Friday, May 29, 2009

How to Remove a Stuck Lens Filter

I committed the ultimate camera enthusiast travesty... I dropped my Canon 40D. Thankfully (if there is such a thing) it landed lens first with a lens cap on and a UV lens filter, which took the brunt of the fall. The body didn't even get scuffed and the lens, so far, seems mechanically fine. The glass in the filter cracked so I had to carefully remove the shards while the camera was upside down so that the lens didn't get scratched. After that I wasn't able to unscrew the filter because it was bent and putting too much of an asymmetrical force on the threads. After some research here are a few suggestions in order from low to high risk (try at your own risk) for removing the lens filter:
  • Using the palm of your hand
  • Using carpet or a rubber mat
  • Using filter wrench
  • Using the rubber sole of your shoe
And finally, when all of those didn't work I used a pair of pliers. To protect the main lens from metal trimmings I cut a circular piece of paper and put it on top of the lens. I then gripped the outer edge of the lens filter with the pliers oriented along the long axis of the lens and then applied pressure moving the handle of the pliers away from the center of the lens. This effectively rotated and peeled off the outer ring (the long twisting piece shown below). After that the flat interior ring came out freely leaving just the threaded portion. This is where you have to be careful. Hopefully there is enough room for you to grip with needle nose, otherwise you need to carefully use a tool (such as a standard screwdriver) to pry the threaded filter portion inwards. Once you are able to fold the filter in on itself it should pop out with very, if any, damage to the lens threads.

Best Free iPhone Apps

Here is my top 10 list of FREE iPhone Apps:
  1. Pandora
  3. Chess with Friends
  4. To Do List
  5. Google App
  6. Facebook
  7. FML
  8. Shazam
  9. Urban Spoon
  10. iFlashlight

Not so Easy EZ Parking

I had one of those, "is this really happening right now?" moments last weekend. After returning to Newark Airport from a Memorial Day weekend trip in Michigan (link to Lodge Interior Construction Trip) I was supposed to call for a shuttle pickup from the E-Z Parking service that I had partaken in prior to my trip. The theory was that I would give them my certificate number and they would promptly send a shuttle to take me back to the Royal Plaza parking lot for a timely and relatively cheap escape ($8/day vs. $35/day Airport "Economy" parking). The first sign that the evening would not go as planned was that I couldn't reach either of the provided phone numbers. The fact that it was a little after 11pm at the end of a holiday weekend (read: I had work the next day and a 3 hour drive still ahead of me) also didn't bode well. Luckily Jess hadn't arrived yet to pick up Andrew so I still had that as a backup.

After 5-10 minutes, which I found out later was an extremely short amount of time in comparison to other customers - some of whom waited for more than an hour, a Royal Plaza shuttle came by and I flagged it down. Showing my non-street savvy I flashed the EZ Parking paper at the driver to confirm if that was the correct shuttle to be on. Of course they probably had some regulation or agreement where the Royal Plaza shuttles can't/shouldn't pick up EZ Parking passengers even though EZ Parking uses the empty Royal Plaza parking spaces. So the driver shakes his head and says that I can't take his shuttle. Thankfully there was a more determined Dad (along with a wife and baby daughter to care about) who insisted on riding that shuttle. Seeing this, coupled with still not being able to reach EZ Parking over the phone, I decided it was time to bid Andrew farewell and rush on the shuttle, completely ignoring the driver.

The shuttle made the airport rounds and deposited us at the hotel door. A short 60 second walk and I was at the shack of a building that represented the EZ Parking establishment. There was only one person in front of me but I was soon followed by around 10 other people. This is where it gets pretty comical from my standpoint. What had obviously happened was that the phone service was out (since 9pm) and no one could reach the service. As each person walked in, whether from Taxi or shuttle, they were furious and wanted to know why they were abandoned at the airport. Many of the fathers in the group were so caught up in yelling at the staff that they ended up yelling at each other because they couldn't take turns. I just sat back and watched because it was clear (based on the discussion from the person before me) that no refunds or compensation would be granted - even for those taking a taxi.

One particular Dad - the subject of the second half of my story (not the same Dad who rode in the shuttle with me) was carrying his 9 year old when he entered the shack and kind of shrugged his shoulders (lifting his son at the same time, which made it seem funny) and yelled, "what gives?!" When the shift manager was explaining that "Verizon doesn't fix the service and ruins my business," the Dad replied that they we're even because they ruined his vacation as well. I'm sorry, but if being delayed for an hour or two ruined your week long vacation (the week I deduced from his bill amount) then it must have been pretty poor to begin with. Meanwhile I give the person my claim number, and credit card information (their machine was also out because of the phone) and step outside to get away from the tension. A few minutes later that Dad had gone through the ropes and apparently they would not deduct the Taxi fare from his parking fee. Instead they wanted to bill him the full amount and then he would have to "call back later for the refund." Determined not to have his vacation ruined and be shafted at the same time his solution was simple, "I'll pay my fee, less the taxi, or you can call the cops." The latter part of this discussion was occurring as the Dad was loading up his Suburban equivalent Cadillac with the manager buzzing around him trying to talk him into paying. After getting his family loaded he slammed his car door shut in the managers face - which resulted in a quick yelp on a radio to the guard/toll shack to lower the arms and not let him through. As you can imagine this escalates rather quickly. The Cadillac (I didn't know this was possible) peels out headed for the gate which is a good couple hundred yards away. The manager starts running over and continues to yell into the radio telling security and anyone who can hear to try and stop the car. The manager gets about half way there (the Cadillac had to make a 90 degree turn and then accelerate again so they are about even now) when he meets one of his EZ Parking vans coming to investigate. The manager screams, "back up as fast as you can!" The van backs up by far the fastest that I've ever seen in real life, like stunt driver fast, and effectively does a J turn to swing around just in time to block off the Cadillac. The Cadillac speeds around to the other side of the toll booth to exit the entrance side but the manager actually jumps in the way. For $15 this guy effectively risks bodily injury and possibly death. Just goes to show you how much people get caught up in the moment with adrenaline pumping. After a bit of cat and mouse they end up boxing the Cadillac in with two EZ Parking vans (which weren't anywhere to be found when people needed rides by the way) and a security truck.

Despite the entertainment value this whole ordeal provided it still wasn't very considerate of the guy to go and do this because it delayed about 15 other people a good half hour. To the guy's credit however, back at the EZ Parking shack I you could hear the hotel security or manager telling the guy to take the loss instead of calling and getting the cops involved. So, after a couple tries by the staff to subtract $20 off of a $74 bill, the Caddy left on its marry way. From a curiosity standpoint I can't help but wonder what the (then) sleeping kid and the mom were doing the whole time the car chase was happening. In a way the experience was helpful because it really woke me up for my 3hr drive back to Schenectady.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Concert Madness Weekend

Traditionally 1-2 weeks prior is a stretch for planning events when my friends and I meet up. However, this particular weekend began construction almost 2 months in advance. I happened to get an email with details about a Fallout Boy concert held at the Field House on the RPI campus on Sunday Apr 26th. Using my handy-dandy student I.D. (Don't judge, when your college tuition is $40k/year then you can judge) I purchased tickets for myself, Andrew and Alex at the uber cheap price of $17 a pop (compared to $35 will-call). A month or so later Alex emails the gang - that's right, gang - with a list of Eve 6 concerts happening in the area over the next month. As it works out, we end up deciding on the free concert at Oneonta, about an hour away from me, that is on the Saturday before FOB plays. Thus, the concert madness weekend unfolded.

We ended up just meeting on Saturday in Oneonta, NY for the Eve 6 concert. It was really the first or second weekend of actual summer weather so it was very sunny and very warm. Did I mention that Oneonta has a couple of colleges? After our initial weave and bob to the right middle of the crowd we were around 50 feet from the stage. It really wasn't that crowded - nor looking back should it have been since Eve 6 was more than 4 hours away from playing - so working our way towards the stage was relatively easy.

The first two opening bands were pretty mundane, one an oldies cover band and the other a newer alternative cover band. The following setup/changeover took much longer than usual and if it weren't for an oversized beach ball and lively scenery things would have gotten very boring. Finally a DJ walked out on the stage and started playing some music. After a while he started mixing it up and using the turn tables. Our group made the comment that his transitions between songs was really rough and obnoxious. Little did we know that he is a relatively well known DJ who works with RAHZEL! That's right after a little more DJ torture, Rahzel made a surprise appearance!!!:

Not only was this a free concert, we got to see someone I never thought I'd see in person. In case you have never heard of Rahzel (in which case I recommend you do a quick search on YouTube), he is an amazing, if not the best in the world, beat-boxer. Andrew and I freshman year heard his claim to fame song, "If you're mother only knew." In the song he sings those words while performing all of the percussion instruments. It's one thing to hear it via speakers, it's a complete different experience to see it live. Your ears are constantly telling your eyes that they aren't getting the whole picture and that they need to look for a drum set.

The downside of a free concert is that no one paid to be there and is, on average, less enthused about every band/artist. To a point that they will have conversations and talk on the phone as if no one is performing. Case and point, Rahzel had to ask the sound guys to turn up the volume multiple times because, "I got people I can hear chatting up here in da front." For me this completely ruins the experience because everyone else isn't into it as much as you are. It seemed like Alex, Andrew and I were among maybe 30 other people who had even heard of Rahzel. Fortunately a group of guys - who I would normally consider just plain obnoxious with their over sized clothes and flat-brimmed hats - were overly expressive of their admiration of Rahzel. One of the guys would yell at the top of his lungs things like, "Rahzel, you're the man!" "Yo Rahzel!" until Rahzel actually acknowledged them with a "sup fellas." That got a "Rahzel said sup to me man!" Fortunately another couple bands came out and Rahzel made another appearance and by then the crowd was much more attentive.

Finally, the main attraction, Eve 6:

In all of the concerts I have been to there have never been as many crowd surfers as there were at this place. The crowd surfers in general are quite amusing but this was to the point where we would get bashed in the head every couple of minutes because we were just a couple rows from the front and apparently weren't paying enough attention. We ended up having our group and a couple other guys around us warn each other if someone was coming. Crowd surfing mayhem aside the Eve 6 was awesome. As always the most enjoyable songs were those that I knew the lyrics to, which in a way is ironic that you come to hear an artist play and end up enjoying it the most when you're singing and getting into it just as much. They did play a couple of new songs which 2 of the 3 ended up being really enjoyable (don't remember the names) so I look forward to downloading them (completely legally of course).


Yet another day of concert fun featuring FOB (Fallout Boy). As I mentioned earlier they played at the RPI Fieldhouse which normally a hockey rink which as you can imagine is at the opposite end from being designed for acoustic performance. To make things worse it was 10x louder than the concert the previous day. Lets not tally the total weekend damage to my hearing shall we. But this was the kind of loud where your clothes vibrate and your chest gets pounded with the base. Our college friend Gavin who Andrew happened to run into at the concert was wearing earplugs, which I was almost at the point of sucker punching him and taking them. To make things worse (yes I know I said that already so think 2x worse) this was an unusually warm weekend and they filled the arena with the performance/light showcasing fog to about 99% humidity.

Probably one of the most comical thought experiments during this concert was the result of heat/humidity and packed crowd combination. It was very obvious that between sets people were both overheating and getting claustrophobic. Ever couple minutes a girl would get crowd surfed (remember, between sets) or just put her arms up close to the front rails and the security/bouncers would pick them up and remove them. Part of me wonders if these (generally) girls would just take a deep breath and lower their heart rate if they wouldn't have overheated and panicked. But I suppose that's like trying to tell a crazed bull that red also is the color of pretty roses. (don't know where that came from) Anyway, what was more comical than that was the fact that in addition to throwing water bottles randomly in the crowd the security guys were almost bottle feeding those close to them. At one point I couldn't help but picture a bunch of livestock trying to get at a food or water source.


Monday you say? That's not the weekend anymore! Oh... but it sooo was. Andrew and Alex took the day off and hung around Schenectady/Albany. Andrew and I had read about an awesome board game Settlers of Canan so it was their mission to find and buy the game. They called me sometime before lunch and told me that they were out of stock which put a real damper on things. We had planned to meet at Quiznos for lunch and then for Andrew and Alex to head home because of the long drive. What happened instead was I showed up to Quiznos only to find that they had found the game and completely set it up on a Quiznos table! We ended up playing all through lunch and it was a blast. The goal was to get me to take off the rest of work that day but I had an important class that was mandatory so they agreed to leave later that evening so we could play after I finished work. Settlers of Catan FTW!

So endeth our concert madness weekend of 2009.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Quest for the Perfect Photo Gallery/Site/Store

I have been looking for the ideal solution for my pictorial sharing ambitions, the problem is, there is no one service or product that will satisfy them all. The main reason is that I want to share my photos with others in many different capacities. I'll list the main categories below with their desired primary attributes for ease of future discussion.
  1. Family/Close Friends: Event Sorted, Login Protected, Album Browsing, Easy download-all feature
  2. Friends: Donate via paypal feature, Event Sorted, Album Browsing, Reduced size, Pay for download-all and full quality
  3. Prints/Merchandise: T-shirts, Prints, etc - no/minimal profit
  4. Professional: Profit making, Tiered pricing, Finished/professional appearance

A few of the original services that I looked at were:

  • Picasa
  • Flikr
  • SmugMug
  • Cafepress
  • KodakAlbums

The problem is, they're all expensive and not nearly as customizable as I would like. Picasa is probably the easiest to use of the above services, as far as image-to-gallery effort, because of the Picasa desktop program that you can use as a portal. All of the others are far too cumbersome.

Enter the D-link DNS-323 NAS (Network attached storage). I'm currently working on getting a customizable web-based HTML front end created by a program called JAlbum to work on on the server. This is a program that runs in the background on the server which creates template based albums from photos that I simply place (upload) onto the server from anywhere in the world. I have also read about additional features such as direct download and paypal abilities which would satisfy a couple of my desired functions. There is a downside to such a great utility, there's a huge learning curve and it involves using linux (link to future post on linux).

Xterra 2" Body Lift

So the next step in my quest to make my Xterra an offroading beast is to add a 2" Body Lift. A body lift raises the chasis relative to the frame through the use of what's commonly referred to as pucks. I don't get any extra ground clearance or articulation, it simply raises the cabin 2" higher to provide more wheel clearance and to get the decorative parts off of the ground a little more. At the same time I will effectively be increasing my center of gravity by around 0.5" to 1" so cornering should improve immensely (sarcasm). Here is a picture of the pucks and bolts used for the mod:

Here's a "How-to" post on the ClubXterra forum I frequent. The mod should take about 8-12hrs to install and definately be easier with another pair of hands. I'll probably be buying a 12-pack for whoever wants to join in for the automotive fun one Saturday or Sunday this summer. I just recieved the kit from someone else on the forum who put it together (and decided against doing the mod).

After I get the BL installed I can continue with my list of mods that were dependant on this one:
  • Bigger tires! I'm thinking 32-33" at the moment. I have to look into whether or not different gearing is required.

Hopefully I'll be posting in a month or so with before and after pictures of the X.

What Grinds My Gears - Take 2

This is a continuation of my first Grinds My Gears post.

  • Anyone going under the speed limit
  • Using the words in an acronym along with the acronym, for example, RPI R.I.N. Number - in which RIN stands for RPI Identification Number... also a more common example ATM Machine...
  • Holding the door open for someone when they're more than 2 seconds (normal walking speed) away from the door
  • The fact that the AWG system uses numbers that get bigger for things that get smaller
  • Gun fight scenes where a single clip of pistol ammunition (typically 9-15 rounds) can shoot easily 100 rounds. Apart from a few (out of way too many) scenes where the character checks to confirm that there's only one round in the clip, shootout scenes are missing an entire tactical element
  • Most people don't understand that there's a difference (let alone why) between byte and bit - as in 1 MB/s != 1Mbit/sec
  • All things Imperial/English units (omg it freezes at 0 and boils at 100... brilliant!)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What Grinds My Gears

I'm going to have to take this one straight out of Family Guy. Peter Griffin hosts a show where he complains about anything and everything that he finds annoying in the world around him. Hopefully nothing here will offend anyone, but if it does, feel free to stop reading because if you get offended, and continue reading... you're going on the list.

  • Hot dogs and buns unequal package quantities
  • Rubber kneckers
  • People who think more megapixels in a camera always means "better"
  • Cops that give a speeding ticket instead of a warning when you're in a brand new car. (dealer plates still!)
  • HeigTH, Frigerator, AcrossT
  • People who interchange/confuse download and upload, you cannot "download to the internet!"
  • Motorcycles with overly loud exhaust "bap bap bap bap bap," annoying != cool
  • The fact that 2x4's twist and bend before you can use them
  • The fact that 2x4's are not actually 2" x 4"... why... (along with every other piece of lumber)

That's all for now - stay tuned for more.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Best Co-op PC Games - Comradery and Competition at its Best

Co-op gaming on the PC brings the best of the console world (multiplayer) and the PC world (the PC gaming platform with it's graphics and it's accurate mouse/keyboard input). My friend recently entered the world of gaming through an awesome custom built computer. Ever since we've been gunning for the best and brightest co-op games. Here is a list of ones we have found to be particularly enjoyable.

1. Left 4 Dead - This was a great game aimed almost completely at co-op players. The campaign which winds is way through buildings, rooftops, greenhouses, rail stations and corn fields, provides rich opportunities for different seige and defense tactics. To spice things up the two main "bosses" of the levels, a witch and a hulk-like character, are placed at random. The difficulty settings are a bit too granular for our liking. On "normal" you can pick zombies off one-by-one at a distance without agro-ing the rest, but one step up in difficulty and you'll find yourself overwhelmed if your team so much as squeeks a fart out in the wrong location. It is refreshing however to have a level of difficulty that only hours of dedication and finely tuned team can beat. Where this game really shines is in the versus mode where you can play on either the survivor or infected teams. This mode is much more chaotic than the campaign, as you would expect, but it also requires a different playing style, becuase the sit-and-wait approach to killing zombies only allows the infect more spawning opportunities. So... RUN!

2. Call of Duty: World at War - I am enamored by the Call of Duty series but this one takes the cake. COD levels past tended to be linear and most situtations required a single combat tactic approach leaving only skill and speed of excecution to provide entertainment. The added team dynamic to COD World at War does wonders for increasing the variation in tactics. However, this alone wouldn't have made this game what it is. What did you ask? Level design. A game can be made or broken based on the way the levels are layed out. I'll go a step further, simply the amount of cover, enemy entrentchments and paths can make or break a game. The designers behind Wold at War realized that when playing co-op some commrades like to work together, others like to separate and strut thier stuff. As a result they built in forks and splits in the path where you can choose to go down one or ther other (or both if you're crazy awesome like us). This adds another level of variety as each path has its own triggers, tactics and weapon preference. For those who just can't get enough there are achievements that range from comical to just plain challenging. They force you to replay missions but always with a twist or alternate goal in mind. A particular favorite achievement of mine allows you to revive your commrade by shooting them. Pure genious.

3. Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance - Although not strictly a co-op style game, with the creative use of team based skirmish and custom maps it might as well be. If you're not afraid of resource management, unit micromanagement, time management, science/upgrade management... there's management everywhere in this game... then you can overlook the nitty gritty and realize that this game is probably one of the most epic, scalable, tactic centric games since originals such as Starcraft. The major downside that I have at this point is the lack of AI (or simply unit) intelligence, particularly on custom maps. Many times not more than a few pixels away from eachother, two units will sit and fire at a boulder or hill until the cows come home. (why did the cows leave in the first place?) Constantly mixing up the type and amount of AI (tech, turtle, adaptive) as well as the map, allows for endless hours of technological warfare goodness.

4. H.A.W.X. - the acronym escapes me but the well-suited co-op gameplay do not. HAWX is a combat flight simulator that succeeds in getting the many realworld controls and dials out of your way to enjoy the pure fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experience with the precense of a co-op buddy. I use the word precense on purpose because that's really all the interaction you'll have with your teammate in this game. While the number and relative distant proximities of enemies requires that there be two "good guys" to deal with them it's that type of game mechanic that simply puts you and a buddy in the same sky with little else to do with eachother. Occasionally one person may have finished off thier share of bandits and been able to help out thier commrade who has a bogey (reminds me of booger) on thier six but then is immediately called away to fend off another wave in the complete opposite direction. I'm not saying that there has to be so little interaction, it's just what happens as a result of the level situations. This game is definately enjoyable as a co-op experience but it is not required to get the full potential out of the game.

Stay tuned for more co-op games.

To Be

This is a running talley of topics/events I would like to write about. Here they are in no particular order:
  • Canon 40D vs. 50D - Adam and I use a 46" 1080p HDTV Flatscreen to compare
  • Fish and Craigslist - The cheapest (best?) way to start a fish hobby
  • Fish Update - Breeding Profitability Not Feasible
  • Best Co-op Games - Comradery and Competition at its best
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 1 - Design Selection
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 2 - Detailed Planning
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 3 - Rough Construction Phase
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 4 - Interior Design
  • Michigan Lodge Construction - Episode 5 - Interior Construction
  • Building a Computer - 21st Century Grease Monkey
  • Platte Wakeboarding - Hobby Turned Tradition
  • Mohawk Wakeboarding - Intern Chaos
  • VIP Speaker Stereo Install
  • VIP OMC Cobra Sterndrive Troubles - Recall Nightmare
  • Xterra - Blackin'
  • Xterra - PML
  • Xterra - BL

Feel free to suggest additional ideas!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Where did that watt go?

Having entered the working world around a year or so ago, it has become apparent to me that electricity is a small but measurable portion of my living expenses. If you consider my average electricity bill for the last year was $60, that's roughly 5% of my monthly expenses (yes expensive rent). That's about 4% too much in my opinion. So I purchased this little gadget from Amazon.

I was like a kid in a candy store with all the data I was collecting. I discovered quite a few things that were relatively shocking. Here's the list:
  • Verizon Wireless Router: 15W (On)
  • Logitech 5.1 Speaker System: 3W (Off)
  • D-Link-323 NAS w/ 1TB WD Caviar Drive: 24W (Normal Load), 1W (Off)
  • Desktop Computer Tower: 232W (Game), 166W (Idle), 5W (Off)
  • Samsung 21" LCD Monitor: 39W (On), ~0W(Off)
  • ViewSonic 19" LCD Monitor: 44W (On), ~1W (Off)
  • HP All-in-one Printer: 16W (Idle), 6W (Off)
  • Laptop: 15W (Idle, Screen open), 11W (Idle, Screen Closed), ~0W (Off)
  • GE Microwave: 2W (Idle)
What's the big picture you ask? Even if I'm 100% diligent and turn everything off but leave them plugged in while I'm not using them, I could potentially be using 16 extra Watts. That's 16W*24hr*30days/1000W/kw = 11.52kWh. When it's all said and done I pay about 15c/kwh. That means I pay an extra $1.72/month just because those items are off but still plugged in while not in use. This may not sound like much, and definitely pales in comparison to converting an incandescent bulb to CFL, but it's completely wasted. So, while we're buying new and expensive appliances that are energy efficient, there are plenty of other things that are wasting energy.

Solution? Well, until manufacturers are going to put complete disconnect switches in the transformers on products (or when we convert to a complete 12v house-grid to remove transformers altogether) we need a temporary solution. Mine was simply to buy a $3 power strip at walmart and plug that into my existing power strip behind my computer. The always on items such as my NAS server and router are plugged into the one closest to the wall and on the extension I plug all of the "power down" components such as the tower, speakers and monitors. Whenever I power down my computer now I click the button on the power strip to completely remove those them from the grid. As of now, the power strip and watt-meter have almost paid for themsleves. How much energy are you unknowingly wasting?

Blog Created

Step 1: Create Blog/Website. DONE!

Half of the fun is actually crossing things off of a list of things to do. Now that I have a portal to share my thoughts and/or experiences I need to add to my list: Populate it.

As with most people I would assume, I have a wealth of ideas, comparisons, photos, experiences etc. all in various stages of existance, but very few have been completed and documented. This site is an attempt to force that transcription and therefore completion process.

The key to making something effective and worthwhile is having a good mission or goal. The mission of this website is very simple, to share - for the enjoyment or education - my thoughts and experiences with others. A mentor of mine says that "if you don't document it, it didn't happen." On a micro level that isn't the case, my actions change things around me and those who observe or are impacted directly. On a macro scale, in terms of sharing on a global level, my existence is hardly felt. So, I created this website with the potential to impact others. Whether it will or not, time will tell.