Random Junk In'da Mail!

I placed another online order to DigiKey yesterday. They have virtually every electronic component available for next-day delivery. How awesome is that? The frustrating thing is that I’m always trying to get my order in before 6pm CMT so that my package will ship same day, so I rush, and I always forget something! It never fails. 30 minutes after I place an order, I always remember something else I wish I’d added to the order (to save on shipping). So, instead of buying it when I want it (now) I wait a few more days to think of some more stuff to add. The last couple weeks I’ve placed 3 orders totaling about $30. You never think you’re spending a lot, but all the sudden you realize that all these 40-cent parts add up when you go to check out. Shipping is usually under $3, which makes me happy. What did I get? I got a couple MAX232 chips so I can easialy shuffle data back and forth from my PC to an AVR chip using the serial port using a simple terminal application like hyperterminal. This will allow me to do some pretty fancy stuff and certainly help with the prototyping/debugging/development steps of my various microcontroller-based projects.

Some of the things which I forgot to order include a few 1F supercapacitors for my solar-powered QRSS beacon project and a random collection of parts needed to build a DIY AVR microcontroller programmer with a USB PC interface and I also wanted to buy at least one ATMega8 microcontroller because they seem to be a good step above the ATTiny 2313 chips I already have and are at the center of so many microcontroller projects. I’m sure there are are few more items I need, but can’t think of them right now, so they don’t make the list.

A little random, but worth noting is a cool website I found earlier which details (in a very basic way) the various types of HF antennas and does a good job (IMHO) of explaining the basic theory behind them. The page can be found at deltadx.net.

Let’s see, what have I been up to? Today’s work (similar to much of last week) involves “damage control” of scientific images. Today’s project is recovering images from a project that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete. Hundreds of animals were killed. Hundreds of man hours went into this project. Numerous animal surgeries on old and sick mice. This project was one of the most massive, time-consuming, and resource-consuming projects ever undertaken by this laboratory. The results (significant) are represented numerically (some graphs) and visually (some representative microscope scans of neurons innervating tissue). But wait! What’s this? The only representative images we have are in highly-compressed JPEG format! (extremely damaged from the start) Holy crap, some are even in 256-color GIF format! To add to the frustration, scale bars, labels, arrows, and titles (some of then incorrect and requiring modification) are permanently burned into the images. Yet, these are all that remain from the project. I’ve got my work cut out for me huh? Check out this example image. This (originally) was a gorgeous TIFF file showing an axon gracefully innervating its target tissue. However, the conversion to extremely-poor-quality JPEG format caused the image to be fragmented into thousands of small squares which (due to the compression algorithm) no longer line up. If you want to get technical, one might be able to argue that since they no longer line-up, it demonstrates that they no longer reflect accurate, actual signals. In other words, this is no longer a scientifically-valid image. In some pixels you’re not seeing things were originally there, and not seeing some things that were originally there. Supposedly backups of the original images were never made, and this is all we have to work with. It’s certainly a challenge!

On that note I encourage everyone to take a couple minutes out of your day and browse the Wikipedia entry describing the JPEG compression algorithm. Seriously, it’s an educational, enlightening, and entertaining read.