Friday, August 03, 2007

new gadgets

I was hoping I had not jinxed the weather with all the new gear I had acquired and wanted to test...

In fact, en route to Mom's for the long weekend, I popped into Guelph to briefly meet Donovan. He had posted a folding picnic table for sale in online classifieds. He gave me a quick demo of how it unfolded and folded; I gave him a meager $25.

Upon arriving at Mom's, I was anxious to try my new SD-1 controller. She had brought it back from the US after visiting her sister and after I had serendipitously arranged that my aunt in Michigan order it from Vixen direct. All for less than $110 (Canadian).

I had built a small LED array within the base of the SP-C8's wooden tripod. A small, thin ring with the wiring is jammed up into the underside of the metal mount with red LEDs aiming down toward the triangular tray. I had not tested this in darkness.

I had recently purchased the cheapo clip-light. Immediately I converted it to a red LED. While I had used this with my palmtop and books in bed, again I had not tested it in the field. Or in a field, for that matter...

And, I had never re-tested my small desk lamp in the field, after installing brighter red LEDs. I guess I had been feeling a little discouraged about the whole thing. But now I had a good chance to shake it down.

Everything—everything—worked fantastic!

The picnic table from Donovan is brilliant. I first saw one of these at Mosport. Christine and Rick had one at their paddock. It could seat 4 people but would fold up to the size of a large suitcase. Increasingly I felt I needed something like this so to be able to spread out my stuff—my charts, notepad, pen, lights, beverage, other gear—and have a place to sit down.

I don't remember exactly the path to Donovan's table but I found the Canadian web site kijiji with classified ads. This unit by Hillary (which he said he bought at Sears) is dark green with aluminum bits. Folded it is 13" x 34" x 4-1/2" plus the integrated handle. It is not that heavy (spec. sheet says it weighs 24 lbs) but rather stable.

The portable table works beautifully. I had room for my large Tirion charts, portable weather station, red desk light, flashlights, keys, notepad, pen, file box, and beer. It was a joy to use. My new "outdoor workstation!"

Hole in the centre of the table calls out for an umbrella...

I had this set up within moments of my arrival at Mom's. I had to wait a while to test the new controller.

When I arrived at Mom's country home around noon (a bit ahead of schedule) I found the place empty. She was out doing last-minute errands.

I knew the Vixen package from Michigan would be around somewhere. But where? I looked about the house. I looked in the garage. I looked in all the hot spots I could think of including places where I normally stack my stuff. I checked the dolly of her telescope. Twice. Nothing was catching my eye. Patience is a virtue... Well, at least it gave me a chance to unpack my car at a leisurely pace.

When Mom pulled up the driveway, I was biting my tongue. I helped transfer melting groceries into the cool house. I could resist no longer.

"Oh, it's right here," she said, pulling a brown small cardboard box from a pile. She said that she and Aunt PJ had looked at the contents but had no idea if it was correct. "It's all good," I observed. She had no troubles at the border.

I was excited. A brand new gleaming control pad! It plugged into the MT-1 motor's large DIN connector perfectly. The battery pack was a let-down: I was surprised with the cheesy, thin vinyl case for the simple plastic C-cell holder. If the integrated thin vinyl belt loop lasts the rest of the season, I'll be impressed.

Regardless, the bevy of new alkaline C batteries was broken open. Installed, I picked up the controller. It was already on, red LED glowing brightly. I put my ear to the motor: it's working! I tried the 16x controls: woo hoo, look at her go.

So I configured everything for it to operate normally and headed inside to help Mom. When I returned just a few minutes later, I could see the mount had turned. Wow. Wow, period. I finally have an automated 'scope. Only took me 16 years to get to this point... Only 7 more hours until darkness!

It wasn't until much later that I got to put everything together to fully use.

The tripod light is fantastic. It projects a pleasing amount of red light onto the tray. Not too bright. Incredibly simple to make.

I built it to illuminate the items in the tray. But I didn't expect another effect. It helps you better see the 'scope... That is to say, you can see where the 'scope is positioned in a dark space. This will add a degree of safety if there are small humans runnin' around or when working at a very dark site.

I did not intend the desktop lamp for only very dark sites. When I first converted it from halogen to LED, I used diffused, low-brightness red 5mm LEDs. I thought clear types or super-brights would be too intense. But it was just not enough light. I switched to the small, bright, mini-dome LEDs—I had lots of extras—but I expected no improvement. I'm happy to report, it works very well. It is a pleasing amount of light particularly with white paper or white charts. Now I just need to add some mass to the base (having removed the bulky transformer).

The small clip-light on the other hand is way too bright. It disturbs my night vision. It should not be used with white paper. Still, it is very good for lighting up dark palmtop and computer keyboards. I'll just need to be careful about reflections.

So, it was a very fun day and evening. Like Christmas! New toys. Many of them with bright, twinkly lights and motors!

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