Saturday, December 29, 2018

Roomba i7 Teardown: Why is there a waving cat with a lint roller inside?

I wasn't planning to take apart a Roomba today, but when your kid greets you in the morning with, "Are we going to take apart mommy's vacuum robot today?" it's hard to say no.  So, I spent part of my day taking apart, documenting, and reassembling a Roomba i7 - the newest generation of the Roomba line, with persistent house maps, a far quieter blower, and quite the surprise waiting inside for the determined explorer!

I like taking things apart - or, at least, seeing them apart.  I couldn't find a good Roomba i7 teardown on the internet, so I made my own.  The thing has been out for months already!  Join me for a trip inside the Roomba i7!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Drones, Gatwick, Flying Things, and Regulations

If you don't follow aviation or UK news, you might not have heard that the London Gatwick airport was shut down from Wednesday evening through Friday, because of drone interference over the runway.  In other words, "Someone very deliberately flying a drone, of some form, over the airport, specifically to shut down operations."

And they were doing a damned good job of it.  Or the people trying to stop it were completely unprepared.

I'm actually quite surprised that it's taken this long for a deliberate attack on an airport like this - the technology has been around for a long while, but so far, most incidents seem to be "stupidity" based, not so much "malicious."  This?  This is malicious.  We'll certainly see changes out of it, though they won't actually accomplish much.  And I'm playing with those ideas for this week's post.

The police claim to have a couple in custody, which should also be interesting to watch.

Added Sunday Dec 23:  And the couple has been released and cleared of suspicion.  So no suspects yet.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

The EBD-M05 Battery Tester: 19.5V, 5A, 30W, useful software!

I haven't reviewed a battery tester in a while!  This week, I'm covering the Very Fancy ZKE EBD-M05.  This is a 19.5V, 5A, 30W battery tester with a rather slick computer interface, and some properly impressive accuracy (once calibrated).  Plus, it measures watt-hours!

I've subjected it to my usual battery of tests, and it's good.  Very good!  It's well worth the $20 on eBay - and if you want a battery tester at this point in time, you should probably buy this one!

It solves most of my complaints about other units I've used, and with software that actually works, it's my new favorite battery tester!

Read on for all the details!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Sides for a Flatbed Trailer: Building a bulk material hauler

It's been at least a year since I've posted about an "old trailer" build - so, of course, it's time for another one!  Last time I worked with an old trailer, I built myself a trash trailer for hauling trash to the dump.  It works wonderfully - but it's not very useful for hauling stuff to the property.  In 2019, I expect to need to haul many yards of gravel, probably some compost, and an awful lot of long material that won't fit easily in my truck.  All of this most easily done with an open top trailer - the gravel and compost can be loaded with a bucket loader, assuming they can reach over the sides.  But, you also can't just put a pile of gravel on a flatbed trailer and expect it to stay in place.

I have access to an older flatbed trailer (that could use some new tires) that would be perfect - if it had sides.  It used to have a set of sides, but they haven't been around in years, so if I want to use it for all my hauling needs, I need to build new sides.  Which, of course, I did!

What goes into building trailer sides that should last a long time?  Well, an awful lot of urethane, really.  And since the slots aren't quite right for 2x4s, fun with a small table saw, some hand saws, and more urethane.  Keep reading for the details!

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Senior Citizen Political Junkmail: The Social Security Roll Call

For reasons well beyond my understanding (that likely relate to Algorithms), I find myself on the receiving end of quite a bit of conservative political junk mail.  It's your bog standard "Trump is amazing, the Lib-ruhls are trying to ruin the country, give us money so we can stop them!" stuff.  But that's not all I get.

For even less comprehensible reasons, I receive junk mail (and spam phone calls) aimed at conservative seniors - your AARP, Social Security receiving, Medicare-covered folks.  And this stuff?  This stuff is just baffling.  I've decided to start documenting the worst of it, because if you haven't seen this stuff, it's just evilly manipulative and silly.

Your parents probably get mail like this.  Let's dive in and inspect it in detail.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Property Progress #3

It's time for another Property Progress post - covering most of the stuff I've gotten done as we head into winter.  So far, no snow, but the clouds and rain have most definitely hit hard, and are forecast to continue.  The generator is fueled, the tractor is ready to go for the snow, the snowblower is ready, and I'm set to hunker down and ride out the winter with plenty of design work for next year's projects.

And, as happens regularly, we've added birdhouses to our post-of-bird-houses.  The lowest one came from a silent auction at the school our church meets at.  This post is one of those "totally unplanned things that's happened and become cool" - we hadn't ripped the post down because it was out of the way, we wanted to put a few birdhouses, and the post seemed a good spot.  It turns out that, with the bushes behind it, it's a very good spot, and the local birds love it.  So we've added more houses.  Eventually, it'll be birdhouses all the way up!

What else have I done?  Keep reading to find out!

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Church Planting Tech: Rugged Audio/Lighting Cables for Just Over $1/ft

Two weeks ago, I talked about a bunch of "ways that didn't work" for building high quality, rugged audio cable.  This week, I cover the other side: How to build your own high quality rugged audio/lighting cable, for about the same cost as the cheap stuff from China!

I've set out to solve quite a few problems here, mostly based on real world experience with repairing broken cables from a 3 year old church plant.  Plus, as is typical for me, far too much reading on cables, and a moderately decent understanding of AC waveforms.  It wasn't my strong suit in college, but I know enough to understand what I'm reading.

Given that, I've created what I think is a really, really good XLR/DMX cable.  It's based around a high quality, US manufactured cable, with additional strength, good connections, and built in "Tourizing" for additional strength.

Cost on a 25' cable for all this?  $30.

Interested?  Keep reading!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Open discussion post!

Or, more accurately, "I have been getting exceptionally good at cooking pancakes on Saturday mornings, but that requires being up at 5AM and it's quite late now."

Feel free to suggest future post ideas in the comments, or discuss... oh, anything more or less in the category of things this blog discusses.  Or simply Kerbal Space Program.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Cable Building: Technical Experiments and Failures

Or, "Things that didn't work."  I've been working for a while to build some really, really nice audio cables that meet spec as DMX cables as well.  Why?  Personal challenge, and to replace some of the older audio cables my church uses.  I've gone through and "tourized" a bunch of XLR cables to make them more rugged, but for not that much more than a pre-built cable, if you've got a soldering iron, you can build yourself something properly nice - with, at least on paper, far better audio performance in the bargain!

This road has not been smooth.  I like to document my failures as well as my successes, both because they're interesting, and because, hopefully, someone can learn something from them and avoid going down the same false paths I have.  If you want to watch a video of a beautiful build process, go watch The Art of Making a Nixie Tube.  If you want to find out how not to build some high performance XLR cables, stick around here!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Cleaning up a TV Install: In-Wall Cable Kits, Wall Mounted NUCs!

If you're a regular reader, you've probably been wondering a bit about the last two weeks of posts.  I've gone on, in depth, about a passive NUC case, and about speaker stands.  Obviously, this has been building to something - and, the something is a rather significantly cleaned up TV install in the living room, with a hidden computer behind the TV!  *confetti pops*

Not all my projects are based around weird electronics out in my office.  Some are for the house, and aren't really for any reason other than to make the house look better.  And, in this case, to reduce the visual impact of the TV after having improved the system quite significantly.  Without cables, the TV doesn't attract as much attention when back against the wall, and we value that greatly.

The cables are hidden.  The TV computer is wall mounted (and absolutely invisible unless you're up against the wall looking for it).  And everything looks good.  What's involved in cleaning things up like this?  Read on and find out!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

SANUS SF34-B1 Steel Series Bookshelf Speaker Stands

Speaker stands: Either a simple mechanism for elevating speakers, or a central contributor to the audio system's sonic qualities, worth massive investment in time and experimentation to find out how different fills change their sound, how minor changes in assembly torque impact things, and... well, the rabbit hole goes as deep as you want to go.

But, regardless of the rabbit hole, I still had a need for some speaker stands - so I built some!

This particular set of stands is the SANUS SF34-B1 - and they're well regarded as having dreadful instructions.  Which they do.  But I've made my way through the install, documented it, filled the stands with something to damp vibrations, and they work great!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Silencing a NUC: The Akasa Plato X7 Fanless Case

For a while now, I've had an Intel NUC (NUC7I5BNK) running our home TV.  It's actually more fair to call the TV a monitor for the NUC, as that's the only signal, of any variety, feeding into the TV (by design).  But, in any case, the NUC runs the TV, runs Plex, runs streaming content (yes, you can stream stuff in rural Idaho) - and also runs a cooling fan.  Quite a bit, actually, and a NUC fan, if you're not familiar, is loud enough to be annoying in the evening when you're watching a movie that gets quiet.

How to solve this for a system that by design doesn't use much power?  A passive case!  This is a case with no fans to cool it - just sheer metal mass and fins.  Conveniently, Akasa makes a number of such cases.  One of which, I now own!  It's rather substantially larger than the stock NUC case, but how does it work?  Is it any good?

Very well, and, other than being a bit expensive, I'm incredibly happy with it!  Dive on in and see what's involved in making a NUC dead silent!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Stromer ST1 Electric Bike Battery Pack Teardown

It's been a while since I've done an ebike pack teardown, but this week, you're in luck!  I've got a 522Wh Stromer ST1 pack in my shop, ready to be taken apart!  It's a bright metallic orange, and it's a beefy pack.  There's a lot of power in here, and the pack is quite dense in the hand.

What's inside?  What makes it tick?

You know you want to see another battery teardown, so jump on in!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Freezer Repair and Thermostat Teardown

If your upright or chest freezer stops running, you'll find out one of two ways: Before everything is thawed and ruined, or after.  Hopefully you find out before, but often enough, you discover the freezer has quit when you walk past it and notice something leaking out.  Or you open it and realize that it's very warm and everything is very squishy.  Neither situation is good, especially if you have an awful lot of locally grown beef in there.

This is why you should always purchase a freezer alarm with your freezer - so you can get warned before it gets too warm.  But, if something goes wrong, quite often you can fix it yourself!  The refrigeration systems are usually robust.  The surrounding control systems?  Less so.  Often, disturbingly less so.

I've had this upright freezer (a Frigidaire LFFH20F3QWC - who names these things?) for about 2.5 years (with a warranty of 1 year - and, me being me, I didn't buy the extended super duper mega warranty for half the price of the freezer).  It recently quit on me.  We caught it early enough and figured out that the thermostat was acting up, and would operate if twisted cold enough.  With the help of a freezer alarm (and remote temperature sensor), I limped it along, keeping things frozen, until the new thermostat showed up and I could replace it.

So, if you have a freezer, and are curious as to how they work, join me for this interesting journey into replacing a freezer thermostat - and then pulling a freezer thermostat apart, because why would you ever remove a failed part without disassembling it to better understand it?

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Peak Smartphone: Backlash against the Predatory Smartphone and Social Media

Summer, 2007.  Slightly more than a decade ago.  Music was painfully early 2000s.  The Simpsons were in their 18th season.  The UK banned smoking in public places.  And Apple's "iPhone" ended up in the hands of consumers for the very first time.

It was weird - it didn't even have a keypad.  It didn't flip.  It didn't even come with Snake (which was roughly the best game ever)!  But, as is incredibly obvious now, it was the future of phones.  A black rectangle into the world, with a camera that wasn't awful, controlled by tapping on the screen.  Without a real keyboard.  Shut down, it was a black rectangle.

Fast forward a decade.  Nearly everyone has their own black rectangle.  In 2016, 1.5 billion smartphones went to end users.  That's not how many have been sold total - that's how many were sold in one year.

And they've changed life as we know it - for good, and for bad.  We've let the psychology of Las Vegas into our pockets, and it turns out that this is actually a really bad idea.  But there are glimmers of hope, and companies no less than Apple themselves have started realizing this and helping us tame the smartphone - and, by extension, social media.

So, dive on in and let's explore phones!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Project Pi3B+Desk - Making an even better desktop from the Raspberry Pi 3B+!

Earlier this year, I posted about something I called "Pi3Desk" - making a Raspberry Pi 3 into a better desktop than it was.  Lots of tweaks, kernel upgrades, a USB SSD... the works.  And, shortly before I posted it, the Raspberry Pi 3B+ came out, and the Raspberry Pi foundation upgraded their reference kernel.

Over the past six months, I've continued pushing, crashing, fixing, and generally thrashing my Raspberry Pis into the ground as desktops - and I've made things even better!

Yes, it looks a bit Kerbal - but it works.  I can hold 1.4GHz sustained on my 3B+ with this setup - it doesn't even hit 50C unless ambient is really high!  That cable looping to a device under?  That's a USB SSD - which blows a MicroSD card absolutely out of the water in disk performance.  I've got a custom kernel build with some compressed swap, some memory parameter tuning, and the thing just flies (relative to the base configuration, of course).

And, this time, I've documented the setup process much more completely - so you should even be able to reproduce it for yourself!

Keep reading for all the juicy details.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Raspberry Pi 3B+: The FLIRC Case, Thermals, and GPIO Controlled Fans

Earlier in 2018, I did some experiments related to the Raspberry Pi 3 thermal behavior under load, and I found a case that worked reasonably well to keep it cool.

What I missed, though, was an even better case on the market that does an even better job with cooling - the FLIRC case.  It's slightly more expensive than the "Moster" heatsink case I used, but it's a good bit better at cooling a Raspberry Pi 3.

It does a really good job with the 3B+ as well - but it didn't keep things quite as cool as I wanted.  As is often the case in my lab, what started as "messing around" turned into something far more exciting: This contraption!  I have no idea what to call it, but it's pretty cool (running)!

Sure, it looks weird.  But it works.  My Raspberry Pi 3B+ can build the Linux kernel at 1.4GHz without even hitting 50C!  Can yours do that?  Plus, the fan is automatically controlled by some software and the GPIO pins - which, in addition to saving a (tiny) bit of power, just looks cool when the fan comes on automatically.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Tool Battery Teardowns: Craftsman 19.2V and Ridgid 12V

It's time for more tool battery teardowns!  This week, I've got a Craftsman 19.2V DieHard battery, and a cute little Ridgid 12V battery.  They're both lithium, and I'm going to dig into both of them, because that's what I do with old batteries I pick up out of junk bins.

If you're bored of tool battery teardowns, you could always send me more interesting things to mess with!  I enjoy poking around tool batteries, and a lot of the ones I pull apart are "new to the internet" in that they haven't had a detailed teardown before.   It's always interesting to see how different companies approach much the same problem.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Technology, Anti-fragility of Property, and Ferrets

Over the past few years, I've continued mentally putting together a bunch of thoughts on technology, the internet, reading, "social" media, property design, and resilience - or, better stated, anti-fragility.  Some of them may turn into full posts at some point in the future, some of them almost certainly won't.  But I've had plenty of time to think over the past few weeks as the nasty smoke has kept us all inside (or at least not getting much done outside - it's seriously nasty outside lately), and some of it has solidified enough to make a blog post out of.

Why ferrets?  Because I've just managed to organize my photos library from the past decade and change (so I can find stuff), and because ferrets are awesome.  And cute.  And hyper.

Join me and see where this week goes!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Tool Battery Teardowns: The 12V Lithium Twins (DeWalt and Ryobi)

It's been over a year since I've posted any tool battery teardowns, and it shouldn't surprise anyone terribly much that I'm the sort of person who collects tool batteries wherever I roam.  This week, I've got a pair of cute little 12V lithium batteries to pull apart - one DeWalt, and one Ryobi.

By my standards, both of these are really, really cute.  I like my "100Wh" DeWalt 20V Max/6Ah battery a lot, and these are about 15Wh.  Tiny.  But, they are tool batteries, and I do like tearing tool batteries down - so, join me!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Wildfires in the Western United States

It's wildfire season in 2018.  If you don't live in the western half of the United States (or other areas on fire), this probably doesn't mean much to you.  If you do live in the western United States, this isn't news to you, and you're probably sick of the smoke already.

But, to sum it up, "Lots and lots of stuff is either freshly burned, actively on fire, or likely to burn in the very near future."  Forests, grasslands, and, sadly, a lot of structures.

Why am I writing about this?  I live in the western United States, have been under varying levels of smoke for quite a while now (this is normal in the late summer), and have recently been doing a lot of reading on US wildfires, and there are some interesting things that fall out of that!

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Church Planting Tech: "Tourizing" XLR and DMX Cables

XLR cables.  DMX cables.  Silence.  Darkness.  Snaps.  Crackles.  Pops - and not the yummy Rice Crispies kind.  These are the kind you get on a Sunday morning (or Friday night) when something's gone badly wrong with one of your XLR cables (or DMX cables), and the problem is almost always at one of the ends of the cable.

What's gone wrong?  How can you fix it?  What might prevent it from happening again?  I've spent a chunk of time repairing cables, and I've found some methods that, if applied early, should help keep your cables living a long and robust life on stage!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Bonus Winter Pictures from 2016-2017!

It's currently hovering around 100F out (or, at least, was 100F this afternoon at the fair), so what better time to talk about two winters ago then now?  It was a record setting winter of snow, and, to make things fun, our first winter in Idaho (well, my first - my wife has dealt with many out here, but not recently).

And everything got stuck.  And spent a long while stuck.  Even the tractor.  Especially the tractor.

So, sit back, relax, and beat the heat wave with some stories about lots and lots of snow (at least, for an area not well equipped to deal with snow).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Property Progress #2

This week: A random grab bag of stuff I've been doing around the property this summer - stuff I've dragged, lifting tines I've bent, sheds I've improved, and sunflowers that have shown up!

This is the second in an ongoing set of posts about things I'm doing around my few acres of basalt hillside.  Don't expect any sort of regular publishing schedule on these, as they happen when they happen (and when I have enough grab bag stuff to write one).

But, first - my shipping container is now legal!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

MingHe DPS6015A: Serial Communication Protocol for TTL/RS232/RS485

Last week, I reviewed a very nice MingHe DPS6015A buck converter - and I liked it.  A lot!  But I didn't have time to cover the serial communication, other than to tease that I was going to cover it.  And, this week delivers!

Documented, for the first time in English (that I know of), the full serial communication protocol for the MingHe DPS6015A (and related) buck converters!  Plus, a bonus Arduino library to handle them in operation.

Why might you want this?  There are many, many situations in which a programmable buck converter is a helpful thing to have - and, normally, they're very expensive.  This one is about $70 on eBay, is reasonably accurate (especially in voltage), and supports a multitude of serial interfaces.

Keep reading for all the juicy protocol details!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

MingHe DPS6015A 80V to 60V/15A/900W Buck Converter Review - With Serial!

Another week, another gizmo to analyze.  This week, I've got a DPS6015A buck converter on my bench - and it is good!  This is a much fancier unit than I normally deal with here - it's about $70 on eBay.  But, it will convert from an input voltage of 15V-80V to an output of up to 60V/15A/900W.

I make extensive use of these in my office.  I have one for running my lighting (and eventually my low voltage DC bus), and I have another one that I use as a bench power supply for precision work (my analog bench supply isn't amazingly precise).  Since these handle up to 80V, they can work directly from my battery pack - my pack will be up over 60V in the winter when cold, which means most cheap buck converters aren't rated for this (and I don't believe in exceeding the max rating on power electronics).  So this is a great unit for my office - and a great unit in general.

On top of that, it's got serial ports!  This unit has a TTL serial port, a RS232 serial port, and a RS485 serial port!  You can entirely control the unit over serial, which is exciting - and, until next week, entirely undocumented (at least in English).

So, how do you use this thing, and how accurate is it?  Keep reading!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Deck Boxes and Deer Mice: Strengthening a Deck Box

One of my goals with this blog is to also cover things I've done that didn't work.  It's common in blogs to talk about a build, and leave it at "I expect this to work well!" - but it's fairly rare to find someone saying, "Nope.  That was a terrible idea, and I've reworked it."

Well, my storage deck box, the way I had it set up, was a terrible idea.  Mostly because, with the bike wheels leaning against the rear wall, it eventually racked over enough to open some gaps at the bottom.  What's the problem with gaps at the bottom?  Deer mice.  This cute little guy.  And his entire family, plus the extended family.  It's an awful year for them out here, and we're finding them in absolutely everything.  Including my deck box.

I don't mind them finding shelter, but I'd rather they not find shelter in my deck box, because they leave droppings all over everything, shred cardboard/plastic for nesting material, and chew on wires.  They didn't do much damage, but... still.  Not OK.  So I fixed the glitch - and improved a deck box in the process!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The ATORCH "Purple Fan" MOSFET Destroyer and "150W" Load Bank

At this point, having read the title, you can probably guess my overall opinion on this little work of art...

Following up my previous review of some 150W load banks, I've got another load bank on my bench for analysis.  This one is alternately sold as a 150W discharge tester, a 185W discharge tester, and probably other stuff I haven't found.  It has a purple fan, a high resolution LCD, and two knobs on the right, plus a boatload of USB ports for input.

And it's a steaming turd of a unit you should never purchase.  However, I did manage to get most of a review in (and a lot of MOSFET replacement practice).  It does work, for limited values of work, so come see what I found!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

New kid, and on birth centers

Some of you may wonder about the lack of a post last Saturday, and if it indicated something like a new kid being delivered.  Wonder no more!

Rowan Elijah.  Born Saturday, June 16, at a massive 9 lb, 2oz.  Or 4.14kg, if you prefer!

At a birth center.  A what?  Keep reading!

Saturday, June 9, 2018

A Tale of Two $30 Load Banks: 60V, 150W, one awesome, one junk

It's rare to find something this interesting in the Chinese Electronics realm.

What I have here are two different units - that look identical at first glance!  And, actually, they look identical until you really dig in and stare at details.  But one is really, really good, and one is so comically bad that it probably won't last an hour in actual use before blowing up.

How do you tell them apart?  Is the good one any good?  Read on to find out!

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Building the "Ultimate Compost Bin"

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I didn't have a good compost bin for my property up until fairly recently.  I built a barrel composter some time ago, and... well, it doesn't work for what we're doing.  I can't feed it bulk material, and it doesn't do a good job with our kitchen waste either.

So I built something better.

This is, according to Organic Life, the "Ultimate Compost Bin."  Why would you build anything less?

Saturday, May 26, 2018

What's the Difference Between a $150 and $600 MPPT Charge Controller? The MakeSkyBlue MPPT

If you go looking for solar charge controllers, there's a wide range of hardware out there, for a very wide range of price tags.  My office normally runs the main array on a $600 Midnite Classic 200 - but I've spent some time recently running my main array on a $130 MakeSkyBlue MPPT unit.

On paper, this little Chinese unit is comparable to a Midnite Classic 200!  You can get them rated for 60A output, they handle up to 190V open circuit on the solar panel side, and they're a quarter the cost!  What you can't find are any actual reviews of the unit or details on how they function.  There's a tiny bit on YouTube, but none of the videos I've found dive down into the nitty-gritty of operation.

Are they any good?  What do you gain or lose with this unit as opposed to one that's 4x the cost?  Well, you might be able to expect that I'm about to dive into that with my usual amount of detail - and you'd be right!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Why a Typical Home Solar Setup Does Not Work With the Grid Down - And What You Can Do About It

During 2017, I saw a lot of news articles talking about how the Evil Power Companies were being Meanie McMean by not letting people with solar panels use them when the grid was down.  The implication (in many news articles) was that these powerless people with solar panels could use them to power their home while the grid was down, if only the evil power company didn't require that solar not work if the grid was down.  The picture painted was one of power company executives, twisting their mustaches, cackling in the glow of their coal fired furnaces, going on about how if they can't deliver power, nobody shall have any power!

That sentiment (and those similar) is somewhere between "showing extreme ignorance of solar" and "actively misleading," depending on the author's knowledge of solar and how it's typically implemented.

So, of course, I'm going to do better.  Because I can.  And because I'm sick of reading that sort of nonsense on the internet.  You will be too, after understanding the issues.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Property Progress #1

A few weeks back, I started out with my "PIREPS" series of posts - thoughts and photos from random trips I've made via small airplane.

This post starts a somewhat infrequent series of "property updates" - general updates on our property, and some feedback on what has or hasn't worked particularly well for us.  Some ideas have worked wonderfully, some... haven't.  It's hard to find anyone else who documents similar projects online, and I'd like to help fix that where I can.

Curious as to how the trash trailer is working?  How about what I'm doing with that ancient tractor I own?  Well, I answer all that, and more!  Read on!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

So, you wanna go off grid...

"I want to go off grid with solar and batteries!"

I hear this, or some variant, increasingly often.  It seems to be a more and more popular concept, especially after some of the recent events in which people were left without power for long periods of time.  And, quite often, I assume the people asking are genuinely interested in what they see as the benefits of off grid power.  They're just not familiar with enough details to really have an understanding of what they're asking, or what it asks of them.

This post is my humble attempt to put a lot of information in one spot, such that I can link people to it when they ask about off grid power.  There are quite valid reasons for off grid power, but it's not as easy or as simple as people tend to think.  And it's certainly not as cheap as people assume it will be.

I've been dealing with a pure off grid office for nearly 2 years now.  While I don't (yet) have a house capable of sustained off grid use, I do live within my energy budget in my office every day I'm out there (which occasionally involves generator use), and I get to deal with a lot of the quirks of off grid power.  So, if you're interested in the pros and cons, keep on reading!

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Or "Pilot Reports."  Number one.  Because this is the first of them on this blog.

Flying.  It's awesome.  I do it.  I'm finally able to do more of it.  Keep reading for more!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Off Grid System Design Considerations and Battery Types

People are regularly surprised that my solar powered office is driven by a moderately sized bank of lead acid batteries instead of a fancy modern lithium bank.  I mean, I do work on lithium batteries regularly, and I could certainly build myself a large lithium bank at fairly minimal cost (compared to purchasing one, if I were willing to do that much spot welding).  But, in a deck box behind my office, I have a boring set of 8 Trojan T-105RE batteries in a 48V/225Ah (10.8kWh) bank.  Why?

Quite a few reasons - which I'm about to dive into!  Read on!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

On the Art of Repair: Re-Capacitoring an Old Mainboard

One of the misconceptions about electronics is that if there are no moving parts, the system should last forever.  This is closer to true than not, but one really common item that does wear out on many systems are capacitors.  Electrolytic capacitors are the usual problem, but, fear not!  You can repair them easily and at home!  Beyond just repairing a mainboard, this week is a bit of a discussion on the art of repair, and why you should get good at it.

Get out your soldering iron and join me!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Off Grid/RV Lead Acid Maintenance, Charging, and Failure Modes

It's 2018, and if you need power storage, there's a great range of battery options out there.  You've got your bog standard flooded lead acid, AGM lead acid, lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4), and of course the newer lithium ion chemistries (Tesla's PowerWall being the most well known here).

And, if you're building a system yourself, especially if it's off grid, it's incredibly likely that you're using flooded lead acid, because they're cheap, work well enough, and you can get them in most towns.  They're also quite reliable and can be quite long lived (15+ years) if maintained properly!

But: If you have an off grid lead acid battery system, it only stays cheap if you keep the batteries in good shape and don't kill them in a few years - and a lot of off grid systems end up killing the batteries in a hurry.  This either leads to an early battery pack replacement, or an awful lot of generator use - both of which are expensive, and generally at odds with the ideals of an off grid power system.

I've spent quite a while reading about lead acid from the view of, "How do they fail, and how do I maintain my battery bank to get the longest life out of it?"  I've learned a lot, and also learned that it's really hard to find good information on failure modes!  I've dug through more than one PhD thesis to get information about some particular failure mode.  This is a long post (over 11,000 words), with a lot of information, and I won't apologize for that.  I've tried to explain the concepts as I go into them, with a target audience of people who have large off grid battery banks.  If you want something shorter, maybe check YouTube?

However, if you want to learn how to run a lead acid battery bank for maximum longevity (for your off grid power system or your RV), and to understand what's going on in your battery bank, read on!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

40 Days Without Casual Internet: The Results

A month and change ago, I set out to give up casual internet use for Lent.  I set myself some parameters mostly pulled out of thin air, and tried to follow them.

Did I accomplish it?  Mostly, though not perfectly.  It turns out that purely giving up casual internet use causes a few issues I hadn't foreseen with my whole "blog and batteries" thing, and it's not a good hard line to set.

Also, it was oddly less difference than I expected.  I think this was due to me mostly being sick for a few weeks and traveling more than usual.  Also, I've previously cut internet use down a lot, so there wasn't a huge delta to work with.

Anyway, if you're interested in the results, and how it might apply to you, keep reading!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Rural Ruin: Old Cabins and Ruins of Civilization

For your viewing enjoyment this week: Ultra-Rural Ruin.  This is an old cabin, easily over 100 years old, that is slowly being reclaimed by nature.  The right side used to be a room as of several years ago, but has collapsed since then.  The rest is very much showing signs of age, the roof is not quite intact anymore, and, well, you can see the rest.

It's not my normal small electronics and battery related posts, but I promise it's interesting!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Project Pi3Desk: Building an awesome Pi3 desktop with btrfs, USB SSD, zswap, and $30!

Some might wonder why on earth I was doing kernel builds with a Raspberry Pi 3, such that I looked the temperature and throttling behavior.  This week, I explain!  I'm trying to make the Raspberry Pi 3 into the best little desktop I can - without breaking the bank in the process.

I have a few Raspberry Pi 3s in my office, and while they work well for very light utility use (as well as for light data logging and IRC connectivity), they fall down if you ask them to work as a desktop - and they don't really fall down gracefully.  Chrome with a complex tab or two will freeze up a Pi so badly you have to power cycle it, and that's just annoying.  So I've set out to fix it, without spending so much that I'd be better off with a more expensive system to start with.

Interested in how to make a far better desktop out of a Raspberry Pi 3 for an extra $30?  Of course you are!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Raspberry Pi 3 Thermal Throttling Analysis: The $8 "Moster" Heatsink

This week and next week, I'm talking about the Raspberry Pi 3.  This week, my focus is the thermal throttling behavior - and how different heatsinks impact that.

I'm a big fan of the Raspberry Pi platform - especially the 3rd generation ("Pi3" at many places in this post).  They make great little "light utility" desktops, and great little utility servers.  They're cheap, they're "fast enough," and they're "good enough" to make them fit a whole bunch of roles fairly well.  Plus, they draw basically no power when idle - which matters, a lot, to me, since my office is solar powered and overnight power draw is a thing I'm concerned about - says the guy with the 30W idle draw beast of an inverter...

One downside to the Raspberry Pi 3, at least, is that it runs hot.  It's not a big deal if the system sits mostly idle - the little ARM chip is efficient enough that temperatures aren't an issue.  Load it up, though, and you'll almost certainly see the little thermometer icon on the right side of the screen before long.  On the Raspberry Pi 3, that means it's already thermally throttling back performance - and on stock Pi cooling (none or a dinky little heatsink), it's not at all hard to get that icon to light up.

There are some standard small heatsinks that are sold with a lot of the Raspberry Pi boards - and they're only barely better than nothing in terms of throttling.  But, fear not!  I've found a pretty good solutionA cheap, $8 solution (shipped from eBay).  And it solves another problem in the process - this case and heatsink combo just looks incredibly cool!

Is it any good?  Does the heatsink really work?  How do you detect Raspberry Pi 3 throttling?  Read on!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Building a Robust Stone Cutting Bench

One particularly warm February morning, I decided that a useful thing for me to have would be a hefty bench I could use for stone cutting.

Why stone cutting?  I have a lot of basalt on my property, and I'd like to learn to do something useful with it - such as turn it into building blocks I can use to make structures.  The raw lumps of basalt aren't terribly useful for that (they have lots of points and are generally oddly shaped), so I'd like to work with them - standing up.  To do this, I built a workbench!  A very, very beefy workbench.

How?  Is it any good?  Should you build one?

Carefully but with plans, yes, it is, and probably not.  Read on!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Project Midnight Calm: How to quiet a MidNite Classic Charge Controller for $9

For the most part, I've been very, very happy with the solar power system I set up for my off-grid office.  Functionally, does exactly what I hoped (and rather exceeds expectations most of the time).  But I have one complaint about it: The MidNite Classic 200 is really, really noisy.  And this noise comes in a fairly distracting form at times.

I've substantially improved it, though.  And learned a few things in the process.  And made a really, really goofy looking attachment.

There are several pieces of this post, so dive on in and let's reduce some noise!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

40 Days of No Casual Internet or Smartphone

I've decided to try an experiment.

Our church has a 40 Days of Prayer period coming up, leading into Easter, more or less lined up with the traditional Lent period.  It's intended to be a time to focus, to pray, and to grow closer to God.

Lent is also, traditionally, a time people give up something to help with this process.  Sometimes it's meat, sometimes it's alcohol, sometimes it's social media, sometimes it's other things.  The point is to give up something you engage in, such that when you want to do it, you're reminded to pray instead.

This year, I've decided to try the experiment of giving up on what I call "Casual Internet Use" for 40 days - which includes "casual smartphone use."

Am I crazy?  Probably, though I'd argue not for this particular reason.  But if you're curious, see what I'm planning, and consider joining me!  If you have no interest in giving up anything for 40 days or so, well, this post probably won't be worth much to you.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Building a 37V/1kWh Lithium Solar Power Toolbox for $300

If you were living under a rock, you may have missed that there was an eclipse in 2017.  And, predictions for traffic were that it would be awful.  So, for a long duration camping trip, I decided to build myself a "Power Toolbox" out of some scrap batteries I had laying around, a few components, a solar panel, and an afternoon.

My goals: Charge phones & tablets, charge a Mavic Pro, provide limited 120V on demand, and charge off a solar panel.  Did I succeed?  Of course!  And it didn't even cost me that much!  Now, that's mostly because the battery packs I used are free scrap I had laying around... but, still.  The point stands, this was not a particularly expensive build for what it offers me.  For $300, I've made something that has a good amount of the capabilities of a much, much more expensive unit.

In addition to being useful for camping, this serves as a convenient way to carry power from my office to the house in the event of a longer term power outage.  It probably won't run my freezers (my little generator will), but it will certainly run some other hotel loads around the house, charge phones, and it can even run a my little under desk heater.

Anyway, interested in what went into this build?  Read on!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Proclaim MIDI to DMX Converter Programmer and User's Manual

Last week, I covered how to build a little MIDI to DMX converter to use with the Proclaim software for church multimedia.  This week, I'm documenting how to actually use it in production by adding scenes to Proclaim, adding them to slides, and using the system.

There are two levels of "use" for this gizmo - programming new lighting scenes in Proclaim, and reprogramming the device to add new scenes/fixtures/etc.  I'll cover the first at the beginning, because this is the most common use case, but I'll touch on the device programming as well at the end (since someone will have to set it up for your church).