Making cheap HP plotter pens + yet another HP-GL viewer

If you’re running an old plotter, getting pens can be a worry. While there are some companies that might still make them (Graphic Controls/DIA-Nielsen, for one) they are expensive and limited in range. They’re also felt-tip, which means they’ll dry out if not carefully re-capped.

While eBay might supply all things (like these Roland DG plotter pens I scored a couple of days back; fine, black, new old-stock, or these German plotter pens), I also found this:

$_3It’s described as “11.5*28MM cutting plotter vinyl cutter pen holder 50mm for Roland holder Pcut”. I bought two, and eventually the slow boat from China came …

pens

The one on the left is an unmodified pen holder. Well, it’s really a ballpoint-refill holder, as it comes with a (random colour of blue) refill.  To modify these to fit into an HP desktop plotter, you will need to:

  1. Cut ~10 mm from the end of the holder. A Dremel + cutting disk is a satisfying way of doing this. The gap between the knurled bit and  the thread seems to be a decent place. Clean up the sharp edges
  2. As the knurled lock ring will stop the pen engaging in the carriage (my HP-7470A does a lovely little hesitant try… nope; try… nope; try… give up sequence), you’ll have to do without it. Find another way of jamming the threads of the threaded collar in the right place. I used electrical tape, and it’s held so far. Wiser users will use different colours of electrical tape for different pens, ahem …
  3. Stick the pen refill in and tighten down the collet lightly with pliers. ¡¡¡ Do not try to pull the refill out while it is in the collet !!! (The ballpoint insert will likely pop out, and viscous ink will start to blort out everywhere. Ask me how I know!)
  4. Snip the end of the refill flush with the end of the pen holder using diagonal cutters. Best to do this directly over a rubbish bin, as pen ink is nasty. Dab off excess ink from the end of the refill, and clean your cutters, too.
  5. The base of the threaded collar should be around 29 mm from the pen tip, otherwise nothing will plot (if it’s too short) or you’ll poke holes in the paper (if too long). This measurement doesn’t seem to be extremely critical: my Roland pens have it at 28.5 mm, the DIA-Nielsen pens are 28.9 mm. One of my homebrew pens is working at 30½ mm, but then, my basic plotter has no force control, so it may be more forgiving than more elegant beasts.

modified holders and cut/not-so-cut refills

My modified pens look like the above.

The dollar store is a good source of cheap ballpoint pens. I managed to snag 8 retractable red pens for $1.25, and 4 black pens for $1.

one of the donor red pens, plus the disassembled pen holder

(These retractable pens more often than not eject the whole internals across the room when you retract ’em.)

It’s probably a good idea to scribble with the pens a bit before and after modifying them, as they take a while to flow freely. They plot very lightly; the black ink looks more like a faint pencil line.

Double-plotted nested bézier curves
Double-plotted nested bézier curves

If you look close up, not merely are the lines very faint, but something else important shows up:

double-plotted detail, showing off-centre effects (actual size 17 × 17 mm)
double-plotted detail, showing off-centre effects (actual size 17 × 17 mm)

The lines — which should be a constant(ish) distance apart, if the paper has stayed in registration — are showing a varying distance from each other. It looks like the pen points are a little off-centre, so when the pen is swapped out, it gets turned to a slightly different position. This would really only matter for precise work, and I find the effect interesting.

As for the HP-GL viewer? GhostPDL, by the makers of Ghostscript. You’ll have to build it from source, and its documentation isn’t quite where one might want it to be, but it implements a full HP PCL6  / HP-GL/2 interpreter than can output bitmaps, PostScript or PDF. The SVG graphic below was made using the tools/plot2pdf.sh script to convert HP-GL to PDF, then I used ghostscript to convert that to SVG. Nifty!

weave.pltAs a bonus, GhostPDL comes with one of the prettiest plotter fonts ever:
testlb

more banjo

Got another banjo last night: an old Harmony Reso-Tone. These were the volksbanjos of the sixties, and though cheap, have a pleasant mellow tone.

The one thing I will have to get used to is its very narrow neck. But hey, if a “Steel Reinforced Neck” Reso-Tone was good enough for Lee Hammons …

I’m planning to put nylon strings on it for that backwoods tone.

the colour of

I picked up these crayons at the GE Wind stand at CanWEA:

ge ecomagination crayola

Yes, those really are the colour names – Purification Purple, Evolution Orange, Mother Earth Brown, Cleaner Coal Black, Solar Yellow, Revitalized Red, Hybrid Green, Clear Water Blue.

ge ecomagination crayola

Is there a connection between wind power and crayons? Wait until I don my polyester leisure jacket, James Burke-style, until I tell you: Edwin Binney, inventor of Crayola, had a daughter (Dorothy) who married George P. Putnam. Putnam went on (with only a short detour into promoting then marrying the person for whom the word “aviatrix” is most often used, Amelia Earhart) to help create the Smith-Putnam wind turbine (itself perhaps the most heroically unsuccessful story in the history of wind energy).Wind turbines; crayons: it’s all connected, see?

Maybe I should’ve picked up a bunch of these at the show, as even a ratty package of them is going for over $30 on eBay. I’m glad that mine are already on their way to a 4 year old in Ohio, where they will be appreciated more than by any collector.

subliminal banjo frenzy

eBay.ca: DOWNLOAD-SUBLIMINAL LEARN BANJO-PLAYING PLAYER LEARNING (item 130150735552 end time 12-Sep-07 15:22:26 EDT)
SUBLIMINAL LEARN BANJO (MP3)
INSTANT ACCESS TO MP3 AUDIO DOWNLOAD
PROGRAM YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS MIND FOR ACCELERATED MUSICAL ABILITIES! BECOME A SKILLED PLAYER, A TALENTED MUSICIAN! LEARN SKILLS MORE QUICKLY, PLAY BETTER & MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR PRACTICE SESSIONS! LEARNING HOW TO PLAY HAS NEVER BEEN EASIER!

eBay.ca: Garmin Geko 201 GPS plus extras

I’m selling my Garmin Geko 201 GPS plus extras on eBay (item 320106781450). I’ve been very happy with it, and the only reason I’m selling it is because I just upgraded to a GPSMap 60CSx. Dave has a similar unit, and I was very impressed with the way it handled routing when we drove around Vancouver.

Most of the reviews of the unit seem to be pretty on the mark: accurate location, quick acquisition, and an ability to find a signal with little or no skyview. While the 60CSx does appear to work indoors, it suffers from weird track  jitter.

all the cameras I’ve ever owned

In approximate chronological order:

  • Kodak A-1 — got for Christmas or birthday when I was about 8, probably after being insufferable that my sister had a spiffy little Voigtländer Vitoret. Took 110 film and those awful flash strips. Was disappointed when wildlife photos taken with it (fixed focus, fixed aperture, fixed shutter speed) didn’t work too well. Those tiny brown things were supposed to be sparrows, dammit!
  • Panasonic AF thing — I don’t actually remember having a camera through my teens, and I think I got this just before going to Japan. I took hundreds of pictures with it, but barely remember anything about it.
  • Pentax MX — my first serious camera, and one I really regret getting rid of when I discovered the realities of Negative Cash Flow when I moved to Glasgow G1 in the mid-1990s. I had three lenses; 28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, and 135mm f/3.5. A very small SLR, it worked a charm; except, that is after coming back from Fair Isle when the salt jammed the innards. It was fine after a CLA.
  • Lubitel 166Jessop’s were selling these for £19. It acquainted me with the dreadful packaging and unique smell of Eastern Bloc photographic equipment. It also introduced me to squinty focussing and rampant vignetting that this camera is well known for. Sold on eBay before we left Scotland for about fifty quid; miracles will seldom (if ever) cease.
  • Minox 35GT — lovely, tiny, but too delicate for my ham-hands and careless ways. Bought on the recommendation of my sister’s then-fiancé. Managed to crack the top plate and focus ring; oops.
  • FED 5B — Think I got this early ’93; a spectacularly shoddy Leica-clone rangefinder. I’d heard about eastern camera copies whilst on Fair Isle, and tracked down someone in Russia on rec.photo who’d sell me one for £50. I sent off my cash in late 1992, and heard nothing for months. I really thought I’d been scammed, and gave up the money for lost. Months later, a small box arrived; it was the FED box with my address written on the back, still sealed. No wrapping. Manual in Русский (or perhaps Українська; my script-fu has never been strong). It worked fine for one film, then the focal plane synch went south. Managed to get it repaired in a magical old-time repair shop just off George Square (Peterson’s?) run by an ancient camera-wizard with a heavy European accent. In true magical ways, the store was gone the next time I looked for it. Sold on ebay for a derisory £20.
  • Fujifilm DX-5 — my first digital camera! All of 640×480 resolution, too! Wasn’t quite state of the art by the time I bought it, but cheap things from Morgan’s seldom are.
  • Yashica T5 — I probably most regret selling this of any camera. Tack-sharp and contrasty Zeiss Tessar T* lens; nifty waist-level finder. Only a so-so AF system, but very small and solid, like a budget Contax. Sold before moving to Canada. These have subsequently rocketed up in price, so my casual interest in them doesn’t warrant buying one.
  • Fujifilm MX-1200 — 1.3 megapixel; w00t! I still actually have this, and it amazes me how nifty I thought this was when I see how clunky and slow it feels now. Bought from Morgan in Brum; I seem to remember actually walking from Cobuild’s office to the store to get it.
  • Voigtländer Bessa-R— of all the cameras I’ve ever owned, I think I’ve had the most lenses for this one. Was a bit sad to see it go (trade-in for the D70), but I took many (good?) photos with it. The lenses I owned (not all at once) were:
    • Super Wide Heliar 15mm f/3.5 — a lens so good I kept it after selling the body.
    • Snapshot-Skopar 25mm f/4 — never got the hang of this one. Sold it very soon after getting it with the camera.
    • “Pancake” Color-Skopar 35mm f/2.5
    • Ultron Aspherical 35mm f/1.7.
    • Nokton 50mm f/1.5
    • Color-Heliar 75mm f/2.5
    • APO Lanthar 90mm f/3.5
  • Yashica-Mat — an eBay purchase from a market trader in Hemel Hempstead. Was a bit beat up, and had the wrong size of case, and occasionally misfired, but a pleasantly solid unit. Took some early photos in Canada with it, but it mostly sat around. Discovered, on trading in in 2004, that the taking lens was a spider-web of fungus.
  • Yashica Electro 35GT — nice lens, and can meter down to almost nothing. Auto-exposure only, and handles flair, um, creatively. Really quiet shutter, but (on mine at least) the meter circuitry made a weird groaning noise. I used a Yashica Guy battery; you might want to too.
  • Voigtländer Vitoret 110EL — I actually had two of these. One was very beat-up, while the other was absolutely mint, complete with flash. It’s a shame that 110 film was almost dead by the time I got this, as it was an ultra-stealth camera and had great metering.
  • Olympus mju/Stylus Infiniti — I was carrying my Bessa-R everywhere wrapped in (what I thought was) an adequately-padded hat when I discovered that the rigours of the TTC had induced a ding in the top plate. Immediately rushed out to buy a 35mm compact that I wouldn’t cry over if it broke. The mju was my carry-about camera for years (even after I went digital). I think I still have an unprocessed film from it. Traded in mid-2004 as a (tiny) part of the D70.
  • Nikon CoolPix 2500 — first digital camera in Canada. Bought when I worked across the road from Black’s HQ in Markham, so got it at one of their tent sales. Not a bad wee camera, but a little slow so you sometimes missed a shot or photographed your feet.
  • Zero Image 2000 — beautiful wooden pinhole camera which I bought from Karen Nakamura. She’s too kind about some of the imagery I’ve made with it. It’ll get a good workout on the 29th of this month.
  • Pentacon six TL — a huge brick of a camera, but the lens was unspectacular, and the innards too fragile. Partly traded-in for the D70. I still have my info page on the Pentacon six TL.
  • Voigtländer Bessa-L — I never actually used this. I bought it from Stephen Gandy to use with the 15mm Super Wide Heliar (along with a Kaidan pano head), and sold it on eBay.
  • Zorki — an eBay purchase, but there was a spool missing. The guys at russianplaza refunded me without question.
  • Nikon D70 — you don’t want to know how much I paid for this, but I have had it since summer 2004 and had great use from it.
  • Sony Cybershot P100 — this was my first (and probably only) peacock-blue camera. Henry’s had this for $200 less than the silver model.
  • ThreeEyeFish digital minicam — makes a Lomo look like a Leica.
  • Panasonic Lumix LX2 — what a lovely looking camera! Shame about the operation …

ebay chicken

For the last week or so, I’ve been playing eBay Chicken. I have to say, I’m pretty good at it.

The trick is to bid as high as possible on an item that you might want, but not high enough so you might actually get it. So far, I have bid on about 7 items, and quite failed to get any of them. I’m pleased to say that on a couple of them I was the second-highest bidder.

In a small way, I’m doing my part for the world gross domestic product. And doesn’t that feel good?

Update: The above is all well and good unless you happen to be in a just woken up and befuddled state, and realise that the auction you just bid on was in GBP, not CAD, and thus you’re just about to pay twice as much for something …

a narrow escape

I narrowly avoided buying an old Speed Graphic camera on eBay today. I regretted bidding almost immediately; film is a pain, and I’m glad I didn’t win. It would have been a nice ornament, but nothing more useful.

All the printers I’ve ever owned …

bird you can see: hp print test

  • An ancient (even in 1985) Centronics serial dot-matrix printer that we never got working with the CPC464. The print head was driven along a rack, and when it hit the right margin, an idler gear was wedged in place, forcing the carriage to return. Crude, noisy but effective.
  • Amstrad DMP-2000. Plasticky but remarkably good 9-pin printer. Had an open-loop ribbon that we used to re-ink with thick oily endorsing ink until the ribbons wore through.
  • NEC Pinwriter P20. A potentially lovely 24-pin printer ruined by a design flaw. Print head pins would get caught in the ribbon, and snap off. It didn’t help that the dealer that sold it to me wouldn’t refund my money, and required gentle persuasion from a lawyer to do so.
  • Kodak-Diconix 300 inkjet printer. I got this to review for Amiga Computing, and the dealer never wanted it back. It used HP ThinkJet print gear which used tiny cartridges that sucked ink like no tomorrow; you could hear the droplets hit the page.
  • HP DeskJet 500. I got this for my MSc thesis. Approximately the shape of Torness nuclear power station (and only slightly smaller), last I heard it was still running.
  • Canon BJ 200. A little mono inkjet printer that ran to 360dpi, or 720 if you had all the time in the world and an unlimited ink budget.
  • Epson Stylus Colour. My first colour printer. It definitely couldn’t print photos very well.
  • HP LaserJet II. Big, heavy, slow, and crackling with ozone, this was retired from Glasgow University. Made the lights dim when it started to print. Came with a clone PostScript cartridge that turned it into the world’s second-slowest PS printer. We did all our Canadian visa paperwork on it.
  • Epson Stylus C80. This one could print photos tolerably well, but the cartridges dried out quickly, runing the quality and making it expensive to run.
  • Okidata OL-410e PS. The world’s slowest PostScript printer. Sold by someone on tortech who should’ve known better (and bought by someone who also should’ve known better), this printer jams on every sheet fed into it due to a damaged paper path. Unusually, it uses an LED imaging system instead of laser xerography, and has a weird open-hopper toner system that makes transporting a part-used print cartridge a hazard.
  • HP LaserJet 4M Plus. With its duplexer and extra paper tray it’s huge and heavy, but it still produces crisp pages after nearly 1,000,000 page impressions. I actually have two of these; one was bought for $99 refurbished, and the other (which doesn’t print nearly so well) was got on eBay for $45, including duplexer and 500-sheet tray. Combining the two (and judiciously adding a bunch of RAM) has given me a monster network printer which lets you know it’s running by dimming the lights from here to Etobicoke.
  • IBM Wheelwriter typewriter/ daisywheel printer. I’ve only ever produced a couple of pages on this, but this is the ultimate letter-quality printer. It also sounds like someone slowly machine-gunning the neighbourhood, so mostly lives under wraps.
  • HP PhotoSmart C5180. It’s a network photo printer/scanner that I bought yesterday. Really does print indistinguishably from photos, and prints direct from memory cards. When first installed, makes an amusing array of howls, boinks, squeals, beeps and sproings as it primes the print heads.

eBay.ca: music tapes 2nd imaginary symphony /neutral milk hotel (item 200017937813 end time 22-Aug-06 21:04:40 EDT)

eBay.ca: music tapes 2nd imaginary symphony: one of Julian’s original CD-Rs is up for sale. Looks like it’ll go for over $100; eep!

Free the Laserjet 4!

I love the HP LaserJet 4+. Built like a tank, good print quality, and now available used/refurb for pennies. Sure, they weight about as much as a Sherman, and suck power like there was no tomorrow, but one of my 4+s has nearly a million on the page count, yet prints crisp and clean.

Last weekend I scored a 4+ with built in duplexer from eBay for very little. It didn’t want to print at first (giving a cryptic 13 PAPER JAM error), but removing the rather beat-up full-ream paper tray fixed that. It may need a new cartridge (at almost twice what I paid for the printer), but I’m happy.

Wonder if I can direct-connect one of them to the ethernet port on Catherine’s eMac? I know my router won’t talk AppleTalk, so we can’t network just one printer.

shaving on the go

Neat eBay find; an unused Gillette Travel razor:

Gillette Travel Razor

It is absolutely tiny, and it looks as if it has never been opened, let alone used. The blades are still in their cellophane wrapping, and the razor has its cardboard “blade” in place. I wonder how old it is?
The case doesn’t look very robust (it’s that cardboard leatherette that falls apart at the slightest use) but I’ll be able to shave in style anywhere in the world.

selling stuff on ebay

stewart_russell is selling:

Voigtländer Super Wide-Heliar lens, Bessa-L body, and Kaidan panoramic tripod mount.

* Voigtländer Super Wide-Heliar 15mm-f/4.5 lens, Leica screw fit, silver. Clean optics, slight rub on lens cap. Complete with cap, finder, manual, and box (but no rear cap). A very rewarding super-wide optic.
* Voigtländer Bessa-L camera body, Leica screw mount. Bought last year, never had a film through it, essentially unused. Complete with manual, strap, body cap and box. A simple, metered manual body for wide-angle lenses.
* Kaidan KiWi VL panoramic tripod mount for Bessa-L. Allows for complete 360° cylindrical panoramas. Used once, as new. Complete with extra click-stop plates for different lenses, manual (on CD) and box.

Westmark Industries Raytex PL39 pinhole lens, Leica screw fit

Westmark Industries Raytex PL39 pinhole lens for Leica screw mount. A well-made, precision machined pinhole lens. As it’s bright aluminium, I’ve blacked out the back to cut down reflections, and an written exposure/f-stop reminder on rear flange. Lightly used. Complete with manual, instruction sheet, and box.
Nippon Camera Bessa World magazine/book (in Japanese)

Published in 2001, Nippon Camera “Bessa World” mook (magazine/book). Produced to support the then newly-released Cosina-Voigtländer Bessa rangefinder cameras. Now out of print, this is quite hard to find. 128 pages, 210×280mm, good condition.

Please note, this publication is written in Japanese. If you don’t read Japanese, it’s still an interesting picture book about the Voigtländer Bessa cameras.

pictures here.

ebay.ca “page not responding” with mozilla

ebay.ca seems to have great difficulty generating pages for Mozilla. I can have ebay.ca open on both Mozilla and Internet Explorer, and feed them the same URL. Internet Explorer loads it fine; Mozilla comes up with Page Not Responding.

This appears to be entirely repeatable, certainly on my Windows box. Try it for yourself; here’s a sample URL for camera tripods.