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How To Create A Digital Microscope For Under $10

Posted in Computers,How To,Just Cool,video by Joe Colburn on the November 25th, 2013

I’ve always been a little frustrated with macro photography. Rather than spend a lot of money on macro lenses, I’ve often tested the minimum focus range of cameras to see how close I could get to a subject. A few weeks ago, I heard about a simple way to create a digital microscope from a cheap webcam, so I gave it a shot and the results were surprising. Here’s the camera I started with.

webcam

This is not a great webcam. I bought it for around $10 and have since determined that I don’t much like or need it, so it was sitting in a box with my other orphaned gadgets. You can get one on ebay for $7 now. With this camera, I had to unscrew the lens from the housing and then actually clip off the focus ring edge with wire snips. It screws on, but then I think they glued it. Yeah. $7. Anyway, it’s a decent camera for the job and is otherwise easy to take apart.

How To Create A Digital Microscope

This is really much easier than it sounds. While the instructions below are specific to this webcam, you can apply the theory to many other webcams: Open it up, flip the lens around to be backwards, close it up.

1. Take apart the webcam. (5 screws)
2. Remove the camera board from the housing. (2 screws)
3. Remove the lens housing from the board. (Be careful not to touch the tiny CMOS sensor) (2 screws)
4. Unscrew the lens from the mount.
5. Using wire snips, very carefully remove the black focus ring edge if it won’t unscrew on its own.
6. Screw the lens back into the mount backwards.
7. Re-assemble everything.

Sample Photos And Uses

Personally, I wanted to do this mostly to film small insects like ants and tiny spiders. Using a webcam adds the benefit of having both photo and video capabilities. If you have kids, this is a great way to provide them with a digital microscope and get them more excited about science. Below are some examples I came up with in the hour since I’ve completed the conversion.

A human hair
hair

The head of a pin
pinhead

Pixels on my monitor
pixels

The head of a small screw
screw

Enjoy and post your success stories and links to photos below.

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Improv Electronics Boogie Board Review

Posted in Computers,reviews by Joe Colburn on the November 23rd, 2013

I get a lot of products to review that promise to be high tech and flashy. Occasionally, I come across something a little more basic but out of the norm. This time, it’s the Boogie Board LCD writing tablet from http://www.improvelectronics.com/.

Because this is such a simple idea and device, I’ll keep the review pretty brief, starting with my impressions.

At a glance, the Boogie Board looks like a little portable chalk board, but you won’t want to write on it with chalk. Instead, it’s a digital device that you write on magnetically with a stylus and erase with a button at the top of the device. My first concern was battery life. I since learned that it’s not build in a way that allows you to easily replace the battery, although it should last quite a long time as it uses very little power. The website makes a claim of 50,000 possible erases per device, which seems feasable. It’s thinness makes it feel even more delicate and light which can make you a bit nervous, but mostly just means it’s lighter.

With no outstanding features, it’s still a nice device working as I would expect except for the erase button, which proved to be a challenge more often than not. It seems that, trying to find the delicate balance between ease-of-use and let’s-not-accidentally-erase-things, iMPROV stayed on the side of caution, making the button not too terribly easy to make function.

Boogie Board Specs

Solid Colors: Black, Red, Pink, Cyan, Green, White
Pattern Colors: Soccer, Flower, Camo
Materials: Pressure-sensitive, plastic Reflex LCD with scratch-resistant hardcoating, plastic case
LCD Size: 8.6in (218mm)
Dimensions: 8.8in x 5.6 x 1/8 (223mm x 142 x 3)
Weight: 4.2oz (119g)
Power: Non-replaceable 3V watch battery
Package Contents: Boogie Board Original 8.5 LCD eWriter, Stylus, User Guide, Clip-on stylus holder, Self-adhesive magnets

Boogie Board Demo Video

As always with my reviews, I give the product some time in my hands so I can get a feel for it and form my own opinions. The video below gives a better view of the device and how it worked for me.

Final Thoughts

At an average price around $25 and features that match the price, the Boogie Board is no replacement for the iPad Mini on that special someone’s Christmas wish list, but it’s not supposed to be. This is a device you’d hang on the fridge or leave by the door. I see it as being most useful for family or roommates to leave little notes or shopping lists. Though it’s light, it’s barely portable, but the company makes other devices, including a pocket-sized LCD writer. Either way, this is a great divergence from the fridge whiteboard or paper notepad you might be using now.

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The Internet of Quirky Things

Posted in Computers,Just Cool,reviews by Joe Colburn on the November 12th, 2013

About six months ago the community product development site, Quirky, announced a partnership with GE to make every day products smarter. While I’m still waiting for the milk pitcher that lets me know when my milk has gone bad, a few smarter products just hit store shelves this week, so I thought I’d provide a closer look.


Porkfolio $69.99
When I was a kid, having a piggy bank was a way to learn about saving money and reap the rewards later by buying whatever I wanted. Sadly, I often became all too curious about how much I had saved and would crack into that thing early. Fast forward a few decades. My piggy bank is now a real bank and I’m much more responsible with it, but the old piggy bank has changed a lot more than me. Today’s piggy bank is app enabled and built in concert with the long-popular electronic appliance giant, GE. Today’s piggy bank is Porkfolio and it’s app-enabled, smart, and looks like a lot of fun to use. Porkfolio seems a bit expensive at almost 70 bucks, but it has the features to back up the price. The head locks to keep brothers and sisters out, and if they try to access your money, the built-in accelerometer tattles on them by way of your smart phone. Besides motion alerts, the app provides information about your savings to keep you dropping coins in. Not too bad for a little piggy.


Pivot Power Genius $79.99
I have a soft spot for home automation and I’ve loved the original Pivot Power since I first saw it (I own three), so I was pretty excited when I first heard about this product as well. This newer version of the Pivot Power features it’s trademark pivoting of the outlet positions to allow for maximum use with all types of devices, but includes the ability to control two of the plugs remotely with a smartphone app. Better still, you can pair the Pivot Power Genius with the next device on the list, Spotter.


Spotter $49.99
Spotter is like its own little internet of things. It’s basically a little puck that has sensors for temperature and humidity, sound, movement and light and can perform actions triggered by a change in any of the above. One example that I hinted at before is the ability to turn on or off one of the Pivot Power Genius plugs. You could, for example, set an action for when your alarm clock sounds in your bedroom to turn on the coffee maker so your coffee begins brewing. On its own, Spotter can still trigger alerts via the phone’s push notifications or send an email. It also works both ways, meaning that an event can be triggered when a light comes on or turns off or when movement starts (as in intruder detection) or stops (as in your clothes drying cycle has completed). What’s missing is the ability to adjust the sensor thresholds to customize Spotter more to your individual needs, but with any luck, an app update will offer that down the road.


Egg Minder $69.99
Back into the kitchen, Quirky rolled out Egg Minder. Just as the name implies, it keeps track of your eggs. More specifically, it keeps track of which egg is the oldest and how many you have left. You’re about to make breakfast and you know a few of the eggs in the fridge are a bit older than the rest, so you just use the egg with the light next to it lit up. As you remove it, the next oldest is indicated with its light lit up. If you’re at the store and unsure of your egg count at home, a quick check of the app will show you exactly how many are left. Its true usability will be left to the individual user, but the concept was delivered pretty perfectly and it’s definitely a new way to manage your egg inventory.


Nimbus $129.99
One of the coolest looking devices this week from Quirky is Nimbus. It’s also the most expensive at about $130. Nimbus is a four part dash board for everything connected in your life. Through the app, you can configure what data you want on each display and the selection includes social media accounts, email, weather, FitBit data and traffic among other things. It looks great and works with a lot of data sources, but this was one I wished was cheaper as $129.99 seems high to me.


Wink – The app FREE
Mentioned a few times above was a smartphone application that works with all of these devices and helps them work with each other in some cases. Wink can be thought of as the Quirky smart device manager and is available as a free application on your Android or IOS device. On my iPhone, the app is great, although I don’t yet have any hardware to play with. Hands down, the coolest part about Wink is how it pairs with your apps the first time. You start with a dead simple account creation and then tell it your wireless network name and password. After that you hold it up to a light sensor on a compatible device and it emits a series of very fast flashes like Morse Code at 10x speed. The device then pairs with the app and is ready to manage. This method has to be among the easiest I’ve seen and will make these devices much friendlier to get up and running. I was impressed.

To get a glimpse of a couple of the devices working together with the Wink app, check out the review video below and look for any of them at Home Depot and Best Buy if you can’t wait for shipping.

Disclosure: I’ve been helping influence product creation on Quirky since 2009, and I get a tiny little piece of each sale they make for these products. It’s not enough for me talk up a bad product, but you should know my bias all the same.

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