Archive for the 'holidays' Category

23
Dec
09

Stuff breaking

“When it rains, it pours” as the old saying goes.  That has been my experience recently with a few items I had bought.  They all seemed to die pretty close together so I’ve been trying to get the situations resolved with all of these items practically simultaneously.  Here’s a list of the stuff that’s getting replaced:

  • Koss SB49 computer headset (headphones + microphone): The microphone died.  Well, it doesn’t seem fully dead but on many devices it is so quiet that it’s basically useless.  Fortunately, Koss has a lifetime “no questions asked” repair or replacement warranty.  You ship it to them on your own dime and include $6 for return shipping.  They take care of the rest.  Hopefully, this will go out today and I’ll get it back sometime early in the new year.
  • Western Digital Caviar Blue 640GB hard drive: After the hassles I had with Windows 7 on my new Lenovo PC, I wasn’t expecting any further trouble for a while.  Unfortunately, one night last week my wife and I head a high pitched, very grating noise.  I finally tracked it down to my computer.  I hoped it was a fan but it wasn’t – it was the hard drive.  I shut down the machine and when I tried rebooting, it wouldn’t boot back into Windows.  So, the drive is shot.  I contacted Lenovo about it and they’re sending me a new drive, which should arrive tomorrow.  I’m always nervous about single drives being shipped.  Hopefully, it’ll work as intended.  I really don’t want to spend any more time fiddling with this computer.
  • Verilux 26W compact fluorescent light bulbs. These are great.  I ordered them over the summer.  They’re 26W, which, in terms of light output, is approximately equivalent to 150W incandescent bulbs.  However, rather than being a sickly yellow color, these are very clean white light – 6500K to be exact.  While the bulbs themselves are great, I’ve had a bunch of problems with the delivery.
    When I first ordered them, one of the 2 bulbs in the double pack arrived broken.  The company sent me a replacement, which arrived intact.  However, one of my original bulbs just burned out, well shy of the 10,000 hours they’re supposed to last.  So, I contacted the company about it and they sent me a replacement but it had the wrong connection type.  So, they sent me a double pack (very nice) of the correct connection.  However, when these arrived, they were both broken.
    The customer service rep I’ve been dealing with has been great – very helpful and very apologetic about the various problems that have occurred.  After I received the broken bulbs she said she would send me two packs of bulbs (that’s 4 bulbs) because of the all the hassle I’ve gone through and that she would personally package them herself to make sure they arrived intact.  A lot of companies would probably have just stopped responding to my emails but Verilux obviously puts a strong emphasis on customer service and it shows.

Update (12/23/09): I just received the bulbs.  None of them were broken.  Sweet.  I am all stocked up on these bulbs for a while.

My wife took the headphones to the post office, so they’re on their way back to Koss.

Update (12/24/09): I received the hard drive today from Lenovo.  I don’t think I’ll have time to deal with it for a few days, though.

Update (12/26/09): According to USPS delivery confirmation, my headphones were delivered to Koss today.  I wonder how long it’ll take for them to come back to me.

Update (01/05/10): I received the new hard drive on Christmas Eve but didn’t have time to deal with it until December 28th or so.  The new hard drive was partitioned but not formatted.  Since there wasn’t already a Windows installation on it, my upgrade version of Win 7 wouldn’t let me activate it.  So, I did the old double install trick.  I just shut the machine off and ran the installer again.  It detected the Windows installation I had just installed and let me activate it using my key for the upgrade media.  This only added like 20 minutes to the whole operation.

With the OS installed, I set up my awesome dual SATA HDD dock to copy data over from the hard drives that I pulled from our old machine.  So far, I’ve only copied over the really important stuff: photos, videos, and music.  Our documents and other stuff will come later.

Last night, I started preparing to send the defunct drive back to Lenovo.  I used Eraser to securely delete all the files on the data partition.  We basically only had family photos and music on there but they don’t need to see all that stuff.  Interestingly, the drive behaved itself and didn’t produce any grinding noises.  However, when I tried to delete things off the OS partition, it acted strangely, sometimes taking an extraordinarily long period of time to delete a single file.  So, I’m confident that the drive is not healthy and needs to be replaced.

Today, I boxed up the drive and stuck on the shipping label they sent me.  Now I just need to get it to Fed Ex or have them come and pick it up.

Update (01/11/10): I sent off the hard drive on the 5th or 6th.  I’m still waiting for my headphones.  In the meantime, I’ve gone back to using my old Sony MDR-D11 headphones.  They’re very compact for closed circumaural headphones, they sound pretty good, and they’re pretty comfortable.  They’re a little muddier than the Koss model I’m getting repaired and, of course, they don’t have a microphone.  Hopefully, I’ll get the Koss phones back soon – I’ve missed being able to use them for Skype conversations.

Update (01/11/10 #2): I received the headphones this afternoon.  As it turns out, they didn’t repair my old headphones; they simply sent me new ones.  This isn’t surprising at all to me.  In any case, it looks like I’m back in business.  The headphones sound good and the microphone works again.  I’m not thrilled that it cost me about $12 to get $30 headphones replaced, but it’s better than having to buy a brand new pair, so I can’t complain too much.

So, (knock on wood) it looks like I’ve got everything resolved.  My headset was replaced, my hard drive was replaced, and my light bulbs were replaced.  Hopefully, it will be a while before I have to deal with any further customer service people.  I can’t complain about any of the interactions with customer service reps or about the outcome of those interactions.  Everyone was pleasant and helpful but dealing with this stuff takes time and mental energy, not to mention the period of down time during which you’re without the item you bought and have grown to rely upon.

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21
Dec
09

Eye-Fi

I got my wife the Eye-Fi 4GB Share Video SD card this year for Christmas.  Yesterday, while we were snowed in, we exchanged a few gifts so she got to open it.  In a nutshell, this SD card has both 4GB of flash storage and a built-in wireless adapter that enables it to wirelessly transmit photos and videos to your computer over your wireless network.

While I thought this would be a great gift, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t work on the university’s wireless network in our on-campus apartment.  Sure enough, when I tried to set it up yesterday I couldn’t get it to work.  Any time a new device tries to connect to the university’s wireless network the DHCP server assigns it a temporary local IP address and redirects it to a registration web page.  Unfortunately, the Eye-Fi isn’t really a network adapter so you can’t use it to browse the web.  Thus, you can’t visit the registration page in order to register it for use on the network.

After the automatic setup procedure didn’t work I jotted down the card’s MAC address (which is easy to determine using the included software) and emailed the IT people on campus to ask if they could manually add the card’s MAC address to the list of MAC addresses the DHCP server will supply with IP addresses.  They were very helpful and responded that they had added the card’s MAC address as I had asked.

So, now it appears that I’m all set. I spent some time this afternoon getting it set up and I’ve successfully uploaded 5 or 6 pictures and one video using the device. All in all, it’s pretty nice. Hopefully, using this card will simplify the process of getting pictures from the camera to the computer but only time will tell if the device lives up to its promise.

If the card I got my wife works out well, I’ll seriously consider buying the Eye-Fi Pro, which permits you to upload RAW files as well as JPGs and videos.  In addition, it enables you to set up an ad-hoc connection with your PC so you can bypass local wireless networks and upload pictures directly from your card to your computer.  This type of functionality typically costs much more than either the Eye-Fi Pro’s street price of $100 or its MSRP of $150.

08
Nov
08

Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project

I guess this is becoming somewhat of a tradition.  Last year for Halloween, I carved the Pirates logo into my pumpkin.  This year, I decided to spend less time on the carving and more time on the lighting:

After the break, I have some info on the Arduino project and how I got involved.

Continue reading ‘Pumpkin 2008 and the Arduino Project’

23
Apr
08

Potpourri

Ok, so this post isn’t actually about potpourri. Rather, it’s just a mix of a bunch of stuff that I’ve collected over the last two weeks.

  1. The Pirates won again tonight (2nd in a row) after losing 6 straight, including being swept again by the Cubs. Matt Morris and Adam LaRoche are officially terrible. Nate McLouth, Xavier Nady, and Ryan Doumit are awesome.
  2. I had thought about starting a new segment on my blog where I post a line from a song to see if people can figure out what song it’s from. Then, I realized that, in the age of the internet, that task is trivially easy. I had planned on using the line “Who put the shield around the ‘k’?”, from “K for Karnival” by Nothing Painted Blue but just typing the line into Google gives you the answer. Curse you, internet.
  3. I also thought about introducing a repeating segment in which I would post a picture as a RAW file and have people submit their take on it. I may still do this if people are interested.
  4. On Patriot’s Day our family had an outing to see the Boston Marathon. On our way home, I saw this:

     

    imgp2070.jpg

    That’s right, a “Wii Sports” jacket. Now, I like my Wii as much as the next guy, but I’m not about to wear something like this.  That said, the “Wii Sports” jacket is a step above the bowling pin costume I saw the same day:

    imgp2054.jpg

    Alright.  I think that’s enough for now.  I’ll post more when the mood strikes.

10
Feb
08

Unusual modes of transportation

Since I can remember, I’ve been interested in antiquated or unique modes of transportation. Generally, my exposure to such transportation has come as a result of traveling to some new place where said transportation is or had been used.

Upon moving to Pittsburgh, I became interested in the inclines, which are technically known as funiculars. These are basically railways that go up the side of a mountain at a steep angle. Not to be confused with cog railways, funiculars are drawn by cables and generally include two cars which counter-balance one another, one going up while the other goes down. There are two left in Pittsburgh: the Monongahela Incline and the Duquesne Incline, both of which are on the south shore of the Monongahela River and take passengers from river level up to the top of Mt. Washington, a bluff on the south side of the city. While there are only 2 left today, 19 inclines have called Pittsburgh home over the years. Furthermore, though my exposure to inclines has been limited to those in Pittsburgh, there are inclines all over the world, including all continents except Antarctica.

Another form of transportation that captured my imagination during a trip is the system of canals in England. Obviously, I had seen boats and rivers before, but I was fascinated by the man-made features of the canals that enabled them to negotiate difficult terrain. During our trip to England, I saw plenty of locks in person and read about other interesting parts of canals elsewhere, including canal tunnels, navigable aqueducts, boat lifts, canal inclined planes, and marine railways. A number of years later, during my year in Germany, I saw a boat lift in person: the Henrichenburg Boat Lift on the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Shortly thereafter, I decided that when I retired, I would build an elaborate model of the British countryside, including railroads and canals, with particular emphasis on including the interesting features listed above. I’m less committed to this plan now than I was at the time, so we’ll just have to see if this works out or not. I’ll let you know in 40 years or so.

A third form of transportation to which I was introduced during a trip is what might be called a cable car or aerial tramway. During a trip to Germany with my parents in 2000, we rode up to the top of the Zugspitze in a cable car. The Zugspitze is interesting because it’s right on the border between Germany and Austria and you can actually go back and forth between Germany and Austria on the observation deck at the top. Not only that, getting to the top involves taking a cable car or a cog railway, so it offers two unique transportation options. While the cable car was interesting, it didn’t really capture my imagination in the same way as the canals or even the inclines had. Perhaps this is due to it being more modern and not seeming to belong to a different era.

The last form of transportation to which I was exposed on a trip involves much shorter range transport than the others. The year I lived in Germany I got to take a tour of the WDR studios in Cologne. In their main building, they had a crazy elevator-type contraption called a paternoster. Basically, it’s like an elevator with no doors that never stops. There are two shafts side by side and a series of cars on a continuous loop travel up one shaft and then down the other. This means that you simply step in on one floor and step out when you reach your desired destination. If it’s not clear what I’m talking about, check here. These really fascinated me for a while because they’re unique, very efficient, belong to an earlier era and are disappearing. Right now, there aren’t many of these left in existence and those that survive seem to be getting phased out as buildings are renovated or demolished, since they’re more dangerous than normal elevators and they’re not handicapped-accessible.

The 4 modes of transportation mentioned above fall into two categories for me: those that I have used and those that I have not. I have been in inclines in Pittsburgh and I rode a cable car in Austria. However, I have never been on a canal boat, much less on a boat while it went through a lock or some other interesting canal feature. In addition, I have never been on a paternoster. I hope that I’ll get the chance to take both of these modes of transportation in the not-too-distant future.  If I do, I’ll let you know.

18
Dec
07

Crisis averted

Heather woke me up this morning to tell me that the computer was beeping incessantly and that the image had disappeared from the monitor. This is not how I like to start my morning.

In any case, I thought the problem might be related to our KVM switch. I have a Linux machine (hosting this blog) and a Windows machine in our computer desk and I use a KVM switch to share the keyboard, mouse, and monitor between the two computers. It’s really convenient most of the time, but every so often, it flakes out and has to be reset. So, I tried that (which involves unplugging it from both computers, since it draws power from the computers’ PS/2 ports), but it didn’t help. Then, I cut the KVM switch out of the equation and plugged the keyboard, mouse and monitor directly into the still incessantly beeping computer. This solved the problem of the blank monitor. Unfortunately, the monitor now showed me that my machine was hopelessly locked up.

Continue reading ‘Crisis averted’

14
Nov
07

Looking for more photography-related tips

In addition to soliciting suggestions on techniques and products for cleaning DSLR CCD/CMOS sensors, I also have a couple of other things I’d like help with.

1) I bought Adobe Lightroom with money I got for my birthday. I’m trying to learn how to use it. Has anyone used it and/or can anyone recommend useful books or web resources about how to use it effectively. It seems like most books on the subject are already outdated (i.e. pertain to version 1.0; I have 1.2) or are not good.

2) Pinhole photography. I’m interested in trying this out. I asked for a couple of extra body caps for Christmas so I might try my hand at making a pinhole “lens” or two. Are there practical considerations regarding the construction of a pinhole “lens”? Is it worth buying a set of different diameter pinholes, like this?  What about practical considerations when taking a picture using a pinhole camera?




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