I Fixed a Thing

Is it weird that I feel relaxed and accomplished after repairing a desklamp at the end of a day of super geeking?

Never done this before. The pullchain socket had disintegrated. So a quick stop in Lowe’s, and $4 later (with some soldering and fiddling) I have a repaired desk lamp.

A Busy House Day

I guess it’s getting closer to spring. We spent most of today moving furniture, cleaning, rearranging stuff, etc. The house has been really crowded since M moved in and between her stuff and my old furniture we were just tripping over everything.

So today was “get the stuff out we don’t use”. It was a carefully choreographed process of…

  • Friday get the storage unit ready to receive furniture.
  • Saturday morning move everything from the attic and second floor that’s leaving out to the front porch.
  • Go get the truck from Uhaul.
  • Get awesome neighbors to load up the truck, follow us to the storage place and Tetris the furniture into place.
  • Return the truck, tidy up, and fall into a death like sleep for 2 hours
  • Get up and go to a cohousing meeting
  • For evening entertainment, assemble the new kitchen table and chairs (smaller and better suited to the space).

Now we’re finally collapsing into bed after a damned busy day. But? It felt good. We worked hard, and made the house better without going crazy doing it.

Win.

Next? Tuesday we get a washer dryer. We’ve never had one in the house and while I lived by myself, it was ok taking things to the common house. But now that there’s three of us, we really need local equipment. Yay upgrades!

The Olympus PEN-F – Biggest Flaws After 8 Months of Use


I’ve been using my Olympus PEN-F Micro Four Thirds for about 8 months now, and on the whole, I’ve been super-happy with a number of aspects of it. It’s small, it’s light, the picture quality is excellent, the glass available is very good, and after a relatively busy learning curve, the menus and controls are easy to work with.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have problems. There are several, lets run them down.

No external displays

I understand this is probably a factor of the small size / mirrorless nature of the beast. But not having any external indicators showing the camera is on, or how many shots are left, or battery level is a real problem. A very small LCD screen (even on the back) would have helped. Having to power up the camera, wait for the EVF to power up, and glancing through it to see if you have a decent battery is a pain. (BTW, there’s a noticeable delay on the battery reader. It can easily say GREEN, FULL, particularly right after putting hte battery in, but 10seconds later it’s showing almost empty. Beware!

Slow Focus Speed

This has been noted elsewhere, but the focus time on the unit is quite slow. If you’re working a shot that has multiple depths of field, the camera can ‘hunt’ around trying to set AF. I tend to run my camera in AF/MF mode, which means it’ll autofocus, but then you can use the focus ring to adjust it to where you want. This is a win, but if the camera is ‘hunting’ for an AF spot, you can’t stop it until it gives up and locks onto something. THEN you can use the manual focus ring. I’d like to see the camera automatically try to stop focusing if I touch / move the focus ring.

The controls can be confusing

There’s 8 turnable dials and 5 pushbuttons on a device half the size of a paperback book. Many of these are unlabelled, because they have a ‘variable’ purpose – they can be reprogrammed to do different things, and this doesn’t include the interface controls on the back (another 10 buttons), but at least these are labelled and make sense. I like the big ‘index finger’ wheel on top which is used to twiddle whatever variable setting you’re currently tuned to (For instance, I tend to shoot in A mode, which means exposure is automatically set, but my aperture is set by the finger wheel. This allows me to change DOF on the fly to get the ‘feel’ I want. I can’t imagine if I’m running in full manual mode trying to keep track of what dial does what.

Battery Life

This is relatively minor, but I wish the camera had either better battery life, or an external power connector. The 2000mAh battery will last about half a day of heavy usage, so I carry 3 of them with me. If I want to do any long exposure work or time lapses, I’m pretty much SOL.

Poor “No Card” handling

Okay, this is the big one, and the reason I decided to write this post. Now, to set the stage, I’m running the latest firmware available (v3.0), so this problem has not been fixed (though it can be with a simple software change). Here it is.

It is TRIVIALLY easy to go out for a shoot and not have a card in the camera, and not notice it.

The camera will operate normally, triggering the shutter, showing all the information in the EVF, but obviously won’t record anything. The ONLY indication there is no card is if you’re looking through the EVF and do not have your finger on the shutter release in ‘half press’ mode. Which, honestly, you never do. If I pick up my camera to take a shot, my finger is already on the shutter setting focus for the shot. I don’t just stare through the EVF unless i’m trying to get a focus point and setting in place.

I’ve caught this problem several times, and it was just annoying. This past weekend, I went out for a long walk in the city, and didn’t realize I had left the card out. I took 20-30 shots and when I got home that night… saw my working card in the laptop.

“But wait, Dave, isn’t there an indicator in the EVF?” – yes, but it’s very easy to miss particularly in bright light, AND only if you’re not touching the shutter release. The left image is a view through the EVF touching no controls, with no card in it. The right image is with my finger on the shutter release, still with no card in the camera. If I trigger the shutter, it’ll act like it took a shot – blanks the EVF, makes a click-kerchunk sound, and goes back to that display if I leave my finger in place (which I do) :

In this case, I was shooting clouds and rainbows… it was that sort of day – fortunately I took some shots with my cell phone, which could do panoramic shots).

Summary

So, after 8 months carrying the PEN-F full time, what are my thoughts?  Would I recommend it?

Positives:

On the average, yes, I would recommend it, but with some caveats, not just the ones mentioned above.  But lets start with some of the positives.

It’s a beautiful camera.  Really, you can’t avoid that.  The styling and setup are wonderful, and adhere to the Olympus PEN styling that goes back 50 years.  I’m proud to carry it and use it.

It’s very comfortable feeling.  The controls, though there’s a lot of them, are easily accessible, comfortable in my hand, and easy to work with.  I added the leather carrying case in the picture, which lets me sling it comfortably under my arm when not using it, and it doesn’t get in the way.

The four-thirds lens platform is quite well supported, and glass is available for reasonable prices.  I have 4 lenses now and being able to get things like a 300mm equivalent zoom lens for $99 makes it a great deal.

Negatives:

No need to recap the technical issues above.  None of them comes close to a deal breaker – at the most they’re irritations.  Olympus has patched firmware on the camera in the past to fix issues, I hope they’ll fix the No Card issue soon.

It’s expensive.  The PEN-F body-only is $999.  That’s not cheap, and in an increasingly saturated compact mirrorless market, while the camera is good, this is on the expensive side.

Conclusion

I would recommend the platform and camera for people who really are into the styling and are looking for a very good compact camera that is professional and competent enough to do serious photography on.  Is it the same as carrying around a full size DSLR like a 7D?  No, I’d say mostly because of it’s speed, battery life, and EVF.  But do you really need that much weight and bulk for most of your photography?  If you want a professional camera you can carry with you full time with exchangeable lenses and excellent features, and the price doesn’t scare you off, the PEN-F is a great camera.

I saw the Paris Protests today and I’m fine

So, I’m sure folks have heard the news about protests in Paris today. That did happen, and in fact I was right in the middle of it for a good part of the day. How could I miss the opportunity to take my camera into a real live protest? 2018-12-0145.jpg

The very short version is, yes, I was at the protests. Yes, there was tear gas and water cannons and lots of people moving around. There were really only a handful of instigators that were egging the crowds on to do damage, but that was enough.

I primarily stayed outside of the major crowds, but I had my camera with me the whole time. Pictures are here:

2018-12-011.jpg

And yeah, now I know what tear gas feels like. I don’t recommend it.

Back in the States for Thanksgiving

I’m back in the US for a week to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. It’s already been a bit of a culture shock but I’m enjoying recharging my New England American needs, starting with my wife, upon seeing me at the airport, handing me an XL Dunkin Donuts French Vanilla coffee. Ahhh.

Lunch is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (th French don’t do peanut butter. I missed it.)

Hopefully I can take this time to catch up on a few things before I head back to spend most of December in Paris.

Solved: Problems with WyzeCam Android Client

I’ve become a huge fan of the WyzeCam IP cameras. They’re small, very high quality, and have a very good mobile client to connect to them. But sometimes, the mobile client will refuse to start. It comes up with the startup screen, and never proceeds.

Searching around the Reddit and WyzeCam forums, many people have seen this happen, but there’s not a clear reason why.

I’ve had this happen on occasion on my Samsung S9+, and I’ve finally found a pattern – it’s quite simple actually.

On the loading screen, the client is making it’s initial connections to WyzeCam’s cloud services. But it’s quite common for providers, corporate networks, and sometimes even hotels or wifi hotspots to block connections to certain services. If the phone cannot connect to the cloud service, it will sit stuck at that startup screen forever, without ever doing anything.

I discovered this when my phone had connected to a mobile hotspot in the office which required authentication to start operating. The phone was connected, but could not reach the internet. The WyzeCam app was sticking at the opening screen. Once I completed the registration, and reloaded the Cam app, it came up super-fast.

I was able to duplicate this experience at a hotel stay recently as well. The local wifi was extremely crowded and performing extremely badly. The WyzeCam app was hanging at the startup screen again. As soon as I switched my phone from the WiFi to my carrier data, the screen loaded correctly!

I think Wyze could fix this very easily by giving some feedback on the loading screen, showing it’s trying to connect, and giving a timeout message if it fails after X amount of time. But for now, this frustrating behaviour is easy to understand and deal with.

Paris, end of Week 1

So it’s Friday, I have made it through my first week in Paris. All in all, things are going fine. My new apartment is comfortable and easy to deal with.  I’m quite close to the Metro station I use to get to the office (half a block), and the ride is about 20 minutes.  

I’ve mostly shifted sleep schedules (though for some incomprehensible reason, i couldn’t sleep well last night.  Not sure what was up with that).

I’m trying very hard to get as much French and city culture into me as possible, but I fall back on comfort food and headphones when it gets overwhelming.  There’s a lot of simple restaurants around the apartment that have been great for “tonight I’ll just have X” for food.  Supermarkets are no problem, though sometimes it’s hard to decipher food labels.

For example, milk. “Lait entier” is whole milk, “demi-écrémé” is the equivalent of 2% (it’s closer to 1.5, but whatever), and “écrémé” is skim.  Almost always sold in 1 liter bottles (I have yet to see the depth-charge sized GALLON milk jugs so prominent in the US.

There’s whole volumes of stuff I’m learning about paris, france, the people and the country.  So far I’m enjoying it, though I do miss home.  My coworkers are helping me enormously with my French, and if I can get more of that working, it’ll make the whole experience more rewarding.  I can feel myself learning the idioms and I feel like i’m on the edge of assembling comfortable dialog, but I’m still in the “groping for the right word” phase.  I’ll get there!

For map searchers, I’m living in the 15th arrondissment, which is on the western side of the city, about 8 blocks from the eiffel tower (which I can see outside my window every day).  I take the metro about 1/3 of the way across the city to go to work.  I haven’t missed having a bike or a car yet, though the electric scooters that so many people ride around may be a great way to get around.  For now, I’m sticking with the Metro (I have a full 5 zone pass that gets me anywhere in Paris and the surrounding areas, as many times as I like.  That’s a huge win).

Now that I’m relatively settled in, I’m going to start looking around for ‘things to do’.  Volleyball, pingpong, biking, music, art, longer walks – dunno, I need something to keep me active, otherwise I just work all day (this week has been pretty much steady 10-12 hour days).

I have another 4 weeks until I have family folk coming to stay with me.  I think it’ll be okay, if I can keep my brain occupied and not spinning off into lonely spaces.

Suitcase Life

So I’m packed. Three months abroad. Now it’s not like I’m heading to the mountains of the Moon or anything. It’s friggin Paris. They do have restaurants, department stores, and pharmacies there. Not to mention, Ya no, shelter from the elements.

So the pack up is 90% clothing, and 10% geek support hardware. Cables, adapters, all that stuff. The new apartment is supposed to be complete, but I’m taking no chances. I even enabled my amazon.fr account. Gonna be roughing it I tell ya.

Honestly I’m sort of surprised I got everything into these bags. There was some judicious editing by Mrs Geek to be sure. But it’s ready to go.

I’m off to the airport in 3 hours. As an experiment I’m going to be blogging directly to planet-geek from my phone. If you want to stay updated, make sure you add my RSS feed to your reader. Y’all are using an RSS reader, right? Right?

Relocating to France

So I guess it’s official now.

In mid-September, I’ll be relocating to Paris.

Okay, that’s a little dramatic. I’m not moving permanently, just for a couple months.

Earlier this year, my employer asked if I’d be interested in relocating to Paris for a while. After talking it over with my family, I enthusiastically accepted, and the wheels were set in motion. Since my last trip went so well, I was looking forward to returning. It took a month or two of wrangling with Visa application documents, US records offices, and other red tape, but last week I received my travel documents. It’s on!

So, stay tuned for more missives from the City of Lights!

Bye Bye Volt

Alas, all good things, etc etc.

Tonight I returned the Chevy Volt I leased three years ago. In the intervening time I drove 54,000 miles, at an average of 98mpg, using 550 gallons of gas. Had I continued with the Passat wagon I had before that, which got about 28mpg, I would have burned 1928 gallons. That 1400 gallons saved 28,000lb (14 tons) of CO2 from being emitted. That’s about a years worth of emissions for a fairly efficient house.

Nowadays I work full time from home, so my daily mileage has gone from 70-75 miles a day down to about 6. In a sort of weird reversal of history, where in the above article I lamented trading in my Jeep for the Volt, I now have a 2000 Jeep TJ as my only personal vehicle. Of course Mrs. Geek has a Subaru wagon, which we use for most errands, trips, etc, but the Jeep is mine, and I adore it.

I did have a reservation in to buy a Tesla Model 3 when they were available (which is now), but given the low miles I’m driving, and that I’m spending more and more time out of the country, it doesn’t make sense to have an expensive electric vehicle just sitting at home.

So here I am in mid-life with “nothing but an 18 year old manual truck in the garage”.

I’m okay with that.

Up in the Air – Returning to building and flying racing drones

Over the last year or two I’ve taken time off building and flying quadcopters. Life and other things has been taking up my brain, so some hobbies took a back seat.

Up at the lab, an event was coming up that would bring in some other pilots from New Hampshire and do a race day. I decided it was time to build a new quad, and get some race time in.

The last big event I went to was NAFPV 2017. It was great fun, and I ended up winning a 220mm carbon fiber frame. With that in hand, I began building up a new quad.

The technology has changed dramatically since my first builds. All in one components, ‘stacks’, and other tech has made the builds both more complicated (lots of tiny wire soldering), and easier (most boards are the same size, and can be stacked on top of one another). Turns out pretty much none of the components I had on hand would work on the new quad, so I had to purchase all new pieces. Here’s what I ended up with:

  • Wolfwhoop TX1912 5.8 video transmitter – I chose this board for the MMCX small antenna connection, and the ability to select bands and channels easily via a button and an LED display on the top. Super handy.
  • CaddX FPV Camera
  • CrazyPony 4in1 ESC This is probably the biggest change for me. Originally I built quads using separate discrete ESC’s. This board puts all 4 ESC’s on a single board. It definitely makes the wiring cleaner, but a little denser on the stack.
  • Crazypony 2206 2700kv motors
  • Betaflight F4 flight controller Betaflight is certainly the star as far as flight controllers and software goes right now. Their configuration tool is excellent, and the board is very good. I was slightly concerened about working with a board that had no header pins, but decided to roll up my sleeves and get experience in very tight soldering setups.
  • FS-X6B Flysky receiver – Yeah, I’m still rocking the FlySky setup. It’s still working well for me. I like this receiver because it can mount on the component stack (even though it’s a half-board).

Quadzilla
The build went off without too much trouble. I found all the missing tiny bits I needed, did lots of very small soldering, and over the space of 3 weeks, got everything assembled and tested. It worked! All the components were talking to each other properly, and I even have a fully function OSD (on screen display) showing stats from the batteries, flight controller, and receiver. Even got the LED strip showing the arming state and a set of ‘tail lights’. Hurray!

I did a very quick flight test to check stability, then went up to the lab to put the final touches on things. This is where I made my first mistake.

Kids, don’t do this.
I decided to take Quadzilla outside for a quick LOS test fly. My FPV gear wasn’t ready for flight testing, but I wanted to see the LED’s and play around. I put the quad on the ground, armed it (which spin the props slowly), stepped back, and gave it a little throttle. The quad lifted, started to move backwards, and basically… fell into my hands… still throttled and running. Those props HURT. I scraped up my hands a bit before I was able to disarm.

So what did I do wrong? Pretty easy actually.

  • I flew Line of Sight at night. LOS requires visibility on the yaw, pitch, and roll of your craft. I coudln’t see it, it was too dark.
  • The rear LEDs were pointing at me, which made it even harder to see.
  • I was in Air mode, not Angle mode, which means there was no flight stabilization. Quad did what I told it to, which in this case was to fly right at me.

Embarrassing, slightly painful, but no major harm done. Bleeding stopped within 10 minutes.

Chagrined, I took the quad home, cleaned up, and started prepping for the race, which would be in 3 days. The quad was pretty much ready to fly, I needed to set the mode selector properly, and tweak the LEDs. I also decided to move the battery from underneath the frame to on top of the top deck. Plenty of room there, and the quad would sit on the ground when taking off or landing, not on the battery. Win!

Turns out my batteries needed some love. The 1300mah 90C batteries i got last summer had been sitting idle for a year. Of the 8 batteries I had, one melted while charging, another was puffy so I decided not to use it. That left 6, which charged okay, but my parallel charger has seen better days. A new gang charging situation is needed, more on this in another post.

I charged all my other gear, including a nifty little all in one 9″ monitor with build in 5.8 receiver I carry with me. Great for checking video and watching other pilots fly. I packed up everything into the Jeep and on Sunday, headed up to the lab for race day.

The folks from the 603 Southern New Hampshire Drone Pilots group showed up, bringing our total pilots to about 10. We ran a couple heats with 4-5 craft in the air at once, on a short ‘H’ shaped course that had several gates and a ‘turnaround’ cube in the middle. The course was off the end of the back parking lot, so there was plenty of room to drive up, park, set up your tables, and get flying without fear of getting hit or getting in anyone’s way.

I flew 3 batteries. First flight was a very basic FPV test (as really this was my first FPV time on the new quad this year, and things went fine. Video was strong and clear, and the quad was very responsive. I flew completely in Angle mode, which is a VERY simple flight mode. I wasn’t comfortable enough yet to go into anything that would let me go more crazy. This was a first time out, I didn’t want to shatter anything.

Second battery apparently was in bad shape. No strong thrust, just running limp. I figured out later the 4S pack had a dead cell, and was functioning as a 3S. That explains that.

Last battery was in good shape, and I was feeling the power of that 4S setup. Unfrotunately, because I was in angle mode, I couldn’t pitch forward enough to get decent speed out of it (I’d just climb), so I was taking it pretty easy. I flew a gate or two, then went through the last one on the course – I caught a motor on that, which spun me out into the trees. The damage to Quadzilla is pretty minor, but I did rip out my VTX antenna, so that ended me for the day. I’m not complaining, I flew, I had a great time with the other pilots, and you’ll be damned sure to see me flying again soon.

HP-75C Handheld Computer

While up at MakeIt a few weeks ago, a fellow maker came up to me and handed me a Samsonite briefcase. With a wink and a smile, he said “Take this. You’ll like it.”

Ohhhkay, I’ll bite. Lets check this out.

HP-75C Handheld Computer

Opening up the case revealed… an HP 75C handheld computer, made by Hewlett Packard in the early 80s. This machine has some pretty nifty functionality. A built in BASIC, expandability, magnetic card reader for loading / saving programs, a full QWERTY keyboard, and rechargeable batteries.

Writing code on it is remarkably easy, with a clear easy to read screen and nice tactile feel to the keyboard.

Specs:

  • Manufacture date: Around 1983
  • HP 8-Bit Capricorn
  • 24K, 16K user RAM
  • 32 character LCD
  • 1.4K magnetic cards for storage
  • BASIC OS

It’s a great addition to the collection!

Paris

I’ve been in Paris for the last couple weeks, spending time with the engineers I work with. It was a great trip, but I’m also happy to be home in my familiar surrounding… the busy-ness of my home, and the deep deep greens of a beautiful spring.

I spent 2 weeks at a hotel right on the Place de la République, which was an adventure in it’s own right. The Place is about 8.5 acres of open space in the middle of busy part of the city. There is ALWAYS something going on there. Could be demonstrations, could be parties, could be music, could be dancing… for the last weekend, there was a Biodiversity fair where they literally hauled in few acres of sod, grass and plants and make it into a small farm. Complete with cows.

For the last few days, Mariama joined me, and did the sightseeing thing, walking something like 20,000 steps a day for 3 days (OW MY FEET). Gotta admit, the Paris Métro was clean, fast, easy to understand navigate, and EVERYWHERE. You were always a block or three from a station.

I have tons and tons of stories to tell from the trip, too many to ramble about here. But, in my usual style, here’s a bullet list…

  • The Eiffel tower is really friggin huge.
  • Coffee in the EU is challenging for Americans. I stand by my tweet from a few months ago:

  • Did you know Paris is 6 degrees further north than Boston? Yeah, means it gets dark at 10pm around now. Surprise!
  • The French know to to make a damned tasty burger.
  • The French also really like smoking 🙁
  • Contrary to popular perception, most French are pleasant and open and charming. Sure I had my taste of a grumpy personality or two because my french is atrocious, but the VAST majority of people were happy to work a sort of mishmash of english and french that worked well.
  • I did find myself missing open green space. The city is very tightly packed stonework, asphalt, and cobblestone. When I spend more time there, I’ll definitely need a way to get out to the parks and trails outside the city.

I’ll be coming back in the fall… looking forward to it!

My Personal EDC Geek Kit

This month finds me in France for a few weeks, away from hearth, home, family, and all my worldly posessions. While getting ready for this trip, I spent a bunch of time reviewing what I carry in my backpack – cleaning out debris that had accumulated (A few handfuls of receipts, some cold meds, and cables that didn’t make sense anymore), and making sure I had everything I’d need while away from home for an extended trip.

Contents of my every day carry backpack.

I realized while double-checking my kit that it really doesn’t change much. And since I got here (about a week ago) I haven’t had to replace or change anything, and I haven’t gone “Dammit, I’m missing something, guess I’ll go buy it.”

Now I’m not off in the wild jungle or anything – Paris does in fact have stores – but I’m pleased to say everything I’ve needed for work, and for my various jaunts around the city, have all been pretty well covered.

Someone on Slack asked about what I’m carrying for kit gear, so I decided to quickly write it up…

  • OGIO Camera bag – I got this bag something like 5 years ago, and it’s been great. It’s starting to get a little worn, but nothing is broken, and it came with a rain shroud that I’ve used a few times. It has a special pouch along the bottom specifically for camera gear.
  • Macbook Pro 13 – this is my every day computer. I don’t have a desktop machine at home.
    This is both my work and my personal machine. I’m typing on it as we speak!
  • Camera Flash – A small electronic flash for my Olympus
  • Memory cards – This bag contains about 20 memory cards – some USB3, some SD, a few microSD cards, and adapters. I used to have a specialized plastic case for cards, but there’s no reason to keep them that organized. Just toss ’em in the bag.
  • Earplugs – These are wax custom forming earplugs. I’ve used them on overnight plane flights, or in hotels that are just Too Damned Noisy
  • Macbook power supply – The smallest configuration I could get
  • Checkbook – Yes, there’s circumstances where I may need to use a check. I will probably just pick a few checks off this and put them in my wallet soon.
  • My journal – I have a journal. This was a gift from my sweetie – it’s about 3/4 full of a lot of dense writing. I find the act of writing in it cathartic. It slows me down and lets me think without all the geekery
  • Brainwavez Delta IEM Headphones – This is my second set of these (and I’m using them right now). They’re still fantastic sounding, and roll up into a nice light zippered case. The only reason I replaced them was the laptop fell off my lap at one point and bent the headphone connector all out of whack. Oops
  • Yes, I carry a rubiks cube around. It’s a great fidget toy, and a great way to relax. Also tends to start conversations. Best time right now is 1 minute 14 seconds for a full solve. But I’m out of practice, so nowadays it’s closer to 2 minutes. Also, a friend just reminded me that I sometimes use it for showing scale in a photo. Everyone knows how big a rubiks cube is.
  • Generic clip-on Sunglasses – these are a pair of clip on sunglasses I got off Amazon. They work remarkably well
  • My work ID pass
  • My passport – I don’t keep this with me all the time, just for this trip. I keep it in a buried pocket in the pack, very difficult to reach unless you’re trying hard Pickpocket proof as best I can do it.
  • Cleaning cloth for glasses – I wear glasses. I have sunglasses. Not having a good cleaning cloth at hand can be infuriating, particularly if you’re not wearing a cotton shirt or something.
  • KMASHI K-MP816 10000 mAh battery – This is critical. This battery has saved my ass a dozen times. It’s your typical portable battery pack. The reviews on it aren’t particularly stellar on Amazon, but for $12, I’ve totally gotten my money out of it. It’s a good balance between weight and capacity.
  • LKY DIGITAL Travel Adapter – This is a nifty little cube (it’s int he black zippered case) that has also been a godsend. It is a multi country adapter, able to plug into most European countries, as well as Japan and others I don’t know about. The real kicker is it has 2 USB charging ports on it also, so at night I can plug in my laptop, my cell phone, and my watch for recharging (or my travel battery), and have enough plugs for them all.
  • Apple Displayport to Ethernet adapter – Sometimes you’re in a place where the wifi just plain sucks or isn’t available (like a datacenter).
  • Charge cable for my Android Smartwatch
  • WMZ Multi Charger Cable – I love this thing. It’s a single USB cable with 3 ends on it. Lightning, Micro USB, and USB-C. It’s pretty rare I need more than one at a time, but I have a very good cable in case I need to charge my SO’s iPhone, or charge my KMASHI battery. My phone uses USB-C, so I’m all set no matter what I need. The cable itself is very well built, with a little velcro keeper and everything.
  • A spare small USB multiport charger, just in case.
  • Gerber Bear Grylls Compact Multitool – So, this is a bit of a problem. This is a very small (and inexpensive) multitool that I like to have with me, because having a multitool is handy. I normally carry that inside the Altoids tin with the rest of my ‘support stuff’, but out of the last 10 plane flights, two of them have been pulled out by the TSA and confiscated. Now what I do is take the multitool out of my bag and put it in my checked luggage (if I’m bringing some). If I don’t have checked luggage, I leave the multitool at home. Frustrating, because this thing is tiny, and incredibly useful.
  • Altoids ‘kit’ – It’s a little hard to see in this pic, but there’s 2 altoids tins there. One is full of tasty altoids goodness. The other is a sort of emergency kit I build after reading some of the more sane prepper sites. In that second tin I carry:
    • Bandaids
    • Antibiotic ointment
    • Advil
    • A small LED flashlight
    • Some cash
    • Several rubber bands
    • Several paper clips (these things have come in handy SO MANY TIMES, I honestly cannot tell you. Seriously, carry some.
    • Some anti-itch cream
    • Alcohol wipes
  • The rest of the items are specifically for my Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Camera. A note here – this is the first long trip I’ve taken with the smaller camera, and I LOVE IT. I’m already having ideas for different lenses to carry but my current set is working quite well.
    • Spare lens caps
    • Olympus 25mm F1.8 Lens – The equivalent of the standard ‘nifty fifty’ lens so common on 35mm bodies. It’s been okay for my work, though I think I’d like faster glass.
    • Spare batteries and charger. I carry 3 batteries with me, because I’m almost ALWAYS having one go down, so having one to switch to that’s fresh, and one in the wings is great They charge pretty fast, so keeping them all charged isn’t much of a challenge.
    • Panasonic Lumix 20mm F1.7 Lens (on camera) – A great landscape lens. Flat and easy to work with, great for scenery and tourism shots!
    • Olympus 40-150mm Zoom Lens – This is equivalent to a 300mm lens in the 35mm body family. It’s great for doing ‘long lens’ work, and is extremely light.
    • Olympus PEN-F Mirrorless Four-Thirds Camera – See my other blog post about this camera, but this is now my everyday shooter. I love it.
    • Leather case for PEN-F – I freely admit one of the reasons I got the PEN-F was it’s retro styling. This brown leather case completes the image, and of course works really well protecting the camera. I leave the lens cover off when carrying it around on shoots, and bundle it up when it’s on it’s way any long distance (like on a plane).

Theres naturally other stuff I have that’s not in the pic, like my cell phone, but one thing I’d like to add in is I carry a Pocketmonkey Wallet Multitool. This is a super handy thin credit card sized piece of metal that has things like a bottle opener, screwdriver, wrench, etc etc on it. I’ve used it half a dozen times, and it is 100% TSA approved (I’ve only gotten nudged on it once, where an overzealous TSA agent asked about it, took it out of my wallet, went over to confer with his supervisor, and came back “Huh, these are 100% okay. Cool!” and off I went.

I’m sure there’s stuff I’m missing. Leave a comment if you think of something I should change or get. I will probably be looking to replace my Ogio pack soon, as it’s a little long in the tooth. Something a little more outdoorsey would be nice.

Review: Tap Titans 2

For a while I was very into an interesting niche of games. Generally referred to as ‘incremental games’, these games combine “Sit back and watch stuff happen” with “click a bunch of times to do some small task over and over again.” The games tend to lea a combination of watching things run, and ‘click something to move the game ahead’. Some examples are Cookie Clicker, the Paper Clip Game and the Kittens game.

Naturally this made me look at games like this for mobile, and after some digging around, I found Tap Titans 2.

Now, this game has a cute backstory – Titans (big monsters) are appearing around the world, and you lead a band of heroes to head them off when they appear before they wreak havoc.

The basic idea is pretty straightforward. Click on the screen, your hero makes an attack and does damage to a titan. Do enough damage, the titan is destroyed, and the next one appears. Each time you destroy a titan, you get a certain amount of gold. That gold can be used to summon and level up other heroes to help fight the Titans. Every 5 titans there’s a Boss, if you defeat the Boss, you move on to the next stage. At some point, the amount of gold you’re getting can’t level up your heroes enough to defeat the Boss, and you stop progressing. When this happens, you have the option to Prestige, which basically resets the game back to the start, but you get a ton of bonuses (skill points, artifacts, etc) that help your hero be stronger the next time through. In the beginning, getting to a point where you Prestige may take a day or two. In the upper levels, it gets down to a few hours, and then with certain artifacts and other bonuses, you can do it in 20 minutes.

So where’s the challenge and interest, and why have I been playing this game non stop for almost two months?

Well, first, the graphics are outstanding. It’s a beautiful game to watch and interact with. The developers have taken lots of time paying attention to the animation and color detail.. almost to a fault! With the game in full graphics mode, I’ll drain a battery faster than I can charge it!

The second reason is… well, it’s fun. I know it sounds odd to watch a game mostly run itself, but it’s the small changes, upgrades, tweaks to the damage boosts, figuring out when to pay for what when… it’s… fun. Anyone who plays incremental games I think has a hard time explaining why it’s relaxing and enjoyable… it just is.

Lastly, the developers did a lot to keep the game interesting. There’s tournaments every week that pit you against similarly-levelled players. There’s regular drops of upgrades, ‘fairy boxes’ (big gold bonuses), and a simplistic, but pleasant Clan system where you can team up with other people to gain bonuses. Being in a strong clan can be a huge boost to how far you get in the game.

Do I recommend it to everyone? Nah. Do I recommend it to people who like incrementals? Definitely. It’s free, and is definitely not a “pay to win” game. I played for a month without contributing, and decided in the end to buy some diamonds, not because I needed them to win (I haven’t even spent them yet), but because I felt the developers had done a great job, and this was my way of supporting them.