Sunday, March 31, 2013

Jupiter, take one.

I've made a couple of attempts at imaging Jupiter, but I've had some difficulty obtaining a sharp focus. I don't know if this is due to poor seeing conditions, or if I'm just too clumsy with the knob.  Of course, these were among my first attempts after getting a T-ring and adapter for my camera. I may give it another go using eyepiece projection.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Modifying a digital photo frame for ease of access

Over the last holiday season I spent some time looking for a digital photo frame to give to someone I'm very close to that's suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. While such a device might not be the easiest to operate by someone in such a condition, I assumed I'd be able to find a product simplified controls and large buttons, geared toward seniors or the like. It didn't take long before I realized that I would need to build or modify a device myself in order to come up with something to suit my needs. 

Months have passed since then, and while I've considered patenting the design, I feel as though it can do more good being released under a Creative Commons license. My build, after loaded with pictures was not only completely operational as intended, but brought "overwhelming" tears of joy to a person's eyes. It was more than I could have hoped for - and if you are able to use or expand on this idea to bring joy into someone else's life, all the better. 

Anyway, on to the build. 

The goals were straight forward. A digital picture frame with large obvious buttons for controlling at least play/pause, forward, and back. Essentially, the device needed to center around an ease-of-access design.

A quick mock-up of the design.

The process started by selecting a digital picture frame to modify - I just so happened to have a Best Buy gift card with a few bucks left on it, so settled for an inexpensive 7" Dynex frame, though any frame with a significant bezel surrounding the screen itself would work fine. 

Most digital photo frames have their controls located on the back or sides. Beneath the buttons, there will be some sort of circuit board - it should be obvious once the frame is disassembled. On the Dynex frame, there was a separate board connected to the main board via ribbon cable.

The back of the board that connects to the plastic buttons.

Because no schematic of the device was available to me, I had to figure out what trace led to what button - unfortunately this wasn't as simple as referencing the button-facing side of the board to the other side. However, by probing/shorting first the six wires connecting to the board, then the different wires to the sides of the surface-mount resistors located on the board I was able to locate what needed to be shorted for the appropriate buttons - just take notes through the process. This was obviously done with the unit turned on, and connecting one conductive point to another (I used probes from my multimeter) and then observing the effect, if any on the display. It should go without saying that, even though the power supply knocks down the voltage and current considerably, it's always advisable to exercise caution when dealing with anything, even indirectly, hooked up to mains. 

A less than pretty solder job got the job done.

Using some ribbon cable stripped pulled from an old IDE cable, I made sure I had enough length to get the wires to where I intended to put them on the bezel of the frame. It's also worth noting that I put a switch in series with the the DC-in on the main board. The switch can be seen with the momentary push buttons below. I also used an appropriate adhesive to assure the solider joints would not be strained. Hot glue is dandy, but it would be a mistake to rely on tape alone for such. 

Wired and secured, everything was testing okay.

The last thing I did, which probably should have been among the first was use a dremel to create openings for the buttons and switch:

I'm  not sure that it would have been much better if I had laid out and cut holes first, but it was necessary for me to modify the base of the buttons in order to fit them into inner the bezel around the display. You can actually see such in the image above - I had to flatten out one side of the button to accommodate the metal housing of the LCD. Learn from my mistakes, I suppose.

The final step was to cut the appropriate openings for the outer bezel/facade and clean it all up. 

One additional step I could have taken was to do a similar modification to the remote. Many digital photo frames come with IR remotes, and the exact same process could used to put large, tactile buttons inside a small project box. Should I make a similar build, I may go this route instead - even the small coin-cell battery could be swapped out for an AA or similar, meaning a battery wouldn't have to be replaced for a very long time. Or even build a remote that is tethered to the frame - the options are endless, I suppose. 

Wired or IR remote mock-up.

Anyway, it's obvious (at least in retrospect) that there's a number of changes that I'd make, but the concept is sound - and allowing someone whose memory (and mind) is fading away to revisit past decades thanks to scanned pictures and a digital frame made the effort more than worth while. If anyone has any questions, or would like assistance with such a setup, don't hesitate to get in touch.

Creative Commons License
Modifying a digital photo frame for ease of access by Nik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Video of the moon in overcast skies

The skies were looking relatively clear at dusk last night so I decided to setup in hopes of capturing the Horsehead Nebula, though as luck would have it, the clouds started rolling in just a few minutes after it got dark enough to see stars in that area of the sky.

Because the cloud cover was relatively light, some features of the moon were still visible through the haze to the naked eye, so I thought it might be fun to swing the 'scope around and take a look. Obviously, the view wasn't super sharp, but seeing the way the clouds passed overhead made for an interesting sight. 

The resolution on the video is up to 1080p - enjoy :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

The moon

This was a capture from mid-January of this year. As I recall, I stitched a couple of images together to come up with the final product.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A small tDCS update

I've only had a handful of sessions so far - and while I've not been able to come up with a truly objective method of tracking results, early findings are encouraging. Cambridge Brain Sciences has some great resources for testing/tracking. Admittedly, I can't establish causation, but it's hard not to be a bit excited and a lot intrigued.

The first score I can attribute to simply not being comfortable with the mechanics of the test. Whether the following increase in score is due to a practice effect, or the tDCS, I can't say. The test itself is called "Double Trouble," and is one of the few tests I've taken on the site, with the last data point being immediately after stimulation, whereas the others were either hours or days after such.

I need to do more work on establishing a baseline. At this point, it's been over a week since I've had a tDCS session, and may give it a few more days in hopes of having any residual effect wear off. At that point, I intend to spend some more time taking the tests offered, and call that my "baseline," then resume tDCS sessions.

For what it's worth, I've done perhaps 4 sessions total, starting at 1.0ma up to 1.9ma for 20 minutes - all with the standard M1/motor cortex stimulation.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

IPDA topics from a February 2012 tournament

It seems like my IPDA posts (for better or worse) draw the most attention, so I've decided to post things I've written as I think about / come across them. Below are a handful of topics I wrote for a tournament just over a year ago; obviously some are no longer relevant. Because they were just emailed to the tournament director in order to supplement other topics, they're unorganized - so take what you will :)

The GOP should elect Romney as their candidate.
The US should take military action in Syria.
The USFG should reform the patent system.
The US should make significant investments in nuclear power.
In politics opinions are more important than facts.
Anonymous is a force for good.
The new unemployment numbers are an accurate indicator of the economy’s long-term health.
The US should significantly reduce its nuclear stockpile.
Unions have outlived their usefulness.
An amendment should be passed to overturn Citizens United.
The 99% are irrelevant.
Censoring scientific data is never justified.
The Department of Education should require year-round primary school.
Israel should preemptively strike Iran.
The US should do more to fight online piracy.
The Super Bowl is a waste of time.
The US should intervene in Juarez.
Revitalizing the manufacturing sector is key to long term economic stability.
Coke is better than Pepsi.

Monday, March 11, 2013

IPDA Primer (a crash course)

I wrote the below about a year ago in order to give brand new competitors on the team a basic idea of how to handle IPDA. Because it's incomplete, I called it a draft (and still do so), but rather than keep the "not for redistribution" bit and let the document sit on my hard drive, I thought I'd let it out into the wild. I may put some additional time into this, making it a more complete primer, if there's any interest.

For what it's worth, despite my criticisms of IPDA, I would encourage any program to play with the format, if only for its accessibility... because any form of debate is better than no debate :)

Rereading the below for the first time since writing it, I've made a couple of notes marked in red. Questions, comments, or criticisms are welcome.

AC:5:00, CX:2:00, NC:6:00, CX:2:00, 1AR:3:00, NR:5:00, 2AR: 3:00.

Debaters will be given five topics to select from. Topics are eliminated one at a time through the back and forth process of striking starting with the negative.
  • Consider your position, what you know about your judge, as well as the specific language used.
  • Start thinking of potential arguments from the moment you've read the resolutions.
  • Use poorly written resolutions to your advantage! Look for superlatives or other cases where the debate is practically won prior to the round even beginning.
  • Typically, metaphors should be avoided if you're negative, as they tend explode the affirmatives ground. The inverse is also true, but depends on the metaphor itself.
IPDA prep is 30 minutes long. You will typically have access to the internet, coaches, other competitors, etc during prep. Despite the likelihood of assistance during prep, do not waste time by waiting for someone to help you – dig in and start jotting down ideas for arguments, responses or questions to ask during CX, looking up evidence and statistics, etc.

Case Construction
Structure and organization are key.
No single structure is set mandatory, and the below is provided as a common example.

1) Resolutional Analysis / Framework
This is done by the affirmative, but can be argued against, or provided by the negative if the affirmative fails to do so.
  • Define terms in the resolution
    • Often definitions are contextual, however there will be instances when terms (or even the whole topic in case of metaphors) require definitions
  • Identify case type
    • IPDA cases are usually treated as either fact or value debates (rarely policy*). Key words to look for are “is” in the case of a fact, and “would” in the case of a value - while the word “should,” would usually imply a policy, it's typically treated as a value.
      *Which is unfortunate, see my post on why policy topics are superior here.
  • Provide a criterion
    • This is the way the round ought to be evaluated. There are any number of criterion that can be used; with a fact round “preponderance of evidence," or "qualitative on balance" is usually safe, a value debate can be determined using a “best upholds," criterion, with a value specified (e.g. economic stability, security, human rights, etc). A criterion of "qualitative on balance" is also very common. Policy cases = better debate, again see this post. Policy rounds also allow for use of "net benefits" as a criterion, which allows any other weighing mechanism to operate within it.
  • Establish burdens
    • This is laying down the conditions under which either competitor can win the debate utilizing the criterion or criterion/value.
2) Positions / Arguments / Points / Contentions
Aim for having between two and four points well developed during prep time.
Apply some sort of internal structure to the positions, e.g. “Point A,” “first point under this argument,” etc. 
Argument structure will vary but should always provide evidence, warrants, and impacts, even if you don't refer to them as such. There are a number of ways to structure the arguments, one possibility is as follows:
    • Background
      • X is going on right now and it's really messed up – provide supporting evidence
    • Support resolution (i.e. supporting the resolution allows for BG issues to be addressed)
    • Outcome/benefit/impact/etc
      • This is where you talk about “why it matters,” or “this is important because...” - a significant portion of time should be spent here, as it gives the judge something to evaluate.
      • Suggestions for ways to evaluate the import or outcomes of your positions can be (and borrowing from an NPDA a few years ago):
        • magnitude
          • large-scale events, or events that affect more people are more important than those that do not
        • probability
          • events that are more likely to occur are more important than events that are less likely to occur.
        • time frame
          • things that happen sooner are more important than things that happen later.

3) Rebuttals
These speeches summarize the debate and tell the judge why you've won. While you should be weighing your arguments against your opponent from the first opportunity, these are the last speeches in the round, and thus, your last chance to win a ballot. Because the affirmative has twice the number of rebuttals, it makes sense for the affirmative to first address off-case, then address on-case with the second rebuttal.

  • Offensive argumentation is always going to be preferable to defensive argumentation. Turn positions (i.e. have them work against your opponent), rather than mitigate when possible.
  • Utilizing CX time effectively can be a way of granting yourself what is equivalent to two additional minutes of argumentation. Offense before defense.
  • An argument dropped is an argument conceded.
  • While filling up your time will usually work to your advantage, there's no need to repeat yourself. If you've gone over everything and have nothing left to say during a speech or CX, “I concede the remainder of my time,” or “thank you, no further questions,” is completely appropriate.
  • Don't be a jerk.
  • If all else fails, smile and bat your eyelashes.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Astrophotography with Android

Even though I'm just scratching the surface of what's possible with astrophotography, it didn't take me long to learn that it can become somewhat arduous to setup all the hardware commonly associated with the process (not to mention dealing with power requirements and packing it all up after wrapping up a session).

The "full setup" for me would look something like this:
  • Telescope
  • Power
  • Camera + USB cable + T-ring / T-Adapter
  • Laptop (with BackyardEOS, Stellarium, Canon's EOS utility, etc). 
  • USB to Serial adapter
  • Serial to Nexstar/autoguide port adapter
  • A table or similar to setup on
Right now, I find it far more satisfying to be able to just go out and shoot with minimal setup. The auto-guiding built into the Nexstar mount is sufficient for me for the time being, so the only thing I'd need the laptop for focusing and image acquisition. Being a long-time Android fan, I was curious about what kind of software was out there that may act as surrogates for what I was running on my laptop.

It turns out there are a number of really great options - I've not yet played with all of them, and it may not be the best out there, but have been very happy with Helicon Remote. It between it's live view, exposure options, and burst mode, I've been able to leave my computer behind and use a simple USB OTG /host adapter to plug my camera into my phone. Interacting via the touchscreen is also far more intuitive and straight forward (for me, anyway) than the mouse and keyboard when it comes to adjusting camera settings. I believe there's a version for iOS, as well.

It's meant that I've gone from setup above to:
  • Telescope 
  • Power
  • Camera + USB cable + T-ring / T-Adapter
  • USB OTG adapter
  • My phone (which I don't really count as an additional item, as it's in my pocket anyway).
The three images of M42 I've posted in the past were all captured with this smaller setup. I love the ability to frame, focus, set exposure and tap "Burst," then set the phone on the telescope's base while images are collected. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Orion Nebula, take three!

Despite the iffy framing, I think this is the best I've done yet - if only because I'm getting more comfortable with the post-processing procedures. The image was compiled from 208 2-second exposures, and around 40 dark frames. I've not yet started to play with bias or flat frames, but am curious as to how they might impact the outcome of the image.

Wikipedia says, "M42 is located at a distance of 1,344 ± 20 light years and is the closest region of massive star formation to Earth. The M42 nebula is estimated to be 24 light years across. It has a mass of about 2000 times the mass of the Sun."