Thursday, April 17, 2014

Deal on beginner telescopes and accessories:

From Orion- buy a beginner scope and get several very useful accessories, free:

Free Gift from Orion Telescopes & Binoculars

Friday, December 27, 2013

Unbreakable 3.5 Channel R/C Helicopter

Still some good holiday deals left, although to me, "indestructible" is more of a challenge than a guarantee:

64% off Hercules Unbreakable 3.5CH RC Helicopter for $44.95 - Today Only at Hobbytron (12/27)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Celestron 44421 Microscope Camera

I've been restoring an AO Spencer Model Sixty microscope I picked up at a yard sale a few months ago. The Sixty is a very popular educational scope from the 1960s and 70s that's rugged, of high quality, and can often be found inexpensively.

Looking for a simple way to record quality images from the scope, I discovered the Celestron Digital Microscope Imager 44421 seen here:

Amazon has it for under $35, and there are used units for even less. It's plug and play with my Mac, or with Linux, and Celestron supplies a decent imaging and measurement program for it that runs under Windows. Resolution is 2 Mpixels, which isn't too shabby. For the money it's hard to beat.

My very first shot, before I understood how to adjust the condenser properly:

Later that same session- the letter "l" from a laser printed sheet:

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Lansky Sharpening System

The Lansky sharpening system has been  around for a long, and with good reason: It works. You can get the basic basic Professional Sharpening System, which uses abrasive stones, for only $38 and change, but the Diamond Deluxe Sharpening System seen above works so well and so fast it's worth the extra $20.

Both systems consist of a clamp that holds the blade, a series of abrasive sticks, and a set of rods that hold the abrasives at the desired angle for the blade you're sharpening. Sounds complicated but it's very simple in practice. And it's flexible- it will sharpen at four different angles, from 17 degrees, which is for very thin blades, like scalpels and Xacto blades, through 30 degrees, which is for heavy duty cutting tools. If your kitchen and field blades have never been really razor sharp, this is one to to get there.

Now if all you're sharpening is kitchen knives, the various powered units from Chef's Choice are even faster and easier- but they work at one fixed angle, and cost three times as much or more. I have a Chef's choice, and I do use it a lot. But for flexibility and value, go with the Lansky.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

You Need a Fake TV

Are you still leaving lamps on a timer when you go out at night, or on vacation? That's so old school, dude. A clever inventor has created the Fake TV- a low power device that uses an array of computer controlled LEDs to simulate the lighting effects of a TV set. It's tiny as you can see here:

but it throws a lot of light, thanks to the super bright LEDs. Power consumption is a miserly two watts. Cost? About the same as two or three lamp timers. Click here for more details.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Baofeng UV-5Ra

Amateur radio can be a very expensive hobby. It's not usual to spend $1,200 or $2,000 or more on a home HF rig, and multi band mobil rigs easily run to several hundred dollars. Even the lowly hand-held radio can run upwards of $300. And then there's the Baofeng UV 5RA .

If you compare the Baofeng UV-5R to the latest offerings from Icom, Yaesu, and Kenwood, you wouldn't think it's a 5-star radio. But when you look at the price they're asking for the UV-5R, 5 stars hardly seems enough. This is a fantastic value. For under forty-five bucks you get a pocket-sized dual band radio, complete with earphone/mike and a desktop drop-in charger. Heck, Icom gets almost as much as this radio sells for just for the charger!

Not enough? It'll also cover FMRS and GMRS frequencies, receive the FM broadcast band, and there's even a built in flashlight! So you've got to figure there's a catch, right? And there is: Programming this radio from the front panel is a royal pain in the caboose. After studying helpful web pages- not the manufacturer's manual- I'm now comfortable programming single frequencies and repeater offsets in, but I still don't seem to be able to put the in memory properly. The manufacturer supplies a program that's supposed to make programming easier, but the word is that it's as confusing as the front panel controls.

 Luckily there's a fix. A group of dedicated hams have created a program called CHIRP that's available for Windows, OSX, and Linux that's as easy to use as a spreadsheet. Just type in the frequencies, offsets, CTSS, comments, etc., and hit upload.  You'll also need a USB Programming Cable in order  to connect the radio to your computer, too. If you're interested in learning more about this radio before your order one, a good place to start is the user reference at There's a link to sources for CHIRP there as well.