One step closer.

580EX flash

Last night I successfully fired a strobe with a microswitch hooked up to my Arduino.  I'm aware that at this point, the setup is a needlessly complicated and expensive version of just pushing the "test" button on the back of the flash, but hey, progress is progress!  Now all I need to do is replace the microswitch with a break-beam or sound trigger, build a variable delay into the program, and viola, I should be up and running!  Hit the jump for a photo of the jury rigged mess of wires.

Age and treachery vs youth and skill

KodachromeWhen I was home for dinner at my parent's house last weekend, my dad and I got to talking about the last roll of Kodachrome ever manufactured, which was just recently shot by photographer Steve McCurry (best known for his photo of the Afghan girl with the beautiful eyes).

McCurry was given the roll by Kodak themselves, and it was developed at Dewayne's Photo, in Parsons, Kansas, the only place left IN THE WORLD that can process Kodachrome.  Dewayne's will only be offering processing through December 30th of this year, so if you've got any Kodachrome around, you'd better get shooting!

At this point, my dad mentioned that he had some sitting in the fridge from years ago, sealed and unexposed.  Cue me running to the kitchen and digging through a shoebox of expired film, and coming up with two rolls of 24 exposure, ASA 64 Kodachrome color slide film.

Some assembly required.

[caption id="attachment_511" align="alignright" width="300" caption="My "workbench""]My "workbench"[/caption]

My order from Maker Shed arrived today, some wiring, a mini breadboard, and a protoshield kit.  From the product description, it's not super apparent that it comes unassembled, but when I opened the box I found that was indeed the case.  I'd been planning to learn to solder eventually, so it wasn't a huge deal, but this did accelerate my learning a bit!

I had to run to my parent's house for dinner anyways, so I took the opportunity to pick up my dad's old soldering iron, solder, and third hand, and proceeded to learn to solder by watching various YouTube videos on the subject.  Once I felt I had the gist of it, I broke out the protoshield and got to work, following the instructions here.

Solder ConnectionsAt the start of the project, all those pins seemed pretty intimidating, but once I'd soldered in the first couple without incident, I gained some confidence and was able to chew through them pretty quickly.  I was surprised by how nice (at least to my untrained eye) most of my connections turned out!  I tested a few with my multimeter just to make sure everything went as planned.

When the moment of truth arrived, I fit the protoshield on top of the Arduino, plugged in a couple LEDs, since the controller was still programmed with my scrolling LED sketch, and plugged it in.  Sure enough, all three LEDs worked as advertised, blinking merrily away.  With the protoshield stacked on the Arduino, you have a nice, compact package to prototype circuits, without needing to wire up a separate breadboard.  Now that I've cleared this hurdle, my next step will be to work on making the controller send a trigger signal to my Paul C. Buff Cybersync CST flash trigger, which I can then use to fire my strobes wirelessly.  After that, I'll work on hooking up my sensors and making them fire the flash.  Progress is being made!

[caption id="attachment_513" align="aligncenter" width="502" caption="The newly assembled protoshield atop my Arduino"]Protoshield and Arduino[/caption]

Making tracks with MyTracks

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="258" caption="Me with part of the B-36's main gear"][/caption]

One of the neatest little apps I've been using on my Android phone (HTC Hero and now the EVO 4G) is MyTracks, which was developed by Google employees following Google's 20% time philosiphy.  At it's most basic level, MyTracks is a GPS data logging app.  It interfaces tightly with Google Maps, and lets you upload and view your tracks to My Maps on Google Maps.

[caption id="attachment_490" align="alignright" width="126" caption="The map screen"]The track of my hike[/caption]

I've used MyTracks a couple times, mostly to track my position on hikes or various exploring adventures.  It worked great to track Rich and my progress when we canoed the St. Croix river, and I used it a couple weeks ago to record my hike up to the spot where an Air Force B-36 bomber crashed near El Paso, TX in 1953.  This hike was a great test of the app since it involved pretty extreme elevation change (about 1300 feet), a number of waypoints that I wanted to record, and since I was climbing a mountain in the desert, I had a clean line of sight to the GPS satellites the entire trip.

When these guys DIY, they don’t mess around.

Copenhagen SuborbitalsI am big into the DIY spirit. I love tinkering, building things myself, and figuring out how things work.  For instance, I was pretty proud a couple months ago when I replaced one of the  brake calipers and drive shafts on my Subaru Outback a couple of months ago.  Then I read about the crazy Danes over at Copenhagen Suborbitals.

This is DIYx10^26.  Copenhagen Suborbitals describe themselves as a "non-profit suborbital space endevaour, with a mission to put a man in space sometime in 2012-2013.  That sounds pretty out-of-this-world, but it gets better.  The mission will be launched from a self-built, floating, launch platform, towed into place by the guys at Copenhagen Suborbitals OWN SUBMARINE.  This is some serious James Bond supervillian stuff!

In less than four days they will be launching the HEAT1X/Tycho Brahe mission, to test out an almost full-scale (640mm diameter) rocket with an attached crew module, complete with a dummy pilot.  The launch will take place southeast of Sweden, and as we speak the catamaran launch platform is hooked up to the submarine Nautilus for towing.

Let there be (dancing) light(s)!

I humbly present to you, the results of my very first efforts with the Arduino microcontroller...

Much more impressive things to come soon. If you're in the Twin Cities area and like to tinker, you'd be well served to check out Ax-Man surplus!  I picked up a number of resistors, LEDs, a potentiometer, and some other odds and ends for a fraction of the price of the same parts at Radioshack, plus you can pick up other awesome toys like gas masks, magnets, and the rangefinder from a Leopard tank!  I love that place, and their product tags are usually good for a couple laughs as well.  Now I need to get a 3.5mm stereo plug jack hooked up so I can work on triggering lights or a camera. I hoped you enjoyed the 80s soundtrack for my video, courtesy of Miami Vice season one!

Timing is everything

I was on an 11-day, 3500 mile road trip last week, and at one point in Colorado I got the opportunity to try and capture some really amazing lightning over the San Juan Mountains.  I set my Canon 7D up on the deck railing, attaching it with the Lightning over the San JuansGorillapod Focus I bought for the trip (which I'll be reviewing later), set a small aperture to give me a longish shutter speed to increase my chances of catching a flash, and started snapping away.  After about 300 photos, I'd caught maybe 6 strikes, with this being by far the best of them.

If it had been darker, I would likely have had more success, since I'd be able to have a longer shutter speed (this was taken at 1 second or so), which would give me a better ratio of shutter open to shutter closed time.  The split second timing and blind luck required to get these lightning photos reminded me of another photographic adventure I had a while ago, shooting water drops. I just used a ziploc bag with a pin hole in it, and relied on reflexes and luck to fire the lights at the right time, but after seeing work like the photo below by David Pearson (fpsurgeon on flickr), I've been interested in setting up a more automated solution to both increase the percentage of keepers, and to allow me to shoot more complex things like the droplet collision below.


To this end, I just went ahead and ordered up an Arduino Duemilanove, the book Getting Started with Arduino, and some accessories so I can put together a DIY trigger that will allow me to shoot stuff like this, along with other types of high-speed photography.  This will also serve the dual purpose of improving my knowledge of programming and basic electronics, so I like to look at it as killing three birds with one stone.  I'll be chronicling my progress here at NerdsIRL, so keep an eye out for an update sometime after the Arduino and book arrive Wednesday!