Photography: Minnamurra Rainforest (Budderoo National Park)

Life had been getting somewhat routine at home, so I decided that I needed a bit of exercise and a nature break. On Tuesday 30th June 2015, with a family friend, I visited the Minnamurra Rainforest Visitors Centre in Budderoo National Park and went on a photography expedition along the boardwalks. I never had an opportunity in the past to appreciate all that Minnamurra’s boardwalks had to offer, as the last two times I visited, we ran out of time.

Entry to the park cost $11 for a car for the day, as it was a national park. The area is so remote that I could get no signal coverage on both Optus and Telstra – that’s how you know you’re in the bush. Walking through the visitors centre allowed us to start our walk, on a mixture of newer plastic grating, wooden planks and suspension bridges.

20150630-1100-7209

It was a rather cool day, with a temperature of about 17 degrees which was probably a little less under the canopy. The day started off rather still, and there was some flow of water. The greenery of nature, be it on trees, moss or grass, has a therapeutic effect along with the quiet sound of flowing water and lyrebird calls. Immediately, I could feel my stresses going away.

20150630-1103-7218

It was particularly nice that the park was not too busy, as we had arrived very early in the morning, however, it is a popular place for school excursions and field expeditions which can ruin the tranquility somewhat. The partly overcast day was a slight blessing though, as it gave the sunlight a “soft” effect.

20150630-1120-7240

I wasn’t going to turn up at the risk of being under-equipped. Nature is a great place to find interesting colours, textures and delicate details, so I packed an external flash and a macro lens to try and catch some of the details. It was a good chance to practice with my manual flashes and get a better handle of how light affects a shot.

20150630-1117-7235

If you keep your eyes out, there are many small intricate details on things which deserve a quick stop and photograph. The boardwalk starts off comfortably, and is arranged in a ring which traverses much of the local forest growth.

20150630-1121-7242

The colour and patterns found in nature can be quite striking up-close. For example, there is the coarse tree bark, but also more delicate “fractal-like” patterning in the moss.

20150630-1124-7246

But don’t forget to look up as well, as the towering trees overhead scatter the sunlight and make it a comfortable, humid environment to be in.

20150630-1128-7252

There are a few bridges which cross over streams and waterways, which provide some bush landscape.

20150630-1130-7256

The bush does get a little repetitive after a while.

20150630-1146-7281 20150630-1149-7283

While walking around, you might hear some very loud bird calls, and some scratching noises. If you look closer, you might find the lyrebirds – there seem to be a few.

20150630-1140-7271

Since the natural processes of nature are all on show, this also includes the other part where things decay and are broken down. Mushrooms turn out to be a good subject for trying out your macro lens.

20150630-1210-7295

This family of cup mushrooms with one that has a chunk eaten out of them has so much texture and “hairs” that I couldn’t distinguish with my naked eye, but was easily resolved with a camera and a flash. We can even see some leech or slug in the corner too.

20150630-1216-7299

There were a few other smaller mushrooms of a different sort as well, competing with moss.

20150630-1225-7306

Some of the decay was rather funky as well, producing bright orange spots, contrasting with the dark bark and green moss.

20150630-1224-7305

In the trees, some very delicate spider webs were found as well, so thin as to be almost invisible to the eye unless at just the right angle to reflect the light. Here, we can see what seems to be a tiny nymph or larvae trapped in a web.

20150630-1255-7336

Walking around the boardwalks involves walking up this curved path which rises at a medium grade to reach half-way up an escarpment. It isn’t quite difficult if taken slowly, but it is part of the main loop path which brings you back to the visitors centre.

20150630-1249-7322

While walking up the path, you can get up close with some of the growths on the trees – both symbiotic and parasitic, including various vines which try to “strangle” their hosts.

20150630-1258-7343 20150630-1258-7344

As usual, it seems like the kids and other humans can’t keep their hands off the nature, so there are many etchings and inscriptions on rocks and trees near the path of those who have passed by. Not that I approve of this vandalism, but … eh … it’s there.

20150630-1300-7345

Sometimes, you don’t need to do anything, and the natural filtering effect of the trees serves to highlight a subject – in this case, the rotting wood surrounded by a sea of dark and leafy greens. It was amazing.

20150630-1333-7353

Even the soft overcast lighting served to show highlight the delicate items. You wouldn’t get the same effect with harsh sunlight.

20150630-1304-7346 20150630-1331-7350

Termites have been active – boring out the trees and building large mounds!

20150630-1307-7348 20150630-1307-7349

There were a few magpies, lyrebirds and also this little golden-breasted fella, who posed very well for the camera.

20150630-1353-7364

Along the loop walk, we will come across a fork where the path breaks off to the upper falls walk. This is a rather steep grade walk, of about 2.6km return, that takes about an hour. We were met with a light shower as we started the walk, which was very tiring and involved many breaks on the benches along the way. It gave us an opportunity to enjoy the very loud calls of the male lyrebirds. Towards the end of the walk, the grades changed directions, and the bush gets somewhat denser.

20150630-1346-7358

You know you’re almost there when you come across Lyrebird Falls. If you’re about to give up, don’t – the reward is only another few minutes walk away. The reward is down two flights of stairs though …

20150630-1403-7370

20150705-1728-9109Ta-da! The Minnamurra Falls in all its glory. We were going to take some time to recover from the long walk, so I decided to get out the time lapse gadget to give it a try (as we had one sitting randomly unused). This is basically a head that turns around based on a clockwork mechanism “appropriated” from a 60 minute mechanical timer. Unfortunately, it didn’t work quite to plan … so it got stuck about half-way through and then my card ran out of space. Oh well! It is again available in 4K, in case you can watch it at this time.

If you’d prefer to digest it as a panorama sans other people, but with some stitching errors, see below.

20150630-1410-7414 Panorama

In the end, I suppose if you want a bit of a walk to stretch your legs or do some photography, then Minnamurra might just be worth your while. It is definitely a bit of a workout if you go all the way to the falls, and isn’t recommended for those who don’t want to walk up and down relatively steep inclines. But hey, I survived, so you probably will too!


Bonus

This is what happens when you use FFmpeg with TIFF input files straight from Lightroom. It produces a very flashy, trippy video – people with photosensitive epilepsy should not watch this video. The reason for this seems to be an issue with how the FFmpeg TIFF filter interprets TIFF files – it seems not to parse the metadata correctly – so the metadata shows as image in the top line.

If the metadata is a multiple of 3 bytes, the colour will be correct (as the images are 8 bits/channel), but if not, then it results in the colour channels being incorrectly mapped (red -> green, green -> blue, blue -> red for example). Every three bytes of metadata causes a one pixel “shifting” of the image horizontally, although after 11,520 bytes, the image aligns once again (as it is 3840 pixels x 3 bytes), but pushed one line down.

I had to convert the TIFF files to BMP to produce the video above, as the parser for BMP worked just fine.

Posted in Photography | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Teardown: Osram St151 4-22W Series Glow Starter

If you thought I had said everything I needed to say about starters back in my glow lamp article, you were wrong! When visiting a local hardware store, I came across a different type of starter, known as a series type starter.

In my first posting, all of the starters I was looking at were known as universal starters. These are often denoted as 4 to 65W starters, designed for use with just a single lamp. The other type of starter is known as a series starter, denoted for use with 4 to 22W lamps in series.

So, I decided to buy some just for fun and write about them.

The Product

20150705-1150-9095

Osram is a reputable lighting company, and their St 111 universal starters are pretty ubiquitous with a white shell. The St 151 is their series starter and comes in a pale green shell, sold in pairs for a few dollars.

20150705-1151-9096

The starters are made in Italy, and are designed for use in series lamp configurations schematically shown on the rear. This type of configuration is normally only seen in 230v countries, as there would not otherwise be enough voltage to light both lamps in series.

20150705-1151-9097

The plastic of the can is opaque, which is unfortunate if you wanted to use it “as is” for your DIY glow lamp, but it does have a very nice shape including moulded text at the end of the cap.

20150705-1152-9098 20150705-1153-9099

The starter is built upon a bakelite insulator base, and features a solid contact with a single hooked bimetallic strip. A parallel RF suppression capacitor is also fitted.

Why Series Starters?

Series starters are a necessity in the case of the series lamp configuration, as the starter has to be able to start its glow discharge with two starters essentially in series. Universal starters only start their discharge at about 170-190v, which means that two of them require over 340v. This doesn’t happen on most 230-240v lines, and only at the peak of the AC waveforms at the best, and thus the starter doesn’t operate correctly as the discharge isn’t strong enough to heat up the bimetallic strip and set off the inductive kick (or isn’t there).

As a result, the series starters must have a lower voltage breakdown. On testing it, it showed about 90v breakdown, almost precisely half that of the universal starters.

20150705-1201-9104

This was exactly as expected, from the rationale of having a different type of starter. It also does mean that it cannot run lamps as long as the universal, as the lamp’s running voltage must be quite a bit less than the starter’s breakdown voltage, so as to preferentially draw current so the starter doesn’t then begin the starting process again. As the running voltage is proportionally related to the tube length, that’s why the series starters are used for up to 22w tubes.

20150705-1157-9102 20150705-1158-9103

When run from DC, only one electrode glows at a time. The starting tube glows a nice orange red, unlike a salvaged St 111 (not posted about) which glowed a dim blue. I suppose if you want to build your own glow lamp, especially from USB where the inverted voltage is limited, then series starters will give you twice as many bulbs in series for the same voltage. You will need to use a clear enclosure or something to keep fingers away from the high voltage – for example, you could transplant the starter base into the Philips S10-P shells.

Conclusion

Series starters are used where tubes are run in series, and have half the voltage drop of the universal starters, so that they will fire when line voltage is applied. Their reduced voltage drop of ~90v is much closer to traditional neon bulbs, and means more bulbs in series from a single CCFL inverter – so probably well worth looking at.

Posted in Electronics, Lighting | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Review, Teardown: Astone ISO DOC-130 2.5″ & 3.5″ SATA II to USB 3.0 Dock

When you have a pile of small bare hard drives to use, giving them all a SATA port to use or an individual enclosure is prohibitively expensive. Maybe you have a hard drive to quickly test, or an occasional back-up to make or recover and you don’t mind handling bare 3.5″ drives, which are less fragile than they might appear.

These are all areas where a SATA hard drive dock come in handy. Think of it as an external case without “most of the case”. It is designed to have a hard drive slotted into and removed from it like a game cartridge. Different iterations of docks exist, including older SATA to USB 2.0, the newer SATA to USB 3.0 and combination USB 3.0 and eSATA units.

This review will be looking at the Astone ISO DOC-130 one-bay SATA II to USB 3.0 dock, which I purchased for AU$28 from ARC Computers.

Unboxing

20150704-1249-9081

Astone is a brand only seen locally in Australia, and they are a “rebadge” operation, so you might be able to find the same product under other branding elsewhere.

20150704-1249-9082

The dock uses an old fashioned USB 3.0 full-size B-type connector which is fairly rare, and claims compatibility with 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives in SATA I or SATA II modes. It is backwards compatible with USB 2.0. It claims to be designed in Australia, which I find a rather incredulous claim.

The unit also claims compatibility with 2.5″ drives up to 1Tb and 3.5″ drives up to 2Tb. There is technically no difference to the dock between 2.5″ and 3.5″ drives, so I suspect they have validated its use for 2Tb drives, so should a 2Tb 2.5″ drive be found, it should work just fine.

20150704-1249-9083

Rather deceptively, the sides of the box makes comparison of the connectivity rate rather than throughput. It, confusingly, tries to mislead consumers that USB 3.0 is “faster” than eSATA at SATA II rates, but need I remind you that the bridge chip is still talking to the drive at SATA II and cannot exceed SATA II rates? Also, USB 3.0 is with a mile of overhead and is unlikely to be as responsive as eSATA where the drive is practically connected identically to an internal drive.

It also has a rather confusing and pointless multiplatform “indication” which shows both types of machines connected to the dock … seemingly at the same time. *shakes head*

20150704-1249-9084

The other side of the box that is not plastered with a logo tells you the same sort of thing, but it says it comes with a cable, user manual and power adapter. The user manual isn’t anything special, so I couldn’t really be bothered with it, so lets look at the dock itself.

20150704-1249-9085

The unit has an aluminium shell, with a single activity LED on the front. The logo is printed on the front as well.

20150704-1250-9086

The top features a spring loaded trap-door style of access, which aligns 2.5″ drives through the aperture. Using 3.5″ drives causes the spring-loaded door to be pushed out of the way. The dock holds the drive to a depth of about 3.5-4cm, and there is no plate to support the drive any further – as a result, it would be unwise to use it where it could be knocked over, but on the whole, it does sit stably on a table top especially due to the anti-slip foam base.

20150704-1250-9087

The rear features the USB 3.0 full-sized B connector, a 12v DC power socket (with internal 5v conversion) and a push button hardware power switch.

20150704-1251-9088

The power supply comes from Flypower, dated week 42 of 2014, and is 12v 2A rated as is common with many external cases today. These power supplies avoid any possibility of reversed 5v/12v rails, as there is only one connection, and are much easier to replace in case of trouble. The supply has a ferrite suppression bead as well.

20150704-1252-9090

Also included is the USB 3.0 cable – don’t lose this one because you might not have many of these around.

Teardown

The dock is constructed with a space for six screws, two of which are in the middle of the edges and hold the front to the rear, whereas the corner four are to hold the rear to the aluminium shell. However, only two of the corner screws were actually fitted – the foam was cut away in this shot to allow easier access to the screws.

20150705-1140-9091

The bottom cannot be removed as the PCB and power switch keeps it captive in the aluminium cut-out in the case, so you need to pry the top lid out from the base to get a look inside.

20150705-1143-9092

The main PCB can be seen, dated week 38 of 2014. The PCB is coded T3527(III)UAA-V04, designed on 26th November 2012. On the PCB is the bridge chip, with no EEPROM or “backup button” functionality installed, and a 12v to 5v switching converter set-up.

This is where the designed in Australia moniker gets a bit of a laugh. The coding very clearly identifies this product as a DataStore DS-T3527III dock, which is Taiwanese. So what’s designed in Australia? The packaging and the logo probably.

20150705-1144-9093

The chipset is an Asmedia ASM1053, which seems to support SATA II and USAP 1.0, but is an earlier 2nd generation chipset which is no longer produced by Asmedia. This is likely to result in sub-optimal throughput with SSDs, but perfectly reasonable for hard drive usage. This chip is dated week 28 of 2014.

20150705-1145-9094

The underside of the PCB has mounting positions for a few passives and LEDs, but that’s about it. A very simple device, but relatively inexpensive.

User Experience

The dock pretty much works as described most of the time. As the connector itself doesn’t have much of a feel, mounting the hard drive in the dock doesn’t result in a positive click or confirmation – so you have to push a little just to make sure it’s seated.

I used the unit with my standard test platform – the NEC Renesas controller on the Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7, running the latest version of Windows 7.

26-June-2015_12-55

The case itself overwrites the vendor and product ID of all drives with ASMT 2105 – which doesn’t match the chipset markings curiously enough. Tested with a 500Gb drive, the throughput is as expected and easily is at USB 3.0 rates. For backups and recovery, this is a very satisfactory result.

With some Seagate 7200.10 drives, I had to power the dock off and on more than once to get the drive to detect. There was a Western Digital Caviar Blue WD1600AAJS drive that works with other bridges but doesn’t seem to be recognized by the Asmedia chipset – so if you have a drive that doesn’t work with the dock, it might not be defective, just incompatible.

The stated compatibility is only up to 2Tb, however, I did try it with a Seagate 4Tb desktop drive, and I’m happy to report that it does function with 4Tb drives correctly. It comes up as 512 byte sectors, so it doesn’t do the strange 512 to 4k translation the VLI bridge does. This allows for easy transferring of drives written from internal ports to USB 3.0 and vice versa. However, this also means that older 32-bit operating systems with 32-bit drivers cannot access drives >2.1Tb through the bridge, which may be why the packaging claims support only up to 2Tb.

I tested it with H2testw just to ensure there was no data corruption from wrap-around, which succeeded.

asm-4tb-ok

Don’t ask me if it works with the 8Tb Archive drives – as I don’t have any that aren’t in constant use to test it with. There is a possibility that the bridge chip has some optimizations or firmware bugs which cause it to be incapable of working reliably with drives of that size (as they may not have fathomed the existence of such a large drive at the time the chip was designed).

The Asmedia chipset does support SCSI ATA translation/passthrough, and thus CrystalDiskInfo was able to retrieve SMART data and drive ID through the dock, so it’s not a bad option just for use in diagnosing hard drives.

Conclusion

The DOC-130 is a relatively inexpensive unit that is very handy for those who have to back-up hard drives from time to time, do migrations, or test drives. The unit isn’t perfect, as it lacks firm support for the drives and can be easy to topple, and it seems to have some compatibility niggles with a few drives I have, however, it works with most of the drives and seems to be fast enough. Of course, SSDs could operate faster on units with a SATA III chipset (or later, USB 3.1).

It’s a good tool to have around, although the “designed in Australia” markings on the box really don’t chime well with me, as this product is clearly OEMed by Datastore in Taiwan.

Posted in Computing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment