Archive for May, 2011

My Notebook Addiction

As I’ve alluded to here on occasion in the past, I write. A LOT. In addition to my typed output, I write a very large amount of stuff – notes, mostly – by hand. With a (fountain) pen.

Cleaning recently, I finally realized with a little bit of horror just how many notebooks and blank books I have – to say nothing of the boxes of folders filled with loose-leaf notes and drafts, et cetera.

Since they were there, and some people seem to enjoy these sorts of things… here’s a look at the notebooks I’ve used over the last fifteen years or so.
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 31st, 2011 | No Comments »

Mailblok “Blue” Airmail Paper

In this age of e-mail, text-messaging, and smart-phones, it’s probably understandable that snail-mail letters are few and far between. Given the world we live in, it might be a little bit surprising that a company would choose to introduce new stationery nominally meant for international airmail, but that’s the case.

Newly launched onto the market in the last month or two with absolutely zero fanfare are 50-sheet pads of “Blue Airmail Paper”, under the “Mailblok” brand. Given that airmail stationery is extremely hard to come by, and these pads emulate, at least superficially, the long-discontinued aerogramme of yesteryear, one supposes there must be at least a small market for this.

But is it any good? Let’s find out…
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 25th, 2011 | No Comments »

Best. Camera. Hack. Ever.

Looking through Google Patent Search last week for some electronics stuff, I stumbled across an interesting and very detailed 1997 patent from a Maryland resident named Don Levin, assigned to the United States through the Secretary of the Army.

The patent describes – in considerable detail – how to remotely detect (and time) explosions, optically. Specifically, “detecting the timing of explosions taking place in multiple warheads used to defeat reactive armor targets”.

“According to experience in testing warheads, an explosion typically releases blue (~450nm) light for a very short duration, followed by infrared light.”

Who knew?

Anyway, what I think is really awesome is that the patent describes a working prototype which was roughly one cubic foot, weighed 21 pounds, tripod-mountable, ran for five hours on an internal battery… and was based around the body (and zoom lens) of… a Pentax K1000 SLR camera.

In the grand cosmos of camera hacks, I think turning an SLR into a microcontroller-powered explosion detector has got to be one of, if not the, most awesome hacks ever.

The exact details aren’t covered, but the patent application (available here (76KB PDF)) covers the whole thing in enough detail that a sufficiently-motivated hackerspace could probably replicate the thing within a week. Testing and calibration might be a tricky, though, since most of us probably don’t have access to explosive warheads. Still, you’ve got to think MacGuyver might be a little jealous…

Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 18th, 2011 | No Comments »

Bymore Taqueria

For several months – since it opened, really – I’ve been encouraging people in the Twin Cities to visit the Hmong Village shopping center on Saint Paul’s east side. Some people aren’t that enthused about visiting a truly unique asian mall (and food court!), but I tell ‘em to man up, as it were, and step outside their comfort zone for once, as the rewards are well worth it.

Valuable advice that I, myself, am often a little reluctant to follow, sadly.

Not quite so far east on the east side is Payne Avenue, a north-south street that was once the nexus of a big working-class, largely Italian-American, neighborhood. In the last decade, it’s become the nexus of a big working-class Latin-American immigrant community. Rarely is heard an English word, and it’s hard to find parking all day.

It’s also – let’s be honest here – not the greatest neighborhood in the city. The storefronts which aren’t adorned with Spanish-language signs are adorned with “registered vacant building” or “condemned structure” notices. Gang graffiti is widespread. Everything seems dirty and gritty and faded.

It’s an area I honestly try to avoid. Especially on foot. Doubly-especially after dark.

That said, the other day, I was in the area, and I was hungry, so I took my own advice, left my comfort zone, and braved Payne Ave in search of food…
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Published in: Geekiness, General | on May 17th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Fountain Pens: Whither Iridium?

For more than a hundred years, the very tips of the nibs on most good-quality fountain pens have been made of, rather than steel or gold, as the rest of the nib, a very hard chunk of metal usually referred to as iridium.

Iridium itself is a fairly rare element of the platinum family, and it’s widely known that the “iridium” tipping on modern fountain pens contains no actual… iridium. Fountain pen geeks with scientific backgrounds have actually run tests, and found that there hasn’t been any actual iridium in pen points since, probably, before WWII.

On his website, famed “nibmeister” John Mottishaw has a couple of articles about this, the most pertinent of which is right here. In it, he asserts a couple of things about the tipping of early fountain pen nibs, most notably that they were made from crude pieces of unrefined ore.

Elsewhere, he points out the rough, porous nature of some early pen tipping – easily seen under a high-powered loupe – as having been caused by corrosion – further proof, he thinks, that early pen-makers were using unrefined material they were not “in full control of”, as you somewhat obviously wouldn’t choose to make a nib of something that would be attacked by ink, right?

I know it takes enormous hubris to suggest that a man of Mr. Mottishaw’s stature could be wrong, but I’d like to direct your – and his – attention to the March 3rd, 1883 issue of “Mechanics”, the “weekly journal of engineering and mechanical progress”.
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Published in: Geekiness, General, History | on May 11th, 2011 | No Comments »