Category Archives: Gadgets

IMG_7909

N64 on Android

It’s possible to play N64 games on any Android device.  In fact it’s easy.  It’s made possible by the magic of Android N64 emulation and Android’s extensive USB support that works with USB controllers.

To make it happen you’ll need:

  1. USB N64 controller
  2. USB adapter dongle
  3. N64 emulation app
  4. Your favorite N64 ROMs

It’s as easy as plugging in some cables.  I had to remap my controller buttons in the emulator to get started.  You can connect 4 controllers with a USB hub for some nostalgic multiplayer action.

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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illum

one1deagle

george

one

micro2

micro1

5d

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.

7d_1

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!

 

4K Solidworks

Solidworks in 4K

I was recently awarded with a pair of 4K Acer B286HK monitors at work for my Solidworks workstation.  I was told there was an ordering mix up and they couldn’t be returned.  Not sure if that was the complete story but I was not going to complain.

Right off the bat, Solidworks looks great in 4K.  Assemblies look crisp and detailed, drawings appear sharp with annotations and dimensions crystal clear.  It took a few days to adjust to a higher DPI and I ended up making a few tweaks along the road to reduce eyestrain.  I wanted to share what I had learned to make things easier for other users going through the same transition.

First, adjust global scaling for Windows.  This seems like a necessity for all 4K monitors.  The actual text scale without increased scaling is a recipe for headaches and eye strain.  I settled on 175% after experimenting with a few different scale factors.  You can adjust this in Windows Display Settings – make sure you restart Windows afterwords.  This scaling adjusts text and program scaling globally but there are some strange scaling issues when programs don’t follow Window’s lead.

4K Display Scaling

 

Second, scale your Solidworks icons to make them usable.  I am a fan of the tiny icons without text but there’s a limit to how small I will go.  The adjustment for this is right at the top of the screen in Solidworks.

4K Solidworks Icon

 

Third, make sure both of your monitors are running at the same resolution.  The DisplayPort cables included with the new monitors were on the short side and one of the cables couldn’t reach from my desk to my tower on the floor.  For a week I was running the second monitor with a DVI cable and could only display a 1080p image through the cable.  The consequence was terrible graphics glitches in Solidworks due to the resolution mismatch.  My Solidworks viewport would flicker and have strange image buffer artifacts.

Lastly, buy longer DisplayPort cables ahead of time and avoid issue number three.

 

 

TI83

Ode to the TI-83

You were required by an algebra class in high school.  Vague equations were brought to life and visualized in your graphs.  You helped to make sense of newly taught concepts and fostered a connection between math and the real world.  You were a bonafide educational tool.

You were indestructible.  This alone is one of your most outstanding features.  You took countless drops to tile floors without the slightest hint of damage.  I can still recall the clattering sound you make after being pushed off a desk.  No other electronic device I had owned has ever taken this much abuse.

You taught me the basics of programming.  Crude games written in TI-Basic were open for anyone to tinker with.  I would manually enter games line by line from ticalc.org and slowly absorb programming concepts.  Modifying existing games quickly led to writing new ones.  You were a computer and you taught me program structure, loops, and logic.

You provided hours of entertainment.  Boring study halls were spent playing games that could be easily traded and modified with a little ingenuity.

You were useful into later years.  I had to replace your memory battery at some point but you did not falter.  Today your role is to perform the most basic arithmetic and you do so cheerfully.

TI-83, we remember you…

Review and Impressions: 32 oz Stainless Steel Hydro Flask

 

I’ve been using a 32 oz stainless steel Hydro Flask for a little over a year and I’m very pleased with its design.  I wanted to share my thoughts and long term imHydro Flaskpressions after a year of daily use.

First and foremost I use the flask exclusively for water.  People say it’s great for keeping tea or coffee hot but I don’t care and I’ve never tried it.  Keeping water cool is what I’m interested in.  I like to stay hydrated and go through about 5 liters a day. The flask is always within arms reach whether I’m at work or home.

I should mention that I primarily drink refrigerated tap water because it tastes so much better than luke-warm water right out of the faucet.  Letting a gallon of water sit in my fridge for two hours somehow radically increases its desirability.  Cool water is better any time of the year, summer or winter.

I used a wide mouth Nalgene for years prior to getting the Hydro Flask.  The Nalgene served its purpose well and was notable for being indestructible.  I was intrigued by insulation of the Hydro Flask.  I picked one up in the summer and was immediately impressed.  The water in my Nalgene would become room temperature within about 30 minutes and leave a puddle of condensation in the humid summer air.  I had coasters all over my house to prevent damage to desks and tables. The Hydro Flask kept water cool for hours at a time with no external condensation.  I was sold.

Fast forward a year and the Hydro Flask is still my primary water source.  The stainless steel finish is attractive and relatively robust but I did dent it after dropping it on concrete.  Overall the Hydro Flask is much more attractive than my old Nalgene which would accumulate scratches.  Durability is great, especially compared to similar aluminum bottles.  My only complaint is that the rubber band wrapped around the cap has started to slacken and come loose.

The Hydro Flask is similar to my Nalgene and other bottles in that it is difficult to clean.  The bottle tends to accumulate crud over time and requires a thorough scrubbing and rinsing every week.  The upside to the Hydro Flask is its opaque nature, it presents a clean outside finish even if the inside needs some work.

My only other knock against the Hydro Flask is that is louder than my Nalgene.  It makes a distinct ringing noise if I bang it against a table or desk and it makes a lot of noise if you unscrew the cap. This is mostly an issue for when I’m at work, I try to be a little more cautious so I don’t make a racket in meetings.

Overall the Hydro Flask has been a great improvement over my Nalgene and I’m happy I made the switch.  If you’re interested in an insulated bottle for water then look no further.

Pros

  • Insulated and keeps water cold!
  • No condensation
  • Attractive finish

Cons

  • OK durability – will dent
  • Noisy

Buy at Amazon

Best Tools for a Mechanical Design Engineer

Every good engineer knows the right tool for the task at hand.  In my work as a mechanical design engineer I have found myself using the same small set of tools on a daily basis.  All of these items are within an arms reach at my desk.

It’s rare that I find a comprehensive list that includes all of the items below.  This list has been generated through years of experience and all of these items would make great gifts for seasoned engineers or a new graduate.

 

Hex Keys

Hex Keys – A complete set of these is invaluable.  You’ll never know when you’ll need to adjust or disassemble something.  Tuck these away in your desk drawer and never search for a missing wrench again.

 

6" Ruler

6″ Stainless Steel Ruler – Great for quick measurements and small enough to fit in your pocket.  This is one of my go-to tools at my desk and in the shop.  I use it for reverse engineering parts and measuring raw material stock sizes. This is a two pack, you’ll lose one eventually.

 

6" Digital Caliper

6″ Digital Caliper – When you need a finer measurement look no further than an inexpensive digital caliper.  If you have deep pockets (or are a machinist) go for the Mitutoyo otherwise this will get the job done.  Great for measuring hole sizes, determining fits, and a great reality check for figuring out part clearances.  This is the best tool for figuring out what a .010″ gap looks like or if a 15 mm hole is large enough to stick your finger through.

 

Machinerys Handbook

Machinery’s Handbook – A wealth of information available for a go-to reference.  You’ll maybe use .5% of it.  I use it as a quick reference for weld callouts, GD&T symbols, part fits, material properties, and pipe sizes.

 

Tape Measure

Tape Measure – Boring but useful at your desk and in the field.  Measure footprints for existing machinery, aisle-ways, and raw material lengths. Or use it to determine what a 45″ work surface would look like or how high to mount an operator control panel.

 

camera

Camera – Great for taking photos of equipment out in the field or of parts sitting on your desk.  Inexpensive, small enough to fit in your pocket, and a good macro mode for getting parts in focus.

 

Metal Clipboard

Clip Board – Invaluable for taking measurements in the field.  Makes it easy to sketch measurements while juggling a tape measure and a camera. Trust me on this one.

 

ti89

TI-89 Calculator – A reliable workhorse, this mostly handles basic arithmetic but it’s a great reality check for calculations when I try to remember all the calculus I forgot.