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Showing posts from February, 2013

Sony's 50mm Wonder

I won't be the first person to comment negatively on Sony's latest lens, the Carl Zeiss T* 1.4/50mm for the α DSLT series. A lens that costs $1,500 US. I won't be the first to question why I should buy a heavily plasticized 50mm lens for that much, especially from Sony. I will try to be a bit more reserved, more "fair and balanced" in my criticisms.

Carl Zeiss didn't build the lens itself. It's a "Carl Zeiss Optics and Planar Design," meaning that it was built by Sony or a Sony partner ODM. Looking at the Big Two (Canon and Nikon) for comparison, I find the most expensive Nikon 50mm is the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.2 AIS manual focus lens for a measly $650, while Canon wants to sell you an EF 50mm f/1.2L USM autofocus lens for $1,500 US. Of course the Canon supporters will tell you their $1,500 50mm is worth every penny. Every. Penny. So maybe Sony is jealous of Canon.

This isn't the first Sony/Carl Zeiss expensive lens. The last time I clutched my wa…

The Collection

This will be short and sweet. What you're looking at is my collection of mirrorless cameras. All of them. Each one has a unique lens on them. And I have other lenses still in the bag. One of them, probably my favorite, is the Olympus M.Zuiko 45mm tucked right behind the Sony NEX-5N.

I like these cameras for a number of reasons.
Light-weight. Even with a small prime mounted on the body (or a slightly larger zoom), the mirrorless cameras are the smallest and lightest capable interchangeable lens cameras I've ever owned. I can wear one around my neck all day long, and I've even forgotten they're hanging around my neck for the most part.Affordable. With the notable exception of the E-P2 (which I purchased as a kit with the M.Zuiko 14-42mm and VF-2 electronic finder), all of these cameras have been purchased for 'mere' hundreds of dollars. The E-PL1, the least expensive of the lot, dropped down at one point to $150 for the body. The E-PL2 dropped down to $200. Price…

Working With the Sigmas

It's fun working with something brand new. In this case it's fun photographing with the 19mm and 30mm Sigmas. New equipment opens up new opportunities for creative expression, or at least that's the official line.

Everything you expect a new lens to produce has been preconditioned by all the other lenses you've ever used. And no matter how much you promise yourself you'll never be surprised with your next purchase, every new lens will surprise you. Such is the case with the Sigmas.

They surprise me because of the kinds of interesting and quality images I'm pulling from them with the NEX-5N, different from the lenses I get from all my Pens and µ4:3rds lenses. Not better, different. I had no idea what I'd get from these two on the 5N. So far I've used the Sony 18-55mm kit zoom primarily, with a smattering of the OM 28mm and 50mm using a Fotodiox adapter. The same thing is happening to a lesser extent with the µ4:3rds Olympus E-M5, but that's with a n…

Sometimes Beauty Is In Your Own Backyard


I'm learning how to better use the Sigma 19mm and 30mm E-mount lenses with the Sony NEX-5N. Both of these were taken with the 30mm in the late afternoon sun. The 30mm was stopped down to f/5.6. In spite of the aperture the backgrounds are still quite pleasantly out-of-focus. I guess if I'd wanted to I could have opened up the lens to its maximum of f/2.8 and made the backgrounds even more blurred. Maybe. I could have stopped down to f.8. Next time I'll try that.

Nature Isn't Natural Any More

I was out with my camera and the 40-150mm R II mounted, and came across these three sandhill cranes rummaging in the shallows for something to eat. Temperatures have been in the upper 70s to  low 80s since the last week of January, and it's the dry season here in Florida, so that water level has dropped several feet in the artificial overflow flood pond that's next to my office building. The plastic baggie behind the cranes was one of several that were on the shore, along with other trash. This was taken at lunch after hearing and reading a trio of uplifting stores.
NPR has a story about how the Marine Stewardship Council, or MSC, had essentially greenwashed the fact that Canada's long-line swordfish boats pull tens of thousands of blue sharks up out of the water along with the swordfish. The Canadian fishers let them go, the only problem being that 35% of the sharks caught eventually die right on the hook or days after release. The findings suggested that Canadian swordfi…

Building a tracked square-bot

Originally published October 22, 2006

As mentioned previously I found a lot of the Vex hardware on sale during the summer. One of the supplemental kits I picked up was for tracks. The track kit comes with bogies, drive wheels, linked treads, and hardware (screws and lock nuts) to build two sets of treads. The following photo shows a completed square bot frame with the treads on the sides in place of wheels.

The directions are fine for placing the drive wheels and bogies, but the method for firmly attaching the drive wheels to the bulkhead and to the drive motors is only lightly covered. If you follow the directions the driver wheels (the sprocketed wheels at both ends of the tread) won't stay on. Instead you have to come up with better assemblies at both ends.

The following image shows how I used three collars to hold space a drive motor as well as keep the drive shaft in place. Two of the three collars had their tightening screws removed; they weren't needed. Those collars ar…

Back in the lab

Originally published October 22, 2006

After watching the prices of Vex equipment drop to half price or less all during the summer months ($149 for the Vex Robotics Design System, for example), I picked up enough hardware to build 3 1/2 independent square bots. What was missing for a complete forth is another Vex controller and radio receiver. I'll have to go back to the Vex site and probably pay full price for the components, unless I break down and buy a forth Robotics Design System.

But I did have three controllers, so I finally found the courage to take the cover off of one and see what's inside.

The controller has a pair of 18F8250 micro-controllers. Considering what's on the board and what it does, I find it quite clean in its layout and design (at least in my humble opinion). Plenty of nifty things to hack!

Me and my Legway

Originally published April 18 2006

(This was originally published here in January 2006) Two years ago Steve Hassenplug created a two-wheeled self-balancing robot using the Lego Mindstorms Robotics Invention System 2 and a pair of special sensors manufactured by HiTechnic. It was the same Lego Mindstorms that I had purchased that previous Christmas. Unfortunately when I finally found out about Steve's work it was nearly a year later, and a key component of his Legway, the HiTechnic EPOD Sensor, was no longer being made. Jump forward to November 2005, and I find out that HiTechnic is again building and selling the sensors, so I immediately ordered two for myself.

While waiting for the sensors to arrive, I started to look at the other bits needed to build the Legway. Two years is an eternity in computing. Key software and support systems had evolved since the original Legway was produced. Elements of the Legway that had changed and needed to be updated were:
I used the Linux environme…

Minor mechanical tweaks to the Vex squarebot

Originally published April 18, 2006

Section 2 of the Vex Inventor's Guide shows how to build a sample motorized chassis they call squarebot. There's some additional mechanical tweaks that need to be made to squarebot in order to make him a little more rugged. First of all, you should add a collar to the outside of each of the four wheels. This keeps them from coming off while the squarebot is rolling around for extended periods. See the two photos below. The first is an overall view and the one beneath is a closeup of two of the wheels with the collars.

Next, you need to add spacers to the inside of the chassis subassembly holding the gears, between the outside of each gear and the outer chassis rail. It is annoying to be driving along and then have squarebot stop because the gears have slipped along the axles and no longer engage. The following picture shows the added plastic spacers, looking up from the bottom of the squarebot. They are the black shiny pieces between the gre…


Originally published Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Welcome. This is a spin-off from my other blog, blogbeebe. The idea came from my wife and kids, who suggested I create additional online diaries to better categorize my interests. This blog covers my interests in hobbyist robotics; the kind that mere mortals can afford. I have been a tinkerer in robotics since the early 80's. It was an offshoot in my interest in microprocessors and microcontrollers, such as the 6502 and 8048.

In this day and time I have the Lego Mindstorm's Robotic Invention Kit (and several add-ons of parts), several Vex Robotics kits, and all the odds and ends I've collected over the years. I've been investing in Vex since November of 2005 when I paid $300 for my first kit. I've been buying more this April because Radio Shack, the seller of Vex locally, have cut the price for just about everything in half. So now I've got sensors and rechargeable batteries and spare gears and wheels and tracks...


Texas Instruments Stellaris LaunchPad - LXAF120H (UPDATED)

You're looking at my latest digital gizmo, an ARM-based Stellaris LaunchPad development board. At the heart of the board is an LX ARM Cortex-M4 32-bit CPU running at a modest (by today's standards) 80MHz. It comes along with 256K of FLASH and 32KB of SRAM. It won't run Linux or Android or any other major operating system, but for writing executives, interrupt handlers and I/O manipulators in C or assembler down at the bare silicon, it has more than enough raw computational power.

I started my professional life nearly 40 years ago by building embedded systems with the 8-bit MOS Technologies 6502 and Zilog Z80. In both those instances the embedded systems had a lot less RAM and EPROM and I was very glad to have them running at a then-blistering 1 to 4MHz.

The  also comes along with a lot of hardware-based timers and very flexible I/O pins. It is, for an old hacker like me, something of a dream come true.

And I got it all for free from an old friend who had in turn gotten it…

Hilariously Stupid Spam from the FBI [sic]

It's been a while since I've got any spam email is crazy and stupid as this one. This particular missive landed (correctly) in my gmail spam folder just the other day. I am quoting it as-is.
Federal bureau of investigation
Field Intelligence Unit
J. Edgar Hoover building
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW Washington, DC.

I am special agent John Edward from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Field Intelligence Unit, we have just intercepted and confiscated two (2) trunk boxes at John F Kennedy airport in New York, and are on the verge of moving it to our bureau headquarter.

We crosschecked the content of the boxes and found it to contains millions of dallars and also backup documents which bears your name as the receiver of the money contained in the boxes, investigations carried out on the diplomat which accompanied the boxes into the united states has it that he was to deliver this funds to your residence as payment which was due you from unpaid contract, inheritance, lotto, …

High Contrast

There are times when you're walking about and photographing the world when you make a photograph that doesn't fully "expose" itself to you until you're well and truly home and looking at your images. No amount of pre-visualization or chimping will show you what you have until you start to work with in in post. Even then it's a bit of a hit-or-miss experimentation. This is one of those photos that ended up showing its "true" value in post.

The post work on this one came in two steps. The first step was to punch it up a bit in Lightroom 4.3 with Preset: Direct positive, and then dragging the highlights slider to -100%. Then I ran it through Silver Efex Pro 2, selecting #17, Full Spectrum. That dropped all the blue to black, especially the cloudless sky. It may not appeal to you, but I love it. And now that I've discovered this bit of post-processing hackery, I think I'll work even harder to duplicate it in the future. This is the time of year…

Struggling Still

On Saturday my wife and I went to see "Wreck-It Ralph" (along with the Academy Award nominated "paperman" animated short) at a theater in West Oaks Mall near Ocoee. I've written about this mall before (search if you're interested), with all the stores that are out of business on the periphery (Toys 'R' Us, Chevy's, Borders, etc) as well as inside the mall. The mall still has a clean, classic look, but it's not hard to see the closed up sections that used to be stores.

West Oaks Mall was the mall we took our girls to when they were growing up. First, to Toys 'R' Us for their toys, then Borders when they were growing readers, and lots and lots of movies and meals inside the mall itself. Once there was a Discovery store and a Disney store, and stores with video games and young girl fashions. All that's gone, with only three of four anchor stores left (Penney's, Sears, and Dillards). Two of those three, Sears and Penney's, a…


Snoopy came back to Orlando in late January and was still hanging out near the 408 on Friday 1 February when I drove past him on the way home. Snoopy's Metlife blimp is something of a regular visitor to these parts, showing up around January every year. On that way home I pulled off to try my hand at some late evening photography with the E-M5. The sun had already pretty well set. The blimp's internal light was already on (you can begin to see it shining through the lower gasbag skin).

Because the sun was well below the horizon I didn't have a lot of time to take very many photos, but I didn't let that bother me so much because of the fast lenses I was using combined with the E-M5 (and to a lesser extent the other Pens I had with me). The E-M5 and the fast primes have given back to me what I used to take for granted in the ancient days of film; low-light photography with little concern. Perhaps this is what the Canons and Nikons with their expensive full-frame cameras…