Links to stuff on this blog

Use the Site Index of Projects page link above for an easier way to find stuff on my blog that you might be looking for!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homemade Steadicam Camera Stabilizer

Recently I was trying to make some short videos of things and I wanted to walk around while filming, to get shots of all the sides. Trying to keep the camera steady while doing that was difficult so I decided to build a camera stabilizer! There are a lot of instructional videos of homemade steadicam camera stabilizers and the simple ones are nothing more than a counterweight that adds mass and keeps the camera stable while moving around. The tricks (if you can call them that) to building one is you have to have some way to hold the camera and stabilizer that decouples your hand and body movements from the camera. The other challenging thing to making one is balancing the camera with the weight so that the camera is at the right angle for your shot.

The easiest and most obvious way to decouple your movements from the camera is to have a gimbal of some sort that lets the camera move all around relative to your hand. I decided rather than building a gimbal I'd use a small universal joint that is used in the drive shaft of radio controlled cars. Other people have built camera stabilizers using these and got good results. I decided to use one because I had a few laying around the garage!
My homemade Camera Stabilizer and the parts I used to make it
The counterweight has to be adjustable so that when changing from one camera to another one of different weight or center of gravity you can level it out. Also if you want to angle the camera down or up you have to do that by adjusting the weight. Most camera stabilizers require you to add little weights and/or move them around on some kind of arm. I decided to get around that hassle by using a flexible gooseneck mount with the weight mounted to the bottom end. These goosnecks are used to position microphones and car accessories. This allows me to adjust the weight position and camera angle by just bending the gooseneck. Here are the details of how I went about building this, along with a video! Watch the video!!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Another Home Made Ranque-Hilsch Vortex Tube

As I mentioned last week I made another Ranque-Hilsch Vortex Cooling Tube that worked better than the last two that I made. If you are interested in the last two HERE and HERE are links to those attempts. In addition to those posts I also made some videos about the construction that you can check out by clicking on the Site Index of Projects link at the top of this blog and scrolling down to the Vortex Cooling Tube links. Below is a thermal image picture I made of the most recent tube in operation.
Thermal Image of my Homemade Vortex Cooling Tube

Before I drone on and on about how I built this I'll provide a few links to resources and information on the web about how these work. Like last time HERE is a Wikipedia link to a nice summary about what goes on inside a  Ranque-Hilsch vortex cooling tube. Also HERE is a 500+ page pdf with more information than you probably will ever want to know. Lastly HERE is a link (that is also on the side bar of my blog) to a guy that builds his own cooling tubes. Anyway on to the construction details and results of this experiment.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Another attempt at building a Vortex Cooling Tube

This week I decided to build another Vortex Cooling Tube and run it at home with my compressor. There are a few differences between this Vortex Tube and the last one that I built HERE. This time I decided to use thermocouples to get a more accurate temperature measurement and also I ran this one on a smaller home compressor that has a limited pressure and airflow. Because I knew that I was going to run this one on a smaller compressor I decided to make it smaller. As always the 'garage' attitude and approach to my experiments prevailed in the design so I was limited to materials and tools that I have at hand. Unfortunately this tube didn't work very well for various reasons but I'm blogging about it anyway. Why blog about it you ask? Well because this blog is about the things that I am doing regardless of the outcome! Below is a picture of the materials that I used to build this Vortex Cooling Tube.
Vortex Tube Materials
There is some really interesting information about how these things work on the internet and an extensive study HERE for those interested. A simple explanation can be found HERE as well. The idea is tubes like this can separate hot stuff from cold stuff. What is supposed to happen is you put a fluid (usually  a gas) into a tube and get it swirling around (the vortex). The swirling gas travels down the tube to the "hot end" where the hot part of the fluid comes out. Whatever doesn't come out is cooler than the hot stuff and it comes out someplace else (usually the other end of the tube). 
Below is a description of what I built with a video of how I went about it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

How to do Schlieren Photography at home

A few people have emailed me and asked about the setup that I use for taking Schlieren pictures. In the Site Index of Projects link there are links to all the posts that I have done explaining what I did to make the pictures. But I suppose that pictures (or videos) can speak a 1000 words as they say so I decided to make a video that shown what my setup looks like.

With that in mind I made a video and is linked to below explaining in better detail how I go about taking these pictures and making the videos. If any of it doesn't make sense please email me at or leave a comment and I'll be happy to explain whatever it is that isn't clear.
There are some really good sites with lots of information about how Schlieren photography works like HERE. Also if you are going to make a pin point light source like the one I use you should go to the source HERE of how I went about making mine!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How To Make A Kinematic Mount

I made a video explaining how I built a Kinematic Mount for a parabolic mirror that I use for doing Schlieren Photography. The original post where I described how to make this is HERE but the video explains it a lot better!!

If you want to know more or have any question please leave a comment or send me an email and I'll be happy to help. Enjoy!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Swimming With Bowlegged Women

Why? For no reason other than I felt like it...
I wrote the music and 'performed' it with a Roland Sound Canvas.

I like to go swimming with bowlegged women
'cause their so much fun in the pool
they make me feel giddy
they make me feel silly
they make me just act like a fool
My pulse starts to quicken when them legs get a kicking
as they go splashing by me
so if your legs are not straight
you got the perfect trait
to fill my heart up with glee
Now some like the back stroke but the best stroke it the breast stroke
if stroking is the thing for you
but I'm just a hoping with your legs open
that we'll find a way to stay cool
Now I aint even trying cause theres no denying
that bent legs are the thing for me
and I like to go swimming with bowlegged women
cause they fill my heart up with glee

Arduino Controlled Biped Robot

This week I have spent some time in the garage and a lot more time on the computer. The garage time has been spent rebuilding a biped robot built by Auzieman. He has a great site that is devoted to homemade robotics and everything related to building and programming them. This particular robot is a biped that uses six Futaba S3003 servos controlled by an Arduino board. The power supply is connected via an umbilical to save weight. The task that I have  undertaken is refining the mechanics and making everything a little less loose! Think of it as a robotic 'shave and haircut'.
Arduino Controlled Biped Robot
The concept here is to build a robot that uses mostly similar or exactly the same brackets and servos to save cost. Developing a universal bracket that mounts Radio Controlled style servos is a difficult task due to the shape and size of RC servos. These types of servos are meant to be used in model cars and boats and not specifically as structural elements so they have very limited mounting points on one side only. A universal bracket then has to 'wrap around' the servo and provide holes/surfaces to mount whatever you dream up.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How To Make: Grilled Shrimp Paste on Sugar Cane

What more cooking related posts?!? As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago I don't know how to cook and I also am also not a composer of music but that isn't going to stop me from doing both! Here is another short video that I made with music that I wrote explaining how to make Grilled Shrimp on Sugar Cane. These are yummy treats that have a nice sweet sugar cane in the center surrounded by shrimp. Kinda like "Pigs In A Blanket" but more like cane in an overcoat.

I hope that you enjoy the food more than the video but try both and let me know which one is better! Below are the ingredients, a video and the cooking instructions!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How to make a LED (Christmas?) Light Tree

I guess this isn't necessarily a Christmas Light Tree, it could be just another cool lamp for my house like THIS ONE I made awhile ago. Regardless of it's holiday appropriateness it's a fun project that uses Christmas LED light strings and some stuff you can buy at the craft store. I decided to make this after seeing some of these in a shop at Cannery Row in Monterrey and I liked how they looked, and didn't like how much they cost!
Homemade LED Light Tree
The one that I made is about 24" tall and sits in a 5" diameter vase. It was made using 3 strings of Phillips Battery Powered Micro LED Light strings  (2 white and 1 blue) that you can get at almost any store these days that stocks Christmas and Holiday lights (it is that season after all!). The vase is metal with a glass insert and has cool a looking design cut in it that the light shines through. Below is a picture of some of the parts that I used.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How To Make Thai Chicken and Fried Rice (the easy way!!)

What is a cooking recipe and instructions doing on Otto's blog you ask?? If you know me you know that I don't know how to cook so this must be a shock! The reason that I have added this here is to dispel any concerns about my nutrition and also because I not only shot the video you are about to see (if you choose) but also I wrote all the music! Food for the body and the mind!!
Easy Thai Chicken and Fried Rice
So in those respects this is appropriate for a blog about what I am doing! (makes sense to me) The picture above shows what this yummy dish looks like right before you stuff it all in your mouth and let out a happy and satisfying shout of delicious joy! YUM!
Click below to watch the video and see the recipe!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

MS Excel Checking Bit Positions in Bytes and other stuff...

The other day I wanted to make a chart that showed all the numbers up to 255 sorted by the number of bits that are set to 1. Why I wanted to do this I can't remember but I manged to make a chart like that in MS Excel.  I also wanted to make a spreadsheet that would show me all the 1 bit differences from any 8 bit number, all the 2 bit differences, all the 3 bit differences and so on... What I'm writing about is how I went about doing that.
MS Excel pretty much sucks when it comes to dealing with binary numbers. The "=dec2bin()" doesn't work for a useful number of bits and there are no logical operators that you can use directly from Excel. Also there are no parity checking commands or functions that are built in to the spreadsheets. What I wanted to do specifically for my first chart was take a decimal number, convert it to a binary number then count the number of bits that are set to 1 in that number. After I figured out how many 1's there were in the number I wanted to put that number into a list.
For the second chart (or set of charts) that I wanted to make I needed to get a number, do a logical Exclusive Or with another number and then count the number of bits. Anyway here is a neat picture that shows what I came up with to do both of these things.
16 Bit dec2bin() and Parity in Excel

I wrote here about all this stuff before in another post that pretty much just explained how to do this but didn't have any examples of how to use it. This post will have some examples of how it all works.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

How To Make A Shop Dust Collector

Isn't it interesting that the words "blow" and "suck" both mean something is bad in today's vernacular? Coincidentally (or maybe not) things that suck also tend to blow. This is especially true for my Homemade Dust Collector! I wrote about this contraption over a year ago in my post "DIY Homemade (free) Shop Dust Collector (Disperser)" that some people have asked for more information about. It's not really that complicated and there are only a few things that you need to think about when building one so I decided to talk some more about it and make a video!! Below is a picture of most of it's parts.

You can see in the picture that it's really nothing more than a bucket with a blower motor attached to a hole in the lid. "What more could there be to it you ask?" Click below and you can find out! Try reading the original post as well for more exciting details! I'll add a few things that I may have missed in the text below.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Number Sequences with MS Excel Visual Basic, Prime Numbers etc...

What is this post all about? I don't really know but it was fun to do and it is what I have been doing so this is what I am writing about! After all this blog is supposed to be about the things I am doing. Enough with the fancy introductions...
I really like number sequences, or more specifically integer sequences, because to me they are interesting in some mysterious way. I don't think that I am the only person that feels this way because there is a On-Line Encyclopedia Of Integer Sequences that is full of them here OEIS. Anyway I decided to write some Visual Basic scripts in Excel and play around with them. The first thing I decided to do was make a chart that has the square number sequence (OEIS sequence A000290) going down the page in a diagonal. That is the purple values below:

This square number sequence is the square of the integers... so start with 1, 2, 3, 4,... and square those and you get (1*1) = 1, (2*2) = 4, (3*3) = 9, (4*4) = 16 etc... What enormous amounts of fun you say!? What could possibly make this any better you ask?  Adding in the missing natural numbers in a way that still preserves the diagonal of squares is the first thing that comes to my mind!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

DIY Simple Car Alarm Flashing LED

Everyone on my block has a flashing light car alarm and I want one too!!! Actually there is more to it than that. I have a car alarm and a good one at that but it doesn't have the Anti-Theft flashing light. At night when I park my car someplace and I'm walking in to where ever it is I am going, all the cars seem to have that flashing light. I started to wonder if the car thieves look at those things... I imagine that if there is a parking lot full of cars and all of them except one has a light that one would be the car that gets stolen. So I decided to add a flashing LED light to my car. Will it make a difference? I don't know but it took less than an hour to make and install it so why not?
Car Alarm Flashing LED Circuit

Above is a picture of the circuit I came up with and the components I used. The trickiest part in getting it to work is finding the wires in the car to hook it up to. The circuit itself is really simple and straightforward and it only took me 20 minutes to build... and another 40 minutes to install it in the car!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Homemade Camera Zoom Lens and Schlieren Experiment

I think I need a bigger playhouse workspace. The mirror that I use for my Schlieren photography requires that the camera be 120 or so inches from the face of the mirror. This is of course because of the focal length of the mirror and a longer one is better for Schlieren photography (so I'm not complaining) but it takes up a lot of room. Another thing that having a long focal  length does is it requires me to have to zoom in a lot to see what I am photographing.
The camera that I am using is a Fujifilm FinePix J38 that has a optical zoom and a digital zoom built in but they don't get close enough. Actually the digital zoom does get really close but the image gets so grainy that I can't use it. To zoom in as far as I need to I built a zoom lens for my digital camera from an old pair of binoculars. At first this seemed like a really easy way to go but I quickly realized how sensitive the alignment of the binocular is to the camera lens.
Homemade Camera Zoom Lens for Schlieren Photography
Above is a picture of the zoom lens setup that I built. The binocular is now a monocular because I cut one side of it off but you get the idea. I mounted the monocular on a couple of linear stages that are position adjustable with Vernier adjustments. These Vernier knobs allow me to position the monocular right in front of the camera lens. The camera and the adjustable monocular are both mounted on a linear slide that allows them both to be moved closer together and farther apart but keeps them exactly aligned while moving them.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Painting Chrome Car Interior Trim - Toyota Highlander

Some people may wonder why anyone would want to paint the nice shiny chrome car interior a flat black color. This seems like a really odd thing to do but the next time you are driving and the sun is glaring, blinding you from all directions, the answer will become obvious. For some reason I think that I am especially sensitive to this particularly when the glare is coming from inside my own car - it drives me nuts!
I decided to do something about the blinding light and paint some of the annoying shiny chrome in my Toyota Highlander a nice soothing flat black. This might seem like an easy thing to do but painting interior car trim chrome isn't that easy. First of all you have to find out if it's "real chrome" as in real metal or is it the fake plastic chrome that is so popular in cars these days. In this specific case I'm interested in painting the chrome cup holder trim in the center console of my Highlander. It turns out that these are real metal chrome that is over-molded onto fake plastic looking chrome.
2009 Toyota Highlander Center Console Cup Holder Trim
Here are the cup holders that I am talking about with one removed and flipped over so you can see it. These just snap in place and with a little careful prying they come right out. I think that Toyota used real metal here because of the wear they see with people putting cups, cans, bottles, spare change, ammo, cell phones and everything else in this convenient location.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Schlieren with Anamorphic Lens and Blue LED

I am still really busy this last week but I managed to try something that I was wondering about. Specifically I wanted to try using an anamorphic lens with the Schlieren parabolic mirror setup to see if it increased the resolution. As I mentioned already I have been really busy so I only had time to build a lens and give it a quick try. The results were interesting but not quite what I wanted. I think that with more tinkering around I could make it work.
Schlieren of candle with anamorphic lens and blue light source
Another thing that I also wanted to try again was using a blue LED instead of a white one. I gave this a try back when I was using a convex lens instead of a parabolic mirror to reduce / eliminate chromatic aberrations. It didn't help so I switched to the parabolic mirror.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Another Cryptographic Idea (continuing a thought)

Another idea and this one starts back with another post that I did a long time ago. It's a short one and you can find it HERE. What I was writing about back in that post relates to multiplication with a prime modulus and how the numbers you get are all the same, just in a mixed up order. For a quick example below is what I am talking about:
     1   2   3   4
1   1   2   3   4
2   2   4   1   3
3   3   1   4   2
4   4   3   2   1
The above little chart is a multiplication table mod 5. The numbers in orange are the numbers that are being multiplied mod 5 and the numbers below them are the results of the multiplication. So if you look at the green 4 in the table it's obliviously the result of 2 x 2 mod 5. If you look at the green 1 right next to it , it's the result of 2 x 3 mod 5. The interesting thing (to me anyway) is that if you look at the chart it's all the same numbers just in a different order.

Back when I wrote the original post about this I didn't have time to figure out anything to do with that but now I think that I have.
As long as the multiplication table is built using multiplication mod a prime number the table will never have the same number twice in any row or any column. That doesn't happen if the table is made using a non-prime modulus. To see what I mean go to THIS site and scroll down to the cool interactive  chart they have. You can select it to be a multiplication chart and change the modulus to anything you like.
The idea would be to use this to create cryptographic diffusion in blocks of data. Maybe start with something like 8 bytes of data and multiply each one by another, incrementing one of them with each multiplication. Here is a nifty and colorful picture to help explain what I am talking about. Try changing the modulus from a prime number like 11 to a non-prime like 10 and see what happens.
Modular Multiplication with Rotation (shifts)

Monday, September 6, 2010

A new Lathe Video

This has been a very busy week for me and I have not had a lot of time to be working in the garage. One thing that I did manage to do was make a video about how my Homemade Wood Lath is put together. One unfortunate thing that I noticed was the day after that I put up the video on Youtube someone copied it to another site and claimed as their own work. I did put my blog address in the video but they cut that part out! Dirty thieves!
Click below to see more with some links to other lathe stuff!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

UPDATED DIY Homemade Ranque-Hilsch Vortex Cooling Tube

The post that I did almost a year ago about my Homemade Ranque-Hilsch Vortex Cooling Tube (or just Hilsch Vortex tube) seems to have generated a lot of interest. Someone has asked me to put up more details about how I built mine and I decided that would be a good idea. Besides I was looking for something to build today so I built up another one! HERE is the original post that I did last year if you want to see what I am talking about and below is a picture of that first one that I built.
My Homemade Vortex Cooling Tube


If you are interested in the dimensions and details of what I built check out the first post at the above link or HERE again for your convenience. I figured that since that post has been up for almost a year and it is one of the most often viewed in my blog I can't really add to it so I decided to make a video explaining how I made my cooling tube. Without wasting more time below are links to the videos - enjoy!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

How I made my Blogger favicon.ico image without special software (for free!)

If you are reading this post you might have noticed something a little different about my Blog. Instead of the orange and white B at the top of the browser tab there is now (or should be) a orange, white and black OB. This little image is a favicon and there are a ton of websites that talk about how to make your own  favicon and add them to your website or Blog. I decided to add one to my blog and because this blog is all about the things I do I decided to write about how I did it!
Favicon Images

The favicon icon or image is the little image that appears on a browser tab, and in the bar at the top that shows the web address see the above picture. Also at times it sometimes  shows up in the favorites bookmark. Why doesn't it always show up in the bookmark? I don't know but many people seem to have the same problem. If I figure it out I'll update this post or if you know the answer let me know!  
From what I have read the favicon.ico image was something that Microsoft added in Explorer some time ago and was adopted by many other (maybe all) browsers after that. As a side note if you are reading this and you don't see my custom favicon image in the places you see in the above picture, please let me know by leaving a comment or an email ( and let me know what browser you are using.
On to what I did to make this work in Blogger. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

More Details About My DIY Homemade Wood Lathe

Awhile back I wrote a post about a Homemade Wood Lathe that I designed and built and HERE is the original post if you want to see what I am talking about. I decided to write a new post because I have been getting a few emails about some of the construction details. Specifically folks have been asking about the DIY Lathe Headstock and how the Motor Speed Control works.
Homemade Wood  Lathe
I'm going to assume that if you are reading this post you have probably read (or might want to read) the original post to get an idea of what I am talking about. I'm not going to go into the details of the lathe itself as I covered those in the first post. Without going on with more and more introduction I'll jump right in to the details!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Homemade Bladeless Fan Construction and Testing - DIY Dyson fan

Some time ago I decided to build myself a bladeless fan like the Dyson Bladeless fan you see in the stores and on TV. These things look really neat and I would like to have one but unfortunately they cost a lot of money. Before going 'full tilt' and trying to make a really big one I thought it might be a good idea to start with something small, after all that should be easier right? As with most of the projects that I attempt I'm never really sure if they are going to work so I didn't want to put a lot of effort into making one - in other words keep it simple.
From what I have seen and read it's just a airfoil shape that is wrapped around into a ring and you blow air into it through a small annular gap around one end. The air is blow through the gap using a fan that has blades so is it really a bladeless fan? The air going into and through the ring draws more air in from behind the ring and around it so you get a lot of airflow - at least that is how it is supposed to work!! HERE is a link to a video of the inventor Sir James Dyson explaining how it works better than I ever could. Below is how I went about making my own small one and a exciting video of it running!
Beginnings of Fan (pieces of parts)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

DIY Kinematic Optical Mirror Mount and Schlieren Photography

This week I built a Kinematic Mount for a 8 inch F7.38 parabolic mirror that I picked up. To explain why I bought a mirror, in the last post about Schlieren photography (HERE) I mentioned that I was using a lens in the setup and was trying to get rid of the chromatic aberration that I had in the pictures. The obvious solution was to get rid of the lens and use a mirror as the focusing element. I found a guy nearby that makes telescope mirrors and he had this one for sale so I bought it. To explain why I built a kinematic mirror mount for it... well why not?!
Homemade Kinematic Mount

Click on the picture for a bigger view. UPDATE 11/27/10: I made a video explaining how to make this Kinematic Mount HERE. The mirror by itself is a cool and fun thing to have but being delicate and heavy (it's 1-3/4in thick) it's a bit awkward to hold in place accurately. The nice thing about a Kinematic mount is you can hold a something like a mirror or a lens and position it just where you want it with screw adjustments. The mount that I made has one adjustment screw for elevation and one for azimuth allowing for easy alignment.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

More About the Homemade Schlieren Photography Setup

This week Otto Jr. and I did a bit more experimentation with the Homemade Schlieren Photography that we were doing last week (details in last weeks post HERE). The setup that we are using is essentially the same using the 5 inch 3 dioptre lens and the LED light source. HERE is the setup diagram of the basic setup. Last weeks results were pretty good all things considered but there were several things that we wanted to improve and try. Here is a picture that we did of a candle burning and is similar to last weeks pics HERE and HERE.
Schlieren Image of Candle Burning

One of the things that I tried to 'fix' was the chromatic aberration that can be seen around the lens in the above image. Rainbows are really cool but in this case I think it's a bit of a distraction. Most Schlieren setups use a mirror as a focusing element which doesn't have this type of disadvantage (and has other big advantages) but I don't have a mirror... The obvious solution was to switch to a monochromatic light source that wouldn't have all the colors of the rainbow and would also be lacking the pot of gold you sometimes find at the end. This was especially true in this case because it didn't work! Later what I found out was I need to find the optical Circle Of Least Confusion!!! (That is my new favorite technical term)

Click below to read more about the second Schlieren setup complete with videos!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Homemade Schlieren Photography Setup with DIY Optics

I'm not an optics or photography expert but I thought it would be fun to try and make a Schlieren Optical setup with my son. The main reason I tried to do this is the pictures look really really neat like the below picture we took of a candle. I also thought it would be a good summer science project for Otto Jr. We had to do candle pics because that seems to be the quintessential picture that everyone takes!!
Our first Schlieren Photo of a Candle Burning
From what I know Schlieren optical systems let you see and photograph differences in fluid densities by using refraction of light. Refraction happens when the light passes from one medium (like air) of a given density into another medium (like water) of a different density. The most obvious example is looking at something that is partially in water and partially in air because air and water have very different densities. The amount of refraction or 'bending' caused by the 2 different densities is the refractive index. If you look at a straight stick partially submerged in a swimming pool or a straw in a glass of water they look bent because of refraction. In my setup it's different densities of air that are causing the refraction but it's the same principle.
Click below to read more about our first Schlieren setup!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Homemade Chess Gaming Table Update - It's done!!!

This has been a rather long project in the making but a satisfying one now that it is done. For a recap HERE and HERE are a couple of the previous posts about it's construction. As I mentioned in those posts this was a table base that was part of a dining room table that I had no room for and decided to scrap. My son and I used paint remover to strip all the paint off the base and later we found a nice unfinished table top at a garage sale.
Click below to read more about the table! 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

US Cyber Command Seal and the Secret Code (sorta)

Recently the United States Cyber Command made the news when they announced themselves to the world and unveiled their official seal. There is a write up in Wikipedia HERE that includes a picture of the seal and a description of who they are and what they are going to do. Usually news like this isn't something that I would write about in my blog but I thought I'd make an exception in this case because many friends have been asking me about specifically the "secret code" in the Cyber Command seal.
The hexadecimal code in the seal is what really made the headlines because it immediately got people to put on their tin foil hats and start talking about government conspiracies and hidden meanings. There was even a contest offering a prize to the first person to 'decode' it all. In one of the news stories the Commander of the Cyber command said that the code was an MD5 hash of the units mission statement but he seemed a bit vague about it and didn't come right out and explain why it's there or what it's meaning might be. He even indicated that it might not be the entire mission statement but only part of it, but which part? Obviously only the nefarious world domination part of course.
Click below to read more about the Cyber Seal!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Chess / Checkers Table Update

This week I have had more time to work on the Gaming - Chess and Checkers table that Otto Jr. and I am making. I wrote a bit about this table last week HERE and in a couple of other posts but to summarize this table is made from an old table base and a salvaged table top. We decided that it would be fun to  not only build a table but to try and inlay a playing field into the table. The obvious and probably the best way to do this would have been to get some dark and light colored wood and glue it together into a laminated block like a butcher board then glue the table pieces around it. Once that was dome we could plane and sand the whole thing flat and have a nice gap free smooth surface for the table top. But because when one is working with salvaged stuff and making it up as you go along along that isn't what we happened. Last week you may remember that we bought the table round blank at a garage sale then cut up some 1/4 inch thick by 1-3/8 pine finishing board into 64 square pieces. Last week we applied a clear coat to 32 of them and stained the other 32. The dark stain is a Minwax Jacobean color and the pieces were soaked to make them nice and dark. The clear coat was Minwax Polyurethane high gloss clear.
Since then I used a router to cut out a squarish area in the center of the table and cleaned it up with some wood carving chisels. I intentionally undercut the size of the hole with the router so I could because it is less precise and used the chisels to get in close and make a nice fit for all the playing field pieces. I decided to cut the playing field hole at an angle to the grain and lamination of the table top to give it some visual interest. Also for the same reason the grain of the light and dark square pieces of the playing field are alternating at right angles to each other.

Click below to read more about this table!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

More Work On The Table That Otto Jr. and I Are Making

Some of you may remember the table that I wrote about back in January more or less. As I mentioned back then this is part of a dining room table that I had and decided to chop up and burn to heat the house. The decision was also motivated by the fact that I don't need or have room for a dining room table so I had to get rid of it anyway. If you are having trouble remembering it HERE is a link and also HERE to a couple of the posts about it. The key thing that this table base was missing was a table top and today I got one!!
As I might have written back then I had to kind of stop working on the table  base (I had to table the table project in other words) because the weather was bad and I had other things to do. Anyway today Otto Jr. and I started working on it a bit again and the inspiration for today's activities came in a very inspiring way. We were headed out to a really good Taqueria to get some tortas for lunch and we drove past a garage sale. The guy at the garage sale was selling a bunch of old broken tools and he had a couple of busted up tables for sale as well. We stopped to see what he had and there was a round table 'blank' next to a box of broken tools. I offered him $5.00 for the table blank and an old bow saw - he took the offer. This table blank is one of the 2' diameter laminated pine blanks you can get at the hardware store and it is unfinished as well as a bit beaten up. Perfect for a piece of furniture that will go in my living room! Below is a picture of the table top sitting on top of the table base. Both need a lot of sanding and finishing but you get the idea of what this is someday going to look like.
Click below for more exciting details!!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

EPSON Stylus NX100 Dismantled and Destroyed

This week I have another "Parts Project" along the lines of the fax and phone system that Otto Jr. and I took apart HERE. As I mentioned in that post people that know me offer to give me a lot of the old electronics 'junk' that they don't want anymore and I really can't bring myself to say "No thanks, I don't want (need) it...". So what I usually do with this kind of stuff is take it apart and keep all the interesting bits that I think I might use someday, and throw away all the other parts (or recycle them). I enjoy doing this because not only do I get to increase my stockpile of motors, screws, springs and other neat stuff but I also get to see how various things are put together. I consider this a career related learning experience because as I have mentioned I design stuff for a living and it's fun and educational for me to see how other designers and engineers have solved packaging and construction projects.
This time I was given a used EPSON Stylus NX100 ink jet / scanner / printer. Ink jet printers are always full of little motors, springs, cam mechanisms, and of course ink. This is probably the third or maybe fourth printer that I have taken apart and they are all very similar inside even though they are designed and built by different companies. This one was especially neat because it had DC brush motors instead of the more common stepper motors in it for the paper feed. The scan head was driven by a small stepper and steppers are neat but as I have mentioned before they are a bit trickier to use in other projects as the electronics needed to drive them are a bit more complicated. Anyway I got 2 DC motors, one stepper and a bunch of gears and springs that I might use someday. As always the most useful part is the power supply and this one had a very simple one with 2 voltage output. Lots of fun and maybe I'll use it for something later.
Above is a picture of more or less what was left after I removed the things I wanted. In the top of the picture you can see the power supply with all the little cooling holes in the metal shield, the DC motors and a couple of the gears. I'm going to recycle the base in the above picture but I wanted to include it in the picture to highlight a couple of interesting things. As I mentioned all the printers that I have taken apart tend to be very similar in construction and operation. One of the more interesting commonalities of these devices is how the excess ink is dealt with.
First off this is a view looking down on the top of the device as it would sit on the table. The top of the picture is the back of the unit. On the right side by the Yellow arrow is where the printer head sits when it's not printing. The print head moves from the right to the left as it prints depositing ink onto the paper as it goes. That small black rectangular shape that the Yellow arrow is pointing to is what the actual print head sits on when it's not moving. That thing is a plastic encased metal 'grate' that has some sponge foam on it. The excess ink from the print head gets sucked into the grate and through the gray tube by the little gear driven pump that you can see by the Green arrow. The ink then passes through more of the gray tube and spills out the plastic funnel highlighted by the Red arrow. That little funnel is laying on it's side in the picture but when it's in it's installed location it is sitting on top of some felt like material that you can see just between the Green and Red arrows in the picture - the dark black square area in the picture.
Around that dark black square area you can see the white felt material and it has some black speckles and spots. Those speckles and spots are the excess ink that was dumped out of the gray tube and funnel into the felt. All of this felt and foam is in a recess at the bottom of the printer and the more you use the printer the more ink that gets deposited into and soaked up by the felt. Every printer that I have disassembled is similar in this respect. All the unused ink gets 'dumped' into felt at the bottom of the printer. The more you use the printer the more saturated the felt becomes. I don't know how well used this particular printer was but there isn't much ink sloshing around in there. I have taken some printers apart that had the felt soaked in ink with even more ink puddles in the bottom and all over the inside of the printer.
Why am I writing about this? I'm writing about it for no reason other than I think it's interesting and something you might want to consider if you ever move a well used ink jet printer. If there is enough ink in there and you were to turn it on it's side or upside down, the ink will all come spilling out or at least it will get all over the inside of the printer and destroy it. Pretty cool!!! I guess there isn't a better way of dealing with excess ink and because these printers are at this point basically disposable (and free if you buy a computer in many cases) they figure that you will get rid of the printer before it ever fills up with ink. If you are the kind of person that keeps things as long as they can and takes care of them I suppose that someday your printer will just fill up with ink and it will come spilling out the holes and seams someday. I just find this odd... I have not read the users manual on any of these printers and maybe they mention this someplace in the instructions.
That's about it for today. Even if this post wasn't all that useful or interesting it is what I did today and it gave me something to write about. Happy printing!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Roman Numeral Clock: IV or ΛI (what time is it?)

Sometimes I get confused easily and this is one of them. Several times over the years I have looked at clocks that have Roman Numerals on them and I have wondered why they all seem to be different. I'm not talking about the heated debate over the number 4 written as IV or IIII  (click HERE for more about that specifically) but I'm wondering why sometimes the '4' is upside down. To me this isn't just strange, it has been a source of confusion when I want to know what time it is and (as if Roman Numerals aren't confusing enough by themselves) they put the IV on the clock face upside down. Below are a couple of pictures that show what I mean:

This first picture above I got HERE and it seems to be one of the most common ways that the numerals are placed on the clock face. Have a look at the number IV on that, it's right side up if you are standing in the center of the clock face.

Now have a look at this next picture above and compare it to the first one. The number 4 is upside down in relation to the other numbers on the face?! In other words if you were in the center of the clock looking out at the numbers everything would look OK and make sense until you got to the number IV which would look like ΛI - and be upside down. Every time I see a clock like this I get confused for a second as I look at it and I have to think for a second or two to figure out what is wrong before I can read the time. It's a subliminal confusion that makes me stop and think "it's upside down" before my brain figures out what time it is. By then it's too late!!! (kidding)
I would think that after so many years of clock making and a planet full of people constantly wondering what time it is that someone would have come up with a standard way of doing this but I guess I'm wrong - or maybe that is exactly the reason that there isn't a standard way...
The last picture I got from THIS site and it's an electronic projector version of a mechanical clock. They are selling this clock and I'm not endorsing it but I thought I'd put it in this post because it is yet another way that I have seen clocks made. In this case again the number IV is upside down relative to the clock center but so is V, VI, VII and VIII (relative to the center). The IX through XII are right side up relative to the center (the I , II and III work either way). Another way to say this would be that everything is upside down relative to the center except the last 4 numbers. I guess the reason for doing it this way is the IX and the XI would be easily confused as they would essentially be reversed if the entire face were upside down relative to the center (the 9 where the 11 should be and visa-versa).
I suppose the best way to deal with this is not to make any more Roman Numeral clocks! It's not like there is any advantage to using Roman Numerals except they look 'old' and 'sophisticated' but who needs that? I might build a clock just to see if I can do it any better when the time is right.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

MS Excel DEC2BIN 32 bit, Rotate No Carry, Sub Table, XOR and Num 0's

I use Microsoft Excel for just about everything all the time. Below is a list of some of the more offbeat things that I have done with it and I find useful. Some of these things I have included in other blog posts where I was writing about something else, and I found that from time to time I would go back to my own blog and look for them to copy into a spreadsheet that I was working on. It's so much easier to copy something than it is to figure it out again... Even though I wrote the blog post, and I don't have too many posts, it was a pain to find the things I was looking for. I decided to not only put them in one place for my own reference I figured I might as well explain more or less how they work in case anyone else was interested. Here you go:
Decimal To Binary Conversion With Lots of Bits in Excel: DEC2BIN
Up to 10 Bit Decimal To Binary Conversion
Yeah big deal!! This is just the built in function in Excel that we all hate because it only converts up to 10 bit numbers. Anything bigger than that and you get that super fun " #NUM! " error... but wait it's worse than that! They actually only allow negative numbers to 512 and positive ones to 511 with the most significant bit being the +/- sign so you don't even get all 10 bits really... That sucks because I always find myself needing more bits than that. Below are some uses of the same DEC2BIN function to get more bits:
16 bit Decimal To Binary Conversion (a hard to read version)
The above line will give you a 16 bit number with all the bits "stuck together" of whatever 16 decimal value is in cell G22 like this:
As you can see all the bits are 'stuck together'. That can be very hard to read especially when you are interested in one bit in particular - like the 9'th one from the right - and you have to count them to find it. To fix that you can change the above line to add a decimal point, a space or anything else between each group of 8 bits (each byte) in the &" "& below:
16 bit Decimal To Binary Conversion (easier to read) 
=DEC2BIN(INT(G23/256),8)&" "&DEC2BIN(MOD(G23,256),8)
and the above number becomes this:
10110101 10011101
With the space in there (or anything else...) it's so much easier to read. The below examples have a decimal point in between the bytes but you can put in anything you like between the quotes &" "& and it will be between the bytes.
How does this work?? Good question! It works by doing some math to break the "big number" (bigger than 8 bits) down into 8 bit values then converting them individually and then sticking them together with the & (ampersand). That is why in the above example the first part to the left of the & is INT(G23/256) to give the upper 8 bits and the lower 8 bits being derived by the MOD(G23,256) part. If you want to see each of the 8 bits of the 16 bit value in different cells on the spreadsheet just take everything to the left of the ampersand and put it in one cell and everything to the right in another cell.

To get more bits converted its a simple matter of sticking more math conversions together with more &'s like the examples below:
24 Bit Decimal To Binary Conversion
If you look close at the above 24 bit conversion you can see the last 2 parts separated by the &" "& is very similar to the 16 bit conversion above except a MOD has been switched into the location where the INT was. In addition the upper 8 bits of the 24 bit value is being calculated with the INT(G24/65536) part.
32 Bit Decimal To Binary Conversion

The 32 bit example above HAS BEEN FIXED on July 13, 2010 and  is a continuation of the same thing and by now it should be obvious how it works.
Rotate No Carry: (bit shift with a rotated bit carry)
Rotate No Carry is the geeky way to say I want to shift all the bits of my number one direction and if the bits 'fall off' the end just rotate them around to the other side. HERE is a Wikipedia entry about it if you want to know more about it.
Math is cool for so many reasons but one really cool reason is if you multiply a number by 2 mod 2^n-1 what you are really doing is a Rotate No Carry to the left one place (almost), where n is the number of bits in your number. If you multiply by 4 mod 2^n-1 you are rotating two places, multiply by 8 mod 2^n-1 is three places, 16, 32, 64 and 128 is obviously rotating more places to the left etc... 
So lets say you have an 8 bit number like 01100000 and you multiply it by 8 mod 255 (which is 8 mod 2^n-1), you get 00000011. So in other words the two 1's in the first number above have rotated  three places to the left and back around to the right. I said this math trick almost works because there is one case that it doesn't work and for an 8 bit number that is when the number you are rotating is 255. 
The problem is if you multiply 255 by anything mod 255 you get 0. That sucks because 255 is 11111111 (all one's) so if you multiply 255 by any amount you get all 0' and not all 1's. To get around this little inconvenience I use the IF statement in Excel and say "if the number to rotate is less than 255 then rotate it, otherwise leave it at 255"
So in the 8 Bit Rotate No Carry line below the IF statement is saying "IF(the value in A24 is less then 255) then (multiply A24 by the value in cell C18 mod 255) otherwise (it equals 255)
8 Bit Rotate No Carry
This line will Rotate No Carry the 8 bit value in cell A24 to the left the number of bits determined by cell C18.
One important thing to know is what value to use in the C18 position to rotate the bits the desired number of positions. I created a really confusing chart to do that and to also help count from the right or to the left depending on which direction you are trying to rotate.

Confusing Chart:
2 00000010 00000100 4 2
2 00000010 00001000 8 4
2 00000010 00010000 16 8
2 00000010 00100000 32 16
2 00000010 01000000 64 32
2 00000010 10000000 128 64
2 00000010 00000001 1 128
2 00000010 00000010 2 256
What this chart is saying is start with the IN number 2 which IN BINARY is 00000010. To rotate it one position to the left X BY 2 (the rotated value is 4 by the way) .  To rotate two positions to the left X BY 4; three positions to the left X BY 8 etc...
Pretty obvious I know but what if you want to rotate it to the right 6 places? It's still pretty obvious but I always find myself scribbling 1's and 0's on scratch paper and counting them. Now I have a chart to look at and so do you!
What about rotating values that are more than 8 bits you ask??
This is the exact same thing but instead of using the value of 2^8-1 (255) in the above IF statement for 8 bits you replace it with 2^16-1 (65535) for 16 bits or for 24 bits use 2^24-1 (16777215) and finally for 32 bits use 2^32-1 (4294967295). Below is what that looks like for a Rotate NO Carry of a 24 bit value:
24 Bit Rotate No Carry
Again I like confusing charts so I made another one for reference during hot and heavy bit rotation calculations where confusion can be a bit killer. The values in Red above I got out of this chart:
Function Value -1
2^8 256 255
2^16 65536 65535
2^24 16777216 16777215
2^32 4294967296 4294967295
Here is an exciting example of  the 24 bit DEC2BIN and the Rotate No Carry function!
Say we start with a decimal number like 12632064 in cell G24 which in binary is:
11000000 11000000 00000000 (24 Bits)
Then we decide to Rotate with No Carry (24 bit) this number left 2 places (multiply by 4):
We get: 196611 which in binary is:
00000011 00000000 00000011
You can see that it all got rotated two places to the left and the left most 2 bits got rotated around to the right most positions! Thoroughly exciting!!!
Sub Table OFFSET: (substitute)
The OFFSET function in Excel is handy if you want to substitute one number with another number. OFFSET works just like an array lookup (but the LOOKUP function in excel doesn't, so don't use that one). This is useful if you want to convert numbers from one value to another without any mathematical relationship between the two like a substitution table in a cipher. Here is an example:
What this will do is count down cells by the value in D40 starting in cell D43 and return whatever value it finds there. For example if the value in cell D40 is 0 then you get the value of D43. If the value in cell D40 is 1 then you get the value of the cell right below D43. If the value in cell D40 is 6 then you get the value in the cell 6 cells below D43and so on...
You can also use this to do 2 dimensional array style substitutions and probably a whole lot more. Actually the OFFSET functions does all kinds of neat stuff but I won't go into everything it does because I don't use it for anything else.
Count Number of 0's: (parity)
This is handy when you have a cell with a bunch of different numbers (or characters) in it and you want to know how many of a particular number (or type of character) is in that cell. I use it for counting the number of 1's in a cell that contains a binary number. This is a useful way to find the parity of a binary number or just for counting 1's which is super fun all by itself.
The above line will count the number of 1's (or anything else you put in the blue location) and return how many of them there are. If it's a binary number it will count the number of 1's. You can couple that with something like:
The above line will tell you if there is an EVEN or an ODD parity or number of 1's (or whatever) in that cell. Endless fun for the entire family!!!
Exclusive OR XOR:
This one is a MS Excel Visual Basic Function and if you don't know how to write custom functions I suggest you figure it out. It's easy to do by going to Excel and clicking on the Developer Tab (usually far right) and then the Visual Basic tab (usually far left). A new window opens and you can click on that windows HELP button to get the Visual Basic help menu. Also Google "MS Excel Visual Basic" and there is a lot out there to explain it. IMPORTANT: You have to set Excel to a Macro-Enabled worksheet and enable macros in the security properties to get it to work. Once it does work copy the below code into the Visual Basic window and save it. When you go back into excel click on any cell and start typing =EXCLUSIVEOR and at that point the function EXCLUSIVEOR will show up (it didn't before) just like any other built in Excel function.
Function EXCLUSIVEOR(Byte1 As Long, Byte2 As Long)
' EXCLUSIVEOR (Byte1 , Byte2)
' XOR Exclusive Or of Two 8 bit Byte's
' June 2010
EXCLUSIVEOR = Byte1 Xor Byte2
End Function
This is really handy if you are doing a lot of bit and byte things. The syntax for it is:


What you will get is the logical XOR (Exclusive Or) of the values in cells C11and C12. You can write your own functions of course and give them different names as long as they are not the same names as built in Excel functions like SUM or OFFSET or anything else. To make functions that do other logical operations change the Xor above to And or Not or something similar! Wow!!
You can even write your own Visual Basic code to do pretty much anything as long as it's an "enabled" workbook. For some examples of other code I have written check out these blog posts (scroll to the bottom of each blog post for the example code):
Linear Approximation Table for Cryptanalysis in MS Excel 

More Excel Fun

Those are two of many...


That pretty much is the end of everything that I wanted to write today. I may add some more to this post or I might add another post and link to it here if I think of anything else. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post I wrote this for myself to have a place to put a few of the things I use a lot so I'll have them in one spot.