Restoring a Vest Pocket Kodak

A little while ago I was given a Vest Pocket Kodak (VPK) by a gentleman at church. It had belonged to his grandfather. When he rediscovered it recently, his grandchildren weren’t interested in it, so he kindly offered it to me. It was in poor condition but I promised to fix it if I could. One of the scissor struts had snapped and the bellows had tears and pinholes. There was paint loss all over the bodywork, but surprisingly the lens glass and the shutter were both in great condition and fully working.

Vest Pocket Kodak with broken strut

I investigated various options for manufacturing a new strut – the best method seemed to be having one laser-cut from 1mm steel but the minimum order cost was prohibitive and it was actually cheaper to buy another broken Vest Pocket Kodak on eBay and take the struts from that.

It was easy to drill out the rivets on the donor camera and release the strut. The holes in the strut were different sizes and I had to drill the smaller ones slightly larger to make room for the smallest rivets I could find, which were 2.5mm. I also drilled out the rivets on the camera I was repairing to get rid of the broken strut pieces.

I’ve never riveted before but I bought the cheapest possible riveter and a selection of small, short blind rivets. Once the holes in the struts were slightly enlarged, it was easy to pop a rivet in there and fasten it. In hindsight I should have put a piece of paper between the struts temporarily when they were riveted, and then removed it after riveting to give them some freedom to rotate. My rivets are a little stiff, but movable. A small amount of oil on the joints helped.

The back of the rivets protrude quite far and are at risk of fouling the bellows when the camera is folded flat, so I squashed them a bit flatter with some pliers and filed off the sharp edges. The new aluminium rivets don’t look quite as nice as the original chrome ones but at least they’re functional. The replacement strut is duller than the original, too – but that’s OK given that the camera is over 100 years old.

The next point of attention was the bellows. The overall structure of the bellows was OK but there were several splits and pinholes on the edges and corners. I didn’t think it warranted a full bellows replacement – which is lucky because that’s a tricky job. In the end I patched up these bellows by gluing the loose bits of leather down with UHU glue, adding some strips of fabric to give extra strength here and there, and covering the pinholes with an unusual substance called Liquid Electrical Tape. It’s supposed to be for coating electrical contacts in boats and motorhomes but it’s flexible, opaque, and easy to apply with a paintbrush, so it’s quite good at repairing bellows too. Unfortunately, it is bright red so it doesn’t really blend in. It’s not a beautiful repair, but it is functional.

Vest Pocket Kodak with new struts and repaired bellows

The Liquid Electrical Tape dried stiffer than I thought it would, so the bellows have much less flexure than I would have hoped. I think the bellows repairs would split if I forced the camera fully flat. It looks like it will collapse about halfway down without damage, and that’s enough to give the bellows some protection while I carry the camera in a rigid box.

The film used by the Vest Pocket Kodak, 127 film, has been officially discontinued but there are still one or two suppliers. I bought a roll of Rera Pan 100 which is currently being manufactured in Japan. This should give eight nice black & images. With the camera ready to go, I’m waiting for some nicer weather before I get started. Hopefully I’ll get some negatives worth printing, and I plan to give one to the gentleman who gave me the camera. I hope he’ll be pleased.

And what became of the Vest Pocket Kodak I bought for parts? Well, I took what I needed and donated the rest to someone who takes part in WW1 reenactments and was also looking for parts to restore his own Vest Pocket Kodak.

eBay Global Shipping Program

It hasn’t been many days since I last complained about eBay. This time, it’s their Global Shipping Program (GSP) that has annoyed me.

For those who aren’t familiar, the GSP is a service provided by eBay where if you sell items to international buyers, you can send the item to eBay’s shipping centre in the UK using standard domestic postage and they will forward it on to the buyer. They handle all international postage and customs fees and paperwork. The benefit to the seller is obviously less hassle, but also the seller is not responsible for loss or damage of the item after it has been received by the UK shipping centre. The scheme is not popular with buyers because it is the they that foot the bill for these extra charges.

On the whole, it sounds good, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Last week a buyer in Italy bought a fragile piece of darkroom equipment from me (it was a cold-cathode lamp for a photographic enlarger made in 1952).

De Vere 54 cold cathode tube

The item was sold through the GSP, the buyer paid and so I prepared the item. Knowing it was a fragile glass tube, I wrapped it in many layers of bubblewrap, put it in a box and then put that box in a larger outer box. I sent it to the UK shipping centre via Royal Mail First Class Recorded. Royal Mail tracking shows the parcel made it there safely and GSP also confirmed safe receipt of the item. In theory, from this point onwards, my responsibility has ended.

However, several days later the buyer contacted me to say the tube was broken when it arrived. He sent me a picture of the broken lamp and of the box it arrived in – which is not the box I sent it in. It appears that shipping centre have re-packed this item, removing the bubblewrap and replacing a single layer of bubblewrap and a different box. This was clearly inadequate and unacceptable. Reading around online, it seems that it is fairly common for GSP to re-pack items during transit, although nobody is quite sure whether this is for customs inspections or simply to save money on international postage.

The buyer opened a return request with eBay to ask for a refund.

Despite eBay’s promises that sellers are protected from damage in transit, eBay froze the funds in my PayPal account and contacted me (by email) to say I should refund the buyer. The only options available to me on their website were “refund the buyer” and “contact the buyer”. There was no mention of the GSP or any seller protection. I read some forums where people had had similar experiences and it seems that the buyer has to raise the right type of return request. They have to choose “damaged in transit” whereas my buyer had chosen “faulty item”.

I couldn’t find any way to change the request or refer it to eBay. I messaged the buyer, explained the system and asked him to close this request and open a new one with “damaged in transit” as the reason. He went silent and didn’t reply. Meanwhile, eBay sent two reminders for me to give a refund.

While the amount in question was not large (£15) it’s a matter of principle, and I was sure if I refunded the buyer out of my own pocket that I’d never get reimbursed by eBay. I scoured eBay’s website looking for some way of escalating this to support, but all I found was a well-hidden phone number. Typical, for a 100% online company to not offer online support when it benefits them.

In fairness, after just five minutes on the phone to customer support they had refunded the buyer out of their own pocket and released the funds in my PayPal account (which will take 24 hours, for some reason). But I am still cross that despite their promises to protect sellers who use the GSP scheme, they don’t actually honour it unless you ignore everything you see on the website and phone up. If they want to the GSP to be a success, it needs to be more integrated into the system so that it is not possible for buyers to contact the seller about shipping problems when it is clearly the fault of the GSP – or at least very easy for sellers to refer these cases to eBay with one click. They definitely should not be sending nag emails to sellers to pressure them into doing the wrong thing and refunding when they are not liable.

The seller protection also extends to have negative feedback caused by GSP removed from your profile retrospectively. I suspect this will mean another phonecall if the buyer is still unhappy that he received a broken item with inadequate packing, and has no idea that it was GSP’s fault.

Boundary microphones

Boundary microphones are an often-overlooked type of microphone which can be extremely useful in some situations. They might not be ideal for studio recording but they really come into their own for live sound work.

Firstly – what are boundary microphones? They are a specialised type of condenser microphone which is placed against a hard surface – usually a wall or the floor. Usually putting microphones near walls is a no-no because of destructive phase cancellation, but by putting a microphone on the wall, you avoid this.

I’ve attempted to show what’s going on with my excellent drawing skills (using the venerable Dia). When using a conventional microphone on a stand, the sound can reach the microphone from the actor via two paths: either direct, or by bouncing off the stage. This can cause the interference due to the delay caused by the signal that went via the longer path. By putting a boundary microphone directly on the stage, you avoid the secondary reflected sound and have a much more coherent signal.

I volunteered to do the sound for a pantomime in a village hall with a stage. My predecessor had been using a pair of small-diaphragm condenser microphones (Behringer C-2, to be specific) on stands in front of the stage, with the microphones about two feet above the stage. This worked reasonably well but the microphones were in the audience’s eyeline and it was also possible for the front row of the audience to accidentally touch the microphone stands, making a loud thumping sound on the PA.

I had never used boundary microphones before but I suggested to the producer that we might try a cheap pair to avoid the problems we had with microphone stands in front of the stage. She agreed and I bought a pair of StudioSpares SB400 boundary microphones. I placed the microphones on the stage, at the front, and sat them on rectangles of thin foam to reduce the sound of footsteps.

StudioSpares SB400 boundary microphone

I was impressed with the sound quality but perhaps even more importantly for live sound, the gain-before-feedback was higher than with the small diaphragm mics on stands. I was able to boost the overall gain while using a bit of crafty EQ to cut out low-frequency vibrations below 100Hz. The lack of comb filtering with the boundary mics was audible. Overall, the speech was much clearer for the audience – and of course the microphones were invisible to them! I was also surprised to find that the boundary microphones picked up less stage noise than the condenser microphones.

I am now a convert to using boundary microphones for stage use. And these were inexpensive ones too – imagine how good it could be with more expensive mics.

Finding 32-bit WAV audio files on Linux

I was trying to find a way to search my archive of recordings on Linux and return the filenames of 32-bit WAV audio files. It’s a little tricky, but I did it. You’ll need to install the ffprobe command (part of the ffmpeg package).

I came up with this command. It’s quite long and maybe not the most efficient way, but it works!

find . -name '*.wav' -exec ffprobe -i '{}' 2>&1 ; | egrep 'Input|Stream' | grep pcm_f32 -B1 | grep ^Input | awk -F "'" '{print $2}'

eBay Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) Program

This week, I had a clear out of some of my audio equipment and listed an Eagle G148 microphone for sale on eBay.

eBay listing
eBay listing

Within hours, the listing had been taken down by eBay and I was sent this message:

Takedown notice
Takedown notice
Your listing has been removed: Trademark Violation – Unauthorized Item

Hello dj_judas21,After reviewing your eBay account, we’ve taken the following action:
– Violating listings have been removed. A list of items that were removed can be viewed at the bottom of this message.
– We have credited all associated fees except for the final value fee for your listing(s).

Your listing was removed after the rights owner notified us that your item infringes on their trademark rights. We urge you to contact the rights owner directly for more information about why they requested the removal of your listing and whether you may relist the item.

For more information on our VeRO program, go to:
http://pages.ebay.co.uk/help/sell/trademark.html

If you have more questions, contact our policy experts:
http://ocsnext.ebay.co.uk/ocs/cusr?query=1337&=PTB1205

Please be sure your current and future listings follow these guidelines, keeping in mind that additional violations could result in the suspension of your account.

The rights owner or an agent authorized to act on behalf of the rights owner, Shure, Inc., notified eBay that this listing violates intellectual property rights. When eBay receives a report of this type of violation, we remove the listing to comply with the law.

We encourage you to contact Shure, Inc. directly if you have any questions.

You can send an email to:
haas_joan@shure.com

For more information on how eBay protects Intellectual Property, or for additional information if you believe that your listing has been removed as a result of an error or misidentification, please visit the following Help page:
http://pages.ebay.com/help/policies/programs-vero-ov.html

Here are the listings that were removed:
272508655545 – Eagle G148 Retro Vintage Super Cardioid Dynamic Microphone “Elvis Style”

We appreciate your cooperation.Thanks,
eBay

Please don’t reply to this message. It was sent from an address that doesn’t accept incoming email.

What things annoyed me most about this is that eBay have acted upon an allegation without properly investigating it and without giving me the right to defend myself. I happen to believe the allegation was made in error as the listing itself is an honest description of an Eagle G148 microphone. No mention of Shure anywhere.

I am also annoyed that eBay don’t care about helping me. I read the links in the email but they just contain bland information about their policies and another note that in case of query, eBay sellers should contact the person who made the complaint. They don’t take responsibility for their “investigation”. Here’s an excerpt from one of eBay’s help pages:

If your listing was reported by a VeRO participant, and you believe that your listing was removed in error, try to contact the rights owner directly. The email we sent you about the removal will include their contact information. If the rights owner agrees that they made a mistake, have them email eBay and we’ll allow you to relist your item.

I am pessimistic that emailing Shure will have any effect, or that I will even get a reply. A private individual emailing some random mailbox in a large corporation, asking them to admit a mistake and email another large corporation? Yeah, right. I decided to humour them, though, and here’s what I sent to Joan Haas at Shure.

To whom it may concern,

I received an email from eBay stating that one of my listings was taken down at the request of Shure Inc on the grounds of an alleged trademark violation / unauthorized item.

The item in question was 272508655545 – Eagle G148 Retro Vintage Super Cardioid Dynamic Microphone “Elvis Style”

I feel that Shure Inc has made an error in this matter, since the product in question is not a Shure product, nor a replica/counterfeit Shure product, nor was it advertised as such. I am therefore confused, and would be grateful if you could explain the reasoning behind the complaint.

I have contacted eBay to dispute the takedown and before they take action they have requested that I contact Shure.

“If your listing was reported by a VeRO participant, and you believe that your listing was removed in error, try to contact the rights owner directly. The email we sent you about the removal will include their contact information. If the rights owner agrees that they made a mistake, have them email eBay and we’ll allow you to relist your item.”

So I would be grateful if you could contact eBay to state that an error was made in this matter. If you are unable to do this, please explain to me why it is that you are unable.

I will be contacting eBay directly to follow up on the matter.

Regards,
Jonathan

To my surprise, I received a reply after just a day or two:

Sir:

Your sale on eBay was shut down because the microphone you offered infringes Shure’s registered trademarks in the European Community (CTM) and US covering the microphone design. Certificates for CTM registration 4348348 and US registration 2,163,185 are attached for your reference.

Joan Haas
Legal Assistant

So it seems that Shure have requested that eBay remove my listing because they believe the Eagle G148 microphone infringes one of their trademarks – not that I as an individual have been accused of any wrongdoing. I’m pleased and surprised I actually got a helpful and specific response from them.

I’m not an intellectual property lawyer but the trademark registration seems awfully vague and would describe most microphones made in the 1950s. The trademark only describes the physical appearance of the microphone. I’m certainly not going to hire a lawyer to debate the finer points, and I am prepared to accept that Shure are unwilling to allow infringing products to be sold.

I’m still cross at eBay though, being heavy-handed and unhelpful while handling the case. They sent me a follow-up customer service survey to ask me to rate the interaction. I told them what I thought about the inadequacies of their process.

Photo catch-up

A combination of bad weather, having a toddler and generally being busy has meant I haven’t done much photography recently. When I have taken pictures, it’s never been enough to finish a film. Last fortnight, though, I finished a roll of film in my Canon T90 that’s been in there for ages, and I had the inspiration to shoot a few frames of large format film in my Horseman 45HD.

Click on the photos and go through the gallery – I’ve put more detailed captions on the individual photos.