How To

What do you think of this?

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I’ve always been curious about the two holes on ungrounded NEMA 1-15 plugs (Type A). There they were, one hole on each blade — what were they for?

When I had to make an electrical connection inside a junction box a few days ago, to power up a little adapter for a network camera, I thought: why not get some stubby hard drive screws (short machine screws used to afix HDs to drive bays), crimp a couple of ring terminals onto the hot and neutral wires and see if I could screw the terminals onto the adapter blades  with the hard drive screws? There are no screw threads inside the blade holes, but if you turn the screws a little harder, they’re just the right width that they’ll make their own way through and the whole thing will be quite snug.

Of course, the job isn’t complete without isolating both connections separately with electrical tape, or even better, with heat-shrink sleeves, but that’s easily enough done. The last step involves placing the whole thing inside an IP 56 junction box, for extra safety.

I think it’s a fun and novel way to get power to these little adapters. What do you think?

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Here’s why should you get an advanced battery charger-analyzer

In this video, you will find out why it’s important to use a proper battery charger-analyzer and how using one helped me spot bad batteries in the batch of Ni-MH batteries used in my electronic equipment.

Before I got my charger-analyzer, I always wondered why some of my batteries seemed to last so little when I put them in my camera’s flash or in my keyboard or some other piece of electronics. It turns out some were of inferior quality, some were at the end of their life and some were just plain gone. Unknowingly, I was mixing good and bad batteries in my electronics and expecting them to perform properly.

The simple chargers I had previously used were reporting the batteries as fully charged when they were actually defective. This is why anyone who depends on batteries for their work should get a serious battery charger-analyzer, which has the circuitry and the capability necessary for proper testing of the batteries it charges and the ability to spot bad batteries right away.

As I say (repeatedly) in the video, I’m not trying to advertise any particular model of battery charger-analyzer but if you want to get the one I’m using, it’s the MH-C9000 from PowerEx.

From my personal experience, I can also recommend the following brands of Ni-MH rechargeable batteries to you:

I hope I’ve helped you!

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A look at noise cancelling headphones

I’ve recently had the chance to try out three noise-canceling headphones:

I looked at these criteria as I used the headphones:

  • Effectiveness of noise-canceling technology
  • Quality of sound
  • Fit and comfort
  • Price

What may or may not surprise you is that all noise-canceling headphones block only low sounds, like the rumble of jet airplane engines. They do not block all sounds. They also rely on passive noise reduction, due to their around-ear design with thick cushions. In other words, don’t expect them to block all sounds, or you’ll be disappointed.

I only looked at around-ear designs, because I cannot stand on-ear designs. They make my ears numb after a half hour or so of wearing them. I need something that fits around my ears and doesn’t press down on them in order to get the comfort I need for prolonged wear.

One thing to keep in mind with around-ear headphones is that some will make your ears hot after a while. If care isn’t taken with the materials used in their construction, the heat that emanates from your ears will build up inside the headphone chamber and raise the temperature, making you uncomfortable. Heat and lack of air circulation are two things that will caused increased bacterial growth in your ears. Yes, this isn’t appetizing, but keep it in mind as you look at headphones and your own headphone-wearing habits.

All three of these headphones come with carrying cases, adaptors (2-pin and 6.3mm) and cables, so don’t let that be a differentiating factor. While I’m on this subject, keep in mind the Bose and Philips headphones only use one AAA battery while the Creative headphones use two AAA batteries. That is a differentiating factor.

Bose Quiet Comfort 2

The Bose Quiet Comfort 2 is priced at $299 and is the pricier of the three. There are more expensive noise-canceling headphones on the market (Sennheiser has a couple of more expensive models), but the Bose headphones are the most well-known of them all.

Its noise canceling capability was decent, but for the market leader, nothing special. It reduced the sound of jet aircraft, but all voices around me remained clearly audible, though just a little muted. I suppose I could describe the technology as elegant, since it allows one to carry on a conversation with someone while wearing the headphones, but I’m sorry, at $300 you ought to be able to adjust the level of noise-canceling in order to block as much or as little of the ambient noise as you want. They didn’t have that capability and disappointed me.

The quality of the sound was tinny. The noise-canceling technology did a number on the lower sounds coming out of the headphones as well, so everything sounded a bit like a tin-can telephone.

I could find nothing wrong with the fit. It was great. It didn’t press down on my ears, it didn’t press down on the top of my head, and the cushioning was just right.

Creative Aurvana X-Fi

These headphones retail at $249 currently, but beware, they’re still listed at $299 at Apple Stores. I have to say I was doubtful of Creative’s ability to offer great headphones, and also suspicious of their price point (frankly, they haven’t earned the right to charge $300 for headphones), and I was proven right on both counts.

The noise-canceling technology was very similar to the Bose QC2 headphones. Same comments apply, and the quality of the sound was just as annoying. I found that the noise-canceling button distorted the sounds significantly, much more so than the Bose headphones.

Creative added two buttons to the headphones, one called X-Fi Crystalizer, which is supposed to give detail and vibrancy, and X-Fi CMSS-3D, which adds spatial characteristics to the sounds. I sat at home for an entire evening, playing with the buttons, turning them on and off, trying to see what and how much the affected the sounds that the headphones produced. I found them to be gimmicky. They did nothing for me. Oh sure, they changed sounds slightly, but not enough to warrant their fancy names and the price of the headphones.

What really annoyed me was their fit and comfort. They pressed slightly on my ears, but their real crime was the quality of the materials used in their build. Within 5 minutes of wear, my ears got hot. Didn’t Creative do any real testing before releasing these? Who did they test them on? Any real person would have noticed that their ears got hot while wearing them, and would have said something.

Philips SHN9500

These headphones offer an equivalent level of noise-canceling technology. Having already explained how I feel about it, there’s no need to go over it again. I found the quality of the sound to be better than with the other two headphones. Quite acceptable, as a matter of fact, and it wasn’t severely affected when noise-canceling was turned on.

What I also liked was the presence of a Mute button on the headphones, which will turn off any sound coming through them, and also turn off noise-canceling. This allows you to hear someone better while you have the headphones on, without needing to remove them. You might say, well, why not just turn off noise-canceling? Because that’s a slider button, while the Mute button is a push-button with a very light action. Quite thoughtful on their part.

The fit and comfort of the headphones was another surprise. They fit nicely, and they’re made of quality materials. My ears do not get hot while wearing these, even for extended periods of time.

The biggest revelation for me was the price: $70 at Costco when I got them less than a couple of weeks ago. Now I see they’re $90 — they must be popular.

All in all, the Philips SHN9500 headphones have the right combination of features, comfort and price to make me happy. These are the headphones I would recommend to you.

More information

Photos used courtesy of Bose, Creative and Philips companies.

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Use an HDTV as my computer monitor?

A couple of months ago, I had a crazy idea, which I thought might just work: get a 1080p HDTV, a really nice one, and use it as my computer monitor. The advantage: cheaper and bigger than 30″ LCD monitors. I also found a model that I thought couldn’t be beat — one that displayed 10-bit color. If you’re unfamiliar with monitor color depth, you might want to have a look at the following:

Basically, you should have a monitor capable of displaying 8-bit color or better. Why? Because DSLRs capture 12-bit, 14-bit and 16-bit color, and you’re going to miss out on a lot if you can’t see all those colors when you’re editing the photos.

Laptops display only 6-bit color and use dithering to make up for the difference between 6-bit and 8-bit. Normal displays, including Apple Cinema Displays, have 8-bit color. The more expensive computer displays out there have 10-bit, 12-bit and even 14-bit color. LaCie and Eizo seem to be the only companies that build these sorts of high-end monitors.

The prices start around $1,000 for a 21″ or 24″ monitor at 10-bit color, and go up from there, to $2,000 or even $3,000. So you can imagine my delight at finding an HDTV at 40″ that could display 10-bit color and cost only $1,300. Granted, the resolution was only 1920×1080, and at that size, a computer monitor would have been at 2560×1920 or more, but you can’t have everything, right?

The particular HDTV I found is made by Sony and is from their Bravia series. It’s no longer being made — Sony keeps changing models every couple of months. Apparently HDTVs evolve so fast these days there’s a need to do that. I’d give you the model number, but it doesn’t matter any more. The specs were great though:

  • Full 1080p
  • 24p True Cinema
  • 10-bit color processing and 10-bit color display
  • Full digital video processor
  • Advanced contrast enhancer
  • An assortment of ports (HDMI, PC, S-Video, component and composite)

That’s how it looked on my desk. Did it do everything promised in the specs? Yes. Was the quality of the display as I expected? Yes. Editing photos on it was a stunning experience. I was able to see colors like I couldn’t see them before. Believe me, you don’t know what you’re missing until you see your DLSR photos on a high quality display.

So why am I speaking in the past tense about it?! For a single reason: it was much too bright for my eyes. Therein lies the main difference between TVs and monitors. TVs are built to be much brighter, since they’re meant to be viewed from a distance. Monitors are built with a much subtler level of brightness and contrast, since they’re meant to be viewed up close. This didn’t become apparent to me until I had the TV on my desk, about 2 feet from my eyes. I didn’t have a problem with the size of the screen (although it was bigger than expected), but the brightness killed me. Within a half hour, my eyes started to burn and I got a headache. I tried to tune down the brightness and contrast, but I couldn’t get it where it needed to be; I don’t think the TV could go down that low.

After much arguing with myself, and trying all sorts of things, including stepping back from it as much as possible, I had to come to grips with the fact that it wasn’t the fit I needed. Stepping back to an appropriate distance would have defeated the purpose of using it as a monitor, because at that point, it would have become a TV displaying my laptop’s DVI feed. Although it had the display quality I needed — and not a single bad pixel, it was a perfect display — I couldn’t use it.

If you’re in the market for an HDTV, definitely check out the Sonia Bravia line. They’ve got stunning color. They’re amazing TVs. Just don’t try to use them as computer monitors. It won’t work. To their credit, they’re not intended to be monitors. They’re TVs — really good TVs.

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