A Good USB Microscope for Education and Fun (Plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope)

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Even though our son isn’t yet three years old I wanted to go ahead and introduce him to some cool science. I had the idea that a USB microscope might be a fun way. We could look at various things up close, including insects. After reviewing several devices I decided the Plugable USB 2.0 Digital Microscope with Flexible Arm Observation Stand for Windows, Mac, Linux (2MP, 250x Magnification) would be a good choice. With a birthday coming up soon I chose to add it to my wishlist rather than outright buy it though at only $35 it’s a great price. Sure enough, someone bought it as a gift.

The only thing I can’t offer a comment on at this stage is how well it holds up as I’ve only had it for a week. I’m impressed by the simplicity of how it works. The device easily connected to my Mac and instead of requiring the installation of driver software it connected as a standard USB webcam. At this point the only software I’ve used to view and capture images is Apple’s built-in Photobooth app.

The microscope has a built-in LED light with a plastic guard surrounding the camera. To view something up-close one simply holds the guard against whatever is being inspected. The focus is adjusted by twisting the middle, rubber part of the camera assembly.

It’s USB only though it wouldn’t take much effort to connect an HDMI cable to my laptop and send the video to a TV. I’ve only used it on macOS though its supported on multiple operating systems.

Here are some sample images:

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Close-up of the threads in the comforter on our bed, including some dyed strands.

 

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This is the smooth, aluminum shell of my MacBook Air.

 

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Threads in a pair of my pajamas.

 

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High thread-count bedsheet, which normally looks dark blue.

 

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A closeup of the bottom side of one of my feet.

Using a Blacklight Flashlight to Find Dried Dog Urine and Lost Toys

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Yes, you read that correctly. A while back I purchased a blacklight flashlight to find dried dog urine in our house. Why? Because when you have two young puppies it’s not uncommon to identify the smell of urine but to not be able to find the source…

They’ve grown a good bit since I originally purchased it and it’s less of an issue now. That’s not to imply that they don’t “go” in the house anymore but it’s not as frequent and also less likely that we won’t notice.

There was a time, however, when they would frequently sneak off and piss in a corner or under a table and we wouldn’t notice it for a while. On wooden floors can be difficulty to see after it has dried.

Does this work? The short is answer is that yes, it does.

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Using a Multi-Color LED Bulb to Visually Indicate the High Temperature Range for the Day (Zipato RGBW LED & Indigo 6)

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In the morning, when I first get up, I walk past a motion sensor. A moment later a lamp with a color-changing bulb illuminates, glowing a specific color to indicate the temperature range that will include today’s forecast high temperature. With just one glance I know whether or not I should take a jacket before I step outside.

It’s been a long time since I last spent any significant amount of time focused on home automation but I recently made up for lost time by eliminating the last of my Insteon gear. All of the home automation gear is now Z-Wave compatible. But why stop there and not take the opportunity to add new enhancements?

In general, I’m uninterested in bulbs that can be directly controlled themselves, such as Z-Wave or wifi enabled light bulbs. They certainly have their applications but I don’t find them very practical for normal use. They still require that a light switch is left in the ON position in order to function. This breaks down very quickly when guests come to visit. For example, even with a remotely controlled lamp on an appliance or dimming module I often discover that instead of using the provided remotes our guests have simply turned the guest room lamp off using the traditional lamp switch. It’s just a normal, reasonable action.

My reason for purchasing a Z-Wave controlled, color-changing LED bulb certainly wasn’t a typical one. In this case I purchased one to use with my home automation system as a supplemental notification method, though for this particular project it is actually the only notification method used.

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Philips 32″ LCD TV (32PFL5322D/37) Won’t Power On, Red LED Flashes 6 Times

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Warning: Based on information provided in several posts, and from talking to friends, it is very possible that you could severely electrocute yourself if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you touch the wrong part of the electronics. If you’re not sure it’s safe to do this then simply don’t. When I replaced the board I was very careful not to touch any components, including the underside of the board I was replacing. Of course, the unit must be unplugged before proceeding and it may be a good idea to let it sit for a couple of days before opening it.

A couple of weeks ago we experienced a power surge from a nearby lightning strike that damaged one HVAC unit along with a few electronics. One of the items that was damaged was our older 32″ Philips LCD TV. This was largely my fault. I used to have a surge protector on that TV but the last one quit working and I forgot to replace it.

When we tried to turn the TV back on it wouldn’t work and I noticed that a red LED, near the power LED, flashed 6 times, stopped, and then flashed the same sequence.

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Monoprice 1800mAh Backup Battery Case for iPhone 4

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The Short Version: It’s worth exactly what you pay for it. If you really need a reliable, high-capacity battery case that’s worth the inconvenience of carrying a brick then I don’t recommend this case. Mine has sat unused on a shelf for months. I may just charge it up once a month for emergency use at home. It does a good job of maintaining a charge when unused for a long period of time but unfortunately I started having a problem with the case randomly stop charging and then restart, even when it was sitting on a flat surface. I suspect the dock connector is failing, which is similar to problems others have mentioned in product reviews for this device.

My iPhone 4 battery still works well but I have noticed that it doesn’t last quite as long as it used to, especially if I’m using it for power-hungry tasks such as playing a game or browsing the Web. I think I’ve treated the battery well by making it a habit to not leave it on the charger all night and instead only plug it in until it reaches 100%.

This week I started browsing iPhone battery cases. I perused the reviews for several, but I couldn’t make up my mind. The battery performance drop wasn’t enough to justify spending $60-$80.

At one point I jumped over to Monoprice.com and came across a backup battery case that had good reviews and only cost about $24. I went ahead and ordered one. It arrived today.

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MAXSA Innovations 40218 (Solar-Powered Motion Security Light)

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One of my pet projects has become adding solar-powered lighting to our property. My goal is to increase security, ambiance, and safety around our property without having to extend power or add to our electric bill. On more than one occasion I’ve walked into a raised water faucet in the yard at night on my way to a shed (the last time this happened I went to Lowe’s the next day and bought a solar spotlight for that area).

I wanted to add a motion-activated light to our carport to provide a little more security around the cars and to illuminate the area better when we return home after dark (some light from the back porch bleeds over but it’s not always on and the carport wall blocks much of it). Since we don’t have power run out there I started looking at solar-powered options and settled on the MAXSA Innovations 40218. Overall, reviews seemed positive and since I wasn’t lighting a particularly large area I wasn’t too concerned if the LEDs turned out to not be especially bright.

Last weekend I installed it. The light/motion detector assembly is inside the carport and the solar panel was easily installed on the outside edge of the roof (thanks to a 9′ cable that came with it). So far I’ve been impressed with the light output. It’s not brilliant, but it does a good job of covering the carport, especially the areas near the lights. The motion detector reaches just to the edge of the carport when set near maximum sensitivity.

It’s currently mounted on the lower edge of the carport wall, where it’s within reach. I may move it up higher so anyone goofing around the carport can’t turn it off as easily, while I could still adjust simply enough with a ladder. It’s also not centered, which is a minor issue but it would probably look better if installed a board up higher to mount it near the center. I’ll also need to point the sensor down a bit more. Currently, it doesn’t detect motion that’s very close to the light and almost beneath it.

Updated 11/27/2011: For several months the light worked just as well as when it was new. About two weeks ago I noticed that it wasn’t working. Finally, about a week ago I replaced the rechargeable batteries with a set of Eneloop AAs that I recently purchased. So far it’s working. I’ll monitor the light to ensure that it’s actually recharging the batteries and not just operating off the original charge in the new batteries. If it stops working then I’ll check the solar panel and see if it’s dirty.

Updated 04/11/2012: Replacing the batteries didn’t solve the problem but the cause appears to have been exactly what I thought it would be. The solar panel was dirty. I think it was covered with dust and pollen along with a little bit of bird crap. I changed the tilt of the panel to its steepest setting (it was sitting flat with the hope that it would catch more sun) and then shot the hose up at it to clean it off. It seems to be working properly once again.

And yes, I really did put off fixing the problem for more than four months…

Updated 01/03/2012: Once again, I had to replace the batteries to get this light working in the winter. I installed a different solar powered motion light on my shed and I’m considering replacing this one with that model.

Updated 07/28/2013: This thing can’t seem to keep the batteries alive through a winter and barely manages to work with a fresh set. I haven’t even bothered to replace the batteries this season. At the moment it’s little more than an ornament. I’ll probably just remove it and toss into our pile of items for a yard sale. The other solar light I purchased is still working great and a similar model will likely replace this one.

Utilitech Pro LED 40W Equivalent and an X10 Wall Switch

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Updated 07/12/2011: Many of you seem to be hitting this post while only looking for information about the Utilitech LED bulbs. Well, I only have three bulbs of two different types so I don’t have a lot of experience using different Utilitech LED bulbs.

However, I do prefer the 8W bulb over the 7.5W. I know, it’s not much of a difference in power consumption but there appear to be other differences as well (and there should be considering the 8W cost twice what the 7.5W did). My 8W, Utilitech Pro 40W equivalent  is considerably brighter than the two 7.5W, Utilitech Pro 40W equivalent bulbs. The 7.5W bulbs didn’t even seem as bright as a 40W incandescent while the 8W seems as bright as a 100W.

Everyone else that wants to know how they work with X10 and Insteon, please read on… (a note regarding use with a Z-Wave switch was added to the end of this post on 02/01/2012)

I finally purchased a few dimmable LED bulbs for use at home. Initially, I purchased two Utilitech Pro 40W equivalent bulbs (7.5W) from Lowes. The day I purchased them they were on sale for $10 (marked down from $20), though that turned out to be the regular price going forward.

My intention in purchasing them was to place one in the X10 controlled back porch light, hoping to save a little more power with a light that was often on (sometimes even during the day, though usually unintentionally). I also planned to try one in an Insteon controlled lamp. I also found that even 7.5W is high enough to be activated by the X10 signal that leaks through the wall switch when turned off. I wasn’t surprised. Prior research indicated that bulbs above 5W will not have this problem when used with Insteon devices and that did hold true. However, the light output seemed very poor, even for a 40W equivalent.

Instead I installed both LEDs in a light fixture that I’ve been concerned may carry too much load with normal incandescent bulbs. By replacing two of the bulbs I’ve reduced the power consumption of the fixture by 65 or 105 Watts (I’m not sure if they were 40W or 60W bulbs, but they were probably 60W).

One day about a week later I splurged on a dimmable LED Utilitech Pro 8W, 40W equivalent. It cost $20, twice as much as the others. In the X10 back porch light it still comes on in a very dim mode when the switch is “off”.

However, it is considerably brighter than the other bulbs when on. In fact, I wonder if the light output is closer to that of a 100W incandescent. Since this light only draws 8W when on but is very bright, and certainly uses very little power when in the off position, I decided to leave it in place anyway.

Another added benefit is that bugs do not seem to be attracted to LED lights that I’ve used outside. In fact, I’ve seen fewer bugs on the back porch then when I was using an incandescent bug light.

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Updated 02/01/2012: The bulb worked just fine, with the noted flicker, using the X10 wall switch for the eight months I used that configuration. However, I’ve since replaced the switch with a Z-Wave switch. The Z-Wave switch is more reliable (even with no other modules in the home) and it doesn’t bleed power to the bulb – the bulb no longer flickers when the switch is in the off position.