Bus Countdown Clock


I take a bus from home several days a week, commuting to work or heading out for the evening. Each time, I check my phone dozens of times to leave the house at just the right time and minimize waiting at the bus stop. Other times it would be nice to have a general idea well ahead of time; instead of waiting till I’m ready, check my Transit app, and finding out I just missed the bus and need to wait 40 minutes for the next one.

I bought a Raspberry PI Zero over the winter and had an idea to attach it to a small display and display departure times for each of my busses. Never wanting to reinvent the wheel, I searched for similar projects. I found this over-the-top LED matrix scroller over on Adafruit that would still take some work to use a cheaper graphical display instead. Then I found a much simpler solution: Phillip Burgess posted a followup Adafruit project that was just what I was looking for, the Personalized NextBus ESP8266 Transit Clock.

This made an excellent weekend project, I customized some of the Arduino code and display effects in less than an hour. It uses Adafruit’s amazingly affordable and simple Huzzah board with built-in WiFi to connect to my network and check bus times from NextBus. It then sends the remaining minutes to 7-segment LED displays with easy-to control I2C controllers. I printed a regular sheet of paper to label the buses (and also diffuse the LEDs), mounted everything into cardboard cutouts, and packed it into an Ikea 5×7″ Ribba frame.



The thick frame can stand freely on a table or hang on a wall. The controller just plugs into any USB plug for power (or I can sneak a USB battery behind it). I think it turned out great!




Now, if only someone would make an app for the Apple Watch that did the same thing, showing arrival times for several stops of my choosing.

George’s Island

A few miles out into the Boston harbor, there are several small islands. Despite living in Boston for over a dozen years I only recently discovered that there are frequent inexpensive ferries from the city to the harbor islands. Last summer I was determined to visit the largest island which features a large fort dating back to the civil war: Fort Warren. I was unprepared and completely surprised by what I discovered at George’s Island, and quickly returned a few weeks after my first visit to capture some of my favorite photos of 2014.

After an enjoyable ride on one of BHC’s various ferry boats and a short stop at Spectacle Island,  I was first welcomed by the George’s Island visitor center and museum, with the walls of the fort as a backdrop. There’s a picnic area with sandwiches available, but there are plenty of more interesting areas to have a picnic or even grill up lunch. Before entering the fort, we walked along the small beach and park, where I was surprised to find a live band performing out in the sun. This is a great spot to get away from the busy city and enjoy a day near the water, if only there wasn’t an amazing historical fort just behind me begging to be explored.

Over a drawbridge, through giant tall doors, I entered the central courtyard of Fort Warren. The sound of the rock band performing in the park disappeared, curiously replaced by that of a string quartet performing inside the fort. We could have sat and watched the performance, but there were giant fort walls to climb, and canons to see! On top of the fort’s walls, there are dozens of canon placements, and an incredibly unique view of the Boston skyline, surrounded by water. Walking along the top of the fort to the back of the island, the walls change to a massive concrete bunker, with the remnants of enormous guns, which could fire one thousand pound pieces of lead a whopping eight miles out into the sea! No wonder Boston hasn’t been attacked since 1776.

The most incredible part of Fort Warren exists beneath this massive slightly more recent concrete bunker. We entered massive brick and stone rooms from the courtyard, where more guns would shoot through holes in the concrete. The outer rooms were lit by sunlight pouring into these openings, painting out the dark shadows on the arched ceilings.


Further in, I started to hear what sounded like monks chanting echoing through the rooms and tunnels. The interior tunnels were much smaller and pitch black, I had to use my phone as a flashlight to find the source of the chants. We didn’t even know what we walked into when we arrived, it was so dark all you could do was stand in astonishment at the incredible echoing chorus of people singing in this giant underground room. It took minutes before my eyes were adjusted enough to realize they were gathered around a tiny splash of light seeping through a vent in the ceiling. I took this 2.5sec exposure at ISO 16,000 just to document this; to give you an idea my phone screen was all that was illuminating the brick walls…it was much darker than pictured!


There were many more tunnels and rooms to explore, and something different around every corner. The complete darkness only added to the tension, with my phone only enough to illuminate a few feet ahead. On my return trip, I was sure to pack a monopod and an impressive array of flashlights, enabling me to illuminate and capture scenes like this incredible tunnel exit:


Out of the tunnels, there is still more to explore in the old crumbling remains of the original fort. Many rooms have collapsed but some are still intact and accessible. This room was part of the semicircular demilune, actually outside of the fort walls.


In contrast to all the stone and brick, the original baking and food storage and serving areas are all well preserved in giant planks of wood. Their aged colored look still manages to be just as creepy.


If you visit George’s Island, remember to bring some flashlights, as well as plenty of water to drink. Dig out that tripod. Here’s a map of some of its many features. I hope to return to the island soon, but next time hopefully it’s with a bathing suit and some charcoal for the grill!

Click through to view my complete George’s Island photo gallery.

Posted from Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

Galleries from the Past


I completed posting all my 2013 photos a few months ago, but before moving on to 2014, I went back in time…


…and finished up some old galleries like Cape Cod 2004 and our 2005 trip to Chicago with some great air show photos. Then I started processing more galleries from very old negatives, including 1978, 1984, 1986, 1987, and 1988! I will be starting on 2014 soon, but it’s great to get to the backlog of the thousands of old photos I still need to process.


One Week with the iPhone 6


It’s been a week since I replaced my iPhone 5 with the new iPhone 6, and I’ve slowly been adjusting to the new experience. Of course with iOS there is not that much of a real experience change, but the slight jump in screen size feels much more significant. Aside from the sheer size, the design is also a big change, and I’m a bit disappointed. I loved the all-black anodizing of the 5 (which disappeared with the 5S), the squared edges, and the fine detail all the way down to the button machining. The new phone seems to throw out the signature Apple attention to detail with boring rounded edges and buttons, mismatched silver case, and blatant out of place plastic seams. I really don’t think Jobs would have let this slide.
Of course most people will just hide it all under a case. I prefer more minimal protection, and I’m anxiously awaiting iPhone 6 updates for corner Bumperz and the awesome Wally wallet that I loved on my 5. Maybe I’ll get some colored bumper around the edges just to add a bit of style to the sea of black. As for the size…after a week, it still feels huge. However looking back at others’ iPhones, they now immediately seem tiny! I’m sure I’ll continue to get used to it.
I’ve been trying to learn the new Swype and Swiftkey keyboards that Android has had for years. It’s mostly frustrating as my finger is faster than my brain so every other word is a mistake, and overall it’s much slower than my very fast touch typing on the standard keyboard. We’ll see if I improve with time or give up. Another disappointing Android addition is widgets. They aren’t on the lock screen. You have to intentionally remember to swipe to see them. So they’re useless.


An unexpected feature I never though I would care about is the built-in pedometer functionality. I’ve actually been checking several times a day, often shocked at how many steps my poor feet actually take, walking far further each day than I ever imagined. No wonder my shoes never last that long! I’m also enjoying TouchID; I never locked my phone as I can’t stand having to enter a password just to glance at my most-used gadget. Press & hold for a second is just as simple and non-intrusive as press and swipe.
The camera is very important to me as it is the camera that is always on me and therefore used in a lot of situations. Apple’s upgraded camera app is much more useful than before with some added exposure control. But after a few days my favorite replacement app ProCamera was updated and added the full manual control capabilities added by iOS8 to its already advanced control features that I love. Having 240fps slow motion HD video in my pocket is also awesome, not just for filming crazy dogs, but also quickly viewing LED light flicker. It’s beyond the capability of all my real cameras!
Last but perhaps most significantly, the battery life is a shocking improvement. While my 5 was down to about 60% in the afternoon of a usual work day, the 6 is around 90%. The battery doesn’t have much more capacity, so it’s really a statement to the significant bump in power and technology of the new processor.
There’s more to come soon, and I can’t wait to start using Apple Pay in a month or so, but the one thing that I’m really excited for to complete my new iPhone experience is the Apple Watch. I’ve been a fan of geeky and stylish watches all my life, and my experiment with the MetaWatch over the past year proves just how much I love having notifications and other info at a quick glance. I miss it repeatedly on the days I wear a normal watch. The Apple Watch should add a ton more functionality and innovation, and I’ll be first in line to get one!

A New Camera System


Two months ago, I did the unthinkable: I sold off all my Canon gear, and replaced my aging T2i with a Sony A7. Not long before, I was strongly rooted in Canon and never considered Sony a real SLR player. After my usual extensive research I realized Sony truly changed the game with the a7, and I managed to get a significant increase in photo quality, smaller size, more modern features, plus a jump up to full frame sensor for almost no cost at all!


I intended to update from my T2i years ago, but Canon had not improved the quality of its APS-C sensor over the last several generations. I had long outgrown it and was ready to step up at least to a 70D for newer features, but the cost stayed high and I knew quality was not taking a significant step, so I kept waiting. Meanwhile, Sony had been making impressive sensor quality advancements over the last several years, the reason behind Nikon’s recent leapfrog over Canon’s quality and sensor advancement. Sony’s NEX series was not quite serious enough for me though. Then here comes this new a7 with full high-end SLR quality, modern features, and astonishingly a full-frame sensor crammed in a small mirrorless body.



Many years ago I was one of the first to jump on the retro mirrorless bandwagon with the Olympus EP-1. I loved the look and feel of the camera, more portable size, and its ability to use Leica/Voightlander lenses with a simple adapter. Unfortunately I did not use it much, as I gravitated to the Canon SLR for the significant quality difference of the larger sensor and increased shooting speed. Mirrorless has come a long way since then, but until now sensor size has been much smaller. I had always been happy with APS-C, liking the smaller camera and lens size, and significant price difference vs. full-frame. But with the a7, Sony turned all of this on its head and crammed a full size sensor in a small mirrorless body, at an APS-C price point. Just look at the significant different in sensor and body size between the a7 and the T2i:



I managed to get some good deals on used equipment, and for about the same as wheat I sold all my canon gear for, I have a roughly equivalent system. One of the best features is the ability to mount almost every lens every made with cheap adapters. Pictured (at top) on the camera is the Voightlander Nokton 40mm f1.4 for Leica M. Compare that tiny lens to the nearly similar Sigma 50mm f1.4 EX for Sony Alpha on the left (when I need high speed autofocus for). On the far right is an old 18-28mm wide lens from my mother’s Minolta SLR. In addition to the 28-70 kit lens, I also have the Sony 85mm f2.8, and the pocket change Samyang 500mm f2.8 mirror lens. The smallest lens pictured is the only non full-frame lens, the super compact EPZ 16-50 for Sony NEX, which does crop the resolution but is super portable. I can gradually replace these with native full frame FE lenses as they are released.

My Boston Commute

For over a decade, I commuted into work via traffic-ridden highways. A year ago I moved to a job in downtown Boston and have instead left the stress for the bus driver, plus a wonderful mile walk through the heart of Boston. Years ago I posted my crazy drive, now here are a few of my daily views.

I board the bus just outside my house, which immediately gets on the highway. Even with heavy traffic, my ride is less than 15 minutes.


The Boston skyline slowly comes into view. We cross the Charles River over the Zakim bridge just before my ride comes to an end.


My walk then begins in Faneuil Hall, through the financial district and toward the waterfront.




I then cross the Fort Point Channel towards the giant milk bottle, where I get to see a bit of the Atlantic and the changing tides, before I turn around to see a great view of Boston just before I arrive.