How To Create A Digital Microscope For Under $10

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.

Iomoio : Cheap MP3s And Two Free MP3 Downloads For Signing Up

I had the opportunity this week to check out another site where you can search for and buy mp3 songs on the cheap. At 16 cents a track, iomoio.com is a fraction of other sites, leaving you to ask, “What’s the catch?”

iomoio.com site review

What’s The Catch

The first thing most people wonder about a site offering cheap mp3 music downloads is if it is legal. According to the site’s FAQ, it is. The reason they can offer these tracks for so cheap is because they’re outside the U.S. and have different licensing rules and agreements. Giving your credit card to a site outside the U.S. might make some people nervous, but I didn’t feel that way with iomoio.

Features, Selection, And Quality

Any time I visit a music site that I haven’t been to before, I look for three key components: site features/usability, music selection, and quality of the music being played. I give iomoio.com a 90/100 for features and usability. The site was very easy to sign up and navigate and finding tracks was easy with a comprehensive search that auto-completes for artist, album, and track. In my searches, I found most of what I searched for, and I have an interesting taste in music. Even though it didn’t find one of the tracks I was searching for, it did find a few artists I didn’t expect results for, like Faderhead and Stromkern. Of course, iomoio had plenty of the top artists like Rihanna and Lady Gaga too. I gave iomoio a 95/100 on selection. Out of the 10 tracks I searched for, it found nine, but the site had two out of three albums for the one it didn’t find.

When viewing a list of tracks, you are presented with a play button to preview the track, but the music preview plays about four different parts of the track rather than just the first 30 seconds, providing a better sample of what you’re buying. In addition, the preview lets you skip ahead by clicking the outer ring of the circle. When you purchase, you get to download mp3 songs without any DRM, so you can add them to any of your devices and listen wherever you want.

iomoio.com site review

When a track or album is purchased, it’s placed in your Downloads page, where you can download a .ZIP archive including the song or album. Downloaded tracks included the important track information like album, artist, track number, etc. and are 256k, earning a 100/100 for quality. The tracks I listened to sounded perfect.

As a bonus, when you sign up, you get two free tracks. I give that 100/100.

Conclusions

Like a lot of people in the U.S., I’m a little sensitive about who I give my credit card information to. Being a site in a foreign land may turn people away, but the trade-off is really cheap tracks at great quality with fast downloads. Even if you’re not ready to make a purchase, just head over and pick up a couple free tracks.

Although the preceding was a sponsored review, as always I strive to provide an honest opinion of the product reviewed.

How To Save Money On Gas

As I filled up my gas tank the other day, I was saddened that the reliably cheapest gas station near my office had gone up ten cents since my last refill and people were still lined up waiting for an open pump. This was not a good sign. Sure enough, prices had gone up all over town. Some people are calling it a fuel crisis, but whatever it is, it’s getting expensive. With prices expected to go up considerably more through the beginning of summer, there are ways to save a lot of money on your fuel spending that you might not be aware of.

Gas Prices
(Photo: Scott Hadfield)

Find The Cheapest Gas Online

While some people drive around looking for the cheapest gas, even going as far as using their passenger as a price spotter, I’ve found a better way. It’s more efficient, less frustrating, and the bottom line is that it will save more money. I check my GasBuddy iPhone app before I even start the car. The GasBuddy app is available for the Android and Windows smartphones, too. If you don’t have a smartphone, you can look up the best prices near you on GasBuddy.com. Depending on the size of your tank, you could save $2 to $5 right at the pump. Personally, I like the app over the site. It’s very compact and simple. In no time, I have the closest prices and don’t even need to be near a computer.

US Gas Prices Heat Map

GasBuddy.com has a ton of fuel-related tools and information on the website, too. One frightening example is the US Gas Prices Heat Map, which shows the gas prices as colors on a US map. Clearly California’s higher gas tax has a visible impact on the prices in that state.

Shop Online First

I’ve found myself wanting to buy things in stores (especially electronic gadgety goodness) because I could have those things right away even if it was cheaper to buy online. More than ever, buying online can save you a few bucks compared to driving to the mall and back. Sometimes it’s just cheaper and these days, what you buy online often arrives pretty quickly in your mailbox. Have it shipped to your work and you won’t have to drive to UPS, FedEX, or your post office to pick up a missed delivery.

Sure, some stuff is cheaper in the store, so the gas savings realized by shopping online aren’t really a savings, but is it in stock? I don’t know how many times I’ve driven to the store with a specific need, only to find it was out of stock. Shop online for the best price and call the store to verify stock of those needed items before heading out. The fastest, thus my favorite, online shopping is Amazon.com, eBay, and a simple Google search. I’ll have another post up soon on ways to save money shopping online at various sites, so watch for that.

Plan Your Driving

Above, I pointed out the benefit of knowing if something is in stock before driving to buy it. This helps because it reduces unnecessary driving. Another way to cut down on wasted miles is to plan out your trips. Obviously, if you have to visit two different places in North Phoenix this weekend and one in South Phoenix, you’re probably already planning to make both North Phoenix stops while on that side of town, but are you thinking this way for smaller trips? Maybe you can get shopping done near the place you get your hair cut. Is a your bank in the same store? Plan your activities and get things done more efficiently. Not only will this save you gas, but it will save you time and put less wear on your car.

Know Your Fuel Efficiency

When you bought your car, I’m sure it indicated the Miles Per Gallon as a range, rather than just a solid number. This is because there are ways to get the most mileage out of your car. You may have heard a few tales of fuel efficiency already. They range from making only right-hand turns (which Myth Busters even tested) to the speed at which you drive. One of the more widely known factors in fuel consumption is highway versus city street driving. Try different things and figure out what works for you. If you want to make it easy, try a tool like EconoDriver, which monitors your driving and fuel consumption and tells you how you’re doing.

More Ways To Save Money On Gas

I’m sure there’s even more ways to save money on your gas that I haven’t covered here. The best way to find them is to think about things you do that involve driving and any other factors that contribute to your use of or spending on gas. I’d love to hear any tips you have on saving your gas money. If you have one, share it in the comments.