Saturday, December 21, 2019

Roomba i7+ Clean Base Teardown

It's been a little while since I did my Roomba i7 teardown, which must mean it's time for another Roomba related teardown!  This week, I'm diving into the "clean base" - the big vacuum base gizmo that sucks dust out of the bin, automating a lot of the cleaning process.  Plus, this base sits far better on carpet than the normal docking station - so what's inside?  Quite a bit!

Unfortunately, this teardown isn't just a teardown.  It's a postmortem analysis of why it's really, really important to not let this your Roomba anywhere wet - because if the clean base sucks water, it's likely to totally destroy the controller board.  Which, of course, you can't get separately.

So, join me at the end of the decade for a teardown and failure analysis!

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Building a Raspberry Pi 4 Desktop

The Raspberry Pi 4 has been out for about 6 months, and early reviews made it clear that the best option was just to sit back and wait for it to get a bit more stable.  That's happened, so now I'm going to dig into one and see what it looks like as yet another light desktop system!

My benchmarks showed that the Pi4 is a rather massive step up in performance from the Pi3 - and on paper, should outrun the Jetson Nano I've been using for a while.  Of course, I've got some of my tweaks...  so jump in and let's make a yet-more-capable desktop!

Monday, December 9, 2019

Being sick sucks.

So if you're wondering about Saturday's missing post, that's why.

I've been sick the past few days (and I basically hibernate when sick), and the kids have been varying degrees of sick as well - which isn't fun either.

I'll try to get my Pi4 Desktop post finished for Saturday and get back on track.

Question to debate in the comments: Will a 64-bit kernel on a Raspbian 32-bit userspace help or hurt performance?  I don't know the answer, and might do some testing if nobody has any conclusive data on the topic.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Battle of the Boards: Jetson Nano vs Raspberry Pi 4 (and overclocked)

Shortly after I got my Jetson Nano up and running, the Raspberry Pi 4 came out - and, on paper, it looks like it should actually thrash the Nano for just about everything except GPU tasks.  Does it?

Actual comparisons between those two boards are hard to come by.  The internet is long on spec sheet comparisons and awfully short on real world, head to head benchmark results.  When the Pi4 came out, it had some firmware limitations that hurt performance and thermals, which have mostly been resolved by now (supposedly).  The Jetson Nano comes stock with a massive heatsink that really helps out.  So... how do things stack up in the real world?

I've got my Raspberry Pi 3B+, my Raspberry Pi 4, my Jetson Nano (with the very nice stock heatsink), and, for comparison, Clank and a few other machines.  Let's get testing!

Saturday, November 9, 2019

What Replaces 1:1 Net Metering?

One recent area of interest to me is net metering of homeowner-installed energy generation systems - and what's likely to replace it in the long term.  I'm in the process of designing a solar and energy storage system for my property, and I like to design for the long term - a 20-30 year design life of the installed hardware, with a refresh around then (hopefully) to carry the system for the rest of my life.  I optimistically have another 60 years to live, and I don't plan to move at any point in those 60 years (or, at least, will have an operating home base here), so designing long term systems is an interesting challenge.

Before wading into the waters of designing grid-tied home solar, I sat down and did an awful lot of reading on net metering, the various replacements for it, power grid issues, and all that sort of great evening reading (which I do genuinely enjoy).  There are many problems with net metering, long term, and I expect it's going to disappear within the design life of my system.  It's actively in the process of disappearing in a lot of places, mine included.  So, how does one design a system for a somewhat unknown future?  Sample the likely options and see how one's design fares against all or most of them!

Interested?  You should be!  Net metering is an important part of the future of the power grid - and how it's done has a massive impact on how sustainable power systems will be!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Random Kid Projects: AM Radios, Line Following Cars, and Powerwheels

One perk of having kids is that you have an excuse to play with kids toys (and make them into projects)!  I try to involve them in the process when I can, because it's a good set of skills to learn.

This pile of equipment is the last few projects with my kids (though mostly my daughter) - a line following car, repairing an old little radio, and some PowerWheels (which are, in fact, as cool as they seem like they should be).

What sort of fun did this involve?  Plenty!  And a few custom battery builds!

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Solar Shed Part 18: Resolving Water Ingress

I haven't posted much about my office lately, simply because there just hasn't been much to post.  It works - very, very well.  I have most of the quirks worked out, I stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and dry in the rain.  Except, my office wasn't always dry, and it took me a few years to realize this.

My office door faces south, and if I had rain coming from the south (which doesn't happen that often), my office was taking on water.  I knew it was a bit wet on the inside, but I didn't realize just how wet a corner (behind some boxes) was getting.  No, that's not a good color to find on your wood.

But, like anything else, I've worked out most of the problems and resolved it - I hope!

What happened and how did I work it out?  Keep reading!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

A Tale of a Ural Head

Urals!  Crazy Russian motorcycles with sidecars.  And, sometimes, a source of some crazy failures that just leave you scratching your head.

I've been riding a 2005 Ural for about 3 years now, and I recently ran into some issues that required replacing one of the cylinder heads.  Screwing up a cylinder head is fairly rare, and I'm not even certain how the failure happened in the first place - but such is life with a Russian clone of an old BMW, upgraded slightly through the years, and put into modern service.

You've probably either cringed in pain after that photo or have literally no idea what it is and what it's even supposed to look like in the first place.  Keep reading, and I'll explain most of it!

Yes.  We are whiplashing from Electric Vehicles in the Treasure Valley and Adding an EV Charging Station to repairing an 80 year old engine design that happens to be my daily driver.  Enjoy!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Adding a Public EV Charging Station Near Nampa, ID

I've installed a perfectly functional public EV charging station near downtown Nampa!

There's 32A worth of 240V fury a couple blocks off downtown, set up with the EVMatch charging network, and the setup works great!

This has been an interesting, somewhat drawn out process - but if you're looking to do something like this, you'll find a bunch of useful information in here about what the process looks like.

Should you?  Yes.  You absolutely should.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Electric Vehicles in the Treasure Valley

Two months ago, I posted about our Chevy Volt - a plug in hybrid that runs us around the Treasure Valley for an awful lot less money than paying for gas.  This week, I'm attempting to write a bit of a local guide to electric vehicles - specifically in the Treasure Valley (the Boise area in Idaho).  We've got cheap (and fairly clean) power out here, middle of the road gas prices, and I happen to think EVs or PHEVs make an awful lot of sense for most people!

If you're not in the Treasure Valley and are interested in EVs, you'll probably learn something too - but this is tailored for the local market in terms of price numbers.  Keep reading!

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Analog Games: Do you play?

What's a good way to spend your free time?  Gaming with friends - but, as you might expect from this blog, I'm not a huge fan of modern computer games.  Analog games are the way to go, both board and tabletop.  That's where the bulk of my gaming hours go, and I like it that way.

I'd guess a good number of my readers also game - so let's talk about the joys of analog gaming!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

G600 "600x" Digital Microscope Teardown & Review

What has the internet come to when really interesting, cheap gizmos aren't being properly torn apart in reviews?  Are people afraid to take a screwdriver to a $40 piece of hardware and find out what's inside (spoiler: mystery meat)?  Do we just accept things like "1-600x" microscopes without calling MBE (Male Bovine Excrement)?  We do not!  No longer!

I recently acquired one of the "G600" microscopes you find floating around the internet.  You can get them for about $40 on eBay, they're definitely useful, but they are most definitely not "600x" zoom as you'll see advertised - unless you happen to have a truly massive TV as a monitor instead of the built in display.  Like most of my office gizmos, I played around with it for a bit to get a feel for it, and then proceeded to pull it completely apart, and over-analyze it in my usual style.  I'm trying to get through a backlog of gizmos I have laying around before too many more show up (and these are good idle time posts - I pulled it apart while babysitting a Roomba that was slowly learning the house and getting stuck on pull toys).

What's inside?  What horrible hazards lurk within?  Keep reading to find out all this, and more!

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Running a Post Hole Digger on a Ford 9N

If you need holes in the ground, there are a few ways to do it.  You can use a manual post hole digger (one of those clamshell two handled things you slam into the dirt), you can use a multi-person auger, or you can use a post hole digger on a tractor.  I've got a tractor, and despite my tractor being "not ideal" for running a post hole digger, of course, that's how I'm digging my holes.

How does it work?  How can you make it not an awful experience with an old tractor that doesn't have a live PTO or modern hydraulics?  Well... you can probably guess I've got some advice for you!

Yes, two weeks ago I talked about the Chevy Volt and this week I'm dropping back about 70 years - where else will you find that sort of age diversity?

Keep reading for all the borey details!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

I bought a used Chevy Volt - and you probably should too!

Some while back, I tossed in a (little noticed) comment at the end of a post that we'd obtained a Chevy Volt.  We picked up a used 2012 Volt with under 30k miles, and have been using it quite a bit, because, well, it's our car.

Since it's my blog and I can post what I want, I've decided to talk about the Volt for a while.  I think it's the "sweet spot" for electric transportation at this point in time, I think it's rather significantly more environmentally friendly than a pure BEV for most use cases, and I think that, for most people, it's a really, really good car and highly worth considering if you're interested in cheap, (slightly) environmentally friendly car transportation.  Plus, they depreciate like mad (just like all other electric cars), so you can get one cheaper than you might think!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Shipping Container Hanging Shelves (and my recycling system)

You can never have too many shelves.  A while back, I built some shelves for the end of my shipping container.  Recently, I've built hanging shelves for the side of my shipping container - and then built some for our church's shipping container as well!

They aren't designed for handling insane amounts of weight (I'd put 300lb on them without worrying about it), but they'll support lighter boxes without any trouble.  If you've got a shipping container and want more storage, you may find these insanely useful!

Like my other shelves, these don't require any penetrations through the wall.  They're entirely supported by the chains run to the hooks along the top corner.

Plus, for fun, I added some additional shelves to help organize my recycling better.

If you've got a shipping container, you'll almost certainly want to build hanging shelves for it!

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Clank: Reviving an Ancient Netbook (and replacing an iPhone 6S rear lens)

I admit to an odd enjoyment of making old, slow hardware (or new, slow hardware) into something useful.  I've been making very good progress on the front of "Making usable desktops out of things people think are too slow."  Raspberry Pi 3s, Jetson Nanos, ancient netbooks...

This week, I'm talking about Clank: An old Asus 1215N I found at a local pawn shop for nearly nothing.  The battery was stone dead, the hard drive was shot, it had 2GB of RAM, and was covered in dust - but it powered on to the BIOS, and showed promise.  So, away we go!

What's it take to restore something this old to being useful?  Is it useful?  Join me for the journey!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Best USB Power Supply I've Found Yet: A Home Depot Surge Protector!

Sometimes, "smart" isn't the right answer.  Sometimes, dumb brute force is the right answer to a problem - and I've been having problems with USB power lately.  Over the past year, playing around with Raspberry Pi 3s and Jetson Nanos, I've learned that they can be very, very power hungry beasties, and most USB power supplies will sag out when you really crank up the load.  The official Raspberry Pi power supply will keep up, but most other USB power supplies struggle and sag if you load them up quickly.

What about a big, dumb power supply?  Your local home improvement shop probably has plenty of things like this - which claims to be a 3.1A USB charger, plus a surge protector and outlet splitter.  What's in it?  Is it any good?  Does it actually put out an honest 3.1A?

Actually, it's one of the most impressive USB power supplies I've met - and surprisingly not-dumb.  Not only does it do an honest 3.1A, I get a reasonable voltage at the end of a normal USB cord!  The thing has cable voltage droop compensation!  Keep reading for more details and the teardown, because this thing is good!

Saturday, May 11, 2019

What happens when you try to quit Facebook?

Have you ever gone through the flow for deleting your Facebook account?  It's a very interesting process that can best be described as, "Customer Retention."  Or, in other words, "Please don't go!  We can change!  We promise!  Look, see, here's a solution to all your objections!  Think of all the friends you won't see updates from!"  And so on.  Since Facebook is busy re-inventing their UI to pretend to be less toxic, let's look at their UI for detoxifying them entirely - and what we can learn about their thinking from it.

If you haven't played with it, it's worth messing around with!  Or, you can enjoy the overview here!

Saturday, April 27, 2019

The 200th Post Reflections

In news that's likely just as surprising to some of you as it is to me, this post is the 200th post on my blog - slightly over 4 years after starting it.  I've written extensively about a wide range of topics, and, surprisingly, haven't run out of stuff to say yet - despite nearly 600,000 words written!

I'm over 2.3 million pageviews (!), well over 1000 comments, have a surprising amount of media coverage around the internet, and am, in general, quite happy with how things have gone!  What's the history of my blog?  Where do I plan to go?  Keep reading!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

nVidia Jetson Nano: Desktop Use, Kernel Builds, and Deeper Analysis

Last week, I unboxed the Jetson Nano, set it up, and did some basic benchmarking on it.  This week continues the Jetson Nano analysis.  I'm making it into a desktop, I'm measuring power use, and I'm poking at various other places I find interesting or useful.

The result?  After some tweaking and playing around (and the normal-for-me kernel build), it's a very solid little desktop that can handle an awful lot!

What we've got here: A Jetson Nano, running a 4k display at 60Hz, running an Ubuntu Server virtual machine (somewhat slowly - still working on virtualization), Netbeans running, Chrome Chroming with a few fairly heavy tabs open, IRC connected, and Plex Media Server running a video.  Plus the usual terminals.  It's responsive enough that I'm happily typing this post on it.  Does this count as desktop use?  Up to you, but I sure consider it impressive for a little $100 board!

If you haven't read last week's post, go do so.  I'm building on it this week.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Benchmarking the Brand New nVidia Jetson Nano: 4GB, USB 3, $99!

Early delivery days rock!  I wasn't supposed to have this delivered until Monday, but it showed up this morning, and I'm very, very excited.

If you keep up with little ARM boards, as some people do, you may also be properly excited about the nVidia Jetson Nano.  I've been excited about it for a few weeks now - and I've got one right here on my desk.  As you might expect, I'm about to run it through it's paces and see what makes it tick (after tearing it apart for science).

Since the system is a big GPU with some ARM cores bolted on, most of the early reviews so far have focused on the GPU - and the sort of AI, Machine Learning style stuff the board seems to be designed for.  I haven't seen a good review with more standard benchmark results (and especially storage and browser benchmarks) - so I did them myself!

I know I promised some solar related posts, and they're coming - but this little gizmo is way more interesting, and is one of the few times you'll see me reviewing a brand new bit of hardware that just came out.

Interested in what a modern little quad core ARM dev board can do?  Keep reading!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Boeing, Airbus, Tesla, and Automation

If you've been paying attention to the news recently, you might be aware that the FAA has grounded the Boeing 737MAX series airplanes, pending investigation into what appear to be MCAS-caused crashes.

Since I'm a (private) pilot, and have more than a slight interest in automation systems, a few people have asked my opinion of the whole situation.  Of course, this being me, the whole thing scope creeped badly into a post containing more than a few thoughts on Boeing, Airbus, control system design, automation, complexity... the works.

So, keep reading and let's dive in.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Our Little Neighborhood Library

On rare occasions, I manage to get off our property - and this week, I have proof!  My wife and I have put together a Little Neighborhood Library, which is almost exactly like a Little Free Library, except $40 cheaper and not listed on the LFL website.

And you should build one for your neighborhood!  Or, at least, a useful neighborhood near you.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

UE Mini Boom Teardown

I've not found a great teardown of a UE Mini Boom - and, especially, nothing talking about battery replacement.  The Mini Boom is an older Bluetooth speaker that was quite popular some while back - and they're not particularly well documented.  So, of course, I ripped into mine.

This little gizmo is a perfect example of "nearly unmaintainable consumer crap," and I'm going to rip on it as I go - there is no reason to build something this hard to work on, and I think it's irresponsible for consumer product companies to build stuff this way.  It's hard to get apart, you can't get it back together without heroics, it doesn't look the same after you get it back together, and... I just don't understand why you'd do this.  It's not even waterproof, which is a common excuse for hard-to-take-apart things.  It's got glue, it's got soldered connections where headers would make sense, and it's just a pain to work on.  On the plus side, they did design it to last - but, seriously.  Don't build things like this.

Anyway, what's inside?  How do you get inside, anyway?  Keep reading to find out!

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Thinkpad T430S IPS Screen Upgrade

If you have a ThinkPad T420/T420S/T430/T430S laptop, I have great news for you: You can replace the screen with something that doesn't suck!  It's a bit of moderately deep laptop surgery, but it's doable!

If you don't have a ThinkPad of that series, well... you're not missing out on the screen side.  They have one of the worst screens shipped in recent history - and that's comparing them to an awful lot of the cheap netbooks out there.

The replacement is fairly straightforward - but it does involve diving pretty deep into the laptop, and it does involve a sketchy bit of display translator hardware.  So, what's involved?  Keep reading to find out!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Solar Ultrasonic Critter Repeller Teardown

One of the problems I have on my property out here is burrowing critters.  We have voles, rock chucks, and gophers - at a minimum.  There might be more I haven't found yet.  I've attempted to deter them from areas we care about (like the garden) with some little solar "burrowing critter" emitters.  In theory, they make enough annoying noises under the ground that the critters just go somewhere else.

Maybe you've seen them - a solar panel on a stick that you wedge in the ground.  A 4-pack on eBay runs about $25, maybe a bit less.

Do they work?  Hard to say.  They're faintly annoying to me, but I'm not a gopher.  Would a gopher find them annoying enough to stay away from the garden?  Maybe.  Ask me in a few years.

How do they work?  Well, that's a question best answered with a teardown - and that, I can do!

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Shipping Container Shelves

You know what I always need?  More cowbell shelves!  This week, I'm adding shelves to the back of my shipping container - because the back of a shipping container is a good spot for shelves, and I've not been making very good use of the vertical space in the shipping container.  I've got a high top container (9.5' high), and I've been mostly using the floor for storage space, which is quite silly.  So I've added shelves!  This is a fairly simple build that should work for any more or less normal shipping container - it's completely free standing, just wedged into the corrugations of the container.

How do you build such a thing?  Keep reading to find out!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

2018 Reflections, 2019 Resolutions

Well, 2018 has wound up - time for the annual reflection post, and the 2019 resolution post (combined this year for your reading convenience).

The big news in 2018 was the new kid - he showed up in June, and is doing great!  I also spent most of the spring working on a giant time-sink of a building that our church purchased - it needed a lot of work, and I happily dove in to work on demolition, rebuilding, roofing... everything that needed doing.  However, I didn't get as much done around the property as I'd hoped for this year.

On the other hand, I've got some seriously large projects lined up for 2019 that will be documented in proper blog form.  So, keep reading to find out what comically absurd project will take my 2019!