Sunday, July 30, 2006

Bus to Great Cumbrae

Hustled to the airport to catch the bus to Largs, then the ferry to Great Cumbrae. Julian is in a program for talented youth, and one of the offerings is a week at the University Marine Biological Station, Millport. No TV. No XBox. No...en suite toilets or showers. But lots of spiny lobsters. It's workable.

Saturday, July 29, 2006


Drove to Edinburgh. Walked up Arthur's Seat. Met some Scottish lads with kilts and no shirts.

Photos, as for the rest of the trip, are here.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Sauciehall Street

Since the sun goes down at 9:30 PM in Glasgow, it is only natural that all shops close at 5:00 PM. We were walking down an utterly deserted Sauciehall Street at, oh, 5:03 PM when Julian paced well ahead of me in his "I am an orphan" mode. From out of nowhere, a pleasant young Scotsman approached Julian and said something approaching "You nae wants tae go tae, but you cannae nae gonnae no dae that right scunnered dis'nae heid nip."

I sensed trouble. Not least of which because this Glaswegian was talking to my son for no particular reason in the middle of the street. And he was puffing his chest up just a little bit.

I hustled over and said "He's only 12!"

The wiry Gers partisan took a step back, widened his eyes, and started laughing. "You nae wants tae go tae, but you cannae nae gonnae no dae that right scunnered dis'nae heid nip!!" he exclaimed. I replied that yes, he was going to be a big guy when he grew up.

How to make a GPS device for a Nikon D200

If I've made any mistakes in this guide, forgive me - I am typing it up at 3 AM on a red-eye to Scotland. Please use the comments to tell me what I got wrong and I'll fix it!

I've had a Nikon D200 for a few months now. I've also written GPS software a few times. Since the D200 takes GPS input and saves it in the RAW/JPG headers, I wanted to get this to work for myself.

However, I had two problems. First, I had some problems finding a compatible GPS device. The shockingly expensive Nikon MC-35 cable took a DB9 serial connection. No USB. Most GPS devices out there are either USB or Bluetooth these days. I have a drawer full of old devices like the DeLorme EarthMate, so I started trying things out.

First, I tried the EarthMate. The D200 didn't recognize it, probably because it doesn't output NMEA 2.x, which is what the camera requires.

Next, I tried my Magellan eXplorist 210. This has a USB output, so I went through an extensive effort to design a reverse USB-to-DB9 setup. This had a DB9 gender changer into a serial-to-USB dongle, which then went into a F-F USB A style plug. Which, by the way, are exceedingly hard to locate. This ugly jury-rigging yielded exactly nothing.

I wondered whether the D200 10-pin port was operational. I got an Adidt (rhymes with "shitty") shutter release that didn't work. I even took the D200 to a shop to have it tested; a genuine Nikon cable worked, so it wasn't the port.

I finally decided I was going to have to build something myself. I poked around a few enthusiast sites, and decided that I would wire a small puck-style GPS receiver to do the trick. And "trick" was the word, because I have almost no experience crimping and soldering, and lived in constant fear of frying my camera. But I got it working, powered directly from the camera, and thought I would share the way I did it.

You will need a few things for this task:

- Garmin GPS18 LVC (not the USB or PC). had them for cheap.
- 2 or 3 DB9 female kits from Radio Shack. I would buy a spare DB25 female so you have extra crimp pins.
- A 9-pin cover thingie
- A European-style terminal connector strip. This lets you test your connections with a multimeter and get them working before doing the final setup.
- A multimeter. Simple is fine.
- A small soldering iron and some acid-free solder.
- A small crimper
- A small wire cutter/stripper. You'll be working with 26 and 28 gauge wire. Radio Shack has a small version of this that I found worked well.
- An M3 screw
- A plastic camera shoe (Nikon BS-1)
- Some silicone sealant
- A Nikon MC-35 cable (these can be hard to find)
- A Nikon MC-23 cable (this is 10-pin to 10-pin)
- Heat-shrink tubing
- (Optional) 3x AAA battery casing with two wires out (Radio Shack again)

OK! To start, snip the cord on the GPS18, and strip it. Everyone says that it's a six-wire lead, but I opened it up and counted seven wires. Not a problem. These wires are:

Yellow - Highly accurate one pulse per second (DCD)
White - Data output
Green - Data input
2 Black- Two thin black wires are the data grounds

Black - One thick black wire is the power ground
Red - +4.0 to 5.5 volt DC power input

Now for testing purposes, strip and tin four 26/28 gauge wires. Crimp them into pins 2 thru 5 of a DB9 female kit. Strip and tin the wires coming out of the GPS18. You can solder together the two data ground wires.

If you have a Euro strip, wire this up like so:

GPS white -> pin 2
GPS green -> pin 3
GPS black pair -> pin 5

Now wire the red and black power lines from the GPS to two other ports on the strip. Connect the same color wires from the 3xAAA battery holder and put batteries in. Your device now has power, and you have output to the DB9 female (maybe).

You can test this in three ways. 1. Plug the DB9 into a computer with a serial port and go into Hyperterminal. Getting output at 4800,N,8,1? Then it works. 2. Plug the DB9 into a serial-to-USB adapter and repeat step 1. 3. Plug the DB9 directly into a Nikon MC-35 cable, then plug that cable into a D200 (or other GPS-enabled model). If a small GPS icon shows up on the LCD readout within a few seconds, you've got it.

You could stop right here if you are OK with a battery powered device, but I wanted to power it directly from the camera. I toyed extensively with splicing the GPS directly to a 10-pin connection, but haven't gotten it going yet. I came up with a hybrid solution for this.

The Nikon MC-23 spec has ten different color wires in it. Brown is 5v power coming from the camera, and yellow is power ground. Take that nice new MC-23 cable, and cut it in half. Strip it so the wires come out, and strip and tin the brown and yellow lines.

Now remove the battery holder from the Euro strip and connect:

MC-23 brown --> GPS red
MC-23 yellow --> GPS black

This will give you a GPS device connected to a DB9 data cable and a 10-pin power cable. Now plug the DB9 into an MC-35, and plug the MC-23 into the spare port of the MC-35! When you plug this all into the camera, you should get a GPS indicator. It flashes at first, until it gets a fix. Be patient.

Once this is all working, you just need to replicate what you've done, without the Euro strip.
- Remove the GPS wires and crimp them directly into the appropriate DB9-F pins.
- Slide some heat-shrink tubing over the power lines and solder them together, then shrink the tubing down.
- Attach the DB9 cover thingie.
- Squirt in some silicone sealant to secure it a bit better.

I am talentless in this, but I got it working. You should have:

GPS puck -> cable -> DB9
+----> MC-23

The DB9 and 10-pin each get connected to an MC-35, and the project is complete!

Almost. I wanted to mount this directly to a cold shoe. So I drilled a small hole in a BS-1 hot shoe protector, and connected it to the puck with an M3 metric screw. I put a small nut between the two as well (I should add that to the parts list.) Just for safety's sake, I covered the screw head with a small piece of electrical tape so that it didn't make inadvertent content with the hot shoe leads.

Now I can slip the GPS into the hot shoe, plug it into the 10-pin port via an MC-35, and I get positional data in my EXIF.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Summer Vacation!

So where have I been, and why am I blogging about it now? Good questions. We went to Scotland for two weeks at the end of July, and through the miracle of back-dating, I am just now entering some thoughts about the trip. Yes, thanks to dishonest timestamps, I will now pretend that I posted this in real time four weeks ago.

We took the red-eye from Newark to Glasgow on Thursday night. Fortunately, Continental flies 757's across the Atlantic, so you get one aisle and one movie choice. And really, what more do you need than today's hottest films like "National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation?" Sleep was scarce. Glasgow airport is a nice, manageable size, however. You sail through customs and immigration pretty quickly, get your bags, and get your car, and you're off.

For some reason, 90% of the cars in the UK are manual transmission. When you're sleep-deprived from an overnight flight, you really want to cram your ass into a mini-sized car and fumble with the stick using your left hand. I don't handle the stick with my left hand, you know.

The struggle got worse when there was no evident way to put the car into reverse. It had six gears, and reverse was indicated with a little up-arrow to the side of the R on the knob. Makes sense. Let me just check in the driver's manual that's not in the car's glove compartment. Parallel parking and getting out of dead ends is a joy when you can't reverse. I ended up finding a spot on a hill with a 40 degree decline, and letting the car slowly roll into place.

How to take more awesome photos: Sunsets

Welcome to the first in a series of Cynicor Photo School lessons. Today we look at taking the perfect sunset photo.

Most photogs don't expose sunsets properly, or they take boring shots without interest. Figure 1 shows a typical shot. It is OK-maybe a bit too bright-and lacks interest.

The first step is to boost the color a bit. open the shot in Photoshop and crank up the saturation as far as it will go. Don't worry about overdoing it. People love bright colors. Pretty!

Step 2 adds interest to the shot. Why have a dull, flat horizon? Sunsets come alive with subtle silhouettes In the foreground. You can even add your own. Notice what I've done In Figure 3. Nice. Notice how the silhouette looks natural. It adds interest without looking out of place.

Finally, you should always crop to the area of interest. Be selective! A busy photo is a poor photo. Figure 4 shows the outcome: a TOTALLY awesome photo!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Amendment XXV, Section 4

The VP and cabinet won't do it, unfortunately. And maybe the Constitution should read "incapacitated or just a real big fuck*n retart." But give me a break. He decided to give the leader of Germany a back rub? Good lord. I'm going to have to go break out my copy of Proud American magazine until this latest embarrassment fades.

Proud American

As I was walking to my office this morning in lovely Manhattan, I popped into a local newsagent. Displayed prominently at the register was a new magazine, Proud American.

The idea behind Proud American is simple. For too long, we Americans have been ashamed of the way our president is a steaming pile of incompetent dogcrap, the way we flout international laws and conventions, and how we have actually made Iraq worse than before while sending the region hurtling towards wider conflict. Just the way Bin Laden said he wanted things to go five years ago.

Be ashamed no more! Proud American is here to tell you how "the United States of America is a force for good in the world, and the public wants to read about it. Whether it’s supporting our troops during this war on terror, protecting our national treasures, promoting patriotism, or just showcasing the liberties and freedoms we are allowed to enjoy in this great nation."

There's also coverage of beer, muscle cars, NASCAR, and Bruce Willis.

Here's the thing. Our greatest national treasure is our Constitution. I'm sure that upcoming issues will cover the erosion of our liberties and the trashing of our greatest national treasure by the Bush administration in the name of the "war on terror." Or maybe just photos of German shepherds wearing flag bandanas and where to find great BBQ.

Beer, eh!

I took a walk to the Radio Shack on Broadway and 56th during lunch today. While I was inside, these two guys walked in. They first asked the clerk where they could get a small instant camera, because they were about to go see Letterman. She pointed them towards the Duane Reade. They said "the what?"

Then one of them said "can you get beer at the Duane Reade? We just got here from Canada. Where can you get beer?" As part of that fake "be nice to tourists" thing we do here, I told them to look for any store with a bunch of flowers outside. Go in and ask find beer.

I then continued to Ranch One, that lusciously filthy fast food outlet next to Letterman's theater. A woman in front of me spilled half her fries on the floor. I told her that the five second rule was in effect, but she wouldn't pick the damn things up and eat them.

(sigh) Tourists.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Big Dig-saster

I was in Boston this week for the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference. I got there on Monday evening, and a few hours later the connector to the Ted Williams Tunnel collapsed. Three things about that.

1. I appreciate that people tell me "Thank god you weren't in the tunnel at the time." Yeah. I join that small group of 6.5 billion people who weren't.

2. It was a terrible tragedy how a mother of three had her life snuffed out in an instant by a cascade of three-ton concrete slabs. We all weep for her family's loss.

3. It was pretty sweet for me personally!

I booked late for the conference, and all the hotels in mid-Boston were packed solid. My choices were Newton to the west or Revere to the east. I have stayed in the Newton hotel in the past, and while it has its charm (hovering over I-90 as if in space), I chose the Comfort Inn in Revere. While the T didn't run right next to the hotel (so I couldn't pretend I was in a futuristic SpacePort like I could in Newton), it did have the advantage of a location right next to the Necco Candy factory. If I felt peckish in the middle of the night, I could slip over and buy a few rolls of those shitty, shitty chalk wafers.

I drove up on Monday. I must have taken the wrong exit off I-93, because I ended up doing loop-de-loops in the North End for about 45 minutes before I finally found the entrance to the Callahan Tunnel and Rt. 1A. It was conveniently located between two Jersey barriers in the middle of a street, marked only with a chalk outline on the ground.

I got to the hotel, and the snack situation consisted of a Good Humor machine featuring ice cream sandwiches, crusted in frost like Santa's beard, for $3.00. Or a packet of Clamato flavored tortilla chips. Clamato flavored tortilla chips. The person who came up with that idea should be shot in the butt, and then his corpse should be stuffed with Clamato flavored tortilla chips.

Three hours later, the Williams tunnel bit it. This is the extension of I-90 that goes to Logan.

On Tuesday morning, the traffic on I-90 was backed up past Newton, all the way to Cleveland. Had I been in Newton, it would've taken me hours to get to the convention center. The traffic coming from Revere, on the other hand, was not a big problem.

On Tuesday night, I started back for the hotel. By now, they had set up the detour signs everywhere. Anywhere near I-90, you were now redirected to the 1A tunnel with readable, well-placed signage. I had no problem at all for the rest of the week. This tragic collapse was so awesome for me!

And yeah, tsk tsk on the shoddy workmanship and cost overruns, more condolences for the victim's family, etc. But thanks for making my life just a bit easier.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Kiner's Korner

I don't know whether this is my memory going faulty or if someone else is wrong here. But let's see who else remembers this.

My memory: In 1981 or 1982, Mookie Wilson and Doug Flynn were on Kiner's Korner after a Mets game. It was a bright day out, and Flynn was still wearing lamp black under his eyes. Kiner asked Flynn to explain the lamp black to the viewers, and then after Doug was finished, Ralph said "Mookie doesn't need any."

However, another Mets fan has a slightly different recollection of the post-game show. This would put it in 1983, when Heep first played for the Mets:

Mookie Wilson and Danny Heep on the show after a sunny day game. Heep still has the eye black on his face. So Ralph says "Danny has that black stuff to cut down on glare. He's not trying to look like Mookie."
Man, I wish the Internets were around back then to settle this.

Saturday, July 8, 2006

Spelling Wasp

It must run in the family. Both my daughter and my sister won grade school spelling bees. The difference? Cordelia didn't F-U-C-K it up by ignoring the well-established Bee Rules. And my sister went on to a career selling her plasma for booze money. So based on this empirical evidence, spelling bee champs end up as drunk monkeys.

Writing to Rep. Peter King

I just got off my butt and wrote a letter to my Congressman.

Dear Rep. King,

I am a constituent of yours in the Third District. I am writing you because I believe you have both the position and the moral authority to reduce the most caustic elements of our national debate - if that is something you deem worthwhile.

I am referring, specifically, to Ann Coulter's recent remarks. A month ago, she said of the 9/11 widows, "These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazis. I have never seen people enjoying their husband's death so much."

Gov. Pataki has condemned these remarks and called for a retraction. Sen. Clinton has done the same. To date, I have not heard any opinion of these remarks coming from your office. I can't imagine that you would approve of a single word of this statement under any circumstances, given your work supporting all of us who were affected by 9/11. I also doubt that you are close to Ms. Coulter, seeing as she referred to you last week as "nuttier than squirrel droppings."

Unfortunately, statements with this destructive tone are all too common from Coulter, as well as from others like Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, John Gibson, and their ilk. As a constituent of yours, I would like to request, sir, that you take a strong stand against this style of vile rhetoric in our public discourse. Our district, and our country, deserve a fair and frank discussion of issues - not slander against the victims of 9/11 and comparisons of elected officials to fecal matter. I am sure I speak for the majority of your constituents when I say that I have had enough of this.


(name and address supplied)

Friday, July 7, 2006

North Korea

1. Who gives a crap what they're doing?
2. Why is Bush now saying that if we had a working missile defense system, we could've stopped the North Korean missiles?

The North Korean missiles had about the same terror value as the bottle rocket that landed in my pool on July 4. We said that we had activated our missile defense system. The one that doesn't work. Their missiles were piss-poor. Now Bush is saying that we need to continue working on the Star Wars program. I wasn't aware that we had stopped it. I just thought that it kind of, you know, didn't work without rigged tests. But let's assume that it did work. Why would we waste millions of dollars every time North Korea tossed their damn M-80s in the air? We're supposed to be scared that they put together an off-the-shelf Estes rocket and launched it with a car battery.

We've spent $91 billion on Star Wars now. Nothing to show for it. But we could've used some of that money to find Bin Laden, or buy out A.Q. Khan before he sold nuclear secrets and supplies to North Korea, Iran, and Libya.

Actually, we were investigating Khan's money trail, but the CIA probe was shut down by Bush's NSA because it got too close to Saudi Arabia. So now North Korea has nukes, even if their rockets suck and we can't stop them.

Winter/Summer Tragedies

Pictures like this really piss me off.

Sure, it looks cute enough. But WHY THE HELL WOULD THE SUN NEED TO WEAR SUNGLASSES? Is it going to get itself in its eyes? Is the Sun driving somewhere? No. It just sits there, rotating around the earth, burning itself out. There's no sunglasses, and there's no excuse for this shitty art.

That's the summer version. The winter version is this: a snowman throwing a snowball.

Oh, how precious. Well, no. See, this snowman is made out of snow. He's throwing a snowball made out of snow. This is the equivalent of a human throwing a big chunk of human flesh. It's ghastly and horrific. Why do we put coal smiles on snowmen? They are standing there with flakes of their own flesh falling out of the sky. They're generally standing on a lawn about 8" deep with snowman intestines and other internal organs, and they have these ineffectual twig arms. This is something out of nightmares. Unless, of course, they're smiling because they're borderline psychotic.

Lots to talk about

It's been a month. A busy, busy month.

I started out in Boston for TechEd. After 15 years of Orlando, Dallas, Orlando, Atlanta, Orlando, New Orleans, Orlando, it was GREAT to be in a real city. I took the train to the conference! How great is that? While I was there, I got some photos of the really cool Zakim Bridge.

I got home, spent a day or two, and hit the road again. This time I was in Minneapolis for the Gates-Nunn wedding. I've never been to Minneapolis before. It has some great abandoned mills that have been turned into an area called, well, Mill Ruins Park. It's got some great bridges, too. More pictures.

But the weird thing about the middle of the city was that it seemed to be largely abandoned. It was a lot like Denver the one time I had the pleasure. And every meal involves wild rice in some way. And people really do have that Minnesota accent, even the clerk at the Nordstrom in the Mall of America, who overlapped it with a flamboyantly gay undertone. And there's a Target every two blocks. And a Best Buy on the other blocks. All the way out to Chanhassen.

The wedding itself was on Lake Minnetonka, which is pretty enough, I suppose. But it's weird how all those lakes out there lack the good ocean scent you get on the coasts. It makes the water seem sort of dead.

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be the official photographer of the wedding, my first job. Everyone was really nice and helpful, which put me at ease. I was terrified, never having done anything like this before. I overbought equipment, planned all this complex lighting stuff, and when the day came I just took photos with fill flash. It actually wasn't that easy because the sun was setting over the lake, providing some really strong back lighting. I am still Photoshopping some of the photos where the fill flash wasn't strong enough. 650 photos later, I had a decent selection to choose from.

Then some other stuff happened, and here I am. I'm heading back to Boston next week for the Worldwide Partner Conference. Except that now, I am a professional photographer. Congratulations, Kerry and Matt!