Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Vacation From Writing Software

 It's nice to take a break from my day to day job writing software, and finally just kick back, relax, and write software.

Today's project is updating my security cam monitor. No changes to the actual cam displays, but rather I'm filling in the space below it that had just been a plain blank white space up until now.

As we can see, it's now a plain black space! And it has a calendar display in it, which I coded up from scratch over the past few days. The current day's highlight is a bit less unreadable in person, thankfully.

We can also see the whole reason I have this display in the first place: to see when packages arrive. Nice.

I still have plans to add a clock and weather widget. I might try knocking one or both of them out this vacation, or I might wait for later. Depends on how bored I get, and how many other projects distract me from this task.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Yet More Flowery Stuff

 Another garden update, because why not.

First up, the fuchsia is doing well and spitting out some flowers.

So repotting it didn't kill it, I guess. That's nice.

The irises and roses are doing their thing.

I haven't needed to fertilize the rose in a hot minute, so that's nice.

The yarrow is yarrowing along.

It's still got a little ways to go before it's fully filled in along the retaining wall. If I get bored at some point I can take some of the potted ones and dump them in the ground, which I might do as they're probably root bound by now.

The echeveria is sending out its weird alien flower tentacles again.

The only downside is it's planted in a strawberry pot. Never plant things in a strawberry pot, they're just awful.

The blue potato bush is somewhat less dead than normal.

Still pretty ugly though. I'm going to give it a hard pruning this fall to see if that makes it less ugly, or kills it. Either outcome will be fine.

The daikon has gone to seed, but has shown little signs of growing a respectable taproot. I'm going to call this one a bit of a failure.

It really hasn't thrived in this location. I think it needs more sun.

The mysterious elderberry has appeared again. I'm not sure if it'll stay and bloom, or if it'll vanish again.

Either outcome would be fine. It does look a bit weird growing next to the yarrow that I planted because I assumed there was nothing alive left in this pot. (I have since learned to sift the soil in a pot before reusing it)

The yellow iris in the back has finally sent out flower shoots again. For a few years it didn't have any, but they're back now.

This is actually the yellow iris in the front. The flowers on the one in the back aren't open yet, so just picture this, but 40 feet away.

Speaking of the front yard, the salvia is going bonkers. Like the baby sage, it seems to respond really well to hard pruning.

Awkwardly, it's kind of growing over top of the blueberry I planted.

That blueberry is, itself, doing well though. I expect it'll take a year or two to get properly established though.

Curiously I expected it to give me the most trouble out of all the new plantings I did this spring, but so far it's really taken well to living in my yard. I look forward to the birds stealing all the half-ripe blueberries before I get a chance to eat them.

And last but not least, the rosemary is looking lovely.

I mean it doesn't really do much except be green and smell nice.

On a related note, the garden organic fertilization project is making progress this week.

It's nice to have one less thing chewing holes in my fence.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Filling out the bench

I've started picking up a bit more equipment to make my electronics workbench into an actual electronics workbench, and figured that now would be a good opportunity to document some additions.

The soldering station on the right has been around forever, it's not very interesting (though it is very useful). But on the subject of soldering...

First up is the hot air rework gun.

This magic wand spits out a stream of hot air at a carefully controlled temperature anywhere between 100c and some ungodly hot surface-of-the-sun temperature, and is used to reflow solder in surface mount applications. You can either use it for the initial soldering work, or for removing and replacing components later on down the line.

Next up is the signal generator

This one is amusing because it's just an FPGA, a microcontroller, and a little bit of supporting circuitry. The case is literally 99% empty inside, but it's still made to look like it has the proportions of older style analog test equipment.

The latest addition to the bench, and perhaps the most fun one, is the binocular microscope.

Electronics used to be relatively human-scaled, but these days the components are dwarfed by grains of rice, and trying to identify them, position them, inspect them etc requires some magnification. This one does 10x or 20x, and I'll likely never need the latter (or at least only rarely).

Here's a 10x view of the circuit board for my LED light fixture, which originally made an appearance a few posts ago.

A bright, sharp image, just as it should be.

The working distance is nice too, lots of room under the lens to get in there with various tools.

Now one minor issue is the power cord it came with. Despite shipping directly from an Amazon warehouse in California, to a California address, it for some reason came with a european style power cord.

Bin of surplus IEC power cables that I'll never throw out: this is your time to shine.


Friday, May 14, 2021

More flowery stuff

So the baby sage is doing remarkably well for something that looked so dead that I was about to dig it up.

Some plants just need tough love, I guess.

Meanwhile, the penstemon are in bloom again. I keep calling these things bluebells but I guess they're actually beardtongues, which is a really weird name if you ask me.

Whatever. They look nice at least.

The canna is properly blooming now too.

I managed to catch it at just the right time of day for the sun to light it up in front of the neighbour's bottle brush.

And then there's the rose.

Everything's coming up roses, it seems.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Ah, mosfets

So I have some motion-sensitive lights in my car hole, and I got the idea in my head that I wanted to modify them.

You see, motion-sensitive lights are nice in that they turn on when they see you, and turn off when they don't. This is great if you happen to need their illumination when you're in the sensor's field of view, and also great if you don't need your light when you're out of the sensor's field of view.

It's not so great if you need their light when you're out of the sensor's field of view.

So over the weekend I cracked open one of the lights to suss out how it works and see if I could hack it a little to make it more suitable for my needs. My first thought was to simply install a switch that would bypass the PIR sensor, but when I got inside I noticed that the control wire from the PIR (passive infra-red) board was marked "PWM", which rather implied that the driver board was capable of dimming and not just switching on and off.

Now PWM usually (we'll get back to this in a minute) stands for "pulse-width modulation", which is basically a way of switching something on and off really fast so that the observed output averages out to some level between all the way on and all the way off.

So I got myself a waveform generator, set the output to a pulse with 30% duty cycle, and hooked it up in place of the PIR board on the PWM line.

The result: yikes. The light flickered horribly and just misbehaved in all the worst and most nauseating ways. Ok, that's no good.

I messed around a bit more, trying different frequencies, different duty cycles and so on without much luck. Then, out of boredom more than anything, I tried feeding it a sine wave at a really low frequency, and to my great amusement the light started ramping up and down smoothly!

So it wasn't actually PWM after all, it was an analog input. They just called it PWM. For reasons, I guess.

Setting aside my waveform generator, I instead grabbed my bench power supply and set it to output an intermediate voltage, and hooked that up. This resulted in a very nicely dimmed light. I played around a bit more with different voltages, and then ran into a problem.

The light wasn't going to full brightness anymore, nor was it turning off when the PWM input was disconnected.

After a bit of debugging, I found the culprit. Every electronics hobbyist's sworn enemy: the tiny surface-mount mosfet.

This didn't look quite as bad before I desoldered it, but it was indeed the culprit.

You see, mosfets, especially tiny little ones, are rather susceptible to voltage spikes on their gate pin. When I had been poking at its gate (which is hooked directly to the PWM line) with the waveform generator, I had clipped the ground pin to the board ground and clipped the signal lead to the PWM line. However, when I switched to playing around with the power supply, I had clipped the positive supply to the PWM line and simply touched the ground lead to the board ground, since the alligator clips on the power supply were much larger than the ones on the waveform generator and I was worried about them slipping and shorting something out.

As a result, this meant that when I removed the ground lead, a fairly large floating voltage was presented to the mosfet gate, which unfortunately cooked it.

Anyway, you can see where it's meant to be on the board here.

It goes on the empty pads above the Q2 silkscreened text.

To give you a sense of scale, here's my index finger.

Thankfully I was able to read the part number off the mosfet, and I put in an order to Digikey for a replacement, which cost 44¢.

Which is to say I ordered 10 of them, because I'll probably screw up one or two trying to solder it back into place. I then kept filling my cart with stuff I might need at some point in the future until I got to about $50 of crap because, unlike Amazon, Digikey charges $7 for shipping and I'm not going to spend $7.44 for a 44¢ part.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

More flowery stuff

The bottle brush behind the fence is in bloom.

And the Canna is sending up some flower stalks.

I keep trying to trim the ugly, brown leaves off the Canna but it keeps getting ugly brown leaves any time the wind blows even just a little. Somehow it just rips the leaves to shreds.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Musical Pots

A while back one of the daisies lost a few branches and gained a bit of a port-side list.

And by "a bit" I mean "a lot". It's been basically hanging over the edge of the pot for a year or two now, and it's about time I gave up on just waiting for it to right itself.

This calls for repotting.

But repotting requires a new pot, and it just so happens I have one in mind.

However, it's in use. The fuchsia in this pot has had its ups and downs, and mostly its had a bit of difficulty growing to its full potential due to the fact that the pot is only about half full of soil. It definitely needs more, but you can't exactly just dump more dirt on top, so fixing this is the perfect opportunity to repot it.

Off to the home depot and a bit of green thumbing later, and magically it has a new home.

Slightly bigger pot, and actually full of dirt. Much better.

So now I have a pot freed up for the daisy, and in it goes, with a moderate attitude adjustment.

It would be nice if the pot wasn't chipped, but that predates my ownership of it by quite a while. The old pot was broken and glued together though, so this is at least an improvement over that.

Oh, and I also deadheaded it. At some point I'll give it a bit more pruning to try to train it up more, but for now I'll just try to keep it from dying while it adapts to its new home.

More flowers

Spring has most certainly sprung.

Iris, Iris, Rose, Some kind of Transvaal or Barberton Daisy, Ice Plant, and some kind of Penstemon that I've been calling a bluebell for a while.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Another day older and deeper in debt

So Tyler noticed on Friday that a neighbour was giving away some free 12x12 concrete pavers after presumably ripping out a backyard patio. He grabbed a few to lay down beside his house, and mentioned to me that more were available.

Now I've had in mind for a while a plan to dig out some access paths under my crawlspace, as it was built too narrow to actually crawl through properly, and I wanted to line the bottom of these paths with some concrete pavers so that I wouldn't just be crawling along on the dirt all the time. So, that made it a no-brainer to go pick them up.

It's a good thing I have a van.

Anyway, I got pretty sweaty loading these on Saturday morning, so I waited until today to unload them.

Ah, what a satisfying stack. 97 pavers in all, each about 18lbs, so 1746lbs (approx.) in total. For reference, the total payload capacity of my van is almost exactly twice that amount (just under 3500lbs).

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Yes, we have no bananas today

As a child, I only knew cottage cheese for one thing: being the punchline of food jokes. It was the culinary version of self-flagellation, an edible penance for dieters to consume to atone for their sins. It was a key ingredient in "Nachos, Flanders' Style" (that's cucumber with cottage cheese on it).

But it wasn't something that any sane person would eat by choice.

Fast forward to a few days ago, and I'm watching a video on youtube about how to make ricotta cheese at home, and it occurs to me that ricotta cheese bears some striking resemblances to cottage cheese. As I ponder this notion, I meditate on the thought that I do quite like ricotta cheese, and given its similarities to cottage cheese, might I actually find myself enjoying it too? Might that explain why this product mysteriously remains on store shelves to this very day?

There was only one way to find out.

I traded in my usual weekly haul of honeycrisp apples for a bunch of bananas, and bought a tub of the cheese of mystery.

The recipe:

  • One banana (for scale)
  • One banana of cottage cheese (use banana for scale)
  • One healthy squeeze of liquefacted bear brains (commonly sold under the common name 'honey')
  • One healthy dusting of cinnamon (or canela molida if you're feeling fancy)
  • One unhealthy dusting of cayenne (it makes cinnamon more cinnamon)
  • One consecration of salt (to ward off evil spirits)
The preparation:

In a bowl, deposit a pillowy cloud of cottage cheese. Squeeze the blossom end of a banana to begin a tear in the peel and gain access to that tough little black nub that's always found down there. Throw out that part, nobody likes that part. Use a spoon to scoop the banana into banana coins, depositing each one in turn onto the cottage cheese, making a cash register ringing sound with each one. Slather on the bear brains, sprinkle with the spices and salt, and then take an instagram-worthy food shot.

Oh yeah, that'll get the likes and follows for sure.

The verdict: uncomfortably delicious.

Why have I not been eating cottage cheese all my life? The only logical explanation is simply that I have been deceived by a long running conspiracy perpetrated by cottage cheese lovers hell-bent on keeping their favorite delicacy under wraps for fear that if the masses caught on it would drive up the price and lead to their ruin.

Well, their uppance has come. It's time for this conspiracy to end; it's time for the veil to be lifted, the masses must know the truth that has been kept from them all their lives.

If this is the last you ever hear from me, you'll know who got me. They can't get us all. Share the knowledge with the world.