Archive for May, 2011

Learning is fun

I enjoy learning outside of school far more than I enjoy learning inside of school. Case in point: I am rarely found reading any of my textbooks during the semester without a significant amount of procrastination occurring first. When the semester ends, I’ll read all sorts of educational material strictly for fun. Right now, I’m reading Ansel Adams’ “The Negative,” Charlie Papazian’s “The Complete Joy of Homebrewing,” and “Engineering Dynamics” by Meriam and Kraige.

When I finish the chapter on the Zone System, I’m going to go out into the incredibly hot garage and learn how to solder a PCB. This will probably involve me destroying at least one PCB in the process, but I’m okay with that. On a completely different train of thought, I really need to learn to shoot a double-action only pistol better. Sure, I can still shoot minute-of-bad-guy no problem but I’m nowhere near as proficient with my Sig as I am with my Nighthawk and that bothers me.

PepsiCam – Expired Velvia

Well, the Velvia is back from Fuji. Wal-Mart says the turnaround is two weeks, but so far it hasn’t ever taken that long. Anyway, before I ran a roll of Velvia through the PepsiCam (my pinhole camera) I searched for some information on the reciprocity effect. I found a table, wrote down the appropriate information on a note-card and taped it to the back of the camera. Most of the exposures were at least 30s long, and it worked out very nicely. I think the camera cost a whole $7 to make. Results?



Finally, a use for coffee.

Coffee is disgusting. The smell, the taste, the stains it leaves in unsealed tile when field-grade officers spill it all over the floor without even attempting to clean up after themselves (that’s what they make privates for). All of it is just vile. Until last night, I was fairly convinced that if I happened to take over the world one of my first acts as Supreme World Commander would be the banning of any more coffee production. Then I used it to develop film.

Now, I won’t claim this was an original idea. I’m not even sure, in this age of information, that original ideas even exist anymore. A handy website,, provided some nice examples and a few recipes. The necessary ingredients? Instant coffee, washing soda, vitamin c, and water. Water comes out of the faucet, you can get washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda) at ACE Hardware, and I needed groceries anyway so HEB solved the rest of my ingredient needs.

The recipe I used called for 6tsp of instant coffee, 4tsp of washing soda, and .25tsp of vitamin c all dissolved in 350mL of water. It was recommended that the coffee and washing soda be mixed in separate solutions to later be combined for a total volume of 350mL. The soda was dissolved in 200mL of water, and the coffee in 150mL. Swishing the water and coffee around to dissolve it all caused quite a lot of foam. Bubbles and even development are not friends with each other, so I had to let it sit for a long while before I decided to pour the terrible smelling developer into my film tank.

My test roll was one of the 20 rolls of Agfa APX 400 I was given a few weeks ago. I did not really bother metering anything, and just guessed at the exposures using my Kodak Retina IIa. When I shoot test rolls, I like to try and cram a wide range of contrast levels, lighting, and textures into a single roll and then see how my normal development process works for the general case. That’s exactly what I did with this roll, and the results were surprisingly good. The only issue, other than the horrid smell, is a fair amount of base fog but the film is old and expired and my scanner really doesn’t seem to care if the base is fogged or not. Apparently adding a few grams per liter of iodized table salt to the solution helps to control fogging, so I will give that a shot on the next roll. Actually, I’ll probably develop a roll of the APX 400 in my regular chemistry just to see how much of the fogging is really caffenol’s fault.


Park Bench

Houston Camera Co/op



Living room

Abbey, not attacking the camera for probably the first time ever.

The waiting is the hardest part

The relay I need to switch my enlarging lamp was in the mail today. I now have all but one of the components I need to build the digital timer I found here. My hope is that the wait for the proper LCD to show up isn’t too terribly long. Of course, the correct LCD is on backorder now but the customer service guy did say that there were quite a few orders and that usually puts a rush on getting new components. He also said I’d go to the front of the line and get overnight shipping on one when it showed up to make up for making me wait.

At some point tomorrow I’m likely to end up in the garage burning myself with a soldering iron trying to wire up the PCB and mount it along with the microcontroller and a power supply inside a project box. Realistically I ought to be able to even test the thing without the LCD, but I think I’ll just leave it alone until I have a way to see the settings before I push the go button.

Along the same vein, I kind of wish I hadn’t sent the Velvia I shot in my pinhole camera to Fuji for processing. Sure it’ll save me more than 50% of what it costs at the local pro lab but it will also take two weeks instead of a few hours. I’m anxious to see how it came out since I’d never really dealt with reciprocity failure before and want to know if I ended up using appropriate times or not. If these slides come out okay, the old expired Velvia I have in the freezer won’t last very long.

10 days later

The darkroom is complete, functional, and entirely too much fun. My medium format pinhole camera has received a red window on the back so I can actually wind the film to the next frame without guessing. Shooting so many rolls of 120 film has left me with quite the stack of 120 spools, and it just so happens you can tap the hole in the ends of one of those to accept a standard tripod thread. If you then take a hacksaw and cut that end off it makes a great tripod mount for DIY cameras. All that’s left to do from my earlier post is a large format pinhole camera build. Coming up with a way to handle the sheet film is the only thing I’ve not really figured out yet, but I will soon enough.

In other news, I should probably get one of those job things. Maybe even something related in some way to the whole engineering thing.


A few from the new darkroom



Darkroom Complete

My first task when I finished my finals was to get busy building my darkroom. Two and a half days after I started, I had a fully functional darkroom.

The build was fairly straight forward. The two doorways into the room would need to be blacked out. Tables for both the enlarger and the developing trays would need to be built. A rack to dry my prints on would also need to be built. The room would require ventilation to avoid catching a case of instant death from toxic fumes. None of it was particularly difficult to build, though getting it all up the stairs and crammed into one small space was tricky.

Anyway, it all works and I just spent the last three hours of my life in that darkroom making prints of some of my favorite negatives. Now that I’ve eaten, I’m on my way back in to finish washing and drying the prints I’ve already made. Rather than inline a ton of images, here’s a Flickr slideshow of the build.

Flickr Slideshow

I’ll scan some of the prints later.

Upcoming events

Tomorrow my short summer will begin sometime around noon. I have one final left in my engineering math course (diff eq and linear algebra). As it stands, I may very well end up making an A in that course. As soon as I finish that final, I’ll be picking up some darkroom chemistry, photographic paper, and more film. When I get home, it’s time to build a darkroom.

Cramped would be a good way to the space in which I’ll eventually make photographic enlargements of my B&W negatives. That’s a lot better than non-existent though and I’m hardly complaining. I need to build about five things for the darkroom. First, I need a raised platform to put the enlarger on. I’ll also need to build an extension of the sink area for the wet side of the darkroom. Drying racks for my prints will go over the print washer. Ventilation will be necessary as well, and I suspect I’ll put some fans in a duct over the wet side and vent into the adjacent bathroom to use the vent in the bathroom to get the fumes out of the house. The fifth item will be the most ambitious. I need a new timer, because I managed to destroy the one that came with my Beseler CB7. Fortunately, I came across working plans for a digital timer that’s fully programmable to the extent of my coding ability.

The timer will take some waiting, for parts delivery and to digest the existing code and decide if I wish to modify it at all. That won’t stop me from trying to make some enlargements this weekend using no more than my ability to count off seconds as a timer. I’m highly unlikely to do any dodging or burning this way (though I suppose I could) but I have a few negatives that will print just fine with a single exposure to the paper.

Once all of that is finished, I’ll move to my next set of projects. First, I’m going to finish the medium format pinhole camera I made several months ago. I’m not sure I care to really build it out of wood or anything at the moment, but I’m going to use some Liquid Nails to stick a tripod mounting hole to the bottom so I can put it on a tripod. I’ve cut a hole in the back, which I need to cover with some red transparency material, so I can see the frame numbers on the paper backing of the film. No sense wasting film by having no idea how far to wind the take-up spool. After I finish that, I’ll be building another pinhole camera. My enlarger will take 4×5″ negatives but I have nothing that produces 4×5″ negatives. Sounds like a perfect excuse for another pinhole camera. For now I’m thinking that a 4″ focal length with a .012″ pinhole (which I intend to make by shoving a guitar string through a piece of thin brass stock) will do nicely. That should give a wide angle of view, somewhere around 75 degrees, and a very small aperture of roughly f/340. Even in full sunlight exposures on an ASA100 film will be several seconds. Perfect for the simple blade type shutter I intend to make to cover the pinhole. I’ve got more than enough bits of scrap this and that to make a large format pinhole camera without having to spend money on anything but a few film holders (though I suppose I could just make those myself too).

Stay tuned. I’ll certainly be posting progress of the build sooner than later.

All systems GO

Roughly a year and a half has passed since I brewed my very first beer in the Mr. Beer kit my parents bought me. So far, I haven’t brewed anything undrinkable. As far as I can tell, a few people have rather enjoyed a few of the brews that have come since then. Now, it is time to take the next step and go all-grain. Today, I built my mash-lauter tun so I can start all-grain brewing. I’m going the Igloo cooler route that is hugely popular on every homebrewing forum I’ve come across. This is where the conversion will happen. Milled grains will soak in hot water for a while and leave me with a sweet wort (sugar water) I’ll then boil, hop, cool, and add yeast to in order to make more beer.

False Bottom

False Bottom



In completely unrelated news, I rocked my 3rd differential equations exam hard. 96. Hell yes.

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