Simple iPhone Earphone Mod

My Eargells were colorful: those available today are clear
When it comes to headphones I'm more of an over-the-ear, enclosed-back kind of guy. In my mind there's still no substitute for big drivers and a sealed enclosure to get decent sound quality. That said, those kind of headphones are bulky to carry and conspicuous when you wear them so sometimes you need more pocketable earphones.

Perhaps I have freaky ears but I cannot find in-ear headphones small enough to fit in my ear canals and the standard headset that comes with the iPhone falls out of my ears with little provocation. I have to hold my head absolutely still and, because they fit so loosely, the sound quality, which is marginal at the best of times, is weak and tinny. Certainly I could not run wearing them or even walk around in them.

I contemplated the hack that I've seen to make custom silicon earpieces but that seemed like a lot of effort for the crappy stock headset. Then I came across Jabra eargells. They seem to be intended for ear-bud style headsets but with a little persuasion they'll fit on the standard Apple earphones. They don't stay in place very convincingly though so I added a couple of drops of plastic-specific super glue to them to keep them from moving. I can now run wearing these headphones and the sound quality is much improved as the little sound there is is directed into your ear instead of spilling out. The sound quality does not approximate a decent pair of enclosed headphones but that was never the point. At least I can now use the OEM headphones when I'm out and about which were previously useless to me. I can stuff them in a pocket and if I loose or break them I won't be upset.

Cost: less then $10.
Time invested: 10 minutes.

Adventure in RC Helicopters: Are We Having Fun Yet?

I gave up on waiting for xheli to get a working battery to me for my Honey Bee V2; I know they're super busy in the run up to Christmas but it was incredibly frustrating to have my helicopter in-hand but not be able to fly it. I ordered a couple of spare batteries from another supplier. I wish I could tell you that experience was better but I ordered what was advertised as genuine eSky batteries but I received generic, un-badged batteries.They were about half the price of the eSky batteries from xHeli and I couldn't be bothered to go through another round of emails and returning an order so I've kept them. At least they took a charge.

While I was looking into batteries I got all paranoid about LiPo batteries failing and burning down the house. The RC forums seem to be littered with tales of LiPo batteries failing  and either exploding or catching fire for no good reason. To protect myself and my home I bought a LiPo charging bag. That's a fancy name for a fire-retardant bag you but the batteries in while they're charging, and when they are charged, so that, if something does go wrong and there is a fire or an explosion, it remains safely contained.  Word to the wise: don't put the charger itself in the bag. I did the first time and the charger must have over-heated because its lights were flashing some combination that wasn't even deciphered on the badly translated key. After being left to cool it seems to be working fine again now.

I had been using the simulator to understand what controlled what but it turns out to be an unsubtle model of the real thing. Hovering in the simulator is easy; a little power, a little rudder and there you are hanging in the air - real life is another story. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I knew that, being older, I would find learning to fly a little tougher than your average teenager weened on video games so I decided to follow Radd's School of Rotary Flight. He subscribes to the slow-but-steady school of thought.  Basically, you keep the helicopter on the deck and learn the controls before you even try to hover. In theory it's the best way to learn; in practice it's dull. You have to expend 9 batteries worth of flight time without ever leaving the deck. Movements outside a 1 foot square constitute a 'crash' with the punishment of having to reset everything if you stray outside that area. I thought this was supposed to be fun?

Transmitter Settings
One obstacle I found was that the manual gives bad information about setting the slide switches on the transmitter to setup the mode and orientation of the controls. For mode 2 it describes setting the aileron = 'down', elevator = 'up', throttle = 'down' and rudder = 'up'. I found on my example the aileron and elevator switches had to be set the opposite way than the manual describes. After discovering that the controls felt a little logical at least.

The other obstacle I encountered was that the helicopter always wants to slide left which makes the ground exercises tricky unless you hold the aileron stick hard to the right much of the time. The simulator does a poor job of representing this effect. This drift is especially pronounced on a low friction surface (like the tiles in my kitchen) and the helicopter skates and drifts all over the place as soon as the skids get remotely 'light'. It seems that the helicopter starts to drift before the cyclic controls have any effect on direction.

All of which just encouraged me to race through to that 10th battery when you are actually allowed to leave the deck for the first time. It is fun to see your helicopter in the air for the first time. It's less fun to see its first crash. Controlling movement in the air turns out to be very different from making the helicopter scoot across the kitchen floor. For one thing the movements on the stick have to be way more subtle.  For another, there's no breeze in the kitchen. Even when it looks totally still outside I'm learning that there is wind movement pushing your helicopter out of your control.

Which leads to your first crash. I say 'crash' but that is something of an over statement; 'heavy landing' is more accurate. I was over soft ground with the training gear on when a breath of wind pushed the helicopter behind me and threaten to topple it over. I was only three feet off the ground so I did what any beginner would do; I panicked and cut the throttle. I must have come down pretty hard through because the blades weren't level after that and spinning them up caused them to clip the tail boom. It's a scary thing to see your new toy bent out of shape although it turned out that I'd just popped a bearing out of the center hub. It didn't take long to diagnose or to fix.

Harder to diagnose was a transmitter 'problem'. The ET4 transmitter has Voltage Indicator lights and the manual says "When the last light turns red and flash, the dry batteries are in low capacity and need to be replaced".  Either the transmitter eats batteries or the batteries that shipped with it are crap because, after playing on the simulator a bit (the transmitter has to be turned on if you're using it as your controller) and my 10 helicopter battery cycles the transmitter's bottom two lights (red and yellow) were the only two lit. 'No problem', I thought. 'I still have some time left before I need to change them according to the manual.' Wrong! With the green lights out the transmitter won't bind to the helicopter. As this coincided with my 'heavy landing' I saw the transmitter having no effect on the helicopter and assumed the worst - that I'd burnt out the 4in1. After much fretting and fiddling I tried fresh batteries in the transmitter and all was well again.

So that's where I'm at. I still can't fly but, given enough room to drift around I can hover ... a bit... a very little bit. I've found the manual and simulator to be inaccurate in places. My helicopter is no longer virgin - it has some dirt and scuffs on it but I haven't had to use any of the spares that I ordered yet. To answer my original question, yes, we're having fun already even though I've got a long way to go.

Adventure in RC Helicopters: Go-Faster S107

S107 Easy Hack
While still waiting to get a working battery for my Honey Bee V2 I continue to mess around with the Syma S107  in the office. It's a great distraction: if I get frustrated with code I just go into a quiet machine room with my toy helicopter and mess around for five minutes. Invariably, when I get back to the desk the problem I was trying to escape doesn't seem nearly as daunting. Perhaps my employer should provide all its software engineers with this toy to make them more productive.

Anyway, I wanted to make the S107 go a little faster. I tried what some have suggested, removing the weights from the ends of the flybar but it became too unstable. Instead, I removed the tail do-dads, boom support struts, and rear skid legs. You loose a little weight and strength but it can still survive a crash pretty well. Because the center of gravity has moved forward slightly the helicopter will now move forward at center stick and it takes quite a bit of rear stick just to hover. So, at the cost of a little stability you get a lot faster forward momentum.

The only other hack I've done to the S107 is remove the spring that held the throttle at 0%. Now you can fly it more like a proper RC helicopter with two fingers holding each stick and the throttle not fighting against you all the time. If you do this just remember that you must cut the throttle before you crash otherwise you will do more damage to your helicopter (again, like the bigger, hobby helicopters) which is probably the reason the spring is there in the first place. 

Adventure in RC Helicopters: Battery / Charger Problems

I mentioned how excited I was at the arrival of my Honey Bee V2 but how I wasn't able to fly due to either a battery or charger problem. Yesterday a new charger finally arrived from xHeli but, as I feared, it didn't resolve the issue. So I still can't fly; I'm still frustrated and my issue remains open on the xHeli forum. Maybe I'll get to fly before Christmas; who knows?

Update: They got back to me via the forum and now want me to send the battery back to them for testing. How long before they get around to testing it and sending me a working battery? I am getting tired of the time and effort it is taking with xHeli to get a working product so I ordered a couple more batteries from another supplier to see if I can get satisfaction quicker that way.

Update 2: xHeli sent me an RMA number. Withing 24 hours I sent them the battery. Now all I can do is wait until someone can get a good battery to me.

Memory: The Poor-Man's Upgrade

Circuit Tracks
Back when I used to build and over-clock my own PC's Memory was called the poor-man's upgrade. For much less money than replacing your CPU, which usually involved replacing your motherboard and all the hassle that entailed, you could max out your memory and keep your PC's performance contemporary for another 12 months or so. These days it's just not cost effective to build your own PC but it's still useful to be able upgrade your desktop when required.

My current desktop is the case in point. I tend to buy off the shelf PC's and then add to them as required. I expect a PC to last me about 3 years or a little more. My current workstation is a HP Core 2 Quad 4 CPU running Vista 64 that I bought a little over 2 years ago. I know a lot of people complain about Vista 64 but I actually like it. It has been tweaked in the past couple of years. To drive my main monitor, a Dell 30" LCD that I love, I had to replace th video card. To power the video card I had to replace the power supply. I've added a couple of extra internal hard drives to it to keep up with my ever expanding photo archive and I'll add another before I'm done.

For most people and most tasks this PC would fly but most of the programs I like to use are memory hogs. Sketchup, Lightroom, Sony Vegas, PhotoShop among others can each eat 2-3gb of memory. My PC came with 4gb so I should have been OK but Vista itself is resource hungry even without any of those other multimedia programs running and I noticed the memory usage often topping out at over 90%. I guess at that point the virtual memory (disk space) takes over but it is much slower so I was starting to experience performance issues waiting for these programs to respond or slow performance as the programs themselves were running sometimes.

To update my PC I took advantage of a Black Friday offer and bought 8gb of 'gamers' memory (basically memory with heat sinks attached from what I can see) the maximum my motherboard supports for around $150 shipped from NewEgg. It took a little fiddling and repositioning of one of the machine's hard drives to fit the new, chunky memory into the compact tower that houses my PC but I did wrestle it into place and it seems to have done the job. I can now run Lightroom, Sketchup and Google Earth at the same time and the memory usage doesn't reach 70%. I guess that means I'm not using scratch disk as much because all those programs seem to be running stutter free again.
I'm not saying that upgrading memory will make your old machine new again but it still seems to be a cheap way to keeping your middle aged machine current if you use a lot of memory intensive programs. Certainly, tonight I'm very happy with my $150 investment. Hopefully I'll remain so for another 12 months or so by which time 8gb of memory will be common-place rather than excessive and it will be time to upgrade properly.

Replica Movie Prop Obsessions: Part 1

PAD 2007 - 155: If You Recognise This You're As Big A Geek As Me

I was digging around through boxes in the basement this weekend when I came across a couple of boxes of partially finished movie prop replicas I had once slaved over and it took me back. It's a story of obsession, betrayal, politics and the main stage for this story was a forum called the Replica Prop Forum. What period does this story take place in? Star Wars action figures had just been re-released with their new buffed, body-builder physiques; VHS was still king and George hadn't yet broken every fanboy's heart by diluting the franchise into something targeted at pre-teens and appealing to their video-game aesthetic.

But I'm getting way ahead of myself. This obsession started out as a way for a recent emigre to California to pass some time. It starts out with me obsessively combing through every Toys R Us within driving distance looking for 'rare' action figures freshly put out the shelves. It quickly progressed to a tiny apartment looking like a KayBee outlet and a feeling that toys were not enough. I wanted harder, more grown-up stuff. I wanted exact copies of the props I saw in my favorite movies.

In those days the community was small and centered around an Internet forum called The Replica Prop Forum, or to those in the know, the RPF. Back then a as yet undiscovered Adam Savage hung out there with the rest of us obsessives although I didn't pay him much attention as his obsession was making a perfect replica of the Maltese Falcon. My obsession was much more mainstream; I wanted to own the SciFi Excalibur, Luke's lightsaber hilt from the original movie (ANH). Unlike Adam Savage, I wasn't alone, and it wasn't hard to find out that many of the original Star Wars screen used props were modeled around hardware ready accessible in the 70's. Unfortunately, that hardware was a lot more scarce in the 90's and there where a lot more people looking for it.

The lightsaber I wanted was based on the flash handle of an old, large format press camera. It's a tube that held the flash bulb at one end, the 3 battery cells went at the other and it joined to the camera via a clamp at the middle. I now knew the name of the thing I was looking for (a Graflex 3-cell flash) but so did everyone else. Ebay was in its infancy but it was full of fanboys like me looking for our 3-cell flashguns. It was equally full of merchants trying to trick you into buying the wrong flash tube with illegible photos, hinted at authenticity and fained ignorance.

After some time, I grew tired of being outbid at the last minute for a genuine Graflex flash (in eBay parlance, ‘sniping' was a new phenomenon that had to be executed manually not via some web-service or bot) but I learned via my new RPF friends that I could build an acceptable analogue out of hardware store parts. I was still relatively new to the US and rented my apartment so I had never been in Home Depot before. I was like a kid in a candy store and I, and many others, spent many hours trawling the isles of our local hardware store looking for common, cheap components we could substitute for the actual components of a genuine Graflex flash. I knew every piece of the Graflex flash even though I had never even held one on my hand. I poured over prop-geek porn: the Visual Dictionaries, The Power of the Myth, The Art of Star Wars, and a hugely expensive and massive, illustrated Japanese tomb ‘The Star Wars Chronicles'. I learned to use my first CAD software (2D DeltaCAD - long before Google bought Sketchup) just so I could make working diagrams that I shared on the first website I ever built on Geocities (I learned HTML just to be able to create this site). I've actually tried to kill this embarrassing website many times but, even though Geocities died off ears ago, my old website won't go away. It is one of the skeletons in my closet.

Via the RPF we hardware saber builders shared out discoveries. A Dremel was the badge of office and when I finally completed my own Luke ANH lightsaber I was immensely proud of it. From a distance it didn't look too bad. It was the right size and if you squinted when you held it in your hand I could almost believe that it was the movie prop. The few friends I deemed geeky enough to show it to were fooled but I knew the guys on the RPF would recognise it as a cheap fake in no time. So, for a few weeks, it tided me over but soon enough I was back on eBay searching for the hard stuff again.

DIY PVC Table/Skater Dolly


A table dolly is a small, low profile camera support designed to be used on a table top and often used to add movement to product shots. Its axles are usually adjustable to allow it to travel in straight lines or curves and circles. It can be used for a lot more than product shots though. On a suitable, smooth floor it can be used for low-angle tracking and trucking shots. If you have a folding table (borrow one from craft services if you don’t) or a board on a couple of saw horses you can also easily simulate a slider or a traditional full sized tripod and dolly movement.

There are lots of commercial table dollies available at all sorts of price points. A lot of people have also made DIY versions ranging from the complex copies of the commercial offerings to a bean bag balanced on a skateboard. This version is very influenced by the Frugal Filmmaker’s project ( I’m a big fan of his video tutorials and attitude) with a few key differences. The main one is that his design is intended for smaller camcorders but I wanted to be able to use it with a larger DSLR with a decent lens too. Too this end I needed the dolly to be more stable, so I made it have a larger wheel base. I also wanted it to take a more substantial head so I made it accept any standard head with a 1/4” screw mount. Being lazy, I didn’t want to have to cut any PVC pipe either so I came up with a simple drill, glue and screw design using easily sourced, hardware store, parts.


  • 1 Rollerblade (go to the thrift store if you don’t have one lying around from the 90’s; they’ll have plenty to choose from for a few dollars. It doesn’t need to be very high quality. It just needs to have 4 wheels and bearings in decent shape.)
  • 5x 1/4” diameter, 1.5”long machine screws and appropriate washers and nuts for axles and to mount head. If you salvage the axles from the skate wheels you only need 1 screw to mount the tripod head.
  • 3/4” PVC pipe components
    • 4x connectors
    • 4x 3” risers (threaded both ends)
    • 4x Screw on end caps
    • 2x plain T-joint
    • 1x T-joint threaded incoming pipe
    • 1x screw in plug
    • 2x 90 degree elbows
  • Glue
    • PVC Cement
    • Epoxy (the 7 min version specifically for plastic works best)
  • Optional: Goof-off or some kind of solvent to remove the sticker residue.


  • Drill
  • 1/4” bit
  • Allen Keys (to disassemble the skate)
  • spanner/wrench

1. Preparation:

  • Remove the wheels from the skate. If the axles on the skate are useable, salvage them as well.
  • Remove stickers from the PVC components. This is the hardest part of the project but with the stickers covering all these components they won’t go together properly.
Running gear:

  • Drill a hole in the center of each of the screw on end caps.
  • Screw the wheels on to the end caps. Use a washer or two between the cap and the wheel and the nut and the wheel. You can either use new hardware or the original axles from the skate. I used the original skate axles (hex keys required) and nylon washers I had lying around between the end caps and the wheels. The wheels need to be tight enough to be held securely but not so tight that they don’t run freely.
  • Glue the axle in place in the end cap using the epoxy for further rigidity. Set aside to cure.
  • Glue a riser into each side of a plain T-joint using PVC Cement and a connector into the top of it - repeat for the other set of running gear.
  • Screw the wheel assemblies on to the end of each riser.


    • Glue a connector into each smooth end of your thread T-joint.
    • Glue a 90 degree elbow onto each of the connectors. It is critical that this assembly is true if all 4 wheels are to sit level at once.

    Tripod head mount:

    • Drill a hole in the center of screw in PVC plug.
    • With a washer on the bolt, screw it through the hole you made. Using a set bolt on the screw and the washer make the screw protrude about a 1/4” through the plug and is solidly in place.


      • Screw the tripod mount into the threaded t-joint on the body.
      • Mount any small to medium sized tripod head on to this. A small ball head is the most compact for traveling but a pan or small fluid head is easier to use.
      • Slip the running gear onto the body. Friction will be enough to hold them in place but they should be loose enough to set a turning radius.
      • Mount the camera onto the tripod head and you’re ready to roll.

      Just like any other camera movement, using the table-top dolly takes a little practice to get smooth. Use it to circle, or describe an arc, around or past an object. You can also dolly past or along a subject. You can also truck into or out from a subject. If a small subject is too low relative to your camera’s lens a small, improvised stage can be used (an upturned glass is useful). Set the radius of your turn before moving the camera and don’t try to adjust it in the middle of a movement.


      Adventure in RC Helicopters: Honey Bee V2 FP Arrives!

      Yes, I am that geeky

      Very excited as my new Honey Bee V2 helicopter arrived via UPS this morning - of course I was in the shower.

      I opened the box and checked everything was there and undamaged - excitement rises! But then I encounter my first problem: I plug the Li-Po battery into the E-sky charger and both LEDs just keep flashing. According to the information on the charger this means “battery goes wrong” (another example of Google Translation at work?) which I assume means that there’s something wrong with the battery. I get in touch with via their chat feature on their site and 'George' says he’s sending me a new charger - I don’t understand why when the badly translated lights indicate that it’s probably a fault with the battery but what do I know?

      Oh well, at least I can try flying the virtual RC copter with the included software. I try to install it on my Win7 laptop and it fails to launch with the Application Error “Exception EComPort in module fms.exe at 008B728. Registry error (win error code: 2).”

      A little digging around reveals that the software is actually freeware and it needs a ‘virtual com port’ to work. The solution the site describes doesn’t seem to work. I find another program called VSPE - that says I need to pay $25 for the 64bit port of the ‘free’ program but it does seem to work without me hitting my credit card again. Then FMS hits another problem “D3DRM.dll is not downloaded”. Back to the forum. I finally find the missing dll and place it in the FMS directory. Finally I get the program to work. I download and install a model of the Honey Bee V2 and calibrate my transmitter for use with the program (for the record, it must be switched on to work. Finally I ready to fly but I’m out of time.

      A frustrating first experience - at least the helicopter looks good sitting on my desk.

      Adventure in RC Helicopters: New Heli Ordered

      After much deliberation I ordered a Esky Honey Bee V2 FP from The other strong contender was the Falcon 40 from Exceed but, after reading around, the consensus seems to be that the Honey Bee is a little more robust. As, doubt, I'll crash my new toy while I'm learning this was the deciding factor for me. I also ordered some spares for the Honey Bee, the training legs and some other pieces to repair my very battered S107. Even with tax and shipping the total was less than $150. I think that’s pretty good bang for the buck.

      Adventure in RC Helicopters: Introduction

      My little brother very generously sent me a little S107 co-axial helicopter for my birthday. I really hadn’t being paying attention to the current state of technology in these little toys but as soon as I was up and flying around the house I was sold. The co-axial was so easy to fly but I wanted something more challenging; something bigger that could fly outdoors. A little research revealed that the next step up was probably a 4-channel, fixed pitch helicopter. Whereas the co-axial practically flies itself as long as you’re careful with the throttle, a single bladed helicopter flies more like the real deal and is much more tricky to learn. As I read the various tutorials around the web it became obvious that I shouldn’t expect to be lifting off the ground for at least a week or more and that I should expect to crash and have to repair my helicopter even if I was cautious and patient.