IMG_7813

Building the Lego Technic Compact Tracked Loader

I loved Lego as kid, it’s one of the primary reasons I’m a mechanical engineer.  The Technic line really ignited a mechanical interest in me and I have many fond memories of assembling complicated sets in record time on Christmas Day.  My interest in Lego took a nose dive sometime early in high school.

It’s been over 10 years since I’ve touched a Lego, let alone purchase a set.  I thought it would be interesting (and fun) to build a Lego set as a grown-ass man.  I figured it would be a fun exercise for the blog now that I have a different perspective on things as an actual engineer.  I thought that was a pretty good excuse to purchase something I saw a children’s toy.

I took a few minutes looking at the selection on Amazon and settled on a Technic Tracked Loader (set 42032) that looked interesting and wasn’t too expensive.  Two days later the set was on my desk and ready to go.

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Here are my reflections on building a Lego set as an adult engineer:

  • The box does a very nice job of selling the product.  Premium glossy packaging!
  • I forgot about the 2-sets-in-1 bonus of the Technic line, they include a second set of instructions to build something different with the same parts.
  • Weren’t these boxes noisier?  I remember a distinct Lego rattling sound from my childhood that only comes from unopened Lego boxes
  • Box is jammed full of stuff, that may have dampened the noise
  • What is this red thing? They changed the color on a lot of the smaller connector pieces to make them easier to identify and differentiate.  There are unique parts with red, blue, and tan colors that I remember as only being black.
  • What are these shafts with end stops?  That doesn’t seem convenient, this is definitely a new part.
  • These instructions are still excellent.  Very clear steps for assembly sequences with no written descriptions!
  • Assembling a set is really about the journey.  The picture on the box tells me where I’m going but I have no idea where I started from.  It’s interesting to start with a tiny piece of the machine with no context and then build out from there.
  • These 1:1 scales on the page for measuring shaft lengths are great.  I think these existed back in the day but I can’t remember.
  • Building these sets from the instructions was always a lot of fun but a completely different kind of fun than the creative building when using the same pieces.  Interesting the same set can really exercise both halves of your brain.
  • Lego taught me what a subassembly is before I knew anything about assemblies
  • These tracks are very tedious to assemble
  • Done!  Took about 90 minutes.

The tracker loader is pretty neat.  It uses a worm gear in the back to lift the bucket and two four bar linkages to actuate the bucket tilt and front jaw piece.

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Building the set was fun and a nice burst of nostalgia but it’s not something I need to do again soon.  I thought it was a little tedious towards the end and I was slightly underwhelmed with the finished loader.  I am looking forward to tearing this thing apart and messing around with the pieces though!

 

70d

Canon 70D Review

I recently upgraded and replaced my Canon T1i with a 70D. The primary impetus for the upgrade was the terrible viewfinder on the T1i which was small, dark, and made manual focus close to impossible. Overall the viewfinder made the camera frustrating to deal with and I neglected proper photography for a few years. The T1i sat in a drawer and was only occasionally pulled out to grab an interesting shot around the house.

The 70D has been amazing in comparison. I learned photography on similar camera, the 40D which has a similar sized body. The body is only slightly larger than the T1i but feels much more solid. Overall I’ve been very happy with the upgrade and I wanted to share my thoughts.

  • The viewfinder on the 70D is an amazing upgrade.  Having the 70D side by side with the T1i is like night and day.  The 70D viewfinder is bright and clear and makes manually focusing much easier.  Physically the viewfinder is larger and relies on a pentaprism which is much brighter than the T1i
  • The shutter on the 70D can actuate as quickly as 1/8000 sec which is double the T1i shutter 1/4000 sec.  This is great for photgraphing splashing water or birds.
  • The 70D has built in wifi which can be used as a remote viewing tool and remote shutter when paired with a cell phone.  I’ve only played around with it a little bit but it should make wildlife photography a little easier.  The range seemed short though, even with a clear line of site.
  • I found a 70D with the included STM 18-55 kit lens.  The lens is pretty amazing in autofocus, mostly because it’s completely silent.  The dual-pixel autofocus overall is pretty amazing in the camera.
  • The articulating touch screen on the camera is a great upgrade from my T1i.  I though it was a bit of a gimmick but it’s very utilitarian.  The articulation is great for shooting video and the touch screen makes adjusting settings a breeze.
tomato-router

List of Tomato Compatible Routers

This is a comprehensive list of routers that are compatible with Tomato firmware.  The two active communities supporting continuing work on Tomato firmware are Tomato by Shibby and AdvancedTomato.  Both are great and have passionate developers contributing to each mod.

I recently upgraded my router and I found it difficult to find a good router that was readily available, compatible with Tomato, and had the features I needed.  I decided to make a list of all of the Tomato compatible routers, their features, and the firmwares they are compatible with.  I thought this would be helpful for anyone looking for a Tomato router.

Many of these routers are very similar in features and many of the older versions are no longer available.  Shibby supports a lot of routers! A word of caution, many of these routers have different hardware versions and some are not compatible with specific Tomato builds.  Before you buy make sure you double-check the build compatibility!

I was interested in a recent mid-range router that had dual band coverage, a fast processor, and Gigabit LAN ports.  A fast processor is handy when using the router for VPN tunneling, often the processor speed will be the bottleneck for traffic.  I settled on the Asus RT-AC68U but a few routers will fit the bill.

I would also recommend the Linksys EA6900 and Netgear R6400.

List of Tomato Routers

Router Band CPU (MHz) LAN Speed Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N10 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N10P 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N10U Single 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N12 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N15U 500 1 Gbps Shibby
Asus RT-N16 Single 480 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N18U Single 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N53 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N66U Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC56U Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC66U Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC68U/R Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC3200 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby
Asus WL-330gE 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL500GP 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL500W 264 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL520GU 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-G54S 200 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-G125 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 200 100 Mbps Shibby
Cisco M10 v2 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-320 240 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-620 C1 530 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-868L Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Fiboom HG320 533 100 Mbps Shibby
Huawei WS880 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E800 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E900 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1000 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1200 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1500 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1550 Single 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E2000 354 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys E2500 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E3000 480 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys E3200 Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E4200 Dual 480 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys WRT160N 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT300N 264 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT310N 300 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRT320N 354 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRT54G 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT610N 480 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRTSL54GS 266 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys EA6500 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys EA6700 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys EA6900 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby
Netgear WNR2000 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Netgear WNR3500L Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6250 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6300 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6400 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R7000 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R8000 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby
Ovislink WL1600GL 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Tenda N6 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Tenda N60 Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Tenda W1800R Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
ZTE ZXV10 H618B 240 100 Mbps Shibby
ZTE H218N 500 1 Gbps Shibby
george_eyes

Dollar Bill Macro Photography

Check out these amazing macro shots of US currency.  The printing and detail on these is nothing short of astounding.  Can you see the microprinting security features?  How about the patterned  fiber paper?  Pull a bill out of your wallet and compare it with these photos.  It’s incredible how small the printing is.

 

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These were sent to me but originally taken on a Canon 5D with some custom macro rig.  I am getting more details.

7d

Trading Up – Used Canon DSLR’s in 2016

Background

I like photography.  My father enjoyed it as a hobby and it always seemed like an interesting blend of technology and art. In college I had the opportunity in my senior year to take a digital photography class to fulfill an arts elective.

I learned how to shoot on a Canon 40D and excelled with the technical side of photography.  We were required to shoot 100% manually and I found the process very rewarding.  I improved my composition and became interested in photography with very short and very long exposures.

After graduation I wanted to continue with photography so I picked up an entry level Canon T1i.  I took some great photos with the camera but I was always frustrated with the tiny view finder – it was a world of difference from the 40D.  I found the view finder impossible to use manual focus, especially in low light.  Everything in the view finder appeared tiny and blurry.  Manually focusing through the view finder would just adjust the blurriness – it was impossible to tell where sharp focus was in the scene.

Poor focus through the T1i view finder made photography a frustrating hobby.  Manual focus seemed like a core reason to own an DSLR and I was disappointed the camera made it so difficult.

Trading Up

After living with the T1i for a few years I wanted to trade up for something nicer.  I started looking at used Canons and I was surprised that many great cameras were surprisingly affordable. I had a budget of about $500 and planned to buy a used body.

My primary requirement was to find a much larger view finder, presumably in a larger body camera.  I also wanted to maintain all of the features I had in the T1i, namely the ability to shoot video.

The switch to a full frame sensor was tempting. I didn’t have a large investment in glass so I was open to switching to all EF lenses but this would also have a large impact on my budget.  I was happy with the quality of my T1i shots but a switch to a better sensor would make sense.  I was never limited by the capability of the T1i but an improvement in low light shooting would have been welcome.

Evaluating the Used Canon Market

I was never familiar with Canon’s whole line of cameras.  I heard a lot about the 5D series over the years  but I didn’t know a whole lot about the interim series.  I learned on the 40D but I didn’t know how that fit into the product range.

Wikipedia has a great timeline and comparison of the EOS range.  This was a great starting point.  I boiled the comparison chart down to a few key features and I started added used market prices.

Camera Used Price Sensor Lens Max Iso Max Shutter Card 1080p FPS 720p FPS
t1i $200 APS-C EF-S 3200 1/4000 SD 20 30
5D $400 Full EF 1600 1/8000 CF NONE NONE
5D Mk ii $800 Full EF 6400 1/8000 CF 30 30
7D $500 APS-C EF-S 6400 1/8000 CF 30 60
50D $300 APS-C EF-S 3200 1/8000 CF NONE NONE
60D $400 APS-C EF-S 6400 1/8000 SD 30 60
70D $700 APS-C EF-S 12800 1/8000 SD 30 60

This was the basis for my comparison. If a camera isn’t in there it was deemed too expensive (such as the 6D).  I read reviews for each camera and developed some further thoughts.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5D and 5D Mark II

I was tempted to jump to a full frame sensor but buying new glass with a new body would blow my budget.  The 5D doesn’t shoot video, the Mark II is clunky with video and the body alone was over my budget.

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7D

The sensor wasn’t a huge improvement over the T1i but it had a much nicer body and good controls.  This hit the sweet spot for my budget.

50d

50D

The next camera after the 40D I learned on.  A cheap option but it doesn’t shoot video.

60d

60D

A slight upgrade from T1i in all the right places.  Shoots video and it came in slightly under my budget. Plus it takes SD cards!

70d

70D

A more dramatic upgrade from the T1i but slightly above my budget.  This camera was a substantial update of the 60D and introduced some new features.  Has some nifty autofocus and higher ISO range.

The Finalists – 7D vs 60D

The 7D and 60D were both within my budget and both seem like a great option.  Their lifespans overlapped in Canon’s product range and they share similar features.  Both offered an improvement over the T1i in body size, max shutter speed, and max ISO.

The 7D only takes CF cards which is annoying because I already had a stack of SD cards.

 

The Winner – 70D

70d

In a surprising upset the 70D is the winner.  I was dead set on the 7D but found a great price on a used 70D.  The body and build quality may not be as good at the 7D but they’re more than enough for me.  The camera has a great feature set and the video autofocus with the STM lenses are amazing.  I’m happy I chose to spend a little bit more and get something slightly better than the 60D.

Review coming soon!

 

Building a VFIO PC

What is VFIO?

I’ve been hearing about VFIO PCs for a little while now and have been intrigued.  VFIO (Virtual Function I/O) allows a virtual machine to have full access to a dedicated GPU.  This makes gaming in a Windows VM easy and offers great performance.  Dual booting an OS is longer necessary!

I have been seeking a new project and I figured a VFIO build would be fun.  After going down the rabbit hole I wanted to share my findings and detail my build.

The VFIO Build

CPU Intel i7-6800K with cooler – This has VT-d/-x and will work fine.  More cores are better for virtualization so go with six.

Motherboard – ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII – Solid LGA 1151 motherboard, a favorite of a few VFIO builds I researched.  Should be easy to configure. Integrated GPU support so the host has a GPU to work with.

RAM – Corsair LPX 32GB – Not messing around here. Again with virtualization, more is better.  You should be OK with 16 GB to start, this is always easy to upgrade later.

GPU – MSI Radeon RX 480 – This is the pass-through card that will do the heavy lifting.  An AMD card should be easier to configure than nVidia but still may need some tweaking.

HDD – Samsung 850 EVO 500GB – These haven’t let me down yet.

Case – Corsair Obsidian Series Black 450D – I’m partial to Corsair cases, clean and high quality for the price.

PSUCorsair CX750M 750W – Plenty of juice.  Modular.

Wrap Up

That should be everything you need for a nice VFIO machine.  I’m running Arch and the RX 480 pass through works great.  To get it to unbind from amdgpu I needed to blacklist amdgpu and reboot. Arch gets the integrated GPU.

/r/VFIO is your friend for getting this all working.

 

 

 

 

Solidworks Icon

The Best Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

Dassault has shuffled out another release of Solidworks.  I have become pessimistic with upgrades and none of the new 2017 features seem to be game changers.  Maybe something clever will warm my crusty engineer heart.

This article is a refresh from my workstation build last year.  Not a whole lot has changed regarding a workstation build but by now you should be on Windows 10 and be considering a ridiculous amount of RAM and a beefier CAD GPU.  Overall there have been minimal performance relevant changes in 2017 and most of the hardware remains the same.

The core of a good Solidworks workstation is still a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.  A thread on Reddit has a great breakdown on Solidworks performance and how component selection will improve performance.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel I7-6700 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K4000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1880.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel I7-6700K – great performance for the price, LGA 1151 processor

Motherboard – MSI Z97 LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K4000 – pricey but you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 850 EVO-Series 1TB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics Super Multi Drive – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I get files mailed to me on a DVD.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes!

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 10 Pro OEM – The new supported standard, if you don’t upgrade now you may be forced into it soon

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.