Archive for March, 2011

Neat trick!

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Ever since I switched from the Blu brand e-cigarette to the standard 510 model with a separate atomizer/catridge setup, I have been struggling to find the best way to deliver smoke juice to the atomizer so I can get the best delivery of vapor with each drag.  Initially, I became frustrated with trying to get the traditional wicking method since I found that fluid was just staying in the poly fill and not being absorbed by the wick in the atomizer.  I ended up wasting fluid.  So then I began dripping, effectively dripping several drops of fluid directly onto the atomizer which would get me 8 or 9 drags before I needed to add more.

Now I vape all day, so constantly opening up the cartridge and adding fluid was a major pain in the ass.  I tried using so called ‘drip tips’ which had larger holes on the business end allowing the ability to drip directly onto the atomizer – this worked but it lessened the resistance on each drag, negatively affecting the experience.  After looking around last night in google for ‘the best wicking method for a 510’ I found a post (the link evades me at the moment) and one of my fellow vapor-nerds came up with a rather ingenious plan…

First, you’ll need an empty 510 cartridge, some poly fill, smoke juice, and here’s the key – a clicky pen that you don’t need anymore.

1. Remove the spring from the clicky pen, and slide it on top of the input end of the 510 cartridge so it intersects the narrow width of the cartridge.

2. Snip the ends off the spring so that you can gently slide it down into he cartridge about 2 mm.

3. Fill the cartridge up with smoke juice until it meets the spring.

4. Add some poly fill on top of the cartridge, and if necessary add 1 or 2 drops to it.  You don’t need much poly, just enough to keep the smoke juice from pouring out and flooding the atomizer.

5. Press the cartridge into the atomizer, and vape away.

Essentially what you’ve got is a poor man’s auto-drip setup.  I can vouch that it works VERY well.  I’ve tried it on both my standard (3 ohm) and low (1.6 ohm) resistance atomizers.  The vapor on the low-resistance is amazing, however it burns the juice up much faster as well as the battery on the 510.  I’ve found that on a standard resistance 510 atomizer, there’s plenty of vapor, more than enough for my preference at least.

Here’s a link to the original post: ADP Mod

Roku XD-S Review

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

The first part of my effort to ween the family (and my bank account) off of cable television was to enable us to still watch the shows and movies we wanted – without paying the exorbitant fees required by Cablevision.

I did the research, starting with building a HPC (Home Media Center PC) which had internet access and ample storage to view my collection of movies… The lowest price I could get was about $250 including tax and shipping.  Not bad, but I wanted to see if I could do better.  Next up was the Roku.  I’ve heard good things from friends, and decided to check it out.  After comparing the specs, I ended up purchasing the top of the line Roku XD-S for $100.  For an additional $10, I got a 6 foot long HDMI cable (very good price considering there are still people willing to drop a days pay on a higher priced name brand cable that works exactly the same way).

The unit itself is SMALL, about the size of 2 CD cases (remember those?) stacked on top of each other.  It has HDMI, Component, RCA, and optical audio outputs, as well as dual-band wifi and ethernet connectivity.

The 5 minute setup took longer than 5 minutes, partially because I needed to add he MAC address to my wireless router, and partially due to some sort of connection error.  Getting into Netflix was easy enough, just had to activate it like I did with my Xbox.  I also subscribed to Hulu Plus which effectively negated any need for a DVR.  It would have been nice to be able to subscribe from the Roku itself instead of having to do it on the website first, but hey – I got it done.  $8 a month for Netflix, $8 a month for Hulu… $16 vs $160.  Not bad, right?

Video quality is top notch, while the XDS supports 1080p, its hooked up to my 720p Sanyo, there’s no difference visually between the Roku’s output and the HD output on my cable box.  I’ve found the interface to be a little laggy, and the system needs a bigger buffer.  Watching Netflix or Hulu on my PC usually results in a decent amount of buffer space to acomodate changes in speed, but the Roku will simply hang on a screen if the Internet connection slows down, which leads back to the laggy interface – hitting the Home button takes a few moments to get me out of the stopped screen, if it does at all.  Also, the remote only controls the Roku.  It would be nice if I could tie the functionality into a universal – its not something I’ve researched yet but I have WAY too many remotes.

Lastly, the external USB support so far isn’t bad.  I was able to hook up an external hard drive to the unit and play back an H264 encoded movie, although it did pause a few times.  Playback was more consistant off a thumbdrive.  Roku recommends not just relying on the power from the port to power the drive – which is fine unless your drive doesn’t have any other power options.  I’m currently re-encoding my movie collection as H264 so I can watch the rest of my movies over the Roku.

So far its worth the investment, I just need to eliminate the DVR, the cable box in the kids room, and move the cable box from the bedroom into the living room.  That right there is worth $25 off my cable bill, tack on eliminating the 4 on-demand channels, and I’ve cut $45 off the bill.  Next to go are the pay channels, and once hockey season is up, I should be able to get rid of the rest and simply subscribe to NHL Online next season. 🙂

PRO: Price, size, media selection, ability to watch movies / play music via the USB port.

CON: Laggy interface, insufficient data buffering, one more remote.

The other edge of the technology sword…

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Went to the Quick Chek in Florida, NY to get some breakfast today and was immediately thrown off by the presence of not 1 but 4-5 self-checkout stations where the registers used to be.  Now to be clear – I absolutely love the self-check.  Never really any lines to them, and it allows me to get in and out of the store very quick.  Still, it makes me wonder about the cashiers.  At a supermarket, you’ll generally have at least 10 checkout lines PLUS at least 4 self-check stations.  One person is watching the self check, while each checkout line has its own cashier.  In a small store like Quick Chek, we’ve now got 1 person watching the self checks (two this morning, one of which wasn’t wearing the traditional uniform) – where most mornings there were 3 cashiers present.  So yes, I get my fast convenience, but what happened to the other 2 cashiers?

For the business, its likely a financial win as the cost of implementation and maintenance of these advanced POS (Point Of Sale) systems likely costs much less than what they’d spend hiring and employing an equivalent number of human beings, but you lose that personal experience as well as the jobs in an economy that really needs them right now.

I can see the good in it, but the human factor just rubs me wrong.  That’s the price of progress I guess.

Vaping it up…

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Several months ago, after quitting and un-quitting, I decided to try the latest thing… Personal Vaporizers, otherwise known as E-Cigarettes.  To start, I decided to go with the starter kit from Blu (http://www.blucigs.com/)  The kit included two batteries, two atomizers, and 25 flavor cartridges.  I was hooked almost immediately.  They taste and smell better, as well as offer the ‘hit’ in the throat delivered by normal cigarettes.  Now the way these things work is you have a lithium ion battery shaped like a cigarette with a microphone in the tip that detects when the smoker is taking a drag.  When this is triggered, the battery sends a charge to the atomizer.  The atomizer was nothing more than a small heating coil hidden below a metal prong.  At the other end of the atomizer is a small cartridge full of ‘smoke juice’ and wool.  When the cartridge is placed on the atomizer, it breaks a foil seal, the juice drips down onto the atomizer.  Take a drag heats up the coil, vaporizing the combination of propylene glycol, water, and flavoring, and funnels it out through a small hole in the end of the cartridge.

Now the problem with Blu’s original design was mainly the atomizer, its design lacked a wick to draw the smoke juice into it, so beyond the initial flood of smoke juice escaping from the cartridge – it never really used all of the fluid.  That and due to the design, I’d have to constantly fiddle with the cartridges to get vapor, and the drags were rarely if ever consistent.  Worse yet, when I finally convinced my wife to try it out, they changed the atomizer design and actually made it smaller, so less of it reached into the flavor cartridge, resulting in even less consistent vapor production and even more fiddling.  I communicated this with Blu, and their solution was to send the atomizers back.  Instead I just gave my less crappy atomizers to my wife.

At one point, I needed a smoke and the batteries were dead, so I bummed one, and started up again.  A pack a day.  At $10 a pack, we’re talking some serious cash over the course of a month.  After finally realizing how much I was spending, I decided to give Blu another try.  To their credit, they must have realized how much the atomizers sucked and changed designs.  The new atomizers were called ‘cartomizers’ and were both an atomizer and flavor cartridge all in one.  I went to order a pack and saw that instead of selling 25 packs of cartridges, they sold 5 packs of cartomizers with the bold claim that these new cartomizers lasted as long as a pack of smokers per unit, if not as much as a previous 25 pack.  I ordered up some flavors and gave it a try.

First impression?  Consistent vapor every single time.  Personal favorites?  Classic tobacco and wild cherry.  Menthol was OK, but didn’t do much for me, and the coffee cartridges always ended up tasting burnt after several drags.  The new cartomizer design basically had a pair of small conducting metal prongs, joined by a piece of graphite (pencil lead) which was wrapped with a small piece of wire.  Surrounding that was a rolled up patch of fabric with a fabric mesh tube in the center as well as a wick, which allowed the smoke juice to be drawn across the atomizer.  Really nice design, worked very well, and allowed me to refill them with a smoke juice of my choice for a short time.

Still, once I began to regularly smoke these (I went through 2 20 cartomizer refill packs), not only did it seem that tossing out perfectly good atomizers was a waste – the life of the batteries was very short – going from lasting a few hours to under an hour.  That required me to constantly swap and charge them.  Not a big deal, new batteries were $12 a piece from Blu, but as I had begun refilling the cartomizers with the contents of my old flavor cartridges, I wondered ‘can I do better?’  I was already dropping about $50 every 3 weeks on refills for the Blu, but there was a HUGE world out there full of alternatives.

I started doing some research, and eventually took a ride over to a local computer store – PAC Computers in West Milford, NJ.  The owner has a large selection of vaporizers, supplies, and a few different smoke juice varieties.  For $35 I got a 510 starter kit which included 2 280maH manual batteries (the blu’s were 150’s, so these effectively last twice as long), two atomizers, a USB charger, and 5 flavor cartridges.  I didn’t bother with the cartridges that came with, I tried one – and the flavor was absolute crap.  It tasted like chemicals.  I installed one of my Blu cartomizers – perfection.  Now one thing to note – if you use Blu and realize that the 510 accessories match up, don’t try to charge a standard 510 battery with a blu charger, and visa versa – the polarity is reversed and you will fry the battery.

Next step was to find a new source for smoke juice.  Sure, I could keep paying $50 every 3 weeks to Blu for their cartomizers which work very well with my 510, but why not join the party and fill it myself?  I visited Johnson Creek Flavorings and ordered a 10 flavor sample pack for $20.  Initially, I simply squirted 10 or so drops into the used Blu cartomizers which didn’t taste like burning fabric (thats what happns if you take to many dry drags from them) – and this worked.  Of course, I had these 2 new atomizers which weren’t used.  These atomizers looked a lot like the originals that Blu had, only they were inset in a small metal cylinder and also had a visible wick.

Not exactly knowing what I was doing, I added smoke juice to some filling in the cartridge, tried to smoke it, and… BLECH.  Tasted like crap.  Turns out I had to put about 8 drops into the atomizer to prime it first, which essentially is what I’m doing now, since so far every filling I’ve used for the cartridges hasn’t worked as well as I would like.  Perfection.  Great vapor, great flavor, every time.  The flavor kit included JC Original (tobacco with a hint of caramel/vanilla), Tennessee Cured (tobacco), French Vanilla, Black Cherry, Arctic Menthol, Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Truffle, Simply Strawberry, Summer Peach,  and Espresso.  Initially I liked the peach/strawberry flavors but I got tired of them quick, especially when I went to using the 510 atomizers… they were just obnoxiously strong and sweet.  My favorites so far are the JC Original (same as Blu’s Classic Tobacco), French Vanilla (same as Blu’s Vivid Vanilla – which is no longer offered!!!), Chocolate Truffle, and Espresso.  Mint Chocolate is also good, but again I’m not thrilled with the Menthol, Black Cherry got old quick, and the Tennessee Cured is ok – but I don’t like it as much as the JC Original.

My next purchases will be flavor refills and a few more atomizers…  Now if you’re considering getting into vaping as an alternative to smoking, I would definitely recommend trying Blu when you first start out.  If it catches on and you enjoy it as much as I have, upgrade to a 510 – or one of the other ‘standard’ types provided by retailers such as RagingVapor.com.  You will have fun, you’ll stop stinking, you will breathe easier, and you’ll save a crap ton of money all the while denying the government and Philip Morris from taking any more of your hard earned cash.

Convert HD-DVD to DVD

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Since I couldn’t find SQUAT on actually doing this with a Google search, I’m hoping this will help someone/anyone who – like me – picked the wrong side in the HD wars and now has a stack of discs which are becoming more useless over time.  My goal is simple, use my Xbox-360 HD-DVD drive and my computer to convert my stockpile of HD-DVD’s to a format that doesn’t rely on hardware which is generally useless these days.

Software needed:

  • DVDFab HD Decrypter (version 3.0.96) – This version is OLD, the ability to rip HD-DVD was added in 3.0.96, and subsequently removed later on.  This version should be easy to locate if you know where to look.
  • FFMPEG / GUI4FFMPEG (latest version of both).

I’m doing this on my Windows 7 Home system with a quad-core i7 CPU and 4gb of RAM.  The first disc I ripped was V For Vendetta, a personal favorite.  Once you’ve installed DVDFab HD Decrypter, use it to rip the FullDisc to your hard drive.  This bit could take up to an hour.  Once complete, fire up gui4ffmpeg, and locate the movie files.  They’ll have an EVO suffix and probably run in the 7-8gb range.

Open the first EVO file in ffmpeg, and pinpoint the video/audio streams you want to use.  In my case, V had 2 video streams in the file, and many audio streams.  I used the first video stream and the 3rd audio stream.  These can be specified by using the “-map 0:0” options to ffmpeg.  That specifies the input streams you’ll use.  For example:

D:\ffmpeg\ffmpeg.exe” -i “D:\HDDVD\FullDisc\DVD_VOLUME\HVDVD_TS\PEVOB_1.EVO” -map 0:0 -map 0:3 -target pal-dvd -b 6000000 -aspect 16:9 -s 720×576 -acodec ac3 -ab 448000 -ac 6 -mbd 2 -qmin 2 -async 1 -y “D:\HDDVD\MPEG\V_1.mpg

That line is from the batch file I created in gui4ffmpeg.  What it does is take the source EVO file, map stream 0 (video) and stream 3 (ac3 stereo audio) to a pal-dvd formatted mpg file that I specify.  Note that if you have separate EVO files, ffmpeg will not combine them automatically. You need to dump each individual source file to a separate MPG file.  Since the output is MPEG2, combining them is easy once this part is done.  Converting the files will take over 2 hours, so find something exciting to do elsewhere.

Once you’ve converted the EVO’s over to MPG’s, you need to combine them into a single MPG that you can then convert to XVID, burn to a DVD, or do whatever you want with.  If you’ve got Cygwin on your system, you can simply use the ‘cat’ command to combine the files, ala:

  • cat file1.mpg file2.mpg > file3.mpg

And you’re done.  Once your file is in that format, you can do whatever you like with it.  I realize I’m not that great at giving instructions, but had I found this information to begin with I wouldn’t have wasted a few hours figuring out how to do it in the first place. 🙂