Science Fair

This past weekend, we finished up Giovanni and Antonio’s science fair projects. We wound up doing two projects dealing with electricity. We had changed plans a few weeks ago as our original idea was to grow plants. I don’t know what the kids were thinking when they picked those projects. Electricity is so much cooler than growing plants in different soils and seeing  how they grew. I mean, if we were growing carnivorous plants, that might be pretty cool. But I digress.

Antonio’s project was called “Is this connected to  that” and it was about an electrical circuit and conductive materials. Antonio build a tester himself from instructions on the intertubes. We got a little buzzer, some alligator clips, some wire, a battery holder and a few batteries. Here is a diagram of what he made:

Circuit tester components

Antonio generated a chart of materials that conducted electricity. We also tried a few light bulbs and saw if we could make them glow. We couldn’t make the household ones glow cause those require a lot more voltage. We had a few small 3V tiny light bulbs that lit up fine. When it came time for an Ikea 12V bulb, we had to use 8 batteries in series. Here is a picture of that bulb all glowy:

Lighting a 12W bulb

That’s our unit with 8 batteries, here is the finished 3V tester with buzzer:

Finished curcuit tester

We also experimented with a lamp, seeing that the switch broke the circuit and removing the light bulb also broke the circuit. The cool thing was that all of this was new to Antonio so he learned a ton. I also learned that 8 batteries put together in series can create quite the sparkle show if you don’t pay attention.

Giovanni’s project saw the construction of the world’s simplest motor. Here are  the components:

Materials for the simple motor

This was a pretty fun project. We used neodymium magnets, which are always a lot of fun. They are also a pain in the ass cause they draw things from quite a distance and it’s not uncommon to get pinched in a sudden and painful manner. The laser tachometer was very cool. It’s rated at measuring speeds up to 100k rpm. We were able to get this motor spinning at 4900 rpm, which is pretty damn fast. We spent a lot of time eliminating friction and making sure the motor was balanced. WD-40 was our friend. Giovanni and I had a little contest to see who could get the thing spinning the fastest. We did a bunch of trials with different number of batteries.

Here was some of our raw data:

Magnets Top Observed Speed in rounds per minute (rpm) Notes
2 200 Could not really get it going
3 2400 Super-well balanced
3 2800 Super-well balanced
3 1200 Slight wobble
4 1900 Well balanced, low friction
4 1200 Well balanced, low friction
4 900 Wobbled
4 4400 Super smooth
5 1200 Well balanced, low friction
5 4900 Super smooth
5 1520 Well balanced, low friction
11 4400 Super-well balanced

We massaged the data and were able to see these trends:




We would have ran a lot more trials to get a better statistical distribution, but getting the thing up to speed was not easy. Sometimes we could not get friction eliminated. Sometimes we expecte the batteries were getting drained. It really wasn’t easy. If I were more handy, I would have tried to build some kind of rigging that would keep things more stable, but I’m not that handy.

Until next year!

Using iPhoto “ratings” to manage retained media

Starting in 2013, I created a new iPhoto album that contains all of my RAW images in Adobe’s Digital Negative (DNG) format. My camera is set to shoot in RAW + JPEG. The RAW get converted from Sony’s proprietary RAW to Adobe’s RAW via Adobe’s Digital RAW Converter app. Photos from my iPhone are also in there, but since I have my NEX-6 with me on most occasions  I don’t wind up taking pictures with my phone very often. The JPEG images that my camera saves side-by-side with the RAW are necessary since that’s the only way to get full-resolution images into my iPhone via Sony’s PlayMemories WiFi app.

These RAW images take up a lot of space, a lot more than a standard JPEG. Images are from 10MB – 20-MB for my 16Mp camera. So, getting rid of crappy shots, the sad majority for me, is crucial to making sure I don’t chew up valuable hard drive space on sub-par photos.

I use iPhotos star ratings to manage this. All photos that are targeted for long-term savings are rated. Unrated photos are collected in a Smart Album with a simple rule, “Show all unrated photos”. I quickly go through this smart album and use the Apple keys Command-N, where N is 1 through 5. Typically, for a large number of photos, I’ll either mark photos as 2 or 3 stars in this pass. 2 basically means, “probably delete” and 3 means “probably keep.” Since I’m in a smart album, it begins to empty as I rate photos. When I’m done, the album is empty,

In a second pass, I’ll go through the most recent events and create a smart album with all photos with 3 stars and pick the photos I actually like. I’ll rate these with 4 or 5 stars.

I also try and delete bracketed or mulit-shot photos which are simply redundant. That can take more time.

Phone and iPad Synchronization

I have a few standard “Smart Albums”  that are used for synchronizing with my phone. These are albums for 4+ star photos, 5-star photos and for last 90 days. I also exported “best” photos from 2010, 2011, and 2012 and include just those photos in my 2013 album. These are synchronized on my phone too. This way, my phone has photos I thought were best from 2010 to now in addition to any photo I haven’t deleted in the past 90 days.

Deleting Photos

When it comes time to delete photos, iPhoto gets a little  finicky. I can’t move photos from the 1-2 star smart album directly to the trash. For  some reason, iPhoto thinks that’s not a valid thing to do. I can’t flag all of these photos and delete them from the Flagged folder, either. I can go through each photo individually, reveal it in the event, and delete them one by one this way. That would take too much time.

The only way I found to do this is to search for all photos and sort this view by rating. I can then select all of the 1-2 star photos from the search results view and move them to the trash.

Media Obsession

I have a bit of media obsession going on. Lots of parents remark about it when I go to school events and sports events. I’m kind of self-conscious about it. Yet I don’t do anything to curb my obsessive compulsive disorder to record every event I can. I’m that guy with the camera and the tripod. I’m the one who sends out the e-mail to the team with the YouTube video link to today‘s game. I’m that guy.


I recently got a Sony α NEX-6 and this camera has only made things worse. It’s a small compact mirrorless camera that has a reasonably-sized APS-C sensor.




That’s short of a full-frame 35mm sensor and it lacks the fast-focus you get from a good DSLR, but mirrorless cameras are one of those disruptive technologies that I feel are likely to displace cameras that contain a mirror mechanism for exposure and focus. The camera also takes HD video, like your iPhone. But unlike your iPhone, it takes progressive 1080p video at 60 frames per second, at a decent bitrate and with low noise. The bitrate is pretty good, 28Mbps… but videophiles say  the bitrate should be a bit higher, say 35Mbps or more. From what I can see, the bitrate is fine for my needs as I don’t notice any low-bitrate artifacts. But then again, I’m not an expert. It must suck to be one of those experts cause they are always criticizing products. They seem like a really unhappy bunch.


So, I have this camera that can take decent stills and good video. I shoot in RAW, which yields rather large proprietary files. All good cameras shoot in RAW, which is just the camera’s native data for an image with no JPEG compression. I wind up converting these  RAW files into Adobe Digital Negative (DNG), which offers some lossless compression and halves the size of the files. DNG’s also work well in Photoshop, which is my primary tool for messing with the images. The video taken by the NEX-6 is in AVCHD format, which the Mac doesn’t like too much. It’s a good format in terms of file size to quality. It seems to be natively understood by the Blue-Ray spec, so you can basically copy AVCHD files onto a DVD-ROM and play them like a Blu-Ray disk. I haven’t tried it yet.

The problem with dealing with these files is there are so many of them. Particularly when you’re so obsessive like I am. The import tools are pretty primitive. I wind up copying the files by hand with little assistance by software. Unfortunately, the filesystem time differs from the shoot time. This is not a big deal until you start to get tens of thousands of files. iPhoto does a good job  on import and it organizes files by the shoot time contained in the EXIF tags. I never used iPhoto for RAW files (or DNG’s) but I tested it this weekend and it seems to work reasonably well. I may start using it. Here is how one of my DNG files appears in iPhoto:

Screen Shot 2013-01-14 at 12.35.54 AM

There is no analogous media manager for AVCHD files, which are not supported by iPhoto. I would not really want the files in iPhoto anyway. iPhoto hides the photos in a special package file. The package file looks like an ordinary file, but it’s actually an elaborate directory structure where the original media exists, thumbnails exist, modified copies exist, etc. In case you didn’t know, all OS X Apps are package files. They have tons of files hidden within. The Finder abstracts this from you and presents .app files as a unique  icon that looks like a single file. I guess most of you knew this already.

Getting back to iMovie, iMovie sees all moves in an iPhoto libray as a single “event” called “iPhoto Movies”. If you have years of video clippage, clicking on that folder in iMovie means you want 10 minutes for the thumbnails to load. Ick. No, I need the video files separate in the file system. In fact, editing programs that I currently use like Adobe Premier, write a lot of extra files to the directory where the video clips reside. Imports in Premiere link to files, rather than make a copy. I am not sure how iPhoto would react to these extra files.


But remember I basically copy my AVCHD files onto my computer manually. To make matters worse, my camera starts movie filenames back at 00000.MTS each time I clear the directory. This is unlike the photo files, which maintain an increasing image count. I believe the reason for this is the directory structure maintained by the camera fits some insane spec for AVCHD/Blu-Ray file structures. It seems if you have 5 video files in this dir structure, the first one must be 00000.MTS. That’s my theory.

So I find I’m perplexed as to how I can effectively manage the video imports. I started to just manually create directories but that was so arbitrary and prone to typos. I was not happy about that. I was sent into fits of depression. I didn’t talk to anyone. I really had a hard time residing to the fact that I’d need to manually create folders like 2013/January/Massapequa Wrestling Match. To make matters worse, the file datatime stamps were wrong. They reflected the time I imported the video and not when the video was taken.


So I hacked some bash, dawg, and created a little tool called exiforg. You can find the source code on the GitHubs. This script reads the EXIF tags from the file, figures out the date the media was recorded and does two things:

  • Touch the media files with the datetime stamp of recording
  • Optionally moves the file into a date directory, e.g.  2013.01.14

This yields a nice structure like so:

├── 2012.11.29
├── 2012.12.02
├── 2012.12.07
├── 2012.12.11
├── 2012.12.13
├── 2012.12.14
├── 2012.12.20
├── 2012.12.21
├── 2012.12.22
├── 2012.12.23
├── 2012.12.24
├── 2012.12.25
├── 2012.12.29
├── 2012.12.30
├── 2012.12.31
├── 2013.01.01
├── 2013.01.05
├── 2013.01.06
├── 2013.01.09
├── 2013.01.12
└── 2013.01.13

In each directory, I have AVCHD files. If I used those files in an Adobe Premiere project, then I also have a lot of temp files. One recent addition I made was to introduce files, in markdown format, which allow me to journal the story behind the  videos in that directory.


That is all I have to say about this.