Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fixing and Photographing an LG G6 Cracked Camera Cover

Last week I picked my phone to take it down to breakfast and saw that I had been hit with the dreaded LG G6 Cracked Camera Cover issue:

Ever since I purchased the LG G6, I'd seen reports of the glass covering the camera seemingly spontaneously cracking. People complained that despite not dropping the phone, and having it in a beefy case, the glass still seemed to get damaged.

And so it was with my phone: I hadn't dropped the device, yet I was staring at shattered glass.

I now had two problems to deal with: (1) what was going to do about having a broken phone? and (2) how was I going to document this crackage for the blog? After all, the device that I'd usually use to take close up photos was the very device that needed to be photographed.

First things first, dealing with the broken phone. Had the crack been a cosmetic defect only, I would have ignored it. But it sliced right through the lens and under certain lighting conditions showed a clear artifact. Clearly, action needed to be taken.

Looking at T-Mobile's site, they appeared to offer a buy one, get one free on the new V30. It's a bit early for Shira and I to upgrade our phones, but if the price was right, I could certainly be convinced to do so. Talking to the store rep quickly put a damper on that plan. To get access to this new offer we'd have to give up our lower priced rate plan, and add a bogus line, which would be yet another expense. T-Mobile wasn't doing us any favors on this one and decided the upgrade would have to wait.

On to Plan B: in the past I've had a fellow with a storefront down the road fix my phone. I think his name is Gal? All I know is that I call (703) 505-9717 and tell the guy who answers what my problem is. He orders the part and I swing by the store at 2340 Columbia Pike. 30 minutes and $50 later, I've got a fixed phone:

As for the second challenge, that one is far more interesting. How do I take pictures of the cracked (and fixed) cell phone without using the cell phone?

I found two solutions to this. The first was the old reverse the lens trick. If you pop off your DSLR's lens and reverse it, you instantly have a crude macro lens. You can (and should) buy special attachments so that the reversed lens is properly aligned and remains steady. For my purpose, I just held the lens in place, like so:

I'd heard about using this technique but this was my first time applying it. I've got to say, I'm really impressed. Both the 75~300mm lens and 24mm lens gave interesting and usable results.

After using the DSLR approach above, I realized there's an even easier and lower cost way to get the pics I needed: a simple mirror. I grabbed the small mirror I carry in wallet and held it up to the cell phone. And of course, it allowed me to take snapshots of the device itself. So simple, so obvious.

Given the chatter on the web and my own experience, this is obviously some sort of design flaw in the phone. I wish LG or T-Mobile would acknowledge that. But for now, I'll be satisfied that my local repair man saving the day. Given how critical cell phones are, knowing a good repair man is up there with having a good dentist, accountant and car mechanic.

Monday, October 30, 2017

American Pharmaceutical Association Headquarters - An Unassuming Name for an Impressive Building

This past Saturday was my Father-in-Law's Yahrzeit (Z"L), and in his memory Shira and I took a walk down to the American Pharmaceutical Association (APhA) headquarters building. My Father-in-Law was a pharmacist, so it was an obvious destination. But even without this connection, the building is worth your time.

First of all, the building is situated opposite the Lincoln Memorial, and lives on Constitution avenue. This is prime real estate, to say the least. To the credit of the APhA, back in the 1930's, they didn't skimp on construction. The building was designed by John Russell Pope, who's also responsible for the Jefferson Memorial, National Gallery of Art, National Archives among other projects. As you approach the building, details fill in that you'd otherwise miss by just casually walking by.

As is typical with DC sites, the location has an apocryphal story to accompany it. In this case, the legend goes that the original purpose of the building was to serve as Lincoln's tomb. Like all good stories, there's a shred of truth to it:

[Pope's] first major museum commission in 1907 was to design a memorial for Abraham Lincoln’s birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky, to enshrine Lincoln’s original log cabin. Pope’s 1907 design proved too expensive to build, and he was forced to create a less expensive structure that stands today at Lincoln’s Farm. Since it was a common practice for architects to recycle unused designs, Pope submitted his design as the plan for the American Institute of Pharmacy.

While government records clearly show the origin of the APhA building design, nary a word is said about it in any APhA publications of the day; some said that pharmacy leaders of the period felt it was beneath the dignity of pharmacy to reveal that the design was not created expressly for APhA. However, it appears that the history of the building’s design stirred a myth perpetuated for decades by taxicab drivers and tour guides in the nation’s capital. They told visitors that the American Institute of Pharmacy was originally built for Lincoln’s tomb; the creators of the myth apparently misunderstood that it was to have been a memorial for Lincoln’s birth, not Lincoln’s death. Taxicab drivers subsequently called the American Institute of Pharmacy the tomb of "the unknown pharmacist."

The building is supposed to contain a Botanical garden on the West side which features medicinal plants. We did find a pleasant area to sit on the West side, and there were plants there, though there was no indication that the plants growing there were medicinal.

My favorite feature of the building, though, is the flag poll. Seen from a distance, it looks like any old flag poll you'd see in front of any old DC building:

Upon closer inspection, you see that the flag pole honors pharmacists that served in US wars:

Featured on the flagpole are soldiers, various pieces of pharmaceutical equipment, and various chemical formula. A bit of Googling tells me that the formula in the top left hand corner of the photo below is most likely (C2H5)2O, or Diethyl Ether, which was historically used as a general anesthetic. I sure would have enjoyed quizzing my Father-in-Law on the various compounds, and given his Pharmacy and Chemistry Teacher background, I'm sure he'd ace them all.

What I love about this flag pole isn't just the juxtaposition of science and history. It's that it stands there, ready to be discovered by any passer by with just a bit of curiosity. Such is the joy of living near DC.

As for next year, maybe we'll make a pilgrimage to the building next door. That one should be just as appropriate.

Next time you find yourself visiting the Lincoln Memorial, take a few minutes to walk across the street and see an easy to miss gem.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Weekly Discoveries

I know that covers of Adele's Hello are cliche by now, but Walk off the Earth's version deserves a shoutout. It's not often that you see pant zippers included as instruments in a musical creation, but there you go.

This past week I found a bunch of high quality but I lost you songs, including Rhode's Run, Kodaline's Brother, Dean Lewis's Lose My Mind and Lord Huron's The Night We Met. Some are strictly sad, some are obtuse and some are surprisingly catchy. Many of them contain great lyrics, but The Night We Met has the best, with I had all and then most of you, some and now none of you. Trust me, when sung, this is a powerful line.

I'm loving Sigrid's acoustic work, including Dynamite. Man, can that gal sing! I also dig the lyrics of the song, which has the couplet: You're as safe as a mountain // But know that I am dynamite. Ouch.

Young Rising Sons' Undefeatable almost certainly belongs on your workout / marathon coding playlist. It's got a beat that grabs you, and the video tells the inspiring and touching story of Lacey Henderson, a track and field athlete. With all that said, it's worth asking if this video falls into the category of Inspiration Porn. My take: it does not. Lacey Henderson deserves our awe and respect because she worked hard to become an accomplished athlete, not because she's 'brave' for simply living her life.

I'm probably the last to know this, but I was pleased to discover Walk the Moon isn't a one hit wonder. Check out their band created 7x7 music videos and tell me these guys don't have serious talent (and a serious sense of humor). My pick from the list is Iscariot, which struck me as a really powerful tune. The music video, if you can call it that, somehow adds to the experience.

Listen to all the music here:

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Digital Backcountry Maps - The Easy Way

Last week I blogged about my first attempt using my cell phone to replace paper maps while backpacking. While the results were educational, they were both tedious and ultimately not very helpful. In my eagerness to gain access to USGS maps, I found myself with high quality maps that didn't show much in the way of trails.

For my second attempt I went the far simpler route: I purchased the Backcountry Navigator app for around $11. That price may not seem like a bargain, but consider that a single PATC section map costs $8.00. For the price of less than two of them I now have trail maps that cover world.

Backcountry Navigator seems to do everything I'd expect a mapping app to do. I can drop waypoints, record my route, select from different mapping providers and cache maps locally on the device. The latter is key, because it means using the app without cell phone signal.

The real magic of the app, however, lies in the fact that it offers 'free' access to the Thunderforest mapping tiles. (Free is in quotes because it's included in the price you pay for the base application.). I'm really impressed with how many trails Thunderforest shows. Shira mentioned that someone had suggested hiking the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. I was able to open up the Backcountry Navigator and had instant access to the network of trails in the area:

Thunderforest isn't perfect, of course. When I reviewed our last trip's route, Thunderforest showed no sign of the Slaughter trail that we hiked on. Fortunately, the app allows for other map sources, which fill in the gaps. Some of these map sources are an additional fee. Digging around, I found at least two other topo map tile sets that showed the Slaughter trail:

So while the app can't promise one perfect map, it does give you the power to carry multiple sets of maps at no additional weight.

I took the app for a short spin on the nearby Potomac Heritage Trail, and it did well. It beat out a paper map in almost every way, especially considering that I don't have a high quality topographic map for the Potomac Heritage Trail. There were, however, two noticeable short comings.

First, limiting the map viewing area to the size of my phone is definitely a pain. I have an old 10" Galaxy Tablet that I just fired up and was able to install Backcountry Navigator on free of charge (apparently, the purchase is associated with my Google Account, not a specific device. How nice!). It definitely has a more comfortable viewing area. While I wouldn't plan to bring a tablet hiking, I do imagine it would be useful during the planning stages of a trip. And there's also the ability to mirror your screen with a ChromeCast which is interesting. This allows you a big screen TV view (albeit, with relatively low resolution) of a map.

The other issue, and it's far more critical, is the battery usage of the app. Out of the box, Backcountry Navigator just tore through my battery. When we started hiking i noticed it was knocking 1% off the battery every minute. This is almost certainly due to intensive use of the GPS. I found some options for taming this, including not using the GPS while the app is in the background, and turning off the GPS outright. I don't think I can really blame this issue on the app itself, my guess is that it's a trade off you have to make with respect to GPS accuracy vs battery usage. But still, I'd love it if the app had a middle ground that didn't quite destroy the battery, but left most of the convenience of an always on GPS there.

There are some other well known players in this mapping space and if I do end up trying one them out, it'll be because of the battery usage of this app.

Even with the horrendous battery life, the app is still a winner (assuming you can turn off those features and get a usable set of maps). For nearly the price of a single high quality trail map you can have access to thousands of miles of trail data and all the slick features that go with life in the digital world.

Assuming my next weekend adventure is on a trail that Backcountry Navigator can show me, I'll be leaving the paper maps at home and going digital.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Using USGS Historic Maps To (Partially) Unravel A Trail Mystery

This past weekend Shira and I were tramping through Turkey Run along the Potomac Heritage trail when I noticed what appeared to be a toppled chimney on the ridge above:

I couldn't resist going off trail to explore the area. What gem might be hiding there? To my surprise, I found quite a bit of debris:

Clearly some structure used to occupy the ridge, and when it did, it had quite the view. Here's a few more snapshots of the area:

As I poked around the site, not one, but two turkeys took flight, no doubt fleeing for their life. I had no idea turkeys could fly and I kick myself for not snapping a few photos. But yeah, that definitely happened.

While I was psyched that I found a new feature in the area to photograph, I was bummed to have no idea what the heck I was looking at. Was the structure old or important? Or, was it just a park service outbuilding from a couple of years ago?

I still don't know the answer, but I do believe I've found a few important clues. While doing research on USGS maps I found the USGS Historical Map Explorer. This sweet little maps application allows you to select an area in US and see historic maps that are available. You can interactively browse these maps. For example, here's what Arlington, VA looked like in the 1890's. You can overlay multiple year's maps and adjust their opacity to compare them simultaneously. You can also download the maps as PDF files and load them into Avenza Maps to have them on your mobile phone.

While this is all very cool, I didn't have a practical use for this tool. Until now.

Using the historic maps tool I loaded up the Falls Church quadrangle from 1945, 1951 and 1956. Here's screenshots of each map:

If you click on the maps you'll notice that in 1945 and 1951 there was indeed a road and a building where I took my snapshots. (Whooo!) In 1956 the building is no longer shown on the map, but a gauging station is. Along the Potomac Heritage Trail, near where I snapped these photos is this structure:

From a Google Images search, appears to be a gauging station (look at that, a bonus mystery solved!).

So while I don't know the full story behind the ruins, it does appear that the debris I found dates back as far as 1945.

Using the USGS Historic Tools was the closest I've come to having one of those CSI magical tech moments; you know were a TV tech geek pulls up some esoteric information in a matter of seconds. Whoo!

Next time I'm planning a hike I'll have to consult the USGS historic maps. Hiking is fun, but playing Indiana Jones in search of a lost city *and* hiking is even better.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Being There: DC United's last Match in RFK Stadium

We caught DC United's last game in RFK Stadium yesterday afternoon. Despite DC United losing, it was still an awesome time.

The afternoon started with a Legends Match, which to the untrained eye, was a bunch of old guys playing soccer. But even here, true skill was on display and I could tell from the reception some of the players were getting, that they were beloved. Take the older and huskier fellow wearing the #10 black jersey. That turned out to be Marco Etcheverry. And who is Marco Etcheverry? The Internet explains:

Marco Etcheverry is one of the best midfielders to ever play in Major League Soccer.

He signed with D.C. United upon the formation of Major League Soccer in 1996 and is arguably the greatest player to ever wear United’s uniform. He led DC to three of the first four MLS Cups and was named MLS Most Valuable Player in 1998.

Oh that Marco Etcheverry.

After Legends match (and some delicious cheese pupusas and some sub-par stadium pizza), it was time for the main event. I'd been to a handful of DC United matches in the past, but even with expectations set, I was impressed. The seats were awesome (thanks Nick!), and so we were right up on the action. You could see the determination on the defender's face as he tried to wrench the ball from the attacker, and the attacker's skill at maintaining control of the ball at all costs. It was pretty sweet to have DC United score its only goal of the night right in front of us.

My knowledge of soccer goes back to whatever I learned playing on the Toros as a kid in Rochester. Which is to say, I definitely know the basics, but there are plenty of details that allude me. Throughout the games I'd inevitably get confused and turn to P. sitting next to me and ask: what happened? He who would patiently explain the penalty, or offsides or other event that had had prompted my confusion. I definitely recommend bringing your own soccer expert to the game!

This was the last DC United game played in RFK. Man, RFK must have been a sight to see back in the 1970's. Today, it's definitely showing its age, with a whole lot of rust and decay on display. I vividly recall my first DC United game, where the upper decks of the stadium were off limits. It almost felt like we'd all broken in and the teams were playing some sort of off-the-books game. Yesterday, they had the upper decks open and the stadium felt far more alive. But still, it's clearly time to retire this bad boy.

What a fun day and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing my home team bring it in their new stadium!