Friday, December 09, 2005

purity of essence, webcam division

The Globe having published a cool article about how to build a better webcam, I followed the procedure at Dennison Bertram's site.

Simple! Just build a 3"-square box. Well, not so easy for the slovenly woodworker. The first attempt, done in a cavalier manner with power tools was charming in its primitiveness, but unsuitable for mounting a lens. You cannot or at least I cannot cut square 3" pieces of wood only 1/4" thick with a table saw or circular saw--an exercise similar to whittling toothpicks with a chain saw.

After gouging the iron patio table twice, and the aluminum top of the table saw once, with the blade of the errant circular saw, I finally took a look at the blade--oh my. Really ought to change it every ten years or so, or after every second attempt to drive it through an iron table. The blade of the table saw was likewise missing a few teeth and sporting a fine coat of rust. Maybe from that summer it sat outside...

Attaching the metal ring from the old camera onto this flimsy wood was a challenge. The ring has holes for screws which must be small enough to lie flush, otherwise the lens won't screw on, but have enough bite to hold the ring tight in the soft wood, to withstand the sideways pressure of twisting the lens in.

The whole lot was held together, barely, with carpet tacks. The pieces were off-kilter at every angle possible. The spot at the bottom is blood from a stuck thumb.

This travesty led to a realization. I had visions of Zen and the Art of making a 3" Webcam Box but when it came to actually doing the work, realized that I am a slacker content to do a lousy job.

This haphazard little pile of sticks had turned into a metaphor for my haphazard approach to life. Leading to a visit to the garage in search of better tools and more important, purity of essence. And to the library to read up on woodworking. Where I learned things like using separate blades depending on what you're cutting, keeping your power tools out of the rain, and wearing safety glasses. Boy those guys are so fussy! But they have purity of essence by the bucketful, with their hours of fastidious blade sharpening, jig assembling, and fine, ever so fine, cabinet making. They had so much purity of essence they kept extra stored carefully in cool dry places, more than I could ever hope for.

My tools on the other hand were lying about neglected, covered in years of rust and grime. Like my personal finances, my clothes, my books, my hair, my garden, my fishtanks, my computer programs. All in some manner of mess--in piles, dirty, or held together with carpet tacks. Zen and the Art of Being a Fucking Slob--that was my book.

The second attempt, which began with a week of garage cleaning, then tool cleaning, fared better. It included a satisfying contemplative three-hour stint sorting a mountain of random bolts, screws, washers, nails, twigs etc, aided by the powers of concentration afforded by two Percocets.

V2 was built with hand tools and glued together. No tacks. And included long machine screws in back to set the focal point of the CCD chip to the correct length from the lens. The result is mechanically solid but has a focal point too distant for my purpose (hah--as if there was a purpose to any of this)--it can read sheet music 20 feet away, but I want a wider view and greater depth of field. No matter--for now the carpentry is under control at least, and I can swap lenses out, if I ever get another lens. My plan now is for this to be deployed out the back garage window, pointing to the neighbor's birdfeeder. A purpose if not exactly Zenlike, at least frivolous.

Pieces of the original box were then redeployed to a structure more appropriate to my skill level, "Casa Bella", which thus far Bella refuses to enter, but enjoys chewing at least. We'll see what kills him first--the acrylic paint, or one of the cats. When he dies the wood can be redeployed yet again, as a parrot coffin.

(Tip o' the pin to to Gen. Jack Ripper of Dr. Strangelove, for "purity of essence".)

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