When I first adopted a trail to maintain, I was given a manual that included a list of recommended tools to bring. Among the recommendations was a bow saw. I was expected to be able to cut branches up to six inches in diameter, and I would need a saw.

I had had plenty of experience with a bow saw when I was younger. I knew them to be, among other things, rather awkward. In recent years around the house, I had been using a pruning saw. So, I elected to buy a long, quality pruning saw with a belt scabbard. I used it with good results.

Recently I came upon a comparison of the benefits of the two types of saw. The bow saw should (theoretically) cut more efficiently, partly because of its longer stroke, but mainly because its thinner blade would cut a narrower kerf. This convinced me to try taking a bow saw for trail maintenance.

I hated it.

I didn’t do any empirical testing, but the bow saw did not seem to cut any faster or better than my pruning saw. (In some ways, it was worse, which I will get to.) In the end, the bow saw didn’t seem to cut more efficiently, and that pretty much closed out any advantages it might have over a pruning saw.

So let’s talk about the advantages that the pruning saw has:

1. The pruning saw was much more portable. It goes in its scabbard, which hangs on my belt. It’s right there when I need it, and it isn’t in the way when I’m not using it. In contrast, the only way to carry the bow saw that isn’t super-awkward is to carry it in your hand, which is fine, except that I need my hands for other things. There was no good way to hook the saw over my shoulder or over my pack that wasn’t in the way and liable to cut me.

2. The pruning saw cuts straighter. The narrow, flexible blade of the bow saw allowed the cuts to wander in directions that I can’t even explain. The comparatively stiffer blade of the pruning saw causes it to cut true and straight.

3. The pruning saw easily cuts from underneath. Even when a log is laying basically on the ground, it was easy to slip the blade underneath and cut upward.

I will go back to taking my pruning saw on trail maintenance outings. By the way, the saw I use is a Silky Sugoi 420.

The Naïve and Sentimental Lover

Posted: 13th May 2020 by Cheap in Fiction

Some of my favorite films are based on novels written by John le Carré. The Russia House, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Constant Gardener, and even The Tailor of Panama. So naturally I decided to start reading his novels.

I began with The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (I haven’t seen the film), and that was pretty good. After that, I decided to start reading his novels in order of publication. Somehow, I had assumed that all of his novels would be spy thrillers. The first two were really murder mysteries, but I didn’t really catch on, and they were alright. The next two were spy novels, but definitely not thrillers. Instead, they portrayed dysfunctional agencies. All the characters, including the protagonist, were unlikable, and I didn’t much care for them. Nevertheless, I sought to push onward.

Then I reached The Naïve and Sentimental Lover, and boy was that a surprise.

It’s not a spy novel of any kind. It’s not a murder mystery. I don’t know what to say it is, except perhaps literature.

The protagonist (Cassidy) is unlikable, not because he is wealthy, but because he is simultaneously full of himself and spineless and gullible. He doesn’t really seem to want anything, and he lets things just happen to him. He meets Shamus, who easily twists him around his finger. Shamus is unlikable as a character because he has no boundaries. They end up in some kind of bisexual relationship, with Cassidy throwing his money at Shamus. Helen is likable, simply because she is nice and agreeable, but she doesn’t have any will of her own.

Anyway, I struggled to get through the novel, and the only reason I kept going beyond the first couple of chapters is that I was waiting for it to turn into a spy story. It didn’t, obviously.

However, it did eventually demonstrate some redeeming qualities. It was very well written. le Carré’s style and prose were excellent. There were also moments of being very surreal, no longer telling a story but painting a picture of feelings and impressions.

I just wish he would write protagonists I didn’t despise.

Anyway, I’ve decided I no longer want to read everything he has written. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is next anyway, but after that, I’m going to skip anything that isn’t certain to be a good spy novel.

Machining, Yet Another Hobby

Posted: 16th April 2020 by Cheap in Metalworking

I have been wanting to do so for years, but I finally bought myself a Grizzly G4015Z combination lathe/mill. I don’t have huge plans to make things with it. Primarily, I intend to use this to learn about machining processes and get some experience doing them. Ultimately, I hope to help my brother open a gunsmithing shop, and part of that goal includes the design and manufacture of firearms.

My father worked in a machine shop during my childhood, and I was occasionally able to get a glimpse of things, but I didn’t know much then, and my attention was primarily focused on the very large parts they machined and the artful variety of metal shavings.

My interest in guns has often led me to wish for niche products that no one makes. That, combined with my brother’s need for a vocation, inspired us to send him to gunsmithing school. If we can figure out the financial and real-estate hurdles, we would like to get him set up with a shop.

In the mean time, there are plenty of things for both of us to learn and experiments to conduct. The G4015Z is a very small machine (weighing only 475 lbs!) and is limited in what it can do. However, the basic functionality is there, and it will give me the platform on which to learn what I want to learn.

Of course, buying the machine is only the beginning of expenditures. There are all kinds of cutting tools and measuring tools I will need to buy. And materials to machine are also surprisingly expensive.

I have acquired a Sound Devices MixPre-10 II, which is a big step up from the Zoom F4 I have been using primarily for nearly three years. This review will largely be written as a comparison between those two devices.

[Be warned that many of the features of the MixPre-10 II are not present in the MixPre-3 II or MixPre-6 II. Neither of those devices have TA3 outputs or 4-pin Hirose power connectors. The MixPre-3 II does not have combo inputs to accept 1/4″ TRS connections, and it just doesn’t have enough inputs to support ambisonic microphones. There may be software/feature limitations in those devices. This review is about the MixPre-10 II.]

32-bit Float

The big game changer is obviously the wide dynamic range and the ability to write to 32-bit float WAV files. This same functionality exists in the Zoom F6, about which I don’t have many specifics, except that it works similarly.

The important factor with 32-bit float files is not the amount of dynamic range, but that they can record values above 0 dB. This means your recordings won’t clip when the signal exceeds 0 dB; the samples will simply be written in the file as positive dB values. In your DAW, they will appear clipped, but as soon as you adjust the gain, a clean, undistorted waveform is recovered.

Sound Devices and Zoom both refer to this feature as making the recorder virtually unclippable. It is still theoretically possible to exceed the recorder’s dynamic range and clip the signal, but in practice, your microphone will reach its max SPL and distort before the recorder clips.

What does this mean? It means a location sound recordist no longer needs to be quite so careful to avoid clipping. It means it is no longer necessary to create safety tracks. It means limiters are irrelevant (and indeed, the MixPre-10 II disables limiter functionality when in 32-bit float mode).

Be warned, however, that this amazing functionality can be defeated by other devices in the signal chain. Specifically, the dynamic range of radios used for wireless mics can still be a limiting factor. I will have to do some testing to see where the ceiling is. The Sennheiser EW 100 radios I use have a lot more dynamic range than I’ve been using, so 32-bit float still increases the headroom. I’m just not sure how much.

32-bit float WAV files are larger and require more storage.

Anyway, if you were wondering: yes, 32-bit float absolutely works as advertised, and no it is not hype.

Power

The one big disadvantage of this recorder versus the Zoom F4 is power consumption. Depending on configuration, this recorder draws two to three times as much current as the F4. This has a worse than expected impact on battery life.

While it comes with a AA battery sled, Sound Devices doesn’t really expect you to use it. The recorder hates alkaline batteries, because they can’t put out enough current. A fresh set lasts less than an hour. It loves expensive, non-rechargeable lithium batteries, but even with those, battery life is a little more than four hours. My F4 liked NiMH batteries the best, but this recorder only lasts about two and a half hours from a full charge.

One has little choice but to invest in a dedicated high-capacity battery system, which is then connected to the recorder’s 4-pin Hirose DC input.

I ended up purchasing an eSMART battery system, which cost me $660 to get started. That’s two Inspired Energy 98 Wh lithium-ion batteries, an Audioroot charger, and an adapter cable. Following the same testing methodology, a full battery lasted just over twelve hours.

I have been experimenting with the recorder, powered from the included AC adapter, through a power meter, and so far I have discovered the following tips for saving power:

  • Turn off unused inputs. Note that disarming the input channel is not enough. Go to the Input setting on the channel menu for each input, where you normally select Mic or Line, and set it to Off.
  • Do not leave a USB flash drive connected. Simply having it connected uses a noteworthy amount of power. Instead, connect it occasionally for backups, and at the end of the job to hand off to the client.
  • Turn down the LCD and LED brightness. The default is full brightness, which is intended to be useful in full sunlight, but there is a power cost. Indoors, having the LCD turned all the way down and the LEDs set to 2 seems to be sufficient, and it helps reduce the power demand.

User Interface

The user interface on the MixPre is much simpler than the one on the F4. This is partly due to the touch display, and also the usefulness of the Wingman app, but also because the MixPre simply offers fewer configuration choices than the F4. In hindsight, the F4 has numerous configuration choices that no sensible person would ever use.

There is only one configuration item I miss. The MixPre records polyphonic WAV files. That’s it. For film, I don’t care about MP3 or any of that crap, but I know that polyphonic files are frequently a bit of a challenge for inexperienced editors. There’s no option to record isolated tracks to their own files.

Anyway, the menu is laid out sensibly, and it’s easy to figure out how to set things the way you want. In fact, it’s so easy that Sound Devices didn’t bother to document much of it in the User Guide. (I own other products from Sound Devices, and they are all documented better than this; I am surprised by this cutting of corners.)

There is one big annoyance regarding the user-interface. Many functions are controlled using a jog wheel, the same jog wheel that controls the headphone volume, which is located on the side of the unit. When used in a bag (which must be how 95% of their customers use it), this is buried inside where it isn’t easily accessible. No one knows what Sound Devices was thinking, but it’s very inconvenient.

The power switch is similarly inaccessible on the other side. This, at least, seems like it could have some rationale behind it, since you wouldn’t want to accidentally turn the unit off.

Wingman App

The MixPre is intended to be used to be used with an iOS/Android app called Wingman, which connects via Bluetooth. You can, of course, use the recorder without the Wingman app, but then you’re missing out on a major source of simplicity, namely the ability to use the keyboard* to enter metadata. I have only used the Android app.

By metadata, I mean scene name, take number, labels for each track, and notes for the recording. You can edit this on the recorder’s screen, using the jog wheel that is impossible to reach, but no one is going to wait all day for you to scroll around the alphabet, picking one letter at a time.

The MixPre allows you to do one simple but profound thing that the F4 does not: edit metadata in a recording after it has been recorded. Not only can you easily fix things like the scene name, but you can also enter notes about the take after it has been recorded. On the F4, you can only enter notes before the take, which means you can’t make any notes about things that happened during the recording. (F8 users are telling me they can edit metadata on existing recordings, so that is apparently a limitation only to the F4.) This simple capability makes a huge difference because it means the sound report can actually be useful.

Speaking of the sound report, it comes as a CVS file, not an XML file, which means it is easily useful to people who aren’t XML coders.

The Wingman app does lack one simple feature that seems like it should have been obvious. You cannot create or rename the project from the app. This must still be done directly on the recorder, using the jog wheel keyboard, which is that much more painful since this is the only thing you need to do that way. I am hoping Sound Devices will fix this in a future update.

I find the Wingman app to be such a central piece of my workflow that I bought a dedicated tablet to run it on. Why a dedicated tablet? It’s so I don’t have to worry about radio interference, right next to my bag, from the much stronger cellular network radio transmitter in a smartphone. One can’t use airplane mode and still use Bluetooth, and there’s no other way to turn off that radio. A non-cellular tablet eliminates that radio interference.

(* The MixPre does theoretically support USB keyboards directly. I should try that out. However, I’m sure you can see how a USB keyboard would be useful on a cart and not so useful in a bag.)

Connectivity

The MixPre-10 doesn’t have fifty kinds of audio inputs and outputs. Instead, it basically has two of each, but the recorder makes good use of those.

There are eight XLR and 1/4″ TRS combo inputs. On the F4, the XLR is mic level and the TRS is line level. On the MixPre, mic/line level is menu selectable, and either type of connector can be used either way. Both XLR and TRS can be balanced inputs.

There is also a 3.5mm (1/8″) TRS stereo “Aux” input, for channels 9 and 10. This input can be set to mic, line, “camera”, and timecode. The mic mode supplies plug-in power, and it’s intended to be used with consumer-type microphones. The camera mode is intended to be used for camera return audio, and I guess it must operate at headphone level. The timecode mode can be used to input linear timecode audio (I don’t know why anyone would want to do that, given the presence of BNC connectors for that purpose).

That’s it for audio inputs. For outputs, there are two TA3 connectors and a 3.5mm X1/X2 connector.

The TA3 connectors output the left and right mix channels by default. I would have preferred XLR outputs, since that’s what the rest of the world uses. Even though I don’t intend to use them often, I felt obligated to buy a pair of TA3 to XLR adapter cables. They output at a line level, but you can adjust the output gain from -40 to +20 dB. (It’s worth noting that the F4’s XLR outputs, when configured for line level, output at a consumer line level, as used by consumer audio appliances. The MixPre outputs at the level used by professional audio equipment, like sound mixers.) The routing is fully configurable and can output any channel, either pre- or post-fader.

The X1/X2 connector is a 3.5mm stereo TRS connector. Like the TA3 outputs, this outputs at a line level, its output gain is adjustable from -40 to +20 dB, and the routing is fully configurable. I tend to use this output for my IFB transmitter. I have been meaning to test whether I can lower the gain and connect it to the mic input on a DSLR.

None of the rest of the connectors are used for audio. There is a Type-A USB connector, which can be used to connect a flash drive for backing up recordings, a keyboard for entering metadata, or a control surface. It can also be used with a hub to combine all three. There is a separate Type-C USB connector which connects the device to a computer and can also supply power (but not enough power to run all features).

There are two BNC connectors, one for timecode in and one for timecode out. There is a 4-pin Hirose connector for supplying power, using either the supplied AC adapter or an external battery pack or power distribution system. The back has a battery sled attachment, for which Sound Devices sells a few options. There is one SD card slot. There is a micro-HDMI input, which is yet another way to input timecode. The headphone jack is 3.5mm rather than 1/4″.

Overall Impressions

I love this recorder.

For one thing, it just sounds better. I realize this is a totally subjective statement, and I am unable to articulate why or even how it sounds better, but it definitely does. I’m not talking about noise. Every input seems hotter. Not louder, but more dynamic range? There is almost certainly a quantifiable difference in the way the inputs do A/D conversion, but I don’t have the tools or the knowledge to measure or demonstrate it. All I know is that the recordings sound noticeably better.

The 32-bit float recording is huge. It means (almost) never again having to tell the director that I clipped the take he loves, and it has to be re-shot. Heck, it means I barely have to look at the meter.

Going from 4 to 8 inputs won’t really make a big difference for me. However, never having to create a safety track is effectively a big increase in inputs, because on the F4 and F8, each safety track consumes a second input.

Buying the battery system was a drag, but now that I have it, power is one more thing I don’t really need to worry about.

Being able to produce meaningful sound reports is really nice, and it’s one more degree of professionalism I can offer.

The better user-interface is a somewhat intangible improvement, but I know (from screwing around with my old H4n) that if I ever go back to look at the F4, I’ll be disgusted with its clunky and complicated menu.

The bottom line is that I am very happy I made this step upward.

Using Mystery to Create Suspense

Posted: 27th February 2020 by Cheap in Uncategorized

As a reader, suspense is important for me. It is the most important factor that determines whether I will enjoy a novel or not, even more important than the characters. More than that, it determines how engaged and interested I will be, and even how quickly I can get through a book.

One way to create suspense is through mystery. In a murder mystery novel, mystery is at the center of the story. However, that’s not the only way that mystery can play a role.

Creating obstacles for the protagonist raises the stakes. However, a situation with no apparent solution creates a mystery for the reader. How is the protagonist going to prevail? Will the protagonist prevail? The more impossible and hopeless the situation seems to be, and the longer the impossible odds persist, the more suspense is created for the reader, who genuinely wonders how the conflict will be solved.

The opposite is also true. If the solution is obvious, the story is a disappointment. In The Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey hinted early and often that dragons can probably travel through time. It was an obvious solution, but the characters agonized over what to do, until the last minute when they finally thought of it. This was very disappointing and frustrating.

Cop-outs are also disappointing. The first Dean Koontz novel I ever read was Sole Survivor. The protagonist kept looking for an explanation about how this person could have survived the plane crash, and I certainly couldn’t think of one. I was eager to reach the end and see what brilliant solution the author had devised. When, in the end, it turned out to just be magic, I was disappointed.

The solution doesn’t need to be terribly imaginative. In Tatiana, by Martin Cruz Smith, the answer to the mystery is actually quite simple. However, the author is careful to keep us thinking about other things. There were some facts presented right from the beginning that make more sense in the context of the answer, but we assume a different explanation (incompetence on the part of Smith’s corrupt Moscow police organization).

Zoom F4 Battery Life

Posted: 6th January 2020 by Cheap in Filmmaking, Technology
Tags: ,

In early 2017, I purchased a Zoom F4 digital recorder. Though I had been recording location sound for film for years, this is the first device I have owned that was designed for filmmaking. Prior to that, I had been using a Roland R-26, which was a step up from my Zoom H4n, which was designed for musicians.

Here is some important advice for anyone with new gear that runs on batteries that will be used on film sets or at events: understand the battery life. There is nothing worse than running out of battery in the middle of a production and not having sufficient replacements. How many spare batteries should you have? That depends on how long a good set of batteries lasts. You should find out from reliable sources, or you should perform your own tests.

(The manufacturer is not a reliable source. Case in point, Zoom suggests that the F4 will run for 3.5+ hours on NiMH batteries, but my own testing ran the device for over 10 hours.)

Eneloop Pro

Eneloop Pro NiMH batteries have a stated capacity of 2550 mAh.

For my battery tests, I set up the recorder to record on four inputs, supplying phantom power on each to my most power hungry microphones, and plugged in a set of headphones. I informed the recorder that it had NiMH batteries. (As far as I can tell, this only affects the battery display.) The XLR outputs were turned off (which, you will see below, is relevant). I set up a video camera to watch the recorder. With a freshly charged set of batteries, I turned on the recorder, started it recording, and then walked away.

After 2 hours 13 minutes, the battery status dropped down to 3 bars. Remaining time, 78%.

After 4 hours 28 minutes, the battery status dropped down to 2 bars. Remaining time, 56%.

After 7 hours 57 minutes, the battery status dropped down to 1 bar. Remaining time, 23%.

After 9 hours 50 minutes, the battery status dropped down to 0 bars, and a window began popping up every 30 seconds warning, “Low Battery!” Remaining time, 3%.

After 10 hours 9 minutes, the device shut down. The end of the file was properly saved.

Other Battery Types

I conducted tests using the same test scenario with non-rechargeable alkaline and lithium batteries. Unfortunately, I deleted the data once I found they weren’t useful. All I can really say for sure is that lithium outlasted alkaline, and NiMh outlasted both.

Configuration Matters

I was on a film set for which the Director requested IFB. I didn’t own a legitimate IFB radio set, but I hooked up a pair of Sennheiser EW 100 radios fed from one of the XLR outputs on the F4. As the day wore on, I was shocked at how quickly the batteries in the F4 ran down. I had a second set charged and ready, but I wasn’t even halfway through the day before I had to switch out to them.

The next time I used the recorder, the same thing happened. Then I realized that the XLR outputs were still turned on, and I disabled them. That seemed to resolve the battery life issue. My conclusion was that enabling the XLR outputs had a bigger impact on power consumption than anything else.

A few months ago, I learned a new trick. I have an AC power meter which measures power consumption in watts (and amps, but that isn’t as useful). If I have an AC adapter for a device, I can run it through the meter, and then I can experiment with different settings to see their effect on power consumption.

About the lowest I can run the recorder is at 1.7 watts. This is about 177 mA at 9.6 volts (the nominal output of 8 NiMH batteries). That is with one input enabled, and no phantom power.

Enabling more inputs matters. With all four inputs enabled, the power consumption goes up to 1.9 watts.

Phantom power matters. Enabling phantom power on the four ports brings the power consumption up to 2.3 watts.

Outputs matter. Turning on either the XLR or the 3.5mm output brings it up to 2.7 watts. Turning on both brings it up to 2.8 watts.

Microphones matter. Plugging in four (AKG P170) condenser microphones brought it up to 3.5 watts.

There may be other things that affect power consumption that I’m not aware of. The manufacturer specifies the power consumption at 12 watts, which must be a maximum, but I don’t know how they achieve it.

Things that did not make a measurable change in power consumption: recording, connecting headphones, the number of SD cards.

I could measure power consumption more precisely on the DC side using my Fluke meter, but I would have to rig up a way to tap into it. I would need to make a short 4-pin Hirose extension cable that routes one part of the power circuit through the meter. I may do that, because I have a Sound Devices MixPre-10 II on the way, and I will want to investigate these same questions for that device.

Recommendations

Use NiMH batteries. (Or use an external battery pack through the 4-pin Hirose connector.)

Disable the outputs (XLR “main” and 3.5mm “sub”) when you aren’t using them.

Disable phantom power where it is not needed (on radio receivers, for example).

Samsung Galaxy S10

Posted: 6th January 2020 by Cheap in Technology
Tags: ,

Last October, somewhat on impulse, I upgraded my phone to the Samsung Galaxy S10.

It all began when I met up with a friend of mine and saw that she was taking photos with her phone, not with a DSLR.  This was a surprise to me, since the photos she had been posting looked like they came from a DSLR, with shallow depth of field.  However, she was using a Samsung Galaxy S9.  I filed this knowledge away, thinking that Samsung had made remarkable improvements in their camera technology.

When the S10 line was announced, I had a brief chuckle over the number of cameras.  Up to five, in the case of the S10+, and then later they introduced the S10 5G with six cameras.  However, I could immediately see the value.  It is essentially an optical zoom solution without the bulk.  The cost of a camera is so low that including multiple cameras in a device is an economically justified solution to providing multiple angles of view to the user.  Apple is doing the same thing with their iPhone 11.

That was a while back.  The S10 is not new now.  However, on Thursday, I began to yearn for a better camera on my phone.  On Friday, I ordered one (and in less than an hour, a team of “Enjoy Experts” was at my house, handing it to me).

Cameras

First of all, let me be clear: I did not get DSLR quality in a smartphone.  Samsung has a new feature they’re calling “Live Focus” which detects the subject and digitally blurs the background.  It worked well enough to fool me into thinking I was looking at DSLR photos.  However, now that I know what I’m looking at, I can tell the difference.  I have also found some cases where it doesn’t quite work correctly, such as selfies of my bald head.  It will be a while before I decide whether I want to use this feature much.

The S10 is in the middle of the line with three rear-facing cameras and one selfie camera.  The selfie camera has an 80° diagonal angle of view.  The rear-facing cameras have 123°, 77°, and 45° diagonal angles of view, which they call Ultra Wide, Wide-angle, and Telephoto, and in the camera UI they are called x0.5, x1.0, and x2.0.  These are equivalent to 12mm, 27mm, and 52mm lenses on a 35mm film camera.  I personally think the Telephoto camera is misnamed, but in the context of a smartphone camera, I can see why they chose to call it that.

The Ultra Wide camera is fixed focus with a fixed aperture of f/2.2, but it is 16 MP.  Samsung has pointed out a fact that many people may not appreciate, which is that panoramic photos using this Ultra Wide camera will be much wider (vertically), and will therefore have a considerably more panoramic appearance.  The Wide-angle camera is auto-focus with optical image stabilization, and it has two aperture modes, f/1.5 and f/2.4, but it is only 12 MP.  The Telephoto camera is also auto-focus with optical image stabilization, has a fixed aperture of f/2.4, and is 12 MP.

Upgrade Process

Both Samsung and AT&T provide tools for transferring configuration, apps, and data across from an old device to a new one.  I used both.  On top of that, some media got transferred over from the cloud.  Consequently, much of my media is duplicated in two or three places on the new device.  I still haven’t cleaned it all up.

Android

The device came with Android 9, but a system update soon followed (in December?) that upgraded it to Android 10.  I have noticed only minor changes with Android 10.  The only one worth complaining about is that format of the recent battery history has changed, and I have not yet been able to make sense of the new format.

Android 9 loses the old Memo app that was built into Android 7 and earlier versions (was it in 8?).  I have been using the Samsung Notes app instead.

Conclusion

The S10 does not have the battery life of my S6 Active, and I assume, without having tested it, that it won’t be as durable.  Live Focus, what I mistook for shallow depth of field, isn’t all that great, and I haven’t been using it.  The wide-angle and telephoto cameras are useful on occasion, and I have been making use of them, but they alone weren’t worth the upgrade.

The S10 is slimmer and lighter than the S6 Active.  Though the S6 Active has been working well, upgrading has put my mind at ease about having a device that was released four years ago.

I Welded Something

Posted: 16th July 2019 by Cheap in Fiction, Firearms, Photography, Television
  • When my infrared camera came in on Friday, I played with it a little that afternoon, but I couldn’t spend my time with it because I had a party to prepare.  I snapped some photos around the house, and they showed some promise.  The next morning, I played a little more with them in Photoshop, and then I went out to the park.  The first park I went to wasn’t a great setting, so thinking about where else I could go, I remembered the Shaw Nature Reserve.  I had time, so I went there, with no other planning than to eat something along the way.  I took several photos, mostly just experimenting, but one of them was actually a fairly great photo.  When I got home and processed it with Photoshop, I was really happy with it.  I posted it to Facebook, along with another.  I kept coming back to look at this one all evening and the next morning, which told me that I really liked it.  So, I’ve ordered a print of it, which I will have mounted and framed.
  • I stumbled across a video about an easy way to remove broken exhaust manifold studs from the cylinder head using an arc welder.  I had a broken stud (broken before I touched it), and I own an arc welder, so I gave it a try.  It was unbelievably easy.  However, what has really made me happy is that I think I actually understand arc welding now.  While I have technically owned an arc welder for many years (probably ten), I never got the hang of using it.  I tried it when I first got it, and I was hopeless.  I concluded at the time that I would have to devote lots of practice to becoming even passably competent with it.  However, watching this video (which isn’t even a tutorial about arc welding) kind of showed me how I was doing it wrong, and how it was supposed to work.  So today, I screwed around with the welder a little and I was able to make it work.  Then I tried it on the broken stud, and it worked very easily, just the way it worked in the video.  So not only did I save myself from an otherwise frustrating job of drilling out the stud and trying to remove it with a screw extractor, but I may have actually learned how to weld.  Suddenly, I am thinking about all the welding jobs I could do.
  • I cleaned my garage.  For the first time, after having lived here for more than five years, I am able to fit two cars in my garage.  It’s a big deal, potentially life changing.
  • I binged the third season of Stranger Things all in one night, getting to bed at four o’clock in the morning.  It was pretty good.  Tightly written and suspenseful throughout.
  • I have been very interested in in the upcoming Star Trek: Picard, even though there has been almost no information about it.  One piece of information that was released is that the show runner will be Michael Chabon.  I have had three of his novels on my reading list for years, but I hadn’t gotten around to any of them.  When I learned of his involvement in the new Star Trek series, I bumped him up to the top of my list, and I have begun reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (a Pulitzer winner).
  • My recent reading has all been good.  I enjoyed Spinning Silver, which is a Hugo award nominee and just won a Locus award for best fantasy novel.  The Thin Man was a quick and enjoyable read from the prohibition era.  Hunger Makes the Wolf was a surprisingly good read (surprising because I bought it solely for the title) that seems to have received very little recognition.  A Memory Called Empire, a novel pushed heavily by Tor, was good.  I knew Head On, a sequel to John Scalzi’s Lock In, would be good.  By the time I reached the end of The Ruin of Kings, I found I was happy with the whole, though I must say that the format annoyed me quite a bit at the beginning.
  • Though I tried, I did NOT read Space Opera.  I hated it by page 5, and I should have stopped there, but it is next month’s book club book.  The difference between this book and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the difference between randomness and creativity.  Where Douglas Adams writes in finely crafted sentences, Catherynne M. Valente writes in lists of loosely unrelated shit.  When my oldest niece was three years old, she tried to make up jokes without actually understanding humor, and Space Opera is slightly better than that.  After two chapters, I started skimming, and then realized that was hopeless too.
  • A while back, I brought home a Smith & Wesson Model 686 Plus Deluxe.  I purchased it not for carrying or hunting, but just for shooting.  I as disappointed by the trigger.  Smith & Wesson triggers, at least in their revolvers, are legendary for being perfect, but this one wasn’t.  I could feel some trigger creep and some roughness in that creep.  Yesterday, I disassembled the thing, in contemplation of stoning the trigger engagement surfaces.  In the process, I discovered that this point had never been lubricated.  A little oil in the right place, and it works just as it should.  A little more dry firing, and it should be as good as my other two Smiths.

Whip-poor-will Overload

Posted: 22nd June 2019 by Cheap in Camping, Filmmaking, Outdoors, Photography, Technology
  • I haven’t been to all of them, but I suspect that the Hercules Glades Wilderness is the crown jewel of Wilderness Areas in Missouri.  It is not the biggest, but it is scattered with glades — some quite large and picturesque, has an extensive and well maintained trail system, and even has a set of pretty little waterfalls.  On top of that, there is relatively little poison ivy and no sign of feral hog damage.  If it wasn’t so far away, I might be tempted to call it my favorite.  It was Memorial Day weekend, but I didn’t see anyone all day Saturday except at the trailhead, or on Monday morning on my hike out.  I saw several groups on Sunday, most of them at or near The Falls.  However, there is evidently a thriving population of whip-poor-wills, which threatened to keep me awake both nights.
  • A couple decades ago, I bought a rain poncho made extra long in the back so it could be worn over a backpack.  I’ve carried it with me every time I’ve been backpacking, but Sunday was the first time I’ve actually been rained on significantly will hiking with it.  It found out that it sheds water, but it is not waterproof.  I think I’m going to try making my own, using a fabric that is actually waterproof.
  • I must be getting better at packing light, because my backpack is too big.  Again.  When I was first fitted for a backpack, I got a 65+10 liter pack (most lightweight packs throw off my center of gravity, and the local REI store didn’t have a huge selection of the ones which didn’t).  After one trip, I ordered a smaller 50+10 version of the same pack.  This three-day weekend, even that pack was too big.  I will either have to buy an even smaller pack (Deuter makes a 40+10 version, and also a 35+10 “women’s fit” version), or I will have to start carrying more gear.  More gear would mean a decent camera.  To save weight, I have been bringing only the camera on my smartphone, but I have frequently wished I could get better photos of things.
  • My straw hat fits better after having dropped it in the creek.
  • Label makers are fantastically useful devices.  I have owned a few, but more than a year ago I bought one made by Brother that accepts several sizes of label tape up to one inch in width.  I bought it so I could print large labels on clapperboards, but I have amassed a collection of different widths and colors, and I use it for everything.  Today, after owning my air compressor for more than two decades, I printed clear “AUTO” and “OFF” labels for it, because I was fed up with trying to read tiny little lettering, stamped in black-painted metal, in the dark.
  • I have been working out details for a road trip to New Mexico that my brother and I will go on this September.  I wouldn’t normally consider New Mexico to be a tourist destination, but a few small attractions started to add up.  There is the Hatch Chile Festival on Labor Day weekend.  There is the city of Truth or Consequences, upon which my brother has been modeling his train layout, even though he has never been there.  For a long time, we have kidded around about traveling to see those individually.  Then I discovered the Chile Pepper Institute at the New Mexico State University.  They’re all in the same area.  Add on White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and you have an action-packed vacation.  We will probably also get on the tour of Spaceport America and check out Cadillac Ranch along the way.
  • I had another screening party at my place last night.  It was a similar success to the one I had last year, and I guess it will be an annual thing.  The timing is intentionally such that it comes after the 48 Hour Film Project screenings and after the selections (and rejections) of the St. Louis Filmmaker’s Showcase.  In any case, it was a good time.
  • My infrared converted Panasonic GH4 arrived yesterday.  I have been playing around with it, but I am going to have to wait some time for a sunny day to really give it a good test.  Panasonic still has a lot of luminance noise in their sensors, but it is a little better than my old GF1.  I need to get some experience with this camera, in preparation for shooting a film with it.

Five years late to the game, I am picking up a Panasonic GH4 for filmmaking.  This is for a specific project, which I needn’t discuss here.  I have just spent some time making sense of the crop factors and the 4K windowed video, and here is what I have figured out.

First of all, “crop factor” has to do with differences in the physical dimensions of the image sensor.  A “full frame” image sensor is one that is the same size as the film frame of a 35mm still camera*, about 36×24mm.  Most digital cameras use a sensor that is smaller than that.  The result is that the smaller sensor sees a smaller portion of the image projected by the lens.  This is exactly as if an image from a full frame camera had been cropped to a smaller size, hence the name.  The ratio in size between the smaller sensor and a full frame sensor is known as the “crop factor” or the “35mm equivalence factor”, and it is useful in comparing the angle of view of different lenses based on their focal length.  For example, an APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.6, so a 100mm lens on an APS-C camera will have the same angle of view as a 160mm lens on a full frame camera.

All of that is broadly understood, but what most people don’t realize is that a crop factor is somewhat meaningless if you are comparing image sensors with two different aspect ratios.  A Four-Thirds sensor (which is 17.3×13mm) is known to have a crop factor of 2.0, but that is actually the ratio of the diagonal dimension.  The horizontal factor is 2.08 and the vertical factor is 1.85.  So is a 12-35mm Micro-Four-Thirds lens equivalent to a 24-70mm EF lens?  Well, yes, but only diagonally.  How often are you trying to fit a subject diagonally across the frame?  Still, it is a reasonable rule of thumb.  However, the aspect ratio situation gets even more complicated when you digitally select a different aspect ratio.  The Four-Thirds sensor has a 4:3 aspect ratio.  If you use that sensor to record an image with a 16:9 aspect ratio, the portion of the sensor being used is even smaller (17.3×9.75mm).  The horizontal crop factor remains the same at 2.08, but now the vertical crop factor is 2.46.

For 4K and C4K video, the GH4 uses a “window” of the sensor.  Instead of the 4608×2592 pixels on the portion of the sensor that covers a full 16:9 aspect ratio, it uses only the 3840×2160 pixels in the middle of the sensor for 4K, and the 4096×2160 pixels in the middle of the sensor for C4K.  I assume this solves a problem with aliasing or processing performance.  In any case, this means the effective part of the sensor is even smaller: 14.44×8.12mm for 4K and 15.4×8.12mm for C4K.  A smaller sensor means an even more significant crop factor: a 2.49 horizontal crop factor for 4K and a 2.34 horizontal crop factor for C4K.

What is the bottom line?  Well, here are some horizontal angles of view for common Canon lenses on a full-frame sensor: 16mm = 96.7°, 24mm = 73.7°, 35mm = 54.4°, 50mm = 39.6°, 70mm = 28.8°.  Here are some horizontal angles of view for Panasonic lenses when shooting 4K on a GH4: 7mm = 91.8°, 12mm = 62.1°, 14mm = 54.6°, 20mm = 39.7°, 35mm = 23.3°.  This helps me know what lenses I will want when shooting my project.

(* 35mm still cameras and 35mm film cameras have difference frame sizes.  Film moves through a still camera horizontally, so the limiting factor is the height of the frame, about 24mm high.  Using a 3:2 aspect ratio, the width of the frame is about 35mm, hence the name.  The same film moves through a motion camera vertically, so the limiting factor is the width of the frame, about 24mm wide.  The height of each frame will then depend on the the aspect ratio and whether an anamorphic lens is used.  Nothing about it is actually 35mm, except that it uses the film stock designed for a 35mm still camera.)