Sunday, October 26, 2014

Headless Horseman

 After a very long time, maybe a few months, or more I set up my "studio" again.

It was down so long because I had to return the background stand I borrowed about 5 years ago.  To be fair, I didn't really borrow it.  My friend brought it over, dropped it off, and said "You need this.  I'll take it back when I need it."

But, I have my own now, and we are back rolling.

What better way than a new character for Tobias?

This one was relatively easy, fog machine, back light, dump a flash in a pumpkin, press the shutter a few times.... we're done.  Rolling.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Small gear thoughts (with lots of distracting photographs)

I made it a goal this year to purposefully try and think about different types gear.  I decided trying a small carry everywhere camera, and a large format pinhole camera.

This is about the small camera.  More specifically, this a bit of a retrospective of nearly a year with my X100s.

I have taken it Tennessee, and I have even written a bit about it before.  But, I have carried it with me nearly everywhere I went everyday since I bought it.

This had an immediate effect.  I stopped using my cell phone ( as much ) for taking pictures.  I started taking pictures of my kids in restaurants with it.  I used it to document such things as metro's incompetence, dinner, random things that caught my eye because of color or light, etc.  Yes, this was all stuff I had done before with the cell phone, but, at least from a technical quality point of view-- these are much better than if I had used a cell phone.

I can imagine some of you are thinking, yeah, but you own dSLRs you could carry one of those around and do the same thing.  Yes, I *could*, and I did carry an SLR around nearly every day for a year or two prior to picking up the small camera.  But, I didn't use it nearly as much.  In fact, I think the only good it did me was make my back stronger.  It certainly didn't help fill up my picture library with high quality images of everyday moments.  There are a lot of reasons for that, none particularly good.  It was effort to get an SLR out of a bag, my SLR attracts attention, its pretty loud, and did I mention it attracts attention?  In any event, none of those things matter to me if photographing is my primary focus, but for a quick shot it is paramount.

I have also used it for more staged and/or serious pictures too.  It works very well there too.  I tend to work pretty methodically and slowly making those kind of pictures, so the speed disadvantage an x100 has compared to a dSLR doesn't impact me.

This has made me consider picking up one of Fuji's interchangeable lens X-cameras and potentially selling all my SLR gear.  Unfortunately, there are a few things I do that would fall flat if I tried that, and I don't want to support two camera systems.  One is expensive enough.  But, the thought still lingers.

I doubt there are too many people out there that are still on the fence about buying one of these little cameras-- but if you are go try one.  It looks like a an updated model will be out soon so you have 3 generations to choose from!

Okay, this may have been written to give me a reason to put up a lot of different photographs from the year that don't really warrant their own post, and don't easily fit with anything else.

Friday, August 29, 2014

We've been here before

Over the years I've done a few posts like this one.  I don't know if they are remembrance posts, or good-bye posts.  I also don't know if the distinction matters.

Its never fun.

This one took me a bit of time to get around to, for a number of reasons.   The night I heard she had entered hospital for the second time and had a terrible prognosis I grabbed a camera and went walking through the neighborhood.  Throwing yourself into a craft can erase thoughts for a while, but it didn't work this time.  I managed a few things like this.  Subject sucks, colors are pretty.

My grandmother was the last living grand parent that I had.  I no longer have a direct link to that generation.  That is the kind of thing that begs for attention.  And when I started thinking about it, really thinking about, I felt just how little time we have, not just as individuals, but as continuing line of living family.  Its short.  Great grandparents are about the limit, and even then there is so little overlap with youngest generation in terms of time together.  Kathryn had 12 years with at least one great grandparent, Tobias had 8.

My grandmother is one of the most gracious people I knew.  She had to be.  She raised 6 boys.  Six.  She also put up with my grandfather ( he'd agree with me, that this is probably her crowning achievement ).  She was also patient.  Again, I shall point to the above.  However, it was also shown in how she spent some of her leisure time.  She built a dollhouse. She built it essentially from sticks and glue.  There were no pre-fabbed walls, or floors or frames.  Its huge.  It took FOREVER.  I remember this pretty well because she built it using their pool table as a work surface, and it was many, many, many, many visits of no billiards.  But, there was always progress being made on the doll house.

When she felt you would listen she would give good advice.  And when she felt it unnecessary she might have thought good advice, but held it back.  During one of the last few visits I had with her this filter wasn't in place. As I was leaving that night I told her when I would come back in to see her.  She said that sounded good, and advised me not to stop at any strange women's houses on the way. 

This is good advice. 

I will follow it the rest of my journey through this life.

Saturday, August 2, 2014


We've been married SEVENTEEN years.  I have some trouble wrapping my head around that number, because there are some days I forget I am older than seventeen.

I'll try and list a few "concrete" things, number wise, that occurred over the past 17 years.

[ No particular order ]
We've had 2 kids.
We've lived in 1 apartment, and 2 different houses.
I've had 3 jobs, Carly has done 2 stints with the same group.
5 cars, 2 of which we started with.
1 dog, 2 guinea pigs, and 3 aquariums.
3 guitars, 1 ukulele, and 2 harmonicas
4 PCs ( 3 of which I built during the course of our marriage ), and 2 laptops.
4 personal mobile phones
550GB of  digital pictures, 8 notebooks full of slides and negatives, and uncounted boxes of prints
2 couches
1 set of good kitchen knives

Not sure if listing this stuff really helps me put a perspective on things or not.  Not really.

As an aside if I got a do-over, we'd get the good set of knives much earlier -- like put it on the registry earlier.  Good knives changed my life.

When we reached twelve years, I did a post for that too.   Nothing I wrote there has changed, really.  I could add to it, but aside from stealing the picture theme I don't want to mimic it too much.  So, go read that one, and come back here.

But I want to focus a little on the future.  It seems to me my marriage is its own entity.  It was brought into being when we said some vows.  It is something that belongs to us, but at the same time it IS us.  I can't even think of myself apart from Carly.  I really simply think in terms of "us".

I'm kind of excited.  If the songs are to be believed 17 is the age when I person grows up, and starts becoming themselves.  It could be the same way for marriage, maybe any of the awkwardness or mistakes of the early years are built into something better.  The good gets magnified, and any of the not so good diminishes.  Despite how good the last 17 years were -- I want the next 17 to be better yet.  Its possible, no matter how good things are they can ALWAYS be better.

Now, I guess I should go.  As Meatloaf sings "We were barely seventeen... " [ ... and needed to go to sleep because, dang, we are old? ]

Friday, July 18, 2014

Summer Beach Trip as Told through Interpretive Dance

As like previous summers we went to O.C. Maryland for a few days.  We weren't going to go this year, but Tobias really wanted to.  I should probably get this out of the way early. The title is a lie, there is no interpretive dance going on in this post.  I can't dance. Sorry to disappoint.

This was the first picture I took on the trip.  It still caught my attention going through the photos I took, so I thought I'd subject you to it also.

These next two are essentially record pictures of the Jesus sand sculptures that always are there.  One of my favorite things about them, aside from the religious and artistic aspects, is they are right across the boardwalk from some bars.  That makes me smile.

This is part of the decorations fora  "touristy" restaurant/bar called "Fish Tales".  Its an interesting place.  It seems setup for parents and kids.  The food is okay, but it is just noisy enough to be an enjoyable place to hang out.

Another restaurant decoration.  We didn't eat here.

This is part of the landscaping and design of a miniature golf course we played.  Tobias got three holes in one.  The first one was complete dumb luck.  He hit the ball way too hard, and it bounced off a wall, through a garden hazard, off a few rocks and tree in it, onto the retaining wall, onto the green, a few rolls and bounces and it stuck in the cup.  The other two were legit. 

It was his first time playing.

No wonder he wants to go the beach.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Headphone Amplifier - Part 2 - And Bad Mistakes, I Made a Few

Previously, I discussed that I started building a headphone amplifier.

I "finished" building it in about a week or so.  I took my time, and didn't spend a lot of time at once.
[ A few in progress pictures are at the top of the post.  Top picture has the hardware in place the capacitors on the input side, audio input wiring, and power rails connected to their source.  The other two show the box taped up for drilling. ]

"Finished" is a poor choice of term, it was assembled.  But it really wasn't finished, testing needed to be done. When powered up for the first time it lit up the tubes.  I took that as a good sign.  As I would learn later, they were WAY too brightly lit up.  Measuring voltages showed me it wasn't correct.

I plugged some cheap earbuds in anyway.  This caused a high pitch whine of protest to emanate from the power supply.  So I shut it down.

The power supply was so pissed at me at this point it stopped working until the next morning.

The capacitors in the output stage were hot.  Even I knew this wasn't correct!

That led me to discover the first problem.  I put the wire from pin 3 of my mosfet on the wrong side of the output caps.  I had misremembered a photograph of a finished build.  Lesson learned, pictures maybe worth a thousand words, but schematics are more meaningful.  Especially when you don't recall the picture correctly.

When I noticed that I pulled the capacitors I ruined out of both channels and alligator clipped the left channel back together with a new capacitor.   No sense in making things permanent until I had it correct this time.  Voltages were measured.  Voltages were still incorrect.

Plugging in cheap earbuds at this time didn't create any squeals of protest (one problem solved). Measured the output rail again.  Still wrong.  Put audio through it.  Still wrong.  No sound.

This led me to start investigating this problem.

Through some trial, error, and conversations I realized I used my soldering iron way too hot for the mosfets.  Aha!  I learned how to check mosfets, and sure enough they were broken.  I put a new mosfet in the left channel and checked it prior to power up.  The mosfet worked.


The circuit didn't.  I was getting 30 volts on pin 3 of the mosfet/pin 4 of the tube.  I should only have had 12-13.

For giggles I tried to put audio through it.  It didn't work.

This led to a bit of frustration.

It also led to an accidental and very poor decision --  Somehow I ended up putting the power supply's full 48 volts on one of my tube's heaters.  It lit up in a beautifully bright golden light, and went dim.  Poop.

Dead tubes aren't much fun.

I'm not sure how I actually hit upon the solution, but while staring at the schematic one morning I simply realized I was feeding pin 1 of the mosfet from the wrong point in the circuit.  I fed it from the wrong side of a resistor.  When I made the change, magic, the voltage was correct at the output stage.

I put audio on it.  It worked. I was partially shocked, and I partially felt like a German soccer fan watching them kick Brazil's butt in the semi-final.

Fast forward a bit and I soldered it in place and redid the right channel too.

So, I got it working.

At times I found this a bit frustrating, but I learned a lot, and this is a lot cheaper than a semester of electronics school.

Things learned:
How to really read a schematic
Soldering is getting better
How to test a mosfet
How to use various functions of a multimeter
Don't trust memories of pictures

Tuition paid:
5 broken mosfets ( some were ruined while building before discovering the iron issue )
2 broken capacitors
1 smoked 12AU7 tube
~30 hours reading, gathering parts, building, thinking, troubleshooting, and correcting. [ I think I could build one in an afternoon now... and it would look more tidy. ]

Curse words invented:
0 [ But I may have used some conventional ones in creative ways.   I can't remember. ]

I've listened to it for a couple of days now and have a few general impressions of the amplifier. For headphones it is the best thing I have.  Bass is tight and big, even out of my headphones which are known for "anemic" bass response.  Mids and highs sound good to me.  I guess I'm not too much of an audiophile, I have no terms to wax poetic about the sound, but it is good.  I don't have any ground buzz which seems to be a common problem if you read some of the build threads on do-it-yourself forums.  This is probably because I used a ground plane, and not about anything skillful I did.

I also appreciate having a physical volume knob while listening from my computer now ( sound board is ASUS Sonar STX and I've got the amp connected through the RCA outs on it ).

This experience also cemented an idea I've always had.  Most audiophiles are full of crap.  If you ever go researching speakers or amplifiers like I did a while back you will encounter all manners people who, if their words are true, possess super-human hearing.   But, I think they should all build their own amplifier at some point.  It SHOULD dispel any of their magic faerie-dust notions regarding audio once and for all.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Headphone Amplifier - Part 1 - For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

This is going to be a bit of a departure from the norm.  Although I am including some pictures.  To keep it somewhat on topic the setup for the pictures is an Octagon softbox in front of the stuff, and a gridded light with enough power to make the background not completely grey.

This year one my goals was to clean up our basement's storage side.  I did.  I also ended up building a workbench down there, because the space presented itself.

This has lead me to doing a bunch of things, such as building speaker stands,  I'd otherwise not have been able to do.  I would have WANTED to do them, but lack of a proper workspace would not have allowed it.

Lately I wanted a headphone amplifier.  Specifically, I wanted a tube-based headphone amplifier.  There are a few inexpensive tube amps floating around out there, but I felt compelled to attempt to build one.  It is a lot cheaper to buy one, especially if you factor in some of the tools I didn't already have.

But shopping is easy (and not particularly amusing to me), making stuff is more interesting.  That in a nutshell is the point of building stuff yourself.  It is interesting.  Also taking the "easy" factor out of it really makes you consider how much you really want the said gizmo.  The only things I have regularly built for myself are dekstop computers.  With those I think I gain a bit more quality, but I pay for it with time.  Cost is the same as buying a pre-built.  I'm not sure I will be able to say the same about this amplifier!

I ended up stumbling across a hybrid tube amp on the 'net nicknamed the "Starving Student".  I discovered the original design helped deplete the world of 19J6 tubes, and an adventurous soul modified the design to work with the more readily available12AU7 tube.  That is the design I am using.  Even though there are PCBs available I decided to attempt this as a point to point build. 

The goal of this little sub-corner of my blog is to (somewhat) document my attempt to turn the piles of stuff pictured into a headphone amplifier following this design.

Most of the bits were ordered from Mouser, with tubes and sockets sourced on Amazon.

This was going way way out on a limb for me, because schematics, in general, look like this to me...

There were also a few tools I needed, like Unibits to do the casework. I had already convinced myself I needed a "real" soldering iron and multimeter, and had them on hand. If I was honest, I probably didn't "need" any of these things but I did put them to use.