Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reid's Plumbing Skills: Fail

Today's project was to fix the drippy faucet in the tub.

Here's the open access hatch in the hall closet. Notice anything missing?

Yes, there's no shutoff valves! So I have to shut off the water to the whole house in order to do anything.

Step 1 is to disassemble the faucet and stretch out the springs a little, reasoning that they're a bit worn out (when I did the bathroom sink, the hardware dudes told me that it's often the springs that wear out, not the rubber gaskets). I had put everything back together again before I remembered that I wanted to take a picture. Doh!

However, it leaked way worse than before, so that problem was out of the way. Here's the disassembled faucet with the old gaskets and springs:

Trip #1 to the hardware store yielded new gaskets and springs. These installed easily and now the faucet didn't drip any more. Yay!

However, now the faucet itself leaked when the water was on (I'm not sure if it did this before). So, trip #2 to the hardware store yielded another, different new washer (no photo, sorry). However, this fit rather tightly, and maybe I overtightened it, but the faucet action was now extremely tight, and in messing with it, I destroyed the new gaskets. Sigh.

I didn't have the heart to go back to the hardware store AGAIN. Maybe on Monday.

Long story short, after a lot more futzing, the faucet was put back together with all old parts except the springs, and it's more or less the way it was before I started (unless the leaking while turned on was new, in which case it's worse), though the dripping does seems to be a lot less (just not eliminated).

Project 100, #18, #19.

Oh, program note: I'm going to stop tagging the Project 100 posts "project100" and "photography", since that's pretty much all I post lately and those tags don't add much value.

Friday, January 30, 2009

UMN CS/EE Building: Fail

Short post, since I'm tired and my sweetie is preparing for bed:
  1. Water line break in the CS/EE building this morning.
  2. It's on the EE side, so my office is OK.
  3. Cops are guarding the building, and only certain people allowed in (why is this a police matter?).
  4. I leave home believing I'm "certain people".
  5. By the time I arrive, the policy has changed, so I don't get in.
  6. The power gets turned off shortly thereafter anyway, so that's not a big deal, but it's still a wasted trip.
  7. The cops get major dickhead points for leaving their empty cruiser idling in front of the building for hours and hours.
The other neat thing in this image is that I used the lens correction tool in Bibble to remove the slight but noticeable barrel distortion. A consequence of technology like this is that it makes lenses lighter and cheaper, since you can get away with more distortion. (In fact, one can even use tools like this to un-fisheye many fisheye lenses, and it's one the wide end where low distortion gets really hard.)

Project 100, #17.

Hulk Hogan's Pastamania

Part of my commute takes me through a neighborhood that's a bit run down (those buildings in the background are housing projects, but the neighborhood isn't really all that dangerous). One of the truly baffling parts of my world is this red "Hulk Hogan's Pastamania" awning, attached to the side of a building. There's not even a window under it. Huh?

I did a little Googling in preparation for this post, and it turns out that Hulk Hogan's Pastamania was an insane business venture by Mr. Hogan (yes, the wrestler) -- canned pasta, and a restaurant at the Mall of America. I assume that this awning came from that restaurant... but God knows why it's attached to this empty wall.

There's strange activity afoot at this building. The city came by and disconnected the gas and (I think) water, and then tons of furniture and other junk appeared in the snow in front of it. There's workmen here and there. I wonder if they're going to tear it down?

I might try again on this shot. I thought the snow on the awning would add interest, but I think it actually just makes it hard to read. It actually fell off between my trip in and my trip out a few hours later, but I didn't take any more photos (doh).

Project 100, #16.

Edit 2/3: Here's another photo:

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Science Classroom Building (3)

You may be sick of photos of the Science Classroom Building, but here's another one anyway. Same viewpoint as the last one, different (and nicer) lens.

They seem to have hauled away much of the framing and are now jackhammering away the concrete. This building is attached to the Washington Avenue Bridge, which is covered on the pedestrian level. This means that as you cross from west to east during the day, you basically go down a tunnel of hammering and shaking that gets louder and louder. It's rather disconcerting, particularly since the bridge is partially closed due to structural problems.

I submitted this photo to the monthly photo contest. I don't expect to win (and in fact it would be a little sad if I did), but it would be nice to get a few votes and not come in last. We'll see; voting opens on February 1.

Project 100, #15.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Science Classroom Building (2)

Here's a night shot (20-second exposure) of the Science Classroom Building, with additional tearing down. This is from my first session experimenting with long exposures.

Project 100, #14.

In a program note: I've been shooting RAW+JPEG thus far (and the JPEGs are what make their way onto this blog). However, I realized that Picasa, which is what I've been posting with, supports my camera's RAW, and I'll have some RAW converter(s) installed on my Linux box shortly too, so I'm going to shoot just RAW for a bit -- less hassle with double files.
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Sunday, January 25, 2009


This is actually not a very good picture... but I am posting it because I was inspired to go down to the airport and get some photos of airplanes when the weather is warmer. I was outside getting some test shots to demonstrate the asymmetric vignetting in my 18-250 superzoom when this guy flew over. I quickly zoomed in to 250mm and took this. Too bad I'd left the shake reduction off. Doh!

Project 100, #13.
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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lake Hiawatha Sunset

This afternoon I wandered through the neighborhood for an hour or so with my 50mm SMC Takumar. This is down at the seasonal ice rink adjacent to Lake Hiawatha (which is the big flat area in the background).

Right at sunset the floodlights suddenly began to buzz and tinkle -- I was worried that the light would be totally ruined. And it was, but it took a while for the floods to warm up, and for about a minute or so they were a really cool subtle blue-green. This is the in-camera JPEG, and I think there's definitely more to these images in the RAW.

Also, it was freaking cold. I took my tripod but it turns out I wasn't willing to mess with it at zero degrees F.

Project 100, #12.

In other news, one of my more bizarre hobbies is shoveling snow. This afternoon (it was about 10 at the time) I cleared the packed snow and glare ice from the sidewalks of about 5 neighbors who, shall we say, aren't as diligent about snow removal. I thought about taking some before/after images, but I think said neighbors think it's weird enough that I'm clearing their sidewalks, and taking photos of same might be a bit much.

Also, I thought that it would be very hard to do this at 20 degrees below freezing, but my ice chopper worked very well and quickly. I wonder if the ice is more brittle when it's colder, and that's why?
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Focus Charts

Since I was having trouble focusing my manual focus Takumar, I thought I'd check whether my camera was front- or back-focusing, i.e., the focus point was in front of or behind where it was supposed to be.

(This applies even with MF lenses because my camera has "focus confirm", where it uses the autofocus sensors to show when you're in focus, even if you have to turn the focus ring yourself. It's pretty handy when you have a smaller viewfinder and no split prism, as is typical for APS-C DSLRs like my K200d.)

Casual testing using a magazine revealed an apparent front focus of ~10mm on both the Takumar and the modern 18-250 zoom. Yipes! What a bummer when the zoom already needs warranty repair for asymmetric vignetting (see shadow in upper-right corner of previous two posts).

However, use of an actual focus test chart in good light (above) shows that the zoom has no focus problems. It seems to autofocus within +/- 2mm, randomly distributed, which is just fine. The Takumar does have a front focus of ~6mm, but that's easy to compensate for by approaching focus from the far side and backing off slightly after confirm.

Both lenses are plenty sharp, and the Takumar very much so when stopped down. They sure make my point and shoot look like a dog, which is the point I suppose. :)

Project 100, #11.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Science Classroom Building

The "Science Classroom Building" at the U is being torn down and replaced.

Project 100, #10.
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Arriving Train

The train arriving at the light rail station. This is a typical scene from my morning commute in the winter.

(The lighted signs are normally very crisp; some interaction with the shutter speed must be making them look garbled.)

Project 100, #9.
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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A House In America

This is where I live. It is a pretty standard small home in South Minneapolis, Minnesota, United States of America.

Why is it special? Because as of today, at 11am local time, I am once again proud to be an American.

This is Project 100, #8.
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Cheesecake Tasting

The lovely FW and I drove out to St. Louis Park last night to sample the cheesecake for our wedding. That's right, no traditional wedding cake for us -- we are emphasizing yumminess over vast heaps of fondant (ugh). While Muddy Paws closed their retail locations (bummer), they continue to make mouthwatering cheesecake which you can have delivered locally or anywhere in the country.

The sampling was pretty straightforward: when we arrived at their bakery (at a warehouse in the burbs), we got a slice of their "New York" flavor (a fancy word for plain) to try while we discussed plans and then were sent home with three more slices of our choice (pictured above). We chose Chocolate Decadence, Raspberry Swirl, and Key Lime.

I think this is a great way to do a tasting... you can talk and discuss candidly, without the vendor hovering over you.

(Note: I'm not going to put "Project 100" in the title any more. It was getting old. But I'll still apply the tags and put a note in the body.)

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Project 100, #6: Orange

For the past several weeks, there have been 10-pound bags of massive oranges at the co-op. They're incredibly tasty, too, not just huge. Here's the biggest one from the latest batch. I will now eat it.

Project 100, #5: Our Alley

This is the alley behind our house, a few minutes after sunset.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Project 100, #4: Cold

This was the thermometer outside our window this morning.

I don't think of -20 as exceptionally cold any more. Sure, it's cold, but "really cold" starts at -30. I wonder if "really cold" only happens to other people?

According to the Internet, the low in our neighborhood was -22. The blue bar could be stuck, or perhaps it was slightly warmer at our house.

In other news, the photo I posted a few days ago (at right) was selected out of 20 or so entries as the winner of "Weekly Challenge #84" over at

Monday, January 12, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Project 100, #2: Behind Minnehaha Falls

With care, one can climb behind Minnehaha Falls in the winter. Here's an image from this afternoon.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Project 100, #1: Moon rising outside our house

My friend Joanna last year did a "Project 365" last year in which she took a photo every day. I'm going to be slightly less ambitious and do a "Project 100" where I take 100 photos, preferably daily, and post them here.

Item 1: Today is a super-bright perigee full moon, which happens once a year or so. Here it is rising through the trees across the street.

Monday, January 5, 2009

New Digital Camera... Really This Time!

A little while ago, I blogged about a new digital camera, a Canon SX-10 "bridge camera". Well, I sent it back, deciding that it really was the worst of both worlds rather than the best, and I replaced it with a Pentax K200d, which arrived today -- an entry-level DSLR and one of only two DSLRs on the market that take AA batteries (the other is also a Pentax). It also turns out that I could get an 18-250mm lens (field of view equal to 27-375mm on 35mm) and that I can use Erin's old-school manual focus lenses that were hand-me-downs from her dad (and plus, the image stabilization is in the body, not in the lenses as Canon and Nikon do, so the old lenses are stabilized too). Even though it's a beast at 1.2kg with the 18-250 zoom, I think it's a fit. Yay!

Here's a picture of Jess. 1/8 second, f/1.4, ISO 1600, hand-held with a Takumar SMC 50mm, one of the aforementioned old-school lenses. Given that this was taken in very poor lighting (available light at 11pm) and I'm pretty green at manual focusing, yet it's among the best pics of Jess I've ever seen, I'm pretty pleased.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Choosing a Topographic Map

Outdoor adventures such as hiking, backpacking, and canoeing require topographic maps ("topos" or "topo maps"). It used to be that the only source was paper maps published by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a government agency. Now, many different vendors republish USGS data. But how do you know which vendors' maps are any good? It is hard to get honest samples from vendors.

Hence, I publish visual reviews of topo maps, so you can decide what works for you.

If you have maps that I haven't reviewed, I would love to include them. E-mail me.