Sunday, January 6, 2013

LitterMaid Elite 9000 - both lights flashing (error code) with pictures

Well, Happy New Year 2013.

This year has started off with a 'sick' automated Litter box, a LitterMaid Elite 9000.

The automated litter box that LitterMaid sold years ago was considered by many to be a solid workhorse of a product and often recommended.  The more recent 'improved' versions of them -- well, not so much.

Ours had both lights flashing in some sort of error mode.  Searching for Google with the terms of 'littermaid elite both lights flashing' (no quotes), we found the online manual ... and that this particular error code was not in the manual.  Nice going there, LitterMaid corporation!

Fortunately, there were some more useful pages on the web from individual customers.  One of these pointed out the limit switches being the likely culprit and yes, some of the fine dust from the litter had apparently motivated our box to bind up in this fashion.

One of the things that I didn't find were any photographs of the switches in question, so I've made some up with notations to help others.  They're below.

One final thing - - I'd recommend NOT trying to put any WD-40 or other types of lubrication on the plastic cylinders that work with the limit switches - they'll only attract and retain litter dust and make it more likely to bind up.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Fiscal Cliff ...

Hey Congress!   Searching for places to cut the Federal Budget?

Here's $13B/year:

Yes, that link is to an analysis for Climate Change, but what it reveals is that there's a bag of Taxpayer's money - - $13B each year - - being spent on various subsidies to private industry for fossil fuels.
And this is in addition to avoiding revenue collection, sincer the fossil fuel energy sector also has quite low (cheap) tax structures and low mineral rights fees.

All told, it is a give-away to the fossil fuel industry, and these three factors all work in concert together to minimize consumer demand for products which are more energy-efficient.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Steve Jobs & the Digital Era

An interesting juxtaposition this week.

On Wednesday, we lost Steve Jobs after his long fight with pancreatic cancer. Steve was of course a tremendous force in innovation in Personal Computers including the Macintosh.

One of the first digital cameras available to the public was the Apple Quicktake 100 back in 1994. While it wasn't a commercial success for Apple, the entire consumer market for photography underwent a profound earthquake of change from this disruptive technology. Today, film is virtually gone, as are also many small local camera stores. We still have cameras, of course, but they're now digitally based and our methods of making photo albums have also changed, with custom self-published books.

What also happened this week was the culmination of an overly long photo album project. Back in 2004, we went to Peru and with primarily an SLR, came back home with roughly 2000 images ... 75% of which were on 35mm film. A lot of digitizing and organization (no EXIF data) followed in intermittent spurts, but has now finally been concluded: an analog/digital hybrid.

This wasn't our first digital photo album, but it was quite a tedious one to work through, because of it being transitional from its analog component. It reminds us how years of innovation and improvements by people like Steve Jobs have resulted in greater productivity and ease of creating finished products - - hopefully, we won't become jaded and complacent when we realize not only how recent these innovations have been, but also how much more flexibility & freedom they have given us in making great works too.

Our parents grew up in in age where automobiles were young, airplanes were infants, telephones were new ... and then as they raised us, the solid state transistor was invented, which enabled Man's landing on the moon, as well as many other innovations. And in the closet, there's probably some classical old photo albums. Take some time this weekend to see your parents and pull out a few of those preserved memories ... and if you're smart, you'll take a digital photo of each of its pages, and if the images contain familymembers, you'll also record the names & relationships for future generations.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NJ's $400m 'Race to the Top' - adults misbehaving

Over the past two weeks, there's been much to do about how locally here in New Jersey, an (ahem) 'error' resulted in losing $400M worth of Federal Aid.

Naturally, the gears of Political Spin turned, to try to avoid responsibility and deflect blame on others: it is the classical "If its good, I get credit, but if its bad, it must be someone else's fault" - - with exactly the underlying message on ethics that that entails. As usual, our 'Leaders' actions in misbehavior sends the worst possible message to our children (and students), which is that its okay to lie and cheat.

And specifically for NJ Governor Chris Christie, we can see that he has conspicuously failed to issue a clear (and equally loud) public apology to those in the Federal Government that he had previously blamed for his own administration's error. Too late to do this now - the train has left the station and his credible opportunity window has passed, and Christie thus gets a failing grade in Ethics Class.

- - -

However, there is another interesting point that has been missed within all of the politically-generated spin-doctoring in regards to the Race to the Top. People have forgotten the very basics: this was a competition, and not all entries were going to win (receive funding).

As such, let's apply one more "What If", centered on Ohio (who just beat NJ out for the last winning spot):

WHAT IF ... Ohio's entry had done a few points better on their entry?

Answer: all of this teeth gnashing and caterwauling on NJ's 4 point mistake would be utterly moot.

In life, there are winners and losers...and it doesn't take long to learn that we won't always win. As such, we need to be honest with ourselves and accept losing graciously ... which includes accepting responsibility for our actions, win or lose. It doesn't matter how lofty one's life position is, or becomes: the buck always stops.


Monday, March 1, 2010

A quick word on 'snowfall' photographs

(Alternate Title: "A foot of snow later...")

Thanks to it being an El Nino winter, there's been quite a bit of wintery mix precipitation that's been hitting the Northeastern USA this past month.

As such, there's the temptation to go take a digital photo that you're going to email to family & friends (probably to get some sympathy for snow shoveling).

So you go out and take a photo during the storm ... and all that nice white snow turns out a yucky dark grey in the photo - - that's probably not what you wanted, so why did this happen?

The short answer is "technology", specifically, your camera's automatic exposure system.

Yes, we've become quite accustomed to auto-everything cameras, but a downside of this is that the camera never knows what you're photographing, so it guesses.

Simplistically, this "guess" is known as 18% grey, and while it works great 90% of the time for us, where it doesn't work so well is when we have a low contrast scene - - and during a heavy snowfall is a low contrast scene.

With a low contrast scene, the camara's educated guesses often goes wrong: it is looking for "dark AND grey AND bright" contrasts, but it can't find what's not there.

So while a white cow in a snowstorm (light on light) or a black cat in a coal mine (dark on dark) are both intuitively obvious to us, for the camera, it sees both as low contrast and hard to figure out. Subsequently, it can get the overall exposure settings wrong.

Typically, the camera's bad guess is that the cow/snow is "too bright" of an overall scene (it can't find true black), so it sets for a short exposure, which turns white into grey (underexposed). Similarly, the cat/coal is interpreted as "too dark" (can't find bright white), so it calls for a long exposure...and this turns black into grey (overexposed).

Here's an example of an image that's was a low contrast light scene, so it was auto-exposed to be a bad "grey" shot (underexposed), which was corrected later in post-processing:

The trick to avoid this problem is pretty simple: be aware of how your 'automatic' camera settings work, and anticipate what it will do based upon what you know is in the picture. The simple rule of thumb to remember is that the camera will want to turn everything grey if the scene lacks a good cue (bright sunny sky for contrast) to help it out.

With digital, its pretty easy to take a test shot and then adjust your settings. And if you forget (or not bother), you can fix the incorrect exposures later in post-processing. Its up to you to decide how much its worth a little bit more effort upfront when taking the picture, both to get better overall results, as well as to save time later from less post-processing.

And of course, if you do choose to override the default exposure while taking the photo to get what you want, do also make sure to remember to set your override settings back to normal afterwords.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Hen Wallow Falls


The Cosby campground & picnic area is around 60 miles from Maryville, TN. A 1.5 hour drive, which is well removed from the first time here, in the Summer of 1973.

Those many years ago, we were camping in the Smokies, with my parents and my brother Mark. Based on this trail, I assume we stayed in Cosby, for those many years ago, Dad took the two of us boys for a hike in the woods.

To this day, an austere 3"x5" photograph of Mark & I, sitting on a large rock at the base of the falls is still a part of my parents' "on display" collection of household photos. And to this day, I recall the sights of that walk, mostly being the huge logs and standing deadwood of the American Chestnut, which had been wiped out decades earlier by a blight.

Thirty six years later, I'm the same age as my father was when he took us on this hike. And along the trail, there's still some slowly composting logs - not quite as huge as I remember them, but still 3-4ft diameter and arrow-straight for 50 to 75 feet (or perhaps even more). T

A unique recollection, since what I've enjoyed in the hikes in the Smokey Mountains have been sights such as the waterfalls themselves, and here's a long discussion of times past and of the "boring" fauna of a quiet walk in the woods that lack a spectacular view of mountains or water or wildlife.

As the trail undulated for its 2+ miles back, a sight again seen was more scat from black bear. Fresh. Approaching the falls itself, a convergence of groups resulted in easily a score of human visitors to the base of the falls, and the predictable chatter and bustle that often accompanies groups of youths (a soccer team, we understand). A reminder of the population who visits this National Park and a strong contrast to the day that the three of us were here, all by ourselves. Of course, this day happened to be a Saturday, which clearly can be an influence on attendance.

After a break, we returned, and reflected on our visit, including my prior visit so many years earlier. There wasn't any huge standing deadwood with the Chestnut's distinctive spiral in its grain like I recall so vividly, but I did see a fallen icon that looked incrementally less ancient than the others that seemed to be in the appropriate region and size.


Monday, February 16, 2009

4 x 5DII in Freezing cold, snow and wet

There was a recent report of a photo-journey to Antarctica, where several Canon 5Dmk2 dSLRs failed, while essentially "none" of the other cameras onboard did.

The above link is to, where a gentleman posted a "mine didn't fail" report. A long conversation resulted, with one poster pointing out (correctly) that there were a lot of issues and that the report of a non-failure wasn't particularly insightful, particularly when it was in attempted response to a field report of failures.

Unfortunately, while some of the exchange did get a bit heated, the moderators at DPreview have decided to slash-n-burn their way through the thread, and in doing so, resulted in collateral damage of posts that did not have any possible violations or controversies. Which included both of mine. As such, I see that I can no longer trust dpreview to retain professionally based objective works.

I'm not going to ask DPreview to consider undoing their moderation - that's their prerogative, and their actions reflect on their reputation only. Instead, I'll reiterate where it can't be removed:

Philip Harle wrote:
> Spent last week on the Light & Land photo trip to Glencoe. I was
> amongst 4 5DII users who managed to get their camera soaking wet and
> cold shooting for a whole day whilst it was constantly snowing. None
> of the cameras had the slightest problem.

I'm not about to re-write my long objective statistical analysis that has apparently been removed by the Moderators for whatever reason. My editorial comment on this matter is that I have noted that it has been removed.

To reiterate in much shorter form - - my apologies, but I'm not about to go into the same level of detail:

Part I:

- The above 'zero failures' report is a sample size of (n=4 x 1 day)
- The controversial Antarctica trip was a sample size of (n=26 x YY days)

That's at least a 60:1 ratio in the "power" of the respective statistical samples. As such, even if the suggested 20-25% failure rate is true, this report's sample size lacks sufficient sampling"power" to have a reliably high confidence to be able to detect the failure(s) in the first place.

Part II:

- most people don't really understand Statistics.
- most people don't really understand Test & Evaluation (methods & standards)
- most people don't really understand "self selected" sampling bias

Nor do most people understand how these interact and make the analysis of a complicated device used in uncontrolled settings and then subject to anecdotal reporting, variable judging and self-selection bias ... simply results in a mess to try to professionally analyze.

As such, all that can really be concluded is that the LL trip reported an 'alarmingly high' failure rate in 50% of their sample, which under a null hypothesis of 'All dSLRs are about the same' then may have been coupled with an 'alarmingly low' failure rate on the other 50%.

Part III:

It should be noted that even if the failures are eventually determined to have been caused by 'human error', there remains the niggling issue that said human errors were not randomly distributed, but clustered. To cut to the chase, something that significantly alters the probability of human-contributed errors ... infers a system design flaw.

Part IV:

How to rig a 'waterproof' test so that even an exposed Kleenex can pass?
I previously only said that it could be done. Here's some concrete suggestions as to how it can be done:

Method A: low flow rate + atomized to mist + extremely dry chamber + high temperature + air make-up + good separation distance = weak humidifier

Method B: medium flow rate + spread + very dry chamber + extreme cold + good separation distance = dry snow machine, or possibly even just verga

Method C: high flow rate + no spread + aimed horizontally at target + distance + gravity + splash control = water misses the test coupon

Method D: "before/after" weigh scale not sensitive enough to measure weight change from water, or use of a method that doesn't measure relevant change (eg, dimensions).

Method E: handling of sample after test (eg, time delay, allowing it to dry).