Talk to Me About the Gorillapod

Dear Lazyweb,

Lately I’ve been doing close-up photography with a Canon 500D close-up adapter. To get enough depth of field I find myself using tiny apertures. Tiny apertures require long exposures, which beg for a tripod. A short tripod would be especially convenient for my close-up subjects, which tend to be either A) growing out of Mother Earth B) feeding on things growing out of Mother Earth, or C) small objects sitting on a table.

I have a cheap ($75) tripod with a video pan head rather than a photography ball head. It’s a pain to use, so I usually don’t.

So now I’m eyeing the little Joby Gorillapod flexible tripods. They’re smaller and seem easier to deploy for low-to-the ground subjects than a traditional tripod. With the optional ball head it seems pretty usable. The tripod plus the ball head costs less than a C note, versus the four to eight large I’d need for professional-class tripod legs and a ball head. I already have the NikonML-L3 wireless remote shutter release (a bargain at 14 smackers) for vibration-free shutter-tripping.

Thoughts? Experience? I’m especially looking at the SLR Zoom version that’s rated to 6.5 pounds of support.

Follow-up with pics: converting raw speaker wires to banana plugs

Last Christmas we upgraded our home entertainment system and moved everything to new furniture. During the move I had trouble with two of the speakers. Re-cutting the speaker wire fixed one speaker, but not the center.

During that trouble I decided I was tired of trying to jam lampcord into screwposts, so I ordered these Monoprice banana plugs and followed their instructions.

Before: Naked Wires Screwed into Caps


After: Wires Formed into Gold-plated Banana Plugs


Much neater, and no more dangling strands of copper that I couldn’t force into the post. The other ends of the speaker wires going into the speakers got the same plugs.

And that problem I had with my center channel not working after the move? This didn’t fix it. I dug around some more and found the problem. During the move the Dolby setting on the receiver had somehow gotten changed from Standard to Music, which doesn’t use the center channel. A click of a button fixed that.

The banana plus are a neater wiring solution that’s easier to disassemble and reassemble. It probably even sounds a hair better than the old setup. For the small price tag and minimal work I’m happy with the upgrade.

Previously –  School Me on Speaker Wire and Banana Connectors, Please

School Me on Speaker Wire and Banana Connectors, Please

Dear Lazyweb,

Let’s talk about speakers and speaker wire.

Ten years ago I bought a set of Paradigm speakers (which I still lurv), a Pioneer receiver (which is OK if not great) and lamp cord to connect everything. And for ten years everything was copacetic and there was peace in the kingdom.

Recently we upgraded our TV and TiVo and replaced the DVD with Blu-Ray. During the upgrading, furniture changing and component rearranging two of the speakers stopped playing audio. I got one to work again by re-cutting the ends of the lampcord at the receiver. I did the same with the center channel, but it’s still not working and I haven’t had time to fool with it.

I realized something while recutting those speaker wires: I hates me some bare ends on speaker wires. The ends get frayed and the lamp cord wire is so crazy thick I can barely cram it into the connectors on the back of the receiver (which I think is part of the problem I’m having now).

I want to convert to banana plugs. The receiver and speakers have the right connectors. I mic’ed them and they both use 4mm connectors, which seem to be the audio standard. Looking at I see these banana connectors and these instructions for using them. The price is right, the reviews are great, and it looks easy-squeezey, but I gots questions.

  • Is it OK to not solder solder-type banana plugs as those instructions say?
  • Should I use something other than lampcord?
  • Anything else I need or need to know?

How do I get Kim Kardashian’s picture off of my Twitter profile?

Dear Lazyweb,

So I created a Twitter account for work. During account setup Twitter asks if you’d like to follow some of their top Twitterers. Thinking I should see how other people Twitter I picked five people.

Now I have pictures of Kim Kardashian, Tim O’Reilly and some other folks on my Twitter profile and I can’t rid of them. I unfollowed them, but their pictures are still on my profile.

UPDATE: The pictures went away after a few days.

Bleg: childproofing Windows XP?

Dear Lazyweb,

My mom got Katie a LeapFrog computer last year. Now she wants to use our real computers.

We’re thrilled that she wants to learn about computers, but obviously I don’t want her deleting files. A few months ago I thought she had wiped out all of my photos in Picasa. It turned out to be a false alarm, but after that I configured the screensaver to lock the computer after 3 minutes of inactivity and to require a login password.

What’s a good way to make our XP computers easy for her to use and secure enough that she can’t delete our files or crucial system files?

I Googled and found free Microsoft’s SteadyState. Anyone used it?

Any other advice for configuring an XP machine for a four year old? We want this to be fun and educational for her, and stress-free for us.

LATER: I installed SteadyState and I like it. I configured restrictions on Windows and Internet access and blocked access to Picasa. Click to embiggen the screenshot.

More chainsaw advice

In response to my bleg for chainsaw advice Richard Calderwood sent this, which I’m reposting with his permission. – LJ

Hey Les –

I’m a Portland city slicker, but I own a couple hundred acres in NE Arizona and have been through more chains than most folks have socks. Here’s my $0.02, for what it’s worth. (About that, I reckon.)

I’ve owned several Stihls, and loved every one of them. Never had any other; never saw any reason to. Wait, no that’s not true; I had some p.o.s. electric(!) chainsaw when I lived in California. Fits, donnit?

If you’re going to cut more than an hour or two in a day, it’s worth it to have a more powerful saw. If you’re going to cut less, it might be better to have a lighter weight saw. Yeah, that sounds counter-intuitive.

The crystal meth heads recently stole my Stihl 046 (might be the same as the MS 460 – Stihl is GOOFY with their naming conventions). It was a bad mutha and murdered hundreds of trees very successfully and without incident. They also got my Stihl MS 200 T “arborist” saw; that one was a little beauty – very nice for overhead work, where the 046 kicks your butt by the end of the day.

Here at the Portland house, I have a Stihl MS 361 and it will cut all day long. Not as powerful as the 046, but also not quite as heavy.

Make sure your saw has the easy chain tightening deal. That’s a time saver.

Buy a LOT of chains. Wasting time on the job, sharpening a chain, is a TERRIBLE investment if you actually figure out the cost per hour. Keep a bunch of spares in the truck. When one gets dull, throw it in the truck, and pay some teenager to sharpen it after you get home. Or just throw it away.

My brother-in-law’s brother is a lumberjack in Alaska, and he showed me a really nifty trick. Tie a piece of good rope between the handle of a 1gal bar oil jug and a 1gal fuel jug, and you have ‘em both on a handle and in the right quantities. I met him when he was en route to hospital after severing a finger tendon on a not-in-use saw when he stumbled. When transporting your saw, keep the bar cover in place.

Set your bar oiler to use a lot of oil. Oil is cheap. Time lost to worn bars and chains is not. Sure, the saw will spit a bit more goo on your clothes over the course of a weekend, but that’s what overalls are for. Or junky work jeans.

Buy a good set of Kevlar chaps, and wear them religiously. Their purpose is to gum up the chain and slow/stop it when (not if) you brush your leg. I only brushed mine a couple times (with the flat side of the bar), and both times it was at the end of a looooong day of cutting at 6,000 feet (and I live at sea level). Physical fatigue leads to mental fatigue, and a moment’s indiscretion with a chainsaw can have life-altering consequences.

With the 361 I bought the dorky-looking (but super practical) Stihl combination helmet / face shield / ear muffs. Looks stupid. Works great.

The screen kind of face shield is FAR better than the plastic windshield kind. The screen is enough to keep the chips and sawdust from getting in your eyes, and it lets your face breathe so you don’t get as hot.

A good chainsaw motor mechanic can tune the motor by sound. When it sounds juuuust right when he burps the throttle, he knows he has the jets set just right.

Get a spare air filter to leave in the truck. Don’t forget to clean the filter out every few hours. The intake is a sawdust magnet.

If you let the chain get too loose, it’s dangerous and can jump the tracks. But if you keep it too tight, it overheats the chain and the bar. If you can easily pull the middle of the chain up, with thumb and index finger, high enough that the teeth exit the bar, it’s too loose.

New chains stretch a lot at first. Keep in mind when you have a new chain on, and stop more frequently to check and adjust the tension.

Don’t forget to screw the bar oil tank and premix fuel tank caps back on (the saw) after you refill, or you’ll spill both alllll down your pants and boots. DAHIK.

Steel-toed boots are a good idea. Loose sleeves etc are not.

I won’t give you any cutting or felling advice except this: stop and clear yourself an exit path often. Don’t stand in a tangle of cut off branches while cutting bigger branches or the trunk. Plan for a good fell, but assume a rotten one. Trees and wind have (evil) minds of their own.

Oh, and one more thing. Scratch the premix ratio into the fuel filler cap with the point of a sharp knife, so you always have it when you need it.

Bleg: Chainsaw advice

Dear Lazyweb,

I’m ready to buy a gasoline chainsaw. I’ve only used one a couple of times so I plan to take a class.

Any advice to get started? Price isn’t the main consideration. I’m not looking to buy the cheapest or the most expensive, but I’m willing to buy what I need to get through a bad day.

About the only thing I know is that over the years my dad became a fan of Stihl chainsaws. Dad grew up poor during the Great Depression. He wasn’t the kind of guy who bought expensive things to impress people. He tended to take the cheap route first and only take the expensive route if the cheap route didn’t work, so I consider that a pretty strong endorsement of Stihl.

Tech bleg update: WiFi problem solved

A month ago I wrote about my WiFi problem. The laptops connected fine, but the desktop in the back bedroom would no longer get a usable signal. That desktop is in a cubby under the desk, with its antenna about eight inches off the floor.

I took the advise of several people and bought an Eforcity external antenna for the WiFi PCI card. I unscrewed the original stub antenna, screwed in the Eforcity’s cable, and placed the Eforcity antenna on top of the desk.

Problem solved. Best $6.45 I ever spent. I still don’t know why the desktop’s WiFi suddenly stopped getting a good signal after working fine for six months, but it works now.

Thanks for the advice, all.

WordPress bleg: how to get keyword tags, ShareThis in RSS?

Dear Lazyweb,

I’ve noticed some of the blogs I read in RSS show the keywords/tags and a ShareThis link. Anyone got the WordPress template code or plugin for that magical sorcery?

Bleg: how to cut WordPress’s CPU usage?

My ISP is telling me I still have massive CPU usage. In an attempt to get it under control I’m experimenting with some WordPress settings. The first step was to put the Recent Comments sidebar on hiatus.

I may install a caching plug-in to see if that helps.

Any other ideas for reducing WordPress CPU usage?

Bleg: help me fix my wifi connection

Dear Lazyweb,

So over the last few months I’ve been having problems with my wifi connection I haven’t had before.

We can get a good signal on the laptops, which we almost always use in the living room near the Linksys wifi router. The laptops use their built-in wifi. Intel, probably.

The problem is with the desktop PC in the back bedroom at the far end of the house. That connection is slow and frequently drops. Rebooting the computer usually but not always restores the connection.

That computer is in a cubby under the desk and has a NetGear PCI wireless card. Its antenna is maybe six inches off the floor. Putting the PC on top of the desk isn’t an option because the kids would trip over the cables and pull it off of the desk. We’ve had the computer for almost a year in this same spot. It used to be fine, but the connection has become very unreliable in the last few months.

Some remedies I’ve tried:

  • Updating the Linksys router firmware.
  • Resetting the router to all of the default settings.
  • Changing the channels the wifi router uses.
  • Updating the NetGear software on the Windows XP PC.
  • Replacing the Ethernet cable between the cable modem and wifi router.

One theory is that we have a new source of radio interference in the house, but I’ll be darned if I can put my finger on what it is.

Any ideas appreciated. Has anyone tried the PCI cards with a long cable that attaches to an antenna that sits on the desk? If I can’t fix this for free I’m just about ready to do the magic dance that unleashes money from my clenched fists.

Help me pick out a watch for my 40th birthday

Dear Lazyweb,

The big 4 Oh approacheth. My wife asked me what I wanted for my birthday, as she always does, and this time I gave it a little more thought than usual. I decided a watch would be a good marker for this milestone in my life.

I haven’t been much of a watch wearer. I’ve got a gold Seiko that was a high school graduation present from my other, a Timex Ironman I used to wear for backpacking, a Fossil I requested as a Christmas present during a watch experiment a few years back, and an old windup, gold Elgin I inherited from my dad. I’ve rarely worn any of them, but the thin Elgin is my favorite for its size and minuscule weight.

These are my criteria:

  • Silver, because I already have a gold watch
  • Self-winding, because I might not wear it every day and I want the time to be right
  • Lighter and thinner is better – I never wear the Fossil because it’s too clunky
  • Budget. Hmmm. It looks like you can get a nice watch for $2-300. I guess I could spend up to $500 or so – I’ve never lost a watch so it’s a safe investment, but I’d have to really, really like it.
  • Date would be nice, and glow-in-the-dark hands would be really nice
  • Big, clear numbers are a must. I ain’t gettin’ any younger!

All help appreciated.

UPDATE AND BUMP: Of the watches I’ve looked at the Hamilton field watches appeal to me. Classic, no-nonsense designs in a variety of styles.

Mystery PC Beeping Solved

Dear Lazyweb,

The mystery PC beep has been solved. It was the NetGear WiFi card after all. I didn’t see any settings in the program for sounds, but my wife discovered that if you right-clicked on the menu bar icon there was a check mark next to “Enable ‘Internet Connected’ Notification.” Once she unchecked it the problem went away.

Why is My PC Beeping All the Time?

Dear Lazyweb,

My new PC beeps pretty frequently. (It sounds like bing-bing or ching-ching – two pleasant notes.) OS is Windows XP Home Edition SP2. I have a Netgear wireless card with a mildly hyperactive status bar icon. I checked its prefs but didn’t see any sound settings.

It happens when nothing is running except Firefox. It isn’t happening on the hour or half hour. There are not alert boxes or anything. It’s happened as far as I can tell ever since I got the computer.

What’s up with that?

UPDATE: Mystery solved. It was the NetGear wireless card after all.

Bleg: Value of Porcelain Dolls?

Dear Lazyweb,

My mother-in-law bought a collection of 150 porcelain dolls. She wants to sell them on eBay, but we haven’t got a clue as to what they’re worth. I’ve checked local bookstores and Amazon and I am unable to find a book that lists values for porcelain dolls.

Any ideas of where to look for price resources? If we only had one or two I’d be willing to ask on a forum, but for 150 I need a book or a person.