Thinking - Bacon

I thought it was just me that was a big bacon fan, but lately I've been seeing bacon T-shirts, bacon poems, bacon coffee mugs etc everywhere I go online. Which brings me to remind myself how the net works. If I do a search on google, I see things that google thinks I'm interested in. That means that if there is even the slightest connection to bacon, I get a lot of bacon hits. Everything I search for adds to the database of things I'm interested in, so google thinks that even a tenuous connection is worth reporting, because I'm clearly interested in bacon AND electronics.

If I do the same search on someone else's computer, I get different results.

One of the side effects of getting good search results that are relevant to the searcher, is that there is no editor to decide on the things that everyone is interested in. That tends to mean we keep a tight lid on broadening our horizons. One role of a TV news editor was to decide that say, an impending asteroid impact about to wipe us all out, was important to even people who were only normally interested in puppies and real estate. This, because it might impact their desire to buy more puppies or real estate, or might just be worth knowing about in spite of their desire to buy more puppies and real estate.

Google never includes impending asteroid impacts in search results for "haberdashery" on your grand parent's computer.

A good haberdashery magazine editor might at least mention in passing that's it's worth buying some extra buttons to see you through the coming asteroid induced ice age.

I'm guessing magazines are a weigh point on that path, from hearing about things to only hearing about our obsessions.

The net can be an amazing way of gaining information, but it can also be a trap, set to turn us back on ourselves, and blindly confirm that which we already believe to be unconditionally true.

120 Things in 20 years is just reminding itself to wake up and smell the bacon.

Photography - Camera hacking

I've bought a new camera!

But more importantly for right now, my old camera didn't focus any more, so I thought I might pull it to bits to see if I could fix it.

A camera hack if you like.

Well it's hacked now.

But in the process of attempting to fix it, I thought it might be grit or something stuck in the focus gears. I figured I might be able to override the emergency shutdown on lens fail, and just use brute force to get past the grit.

But before pulling it apart I thought I'd look for a software hack to manually focus the thing. It's a Canon Powershot A490 point and shoot (or at least it was), so it doesnt normally have manual focus.

I found much more than a focus hack, but also much less.

Much less in that I still couldn't do manual focus, but so very much more in that I found CHDK - Canon Hack Development Kit.

CHDK is amazing. It's a kit full of files that you install onto your SD memory card, put it into your camera, then use the update firmware option (only seen on my camera when the CHDK is on the card) of your camera to install all the new functionality. It does things like...

  • motion detection
  • increment focus to automate focus/photo stacking as mentioned in the previous post
  • depth of field calculator
  • exposures from 2048s to 1/60,000s with flash sync
  • change the layout and visibility of you on screen display info
  • etc etc etc (so much more)
Look here to see a slightly bigger list, but still not all of it.

And here for the manual which covers more.

But even more can be found on the forum in the form of scripts that can be loaded into your camera. There are scripts that do motion detection fast enough to catch lightning strikes. (less than 60ms I think it was - dont quote me)

So in spite of just buying a new camera, I'm off to see if the $20 camera I saw in the electronics shops bargain bin is a cannon powershot. 

120 Things in 20 years CHDK camera hack - Awesome. 

Photography - Photo stacking

I've been reading a bit about photography, and discovered this thing called "photo stacking".

It helps you create super close ups that have everything in focus.

Normally in a photo, you get some bits in focus, and some out of focus.

This can be a good thing, because you don't always want, for example, the background to be sharp.

Sometimes things look better when you cant see them.

But sometimes you want to see it all.

I'll drop a series of seven photos here with each one seeing a different section in focus.

This first pic of a 300mm ruler is taken at a focal length of 10mm.

This next pic is at 20mm

You can see that the section that's in focus has moved a little further back.

This one at 50mm

 Here are three more in the series with each one seeing the focal length change through 100mm, 150mm, 200mm, and 300mm.

I would have preferred to use increments of 5mm all the way through, and take 60 photos, but this camera I have only deals with those photo lengths when used in manual focus mode. 

There is software that is free and open source, that can take the best bits of each photo, and knit them all together to make one photo. 

Apparently it's possible to do this in a graphics program, but I dont have the skill set, and the software seems to work. 

There are a few different software packages, some that cost and some that are free. The one I'm playing with is called, CombineZP. All you have to do is select the photos (New), then chose something that I dont understand called, "align and balance used fra..." (the title of this function is cut off because whoever made it doesn't respect my inalienable right to resize whatever window I want, and my screen size isn't the same as theirs), then click something that makes perfect sence that says GO.

After a few seconds wait, the end result is pretty good for a first attempt, and might just prove to be a very useful tool in trying to capture extreme close up shots. 

I'm guessing it would be perfect if I just had a camera that could deal with letting me chose where to focus all on my own. 

Even without respecting my free will, the result is quite good. You can see in the photo below, some bands of blur where I couldn't divide the focal length and add another frame. There's an obvious blur between the "k" and "i", and another at the "3" in 300. Another at 250, but they are all errors caused by my camera not letting me take pictures in between the ones I took. 

'Tis an interesting bit of kit, and I thoroughly recommend trying it if you are taking macro shots. 
The result...

120 Things in 20 years - I love discovering new things like photo stacking for macro shots, and I love discovering that there are only 6 photos in my series of 7. I deleted one, and have no idea which one it was, so I moved on. 

I'm also without confidence that I'm using the words "focal length" properly. 

Aquaponics - Strawberries


I love strawberries, and spend way too much money each year in keeping the fridge stocked.

I cant get enough of them.

Here are some free strawberries  from the backyard.

Some are from the aquaponics system, and some from the dirt along the side of my house.

I planted a stack in one blue barrel grow bed, and a stack more in the ground along one side of my house.

The strawberries grown in the aquaponics system are always bigger and juicer. They also look better. Always big and perfectly formed. But I'm not convinced they taste any better. In fact I think the ones out of the ground may actually taste better.

When growing grapes for wine, I understand you don't want too much rain as this makes the fruit bigger, but lowers the amount of sugars per lump of grape.

Or so I'm told.

This might have something to do with why the strawberries seem to taste better out of the ground. The ground strawberries get watered once a day when it's hot, and every couple of days if it's not.

The aquaponics strawberries have as much water as they want when ever they want it.


It could have nothing to do with that. I cant be sure which went where, but there were two batches of strawberry plants. One batch was fully grown mature plants, and the other batch were all new runners. I seem to remember planting the runners in the aquaponics system because they were smaller, and I wanted to see if they would catch up to the others. But I also remember not doing that. I remember mixing them up so I would get a sample from each. I remember a few other contradictory things as well.

So... possible that they taste different.

But I think it's going to prove to be water content.

I think I'll do some experiments with the runners from both batches to see if there is any difference when all plants are the same age. Both beds are producing runners, so I think I should know within a few months.

Another thing to try, might be to change how long the aquaponics plants have wet feet. I should be able to control very precisely how much water the plants are exposed to.

I have an electric tap from a sprinkler system, so I might try to make some kind of moisture sensor, and perhaps try letting their roots get almost dry before giving them more water. I have no idea if such a thing is even possible, so I'll find out.


It could be that the strawberries don't taste as good when they are hot. Very few of the fruit ever make it into the house. Most get eaten straight from the plant, and there is a huge difference between the temperature of the narrow, protected side of the house, and those grown in a hot house. Now that I think of it, I think strawberries grow well in places like England. I'm not sure if England is called England or not, but that place that's sometimes called England seems to be the kind of place people grow things like strawberries.

Perhaps a hot house makes the fruit taste different.

I'll have to find some more information.

I'm being very fussy here.

All the strawberries from my back yard taste much better than anything I've ever bought from a shop. Shop strawberries are always under-ripe, and seem to be made of something other than strawberry.

That's store bought on the left, and back yard grown on the right.

Even with this poor photo, you can see the difference.

I can also smell the difference.

And if you drop a store bought strawberry into a clear drink, you get a strawberry in a drink. But the back yard ones colour the clear drink strawberry colour.

I count aquaponics and dirt grown strawberries as a total success.

120 Things in 20 years - I think I'l buy a second hand digital SLR camera so I can take better photos of strawberries and.

Aquaponics - Over Flow

I wandered out to my system last night, and had what is commonly known as an HSM.

It must stand for Holy Ship Moment.

One of my grow beds was flooded, and there didn't seem to be any reason why.

This is the scene a few minutes after the pump was switched off.

There was water on the floor, and the pump was sucking in small air bubble through the little tornado that had formed in the shallow water over the pump inlet.

I couldn't figure out what was going on, so did a search of the system.

I found this blockage in the stand pipe.

It was stuck really well, but eventually to hammer it out with a length of dowel and a hammer.

The culprit, shown here, was a small piece of scoria.

This growbed's media is scoria.

I also found bird droppings. I'm guessing a blackbird was in there throwing things around and looking for worms.

I do actually have an over flow pipe, added when I first built the little system, but the input flow from my bigger pump is much greater these days, so the little pipe wasn't up to the task.

Even so, it's a good thing it was there because I think it saved the day by delaying the disaster until I discovered it.

I'll upgrade the pipe to cope with the new greater flow, and I've put a PVC cap over the media guard so that particular issue cant happen again.

120 Things in 20 years think the last thing an aquaponics system needs is excitement when it comes to overflows.

Thinking - Local knowledge

When I was in Papua New Guinea - Madang in particular (I think) Mum found some locals that were willing to let us borrow their canoe for a dollar or two per day. I was quite young at the time, and remember being scared when I could see the bottom, but completely relaxed when I couldn't.

That has baffled me for many years until I experienced a recent fishing trip near Port Pirie (South Australia). The clear waters brought on a vivid memory of the Medang canoe trips. The problem I was having was a fear of heights.The water was so clear, that I felt I was going to fall the thirty feet to the bottom.

Not such a strong sensation when witnessed as a grownup, but as a little kid, it was enough to scare.

The point of this is to introduce a story that will be wrapped up much more quickly than he introduction.

I nabbed a cowrie as a result of spending every day I could snorkelling. (sorry nature). It was a real treasure to me, and I was desperate to take it home to South Australia. It was only a few days before our departure date, and I had no idea how to get the now dead snail out of it's home in time for a trip through customs.

A local kid offered a solution.

Juts let it sit next to an ant's nest for a bit.

It worked a treat.

The moral...

Have a problem that needs solving?

Ask a kid.

Electronics - New fish lever switch

I was wandering around wondering in an electronics store today, and found a new, even better switch  for my fish activated lever on my demand fish feeder.

It looks like this.

The one on the left is what I'm using now, and I had to glue some tubing on it so that it looked more like the one on the right.

The one on the right already looks absurd without my having to glue anything to it at all.

I have no idea why someone would need an inch long press button switch.

Unless they were using it as a fish lever.

I mentioned to the owner that the switches could be triggered with sideways pressure.

He didn't know that.

It seems the manufacturer didn't intend it, and it is just a pleasantly useful side affect of the manufacturing process. .

120 Things in 20 years - Getting ever close to filling up my brain with new facts about electronics and absurdly long new fish lever switches for my aquaponics demand feeder.

Electronics - Heatshrink

This stuff is almost as good as PVC, and that other plastic stuff I recently discovered.

Heatshrink is way cool, because it can hide your personal lack of soldering skill.

And kids, we all know it's important to hide socially awkward things like skill deficits.

Heatshrink is a thing like the thing that was on wire before you mutilated it with wire strippers, and a soldering iron.

It's a bit like make-up, and a bit like a seat belt.

I'm not sure if I remember how it's a bit like make up, but it's a bit like a seat belt in so far as it can stop your house from burning down.

It looks something like this.

It's the black bits.

When you buy it, it looks like this.

All wrinkle free and smooth.

When you butcher a bit of soldering, you can hide it (except in profile) from the world with a small cutting of heatshrink.

Just cut off the appropriate length to cover all of your electronic inabilities, and you're one step closer to the prom.

A bit of heat sees the stuff shrink against the underlying wire!

Who'd have guessed?

The final product looks like this if you are unlucky.

And unskilled.

But the reality is, it's not just a cover up.

Being able to add a layer of insulation to whatever exposed wires you needed to create to make your project, makes for a totally worthwhile product.

It replaces bits of tape, and sometimes hope. And hope rarely does much to put out fires.

A truly wonderful product that I would be happy to gain profit from endorsing.

If only I knew what brand I use.

It really comes into it's own when you cram your vision onto a breadboard in any of the malformed ways that have become all to familiar to readers of this blog.

At least, when you use heat shrink, you know the problem is with your design rather than with some crazy bits of wire touching each other inappropriately.

Depicted here, a staged approximation of chaos on a breadboard, rendered happy by heatshrink.

Actually depicted there are some short lengths of wire soldered to even shorter lengths of header pin (stiff wire bits) that serve to make connecting stuff on a breadboard a dream.

But perhaps best of all, if you decide to spring for the $2.33 to buy a few* metres of heat shrink, and make some breadboard wires, you also get to learn some stuff about how solder flows, and get your soldering technique under control in a way that can more perfectly disguise your delinquent soldering misadventures.

It's soldering practice, but it has a purpose, and it will serve you well.

Make some breadboard wires with heatshrink today.

* hang on, isn't 233 a prime number that doesn't really divide well into a "few"?

120 Things in 20 years has some small burns since discovering heat shrink, but less than you might expect if you follow this blog closely.






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