What Wildlife really do during baseball season

Have you ever wondered what animals are up to? Deep in the forest, away from traffic where humans are absent? Well, I discovered the truth this weekend thanks to one of those amazing wildlife cameras.

The above photo reveals what bears really do during baseball season when humans are scarce. The photo below shows their behavior during football season. 

So, why does an overly caffeinated engineer bother with a wildlife camera? Why leave the comfort of my house, my computer and most critical, my coffee maker?

To seek true happiness.

And what is true happiness?

Glad you asked. Pull up a seat and pour yourself some coffee. Some hot, strong coffee. The kind that grows hair on your chest (just wish coffee would grow hair on my head).

True Happiness:

I once read an outdoor magazine suggesting that true happiness can be found drinking coffee while sitting in front of a roaring camp fire, deep in the woods. Savoring its earthly tones while inhaling the elixir’s healing aroma. Of course, this truly happy camper is fending off frost bite and wind and near lightning strikes and bone shivering rain while trying to start a fire with wet wood.

Not sure why someone would consider that happiness? To me, it’s a bit crazy. But, the outdoor magazine I saw at the checkout counter shows these outdoor guys as seven feet tall, no gut, full head of hair, arms the size of small redwood trees alongside some good-looking women with perfect hair and a big smile, walking next to him while caring an eighty-pound backpack.

And after being turned down by several ladies who found no desire to tromp through the wet woods with bugs and mosquitoes to experience true happiness alongside an LCD design engineer with a gut as large as a small redwood tree, I bought the wildlife camera.

And many of my friends wonder why I can’t get any second dates? Heck, I can’t figure out why I can’t get any first dates.

Character LCDs with poor contrast:

My first idea to capture wildlife photos failed miserably when I tried locating the camera in some place guaranteed to have a high number of animals only to find out the zoo has some stupid rule against campfires and crawling down into the bear pit to attach the camera to a tree.

So, I drove north, deep into the forest, strapping the camera to a tree. Then before the rain and the cold struck, I made a beeline for the Holiday Inn for the night, where they have a Krups coffee maker in each room and you don’t have to look under the toilet seat before sitting down.

Early the next morning, I returned to the camera and noticed the poor contrast of the character LCD. In the photo below, you can see the small boxes slightly lit up, an example of ghosting caused by colder temperatures. This makes it difficult to read the characters. 

This unit contained an LCD similar to our 16×2, STN character LCD with LED backlight. See photo below of display operating within its temperature range. 

Solutions to improve contrast in cold temperatures:

There are four . . . no wait, five possible solutions to increase sharpness (aka adjust contrast)

1. Wide Temperature Fluid

There are a variety of nematic fluids that perform well at colder temperatures. Some perform below the -30C. TN fluid is a good one.

Note: If the display is operating (on/powered up) when the temperature drops, the contrast will look better. But if you turn the display on at the low temperature, it takes some time for the display to perform and the contrast will suffer.

Turning on a LED light will add some heat, maybe enough to speed up the warm up process.

2. Increase the temperature by adding heater film:

Heater film works great but is a bit expensive. In some cases, the heater film can be more expensive than the character display. This is acceptable for military, aviation and medical were low-cost is not king. But for other applications, unique solutions are required.

3. Increasing power:

LCDs require more driving power as the temperature drops. A typical Character LCD will operate at 4.3V in room temperature but can demand as much as 5.5V as the temperature heads south. This could be an issue with battery powered products.

It is possible to order a 3.3V version of the display but it will operate poorly at very cold temperatures. Best to stick with 5V.

4. Resistors:

Adding several ¼ watt resistors to the PCB near the glass to generate heat. This solution is low cost and can be turned on and off independent of the LCD to save power.

5. Drink more coffee:

This will not warm up the LCD, and I don’t advise dipping the LCD in hot coffee, but it will warm up the user. We have had customers, in an attempt to get the fluid moving, place their product close to their body, even under armpits, using body-heat to raise the operating temperature to make the display readable.

Don’t laugh, it works. Although, now we are thinking of adding a bottle of deodorant on all LCD shipments north of Denver.

Just a thought.