Few words about me:

From very childhood I loved computers, electronics, lasers, sulfuric acid and liquid nitrogen. I always wanted to be making microchips, UAVs and see nuclear explosion.

Now I am doing software engineering and in the spare time - some microelectronics and physics/chemistry experiments.

I live and work in Russia, Moscow.

First tracked astrophoto : M42 - Orion Nebula

Sony A77III+Sigma 135mm F1.8 at Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas. 2x30 seconds (ISO100+ISO640), on astrotracker StarAdventurer (it rotates camera against Earth rotation). Orion Nebula is one of the few deep space objects with brightness range so wide that HDR processing is required.

March 31, 2019

Sunset and Sunrise

March 31, 2019

WeMacro and focus stacking for macrophotography

It looks like most of modern technical photography is about shooting and processing 100's and 1000's of photos.

Microscopy often requires stitching large panoramas (and sometimes - focus stacking), astrophotography - require stacking multiple long-exposure photos to mitigate tracking errors, star saturation, improve sensor noise and shot yield rate, and finally - decent macrophotography is now only possible with focus stacking. And then there are timelapses (like this 145440-frame 50-day timelapse), and any action photography where you can easily make 10'000 shots per day (that's a good time to talk about film).

I remember when I got my first macro lens Sigma 105mm F2.8 (about 12 years ago, ~2007) - I was surprised to see it's maximum aperture of F45, which severely degrades image quality due to diffraction. And this crazy aperture was needed, and sometimes it was not enough: dependence "depth of focus↔diffraction limit" was a brick wall which was not allowing to shoot small but "deep" objects with high (or even barely good) resolution.

But now there is a cure, and it's getting widely available - motorized rails for focus stacking:

226 shots, 50µm camera shift after each photo using WeMacro rail.
Stitched in Helicon Focus (Pyramid, smoothing=1). Lens is Laowa 25mm F2.8@F4

One of original photos for comparison:
March 12, 2019

Las Vegas airplane spotting

At the last day of CES this year I had few hours to do airplane spotting. In Las Vegas airport is basically in the city, so I only had to climb to the 8th floor of nearby parking lot to see the airfield ~2.5km from me. I was using Sigma 135mm F1.8@F2.8 with 24mp APS-C camera. Most of the shots were cropped to 100%, 135mm was barely enough even with 3.9µm pixel.

On the photos with visible engine exhaust you can see how modern high-bypass turbofan engines operate - "dense" trail is coming only from the core part of the engine.
February 4, 2019

Looking back at Flash/EPROM and X79 BIOS modding

V-NAND did one more kick to the Moore's law slow pace. 3D is the future (as long as heat density permits). My latest SSD is reading and writing >2.5Gib/sec (although you can rarely tell the difference vs regular SSD), size reached immense 1Tb... Now you have the ability to choose more reliable yet slightly more expensive memory (2-bit MLC vs TLC), not relying just on manufacturer's brand name and backups.

My motherboard is from 2012 (7 years???!!!), way before M.2 became a thing - hence PCI-E→M.2 adapter. And surely BIOS had no idea how to boot from NVMe. To my own surprise, I managed to bake NVMe boot driver inside BIOS, flash it - and it worked. If someone is still on AsRock X79 Extreme6 - feel free to use this modded BIOS (it is based on latest X79E6_3.10 BIOS dated april 2014 года). Dispite the age of motherboard and CPU - PCI-E 3.0 (which is still the latest version) worked perfectly and on maximum speed, one more sign that technology progress is slowing down.

Let's take a look at my history with flash/EPROM technology:
January 30, 2019

Internals of quartz wristwatch "Luch" - and some overclocking

There are some things which were around for so long, that we got used to them and take them for granted. At the same time sometimes they are much more complicated to design and manufacture.

My personal favorites are quartz wristwatches and film cameras. They only became accessible to everyone because hundreds of billions of dollars in R&D expenses were spent there in the past 1-1.5 centuries.

I'll take a look at quartz wristwatch this time. I'll look inside "Luch" wristwatch which I got during my school times.

Watches itself looks simple and ascetic. Wires are mine. You'll see why at the end of the article:

December 14, 2018

Activating Office 2019 without Microsoft account

Microsoft is actively pushing it's user base towards clouds and subscriptions. But there will always be people hesitant to trust their private data to corporations, especially in this age of private data leaks left and right.

When releasing Office 2019 - Microsoft did another step in this direction and required to enter Microsoft account when activating your new Office 2019 purchase. If you don't enter account - activation will not finish, there is just no way to skip it in UI. Although, there is still a way to skip it via console activation... :

Run CMD.exe/Powershell with admin priveleges, go to "C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office16" and run these commands:
cscript OSPP.VBS /act

Replace XXXXX-XX... with the actual key. Restart office programs - and enjoy your genuine and activated Office 2019 completely offline. I guess we cannot hope that Microsoft will realize the importance of having completely offline option of their products, so they will start (slowly at first) loosing users to older versions of Microsoft products and open-source alternatives.

PS. If you like OneNote - it's already time to start looking for open-source alternatives. Sorry Microsoft, I am not uploading my notes to you.
November 16, 2018

Sony a7III: Time for Full Frame 2 (and some PDAF striping/fake RAW)

6 months ago I ebayed Sony A7II and thought that It will be with me for a while. But life is full of surprises - seller did not sent me few missing parts, I returned the camera... and by that time A7III was already released. There are quite a few nice features - BSI sensor with higher sensitivity, very pleasant high-ISO noise reduction, flexible autoISO settings... Some like larger battery and dual SD slot.

For me personally flexible autoISO is what gave me largest increase of good shoots yield. Also, now camera allows one to see the photos in the buffer while buffer is flushing to SD card.

After I was spoiled by zooms during ancient A-mount era ( I had Sony 16-50 F2.8 lens - it was quite sharp in the center and versatile) - here I bought loved by many Sony 24-105 F4. It was well worth it - even sharper and obviously slightly wider zoom range. Size and weight is probably maximum suitable for casual travel. F2.8 full-frame zooms in my view are only for professionals who used to lug a lot of equipment.

Fake RAW/star eater issue is still there. You can read more here, and sign a petition to Sony here. I was also able to reproduce PDAF striping issue under very exotic lightening conditions - but this is a topic for a separate article.

At the end, I really like the camera. It will definitely stay with me until 60+ megapixel full-frame cameras with 4K/60P full sensor readout are available. We might have to wait until 2022 for that...
July 1, 2018

Soldering practice KIT - HKT002

HKT002 soldering practice kit exceeded my expectations - it is a functioning circuit with all parts included, which only works if you soldered everything correctly.

There is an 555 which frequency is set by long chains of capacitors and resistors. CD4017 johnson counter to drive 10 LEDs.
These 10 LEDs are driven by BJT's with high hFE and diodes in the base circuit, so any surface contamination from flux would not allow them to turn off LEDs.

Highly recommend to anyone who needs to solder from time to time. If you're just starting learning - you will need at least 2 set and lots of spare parts.

Here is last glitch: You can see 3 LEDs could be lit at the same time by CD4017. Why could that be?
June 10, 2018

Analog Devices AD9361 — when microelectronics is more profitalbe than drugs

When Analog Devices released their SDR transciever AD9361 in 2013 - it was a revolution in digital radio. SDR's were there before, but only now you can have it all: 2 channels for TX and RX with onboard 12-bit DAC/ADCs with 56MHz of RF simultanious bandwidth, local oscillators, mixers and LNA - all working in the range from 70 (TX from 47) to 6000Mhz. Using AD9361 out of the box one could implement almost any useful digital radio, with the rare exceptions of UWB and 60GHz. You only need to add data source/sink (which is still often an FPGA), external filters and PA if your task requires it.

Finally I was able to take a look inside and peek at manufacturing cost of a microelectronic device with such an exceptional added value.

After decapsulation we see 4336x4730 µm 65nm die. On top metal you can notice PLL's inductors and datecode - chip was somewhat ready 2 years before introduction:
Read more on zeptobars.ru →
May 25, 2018