Sheryl and I painted a his (blue) and hers (red) Z-Scale trucks.  The size and printing capabilities were previously covered in Part 1. The models were washed in a soapy bath before painting.  The plastic were not primed beforehand, but we plan to spray with white primer coat the next go around. The 3d printing grain is noticeable only when examined closely (as you can see from the pictures).

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A couple weeks ago we visited a local hobby shop called Penn Valley Hobby Center  in Lansdale, PA.  Walking around the aisles flooded me with memories of my youth gluing together plastic models and rockets.  The shop specialized mostly in trains and they carried a size called N-Scale (1:148) which is the smallest I have ever seen.  Some internet searching revealed another scale called Z-Scale (1:220).  The table below show how Z-Scale translates to  some common objects.

  • NYC Block : 0.05 miles -> 14.4 inches
  • BMW 5 Series: 15.2 ft -> 0.82 inches

Z-Scale is not nearly has popular as the other train scales, buildings and accessories are scarce, and I cannot even imagine putting together and painting models.  I have been following 3D printing for a while and was wondering whether they could be used to print a fully assemblies Z-Scale city.  Discussion on the train forums hinted  print quality was  not high enough, but some simple math proved otherwise.  The 3D printing service company, Shapeways, specifies printing detail down to 0.3mm which is Z-Scale is actual 2.6 inches.  You would need a microscope to see this type of detail.

I placed an order for some Mac trucks and posted some pictures taken under a microscope.  If I can get these painted  my dream growing a mini city out of goo might be possible.

Imagine a Miniature Wunderland in Z-Scale!!!



Today we completed our new dining set for the eat-in kitchen. The room is fairly small, so I planned on a table for two. The base is a cast iron bistro table stand (intended for restaurants) that I ordered online. The 32″ table top was fabricated from a tan brown granite remnant by Flemington Granite. Have to say we were very pleased with their helpfulness and professionalism – not to mention their high quality work. Finding petite chairs was a challenge, but I eventually found something I liked in a Pottery Barn catalog. The chandelier is also new, and replaced an icky bright brass fixture. The room still has a ways to go, obviously… no molding, the walls need paint, and the plantation shutters for the windows won’t be here for a month or two. But that didn’t stop Bode and Tesla from having a relaxed Saturday morning tea party!


iphone_articleI’m an iPhone 3GS owner. My iPhone is my first Apple product and my first phone with a data plan. When I purchased it in November 2009, it was undoubtedly the best phone on the market; things have changed. Hardware-wise, the iPhone 4 is in the top of its class. While I believe the iPhone is a good phone for most people, there are a number of reasons why it’s no longer for me:

  1. Video Codec Support. Apple is particularly bad about supported video codecs. It’s clear why they restrict video codec playback: to encourage purchases from their iTunes store and protect their digital rights management (DRM). You can obviously use a program like Handbrake to manually convert videos (or even automate the process), but it’s a hassle that can easily be avoided. I would like really like a VLC-like app on my mobile device and not have my phone manufacturer pull it from their app store.
  2. iTunes. Being forced to use iTunes was my biggest hesitation purchasing my iPhone in the first place; unfortunately, the issues with iTunes are still an unsolved. iTunes is slow, it can’t monitor folders, updates are a hassle with Apple trying to include added junk software, the distinction between Artist and Album Artist tag is nonsense. When I mention my gripe with iTunes to others, they don’t understand; however, most of them never used anything besides iTunes. I firmly believe Mp3 organization should exist at the file-level, independent from any software cheap inflatable toys.
  3. Better Technology on the Market. Let’s face it: the phone market has become simply too large for the other two software giants (Microsoft, Google) to sit idle. These are companies driven to succeed in one of the fastest growing markets, with the dollars to back their commitment. In a little over a year’s time, they developed an extremely competitive software platform and partnered with some of the biggest (and most dedicated) consumer electronics manufacturers. They’ve given the consumer something Apple has not: “choice.” I find my iPhone 3GS painfully slow running the newest iOS 4, and the most recent apps. In order to get 2-years out of my next phone, I want it to have the latest and greatest hardware. Let’s compare the specifications between Apple’s best offering and the competition:
    Apple Android Windows Phone
    Phone iPhone 4 LG Optimus 2X HTC HD2
    Processor Apple A4, 1000 Mhz Dual-core, 1000 MHz 1000 Mhz
    Graphics PowerVR SGX535 Tegra 2
    Display Resolution 640 x 960, 3.5″ 480 x 800 pixels, 4″ 480 x 800 pixels, 4.3″
    Battery 1420 mAh, 7 hours talk-time, 300 hours standby 1500 mAh, 7.83 hours talk-time, 400 hours standby 1230 mAh, 5.3 hours talk-time, 320 hours standby
    Storage 32 GB internal 8 GB internal, 32 GB expansion 16 GB internal
    Front-facing Camera Yes Yes No
    Notable features Face-time HDMI output Kickstand

    The best Windows Phone offering doesn’t hold up to the best Android and Apple phones. While the iPhone has the highest resolution screen of any phone available, I would still prefer a larger area to take advantage of those pixel, despite what Steve Jobs may say. The LG Optimus 2x undoubtedly “out-specs” the iPhone 4.

  4. The App Store. I think the App Store is probably one of iPhone’s greatest innovations. It’s been duplicated on every other phone platform, and soon on our computers. My issue is with the App Store’s review process and iPhone’s restriction to a single software source. No one has the right to tell me what I can and cannot do with my hardware. I shouldn’t have to jailbreak my device to make it do what I need it to (though I did it anyway). Of course, every time I update or sync with iTunes, I lose all my unapproved apps. While other platform’s official app stores have a review process, they support multiple app stores, which opens the doors for all apps.
  5. Slow Design Cycles; Slow to Adopt New Technology. How many times have you heard, “I’m waiting for the new iPhone to come out before upgrading?” Everyone knows June is that magical time of year when the latest and greatest iPhone gets announced. With the exception of the iPhone 4, the changes to the iPhone have been too incremental, even when vastly superior components existed on the market. This point is probably the most arguable, but new hardware once a year is simply not enough.

This year should bring some interesting changes in the phone market. I certainly hope Apple will open up to developers, app stores, codec support, and make a major overhaul to iTunes; if they do not, my next phone won’t be an iPhone.


Bode in Boots


Bode in boots, forgets how to walk.


I really enjoy plants but my cat, Tesla, keeps eating them. To stop him, I went to Marshall’s and Michael’s and bought some glass tubes for 10-20 bucks. I used them as a poor mans cloche… I just hope the cat does not learn to tip them over!!!!


I have been using a rather expensive remote (gyration) for my home theater for a while and one of the buttons failed. Most remotes have a conductive pad under the rubber buttons that contacts a pattern on the printed circuit board (PCB) inside to form a switch. A dirty pad or contact is the most common cause of button failure, but can easily be cleaned with a lint-free cloth and isopropyl alochol. I fixed many remotes just by cleaning the crud (sticky soda, crumbs, dirt) clinging inside.

A second cause of failure is the pad on the rubber button. On poorly designed remotes the conductive coating can flake off. Some online vendors sell remote repair kits that let you reapply a conductive coating. The kit may cost more than the remote after you factor in shipping. The following shows how to fix a remote using household items.

Aluminum Foil
Gorilla Glue
Hobby Knife
Isopropyl Alcohol

1. Take appart the remote and clean both the pad the contact areas of the problem button with isopropyl alcohol.

2. Cut a small piece of aluminum foil with the hobby knife. The foil should just fit over the damaged pad.

3. Apply a small amount of glue to the damaged pad and carefully place foil on it. The foil should mold its shape to the contour of the button. Make sure the glue does not spill over to the area that would touch the PCB – otherwise it will not work.

Server on a Moving BOx

Temporary Server Rack

PitelSPOT server will shutdown on December 31st 2009 and will not become active again until Janurary 6th 2010 (at earliest).  We are moving from Illinois to New Jersey and are taking the server with us. We are also changing services from DSL to Cable. We are keeping out fingers crossed that cable upload speeds are faster than out current DSL speed.  Comcast does not guarentee bandwidth like DSL does.


After spending a few months bonding with my Nokia N85, I now feel comfortable providing a follow-up review of the phone. It’s good news: the honeymoon is not over. Overall I am impressed with the quality of the phone itself, as well as the quality of pictures and video. And the OLED screen still elicits a “WOW” from others when I play videos or sort through photos.

Camera: Still Photos

The N85′s camera has become a substitute for our relatively bulky “real” digital camera. It performs well in high (bright sun) to adequate light. As previously stated, the photography style in which this phone shines is macro. Its optics will auto-focus at a very short distance, allowing photos such as the bug-and-flower picture below.

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The primary weakness I have found is the quality of photographs in low light. The dual LED flash supplements dim ambient indoor light, but is not sufficient for a dark area. The resulting images are off-color and grainy. I am not sure whether the xenon flash on the Nokia N82 is significantly better in these situations. I don’t find this a major drawback, as available lighting is adequate most of the time I want a photograph taken. Below I have provided a few examples of lower-light photos.

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Camera: Video

Video capabilities of the N85 are on par with our “real” 5 MP digital camera. Similar to still photograph performance, the camera does well in adequate light, but videos in poorly lit rooms are grainy. With the 8 GB of space standard on this phone, I don’t have to worry about keeping the videos short. The N85 allows me to capture candid moments with sufficient quality to post a video on YouTube. I doubt any other phone does it better, though you could certainly find newer digital cameras and obviously digital camcorders with better performance.

Other Features

Somewhat odd perhaps, but I will classify making phone calls under this category. I appreciate the N85 as a camera. As a phone it is sufficient but not exemplary. This may be remedied by eventually reading the instruction manual, but so far I have found no way to reach certain features, such as call logs or profiles (e.g. silent, airplane mode), without a number of click-throughs. It also has a tendency to not alert me to missed calls until far after the fact.

Second caveat is the screen. It is impressive indoors, but almost unusable outside in bright sun. This can make it difficult to take pictures outside, as it’s hard to verify they are in focus.

Final Thoughts

The N85 obviously does have weaknessess–lack of a touchscreen or full keyboard, internet browsing is difficult, plus those two mentioned above–but overall I am very happy with the phone. My primary motivation was to use it as a more convenient substitute for our traditional digital camera, and in this capacity I think it has exceeded my expectations.  However, if  texting, e-mail, or web browsing are important, the N85 may not be the best choice.


If you have ever used the the Electrical  Engineer Library included with Visio, you will quickly learn just how crappy it is. Symbols do not align to the grid, they contain long connectors, and the shapes are just plain unprofessional.  I believe the example image shown in Fig. 1 clearly explains my point. The circuit library I have been slowly building as a result could be useful to ECE students and practicing engineers.  If you are a student and your department is part of the Microsoft Development Network (MSDN), which most are, you can get Visio for free.


Fig.1 Why Visio Library Sucks

The advantages of the PitelSPOT Electrical Shape Library and the PitelSPOT Engineering Template are:

  • Symbols align to a 0.1″  grid. This grid work great for those small double column articles required in IEEE journals and conference papers.
  • The Engineering Template will setup the grids and snaps  for you. To use, go to File=> New=> New Drawing from Template=> then select PitelSPOTEngineeringTemplate.vst.
  • Symbols are minimal. Use the connector tool to join shapes.

The presently supported shapes are shown in Fig. 2.


Fig. 2. List of Included Electrical Symbols

Version History

The dowloads listed are for free. If  there is a symbol missing, make your request in the comments below. Bribes/gratitude in the form of donations are welcomed via the Paypal link below.