, I ripped it apart to see what the problem was.

I started by taking apart the pot that controlled the LED brightness. Not much to it.

IMG 4559

Getting the main unit apart. I got the silver ring off first (it’s around the unit by the Snap switch in the first image). Once I got that off, the end with the cable in it is sort of glue welded and it was easy to pry off the cable end.

IMG 4560

There was a metal clip that looked like it was trying to cut the cable in half that I removed. You can see the indentation in the cable. I used a zip tie to replace it. When I wriggled those wires the LED’s would flash. I thought it might be the main board or something so I started to look inside:

IMG 4562

I thought Behringer was the only company that used glue to hold little pieces in place. Nope. The blue and yellow wires are from the POT. I checked as best as I could for a bad connection but couldn’t find one.

It was when I started to look closely at the pot, I found the Blue wire was a cold solder joint. I resoldered both connections anyway and now it works just fine.

I put it all back together, used the Handyman’s Secret Weapon to hold the cap on (duct tape).

Previously I said that using the buttons on the unit are pointless because you shake too much (or I do). The best way to do it is to set it up on it’s El Cheapo stand, prefocus it, then slide a printed circuit board underneath the lens and don’t touch the microscope at all. The Mac Quicktime application works better than the PhotoBooth one. In PhotoBooth images are flipped and reversed.

My advice if you get one of these, see if you can find one with a VERY sturdy stand. I’m going to make a stand for mine out of wood. That will hold it very steady. And really that’s about all you need. It actually works quite well and the LED’s brightness control is very handy.

24
Jan

PMPO – Peak Music Phantom Output

Having a signal generator on the test bench helps with trouble shooting some of the audio circuits I assemble from time to time, but it would be nice to have a signal tracer as well. As in audio signal tracer.

Initially I had the idea that I’d assemble a token amp around one of those low power TDA chip amps. However when I started to cost out the plan with a case, pots, parts and so on, I thought I’d better check out the “other” source.

Of course, what better source for mislabeled widgets than the eBay supported off shore market. I didn’t need anything with a whack of output power, actually didn’t even need stereo inputs.

I immediately found a plethora of these styles of “iPod” amps for the low cost of about two Starbucks lattes:

IMG 4499

This thing is a MA-170. Whatever that’s supposed to infer. Digital Cinema Sound or DCS (darn cheap sound). Looking at the photos of the rear I found it looked like most of those car stereo power amps:

IMG 4500

Both the back of the amp and the eBay listing claimed this was a 2 x 100 watt amp. Which, incidentally, you could run off a 12VDC 2A wall wart. There was no familiar and standard RMS rating, just this PMPO moniker.

PMPO stands for Peak Music Power Output. It’s supposed to be a measurement of the peak power you could get from the amp in ms (milliseconds). Which is a pretty useless figure because even the shortest musical note lasts longer than the allotted PMPO measurement time. So, write down any number you like. It doesn’t mean squat any way.

You can also lump PMPO in with PEP (peak envelope power), amp ratings in IEC (Behringer used to do this a lot). Folks, if it doesn’t say R.M.S., you have no idea what it is.

If you’ve ever done anything with car stereo power amps or probably any amp at all, you’d probably already know that a 12V 2A supply isn’t going to generate 200 watts of anything. Except maybe warmth when it goes up in smoke.

Of course I knew this going in, but hey, I wanted a budget amp, so that’s exactly what I expected. And got.

When the box finally showed up, it listed the actual specifications on the side of the box. It clearly said, “2 x 4 Watts RMS”. Obviously a slightly smaller, and more realistic number than the 2 x 100 claimed elsewhere.

I contacted the seller and suggested their listing facts were incorrect. No, I didn’t outright say they were lying, I was actually quite nice and gently suggested they update their listing with the accurate information. To my efforts I received a reply that the box was “just any old box” they used for shipping and had no bearing on the contents. Considering the artwork and specs printed on the box were an obvious match for the contents, ya, they were lying.

Therefore, as Dave Jones from the EEVBlog says, “don’t turn it on, take it apart.”. I did.

IMG 4501

Removing the front splined knobs was the first trick. I swear someone must have pounded them on with a sledgehammer. I have a special tool for removing knobs on guitars without leaving scratches and there was zero clearance under these knobs to even use it. I pried the crap out of them with a screw driver then took off the four front mounting screws.

IMG 4502

You can just see an LED to the left of the volume pot, it lights up the translucent ring to show power is on and maybe, smoke to follow…

On the extreme right edge you can see the TAD chip “clamped” to the wall of the case.

IMG 4503

Slotted holes to allow for some “wiggle” room of course. You have to unscrew those two screws, let the clamp plate fall inside the housing to get the thing apart. Because the TDA chip doesn’t fit tight against the casing of the box, they put an aluminum spacer in there. Something else to contend with when you reassemble it.

IMG 4504

Looking at the PCB, there are as many jumpers as there are components. The 4558D op amp for preamp/tone controls, and the TDA chip on the right edge. That stuff that looks like silicon grease on the TDA chip isn’t. It’s silicon. Off shore construction seems to have found more uses for hot melt glue and silicon than Red Green has for duct tape.

IMG 4505

If you had to scratch build this circuit, it would cost more than buying the whole thing as is. So in that respect it’s kind of nice.

However the fact remains that the TDA is a TDA7266sa chip. An obsolete chip and its data sheet says 2 x 7 watt. Even the data sheet doesn’t say 7 watts RMS, PEP or PMPO. Nope, just 2 x7 watts. So you roughly figure RMS is about .707 times the power, well, surprise. You get 4 watts.

When I pointed all these facts out to the eBay seller, well, apparently I am invisible. I am quite happy with the price I paid and the product I got. But trying to pass a scooter off as a Harley is never going to work for me.

16
Dec

Cryptolocker

Oddly enough, someone contacted me earlier this week about the Cryptolocker ransom ware that’s been making the rounds and wreaking havoc on computer uses. Since the target is PC users and there’s nothing here except Mac’s there’s not a lot to do.

None the less, when I checked my email this morning, what do I find:

MailScreenSnapz001

A quick hop over to the ADP web site (the legitimate one you can Google) and yep, spammers are busy yet once again:

ADP Alerts

I’d already read that the “document” comes disguised as a PDF, except there’s an “.exe” tacked on the end.

Let’s see, a PDF document that doesn’t actually end in PDF. Okay, that should send up huge red flares unless you’re having a really bad day. In which case, take the day off. It’s obvious you need the rest.

Undaunted, I saved the “invoice.zip” document onto the hard drive and I “unzipped it”. And this is what I found:

FinderScreenSnapz002

Notice the extension: pdf.exe. If you have your computer system set up to “hide” filetypes of known extensions, this might be a good time to rethink that choice. And change it. Then pay closer attention to those nefarious email attachments you get.

Since Cryptolocker encrypts your data, I’m of the mind that the rather large filename is the RSA number that you’ll end up submitting with your ransom ware to get your data back.

Looking at how the software works, it’s a pretty slickly written. It’s single downfall is that it relies on some unsuspecting over wrought minion to mindlessly execute it. Evidently these poor souls are plentiful so the criminals are making money. And sad to say, as long as there is money to be made, this isn’t going away any time soon.

Judging from the comments of the various virus companies, I’m not sure any of them can adequately detect Cryptolocker before it’s done the damage. So much like a home alarm that goes off to signify you’ve been burgled, virus software offers little to no protection either. So education for users can be seen as a good thing.

Hence the whole “let’s look and see” amused me for a few minutes. And then, well, Cryptolocker was banished to where it belongs. The Trash. And deleted.

10
Dec

Anniversary

Today marks our 44th anniversary. I have trouble remembering the day after yesterday and yet, we both remember that day from 44 years ago. When you’re married at 18 (Carol was 16), you have NO IDEA what life is about, nor what you’ll face over the years.

We’ve had ups, downs, circles and bliss. Still found time to have a family, and we get together with the “kids” quite often and enjoy those times immensely. Thus, long marriages can work but you both have to be willing to work on them.

Since we’re both retired, we’re sort of in that “nesting” phase where you make things around you as comfy as you can. Because in reality you’re at that time of life where you can enjoy it. You know, if it snows outside, who cares. You don’t have to go anywhere and drive in it. If you have a sleepless night, who cares, not like you have to be somewhere at 6am in the morning.

Our family room has been our media room for 20+ years in the house and we’ve gone through a couple of furniture changes to make it more comfy. Last go round we put in a rocker, two stylish leather chairs. Yeah. Not so bright. But it worked for a few years.

We went shopping for “what would work”. We started with those theatre seats. Ones with power reclines built in, massage rollers in the backs, and hidden storage compartments. I’ll say right now, those things are BIG, HEAVY and PUFFY. A few thousand bucks a seat and really, the majority not something you’d want to sit in for more than a couple of hours. We have 12 feet and I could fit “maybe” three of them (narrow ones) in. Doesn’t work if you have the family over…

Then it was off to look at sofas. Nope, sofas don’t work. Hey, lets check out sectionals!

Off to Norwalk, Urban Barn, etc. About seventeen different places. Norwalk had one that would basically fit wall to wall in the area we have:

Before Sectional

Norwalk had one of those more luxurious ones, at three times the cost of any one else (and it was on sale; $10K). Nice but not $10K nice.

Being the smart cookies we are, we came home with the measurements and laid out the size with painters tape on the floor. I figure we had about 16 square feet of floor that we’d have to vacuum. The remainder would be covered by sectional. Good thing the Norwalk one was too big…

Ah ha! There’s the key. Find something that looks good, feels comfy, and doesn’t dwarf the room with it’s size. And there’s the rub. These things are made by places that use the cookie cutter approach. As in they make 15 different styles all exactly. The. Same. Size.

We found ones with lousy construction (no hardwood just MDF or something), poor padding, seat cushion zippers you could see from the front of the sectional (hello Sears, who designed that blunder), cheap fabric, and on it goes.

Finally ending up at Urban Barn (thanks to our daughter for that suggestion!). We found one we really liked, and went back to see it a couple of times. It was a little hard on my back. But we found another one we’d overlooked prior. Perfect. Course you can’t buy it because it’s a custom built one. That’s right. A local furniture maker, Stylus in Vancouver, makes them for you. You pick the fabric, pieces, foam, and so on. They make it for you, deliver it, and set it up.

An excellent warranty, local company, local store. Really, doesn’t get any better than that for us.

We’d ordered at the “cut off” date to ensure we had it by Christmas, so when they delivered it today, it was a bonus for us!

So what did I get Carol for our anniversary? Chocolates, flowers, dinner out? Nah, got her a sectional so she can snuggle in the corner and play Airport City on her iPad in comfort!

After Sectional

9
Dec

Not the baker…

As I did last year, I’ve signed up for golf lessons through the fall and winter at the local academy (NorthView Golf & Country). Andrew & Rosie have as well.

And like last year, because the sessions are drop-ins on each Saturday, we all take turns making dinner. So Andrew, Rosie, me, Carol and new to our sessions one of my golfing buddies, Dan.

Of the “cooks”, Andrew and I are the least talented. Which, of course, can make for some interesting dinners. The undeniable talent in our “group” is Rosie and surprisingly, Dan (being a confirmed bachelor may have something to do with that).

Although I can make meals, what I do enjoy doing from time to time is baking. I remember growing up as a kid, it was the baking that always fascinated me. Probably because it always had something to do with sugar. Yum.

Regarding nutrition and baking, when I was kid, we had meals from the five basic food groups: boxed, canned, frozen, instant and take out. Baking wins with me.

Rosie makes some buns (we call them Rosie buns) that are to die for and so, well, I remember making some dinner rolls. Yeah, a long friggin’ time ago but since when would that deter me. I decided to try making some. I got out my recipe books, noticed that although the ingredients were basically the same, completely different ways of making the sweet dough. Doh! Of course, I took the easy one.

I didn’t add as much flour as suggested and even at that I think I might have added a little too much. It’s a texture thing. I don’t have the feel for it because I haven’t done enough of it. And kneading the dough was awkward until Carol showed me how because it was obvious I remembered eating better than I remembered making.

Waiting on the DOH! to rise took, well, a couple hours. Note to self, fast rising yeast next time. And then forming them into buns and waiting another hour for them to rise and finally, into the oven at 375 for 20 minutes.

Not The Baker

According to the recipe it was supposed to make 24 rolls. I got 17. Which is about what I expected. I remember when I was making cinnamon buns it was supposed to make a dozen, I got a nice big six. Yes, because my idea of size and the book is evidently quite different! They’re thinking something the size of a small tart, I’m thinking something the size of a softball. Different.

In my haste, providing you can actually make DOH! in haste, I neglected to put in the salt. Didn’t seem to make any difference one way or the other. So. Whatever.

The next thing I decided to do is make an old family tradition. We call it a “Trinkle” cake. Basically a white cake base with a brown sugar, butter, coconut icing you put under the broiler to render. The “trinkle” I came from the long grain coconut when I was a kid.

I made the cake and then made the icing and darned if the whole thing didn’t turn out very tasty!

Trinkle Cake

Lastly, about 25 years ago, when I was actively working for a living, “Capt’n Billy”, one of guys I was working with brought in a meatloaf to share with us. This may seem funny, but I was 35 at the time and I’d never tasted meatloaf in my life. My mom NEVER made it. So this was a new experience for me. I got his recipe and we’ve made it numerous times over the years. It’s a little different than most recipes I’ve seen in that it uses saltine crackers.

The other day at the grocery store we spotted some ground buffalo. Buffalo is one of those meats that I’d take any day of the week over beef. The trick with buffalo is that since it’s a very dense but low fat meat, a little goes a long way and you can overcook it because it doesn’t have a lot of fat. Doing a buffalo roast is very challenging to do if you’re feeling adventurous.

We bought a pound of buffalo and I made a small meatloaf with it. I did add some extra oil to the mix because the buffalo doesn’t have a lot of fat. Apparently the buffalo we bought was a couch potato because we actually got some fat off it. Not anywhere near what comes off beef, but more than I expected.

For the recipe I kind of followed my eyes and nose when I was adding stuff. Little of this, little of that. Dr. Fronkenstien sort of mixing. I’d made enough meat loafs I know what goes and what doesn’t.

And the whole thing shrunk down in the pan just as much as a beef one does. Which was quite surprising as well.

BUT it was fabulous tasting. Oh my goodness. Loved it. Something I will make again!

Now there are those who can find six jars of something in the cupboard and turn them into a gourmet meal. My hats off to those few. I don’t aspire to do that but just to get comfy working around in the kitchen. You know, without poisoning myself or setting off the smoke alarm.

29
Nov

Chair Legs

My daughter bought a couple of comfy living room chairs last year and at the time, there was a problem with one of them. One of the seat frames was warped about 1/2″ on the front corner and it caused the front leg to hover off the floor. But she didn’t want to return the defective one. Because. Why? Because. Now quit asking.

I suggested something like this as the simple solution:

IMG 4288

She evidently didn’t go for that “look” and asked me today to “fix” it and also test move a sofa. Yea, how many people you know want to “test move” a sofa. All we wanted to do with the sofa was see if we could manage to get it down stairs in her townhouse. We didn’t carry it all the way, but I think it will go. So, sofa, so good.

IMG 4276

The chair is made from something that closely resembles wood. At one time. Perhaps many glued and stapled pieces thereof. Perhaps a wood recovery project someplace. The legs are probably the strongest part of the chair since they are solid.

IMG 4277

There are threaded inserts in the legs for the bolts to cinch into. And for the most part, they seem sturdy enough.

I used my Festool table (it’s flat) and set 4 pop cans on it to act as “legs”. I wanted to see what the gap was in the left front corner. You can see I easily stuck a pencil in the gap and there was still room. Thus, almost 1/2″ as I originally measured.

IMG 4283

As I was pondering how to level the legs without sawing them and then refinishing them, the wife noticed that the legs had plastic buttons underneath. Probably to stop marring on the floor. Although I doubt that would work considering the quality of the buttons. But they were fairly thick.

Grabbing them with some slip joint pliers and giving a quick tug dropped three legs by almost 1/4″. I then inserted all the legs in the chair bottom, put some weight on the chair and used a small impact drill to set the bolts for the chairs lowest and most level position.

No, it’s not a perfect fix, but it sure beats cutting and sawing, staining and finishing. Besides the chair wasn’t all that expensive to start with. On the bench, the end fix is easily seen. The buttons removed on three legs, felt pads installed on ALL legs and it sits level. Least it will be less stress on the, dare I call it that, frame? What ever.

IMG 4284

But once on the floor, it’s not all that bad:

IMG 4285

Mission accomplished…although I still think the original fix I suggested is more “artistic”.

27
Nov

iBarometer

The single most addicting thing I have on my work bench is…wait for it…an Arduino.

MEGA, UNO, and MINIPro just unleash the TinkerToy complex in me. I feel like Simon Bar Sinister. That’ll give you something to mull over.

Since I’m an avid golfer, I’m also a sucker for weather stations. I have two AcuRite’s, and recently just bought a third, er I mean turd. Say what?

That’s right. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a turd. But it’s a trending turd I’m seeing so…The one I purchased is this one, ACU-RITE® 0135CCDI:

ACU RITE® 0135CCDI

Comes with AC adapter, screen is always on so you can see it (you can turn it off), according to the package it connects to your “pc” and you can read the data on your computer or your iPad, iPhone. Since the fine print required my glasses that I did not bring, I couldn’t read the print that said, “Windows”. Don’t you hate fine print.

Thus, I don’t have “Windows”. I have five Macs. At any rate, I’ll explain how the “magic” works, because I downloaded and read the manual before becoming throughly disgusted and returning it.

AcuLink System Requirements: PC with always-on Internet. Mobile device with app access (optional).

You need Windows, the main weather station connects to Windows via USB. Your computer must be POWERED ON 24/7 to read the data and then sent to a web site (maybe AcuRite’s web site, I didn’t bother looking) where you sign up for an account. When you want to read the data with your iPad or iPhone, you log onto the “web” page and read the data.

So apart from the fact you need a Windows computer, on 24/7, you don’t actually connect to your own LAN to read the data with a mobile device. You wander out on the world wide wait to do it.

Ask yourself WHY would they do this?

The answer I think is, cost. They can hire any number of minions (apologies to Gru) who can write Win code to parse the data or just send it to the remote server. There after the data is stored in some SQL database. When you connect to said web server, the host then serves your data.

Because first off, your bandwidth doesn’t cost them any money and second everyone knows leaving a computer on 24/7 is energy responsible.

I can think of any number of ways that this would have been better implemented, apparently AcuRite doesn’t have that forward vision. Not exactly a progressive bunch of thinkers there.

If at some point in the future AcuRite decides they can charge you to use “their” service, hey, you supported them by purchasing their product, so like any good politician they’ll assume they have the mandate to do whatever they want.

An energy conscious person might decide that leaving a PC on 24/7 is not the best use of energy nor is it free. AcuRite has the solution for this in their AcuLink Internet Bridge. Which they sell you for about the same price as the weather station. Yep, requires an always on internet, still sends it to their site. Big whoop.

The paranoid may like the idea of Acurite handling the data since they can send you “weather alerts”. Because you know that the AcuRite weather alerts are going to be more accurate than anything you hear on the local TV or radio stations. Big whoop x 2.

As I said, this is a trend I see in a number of new devices that I don’t like. No, not the fact you need Windows, the fact that you need an always on internet connection and someone else manages your data. Maybe their idea is to use your data to create the most accurate and awesome weather station the world has ever seen. That’d be the control fetish of the century.

There’s been a number of people who have successfully decoded the Manchester encoding from various weather stations and as far as I know AcuRite doesn’t publish their protocol. You know, because of that control fetish they have. I briefly considered going that route and getting a station that had been decoded. But where’s the fun in that.

So out came the Arduino MEGA2560, DS3231 RTC, a BMP085 barometer and a ColdTears 5″ TFT display with matching shield. This is NOT an economical project. Matter of fact I wouldn’t really advise anyone other than a dyed in the wool tinkerer with doing it.

Having said that, I did it any way because I have that many spare pieces in my parts bins. The DS3231 and BMP085 are standard I2C devices and I have them wired together and they play nice together.

I added one of my Bluetooth HC-05′s so I can connect to the station and do minor programming changes on it (like setting the clock/date or something), or get a CVS listing of the previous 24 hour pressure readings.

IMG 4262

The Coldtears 5″ display is 800 x 400, and the two reasons I use it is that first it’s BIG, second is that it has a font IC in flash ram on board with eight or so different fonts. So I don’t need any software fonts, I just use the built in ones.

So this is what the display looks like:

IMG 4259

I hard coded the lat and long for the sunrise, sunset calculation. I record inHG/mBars from 900 to 1100. If it goes above or below those, well, that should prove to be interesting. I save the full results from the past 24hrs, and every three hours I check for rising, falling or steady. The icon at the top right will change based on the rate of change in that three hour span.

The graphics are stored on a 1GB MicroSD card on the display.

I’m still trying to figure out weather “prediction”. Acurite seems to have some small degree of success with that in spite of the fact that it is nothing more than a best guess.

And while I’m taking AcuRite to the task, I have two identical AcuRite units outside here. One is in the front yard, one is in the back. They are 4 feet of elevation different. Neither one agrees with the other on barometric pressure. The one in the front reads 29.91, the one in the back reads 29.97, my BMP085 is reading 29.86.

I suspect it has something to do with the altitude correction. There is no way to set the altitude on these barometers so I think it takes a flaming guess at it and “adjusts” itself based on the temp or carrot production. Some where. Is it right? No idea.

What I found was you really want to see the trend and having a weather prediction would be nice but not critical. And to put a nail in that, according to my back yard barometer it’s going to rain, the front yard one says mix of sun and cloud. Gee, does that sound like the weather report you get on TV? I think they have 60 different words or phrases to describe rain.

Ultimately, if you really want to predict weather with any degree of success, it’s going to take a lot more than a backyard weather station. Like maybe a satellite photo or two. Or wait a few years until enough people use AcuRite stations so they can do an “Our Man Flint” weather control scheme.

26
Nov

Get the LED out

Sitting around today with a wicked sinus cold, the postie delivered some LED lights, GU10 and MR16′s that I’d ordered from FleaBay. I’d ordered some before but the market has changed slightly on these so it was time to try something new.

What’s new? It’s the word to describe that fluffy white stuff on the ground at Christmas when you have a head cold. Alright, that was Canuck humour. Sorry if you didn’t get it. Or not. Blame it on my sinus…

Scanning through the LED home lighting bulbs on eBay is like wiping your butt with a hoop. There’s simply no end to it. Every seller has a listing that claims they sell the best product. There’s more total Lumens in those listings than the sun emits in a decade or so.

In my opinion, almost every one of these sellers also has an over productive fantasy life. Roughly on par with the honesty you’d expect at a used car lot. Psst, hey sonny, have I got a deal for you…

If you’ve been following my past observations, er rants, you’ll know that I was trying to find an LED light that actually worked to replace those light emitting energy furnaces called Halogens.

Some of you correctly ascertained that I’m an idiot for doing so. And you’d be 100% correct. But since when did being stupid ever stop anyone from trying to reach a goal? Be a lot less YouTube video’s labeled “fail” if that were the case wouldn’t it? Where’s the fun in that?

So I’ll press on here for your enlightenment.

Last year I saw the emergence of 3 WATT CREE (okay, the sellers said they were CREE but you and I know better don’t we). Various sellers jumped on the LED bandwagon and suddenly we had 3, 6, 9, 12 watt “CREE” LED replacement bulbs to fit GU10, MR16 and E27.

The part they kind of glossed over was the fact that these LED’s were all using 3 WATT LED’s and multiple units to give the wattage. In front of the LED’s was a prefocused piece of plastic, to spread out the beam, which they don’t do very well (25 degrees maybe). They were claiming 600-800 lumens. Sure.

The second part they glossed over was that as the wattage of the LED’s went up, so did the length of the bulb. A lot.

A standard halogen is roughly 2″ x 2″. That’s round and length. The LED’s I got all all 2″ round but 5W LED’s are 2.5″ long. If you have a nice holder that has no wiggle room for the extra length (makes you ask yourself why it doesn’t because all the heat should go someplace; halogens are 300C on the bulb surface), these long LED’s are not really an option. What I found is that most ceiling pot lamps have ample room for putting in the 2.5″ LED 5 WATT bulbs. Not a chance with the 12W LED’s.

So what happens when you leave them in for a while? Well, since they do run hot and you might get less than stellar construction:

IMG 4255

What happened to this one? Well, I guess it liked the socket so much that it kind of fused itself in there and then when I tried to pull it out, the three plastic “rivets” simply broke off from being exposed to the heat over time (I’ve had them for almost a year).

So my first advice, apart from the fact this one of the 3 x 3W CREE jobs that runs HOT (54C), don’t EVER try to take one of these out when it’s powered on. That’s a big aluminum heat sink, conductive and you will do the AC short circuit dance if touches the hot terminal. Trust me, your life is worth more than a $9 LED bulb.

Runs hot you say? It’s LED it shouldn’t run hot…well, it does. I grabbed my IR probe and measured a bunch of different LED’s (the multi-CREE ones). 50C to 59C was the range. So yea, hot. No touchy.

The new generation of LED is the COB, or chip on board LED’s. Supposed to be brighter, better beam spread, and run cooler.

Being the LED daredevil that I am, I ordered from two unrelated eBay sellers (actually I have no clue if they’re related or not), first a 5W LED:

LED5W

And then a 12W uber bright LED:

LED12W

You’ll notice that the 12W version has a hole through the center. No, I don’t know why. Maybe that’s were the LED baker crawled out. Beam angle spread on these is supposed to be 100+ degrees. Closer to about 70 would be my measurement. Lumens on the 12W are supposed to be 700+. The 5W is 450 lumens. I’m going with the 5W seller because it’s closer based on my light meter and a pair of 50W halogens I replaced with them.

Now, about lumens, or the endless search of. If you have one of those “light meters” from FleaBay and it reads lux and FC, keep in mind that 320-500 LUX is about the same level as average office lighting. So lay your meter down where you want the light and measure it. Don’t stick it up next to the bulb and say, “Wow that’s super bright!”

The further the light has to travel, the more it spreads out and gets darker.

Notice that both bulbs have reflectors inside to spread the light. LED lighting is naturally very focused. Think of a flashlight. How much light actually reflects behind it? Now look at your typical tungsten bulb. The light comes from all over and it’s a source of heat. The light will reflect off the walls, ceiling, floor, grandpas bald head and so on.

Heat? Ah yea. Remember when those CFL environmentally unfriendly things were pimped like the neighbourhood kids ride? Sure you got “light”, and there’s some question about the amount of light, but what you lost was heat. On your typical tungsten bulb, 90% of the energy consumed is converted to heat. Ever stand under a halogen ceiling light? Toasty. And of course, nice in the winter, not so wanted in the summer. So it’s a good thing we don’t need lights as much in the summer. Isn’t it?

And lastly, lets go to “temperature”. Yes there is a lighting temperature. Cool white is 5500-6000K, warm white is 2700-3000K (note that both of these will vary so it’s just for a comparison here). There is a new light that’s about 4000K that they call “natural” light. 4800K is direct sunlight.

All of these LED bulbs tend to vary. The warm will look like a tungsten, the cool will look blueish to you.

I grabbed my IR meter and tested the 5W vs the 12W temps. 5W came in a 43C, the 12W came in at 54C. The 5W reflectors seem MUCH better built than the 12W versions. No, I didn’t rip one apart to verify that. But when I was changing lights I was muscling the 5W versions pretty good and they stood up. The 12W felt less “solid” to me.

We decided to replace the three halogens above the fireplace with three cool white LED’s. The halogens were connected to a Leviton Mural dimmer:

Mural Dimmer

With this dimmer you can set the amount of brightness that the lights will go up to when you switch them on and they will gently fade out when you turn them off. Which brings up some interesting things we found out today…

I’d replaced TWO of the three halogen bulbs with LED’s and then I disconnected the third halogen bulb the two LED’s started to flash about once a second. Looked like an Arduino “blink” sketch. if I reconnected the halogen, the LED’s stopped flashing. Tells me that the dimmer circuit needs to detect some feedback current to keep itself off, or it “fires”. The LED’s won’t do that. So even when the dimmer is “off” there’s some residual juice being used.

The LED’s I’d installed were NOT the ones than can be dimmed. So perhaps this would have made a difference.

At any rate the halogens were didn’t really do much for the painting on the wall, nor did they spread out far enough to even cover it. The cool white 5W LED’s were far better.

IMG 4253

Evidently the wife has always hated these “dimmer” switches we put in when we rebuilt the kitchen a few years back, so I replaced the other dimmer that ran the kitchen 5″ halogen pot lights. Whoa. First thing, with a standard ON/OFF switch the halogen are significantly brighter.

Which lead me to assume that regardless of the setting on the Leviton dimmers, there is no way to set them for maximum during a fade up. When I checked the Leviton manual, you have to double tap the top to get full brightness, or double tap the bottom to get a fast off. Sheesh.

None the less, no more tappy, and really some of the halogens you want full on any way. Not sure why we even put in dimmers.

I then took two LED’s and put them over the sink (wife said standing under the halogens was toasty on the noggin’). Here’s what they look like:

IMG 4258

The LED’s 5W again, disperse the light (warm white) and are not as focused as the halogens. She’s a happy camper now. Depending, I might change the 5W cool whites over the fireplace to warm white.

The work bench area has nine 12W LED lights now on a track light system, four are pointed down directly over the bench, the others spread around the room. So in the photo, that’s warm white on the right, cool white on the left.

IMG 4251

So what used to use 450 watts of power to light the room, now uses 108 watts. That’s a significant reduction in power. And heat.

Note that all of the photos were taken with no flash. Just the available light from the LED’s. When I checked the bench with my LUX meter, I read from 360 to 490 on the top of the bench. And it seems like ample light, for a change. With the halogens, I didn’t measure the light at the bench, but I can say that I NEVER needed any heat on in the room, even in the winter. With the LED’s I do. So maybe…hum, there’s a trade off.

So here’s my observation, for what it’s worth. If you plan on replacing halogens with LED’s, you need COB LED’s, minimum would be 5 WATT units and plan on installing 3 to 5 of them to give yourself the same working light. Keep in mind that there is a large difference in the comfort factor between cool and warm white. The cool white is more clinical.

I measured some of the other house lighting. A standard 4 foot, 2 tube florescent is 400 lux, three CFL’s are barely 200. All measured at bench height from the light source.

The one thing I haven’t mentioned is warranty. This is a $9 LED bulb from Asia via eBay. Really, you can’t use the word warranty and eBay in the same sentence. Lifespan of the bulb is reported to be 50,000 hours. Which you may treat the same as the report of pigs flying.

13
Oct

Zen & The Art of Golf

We’ll start our story slowly, so’s everyone can keep up…

First I’ll set the stage by rejecting negative thoughts to encourage the positive aspects to surface..

Awwwooohhhmmmm
Awwwooohhhmmmm…

There. Now that’s out of the way… First a slight preface. Although I played a handful of golf games in my late 20’s or early 30’s, mostly they were par 3 courses where the main goal was not to lose the ball. That’s right dear reader, it wasn’t about making a par, it was more about not losing the ball. After all, logic tells us we don’t really buy golf balls, we merely “rent” them for a brief period of time. I find it sufficient to say in that respect I did fail. Although sometimes, the fail was not only spectacular but wholesomely entertaining as well.

Thus at some point, I gave up the notion of ever having more than just a passing acquaintance with golf. I even believe at the time I thought playing golf was for the cranial challenged. Or damaged. I mean what other sport could you possibly take up that requires you, as a free choice, to deliberately and sometimes willfully lose parts of your equipment as you play the game. I know of none. But then I’m not really a sports jock either so perhaps there is one. I shall do my best to avoid it if there is.

As we fast forward to my 50th birthday, at which time my son announced that I shall take up golf and took me to a breath taking course to play for my birthday. It was a day bathed in infamy. After all, not every one who hasn’t swung a club in twenty years voluntarily elects to play Furry Creek. At least no one with a lick of sense. Which, fortunately, lets me off the hook.

I remember losing 14 balls in the first 11 holes. I remember seeing a lot of double digits on the scorecard, the amazed looks of the two “pros” we teamed up with (actually they thought they were pros, they were average hacks; high 90’s), and finally the ceremony of throwing away the scorecard on the 14th hole. I mean really. What was the point?

The simply amazing part was that after the score card was disposed of, I played quite well. Singles and doubles. Never lost another ball. Of course, I used the foot wedge to help a couple of times, picked the ball out of a divot once but for the most part, just plain old golf. Sprinkled with some fairy dust and a couple of miracle bounces. It was a turning point. Never had that much fun before. I was hooked. At 50. Go figure.

So then it was down the rocky road of actually buying golf clubs. Preferably ones that I could hit. And afford. While I had no trouble with the latter, finding clubs I had some control over eluded me. On purpose I suspect.

Reading every golf magazine I could I discovered that the same people who wrote computer magazines apparently had moved on to golf. Why? In the computer world, some articles are literally on going and will recycle every year, sometimes in the same monthly issue each year. Golf magazines do the same. Of course there are only so many topics that can be discussed about golf and in the broadest terms, but trust me. They repeat.

Something I read in one issue did catch my attention. It was stated that 90% of the golfers didn’t break 100. I’m not sure how they determined that statistic, perhaps with an Ouija Board, but the guys I played with almost always scored under 100. When I was starting I can only remember going over 100 once or twice. High 90’s was my domain. Mid-90′s if I played well.

Golf holidays were magical things. I travelled to Myrtle Beach and Palm Springs to play. Both places were fabulous. Caledonia at Myrtle was simply one of the most stunning courses I’d ever played. I still have visuals of those tree laden fairways in the morning mists. Grand Dunes and International World Tour were another of my two favourites. Grand Dunes had the largest greens I’d ever seen. The starter quipped, “If you say you hit every green in regulation, we’re just going to ask, how many putts?”. After I played the course I understood what he meant. One hundred foot putts were common.

Palm Springs, well, what can you say. La Quinta mountain got my vote. But I also played the PGA West, Norman and Stadium courses. Wow.

Of course, if you do something long enough, even if you practice the wrong things, you do get better. In spite of it all. I got better. I moved from low 90’s to high 80’s for good and bad games. A thought occurred that maybe, long shot though it might be, that I might have some natural ability. I don’t. Just didn’t know it at the time. So my son and I signed up for lessons.

Each week for a reasonable fee, the local “pro” would tell us what we were doing wrong, and show us how well he could strike the ball. Yes, you read that correctly. We watched and tried, in vain, to emulate someone who was a scratch golfer. I liken this to watching a pilot of a 747 fly and then taking the controls because, well, it’s so darn easy to do. Right. Not.

Thus for the next few years the goal was to find a golf instructor who actually had the ability to teach. Let me say now that it took six different locations and 8 different “instructors” and nine years to find one. And it’s been a hilarious ride along the way.

One of my first instructors asked me, “So, do you want to learn the proper golf swing or do you want me to just work with what you presently have?” I thought about it for a second and because I was new enough I said that I’d like to learn the proper way. The reply was, “You won’t live that long.” I believe they were serious. Still, not a big confidence builder. I didn’t sign up for any more lessons there.

My next instructor was one that I signed up with because my green side bunker play was so, ah, how to put this, oh, pathetic. Just give me a 12. That’ll be less than I’d accrue getting out of a green side bunker. At the end of six lessons, I think he was thinking out loud when he muttered, “My best advice for your bunker play is not to hit into one.” While I’d whole heartedly agree, again it’s not the big confidence booster you need. No more lessons there either.

Then there was the “I can adjust your clubs to fit your game” instructor. Who was a club fitter (and I use that term loosely) who masqueraded as an instructor. In what I’ve learned now, he was no more of an instructor than I am a 747 pilot. As noted previously, I’m not a pilot.

The clubs I had at the time were, oh, how you say, cheap. Oh, I know. Cheap junk. I think that he took one look at them and decided if he tried to adjust the lie, the club would simply break. I concur. Still, he had no issue in adjusting nothing and taking a princely sum for telling me that with my swing I could “Use any off the rack club.” Yep, just the kind of used car salesman you want to buy a “fitted” golf club from. Not.

I was pretty much convinced that at this point, learning golf was going to take, well, divine intervention. I swear most of the instructors I’d taken lessons from I’d met when I worked with the Shrine circus and PNE when I was a kid/teen. Sideshow barkers and con men. I knew the lot of them. They left a distinct sour taste in my mouth for golf “instructors”.

Hence, I kept practicing, probably the wrong things, I shot regularly in the mid-80’s to high 80′s. I was pretty consistent. Never had any intention of getting better, finding a good golf coach, or stop losing golf balls. Of those, I still lose golf balls so not everything has changed.

I wasn’t actually even looking for a golf teacher when I stumbled over the last one (and still present one). I got a “Groupon” for a golf lesson from my daughter. At that time the driver and I were in a love, hate, relationship. I loved to hit it, I hated the results. I looked like a farm field sprinkler loaded with golf balls. They went everywhere. I swear all by their own accord not with my helping them. Nope. Not my fault.

The upside of being terrible with a driver is you get hours of practice hitting out of every imaginable nightmare lie on the course. You know, those under the tree, in the tree, plugged so far into the side of the bunker it takes an excavator to find it, and resting on the lowest point of the steep slope dropping into the black abyss the course labels as a water hazard. So you get good at grinding. And not falling into the ponds.

The Groupon was for a single private lesson with a local golf pro, an LPGA veteran, Linda Jervis, at NorthView Golf & Country Club. Yep. A lady instructor. But at the same time, LPGA. Someone who KNOWS how to play golf. As in been there, done that. Yea, well, when you’re desperate like me, a hungry mouse will will tempt fate to get the cheese from the trap.

So pre-loaded with all my previous convictions of instructors I showed up for my driver “fix” lesson. It was the weirdest lesson I’d ever had. The instructor didn’t hit balls to show me what I had to do, she changed tactics and explanations if I didn’t “get” it, and wouldn’t let me “go” until she was damn sure I got what in blazes she was talking about.

My 45 minutes turned into 1:15. Even then I was trying to escape this teacher who seemed to actually have more of an interest in my game than I did.

I played a couple games armed with my new “swing”, I hit fairways more often than not and I tried to figure out what the heck had happened. One lesson does not a perfect swing make. I scored more or less the same, but the game played easier from the fairway. The driver, unfortunately, is only a portion of the full game. Much more work was needed.

At the same time, when you swing all wrong, you can hurt yourself. I was at the point that after a game, I ached. A lot. For a couple of days. Granted I’m a sprung chicken, not a spring chicken, but when your back “reminds” for more than a couple of days that you “might” be doing something wrong, it knows better than you do.

Granted, single lesson driver fixes are bandaids to the real issues but all the same. Wow. Huge difference. As an ex-guitar teacher myself, I thought…well, if this is what could be done in one lesson, and since my back and shoulders were killing me, let’s see what three lessons will do. That’s exactly what I did.

So I signed up and the instructor asked, “What’s the weak part of your game?” Right. There’s a loaded question. I’d need a LOT of paper to even start a list. Besides, no one ever asked me this before. Ever. So stated what I thought was the weak part, and got some of it right. But she seen other areas that lead to that weak area that looked totally unrelated to me, but…well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

If there’s a point to make here, almost anyone can “claim” to be a golf instructor. Here’s the secret though, look for PGA or LPGA title after their names. You may have to go through a few to find one you “connect” with but when you do and the light comes on, hang on, it’s a hell of a ride…

Golf is also one of those “performance” related sports where we tend to rate ourselves based on others capabilities or our misconception of our own.

Think of it like this, you get up to the “bad” hole on the course you “always” have trouble with because you rarely clear the water between you and the hole. You instantly remember the last time you played the hole. You pray the golf god was appeased with your last sacrifice.

You think to yourself, don’t hit it in the water (you repeat it like a mantra about 10 times)… And you play it with the same club you used last time with the water the only thing in your mind. Ah..yeah, where’s the ball probably going to end up? Yep, that place in your mind. See ya!

Or you decide that if you hit it harder (as in swing faster), you’ll easily clear the water.

If you’re a novice golfer you already know the outcome to this. When you decide to muscle through a shot, everything changes. Ever notice how those seemingly easy swing “layup” shots travel so darn far sometimes?

My experience is a cleanly struck ball will always go further than something I muscle into. Not to mention when I try to put extra “stuff” into the swing I usually hit the ground first then the ball, slice or pull and well, then I have to find the ball. Doing that over a large pond narrows my search to the liquid filled area. The outcome allows me to play from the drop area.

Personally, I try to always play the shot I know I can do, not the one I think I can do. If I’m setting up a “fail” shot on the course, there will be one of two thoughts in my mind. Either “I’m going for it”, or “Yea, I think I can do that”. In a handful of times I’ll get away with it. The majority dictates that I won’t.

Something else that myself and some of the others have proved to ourselves, is, if you get to a course that has a driving range, arrive early and hit 20 or 30 shots to loosen up a bit. Makes that first tee box shot a non-issue. I like courses that have a driving range. Ones with driving nets are, well, lame. Don’t like them one bit.

Our lie on the course will always set the scene. Unsuspecting us will set the drama. Our playing partners will act as a willing audience. Usually more than willing to watch the drama or comedy.

So there you are. Standing 118 yards in front of a green that’s protected by the largest bunker you’ve ever seen. The pin is tucked right behind the bunker and the green is a scant 9 yards deep at that point and runs hard left to right off the right edge. The pin looks about 3 yards off the right edge. There’s a nice bail out spot to the left, lots more green to work with, if you’re short there’s no bunker, if you’re long there’s no hazard. The 118 yards is right between clubs for you, your normal shot is not a sky ball that drops and checks up on the green, no, you almost always hit a low trajectory runner.

So as Dirty Harry said, “Do ya feel lucky punk? Well, do ya?”

Hardly a deterrent at all is it? So what’s the best thing to do? Easy. Hit the shot you know you can hit. Skip the miracle and Hail Mary shots.

Something my golf instructor did, that sort of struck me as odd at the time, was to measure my short irons. By measure I mean, take the P, W, and SW and then have me do a 1/3 swing, half swing, full swing. Do a minimum of 10 shots with each club. Write down the AVERAGE yardage each went, tape that to the shaft of the club. Then, the next time you’re on the course standing 78 yards from the middle of the green and you’re wondering what club to hit, read the shaft and find the club that is 1/2 or full swing to get you there. Works quite well. I used those a LOT when I was working on a short game and to this day, I still refer to them.

Speaking of yardages, something I’ve come to learn from my own game is that my depth perception is lousy. Fifty yards looks like fifty feet to me. My depth perception goes to crap when I get closer than 75 yards to a hole. I struggle with that big time. My saving grace is when the course marks the sprinkler heads and I’m standing beside one.

To help myself out, I bought a Callaway uPro GPS some time ago. I replaced a laser scope with the GPS. Why? Two reasons. First off, I don’t care what the distance to the pin is. I want the distance to the front, middle and back of the green. That tells me what I have to work with. Close in with me is all feel shots.

The flag on the pin indicates if it’s front, middle or back. So that’s four pieces of information as opposed to the distance to the pin from a scope. I can two putt almost any green 90% of the time. Courses that aren’t on my GPS I always have trouble with.

Being a senior, the other thing that’s not as good as it once was is my eyesight. I notice that on a gloomy overcast dull day, reading the breaks on a green is about two steps short of impossible. Even walking around the area doesn’t help, I just don’t see the breaks. It’s a vision issue that even glasses don’t help with. So I guess. Sometimes right, mostly not so close. Thus bright days are my best days.

I do ask the guys to help me out sometimes when I have no clue and like a great bunch, they always do. It helps a LOT and I appreciate it.

Another good habit that I’ve developed is when walking off the 18th, remembering what my best shot of the day was. My golf instructor was one that got me started doing that.

Remember, golf is performance orientated and for what ever reason we tend to dwell on the negative. Don’t. Run back over all the shots you had that round and pick the best one and relive it in your mind. You’ll walk off the course with a happy thought and how you played didn’t really matter. You hit the shot that will keep you coming back to play another day.

The same holds true when you’re playing. You hit a bad shot, okay. Get over it princess, as my wife would say.

Do you worry about things that happened last week, last month, last year? No, they are in the past. Just like that bad shot you just hit. As you start to walk to get your ball, count to 10. When you get to 10 that last shot should be completely out of your mind. It’s gone. Let it linger and guess what your next shot will shape up like.

No? There’s an old adage in golf that you hit bad shots in a series of three’s. If you hit four bad shots in a row, you’re actually working on the next series of three.

If you’re a golfer, you’ve seen this happen to others and yourself any number of times. Because we tend to favour that negative thinking. I mean we don’t watch news broadcasts because we love the happy upbeat news they foist on us. If we want positive thoughts, no one in their right mind would watch the news. Even a good upbeat story usually has a downturn ending.

Another scenario you might encounter. You’re a walk on and get paired with three others. You normally shoot in the mid-80’s but today you’re struggling to no end. Why? My bet is you’re trying to play their game, not yours.

Think about it. Maybe the others are hitting long and you’re over swinging and trying to keep up. Unconsciously you’re compensating and trying to play their game. Same as when you play with others that are less skilled than you. The normal comment is “We’ll drag you down to our level!” but in fact you’re just playing their game. Not yours. Thus, know what you can do and just do it.

So how would I know this? Easy. I was +15 handicap at the time and I got paired up with a +1. Just the two of us as walk ons. A great guy to have as a golf partner as it turns out. I’m playing off tees I don’t normally play off (back tees), I’m trying not to hinder the other persons game. I have to be honest here though. For the first 5 holes I did terrible. I was way out of my league. Had to put my shoes back on after every swing cause I was coming out of them.

At the 6th hole, it occurred to me that I don’t play like this other guy, so what the heck am I trying to do? So I started to play “my” game. What a difference. Even the guy remarked that I had managed to glue all the wheels back on the wagon and I played the last 12 holes like I always did.

It did feel sort of surreal though watching him boom out those 300+ yard drives and me barely making 210 and yet, by the time we hit the green I’m shooting for bogie/par and he’s shooting for birdie. And that’s where our games should be.

Like a challenge? Want to see how you hold up under pressure? Get out of your comfort zone.

If you normally play with the same players week in, week out, do yourself a BIG favour (although it might not seem like it at the time) and do a walk-on at a local course. You’ll get paired with other people you know nothing about and you’ll no doubt feel some pressure to perform.

Or if you still want to play with your pals, put a small side bet on the game, front nine and back nine. That’ll put some pressure you.

My advice, if you do either of these, play your game.

Beyond that if you walk on as a single, I think you might find what I have. On the whole, people are very nice on the course and in the 12 years I’ve played, I’ve only suffered morons a couple of times. The other 98% of the time, it’s been a wonderful experience. I look forward to it.

We all have a “helping” friend on the course. Or worse, we are the one. Yes, even I was guilty of it. I’m sure everyone knows the “helpful” one. They are the ones that say stuff like, “You lifted your head”, “You did a shoulder turn”, “You need to turn over your hands more” and “You didn’t follow through”.

While you may understand what they meant, as opposed to what they said, yes the two can be different, but you don’t have a clue how to fix it. So they keep harping at you and you just wish they’d shut up so you can play the game in your blue funk of misery.

What I found is that the amount of golf advice given by any player is proportional to their handicap. The scratch and +2 ones that I’ve played with NEVER give any advice even when I’ve asked them. The 18+ handicappers are the icons of golf tips.

Why is giving golf advice pointless? The reason is simple. No two of us have the same game mechanics. So what works for you, works for…you. Probably not for anyone else. Hence what works for them won’t generally work for you without some adjustment. The only time you “might” mention something is if you see one of your regular playing partners doing something obviously quite different from what they normally do. You might “ask” about it. Then leave it alone.

If you pay attention to instructors as they teach others, as in eavesdropping, you might notice that the poor ones use the cookie cutter approach. Hands, here, feet there, ball like this, left ear pointing at Jupiter, and now “swing”. When the student darn near falls on their butt, the stock retort is, “It might feel a little uncomfortable but you’ll get it with practice.”.

Where as the talented instructors move you towards your goal a little bit at a time and not always the same direction as other students. They might work on your address and will preface that with, “We don’t care about where the ball is going, we are working on your address.” Essentially they look at what you can and can’t do and then work with those mechanics to hone the best game for that they can.

There’s an old saw that says, “Those that can’t do, teach. Those that can’t teach, administrate.” Obviously teaching takes an above average degree of communication skills, but let’s level the playing field and say that as a student, you also need a certain level of “learning” skills. My experience in playing golf with an LPGA pro is that not only can she teach, she can “do”. A rare combination.

As a student, you get out of golf what you put into golf. Thus the first simple question is, what do you want? The second question is the stumbling block for most, what are you willing to do to achieve that?

In my reference to the “back tees”, there’s a lot of players who seem fixated on fact that they absolutely “must” play the back tees to fit their game.

Generally speaking these will be in the 6,400-6,600 yard tees. Note, these aren’t the “championship” tees. Those will shoot up to 7,000+ yards. Moving up a tee box for the 6,000 yard length is considered “taboo”. They consider it too easy.

Point in fact, any time I’ve watched this crowd play from either tee box, the difference is about 2 – 4 strokes, the majority of which seem to come from the par 3’s. Shorter par 3’s are easier. Thus instead of shooting 92, they shoot 89. Apparently 89 is too easy. I completely fail to see any logic in this but they seem to feel good about having a longer course to play and shooting a higher score.

Maybe, you know, they like visiting all of those little areas of the course during a game. I’m just hoping they don’t drive home like that…

As we get back to our game, if you don’t feel comfortable playing the same tees as the others, have the spine to say you’re playing the next tee box up. You’ll have a heck of a lot more fun when all the tee shots land in the same area.

The other area the +20’s seem to have an issue grasping is “elevation” changes on a course. They look at the yardage, 6,000 yards and state that’s the length they play for their game.

Uphill or downhill 10-30 yard changes are huge and will affect your game more than you realize. If you happen to live in a mountainous area, you already know this. Therefore there is no comparison between the flat as a pancake course and something on the side of a mountain. However, to date, I have been unable to educate the vertically challenged. So I pick my tee box and they can suffer theirs. At the end of the game, I always know who’s had more fun.

You might, at this point, be under the impression that I know a lot about golf. Not at all. There is not one time that I do not learn something each time I have a lesson, clinic or play a game. I figure that by the time I master the game, should that be possible in my lifetime, I’ll be too old to play.

I also know that playing golf and guitar don’t mix very well for me. Both seem tough on my hands and I’m not getting any younger. Breaks between playing either is a good thing. Winter is especially good for golf because I play less on the course and work more at the driving range. Yes, practice. It’s what makes us better. Providing one wants to get better.

Golf is exceedingly difficult to learn from watching it on TV or from osmosis.

For almost the last three years, I’ve taken clinics and lessons. While some of the clinics and the guest instructors aren’t always stellar (teaching skills I believe you either have, or you don’t) I’ve always managed to pick up things that I use.

The result is an 9.2 handicap, I’ve shot par once on a full sized golf course, I play more games in the 70’s than in the 80’s, the game plays easier and it’s way more fun.

Fun being the single reason I play. When it stops being fun, I quit. That simple.

So that was Zen, this is now.

1
Oct

The LED…is dead…

Quite some time ago, I removed all the halogen lighting (9 x MR-16 50W’s) from my work bench area and replaced them with “equivalent” LED (3 x 3W) bulbs. The main reason I did this was that the track lighting holders have a safety glass that was falling out, yes, not of just one but on all nine. No doubt the few years of heat started to affect the bulb holders.

That and the heat emanating from nine Halogen bulbs is rather volcanic to work under. I didn’t tan, I fried.

The bulbs I replaced the Halogens with were from eBay, touted as “just as bright as” and under $10 each. Of course I was only momentarily deluded into thinking the LED’s 9 watts would be as bright as a 50 watt Halogen. So if you’re reading this and thinking, yeah they’d be as bright, forget it. Not even in the same country, let alone the same ballpark.

I figure, oh maybe a 20-25 watt Halogen. Heavy on the maybe. I’ve seen 17 watt Par38′s that come “close” to a 80 watt Halogen, but the LED beams are too focused so light doesn’t spread much. LED’s need a good lens set up to get beyond the usual less than 20 degrees of spread. I have seen ones on eBay of late that advertise 120 degree spread. I figure the three LED’s in the bulb must be mounted so they point out sideways.

Any way, tonight one of the LED’s starts to “flicker”. Just like an old incandescent. Wow. And then all the magic leaked out of it. Just trying to get it out of the MR-16 socket destroyed it. Okay, I helped it a little…

In the photo you can see the 3 x 3w LED’s. And a LARGE plastic lens in front of them. And yes, they run dang hot too. Not as hot as Halogen but still hot enough to melt plastic.

IMG 4135

MR-16′s are 12VAC powered so I took the screws out of the socket to see if the power converter in the LED’s was shot. Here’s the two token shots of the power conversion stage:

IMG 4137

IMG 4138

With most of these LED’s the big electrolytic capacitor is the part that fries. Not in this case though. in this case, the heat and probably a bad connection got to the LED and it cooked itself.

IMG 4139

Not hard to see the discolouration on the PC board. I left on the two plastic “tear drop” lens and to the left you can see the LED just sort of melted it’s way right into the plastic. Nice.

After removing the rest of the pieces, here’s the raw board:

IMG 4140

You can see the plastic retainer melted and malformed, the burned area and be aware that these lights are not really all that great. In longevity or brightness. But you don’t get much off eBay for under $10 sometimes.

Safe to say that LED’s aren’t going to replace those heat generating Halogens any time soon.

Now there’s some new LED lighting called COB (chip on board) that offers lower thermal resistance, sports 120 degree spread and a 5 watt version, according to specs is 520 lumens. Which is pretty darn good. I see a 12 watt COB LED sports 700 lumens. Now that’s better but still a 50W MR-16 Halogen puts out 825 lumens initially, 900 at center beam.

Maybe someday they’ll get this worked out. Still, I’d take either one of these over a CFL bulb. Any day.

12
Aug

Reverend Club King 290 – Un-Bigsby

Usually in a blog about a guitar you get to read about a mod that someone does to a guitar to make it, look, sound, or play better. If you’re looking for “that” blog, I wasn’t even blogging when I initially did that mod to make my guitar “play” better. So for a brief moment, we’ll fire up the way-back machine to about 5 years ago.

I was in a local music store (Tom Lee) and at the time the manager who knows my playing style and sound that I was after, pointed me to a couple of Reverend guitars they had. He said, “Try it, I think you’ll like it.” At first glance the thing looked like a Gibson/Epiphone to me. But as I got closer I could see a lot of differences.

I’d never heard of Reverend Guitars, but as it turns out, they make some decent gear. No way I’d part with mine.

Reverend Club King 290

Standard 25.5″ scale, bolt on neck, 12″ radius, P-90 pups, and simple controls. There were two colours available. A black one, and one that looked like a orange traffic cone. I grabbed the orange one first and heard from the store front, “Try the other one.”. Being one to A/B things, I plugged in the orange one and I think a strung traffic cone would have sounded better. So I grabbed the black one next. Whoa. Day and friggin’ night. I even checked the headstock to make sure I had picked up the same guitar. Yep. A Reverend Club King 290.

The bass tone contour control was something I’d never experienced before. The guitar has a single volume and tone control, but the bass contour control goes from treble to heavy bass, smoothly. Apart from the ease of which the guitar played and sounded, the contour control sold me on it.

After the time I was of the mind that I really, really needed a whammy bar. At that time, the 290 had no such option. After emailing Reverend, they gave me the info I needed to find a mounting plate and Bigsby that would fit it. No extra drilling required. Nice. So that’s what I did.

You know how you start off with those great ideas? And they never actually work out? This was one of them. Sure a Bigsby whammy works, but it’s a far cry from a Fender Jazzmaster whammy. Thus I found myself simply not using it. Plus it made the guitar a little heavier. No, not as heavy as my Godin xtSA (roughly 3lbs lighter than my SUV), but heavier none the less.

So after four years of putting it off, today I decided was “the day”. I was going to put it back to “factory”. Now that’s an original concept for a guitarist… Here’s the token shot of the start:

IMG 4014

First, I took the strings off. I checked and I hadn’t actually changed those strings in three years. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. Must have sounded like crap. Actually no. Those are flat wounds, not round wounds. They don’t change much in sound, are easy on the fingers and last forever it seems like. I don’t play rounds except on my acoustic’s and my baritone.

By the way, if you’re doing any amount of string changing, get yourself one of those little battery powered string winders. Slick.

IMG 4015

After removing the strings, I took a shot of the Bigsby and the Vibra Mate it sits on:

IMG 4017

What’s a Vibra Mate? Essentially it’s a custom mounting plate made for a Bigsby so you don’t have to drill any special mounting holes in your guitar. Check them out:

Vibra Mate

You can see the four screws that hold the Bigsby to the Vibra Mate (and don’t go into your guitar underneath). Removing the Bigsby leaves the plate exposed:

IMG 4018

It’s a slick way of doing it as you can see and underneath the plate there are felt feet so the plate never contacts the body at all. I did order a roller bridge with the Bigsby but that was it.

Unlike my normal mode of operation, I’d saved all the parts when I installed the Bigsby so it was a simple matter of putting them back in.

IMG 4020

I also removed the roller bridge and put the stock bridge back on. So now I’m going to say something profound like the sound is completely different. Ah, nope. It doesn’t sound a bit different other than the fact it has new strings on it and feels slightly lighter. Within 24hrs it’ll sound pretty much the same as the last set of flats on it did.

It took longer to get the strings off and restring the guitar than it did to remove the whole Bigsby setup. I was toying with the idea of selling the Bigsby and plate, but you know what? Maybe someday in the distant future I’m going to wish I had a whammy bar on my Club King so I’m going to keep it.

For now, the guitar is hanging up back in the studio and it’s still one of my favourites.

IMG 4021

5
Aug

Arduino Programming

I tend to read the Arduino forum on a semi-regular basis. As such, I find that there’s a lot of interest in the Arduino from people who obviously don’t have the first clue about what it takes to write software, let alone wire up an Arduino. “Blink” is about their limit.

Interestingly enough, a lot of interest is from “school”. Someone has a class project and stumbles across an Arduino and jumps in. To the deep end. Without a life line. And they can’t swim.

Thus a common thread runs something like, “I wanna do this or that and I need help on how to do it”. Generally speaking the “this” or “that” is so vague anyone short of the Great Carnac can in no way answer the question. To most of their credit, the savvy of the Arduino forum do give it their best shot anyway sometimes, but also they don’t suffer fools all that well should it become obvious the person is way out of their depth.

As an Arduino newbie myself not all that long ago and in spite of the fact I’ve been writing software since 1978, I found the documentation for the Arduino typical of a lot of “open source” material. In my opinion, about two cuts above pathetic. Not to mention the scads of libraries and variations thereof that can drive you nuts and poorly or not documented as well.

I was looking through the forum messages and I spotted one about using a temp sensor to control one of those PWM (pulse width modulation) computer fans. Since I’d just finished building one for myself, I decided to read the topic.

And there, it all it’s glory was the best answer I’d ever seen. You might think it’s a little nasty, but really some people actually want you to do all the work for them rather than Google and educate themselves on how it could be done (there’s always examples for Arduino stuff).

So this had me laughing so hard I hurt…

Arduino Truth

19
Jul

Renovations – The Good, Bad and Ugly

Nothing says “renovation” like a house full of drywall dust, floors that look like Hannibals Elephants just marched through and that “lighter than air” feeling in your bank account…

We recently had a bit of a plumbing leak in the ensuite bathroom and decided that it was about time to give it a face lift. We’d had a few quotes and decided on a contractor to do the work. And as anyone who has ever hired a contractor, you know you’re at their mercy and you really hope they aren’t just a “general” contractor.

We started with a 23 year old bathroom:

IMG 1395

The view into the room:

IMG 1396

Which, about 8 minutes after a crew arrives sudden turns into this:

IMG 3686

Ever watch Mike Holmes on TV when he “makes it right”? That’s the guy you want. Although you probably don’t have his budget. In reality, you get what you pay for. It’s not Mike. Or even a remote descendent.

Any way, after two months, we ended up with a look like this (tiled shower, new fixtures, 12mm glass door):

IMG 3878

New tiles around the tub and fixtures:

IMG 3881

And then new tile floor, countertop and cabinetry:

IMG 3880

So the view each morning is this:

IMG 3882

Admittedly I did some of the work myself (and fixed some of the contractor oversights; and wish I’d caught more), I did the baseboard heater, mirror frame, the baseboards and countertop.

The single annoying thing is the floor tile is not flat. How you can lay floor tile and notice it’s not flat is beyond me. Take a straight edge, lay the tile, and it doesn’t have to be level, it has to be flat. A no brainer. Apparently the helper was a no-brainer.

So for all you homeowners that are wondering if you should hire a contractor, my advice is… only use their services for what they are good at. And trust me, it will NOT be everything. If there’s tile involved, ask the tile store to recommend someone. They’ll always have a good idea of who knows their stuff and who doesn’t.

If there’s plumbing involved, get a real licensed plumber to do the work.

For hardwood, be sure you use a guy who does nothing else but hardwood floors.

Drywall is probably within the capabilities of the contractor. Not sure I’d advise trusting them with more than that unless they have professional people they use. Contractors are always good at demolition.

So apart from the floor for our renovation, everything is acceptable. Notice I didn’t say stellar, or, outstanding. It’s no doubt better than an untrained homeowner could do, but it’s just as far from what a pro could do. Yes, the price will represent that.

As they say, the devil is in the details.

The odd part? The contractor seems to feel it’s a good job. We obviously use different measuring sticks.

5
Jul

SwingByte – bites the dust…

Late last year at one of my golf lessons my LPGA instructor showed me a new “gadget” called a Swingbyte. It attaches to the shaft of your club, you pair it up with an iPad (or iPhone) app and it gives you some numbers and records them as you swing (and hit a ball).

After using it for all of one minute we could both see that the way the device is attached to the club was a big fail. It would twist on almost every swing and you’d have to realign and sometimes calibrate it again. So while it worked it was somewhat of a deterrent to use.

If you’re of the mind that these swing “add-ons” are going to give you as much or as accurate information as a Trackman, give your head a shake. A big shake. That’s the same kind of thinking behind buying a driver that will correct all your swing faults. Having the best equipment money can buy is not going to help anyones swing faults. Especially for the long term.

As my instructor pointed out, these are good for one thing. Reference. For example, assume you normally have an open club face at impact. You can make a minor change, re-swing (or better yet swing 3 times), look at the number the Swingbyte gives you. Confirm you’re either going in the right direction or not. Work on it.

I use mine for swing alignment. I.e. reducing the out-in or the in-out path. Do I care if it says I swing 105mph or 85mph? Not in the least. Because in all honesty I have way of knowing if it’s accurate or not. What I could do, if I was working on swing speed is look at the numbers to see if I’m going up or down in speed.

This year SwingByte announced “VERSION 2″. An entire redesign of the shaft “zit”, well really, that’s what it looks like, a new clamping mechanism and an updated app. Plus they’d happily give you a discount if you ordered one sight unseen. That’s called “blind faith”. And at times, as was in this case, misplaced faith.

But hey, for the cost of a couple dozen of Pro-V1′s, I took a chance. In hindsight, even considering I’d eventually lose the Pro V1′s, they would have been a better investment.

So what’d you get for $100 plus shipping?

IMG 3728

It’s kind of a good thing it’s white cause if it was grey it’d look like a slug on the shaft of your club. Some complain that it gets in their line of sight and find it distracting. I didn’t get to use it that long but even so it didn’t bother me.

The new clamping setup, which is promoted to “never” come unclipped, seems like it should do the job.

IMG 3730

In my experience with it, all evidence to the contrary. I’m an 8 handicap, senior and I don’t have a sonic boom swing speed. I had less than 30 hits at the driving range before my Swingbyte broke:

IMG 3732

The clip part that is supposed to wrap around and lock the whole assembly in place is held in place by two aluminum “rivets”. Really. Nice soft malluable aluminum.

When I contacted Swingbyte and supplied them with a photo of the less than stellar parts, they admitted there was a problem with some of the assembly runs and the rivets were not “seated” correctly.

The second annoying part is that the USB cover on the end of the Swingbyte pops open on every hit. It needed to be made of rubber for a better friction fit not the El Cheapo plastic that, luckily, is tethered, but still pops off.

Last and a big fail is the LED lights in the SwingByte itself. There’s a pair of them in there that light up for power and a good connection. if you live in a climate that has any amount of sunlight forget trying to see them. At least without cupping your hand around them like you’re trying to light a butt in the wind. I figure during the testing phase of these, it was winter and dark. In which case they’d look fine.

Swingbyte was very helpful in correcting my unit. I was offered the option to send it back, if I paid for shipping (apparently you have to reward shoddy engineering) or a replacement clamp. I thought long and hard about it because I really could use a couple dozen Pro V1′s. In the end, I decided that I’d take the replacement clamp, if that didn’t plan out and I have no expectations about it doing so, I’d design my own with some of the HandyMan’s best friend. Yep. Duct tape…

On the down side, as quick as Swingbyte is to mail me the replacement part, I do believe they sent it by outrigger canoe. Five weeks to get a replacement part tells me they either don’t have any, they had so many failures they ran out of spare parts, or it really did come by barge or something.

So I’ve used it since I repaired it right? No. It’s full swing (no pun intended) golf season right now. I tend to practice in the off season and that’s when this gizmo will see the light of day again. And maybe by then I’ll have my own clamp setup made.

My advice to those thinking that a Swingbyte will cure all manner of ails, you have two choices.

Buy some more golf balls.

Or.

Sign up for some golf lessons where the instructor has PGA accredited credentials after their name. That right. If you’re going to invest in golf lessons, you want to use a PGA (or CPGA) professional. You don’t want a club fitter, or CGTF or USGTF. If you’re going to spend your money wisely, plan on spending some time looking for a PGA professional instructor who is more interested in your game than you are…

24
Apr

Cuisinart Popcorn Maker CPM-900C

Cuisinart has been making kitchen appliances for a long, long time. Founded in 1971, bankrupt in 1989, bought and currently run by Conair I believe.

Popcorn has been around a little longer. Since 3600 BCE or so. Prior to Cuisinart any way. We’ve been making this popcorn stuff a long time.

We used to have one of those “hot air” popcorn makers and it’s the only air one we’ve ever owned that worked perfectly, every time. No doubt a manufacturing fluke. When the “hot air” model finally melted itself into nothingness, we went through a LOT of other similar models to find one that worked. The sad fact is they were better at blowing popcorn across the kitchen and failing to pop than anything else.

We tried a home theatre model, one of those “kettle” corn types. It worked no better and was a brute to clean. It didn’t stay here either.

Hot oil poppers still looked like the best option in spite of the health warnings. We purchased several of those and finally ended up with a Cuisinart Model # CPM-900C. It worked perfectly. For almost one year. Then one clip that holds the heating plate onto the base broke. No big deal, I just held it and popped corn.

Last week, the second clip broke. Hummm…I see a pattern. A quick Google search for this popper with broken clips proved someone at the engineering department at Cuisinart deserves to be fried in hot oil.

None of the stores carry replacement parts, and I suspect a MAIN part like this would be more than the cost of the popper once you add in the shipping and handling charges. And really, you can’t use the popper unless you hold it down in place to ensure the heating portion makes good contact with the electrical connection.

Now, I’m not an engineer, but I figure my makeshift work around is about on par with the original designers capability. So there’d be two of us that aren’t engineers.

IMG 3614

That’s the MacGyver in me. Two mini-clamps, a pyrex cake dish (allows the clamps to clip under the unit and gives air circulation), and presto. Opps, can’t say Presto, that’s another load of hot air…

Actually the design looks a little space agey, the clamp colours even match… wouldn’t be a bit surprised if Cuisinart didn’t copy it.

In the meantime, I only have one word for Cuisinart: FAIL.

27
Feb

Samsung…out of tune..

There’s a large body of electronics providers in the world, but for some reason, I’ve never owned a Samsung product. I haven’t avoided them or anything like that, it’s just that they’ve never made anything that impressed me enough to buy it.

When our aging HP monochrome laser printer sputtered out it’s last page, it was time to start looking for a replacement. While HP used to be the company whose name was synonymous with “laser”, that, unfortunately, was a long time ago. The last few years to stay in business they’ve been churning out economical junk to stay alive in the market. So HP was out of the question (I seriously think they have a problem on their jet direct ethernet cards because those have failed more often than anything else).

As I ran through the usual quagmire of companies, Ricoh, Xerox, Lexmark, Brother I stopped looking at price and started to look at “pages per month” and “toner cart” capacity. Consumables are every bit as important as the printer. For example, if you take a 3,000 page toner cart, work in a fuser, then add in a drum, all at “X” number of copies, what used to be a reasonable cost suddenly doesn’t look so good any more.

Specifications are also “tricky” to read. For example, take the boast of many companies like “20,000 pages per month“. Sounds great. Until you read through the documents for the printer and then, it’s more like 1,000 “typical” usage. The “MAX” is 20,000.

Of course this changed when I watched a YouTube review that Samsung put out where they pitted their printer against, as it turned out, to some the exact same other printers on my short list. The printer was a SamSung SCX5639FR:

SCX 5639FR 01 4

The printer is rated to 80,000 pages per month (actual is 1,000 to 1,500 so where the 80K comes from I have no idea). Either way it’s still overkill for anything I’d ever need but the toner cart is rated for 10,000 pages for the high yield 5,000 for the normal cart. For cost, either of these cartridges is very close to the rest of the market.

Since this is an AIO (All in One) you get scanner, copier, printer, AND fax (does anyone still use fax?). On top of that this printer does accounting so you can have authorized users for this printer and you can track their printer usage. Again, not needed for what I wanted it for, but some might need this in a small office.

More features are scan to email, SMB, FTP, and flash thumb drive. Double sided ADF document scanner, 50 pages capacity. Relatively easy to set up on the network, 250 sheet tray, FAST (37ppm; first page up in 10 seconds), QUIET, 600 watts power consumption but goes back to low power state within 15 seconds.

Any problems with the printer and you can have it email you a report. For any or all of the problems it might encounter.

I picked up the printer from a local supplier for less than half of what it retails for. So another bonus.

And that, my readers is the end of the good news for the printer. While the printer is more than capable, the Samsung software is abysmal. A cesspool of settings you have access to, yet the manual is less than minimum (HTML that requires Explorer 6.1.1 for some insane reason; or PDF that’s worse) and a software install that’s probably one of worst install experiences I’ve ever waded through.

I installed the Mac software first. Five pieces of software get installed. No clue what any of them actually did, nor where they were put. I added an IP printer in the System Preferences and away I went. Printing but no clue how to scan anything. I didn’t install the Fax software. That went out with the last ice age. You need to run Apples “Capture” program to scan from the printer and the scan is a kludge at best. It does work, but it’s not intuitive at all.

Next up I tried installing the software on WinXP. No soap. The software flatly refused to acknowledge the printer at the network address I provided. The only way I could get anything to work was to install the software as if the printer was connected (which it was) and then add a printer and use the “have disk” option.

So like anyone who wanted to use ALL of the functions of the printer, I wanted more in-depth info on all of the SMB, FTP, EMAIL, Flash DRIVE for scanning. I then emailed Samsung and remarked that the “6.1.1 Explorer” to read the “manual” was ah…dumb.

Plus if you wanted to scan to email, you used the keypad like a cellphone when you’re texting to enter in the subject, and email address. Say, didn’t texting with 10 digits go out like the last decade. Nope, that’s Samsung innovation.

I hit the Samsung web site (.com not .ca; my bad apparently), use the CHAT option, got an agent immediately, asked my question, got told that because I wasn’t in the USA I needed to talk to someone from Canada. Polite buzz off.

Except the Canadian “chat” line was about as lively as RIM’s last stock option. Dead. Sorry, no chat today. Special. eMail or call us. I choose email.

After a few days, for support I got this back:

“We are sorry; we do not have complete information regarding SMB and FTP setups and also regarding the software key for the host name. We request you contact our phone support number at 1-800-SAMSUNG (1-800-726-7864) in this regards. They will be available from 8:30am – 12:00am midnight (EST). Customer support is available 7 days a week, 365 days of the year.

The Printer supports a USB Flash Drive on the USB port. However, the hard disk drive is not supported by the USB port on the printer. “

O.K.A.Y. If YOU don’t have the complete information for SMB and FTP setups and what’s required, it begs the question, “who does?”. LG? Ricoh? Brother? Xerox?

I happened across some RICOH documentation and it actually helped with setting up the Samsung. Apparently these guys who make these all in ones tend to clone everything from each other. Except Ricoh writes better documentation.

Thus I figured out, scanning to SMB, emailing a PDF scan (set up an address account in the printer it makes it way easier; you can have up to 50), and FTP. All on the Mac by the way.

Maybe Samsung doesn’t think anyone can read, or that their manuals are not worth writing, or worse; that their products are so easy to use you don’t need a manual.

The printer, I rate a solid 9 out of 10.

Samsung technical support and software, I’d rate a solid 2 out of 10. And only two because one, they responded, and two they did provide the answer to one question.

I also tried to update the printer firmware but the software still can’t identify the printer at the IP address I provided. Big surprise.

I’m convinced that Samsung is just plain stupid and doesn’t care a fig about their customers. I have their half baked attempt at an operating manual and a really lame tech support email to prove it. The next time I buy anything Samsung will be…ah… yep that’s right. Never. You shouldn’t reward stupid.

12
Jan

Lights! Camera! Shadow!

I received a nice shiny new Canon A4000IS to replace my aging point and shoot Canon. While my old Canon only sported a 4X optical zoom, 10 megapixels and fairly good macro for closeups, the new A4000 bet it hands down in both areas. Sort of.

Before I start in on that, if you happen to own one of these cameras and you do any indoor shooting at all, you might find your pictures, for some unexplained reason, develop a distinct yellow cast to them. From what I’ve read, this is common for a lot of point and shoot cameras. It comes from the fact that the “AWB” (auto white balance) doesn’t always detect what type of light through yonder room shines.

Outside in daylight, no problem. But inside with CFL’s, LED’s and halogen, I got heaps of yellow. Even using the auto correction in iPhoto made it worse. Here’s an example of “auto” mode.

IMG 0007

Put the camera into PROGRAM mode and select the tungsten light:

IMG 0017

Substantial difference. While you’re in “program mode” if you’re shooting indoors, change the ASA to 200. My experience is that if you leave the ASA in “auto” mode (this thing has more auto modes than a car dealer) Canon loves to ramp up the ASA to…anything between 100 and 800. Quality starts to drop off pretty badly at anything over 400 in my opinion. So I have program mode set to ASA 200.

Also in program mode, you’ll find that the shots at the settings I suggested will always produce a shutter speed of 1/60. Whereas in anything else, it’s all over the place. Judging from the quality of the enlargement, that’s not always a good place either.

I should also mention that I read a LOT of review sites that show the indoor pictures that look “loverly”. They give you the speed, ASA and focal length they used to obtain the image. After spending a whole evening trying to duplicate their settings with my own setup, I came to the probably not so brilliant conclusion that they aren’t using the point and shoot in point and shoot mode at all. They are getting as close to manual as they can and hitting it with studio lights. As if we point and shoot buyers will have that in our camera bag. I now have a healthy disrespect for those so called “reviews”. Fluff. Just fluff.

Any way, I’m less than impressed with Canon’s processor, the Digidiot 4 or 5 or whatever number is supposed to be state the art. More like state of the “ark”. Sigh…

So, back to the topic of macro. The A4000 has what I’d class as a superb macro and it was designed by engineers who should be taken out back and flogged with the camera. When you get into “really” close proximity to your subject (Canon designers take note: this is what MACRO is FOR), there’s a problem. Not outdoors, but in low light.

Take a look at the typical lens position in macro:

Canon A4000

Now imagine something small right in front of the lens:

IMG 0240

HEY! What’s that shadow? It’s the extended lens. I was about 1/2″ from the circuit board. Can you say, DUMB. Sure you can. I did. Did no one notice this during testing? Really? Guess you’re supposed to limit yourself to taking macro images of flowers in direct sunlight. Swell.

Thus, the question became how to light the subject for macro shots. I had an epiphany and thought I’d give some white strip LED’s I have a try. Temp of them is same as daylight (supposedly) but I left it with a tungsten setting any way.

IMG 0246

You can see the depth of field was about “nil” for how close I was. The LED’s have a distinct blue cast to them but since I turned the flash off, that was the end of the main problem.

I am using “Program” mode and I selected the custom “white balance” and let the camera figure out what it was “supposed” to be doing. Surprisingly enough, it did it correctly. Probably a different engineer worked on that part. Like one who knew what he was doing. He probably got a job with Apple now.

IMG 0273

That fixed the LED’s bluish tint in a heartbeat. The lens was about 3/8″ from the circuit board when I took the photo. Again you can see the depth of field and you notice some lens barrel depth of field at that distance. Not a deal breaker to me though.

Unlike the “professional reviews”, I’m going to show you my setup to get that shot. I promise anyone with the same settings (Program/ASA200/Custom White Balance/1M 5000K LED strip) can reproduce this exactly.

IMG 0277

The “professional” set up is on an 8 1/2″ x 11″ piece of paper. I run the 12V LED’s off my bench supply at 12.2Vdc.

The A4000 is now discontinued and replaced with a “touch screen” version. The ELPH 320 HS. The HS doesn’t stand for “holy smoke or hot stuff” either. When I tried the 320HS camera out before I got the A4000, I found I was tapping, dragging, etc about 85% of the time and using the camera 15% of the time. Getting to any settings in the camera is painful too many times. So for Canon and their idea of a “touch screen” interface, I heartedly give them a complete FAIL.

Ultimately, I’m guessing they moved the lens/flash guy out of that area when they realized he was “challenged”. And they moved him to “interface design” to revitalize him. I got news for Canon if they haven’t clued in yet. He’s still challenged.

How long has Canon been in the camera business? With all the advances in electronics and other technology the best Canon can manage is adding WiFi and sporting an interface that mirrors MSDOS 2.0. I’m really going to go out on a limb and hope the guy who failed with the lens/flash/interface doesn’t decide we need the “ANY” key.

You know, “Press ANY key to continue”…

9
Nov

Mini-Mel

The kids never cease to amaze me by coming with some of the oddest but coolest gifts for me. They constantly amaze me with the innovation they have in gift selection…

However, I wasn’t prepared for this one…nor could I have been… I’m an avid golfer and try to get out to play, weather permitting, at least a couple of times a week. I also have practice classes at Northview Golf & Country Club Golf Course (about 2 minutes from the house here).

I tend to wear a variety of clothes, but typically khaki pants and a bright orange polo shirt. So when I got home Andrew & Rosie were waiting and I got a belated birthday present.

IMG 3274

Not only does mini-me look like me, and there’s a reason why that is, but it’s the same pants, shirt and yep…same colour golf bag. So why does it look like me? Because the bobble head is actually a 3D sculpture that was done from a photo of me. Then hand painted to match. The web site they ordered it from:

3D Clones

Not cheap by any stretch but cool? Oh yea…dam skippy it is…

IMG 3277

1
Nov

Guitars – mail order brides..

When you want to buy a new guitar, the majority of us might do a little research to see if said model of guitar would be to our liking. We might catch a few sound clips from the manufacturers web site, scan YouTube for some clips and maybe at some point even read a few forums for a “review”.

Thusly armed with questionable information, we head off to the local store and proceed to pick nearly every guitar off the wall that fits our ideal and play it. Which is usually the point were reality and disillusionment come to the party. I’m sitting with some fabulous looking guitar that was, unfortunately, built on a Minion Monday. The thing is a mess of issues from unlevelled frets, misadjusted truss rod, poor string height and on goes the list. In its present state the kindest thing that you could do is buy it, bring it home, hang it over the mantle and affix it to the wall with a 10″ spike.

I realize that it takes time and a modicum of know how to setup a guitar. I also know that companies want to sell a guitar. So here’s a little secret for them..”you’d sell more if people could actually play them right out of the box”. There are store staff that, thankfully, catch most of them and set them up in advance. To those unrecognized store hero’s, you have my sincere THANKS!

Other stores will ignore the obvious, let the guitar sell itself or discount it so someone will feel sorry for it and buy it to fix themselves. When you buy it they “send it out” (maybe) and you’ll get it back in a few days hopefully properly adjusted. To those stores..”RAAZZZZberries”…

But…what about ALL those guitars from companies that the local stores DON’T carry? Hallmark, Eastwood, Aria, and on the list goes. You can’t go anywhere and try one unless you know someone who owns one. Even in that event, would the guitar you get be as good/bad as that?

Welcome to the guitar world of mail order brides.

I promised myself a long time ago that if I couldn’t play a guitar I’d never plunk down the money and buy one. Which sounds pretty sensible. Except I got tired looking at the Fenders and Les Pauls from the locals and wanted someone else’s take on it. So I’ve strayed from the rule three times and ordered mail order direct. The models I went after clearly resembled the Mosrite series. Which if you take a second and look at the body shape you’ll see it’s little more than a Strat body flipped upside down. Clever.

So my Mosrite wannabe’s are from different companies. They vary in price from $600 to $1000. They are as different in sound, playability, construction, as day is different from night. AND…NONE of them have been perfect. By that I mean there are issues with each one.

Guitar A – has a high E string but for whatever reason it’s the deadest sounding string I ever heard. More like a jazz string it’s so mellow. Whereas the G string (on the guitar not the girl) jumps right out of the speaker at you. I spent a LOT of time trying to coax better sound out of it and I finally ended up with Lollar pickups and I think that’s about the best it’s every going to be. Obviously the tone wood is a midrange one…

Guitar B – what a mess. Poor rout on the body for the pick guard, so bad in fact they drilled multiple holes just trying to fit the thing. Jammed the pick guard into the pickups so they were unadjustable. Two of the strings fretted out which indicated the frets needed levelling. The nut was cut too low on one string. Well, you get the idea. A mess. But sounded GOOD. Luckily I had a store order it direct for me so they sent it out and had the nut and neck fixed. I did the rest myself… The guitar is a fabulous little player now, but it took a lot of work to get it there.

Guitar C – again, fabulous sound. Easy to play. The hopped up minion that mounted the tremolo setup should be shot:

IMG 3396

That whammy post should NOT be touching that string. When you use the whammy you feel it grinding on the string. I checked the alignment of the tremolo plate, it’s out. Almost 1/8″ skew. Fortunately it doesn’t seem to affect the sound. So you know what? I am simply not going to use the whammy bar on it. I love the way it sounds and I don’t want that to change…

So a good question would be, what do you do when you get one of these? If you want to keep it, you fix it. If you can’t afford to fix it, you sell it. Hoping the next guy doesn’t notice.

What no WARRANTY? Fortunately most do. Some will even go so far as to allow you to return it. You pay the shipping and you won’t get their rates. Most of them will try to work with you, to a point. After that “point” they don’t want to see or hear from you again. Course if you get rich and famous I’d wager they’d fall all over themselves to be your friend. Surprise huh.

So there’s the rub. If you’re confident you can fix all the little issues that almost all of them come with, you can find some real treasures. But if you’re not that kind of person, stick to playing what’s hanging on the wall of the local store. And reminding yourself about all the headaches you just avoided…:-)

29
Oct

Music Stores and NGD

Music stores – those “strange” places…

To start off, Laura and I attended a Taylor acoustic guitar road show tonight at Tom Lee Music. I’ve been to Roland, GODIN, Martin, and a number of other shows all at Tom Lee.

Which brings up an interesting thought. Almost all of the shows I have seen have been at Tom Lee. Recording, studio gear, guitars, and so on. All education at Tom Lee.

On the flip side of the coin is Long & McQuade. Last I heard from them was that Zakk Wylde would be doing a fan signing session. Hopefully signing stuff “other” than the fan, although there’s always some blonde that walks up and …

Without fail, almost any event of interest to me that happens at L&M is in Toronto. Or even Winterpeg. I’ve seen scant little in BC at L&M worth attending.

Therein lies the difference in the two stores. To me it feels like TL is the working mans music store and L&M is “where the elite like to meet”, trade winks and back pats. At TL they help you try guitars that you might like to buy, whereas at L&M the salesmen want to practice their riffs for you or bestow some glint of secret knowledge on you. Oh big whoop. Then again, I’m not working 9-5 in a music store and doing gigs three nights a week so maybe playing riffs and being all-knowing will make a difference.

What makes the difference is the sales people. Obviously. Both TL and L&M have some really great sales people, but L&M holds the record for the attitude princesses. Fortunately they’re mostly at the downtown store.

Then, you get the “little guys” stores. The boutique shops if you want to call them that. And in a few rare cases where the owners have paid their dues in the industry and are a welcome breath of fresh air. Like SurfSide Music in White Rock. You walk through the door and it’s like a home cooked meal. And oddly enough the store tends to resemble the kitchen after the meal…if you ever go there, you’ll know what I mean.

NGD – New Guitar Day

Ever since I played a Dan Electro Baritone last year that Duane Eddy tone has been rolling around in my mellon. I considered buying the Dan Electro but the thing feels like it was made out of someones 50′s Formica table and it’s got a shape only Picasso could love.

Enter the Eastwood Sidejack Baritone DLX:

Eastwood sidejack baritone guitar blue dlx 01

This is Eastwoods second version of it I believe. The older one had the bridge pickup half ways between the bridge and end of the fret board. This one provides a more balanced sound.

I already own an Eastwood Sidejack DLX and all I can say is that after sending it out to have the neck redone, and spending way too much time on it myself, I finally ended up with a pretty sweet playing and sounding guitar. Thus it was your typical off shore made nightmare when I first got it. Contrary to what they state in any ad copy. But I fixed it.

Last year I tried to order an Eastwood Baritone but no stock. For whatever reason (ran out of Basswood trees?). This year in September they finally got stock back in, the DLX (the DLX has the whammy bar) and the pickups were where I wanted them. So I ordered it direct from MyRareGuitars. It’s not really a “rare” guitar other than it’s a Mosrite knock off with a Dan Electro sound. But…it was ON SALE…so I ordered it and a case.

IMG 3368

It came with a nice little check list that marked off all the things that had been certified by the “factory trained minion”. Initially I was impressed and hoped that it wasn’t the same minion that checked my previous Eastwood. As luck would have it, I got 95% lucky. Output, switch, volume, tone, pickups, truss rod, string height, bridge, tremolo, intonation, and finish were checked off as being perfect.

This of course completely baffled me since the strings were 1/64″ off the fret board. So EVERY string buzzed like a wasp nest from the 3rd fret and higher. Just for a laugh I checked the intonation and wow. It was right on the money. Now how they set up everything to be buzz city and then intonated it was amazing. Maybe it was Minion Monday or something.

I checked the relief in the neck with my fret rule, checked for a warped neck and I was elated when the only issue I found was that the string height was out a country (probably Asian country) block. Raised it, redid the intonation. Done. Took me half an hour to get it right.

IMG 3374

Spaghetti westerns, Duane Eddy, all those dreamy low tones. This thing does them all with ease. And it’s a hoot to play.

Tuning? That’s another matter. It’s tuned a fifth lower so B-B. When the bassist and I got together for a jam, we were both transposing on the fly and having bouts of the giggles doing it. He can read my chords to follow but I’m now in a different key. What looked like my E chord is actually now a B. Scads of fun.

I found when I’m playing it, I’m not used to the extra distance I have to travel to get to up the neck. It’s a 28″ scale and I’m about 2″ short in a lot of reaches…so I need to pay attention. On the other hand, I found it WAY easier on the hands and fingers to play than my other guitars.

My main gripe with the guitar is with the whammy bar. It sticks out 4″ off the body like the spoke on broken bike wheel. The arm itself is not threaded so it’s just a press fit. That won’t stay where you want it and I want it to stay in a position so I can grab it, use it, shove it back. As it is, the whammy bar usually falls on the floor at some point so it’s pretty useless.

So I’d give it an 8 out of 10. That’s probably saying a lot for an Eastwood but honestly I wouldn’t have too much trouble recommending this baritone to anyone else…

26
Oct

Computer Media Speakers…sorta

I needed a couple of speakers for a project I am working on and I happened to be going through the office storage and bingo. I found an old multimedia sound system. At least I seem to recall that’s what it advertised itself as when I bought it a long time ago.. Labtec LS2424.

I proceeded to cannibalize the small 2″ speakers that I really wanted. Somehow I was always under the impression that Behringer was the KING of the hot melt glue users. I now stand corrected. Labtech heaps gobs of the stuff in there and unlike Behringer, whose glue is yellowish and brittle hot melt, LabTec’s stuff is white and pliable like rigid silicon. Sticks like “you know what” to a diaper…

The little speakers work fine for what I want. But that left the subwoofer. I know there’s a sub-amp inside to make the “woof” and I got a Pignose with external speaker jack. Taking the amp out and using it as an external cab (mini sized!) might be a good thing to do. Or not.

I seem to recall this thing as stating it had a 5″ or 6″ subwoofer, 30 or 40 watts (probably PEP not RMS)…and so on. And truthfully it served it purpose well for many years. I just ended up building my own replacement so this one had ended up in storage.

I call this the “before Mel” shot:

IMG 3378

 

To get the front off, the metal grille part is actually glued onto the plastic ring around the woofer. With something akin to rubber cement that does NOT want to release easily. Oh and that thing I thought was the woofer, yeah, think again…

IMG 3380

Now if you’re a “stereo” kind of person you take ONE look at that speaker and you know it doesn’t look right. Where is the cone? Where is the voice coil? That’s right. It’s a PASSIVE speaker. It takes ANOTHER speaker to move it. Tapping it with my finger told me it was a passive radiator for sure. Tuned to a port of some frequency.. I removed the screws holding it on and no way it would let go. Why? Because not only did they screw the thing into the case, they rubber cemented it in place as well.

The rubber cement only served to slow me down of course, I was not to be deterred.. For my efforts a POP and off it came, intact since I thought I might want to salvage it.

IMG 3381

Oh. My. Goodness. That’s a piece of cardboard glued on the back of the passive speaker and inside you can see the WHOPPING 3.5″ speaker that is doing the work and a transformer to power the amp. It might be 4″ since I only measured the hole for it on the other side.

IMG 3382

Okay the PigNose has a BIGGER speaker than this puppy for pete’s sake. I’m not sure whether to reverse the speaker and try it with the PigNose or just toss the thing in the garbage.

After working for what seemed like forever to get the amp portion out, which was hard because they don’t give you any too much wire to work with (big surprise)..I got this:

IMG 3379

The main AMP is one of the power AMP IC’s and there’s a preamp in one of the speakers (probably for the headphones).

From inside the back of the cabinet:

IMG 3383

All I can say is the next time I see a system that says “6″ woofer I’m going to make darn sure that it’s not a passive one being driven by some speaker that looks like one from my 1960′s transistor radio…LOL

19
Oct

Guitar Circle

Or more aptly called the “Guitar Circle of Life”.

I took lessons myself before I was a teen but only for a year. But what a year. I devoured the song books. At the end of the year my teacher told my mom to buy me “this list of guitar books” and let me go at it myself. I know mom was happy not having to shell out money for guitar lessons, but I went through a lot of books in the next three years on my own. Probably learned a whack of wrong ways to do things, but I learned.

Like every student out there I suffered sore fingers, hand cramps, and barre chords. Oh yea, the dreaded F barre chord. The minors, majors, 7th, 12th and on the list went. I was destined to be a rhythm guitarist, mainly because the lead player in my band couldn’t play more than two chords in a row without getting lost or losing time. But as a lead he was extremely good even if he couldn’t read a note of music. I’d say, play in the key of Am and I’d get a deer in the headlights look for my efforts. At any rate the combination worked fine, I never wanted or aspired to be a lead player so a rhythm guy I was.

In my teen years I wanted a car, and in those days your parents didn’t let you use theirs or buy you one. Nope. You got a part time job, they “might” cosign a loan for you and you bought a car. Welcome to the debt world. Paper routes weren’t cool and didn’t pay enough to buy a car ($70 a month payment). Hence like about forty five years ago as a teen I got a job working in Central Plaza Music in White Rock, as, of all things, a guitar teacher. Not that I was any fabulous player by any stretch since I’d only been playing for half a dozen years myself.

Apart from the band I had and some other bands guys I run into, these beginners were some of my first exposures to other players. The job was three nights a week and I made more than enough each month to pay for my brand new 1968 Datsun 1600 that I bought (I paid a buck a pound for it; it weighed 1996 lbs). I really enjoyed the job and it turned out, even though I wasn’t a world class player, I was a very good teacher. Maybe the old adage, “Those that can’t do, teach” might have something to it.

Kids, teens, a couple grown ups, all came in for lessons. I’ve got a lot of memories of a lot of them and I sincerely hope they carried on after I left the studio. Especially a couple of them, they were GOOD!

Why did I leave? It seemed I had an honest conscience and couldn’t do what the owner wanted. Which was to go door knocking to give free “talent evaluations”, give the “fish” something easy to play on guitar and watch them impress the parents and then fawn over them as the worlds next greatest player and sign them up for lessons. Shady, yea, shady. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it. So I noticed over the next couple of months that I’d lost two of the days of the week I’d been teaching. But hey, I was dumb so it wasn’t until one of my students from the other nights came in and was surprised that I was still there. They had a new teacher and had been told I didn’t work there any more. Surprise to me too…

I told them what was going on. They in turn passed the word around and two weeks later, I locked the store keys in the studio and left for good. Never looked back, not even for a final paycheque.

So you’d think that would be it? No, fate rarely works like that.

Next thing I know, I’m getting calls at home to know if I’m giving private lessons at home (I was still going to school and living with mom and dad). So I said “SURE AM”..and bingo, I got three nights a week again and I’m not sure what happened at the studio because I got 80% of my students back. Even ones that had to travel a fair distance compared to where I did work. For the next year, that’s what I did. Taught, learned the “Alfred’s Basic Guitar” books (seems to me in those days the books went up to volume 6 or more). Had to stay ahead of the students. Made me a better player in the process…weird…

About four years back I did a lot of video’s for a friend who lives 1200 miles away because he wanted to learn to play. I have to say, it works, but it’s not the same as a real private lesson. Not as bad as a drivers license by correspondence but still that personal touch when you’re starting out is really what’s needed. Thus, for anyone wanting to learn, I always say plan on taking at least six months of lessons. Then quit and learn it on your own if you want. Works for some. Not for others.

A couple weeks back the wife is out with our daughter and from out of nowhere comes the “gee mom, I’d like to learn to play a guitar someday.” But as single mom, lessons just don’t work very well, if at all. The wife mentioned this to me and of course I immediately called Laura to verify mom got it right. Yep. We talked about what she wanted to learn, style, and so on (apparently she was under the impression I could only play “surf” style music; which is not the case because I play instrumentals really). Told her that I don’t teach finger style, I’m a flat picker and she was fine with that. After getting a pretty good idea of what she wanted out of it, I picked up an Alfred’s Basic Guitar Book 1, took my Fender Sonoran, music stand and gave her the first lesson (a little long, about 40 minutes).

Left her with home work, learn the 1st E string. Went back the following week and she’d learned extremely well. Kind of caught me off guard.

I went over a few things she needed to work on and just for the heck of it, I flipped the book open to the 2nd B string. Showed her where the notes were. And then sat there slack jawed while she ran through the 3 exercises for the new string and then one exercise that used both strings. She did it without looking at the strings for fingering or picking (just a peek once or twice on a muted note).

I have to say I haven’t seen that in a long long time. She reads music fluently, has great timing and really works at getting the fingers and pick to work. Personally I think she’s got a bit of a gift for it because if she just plays without thinking about it, it’s darn good. And even though she says her fingers are a little tender (15 minutes of practice a day) she having a blast and loving it. I’m sure I didn’t need headlights on when I drive home that night. I was glowing with pride.

Yep now there’s a sure way to learn anything in a hurry…love what you do. Easy.

Laura PLaying

If she keeps going, in a year there’s going to be THREE guitarists in this family (me, son, daughter)…and won’t that be a hoot..

14
Oct

Warranties..the lighter side

Someone at Kingston definitely has a sense of humour…

I picked up a 120GB SSD drive from a local supplier the other day and finally got around to putting it in the Mac Pro tonight.

To ensure freshness, these drives come in a cardboard box that’s shrink wrapped…and when I flipped the box over I was greeted with the usual sticker that displayed the product ID, model and so on. Along with something “extra” :

Kingston_SSD_Sticker.JPG

Upon closer inspection I find this disclaimer:

Kingston_Void.JPG

A two year warranty is going to last forever if you don’t take the skink wrap off the box so you can install the drive…fascinating…LOL

3
Oct

Blog Me Up Scotty…

After trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to paste some Arduino code into the blog yesterday, I came to the sad realization that for that Mac and all its wonderful ease of use and friendliness, its blog clients simply suck. Big time.

Mac blog clients either force you to write in HTML with keyword highlighting (and they call that a “feature”)… or some limp form of WYSIWYG that supports about a dozen tags and that’s it. At present I’m using ecto and for the most part it works quite well. But for putting in code, it screws up the tags and spacing beyond all belief. I suspect I could write the blog in HTML, which really gives you a strong idea of what the heck you’re writing…not or put up with Rich Text Format. That also screws it up just as badly.

I emailed ecto “tech” support to ask about how best to approach this problem and haven’t heard anything yet…

On the PC platform there’s scads of bog clients, with Live Writer probably being the king of the heap. No doubt because I do believe it’s free but still.. for the Mac, there’s a few, each with their own pros and cons. And in this programmers opinion, all done poorly in too many areas.

This causes some head scratching and pondering as to why… My feeling is that it has something to do with getting income off writing a blog client. A blog client is probably a “niche” market and since I write software that fits in that category I know just what you might expect from it in return. In short, not much. So you’d have to do it for yourself and hope enough others wanted it to at least repay some of your efforts in writing one. And no, I have no intention of writing one myself. That’s not my area of interest.

Apparently I am not the only one to notice a dearth of decent blog clients for the Mac either. There’s any number of articles about the six or eight we do have, and scads of forum postings about how we need a good one. Really.

I found a unknown blog client (to me anyway) called Qumana that I might press into server to see if I can get it to handle the “code” days…for the remainder I’ll continue along with ecto.

20
Apr

Speakers and shipping…don’t mix

I ordered some replacement speakers for my PA boxes. Two 400watt cast aluminum speakers that arrived today. By courier. FedEx.

Now I’ve always had fabulous service from Fedex and they’ve delivered some fragile stuff before, but this time, I have to give them a fail. My first big clue was the outside of the box. Looks like the baker tried to crawl out of the cake…

Box_Outside

When I unpacked the speaker, well, it was obvious that cast has no give to it at all. At least I don’t think the frame is supposed to look like this…

Broken_Woofer

The second woofer had some edge damage. I didn’t even bother plugging it in to see if it affected the sound. It’s not right, it needs to be fixed. The broken frame one needs to be replaced.

Cone Damage

Kind of puts a damper on the day when I was going to swap out the speakers. On the brighter side, I played the best round of golf I ever played. Shot +1 (73) on the NorthView Canal.

11
Apr

MIDI Muddy Murky

Working with MIDI interfaces for, oh, 20+ years now, has always been an interesting experience. Interesting in the fact that sometimes they work perfectly from the get go, and other times you feel like you need to beat them into submission with a sledge hammer.

Standard interfaces come from a variety of sources from Roland, M-Audio and there’s a lot of them used as “add on’s” to audio interfaces. While 99.9% of these work for standard 3 byte MIDI, there’s another portion of MIDI, called SYSEX that will tax these interfaces to the limit.

What is SYSEX? Essentially it’s a way for a company to write their own protocols for the device so a custom message can do anything they want it to do. A message can be anywhere from 6 bytes to thousands of bytes in length. It’s actually a slick idea, but never quite implemented fully. By that I mean, there’s no or little error checking done on the message received to verify that it was sent perfectly. I.e. no checksums, CRC’s or anything. Which would have been simple to implement, but never done. As it turns out, the streams, for the most part are very reliable.

Depending on the interface, every one that I’ve tested will receive these SYSEX messages just fine. It’s the SEND that they crap out on.

Enter in the “budget” USB to MIDI interfaces coming out of Asia. These $5 wonders, sometimes work. Sometimes don’t. I’ve got a few of these for testing and without exception, almost every one of them will fail a loopback test. But they will send and receive SYSEX so long as there is a slight delay between the messages. Which tells me the interfaces are not able to do two things at the same time. Obviously the chip designers can’t walk and chew noodles at the same time.

I don’t expect much for $5, but these little beasts do work to a point (high latency):

IMG_2986

Ripping one apart you find this:

IMG_2984

And from the component side:

IMG_2985  

Lots of missing parts on the board (transistors, resistors) so all you can see is an opto-isolator, crystal, transistor, caps, resistors. All SMT. The main chip that performs the “magic” is a USB to MIDI dedicated chip from Asia: MFM0860. Try finding a data sheet on that part.

Not sure what all the MISSING parts might do, maybe send morse code or something unique. Who knows. The thing probably doubles as a Mr Coffee timer/controller.

Thus as I said, and I left off the glowing sugarcoated review treatment these things attract, the odds of these working with SYSEX is roughly the same as winning on the first pull of the slot machine handle…Personally the best part I find to use are the preformed cables. Now those are worth $5.

24
Mar

Link Baiting – here fishy fishy fishy

Every time Apple releases a new product or updated product something strange happens. Every pundit who makes a living out of saying much about nothing becomes an instant expert on something they obviously know nothing about. Some even resort to calling in other equally inept experts to tell us the problems with “XYZ” or why “XYZ” is doomed to fail.

Or that the “XYZ” device is not as good as “ABC” which was from a different company and will sell 10 million by year end. Except the Apple “XYZ” thing sold 40 million in the first quarter.

The headlines smack of the National Perspirer from the 70′s where the headlines rarely had anything to do with the actual body of the article. They must assume their audience has an IQ of less than room temperature. At the South Pole.

Of course, you expect link baiting from pundits, and they are supposed to be somewhat confrontational. Even if they’re wrong. I suspect they are truly blissful. Because ignorance is bliss.

However, when someone like Consumer Reports jumps on the flagon wagon, like the “heat gate” from the new iPad you have to wonder if perhaps all this is somehow profitable to them. Because if there’s no money involved there’d be no reason for them to do it.

So maybe it drives up traffic to their web site and they grab a few more subscribers. Probably the same types that respond to the spam stock, sex and drug emails. Not exactly a stellar lot. But then Consumer Reports doesn’t care where it gets its money from, so long as it gets it.

I remember when CR was a magazine and you could rely on the information they published because it was properly tested and almost everything seemed to be covered. Now with all the products that show up and a lot of which dies almost as fast, they can’t keep up. And really, all kidding aside, they don’t try. I did have a subscription to CR three years ago and it was pathetic. Everything I wanted to look up was better served by reading user reports from Google search. Bye CR.

Thus my proposal is to take CR, the majority of the pundits and banish them to a corner on the internet where they can only read each others publishing. They’d be allowed out of the corner when they learn to be honest and get along with others. I doubt we’ll ever hear from them again.

In the meantime, I’d give them the same honesty and credibility that I’d extend to a teenage girls boyfriend who tells you his intentions are honourable.

27
Feb

Flying a 737…

Andrew got me thirty minutes in a 737 flight simulator from Flight Adventures for Christmas and I finally got to use it!

The sim is out at YVR (Vancouver airport for the lay people) and in one of the oddest places you try to drive to. Felt like I was going down an alley and the the guy who runs the place, Jason, played telephone tag with me. I was on time, he was running over from the last client. Seems a lot of his clients are real life pilots. I’m not. Since he’s the only guy there and in the sim, the doors are locked and the lights are off until he’s out of the sim.

The nondescript door of the place makes you wonder if you’re in the right place…the only clue is the 737 in the window.

IMG_2710

Once you’re inside, you get a QUICK briefing on the 737. A lightening speed look at the controls with a mention of what controls you’ll be handling.

IMG_2714

Then it’s off to the room that has the sim in it. I’d seen flight simulators before, ones that are mounted on hydraulic systems with video so you get the full feel. Those normally aren’t for the general public, unless it’s Disneyland…

Captain WestJet…:-) And when you’re in it, that’s exactly what it looks like…

console.jpg

Lower part of the console and dash (the horizon thingie on the left is your “guide”)…computer on the low console are for programming your route.

Full view 2.jpg

Sitting at YVR 08 waiting for take off clearance…ah screwem’ I’m going for it..:-)

YVR 08.jpg

It sure ain’t first class…:-)

Full view.jpg

Thus I managed to take off, fly out over Pitt Lake, do a 360 back around, had to Victoria and land. The only iffy part was the bunny hop landing. Jason ran the throttles and flaps, I did pretty much every thing else. I suspect he keeps it simple for everyones enjoyment…

There’s two things I picked up from this half hour. First is, Jason cobbled all this stuff together into a rather accurate 737 simulator. Looking out the window when you do a turn, you swear you can feel yourself moving. The sim doesn’t move, you do! Really weird. Same with climbing and descending. It feels very real and the when you pull on the speed brakes it makes the same noise I’ve heard a lot of times before. I was waiting for the “bump” of the gear coming down, don’t remember if it did that or not.

Hence Jason is a first class nerd (he’s never flown a real 737) as well. His passion is this sim and he expects you to treat it with kid gloves because that’s what he does. And really, you don’t want to toss a 737 around the sky any way. Use a Pitts Special for that.

Second, pilots apparently use the auto pilot rather heavily. Like from almost take off to landing (on landing autopilots can auto brake but don’t steer). So the pilot is a great programmer as well, but you have no idea if they can fly or not…least you hope you don’t have to find out. Even so, flying the thing manually or programming the legs of the journey keeps you busy. I flew for half an hour and at the end of it I was exhausted. Obviously a veteran pilot would do this like a walk in the park, but I have a whole different appreciation for their skills.

If there’s a downside to Flight Adventures it’s the business end. They have a fabulous product with a great looking web site. And quite clearly not a clue as to how to market or promote their product. if they have competition it’s probably a Nintendo or a PS3. Which quite honestly don’t hold a candle to the simulator Jason built. The only super accurate slight simulator I know of is X-Plane and they have a Pro version.

In short, I hope Flight Adventures works out a decent business model because flying the thing is a hoot. Although I do wish they had a helicopter one…