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  1. #1
    Denis P.'s Avatar
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    Darkroom SW/HW combos and options?

    Given that there were several recent threads about software and hardware combinations used in darkroom (as process timers, etc.), I wanted to poll the collective apug wisdom on this issue

    The situation is as follows:

    Currently, I'm using FotoTimer on a Palm device hooked to a DIY 220V relay, and the thing works wondefully. More info HERE.

    However, my old Palm devices are at the end of their useful lives (batteries nearly dead, difficult to replace, etc.), and I'm getting worried.

    I got so used to FotoTimer + Palm combo that I don't know what I'd do without it

    But, it looks like I'd better look into other options.

    I need something which has an easy way to hook other devices - i.e. 220V relay which "drives" the enlarger lamp. That probably means a serial port... which is another dying technology, it seems...

    The problem is that my darkroom is tiny, and there is really no place for a full desktop computer with a monitor. A tiny laptop could be possible, save for the issue mentioned above - laptops don't come with serial ports any more I know I could get an older second-hand laptop with RS232 port, but that's not really reliable. It will probably be more likely to kick the bucket than my ancient Palm Pilots.

    So, in a nutshell - is there an existing (cheap) system which could replace the Palm + FotoTimer + 220V relay combo I currently have?

    Something that could be set up quickly, using different process chains (e.g. test strips, exposure, development, etc.) like the FotoTimer does, and which can be "hooked" to a 220V relay (to drive the enlarger), or used without relay, as a simple beeping timer, for developing negatives...

    Or am I dreaming?

    It seems weird that an outdated technology (Palm IIIc, Palm V, etc.) does this so effortlessly, while for more modern "gadgets" this is close to impossible...

    I've even been thinking about X10 home automation devices, etc. - but it's too complicated/expensive, and again requires a desktop computer as a central console - and again, without a full-blown computer, you can't quickly change the exposure from, say, 12 seconds to 16 seconds....

    I've even tried purchasing some of the RH Designs devices (Analyzer Pro, etc.), but it looks like it's difficult to do from Croatia....
    Besides, the costs are pretty high. I know they're worth it, but for my purposes those are an overkill, anyway....

    The whole thing needs to be small ( to be tucked away in a cupboard, to avoid fogging paper when being used), with a possibility to add a foot pedal to start/stop the process, etc... The ability to quickly change the process sequence and duration is an absolute must. Ability to change the program (open source?) would be a BIG plus!!!

    I've been thinking about possible solutions, but I keep getting back to Palm + FotoTimer software. It's the only widely available (and cheap) solution that fits the bill so far.

    Any ideas?

    Please, no posts stating that I'm a gadget freak and can do it all by hand and metronome. I know that.

    Denis

    PS: the attached pic shows my setup - Palm in its cradle below the enlarger. I set up the process, close the cupboard door (and reduce the risk of light "leaking" out), press the foot pedal, and start the predefined process....
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails darkroom-palm.jpg  

  2. #2
    Lee L's Avatar
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    What about one of the new netbooks, like the Asus EeePC line? You can find them in the US for under US$300. They have relatively small models with a 7 inch screen and 3 USB ports. You could have a serial port by plugging in a USB-serial adapter, so you could figure out a way to run your serial port relay controller with it. They run linux, which has palm PDA emulator/development software available (POSE = Palm OS Emulator), so you should be able to run FotoTimer on it.

    You might also look into an Arduino, which is an inexpensive programmable platform with lots of I/O control, that is copyleft and has development software for every platform. The programming language for it is also copyleft and should make it relatively easy for you to design your own setup for using it as an enlarger controller with your existing relay. Google "arduino" for lots of resources. There are lots of tutorials on the web, sample programs to download and learn from, etc. The Arduino can be programmed and then operated stand alone as a programmable controller for a relay. It's pretty inexpensive and very capable. About US$30 for a bare bones Arduino and about US$65 for a kit with accessories for external power, breadboard, etc.

    Lee
    Last edited by Lee L; 11-13-2008 at 08:16 AM. Click to view previous post history.

  3. #3

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    I was thinking of a "gadget" for the darkroom. It worked as timer and kept the liquids at the desired temperature. But it is a device that needs to be connected to a laptop (USB). I have realized the HW and the SW for the timer and for switching on/off the enlarger lamp but then i gave up. Too big for my darkroom. I was thinking about a mobile phone which runs on windows. It could be used instead of the laptotp.
    Anyway, there are also USB----RS232 adapters.
    Good luck

  4. #4
    Denis P.'s Avatar
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    Hmmm, a few thoughts on the above...

    USB-RS232 (USB to serial) adapters are notoriously unreliable, from what I've heard... And I've searched and re-searched various forums (fora)...
    Getting a 220V relay switch to work reliably connected to USB is no easy task, I'm told....

    As for arduino, I've been reading up on it for the past couple of days. It's a viable solution, but actually it's too primitive.
    If you've ever seen how FotoTimer for Palm works, you'll understand what I mean. I need a small command unit in the darkroom, which has some kind of display (touch screen?), and can be set up in 3-4 keypresses, with visual feedback on screen. "Blindly" switching several buttons to on/off state simply isn't acceptable.

    I've also checked some of the offerings from our apug sponsors (Darkroom Automation timer, for example) - but I don't like the cryptic numbers/symbols on the display. If I need to learn what a "Y3H" means on the display, it's too complicated
    Besides, I don't think it can easily "chain" processes. I.e. can you define the whole printing sequence sequence in advance, together with pauses, etc. - i.e.:
    - 15 sec exposure
    - 5 sec. pause (to take the paper from the easel)
    - 2 min development
    - 5-8 sec pause (to take out the print from developer and let the extra dip back to the tray, then place the print above stop bath)
    - 1 min stop bath
    - 5 sec pause (you catch my drift...)
    - 5 min fixer

    I can do all that EASILY with FotoTimer. Piece of cake, no chance of brain farts in reading/interpreting cryptic LED symbols....


    BTW - any Palm developers around?

    I've got the source code for FotoTimer v. 3 from Jan Exner (the FotoTimer author), and it's fabulous. It was never released publicly (not quite ready), but Jan doesn't work on it any more, and was glad to give me the source, in hope I could improve it, or find someone who can. Alas, my programming skills are pretty close to zero

    His ver. 3 looks better, and has exactly the improvements I was hoping for, but it also is buggy (under certain circumstances produces errors, resulting in a Palm reset...).

    If anyone's up to it, I'd like to find someone who'd be willing to clean up that nasty bug (my guess is it's memory handling....).

    Attached are two screenshots, showing that ver. 3 has better timing (tenths of a second), and some other improvements...
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails FotoTimer3-1.jpg   FotoTimer3-2.jpg  

  5. #5

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    Getting a 220v realy working from the USB is not that difficult. I did it.
    Briefly. I bought from diolan a GPIO (General Purpose Input Output: this is the site: http://www.diolan.com/i2c/u2c12.html) and, with the precious support of a friend of mine, we realized a circuit made of: WINDOWS PC------GPIO---TRANSISTOR------RELAY.
    With a simple sw written, by me, in visual basic i can, very easily, switch on and off the 220v lamp. I did extensive tests and it works also with 1/2 second intervals. Then i gave up the project because a PC in the darkroom would mean giving up my marriage :-).
    Anyway, if your source code is in Visual basic i can try to have a look. Unfortunately i'm familiar only with VB and with a proprietary assembler of the company where i work.
    Ciao

  6. #6
    jeroldharter's Avatar
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    Perhaps I am missing something when you say that you want something small and easy yet have to do all the programming, put the device in a light tight area so that it's light does not fog the paper, place the timer where you can't see it, etc. The software looks like a fun project but the implementation does not seem practical.

    But why not just get another Palm? They are on Ebay all the time. I just bought an unused, new-in-box Palm Zire for $49 and it works fine. I also have a Palm Treo cellphone but I don't know if that would work for you.

    I am trying to picture how you work with that timer. Sounds like you have an exposure sequence for the paper with burns, etc. and then pauses between the dry side and the wet side, and brief pauses between steps, etc. That seems very complicated. I assume you are doing black and white? Why not just use a Gralab timer with footswitch that counts up from zero on the wetside? If you really need the times to be chained together, then a Gralab 900 with footswitch is nice and you could program in your dryside printing sequence as well. however, I believe you are limited to 9 steps and I think programming it is a minor nuisance. Also, look at a Jobo 8 or Jobo 16 process timer. For something really nice on the wet side, get one of the RH Designs process timers with temp compensation. I have one and think it is nice.
    Jerold Harter MD

  7. #7
    Denis P.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeroldharter View Post
    Perhaps I am missing something when you say that you want something small and easy yet have to do all the programming

    [....]

    But why not just get another Palm?

    [...]

    I am trying to picture how you work with that timer. Sounds like you have an exposure sequence for the paper with burns, etc. and then pauses between the dry side and the wet side, and brief pauses between steps, etc. That seems very complicated.
    [...]

    Jerold, the thing isn't complicated at all. Actually, it's the least complicated system I've found so far. It just sounds complicated to someone who's never used the program.
    I rarely do darkroom work (not as much as I'd like), and when I do get into my darkroom, I'm usually rather absent-minded, and tend to have frequent senior moments

    The gadget (palm + 220V relay) is miniature - you can see it in my first picture in my first post - it's in the cupboard under the enlarger.
    No programming required - the program (FotoTimer) works like a charm, and is intended exactly for the purpose for which I'm using it: defining and timing sequences of processing in the darkroom - with audible sound signals. Read my explanation above, in my second post. For developing negatives, I don't need a relay. I just put Palm in its cradle where I can see it, and once the film is in the drum, I press "Start", and it gives me predefined audible signals when I need to act (pour in, pour out, etc.). I don't even have to look at it.

    When doing enlargements, I'm using the setup as shown in the photo above, and the Palm is tucked away, with backlight turned off. Once I define the sequence, I close the cupboard door, turn off the light, and use the footswitch I hooked up to start the process.
    It's particularly suited for sequences of test strips. And I already have a footswitch (see the link in my first post - the whole system is explained and pictured).

    Dunno, perhaps I tend to complicate simple things too much. But, like I said, I'm used to it, and it actually boosts my productivity and diminishes the chance of "senior moments" happening

    As for another Palm, they're a dying breed - at least those models which had the UART chip (meaning serial communication).... All newer models can only use USB. The phone models are unusable. And getting replacement batteries for those older models is getting very difficult.

    And, like I said, a "real" computer in that tiny darkroom isn't an option - the photo shows my darkroom almost in its entirety - about 2 square meters
    Besides, having a computer in such a small darkroom isn't a very bright idea (forgive the pun)... with all the liquids just waiting to get spilled on it... (there's no real division between the dry and wet side).

    Palm is much smaller, and can easily be tucked away, or simply put in a pocket....

    EDIT: as for Gralab, I'm in Croatia (220V AC current), and I'm not sure Gralab equipment works on 220V....

  8. #8

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    If you have it in a powered cradle, what difference does the battery make? If you need a palm for note taking you could perhaps get one of the newer ones for that purpose, and leave your darkroom Palm plugged in.

    I downloaded FotoTimer this morning, and had a look at it. For enlarging I'd rather use a standard enlarging timer. But I don't care much about the ability to program sequences for enlarging, or processing for that matter.

    What I would find valuable in FotoTimer would be the ability for it to do f-stop time calculations, maybe with a pull-down for selecting how many stops up or down and have it display a new time in minutes and seconds seconds + tenths, perhaps. But I wouldn't use the palm for the timing, I'd enter it into my timer. IMHO, that would be a good addition to the source code you have, assuming it's not already a feature.

    FWIW, Gralab does make 220 units, there was one for free in the classifieds a week or so ago. It's one of the analog clockface types though. Usable for enlarging but not very convienient. They are great for process timing though.

  9. #9
    Lee L's Avatar
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    Denis,

    I understand that you want something very small. I can't tell what your absolute limits are from your posts, but I suspect that the netbook I mentioned is smaller than you may have presumed.

    BTW, with a red lith or gel over the screen, you could likely run it in the open with B&W papers. Eugene Smith used this over a B&W TV while printing. I do this in observatories all the time to preserve night vision.

    The Asus EeePC with a 7" diagonal screen could run the Palm OS Emulator under linux, and so run FotoTimer. It's about US$250, the same as some Palms used to cost. It's about 2.6 Palms wide:

    Specifications
    Internal memory: 2 GB solid state disk
    Memory expansion: slot for MMC/SD(SDHC) cards
    RAM: 512 MB DDR2
    Processor: 800 MHz Intel Mobile CPU
    Operating system: Linux
    LCD: 7 inches, 800 x 480 pixels
    Networking: 54g Wi-Fi (802.11b/g), 10/100 Fast Ethernet
    Peripheral connectivity: three USB 2.0
    External video: one VGA
    External audio: one headphone and one microphone port
    Webcamera: no
    Battery: 4400 mAh
    Battery life: up to 2.8 hours
    Weight: 2 pounds (32 ounces)
    Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.5 x 1.4 inches

    BTW, I have used FotoTimer on a Palm IIIxe, and daisy-chained the steps, so I know what you're used to. The IIIxe runs on AA batteries, which aren't hard to find, so perhaps you should try to find one of those. The IIIxe is B&W, so it doesn't draw the batteries down or have the power demands of the color Palms, and you don't seem to need color for this application anyway.

    Lee
    Last edited by Lee L; 11-13-2008 at 05:04 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  10. #10
    jeroldharter's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Denis P. View Post
    Jerold, the thing isn't complicated at all. Actually, it's the least complicated system I've found so far. It just sounds complicated to someone who's never used the program....
    Obviously I don't know what I am talking about. Happens fairly often.

    The broader point that I was making though is that darkroom life need not be so complicated. There are so many cheap used timers on the market you could by one for every step of your processing.

    Some people who like to be prompted for the steps make audio tapes, CD's, or voice files of their voice telling them what to do at the proper time. Some play music in between the voice prompts.

    On of the sponsors here, I think Alan Ross, sells timing software for a PC and you can use one of the gel filters Lee mentioned and just use your regular laptop in the darkroom without having to buy extra gear.
    Jerold Harter MD

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