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Open Windows Time!

Posted 2012.03.22 8.56 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

Yay it’s the first open-windows day of the season!

According to the WX report it’s going to be outrageously warm and sunny all day today, and way warmer than my thermostat would ever be set.

It’s probably not really the first open-windows day, I think yesterday would have qualified too, but I kind of dropped the ball on that and forgot to check the forecast before leaving for work.

Anyways – yay early summer!

Hard to believe but back when I was a kid, March Break used to be considered a time to get out the skis and hit the slopes.

Granted, March Break was last week, but they did bump it up a week a while back (decade or two?) because the ski resorts were complaining about loss of business. Only I don’t think last week was ski-weather either.

Last week was spring. This week is summer.

MCP Update

Posted 2012.03.18 14.35 in Computers/Internet/Technology by Stephanie

It seems like every other day I’ve been tinkering further with my Master Control Project. Since I last blobbed about it, there have been a number of revisions and modifications.

First, I ran into all kinds of crashy problems which I traced back to the String object class. What worked perfectly under the older Arduino IDE no longer worked properly under version 1.0 – specifically it appeared that String objects were gobbling up dynamic memory until there was a stack heap collision and it would sieze up till I rebooted it. Very frustrating.

So the solution was to rip all the Strings out and use fixed char arrays. It only took about an evening to rewrite all that, and the end result was a surprising 5kB savings in the final compiled sketch size.

Along with all that, I made some changes to how tweets were sent, streamlined the content, and cut it back to one status tweet per hour. I’m still having some problems with tweeting – the Arduino Twitter library sends tweets through a 3rd-party host and sometimes that is inaccessable or non-responsive, but I’ve made the tweet function non-blocking so if a tweet does fail it won’t jam up the rest of the works – nor will it hang while waiting for a response from the 3rd-party server.

Hardware wise, I have made some more changes. I moved the Chronodot off of the back of the GLCD and mounted it on the Mega Proto board. It didn’t make sense being on the GLCD since it has nothing to do with that, and being on the Proto board means it’s more self-contained. It also let me use the temperature sensor in the Chronodot to get a feel for the temperature of the MCP’s main Arduino board. Which led to…

The Arduino was running quite hot. It was consistently around 120°F which is almost too hot to touch. This is because it’s got a lot of stuff going on, drawing a fair bit of current. It draws too much to power it from the USB port, so I had a regulated 9vdc supply going into it. That however meant the linear regulator in the Mega was turning the extra 4v into heat, adding to the problem.

So I got a descrete efficient DC-DC converter and wired that to my desk’s dc supply (13vdc for ham radio gear). I modified the Mega so it would accept a regulated 5vdc source without any further adjustments, and that has allowed the board to run cooler – down to about 100°F. (Though the DC-DC converter isn’t exactly calibrated, it’s about 300mV high. Shouldn’t be a problem though.)

Log Tape

The newest hardware upgrade was the addition of an Adafruit Thermal receipt printer. The idea here is to be able to get hard-copy logging of things, and printing out messages. Right now there’s two things that get printed regularily – first, every time it sends a status tweet, it also prints the current radiation level along with a timestamp.

And second, based on the Adafruit Internet of Things Printer, it checks with Twitter and prints out any tweets that are addressed to it or to myself. Twice per hour it accesses the twitter search api then prints out any new tweets. (It is throttled so if there’s a lot of traffic, it won’t go crazy.)

One last software “upgrade” was that the Arduino sketch was getting rather large – it was pushing 2,000 lines, and it was getting harder to find specific lines when working on it. So I broke it apart into separate files, so similar functions and routines are grouped together. Hopefully it will make it easier to read, and easier to debug problems.

If you are interested, you can download the latest project files here:
MCP_V3.zip

The next major upgrade I have in mind is to add a second GLCD – two of them stacked vertically will give me 128×128 pixels of monochrome graphics. I’ll probably retire the character LCD as it won’t be necessary at that point.

Also, maybe some controls, finally. So I can, like, control it, and stuff.

De-Treeing my Driveway

Posted 2012.03.13 11.18 in Family/Friends by Stephanie

About 7 or 8 years ago, I had this little tree start growing in my driveway. It wasn’t like right in the middle – it would have gotten run over. No, it was tucked off to the side, at the edge of the driveway, right by the side of my house.

Now, I’m no greenthumb. Indeed, I have a pretty good track record of killing every plant I’ve tried to grow. So when something green comes along and acts lively and hardy without any help from me, I’m usually all for it.

This was a bit different though. I know that it’s not good for the house. I worried about the foundation. After a couple short years, I had a sapling of about a dozen feet in height, 2 or 3 inches thick at the base. I cut it down. I hated to do it, but it had to be done.

That was five years ago.

The tree immediately grew back, and grew back fast. At times, you could see it was getting bigger almost daily.

Last Summer

By last summer it was easily 20 feet tall, and the trunk about 8 inches across at the base.

Amazed (and amused) I did some research and determined that it was most likely a Siberian Elm – a tree that is almost universally disliked and despised by landscapers and gardenists, because of its unruly and unkempt canopy. Its only redeeming feature was that it grows to maturity really, really fast.

Back to the narrative at hand, so here I am with my driveway tree again. I can see it’s damaging the eaves. I suspect it’s damaging the roof. And I fear it’s damaging the foundation. Once again, the neighbors are telling me to cut it down. I resist, I hate killing trees. And I respect a tree that I’ve already killed once but it came back.

Five Rings

It came to a head this past autumn though – my next-door neighbor and I share a driveway area and we had agreed to get it repaved. That meant the tree had to go. I procrastinated a few months but couldn’t put it off any further, so last week I asked my sister to come over to spot me while I cut it down.

I went through my old camping gear and dug out the old swiss-saw, and we got to work.

Surprisingly (and happily) it all came down pretty much as planned. It had branched about 6ft off the ground, so we took off the two main side-limbs first, then the middle one. Nobody got hurt and no property damage was inflicted on anything.

Attacking the Trunk

Finally we removed the main part of the trunk, though the lowest we could get was roughly 8 or 10 inches above the ground.

So now, my driveway is treeless, but for a stump, and I have a huge pile of wood and branches in my backyard to be dealt with later in the spring.

Scaredy Cat

Posted 2012.03.08 8.04 in Cats by Stephanie

I had company over yesterday. As is her wont, Pixie vanished into her hiding place. I inadvertantly found her while looking for something.

Nothing says safe quite like squeezing in between an HF radio, a class-IV laser, and underneath an LCD monitor.

Still Alive

Posted 2012.03.06 8.56 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

Well I lived through February, I survived the weekend, and I managed to endure Monday.

Now if I can just make it through the rest of this week…

Monday Sux Too

Posted 2012.03.05 9.23 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

So Monday morning has arrived, but life still sucks.

I hope it’s not going to be another one of those months. I just barely survived February.

Disappointing Weekend

Posted 2012.03.04 22.32 in Pointless Blather by Stephanie

You know it hasn’t been a great weekend when you’re wishing Monday morning would just hurry up and get here already!