Fake: Hoya PRO1 Digital UV Filter

Recently, having purchased a new lens (even though it was only a kit lens), I thought it would be a good idea to protect the front element with a clear UV filter. While this practice is sometimes debatable as filter glass will have some negative impacts on clarity and light transmission and often shatters into sharp splinters, it’s still a convention for me just for some piece of mind. The main thing for me is to protect the front element and any coating on it.

When it comes to filters, the first name that comes to mind is Hoya – a Japanese company specialising in optical glass, part of Tokina. Having found a filter with the right size from their high-end PRO1 series from eBay, I ordered it without a second thought.

Is it Real or is it Fake?

What arrived was slightly ambiguous and confusing. I had my skeptical hat on at first –

but looking at the packaging didn’t immediately ring alarm bells. The only thing that did was comparing it with an image (below) of a genuine product taken from an Amazon listing (which matches the one shown on Hoya’s website) that clear differences.

For one, the printing is very much brighter on my filter, lower quality as well. The bottom label is poorly registered with a design difference in the text “Designed Exclusively for Digital Cameras” which does not stretch across the bottom and is of a smaller size.

My suspicions are confirmed when reviewing the rear of the filter packaging – the barcode is printed on the existing label and not on a separate label as with genuine Hoya products. While the barcode number is correct for the product, the text above does not have the filter-thread diameter as genuine products would.

The smoking gun was looking at the surface. If you know what a multi-coated filter should look like, it has a particular coloured reflection depending on the number of coats. I couldn’t see any coloured reflection from this filter at all, so it seemed to be uncoated.

Testing it by putting it on top of a black DVD case next to a lower-end Hoya HMC UV(0) filter that’s supposed to have higher reflection than the PRO1 series, we see that the fake filter reflects so much, the detail in the DVD case cannot be resolved, while the HMC reflects only slightly. Such a high reflection is likely to reduce the light reaching the lens and camera sensor – slowing your lens! Without further assessment, I don’t know if the glass was as optically transparent and free of defects as a genuine Hoya would be – I suspect not.

There have been several other reported instances of fake Hoya filters originating from China.

Seller Response

I initiated a case against the seller as the product was not as described. The seller did not reply and rapidly refunded the purchase price in full, as if to admit their deception. Later, they attempted to cancel the transaction with the claim that I did not want the item – ultimately I ended up agreeing as I received my refund.

A look at their feedback is rather alarming – there were many cases of positive feedback left, with only one or two people ever questioning the legitimacy of the filters. I surmise that the other purchasers may not be aware what a proper multicoated filter looks like or might have been blind …

More than that, it points to the major glaring flaw in eBay’s feedback system – a defective transaction cancelled cannot leave negative feedback as a warning to others. As a result, the seller is a “Top-rated seller” selling counterfeit filters.

Conclusion

It’s unfortunate that our favourite Hoya brand is not necessarily the “safe” mark of quality that it might have been in the past, now that in China, various counterfeits with different anomalies have been created and circulate in the market tarnishing their brand. Buying a genuine Hoya product from eBay probably requires more care than just buying the first matching listing … assuming the sellers are uploading representative photos of the final product you receive.

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Beta Tested: Cooee Busways On Demand Public Transport Service

Updates at the end of the articleBusways has launched the Cooee Busways – The Ponds, Schofields and Kellyville Ridge site with further details.

Residents in the Hills district have much to celebrate, as after many years of promises, the North-West Metro medium-capacity rail system is close to being finally commissioned for service. Areas previously neglected by public transport will now have a high-frequency service into Chatswood, north of the city.

While in many areas, the introduction of this new service would pull in customers who might drive to their nearest metro station and park their car there for the day, this poses problems. For one, parking spaces are limited and the traffic this would generate may crowd local streets, generating pollution as well. Existing route-bus services may not be ideal either – low frequency, inconvenient times, distant stops and circuitous routes are deterrents.

Might there be a solution? If you’re lucky enough to live in the suburbs of Schofields or The Ponds, or the adjacent suburbs, you may have caught a glimpse of the future of public transport.

Cooee Busways

The name of the service is Cooee BuswaysCooee from the Aboriginal call for “come here”, and Busways which is the name of the local bus operator of our region who is also operating the service. A very appropriate name for on-demand public transport buses which are booked via a mobile app. It appears this service was trialled in a number of areas, and is now being introduced to meet needs of customers connecting with the Sydney Metro.

For those who like videos – I filmed a brief overview video for this post. Apologies for the “shakycam” as I wasn’t quite sure whether I was going to make a video or not – it’s my first project in Adobe Premiere as well …

The Buses

At present, the fleet consists of six new Hino Ponchos outfitted in the blue-and-white on-demand livery.

These buses are operated by the local bus operator, Busways, with drivers specially trained for these smaller buses. On Tuesday 16th April, a few of these buses were seen circling the Schofields area doing driver training in preparation for the beta test which began on 17th April.

Each of the buses feature a clear number on the outside to identify which one of the six buses is pulling up. Depending on your pick-up and drop-off points, the app will allocate you to the bus that makes most operationally suitable by this number and registration plate. The livery also serves as a good advertisement for the service itself.

I believe the buses seat 14 passengers in air-conditioned comfort with a space for a wheelchair. The service is administered through a tablet interface which the driver uses, with an NFC reader mounted near the door for payments made on-board.

The seats are very similar to the seats used in regular buses, with the bus having quite a low floor for the majority of the seats with a step upwards for the rear bench seat above the engine. From what I can tell, they appear to be regular diesel engined buses, so no fancy electric bus unfortunately.

The App

To book one of these services requires the Cooee Busways app. The app is available for Android and iOS and uses the Via platform. At this time, since the service is in beta testing, there may be a few changes between now and when the service launches.

When opening the app for the first time, you must sign up for an account to get started. You will need to provide name, e-mail and phone number. Optionally, you can store a payment method to pay for your trips, or select pay with credit card onboard.

Once signed in, you are alerted to the fact the system is currently in the beta testing phase. If you are lucky, after playing around with the app for a few minutes, you’ll receive a few SMSes and potentially become a beta tester:

In order to use the app, it’s as simple as setting the number of passengers, pick-up and drop-off locations using pins on the map. Your GPS location is shown for convenience as well. The service area seen in the screenshot below serves Schofields and The Ponds at this time.

When starting from anywhere in the service area, the drop-off points are currently restricted to Schofields station, Tallawong Metro and Rouse Hill Metro/T-Way to facilitate connections to public transport. When starting a trip from a public transport station, a drop-off anywhere in the service area can be nominated. This avoids the system being used for anywhere-to-anywhere rides, although this could still be accomplished as long as it is taken as two rides – A to “any station” to B. Once the booking is valid you can search for a ride.

During one of my tests, the app froze at this stage and would not continue until it was closed and re-opened. If it works correctly, a list of services will come up with a price. Sometimes there will only be one service, depending on how many buses are on the road, but the waiting times are very short – normally three minutes in the case of light loading.

Pressing on the side arrow allows us to see the fare breakdown – the fare is currently $2.20 according to the app which would correspond to the minimum adult fare band for a bus – but this may change upon service introduction. It’s important to remember that Opal is not current accepted, so Opal benefits (such as day/week caps, travel reward and intermodal transfer discount) do not apply. I’m not clear as to whether concessions will be honoured.

Once happy, you can book the ride and the app will contact the driver. If you have not been chosen as a beta tester or selected to pay by credit card on board, you will get a little warning –

Assuming you were successful in booking, you can watch the progress of the bus coming to pick you up on the app.

You will also receive SMS messages as to the progress of your bus when it comes close – in this case, I experienced being “shifted” from one bus service to another for operational efficiency reasons –

Boarding the bus, the driver has a tablet where a list of passenger names are shown and can be swiped to confirm. When boarding, you tell the driver your name and that will register your trip as being started. Not long afterward, an e-mail receipt is sent for your ride – handy for reimbursements or claims.

The app also has a bit of a cute message when you try to exit …

… but I suggest you do this and ensure it is closed, otherwise it appears to nearly continuously poll for your location which can be a privacy issue and consume battery needlessly.

On the whole, I experienced no trouble aside from a transient freeze on my first booking – but someone else at Schofields station was left with an “endless” loop of 10 minute waits, appearing to be allocated to a bus that was not operating at the time. Unfortunately, the system is rather inflexible – drivers are expected to follow the app instructions directly and cannot pick-up or drop-off aside from the planned route to avoid causing problems with scheduling for others.

That being said, I was sitting smugly in the comfort of the Cooee on my way home from Schofields, having pre-booked while on the train pulling into Schofields and not having to wait for a route bus like the others. Some people did notice the Cooee bus and asked the driver whether it was going their way – but there’s no way for them to get on unless they book it first via the app.

Conclusion

Aside from a few minor glitches, the Cooee Busways app and fleet seems to be doing a good job. With six buses serving the relatively small area, pick-ups are dispatched swiftly with wait times of three minutes being very common, especially with the light loading that is currently experienced as people start to learn about the service. Being free during the beta testing phase is also a bonus. The buses themselves are comfortable, with the new-bus-smell and friendly drivers.

I think the system shows very much promise for being a future direction for our public transport system, alleviating the load on car parking near stations and providing better convenience for users. Real-time booking data allows for better time management, especially when bookings are swiftly attended to. A large number of buses also ensures quality of service remains high. Best of all, having the fares regulated by Transport for NSW means that the cost should remain fairly reasonable (even though, at this stage, it doesn’t seem Opal cards are accepted and thus Opal benefits do not apply). As a result, one can receive UberPool-like service for a public-transport-like price, at least to-and-from public transport stations. Only time will tell in regards to usage figures, coverage area, operating hours and final fare pricing. The present coverage is not very wide and operations on Monday to Friday from 5am to 9pm excluding Public Holidays may not be ideal for when you’d want to go out any other day.

While it is a step towards modernising public transport to better meet the needs of its users, it won’t immediately fix the problem that is vehicular access to the Schofields station interchange – cars waiting to pick-up and drop-off cause massive delays for bus services (including Cooee) due to constant queues and heavy traffic exiting the interchange.

Perhaps if all those drivers were riding a Cooee home, we wouldn’t have such a problem in the first place! For those living in the area, beta testing continues to 3rd May 2019, so get the app and give the Cooee Busways service a try. You might find it quite convenient!

Update: 23rd April 2019

I had another chance to use the Cooee Busways service on Tuesday 23rd April, and met another friendly bus driver who had read this very page. He informed me that Busways now has a specific page for The Ponds, Schofields and Kellyville Ridge with fare band based charges of $2.20 for <3km and $3.66 for >3km. Concession fares are available, $1.10 and $1.83 respectively – with Opal card payment coming soon and potential transfer discount. That’s potentially great news for everyone!

As for whether the zones might increase in the future is still unknown, but with six buses, five operate in peak time with one spare and three in off-peak. Loading is still quite light, no doubt due to the school holiday period, but next week it is expected to pick up.

It was another successful journey using Cooee, this time with my father using the multiple-passenger feature which allows you to book and pay for up to seven passengers in total from a single Cooee login. Upon looking carefully inside the bus, it seems a total of nineteen passengers can be accommodated, assuming no standing allowance and no prams or wheelchairs.

Update: 24th April 2019

I managed to use Cooee Busways again, this time to get to and from Schofields station on my way to and from work. I noticed that the link to their website now redirects to a “coming soon” page, but due to the subpages not being covered up, if you follow this link to the Via subpage, you can at least see parts of the navigation structure to parts of the site which is supposedly coming soon. Unfortunately, I did not archive the segments with the fare band charges and Opal card “coming soon” as mentioned earlier – so you will have to take my word for it at this stage.

Of interest is the terms and conditions and privacy policy. A lot of this stuff is boilerplate, but what caught my attention was the ability for the drivers to rate their passengers. The app does allow the users to rate the drivers – just keep the app open after completing a trip and you will be asked to assign a star rating and flag the ride as being “direct route”, “smooth ride” etc. But I wonder what the drivers are asked? At a guess, I’d probably say “noisy passenger”, “vandal”, “argumentative”, “causes delays/perpetually late”?

Another key observation to make is the possibility of having full fare charged for uninformed cancellations (i.e. not turning up at the appointed place on time) or running too late. As a result, it is best to book when you are in close proximity to the pickup point and incur any wait whatever that may be – say three, six or nine minutes. Frequently booking and cancelling prior to pickup or not turning up can get you red-flagged by the system and that could cause you to lose your rights to use the Cooee Busways system – all sensible rules if you think that other commuters will be relying on you to be there on time. The system works best when everyone cooperates.

It was another smooth day, although I did encounter a bug this morning where I tried to book a trip but it showed no options for buses. Closing the app and re-opening it allowed me to proceed normally, so it was probably a transient glitch. It’s very similar to the first transient glitch I had where it was constantly looking for a ride but never found one after three minutes but worked fine after the app was restarted.

For those who are interested (e.g. train-spotter types), from my rides on the Cooee buses, the registration plates are seems to be as follows:

  • 1 – MO6791 (boarded)
  • 2 – ?
  • 3 – MO6615 (boarded) / MO8049 (sighted driver training)
  • 4 – MO6613 (boarded)
  • 5 – MO6616 (boarded)
  • 6 – MO6616 (implied by SMS message & conflicts with 5, reassigned prior to arrival)

It is also interesting to speak to the different drivers – some of whom are regular faces. The drivers have slightly different names on the app – e.g. the driver Busponds5 C has been extremely informative and helpful, but so have the majority of other drivers. It seems that Busways are not particularly looking to advertise the fact the service is in beta testing, but at the same time, allowing early adopters to get in and give it a go. It makes sense, as sometimes trend-setters and influencers are the ones who get in first, but also technical minded people like myself. In this sense, we are a little more accepting when things go wrong and we often will exercise different features (e.g. booking cancellation, multi-passenger booking, booking to/from different places).

The loading on the service still seems to be fairly light with respect to the maximum capacity – I was the only person onboard both rides today, but apparently the drivers are seeing a good stream of rides come in which keeps them busy roaming about the service area. Passenger numbers were estimated to be within the teens for a shift, although I did hear of the possibility that weekday public holiday operation may occur when the system is fully commissioned.

Speaking of which, it seems nobody knows quite when the North-West Metro is coming online, but it can’t be too far now. Yesterday’s visit to Rouse Hill saw the station seemingly close to completion (I missed out on a community tour date earlier due to no spaces), but there were trains running back and forth at a “reduced” frequency. The indicator board appeared to be functional with destinations and estimated departure times. As a frequency-based service, it makes sense that the Cooee system doesn’t seem to be too concerned with precise pick-up and arrival times (it’s hard to predict traffic, future pick-up diversions, etc) as the Metro trains would come often enough that you just board the next one upon your arrival. This isn’t quite the case with Schofields and the heavy rail, where 15-minute intervals for stations common to T1/T5 and 30-minute intervals for T1/T5 exclusive stations are the norm.

However, once the Metro comes online, Cooee Busways should be ready to roll. In fact, I can see myself getting used to using the system especially if Opal is accepted and transfer benefits maintained. I even find myself saying “I’ll just Cooee to the station” as a verb for catching an on-demand bus. I’m extremely thankful to have been given the privilege of using the service, which has been a big time-saver over waiting for 30-minute interval route buses which (despite their best intentions) often run late due to passengers, traffic jams, roadworks, etc. I actually would prefer it – hands down, even if it was packed with other passengers. Just being free of the rigid route-bus timings prevents the issues of the “well meaning” timetabled connections with trains always being missed due to late running.

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long Rnd(): Birthday Analysis, Spoiling Myself, Fixing Stuff, Thrifty Finds, Parking Tickets & More

It’s been a busy long-weekend, but there’s no better post than a “long random” for a long weekend! This time around, it just so happens to be my birthday as well.

Happy Birthday to Me? Really?

Well, what can I say. It’s been two days already since my birthday and I’m supposedly now 30 years of age. I can’t even believe it myself. On the one hand, it seems time has flown, but on the other, I’ve done so much. I suppose I do feel like I’m 30 in some ways but not so much in others – there is still so much to do that I could never actually do everything. The unfortunate constraint of time is always looming in the background, but at least I’ve been able to keep myself mostly happy. But is there any meaning to any of it? I’m not sure, but alas, I think the answer is better stated as “I don’t mind if it has or hasn’t,” while just getting on with the task at hand.

This past year has been a busy one for me. I managed to win a number of high-profile RoadTests and RoadTester of the Year 2018 at element14, which was a great honour and definitely helps in more ways than one. Perhaps I should update my “About Me” page … which is now very outdated. Being involved in full time work is a blessing of sorts, occupying a lot of my time and effort during weekdays doing things I have an interest in. Being research-related, it is hardly straightforward, but sometimes those kinds of challenges are necessary. On my weekends, I try to keep a dedication to my hobbies – reviewing products, building kits, repairing items and running experiments, although it seems the time to blog about them continues to evaporate. Nonetheless, it seems I’m not getting as much of a “sleep-in” as I used to – it’s all about efficiency now. I even watch all my Korean TV shows at 2.4x to 2.7x to get a bit more out of my time.

Despite all of this, it wouldn’t be human if I didn’t feel unfulfilled in at least one way. Nobody “has it all”, and I certainly don’t have it all. In fact, half the time, I don’t even have it all together! In my haste, I find myself multitasking more, engaging less, confusing myself and making some silly mistakes. Beyond a point, there is nothing gained. In fact, sometimes it’s hard to see where to go when it’s not clear what the destination or the path is – something I probably need to think about more in my future. The current economic climate, the cost of living, the state of wages really doesn’t give me much hope either. Additionally, as a bit of an introvert, I don’t socialise much or at all, I don’t exactly have a large friend network nor any dating prospects. It’s unfortunate, but it is what it is. I do what I do and let the rest take care of itself … after all, I’m not exactly the “average Joe”.

On a usual birthday, I would spend my day at Taronga Zoo, but this year, I was so busy that I forgot about it entirely. The $1 promotion is still running this year – I just forgot to sign up for it. But I didn’t forget about the Facebook analysis, which is somewhat sobering:

As previously predicted, a downward trend persists with the number of “happy birthday” posts falling to a record low of four, two of which were from “family”. I would class the messages as “generic”, which is to be expected, especially when Facebook prompts users to send them, hoping to start a snowball of interaction which would help their metrics – but seeing that people are now ignoring these programmatic suggestions is a good sign. It shows users becoming disengaged, unshackled from the “evil” algorithms. At such small numbers, it’s really hard to draw any firm conclusions. While it seems that Facebook’s Monthly Active count continues to rise nearly linearly, Facebook is increasingly becoming irrelevant as users become disengaged with the platform. I’m even reconsidering whether to keep my Facebook account – it’s not exactly been useful for me.

The scandals that have plagued Facebook in the way they have abused the trust of their users and accidentally stolen their contact lists among other things seems to have affected them somewhat. As a result, they seem to have become increasingly desperate in the recent times creating fake notifications that are totally irrelevant – “suggested friends”, “you’ve been friends for x years, write something to celebrate!”, “someone who didn’t post for a while recently posted”. This kind of desperation has caused me to mute Facebook notifications entirely, but I still end up logging in for maybe a minute every two weeks just to see everything’s still there. It’s now mostly a marketing wasteland – I don’t see many genuine interactions happening anymore and use it mainly to enter competitions which I never win.

So in some ways, almost as predicted, I think we’re seeing Facebook starting to become “uncool” … perhaps soon to be nearly as irrelevant. Even their Messenger product has gained the same level of desperation that makes me want to uninstall it as well.

Looking at the curve fit to the posts, it’s interesting to see that with this latest drop, removing the first datapoint doesn’t make much of a difference to the goodness-of-fit. Perhaps I will get the same number of posts next year – purely because my family might not stop using Facebook … but if I close my account, there will be no more experiment!

Looking at the plot with regards to the percentage of friends – I’ve lost a few friends this year, probably because they closed their accounts or they don’t like me (or both?) but the trend is still downhill. I guess this brings us to the saying “Facebook friends aren’t real friends!” When it comes to real friends, I’d say there are probably … only a handful or so.

As usual, thanks to everyone for participating overtly or inadvertently in my experiment and thanks to those who have posted or sent a message. I wonder what the future holds? Some people proclaim a return to blogging as a primary means by which we communicate with “friends” about our achievements – preferably self-hosted rather than on a micro-blogging platform. I’m not so sure. Others claim that mobile-app instant-messaging selfie-oriented platforms will take over the role. But I’ve been slow to warm to those apps and features … I guess you might need a certain level of vanity to use them. It’s not like I’d be swarming with likes – I’m lucky if my posts even get read in the first place, let alone thoroughly understood.

Treating Myself – Long Overdue Upgrades

The best part about a birthday is … presents! I did get a few from my family including a new backpack, a photography textbook, a tie, a lunch/dinner and (soon) a trip to the movies. But the best presents are always the ones you buy yourself – as a thrifty guy, I tend to put off purchases but I figured my birthday would be a good excuse to splurge, coinciding with some Easter sales. It’s time to treat myself …

Graphics Card

Since I built my upgraded workstation, I’ve been fairly satisfied with it. But with the upgrade to dual 4K IPS monitors, it seems the Palit Jetstream GTX970 was struggling a bit. Even dragging windows around would be a little stuttery at times and gaming at higher quality settings at the native resolution was near impossible. I was willing to put up with it, if it were not for the fact that the fan bearings were on their way out, so whenever the fans kicked in (which happened even idling at the desktop), it would sound like a horse was galloping in the distance. *clip-clop-clip-clop*

I wanted something more capable, but I didn’t want to spend too much on it either. Knowing Nvidia’s RTX cards have not met a great welcome with some people complaining of driver issues, memory issues, black screens, etc, I decided it would not be in my best interests to spend up for one of those. AMD’s solutions were quite lacklustre as well. While Nvidia launched a GTX1660 and Ti version as well, which seemed like a potentially good upgrade, I found the benchmarks to be a little lacking still. Ideally, I’d want something a bit quicker but also cheaper.

In the end, I went on the second hand market and snapped up an MSI GAMING GTX1070Ti that was apparently 1.5 years old for $460 delivered – it wasn’t the cheapest price they’ve been seen but it’s not a bad price when the performance is considered. Buying second hand is risky – there’s a chance some of these cards may have had a hard life as cryptocurrency mining cards – but I was willing to take the chance given the discount.

So far, I’m quite pleased – the card idles much cooler with the fans off and the core downclocks just fine. The full load noise is relatively quiet as well, with a noticeable bump up in performance. While it might be around the same price as a new GTX1660Ti, if UserBenchmark is to be believed, the 1070ti should be about 24% faster, which is not insignificant – the gamble is the lack of warranty, which I was willing to forego. I don’t send things back often – I’m fairly lucky when it comes to tech.

Camera & Lens

One thing I’ve complained of since my return from my holiday was that my Nikon D3300 that I normally use for all my photography has a bad central AF point and the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens has a broken autofocus gearing that sounds like a mouse getting tortured. While it was still workable using an alternative AF spot, the unit did have a tendency to front and back focus unpredictably, resulting in many later photos being taken using manual focus and a “guess” at when it was in sharp focus. The camera also had a tendency to be all over the place in terms of white balance.

I had tried to buy a new camera body, twice on eBay from grey importers, but was scammed both times with sellers that did not send the product, waited the full 45 days before returning my money. With such a buying experience, I gave up getting a new body. Nikon’s financial situation got worse in the interim, the introduction of new GST legislation covering low-value imports resulted in the closure of many “semi-reputable” grey importers and the crashing Australian dollar worked against me. While I purchased the D3300 for AU$380 including postage, the latest equivalent (D3500) was about AU$580. That was almost unjustifiable given the feature increases were not that significant.

But I wasn’t going to give up, as the quirks were very much annoying me and a few sales came up. In this case, I spotted a refurbished Nikon D3400 from Ryda which could be bought for AU$376.11 including postage post-discounts. As an older model, it had the benefit it would work with my version of Lightroom, and being of the same family, all of my accessories can be carried over. So yes … I like the box – you are mine now!

The refurbished product is lacking in manuals and CDs, but that’s not important to me. All I cared about was in the box. Opening it up and testing it, it had about 250-or-so shots on the shutter counter and was last used on “lock-up mirror for cleaning”, so it appears to have been professionally cleaned. The firmware was updated along with the lens-distortion data from Nikon’s website – and it’s been working perfectly since!

As a result, the old D3300 has been put into quasi-retirement as a backup camera. It’s not bad, as its shutter count is at about 66,000 and toured with me on my holidays in 2017 (that I still haven’t gotten around to posting about).

As for the lens situation, I decided to buy one of the cheapest regular zoom lenses I could – the AF-P DX Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G. This is basically what you would expect as a kit lens for the above camera – it’s cheap, lightweight, plastic-ey and this version is without vibration reduction (as I prefer less battery-hungry lenses and feel that VR is another potential thing to break). Of course, being a basic lens, there is no lens hood (I have one on order) nor any lens bag as well. Seeing as I got it for about AU$90 shipped, it wasn’t a bad price.

Having used an f/2.8 aftermarket lens, why am I going back to a kit lens? Ironically, I find that as one gets more experienced in technology, they tend to care less about chasing the latest and greatest. Initially, we might be lured into specs, but as we understand more about limitations and technique, we can compensate for some of the shortcomings or realise that they were not a problem in the first place. In that way, we can go back to something more basic – or hold onto something for a little longer – rather than upgrade.

In my case, I thought that having an f/2.8 lens would be nice for sharper images especially when stopped down with less vignetting. The particular Tamron also had relatively good distortion figures and excellent chromatic aberration control. But now that I shoot everything in RAW and process through Lightroom – lens correction is a standard part of the workflow, making a low-distortion/vignetting lens less important, as is the removal of chromatic aberrations in software. As for not having the wider aperture, I found that the limited focusing accuracy of the D3300 really meant I didn’t use the wider apertures much – in fact, I often stopped down to f/5.6 to f/11 to capture maximum resolution and depth – especially for products. That being said, I’m not saying this kit lens is “perfect” – it’s just that for shooting products indoors, especially for the blog, you probably won’t notice the difference! Outdoor flare control may well be a completely different game.

Regardless, we get exactly what we expect – some literature and the lens itself in a plastic bag with nothing else.

Being a DX lens, it’s nothing particularly special with its name badge printed on a label. It is the cheapest of cheap – but surprisingly a few test shots didn’t look too bad. The biggest surprise was the stepping motor focus mechanism on this lens – it makes the Tamron lens look like a snail as it’s silent, fast and accurate. The lighter weight would probably come in handy for travelling too, and low cost would essentially make it “disposable”.

The one big annoyance? The plastic “push on” white rear lens cap. I prefer the old black-plastic rotating cap which is more secure and easier to get on and off without the risk of touching something. At least, I have this as a back-up should the Tamron fail me entirely and I’m actually quite happy that I didn’t have to spend too much to renew my photography gear. The biggest perk? This one isn’t red.

Chair

It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time on my butt in front of the computer – a year ago I purchased a cheap pleather rockable high-back office chair for my workstation for just $80 delivered and I was pretty pleased at the time.

But a year on in, it doesn’t seem anywhere near as great as it was. The foam padding on the seat-pan had collapsed sufficiently that my legs would go numb after a long session, the rocking spring mechanism became loose despite being adjusted to maximum tension, the gas strut would lean slightly when spinning around and the seat creaked at any movement. It didn’t last.

At the time, I purchased it, I was considering a much more premium chair, but I didn’t buy it because it didn’t quite fit my budget and I thought the cheap ones would be close enough. This time around, I was lucky enough to meet Easter sales, so I hastily purchased it.

I decided that it would be a good idea to get something more reputable, but also something that was perhaps more premium and durable. I decided that I’d go for the Noblechairs Epic Real Leather which is a rather pricey chair even with the discount at about $640 delivered – I would perhaps have chosen the Icon instead if I could convince myself to spend a little more …

I’ve heard some good things about Noblechairs, so I had high hopes. Just trying to lug the box across the room, I could feel the (nearly) 30kg weight … a big contrast compared to the other chair I had before which probably weighed half as much.

The chair parts are well packaged …

… time to begin construction! Noblechairs recommends having two people to construct the unit – I’d probably say that’s good advice due to the weight of some of the parts, but I’d also say that it’s possible to do so solo (as I did it by myself) with some minor frustration. The construction guide is printed on a glossy cardboard, but as with most chairs, construction is relatively straightforward and the tools are included.

The completed chair actually looks fairly nice, with a racing car bucket seat-inspired design. It comes with the lumbar and neck-rest cushions. Positioning them correctly makes a big difference to the posture. With the cushions set in their correct position, I can sit more upright with the adjustable back-rest recline and seat pan angle, which actually makes me feel a little more energetic and helps me breathe easier. The old chair without adjustable backrest was on too much of a recline.

Using it for a while, I like the high density foam cushioning as it seems very resilient and I get no numbness at all after long sessions. The open-top casters are also good as it means cables are less likely to get caught – one of those things which is a common annoyance. The casters glide smoothly and the chair is pretty solid with no creaking whatsoever. Even though I’m relatively short, the standard gas strut as supplied can reach low-enough for me. Noblechairs also has alternative gas struts which can be purchased to further reduce height. It’s also nice to see that the chair is capable of rocking, locking at various seat-pan angles and recline levels to lying almost flat which could be good for a nap.

On the downside, I’d have to say that the 4D armest adjustments are too easy to knock out of position and the price may be a bit steep for some. There is a pleather version but from my experience with other pleather products, I’d prefer real leather where available. The recline mechanism on the sides feels slightly flimsy with the plastic covers being slightly sharp – so best not to put your hands in there.

One thing I did notice that was a bit out-of-keeping with the premium nature of the product was the rear where a zipper is used to close the seams – it seems the zipper has been forced to close resulting in a few spots where the zipper isn’t nicely aligned. I hope they don’t eventually pop out.

They aren’t the only premium gaming chair in the market, but they’re one of the few with real-leather. That being said, I suppose other chairs could be as good or even better but I’m pretty happy with my Noblechairs Epic as it is. It makes me think that I probably should have bought it a year ago …

Internet? Actually … No, not yet.

Well, technically, the NBN has “arrived” as of 18th April, but I haven’t signed up yet. As mentioned in an earlier random posting – price, limited static IP options and the inevitable installation delays have led me to postpone joining the NBN for a few months. But I’ve already designated a place for the CPE to be installed, laid my internal CAT5e to the location, set up a VLAN ID for it to be carried up to my router and configured the router to accept the VLAN ID as a WAN when it comes up. But alas, not so soon – I must use up my 4G/LTE cards first.

In the interim, I use Telstra Air (Wi-Fi) as my back-up WAN. It’s a long-range link, very prone to drop-outs and very limited in speed as it is a residential access point serving. But since I am a Telstra customer (not for long though), I can take advantage of it.

In an interesting coincidence, my back-up WAN failed when my primary LTE WAN failed, which led to a bit of a frantic investigation. As it turns out, my Raspberry Pi running my back-up WAN link had failed. After seven years of serving in various modes, it seems the SMSC Ethernet + USB hub chip had failed, possibly from accumulated heat and also taxed by a failing USB power supply. As a result, it would connect over Ethernet for a split second before disconnecting – with no cable connected, the FDX LED would blink. Changing cables, switch ports, power supply and software made no difference – so I disposed of the Raspberry Pi Model B, copied its image over to a microSD and booted it on a Raspberry Pi Model B+ and I was back on the air (pun intended). In fact, this post was being written using the Air link.

It will be inevitable – I will get the NBN (HFC) one day soon which will be a major upgrade. Just not being bound by slow speeds or a quota would be literally life-changing.

But at least for this month, I think I’ve done my spending for a whole year. It’s out of character for me to splurge on myself like this. But even when I do, value for money is still on my mind.

“Fix my Sink!”

On the morning of my 30th birthday, before breakfast, the first thing I did was to attack a plumbing problem. The kitchen sink at the property had a slow drainage problem discovered a week earlier. As the first port of call, I suspected a clogged U-bend trap, which I removed and cleared. The trap had a lot of accretions – fats and vegetable plant matter from twenty years of use, having never been cleaned. I thought the problem was fixed, but it wasn’t, as evidenced by a “gurgling” noise which started after the sink drained clear.

At this point, I suspected maybe some accumulation in the pipes leading to and from the trap, perhaps something minor that a plunger could address. I acquired a large bellows type plunger – this grape coloured one from Bunnings and went to town on the blockage. It seemed like it helped, but the gurgling returned.

As I didn’t have access to the sewer diagram for the property, I had to make a guess as to how the property was connected. There would be a sewer “trunk” line down the side of the property which the kitchen sink would join along with outside drains and the downstairs laundry, toilet and upstairs showers. As slow drainage was not encountered on other drains, I suspected that the kitchen sink joined the main trunk on its own Y junction where the clog may be.

It was that evening after work that my Dad let me know that the outside drain in the garden seems to have been belching drained water from the kitchen. This proved to be a critical clue – as now this suggested the kitchen was plumbed out to the outside drain before joining the main trunk.

At this point, I thought it rather strange that the inside drain would join an untrapped outside drain before joining the main sewer trunk line. But then, I remembered what happened at my Mum’s place where we suffered quite a bit of damage – at least this arrangement meant that the clog would result in water being ejected outside the property instead of flooding from inside.

By then, it was late at night and I wanted to attack the clog, but there were so many cockroaches enjoying the water and nutrients that I had to bid a retreat until the next morning.

By now, it’s the morning of my 30th birthday and my Father is about to leave for an event. Single-handedly, I resolved to address the problem the only way how – by mechanical intervention. I’m not a believer in chemical drain cleaners – caustic soda and the like – primarily because they might not break down the clog effectively nor have enough residence time to actually take effect.

Outside, I removed the garden drain cover and went down with a thin auger to try and pick at the clog. Not feeling anything solid, I couldn’t hook onto anything but I did get some white-material which floated up to the top. It seems our culprit is congealed cooking oils, fats and greases – a well known clog offender!

To pressurise the system, I filled the inside sinks until they were backing up, then installed the stopper plug. I continued to fill the basin until it was about 80% filled. I placed upturned bowls above the plugs – this is critical to deflect any back-flow downward into the mass of water and prevent “water volcanoes” from arising.

It is then, I dealt the boss the final blow with my grape coloured plunger. But to use a plunger effectively requires a bit of technique – namely you need a solid column of water between the plunger and the clog to do any good, as water is incompressible and transmits force directly, whereas air just “squishes”. Secondly, you need to be as close to the clog on as large a pipe as possible to reduce resistance and improve transmittance of force. Thirdly, you must prevent the pressure escaping – that’s where filling the sink helps by providing downforce with water. To plunge, you need to have a good sharp motion, but it helps also to do a few test plunges to see what the “time constant” of the system is like. The system would slosh down and up again. Taking note of the rhythm, like a swing, plunge downwards at the right time to “amplify” the force. There’s no point just plunging at random times.

In this case, I plunged hard at first which ended up popping off the caps on the kitchen sink. This helped provide more water outside to refill the column as it slightly emptied. I plunged again twice, and resoundingly, the column began to disappear rapidly. The clog had been banished.

As a result, the sink was fixed and drained freely. It’s good to fix things on your own – it’s economical and educational, even if it is a little smelly. After the drainage became free, we continued monitoring the outside drain where it became apparent that there was something a bit odd – it looked as if there was a solid mass at the bottom.

As it turns out, it seems that instead of using a T junction, they used a X shaped junction, but capped off the bottom. Perhaps they didn’t have the right part on the day it was constructed. As a result, there’s actually a stub of pipe at the bottom where some detritus can collect, with the increased edges producing turbulence and increasing the likelihood of such accretions.

Gough Practices Some Fan Service

I’m feeling pretty punny, can you tell? Anyway, an old desk fan from 1994 paid a visit due to a very “noisy” motor that hummed and vibrated. Since desk fans are pretty cheap, I normally wouldn’t pay them any attention, but since this one was bought over by a family friend, I decided to take it apart for a look.

The motor laminations are visible, along with the reassuring fact there is a thermal fuse. There are several wires – probably for the three speeds, along with a motor start/run capacitor attached to the side. The chassis is earthed for safety.

From the side, the oscillation mechanism and capacitor are more clearly visible.

Another shot from the rear showing the oscillation gearbox.

From the front, the motor looks rather plain. The problem, as with many of these fans, starts with a lack of lubrication. The front bearings had almost entirely seized and thus caused a loud humming noise and reduced fan speed. Adding a bit of lubrication to this and the oscillation mechanism helped but the fan continued to make some rattling noises.

It was discovered there were only three rubber feet – the non-level base inspired additional vibration. But within the base, an insulating cover around the switch mechanism came loose and was rattling about. I reassembled that, but still, that was not the end of it as there was still occasional creaks.

As the head oscillated, the creaking noise appeared at the extreme ends of travel. Looking closely, the plastic pivot had cracked which allowed additional play in the system. I repaired this by tying a cable tie very tightly around the joint which added stiffness – but there was still some noise. I suspect there may have been a rubber suspension inside this pivot that has since disintegrated, thus the head isn’t being held firmly. It’s quiet enough to use though – better than being in landfill!

SD Card Disaster – Crisis Averted?

It’s always busy around here, but many things that end up on the blog would have spent some time sitting in front of the lens of my DSLR which has been dutifully recording data to a Samsung 32GB SDHC card from 2013. Initially, I bought a pair of these cards, but the first card was eventually retired once the plastic shell gave in. The latter card continued to serve, being used to shuttle RAW shots from each project to my desktop running Adobe Lightroom. This week, I spent many hours running an experiment for work, recording video to the card. Upon completing the recording, I took the card to my desktop to import into Lightroom.

Two clips into the import, Lightroom complains of a disk I/O error and ejects the card, only partially importing the data. I remove the card and re-insert it – it was probably just a transient error right?

But then I was greeted by a mortifying sight – an empty root directory. I was not happy. I didn’t want to re-do hours of work. The first port of call was to image the card. Examining the image in WinHex shows the card to have an empty root directory and even attempting to refine the snapshot resulted in no files added. Signature search was very unsuccessful, recovering corrupted files – e.g. .mov files missing the MOOV atom.

Then I remembered – a few years ago, I had lost all the shots from a shoot that I ended up redoing and it involved the same type of card. At the time, I blamed a potential glitch or firmware bug in the camera never recording the memory buffer in the camera to the card.

This time, I could not afford to lose it all. I decided to chance it on a chkdsk /f on the disk to hopefully recover something – perhaps the backup FAT is still there? As it turns out, that was no use either – a few lost chains were found with the wrong length resulting in no useful data.

Then I remembered – TestDisk! I invoked TestDisk on the image file from the command line, searched for a lost partition and then managed to actually explore it. Using TestDisk, I was able to copy off all of the lost files without corruption. It may not be the friendliest for a beginner, but if you know your tech, it’s a cinch. Definitely a tool worth using if you ever run into the same experience.

I formatted the card with no problems – it even managed to test in H2testW with no faults at all.

However, it seems the card itself is not perfectly healthy as it refuses to work at all with the Nikon D3300, spewing this error despite working in the Nikon D3400 and my card readers. The Nikon D3300 has no problems with my Toshiba Exceria 32GB card nor a Samsung 4GB card, so it seems that something strange maybe afoot.

My hypothesis of what happened is that the card may have had an intermittent contact with the card reader during import. This may have caused the card to lose power mid-write – say for file-system last-accessed time updates during the import – which often causes bad things to happen to flash memory. This probably caused damage to the flash mapping table internal to the controller, which may have “reverted” to a previous known-good version of those sectors involved which hosed the filesystem. The FAT may have been damaged, with the backup FAT being okay. Regardless, it seems that there may have been corruption to the card’s own internal metadata resulting in compatibility problems arising.

Knowing this, I suppose it is actually quite probable very “infrequent” card issues could just be caused by a bad contact …

Thrifty Finds

While I’ve splurged on myself a bit this month, I’ve also continued my habit of raiding thrift shops in search for some interesting stuff. I discovered my first CD+G last time – this time I visited, there were two more which are not too well known from the looks of it.

The first disc is the Australian Idol Karaoke Seventies CDG. Notice that CDG is spelt without the intervening +. The disc contains twelve tracks and is part of a series of three CD+Gs produced by Rajon which is now defunct. This disc is labelled CDRTV0148.

The second is the Australian Idol Karaoke The Hits CDG, marked CDRTV0146. Similarly, this disc contains twelve songs. Despite a concerted effort, I was not able to find the third disc at the shop that day. I wasn’t aware this product even existed, which leveraged the Australian Idol branding to sell karaoke discs as the show was all about finding singing talent.

Rather disappointingly, the disc CD+G data was very plain and ordinary. The text was turquoise, highlighted in yellow, on a purple background. Not much attention to line breaks and formatting was given, so sometimes the screen would be cleared and fully redrawn mid-sentence which is not optimal for singing. There was no artwork or anything non-text, which is disappointing as this would have been a product from very late in the life of CD+G.

I was fortunate enough to come across four ten-packs of 3.5″ high density floppy disks at $2 each. I decided to pick them up even though Magmedia is not a reputable brand – it’s probably useful to have a few around just in case.

I came across this hilariously named screen protector – “Explosion-Proof” with a hammer drill into the glass film? I think they mean shatterproof, but if they were explosion proof, perhaps the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 could have benefited …

Another Parking Ticket Up-Close

It’s funny how everything in this post kind of “connects”. Remember the grape-coloured plunger that saved the day earlier? Well, on my way to Bunnings Rydalmere to buy the plunger, I saw a parking ticket that was blowing along the side of the road and decided to “salvage” it.

Earlier, I took an interest to seeing what the anti-counterfeiting measures on the Liverpool City Council parking tickets looked like, so it was rather fortuitous that this would be a different style of ticket from the City of Sydney. This particular ticket is branded EnviroSecure and is patented as low environmental impact compared to foil-impregnated paper. This particular paper stock has the same copy-pantograph, and that’s no surprise, as it also comes from Colleagues Nagles. The ticket itself is shorter – probably by configuration on the parking meter – it saves paper so that’s a good thing.

Microprinting is visible at the bottom like in the other ticket, but instead of a solid coloured band, this has a patterned and seemingly fluorescent (although only slightly) band.

The warning band at the rear gives us a clue as to the features of the ticket. It is also numbered similarly to the stock used in Liverpool. Grabbing my high-powered 385nm UV-A LED and shining it at the ticket …

… the bottom band clearly fluoresces.

The rear also has a light UV-ink pattern of the City of Sydney “anchor” logo, which is difficult to capture on camera. It’s interesting to see that these protection mechanisms are used – perhaps the paper is actually quite expensive!

I also managed to pick up another CB Insertion ticket from the ground in Liverpool. This one is timed at 2:50AM. I find it strange that something would be happening to the meters at 2:50AM … was this someone trying to break into the meter’s coinbox? Or do the council workers actually service the meter at 2:50AM? Or is this in another time zone? Who knows …

Random Public Transport Observations, etc.

The lift buttons at Schofields are a persistent problem, so the crew from Kone came to fix it. But there’s one problem … do you see it?

This is actually an up-direction button being installed upside down as a “down” arrow. I don’t think braille works like that … but at least the lift works. I think two of the three lifts have this at least on one of the landings.

The parking issue at Schofields station has gotten so bad there is temporary parking. The growth in public transport use is quite severe because of all the new housing developments nearby – but the line is still relatively average when it comes to service intervals and capacity.

Rooty Hill station is having an upgrade – the old bridge used to be a ramp at the far end, but this has been “cut away” leaving stairs for now. Looks a bit strange, but it’s quite similar to Granville, where the ramp was “cut away” and only the stairs and a lift remains. I guess ramps consume a lot of space.

Opal being the system that it is occasionally mischarges for bus rides – I had to submit an enquiry and did so online but got no response after a week. It seems response times online are very variable. I called them to resolve it – but now as Transport for NSW and Opal merge call centre operations, there is no easy way to speak to an operator. Instead, one has to sit through a number of menus and being told to do online, before requesting “more assistance” as if you are perhaps vision impaired to be put through to an operator.

But one thing I noticed was that Opal “case numbers” seem to be assigned sequentially – plotting date/time vs enquiry number of my previous enquiries spanning the past (nearly) five years seems to show a very close to straight line relationship – 15817 or so enquiries a day or about one every 5.46 seconds on average. That’s a lot of enquiries it would seem, but probably not when compared with the number of Opal cards in service.

On my way out, via Quakers Hill, I saw this banner on the station fence – it looks like the case of the infectious “Doo … doo doo doo doo!” has reached Blacktown City. I only knew about this since the Korean TV shows started singing this randomly a while back … I never realised a kids song would be so popular and addictive.

Walking around UNSW one day, I saw this “building office” with a sign-in desk at the front. The desk was made from an ironing board – engineers at their best!

PD-Dual Performance

I wrote about the often forgotten Phase Change Dual rewriteable optical system in the past, but I was contacted in January 2018 by a reader who had a drive and some media and ran some benchmarks. I was given permission to post it to the site, but completely forgot about it until now.

This is the Matsushita LF-1000 reading a regular CD at 4x, it seems.

The drive appears to show as two separate LUNs with one for the CD and the other for PD. Tested using H2testW, the write speed averaged 278kB/s and the read at 753kB/s. This is an effective write speed under 2x and read speed of about 5x. I suggest this may be because the PD drive may be doing verify after write as DVD-RAM formats commonly do.

The read speed graph suggests the drive could have achieved higher results – perhaps the media is not as healthy as it was when it was new, the drive may be having difficulties, or the SCSI controller may be a bottleneck. Regardless, the zoned-density nature of the hard-sectored disc is clearly visible.

Radio: Lucy Helton’s SSTV Ham Radio Project

From 9th April to 23rd April, Lucy Helton is transmitting SSTV from Iceland as part of an art project, and I’ve spent some time receiving the images via various KiwiSDRs online. I’ve posted about this on my Twitter account – but some of the receptions include the following.

Those who might want to attempt reception are advised that TF1VHF Borgarnes, Iceland and Bjartangar Westfjords, Iceland are the best candidates, with 14227kHz USB being the frequency currently preferred. In the interim, I’ve been following Shortwave Radiogram broadcasts as well.

Conclusion

This is probably the longest post since the inception of this website – a good reflection of just how busy I am getting myself nowadays. It’s all about being productive and efficient. This time around, I’ve fixed a few things, splurged on myself, discovered a few things (as usual) and had a bit of fun. There’s always more on the way – including things that have been sitting for years waiting to go up.

Unfortunately, the blog might go a little quiet again after the long-weekend because I’ve been fortunate enough to be awarded a triple-concurrent RoadTest which will probably take up most of my time in the next two months, with a potential concurrent review on the side. It’s not often I get so much on my plate at once – but when it rains, it floods. I do my best to embrace it. Hope you found something of interest in this long random post.

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