Saturday, May 23, 2009

Hi, We're the Replacements

Here are the replacements for almost all the items I've managed to lose recently (save for my mind and possibly my dignity):


Stolen from my car in Baltimore (in April):

* Garmin Nuvi 200 GPS, $88 (refurbished) from Same model, so a straight-across replacement.

* iPod Nano 8 gb, $104 (refurbished), from Apple. Same amount of memory, but an upgrade to the next generation. I'd been debating getting the iPod touch, but decided to see what Apple (and Sprint) decide to do next month.

Lost (possibly stolen, in January):

* Skagen 105LTX watch, $27 (used), on eBay. I blogged about this watch before. It's got a grey dial face, not a blue one, but it's the same thing. It's in good shape -- the scratches in the crystal are almost the same as mine, too. Plus, I saved $10 by resizing the band myself, using a push pin.

Lost (a few months back):

* Nitecore Defender Infinity flashlight, $70, off eBay. Probably fell out of my pocket in a parking lot somewhere as I was doing errands. Yes, $70 is a lot for a flashlight (even if it's really cool, with infinite adjustability and throwing 130 lumens on a AA battery), and I don't really need a tactical flashlight... where was I going with this?

Anyway, I'll try not to lose these. For a while, anyway.

[The headline, of course, refers to the TMBG song]

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Using My Poor Man's Steadycam to Document Our Lackluster Kickball Performance

We had a kickball game on Wednesday. Even though it wasn't cold and rainy, the team was pretty flat offensively and we lost. (I went 0 for 2 at bat, including kicking into a double play, and was accused of being a rules lawyer because I reminded a girl that she couldn't take a lead off of first base.)

It did give me a chance to finally test out the Poor Man's Steadycam that I built just over a year ago (and hadn't used since).

The results were... mixed. I didn't really try walking around with it, just doing some basic panning. Even so, there's a lot of camera shake, because instead of using the prescribed 2.5 or 5 pound counterweight at the bottom, I just used a screw-on cast-iron flange, which I thought I could get away with because my Canon powershot only weights 1/4 pound. It saved weight, but basically killed the motion-dampening action, which defeats the whole purpose of the thing (other than to make people wonder "What the heck is that guy holding in his hands?").

Also, the wind noise is really prominent in spots -- need something with an external mike and one of those fuzzy covers.

Anyway, here's the video (make sure you click the "HQ" option, I may not have picked the best file size settings):


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Items That Weren't Stolen From My Car in Baltimore

  • The contents of the hatchback [too numerous to mention]
  • Lightwave Tec2000 LED flashlight
  • River Rock 0.5W LED headlamp (useful for hands-free operation, like changing a tire or cutting brake lines)
  • Big-ass 5-D-cell Mag Lite with EverLED conversion (apparently thieves don't like LED lights, despite their higher efficiency and lifespan advantages)
  • Half-bottle of generic Pepcid AC antacid (Famotidine)
  • Bottle of Blink Contacts lubricating eye drops
  • Spare eyeglasses with clip-on sunglasses; contact lens case (a.k.a. the Morning After Navigation Kit)
  • Eclipse mint tin filled with Trident bubblegum
  • My E-ZPass
  • One set of Etymotic ER-20 high-fidelity earplugs
  • Air pressure gauge
  • Mileage log and repair log notebook
  • Spring-loaded center punch (Irony Alert, since I keep it in the center console in case I need to... break a window out)
  • The CDs in my side door pockets, as well as few burned CDs in the center console. Guess they didn't like my music.
  • A disposable 35mm camera.
  • My (cheap) sunglasses
  • About $8 in singles and change in the ashtray
  • Cassette audio adapter (still in the deck)
  • A couple of other sundries
Items That Were Stolen From My Car in Baltimore:
A few Saturdays ago, I was up in Baltimore for the 2009 Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race. I'd gotten a late start (expected for a Saturday, but also because I got to Tyson's Corner before I realized I'd forgotten my 8 gig memory card and had to go back, since I wanted to take video), but I got into town by about 11:30am and scored a street parking spot right in front of the Digital Harbor magnet high school, just a couple of blocks from the American Museum of Visionary Art.

The day was great and I'll write it up in a separate post. I got back to my car about 8pm, and had just loaded up the hatch and gone around to the driver's side when I saw the mess inside:


Someone had smashed my passenger side window, and tossed my glove box (unlocked) and center console, stealing and bypassing the items above.

My iPod and GPS -- not bad for 15 seconds of work.

Of course, I'd marked myself as a target by leaving the cassette adapter cord in plain sight; I'd also had my GPS suction-cup arm mount on the dash (the GPS itself was in the glove box) with my sunglasses on it, and if that wasn't enough, I think I left the power cords on the passenger seat.

I scraped out the rest of the window and got ready to drive home. I wasn't even going to report it, but as I started to drive off, I saw a Baltimore police car parked about 50 feet in front of me -- an older couple's car had also been broken into, and they'd called the cops. So I stopped, made it a two-fer and gave a report.

Despite the security cameras out front and the group of skate rats doing the stairs nearby (witnesses or suspects, who knows), I have a feeling that this one will go unclosed.

Anyway, after I got home, I scooped the broken safety glass out and saved it. I put it in a coffee can and shook it up in small batches to break up the bigger pieces and dull the sharp edges, then washed off the glass dust and put it in the oven to dry:


Why yes, I have been watching a lot of Breaking Bad.

Yes, definitely. Too much, probably:


It's kind of pretty:


Though I have no idea what I'll use it for. It's back in the coffee can.

So, the window is fixed now (after driving around gingerly, plastic flapping, through two rainy days). I've got a refurbed, same-model GPS on order as a replacement. For the iPod, I'm not sure if I'll just get another nano or upgrade to an iPod Touch, but in the meantime, for my drive up to New Jersey for Mother's Day, here was my iPod stand-in:


I'd bought the power inverter a while back just to have on hand, so it came in handy for the laptop (it causes a pretty big hum in the speakers, though). It worked okay.

In summary, I'm a lot more careful about what I leave out nowadays.

Blog Performance Anxiety and Procrastinating Your Way to Immortality

My blog drafts pile has been building up, while my actual blogging has been going down. I can only blame Twitter and posting in other blogs to a limited extent.

The actual mechanism goes something like this:

* Gather blog material into drafts.
* Procrastinate, delay, obfuscate.
* Despair at evergrowing pile of drafts, whose short half-lives are rapidly aging into irrelevance.
* Horde drafts, in the hope that events will come around that will provide hook with which to revive draft.
* Take perverse comfort in completely specious rationalization that I can't die with unfinished business, even though I know it happens all the time.

How's that working out? I'm reminded of an old Bloom County cartoon (I took the liberty of scanning it, possibly from my copy of Bloom County Classics of Western Literature):

Binkley: Ya know, Voltaire once said that there's a certain inevitable futility in indecision.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Building a Kick-Ass PVC Fig Rig That I Hope to Use Someday

So, what's it all about, then? Read on.

It's been just about a year since I built my Poor Man's Steadycam, and I've yet to put it to anything resembling real-life use. Mostly because I just don't shoot a lot of video, but also because it's pretty darn heavy to lug around, and it's too unwieldy to skate around with.

Still, I'm intrigued (some might say "obsessed") with techniques to stabilize digital video cameras, and this Saturday is the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race, so I wanted something new.

Enter the Fig Rig
The professionally-built Fig Rig is basically a steering wheel, with the camera mounted in the middle. By gripping the sides of the wheel, you reduce camera shake. Pretty straightforward.

Now, I'd seen the plans on how build a PVC Fig Rig knockoff (here's another version on Instructables), though it seemed to be a bit large, considering I don't have a big little video camera (just the video mode on my point-and-shoot).

The Instructables' entries weren't particularly... instructable, but a quick search pulls up this Flickr set, complete with exploded view so you can see how it all fits together. Even better, a commenter had created his own even more compact version, The Mini DV handlebar, which was just what I was looking for. (Another person, Missile Mike, did a helpful blog entry with a complete parts list and instructions.)

The Build
Of course, I had plenty of 1/2" PVC left over from my Blackjack Table Halloween costume, so I just had to make a trip to Home Depot to pick up the other PVC fittings. I didn't take any build photos since you can just look at the Flickr set, though I guess I should have -- I had to improvise a bit -- the 90 degree joint with the threaded outlet (that serves as the camera mount) only came in 3/4", so I had to get some 3/4"-to-1/2" reducing bushings.

Also, when I finally fit it together, the pieces didn't quite... fit. (Good thing I did the dry fit before gluing everything together.) The 90 degree elbows didn't meet in the middle -- one side was higher than the other, and the ends didn't reach. I ended up changing the design a bit, flipping one around and using a 1/2" coupler to join the ends in the middle, but it's basically the same.

Additionally, for the 1/4" screw mount, I just used the mount from the Poor Man's Steadycam, since I'd done it before, I don't have a quick-release mount, and because my end caps were a little different. (I did have to go back a few times to find the right-sized bolts, though.)

Anyway, here's the final product -- I wrapped it black electrical tape, then red marble-patterned cork bicycle handlebar grip tape, because it looks cool:

There are two rows of washers -- the bottom row is basically just a spare.

As you can see, it stands on its own:


With camera mounted:


And gripped, in life-like fashion:


(Note that in a world of self-timers, this is the only acceptable justification for shooting a self-portrait in a bathroom mirror -- when you actually need to show the camera in the shot.)

It feels pretty solid -- sturdy enough to, say, beat a hobo to death with. It's actually one of the reasons I went exclusively with PVC couplings, instead of trying to use my heat gun to bend the PVC (you'd still need a few couplings, anyway) -- everything's short connectors butted end-to-end, so there's no flex in it.

Does It Work?
Um, that's hard to say. I was going to try to test it at Wednesday's kickball game, but we got rained out. Based on some limited indoor testing, I'd say it works better than hand-held, not as good as the Steadycam. We're gonna be cooking with gas when I try it out on Saturday -- hopefully, we won't get rained on too bad, and also hopefully, this scratch in my throat (which is most definitely notnotnot the Mexican/Swine/H1N1 flu, even though I spent a lot of time in Home Depots this week) won't put me on the sidelines.