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.

The Forgotten Role of Technology: One Step Away from Magic

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I’ve noticed an increasingly more prevalent theme this year. The core theme is the concept of technology that is so ubiquitous and elegant that it appears to work like magic. For most of us that is rarely our experience. Often technology, whether we’re using an electronic tool that performs some physical work, or a piece of software that executes a virtual action, rarely seems like magic.

Some of this is simply due to the fact that most of us have developed a specific level of expectation over time through gradual changes that occur across the span of decades. There are certainly many things that might be perceived as magical to someone from an earlier time, whether it was someone from five hundred years ago or only a decade ago.  Perhaps magic, in this context, might be defined as something that is done for you that you didn’t even think about when you made it happen. Like turning on a light switch or opening a door, except the level of interaction is subtler.

Earlier this year I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join a college at a conference where Josh Clark, a user interface design expert, presented along with several other experts. While there we also had the opportunity to speak with him directly at one of the lunches, where he joined our table. Much of our discussion was on this very subject as was his presentation. His topic, of technology functioning like magic, was engaging and, in my opinion, a change heading toward us rather quickly.

I love technology. I enjoy learning about new innovations and gadgets and I have spent several late nights and weekends just tinkering with devices and software, sometimes without a defined goal. Some of those projects were dead ends. Others were successes. I learned from each one.

Yet, over the years, I continue to notice one problem with much of the technology that we have at our disposal.

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Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH)

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Recently there were a few break-ins in our neighborhood so I decided to add some additional security measures to our shed. The contents of the shed certainly wouldn’t be a goldmine for anyone but there are a few tools that would be inconvenient to replace. The area wasn’t well lit so I decided to add a motion-activated security light. Just as with the car port, I added a solar powered light. However, this one is more powerful and appears to work much better than the other light.

I bought a Secure Home Motion Activated Solar Light (SH-7103-WH). The cost came in at about $150 dollars but upon opening the box the difference is immediately noticeable. Instead of using rechargeable AA batteries this one uses a single, large 6V sealed battery. Once mounted and working it was also apparent that the lights were much brighter than the one in my carport.

I’ve had the light in place for about a week and a half and so far it’s worked without any problems or noticeable dimming.

The first night I set it up I did have a problem with the light turning on and off again repeatedly. The motion sensor was somehow being re-triggered. Overall, I suspect the problem was related to a significant swing in the outdoor temperature from the time I first turned it on until later at night. I turned the light off, waited a couple of minutes, and then turned it back on. Since then I haven’t noticed a problem.

Updated 01/24/2013: So far the light works just as well as it did when I installed it despite the shorter days.

Updated 05/22/2013: It’s still working great.

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