Future directions

December 8th, 2016

I’m mostly settled into my new house now – it’s a detached house on just over half an acre, so I have lots of space for all my various projects. I’m working on a bookshelf now – it will end up being the first of at least 4 total, and will probably be both the tallest (at 7.5 feet) and the only individual bookcase. I’m realizing the shelf spacing is a bit small for their depth – 10 3/4 inch spacing for a 12 inch depth – so I need to make plan modifications for the others, which will be configured as components of a wall system. I’m also developing some ideas for other areas of the ouse, and for some garden areas – I want to start with a pole bean trellis, and if that works out as well as I hope, I’ll build a hop trellis. The first is 6 – 8 feet tall, the second is 24 – 28 feet tall. You can probably see why I’m doing things in that order.

I’ll undoubtedly be posting pictures of things as I work on them and complete them, but that’s later. For now, I should probably get back to my sysadmin/consultant work…

Some backfill

January 13th, 2016

For those of you who don’t know (i.e. who’ve been ignoring me – which isn’t all that unreasonable an action, I admit), I’ve been doing a fair amount of “build things” type stuff lately. One of the projects I completed a few months ago was what I call a brewstand – a movable platform that can handle a three-vessel homebrew rig with a wort grant. It’s got two wort pumps – I need both of them when I’m sparging into the boil kettle – controlled by a rather hacked-up pair of house lightswitches.

I started out with two 8′ 4×4’s for the legs, which after cutting gave me six (6) 22″ tall legs. Add on some 80″ long decking boards for the front and back, 26″ long pieces on the sides, then some 3/4″ plywood, and that’s the basic frame. I then added copper piping for incoming water (not wort – wort is all handled by flexible tubing from the homebrew store) and propane gas hoses to supply the two burners (one hot liquor tank burner and one boil kettle burner), and called it done. I had intended to take pictures of the entire assembly process, piece by piece, but of course once I got into things I had the whole frame put together before I remembered I hadn’t taken any pictures.

Then I got the bright idea to play with Blender and make a video of the virtualized assembly – and lemme tell you, Blender is really powerful, but a pain the arse. I managed to get through making the video simply out of stubbornness, but I don’t think I’ll be doing that again anytime soon.

In case you’re curious, here it is, from YouTube:

I’ve got two other moderate-sized projects I haven’t said anything about on here – one complete, the other in progress. The complete one is a fermentation chamber made from a chest freezer and controlled by a Raspberry Pi – it’ll hold two 6.5g carboys for fermentation. I need to make another one for serving at some point… The in-progress project is a model railroad layout. I’m using N-gauge since I can get the most detail in the smallest area, but once I finish this layout (which may be quite a while, I admit), I’m going to switch to HO. N is just too small – I love the space savings, but everything else is too much of a pain in the arse.

Anyway… time to log out and go do something useful for myself.


Microelectronics annoyances

September 12th, 2015

About a year ago – maybe two, I’m not really certain any longer – I stumbled across the Arduino platform. Open source hardware and software for microcontrollers – the more I looked at it, the more amazing it was, for what it was and for it’s potential. I built out an environmental sensor platform on the Arduino with a very simple temperature / humidity sensor, and I’ve been sampling and recording temperature, humidity, and heat index in three locations in my townhome ever since. Combine that with RRDTool and Apache, and I have a graph of the trends over time to help me figure out heating and cooling efficiency, and to warn me of certain conditions via email. Freaking amazing, if you ask me.

Fast forward to two weeks ago, when I’m putting the final touches on my brew stand for homebrew, and I start getting serious about the control bits for the pumps and especially for the fermentation chamber, which is a 7 cubic foot chest freezer. What do I turn to? Arduino, naturally – so I order an Arduino Uno R3 and a temperature sensor. They arrive, I’m happy, and I start coding up the Arduino sketch (read: program).

Then I started running into problems. First, I was getting strange behavior on the serial port. When I was powered via a USB cable, all was fine and my sensor was working normally. When I switched to non-USB power via the Vin pin on the Arduino, the sketch wouldn’t start. Ok, I figured that out, there’s something wonky about the RX pin – it needs to be grounded when using non-USB power.

Then, I throw the ethernet shield into the picture. Half the time I boot, I get the IP expect to get, and my device is pingable, but it’s not responding to web requests properly. This is the same code I used on my existing environmental sensors, which have been working flawlessly for over a year now… Huh. After some Googling, I found some indicators that the library I was using was the incorrect one. So I switched to the v2 library, and I get even stranger behavior – an inability to compile the sketch. Back to Google. Next up – oh wait, this is a v1 shield – I need to get a newer revision of the ethernet shield. Off to Radio Shack.

I get home with my SeeedStudio shield, and it doesn’t work. I never get a pingable device. Back to the Google. Come to find out there’s a manufacturing flaw with the SeeedStudio shield that was noted in 2008 and still hasn’t been fixed. The recommended fix for the customer? Break a trace on the shield board – a trace which is about 0.1mm wide, and has other traces less than 0.2mm away from it that are necessary for proper functioning. Well, no – never getting an Radio Shack shield again. Order a v2 shield from Adafruit.

The v2 shield arrives, my code compiles, it uploads to the board – and I get an invalid IP. Oops – I forgot to read the product page that says I need the v2 library. Well, it didn’t work last time, so let’s see if there’s an IDE update – yes there is. Two of them, in fact. The Arduino project has evidently been forked, and there is much childishness and stupidity going on between the two forks in the form of lawsuits, threatening letters from lawyers, trademark claims, infringement claims, et cetera ad infinitum. And of course, neither new IDE will compile my code because of syntax faults in the Arduino equivalent of system libraries.

Summary so far: Arduino has gone to complete shit. It is no longer a viable microelectronics platform even for development much less production use. Wonderful.

This was Thursday, so I had some time. I ordered an STC1000 from Amazon, had it shipped to arrive Saturday (today as I’m writing this), hopeful that the COTS temperature controller would solve my fermentation chamber woes. It arrives, and all is well with the world – until I open it and start connecting it. The model I ordered had four connection points – sensor, input, cooling load, heating load – except the item I got didn’t have the connection point for the heating load. Not too much of a problem – I doubt I’ll be doing much heating, so let’s press on.

The temperature sensor cord is about 4.5 feet shorter than advertized. This is a problem – it won’t snake into my chest freezer nicely – and it’s not a flat cable, as the product description implied (but didn’t say explicitly, I admit), so I can’t really snake it in through the door opening. Then, I discover that I can’t effectively connect the line and load wires – the screw terminals are just a tad too small.

Great. Cheap Chinese knock-off crap. Effectively unusable for this project. Dammit. Ok, let’s punt (again)…

I have two spare Raspberry Pi’s, and a third I can repurpose if I need to – let’s try that. The good news, I can use the GPIO pins to directly drive the solid state relays controlling my chest freezer fermentation chamber. Woot, we’re ahead of the game here! The question at this point is can I directly sense the temperature with the RPi or do I need an Arduino in between? Thankfully, the answer is “yes” – because it’s a digital sensor, I can use the RPi directly. All I need to do is cable it properly.

So, I hook up the RPi, connect the relays and the temperature probe, and start Python. Yes, I can switch the relays on and off with Python, which means I have control of the freezer! Now, let’s go look at reading the temperature. Wait, what? No, it is not 127 degrees Centigrade inside my chest freezer… nor is it -127! Even after waiting for about 10 minutes for the thing to settle down, I get values ranging from 113 to 127 degrees centigrade – did I get the pullup resistor wrong? No, it’s the correct value, and all connections are good… ok, off to Google.

Back in 2007, it seems there was a run of bad chips inside the model temperature sensor I’m using – they would always report either 85 or 127 degrees centigrade, not the actual temperature. Yeah, that was bad, but supposedly those problems were fixed… except that I’m having the exact same problem in 2015. I’ve got to solve this – I can’t just turn the freezer on, it’ll drop down to -20 C and I won’t get any fermentation. Wait, I have an older model of the temperature sensor sitting in the aquarium that I’m now decommissioning… it’s part of that environmental sensor, so I know it works. I cannibalize it, and the two-year-old temperature sensor works like a charm, giving me a valid temperature reading inside the chest freezer. Whoo – managed to resolve everything just in time! It’s a damn good thing, too, since I’d already bought the 17.5 lbs of grain, the hops, and the yeast packets for tomorrow’s brew day!

So, the bottom line? Two parts – one, I no longer consider the Arduino project to be viable in any way, shape, or form. It has disintegrated into childish name-calling, and is suffering from severe bitrot. Two, the elecrtonics component manufacturers have forsaken quality control recently, and it’s pure luck if you get a new sensor (of whatever type) that actually works as advertized. Thank Fate for the Raspberry Pi and my ability to improvise.

More kitchen work

August 2nd, 2015

My, it’s been a long time since I’ve said anything here. I’ve been neglectful. Well, let’s fix that.

So after getting the fireplace organized and redone in tile and stone, I thought I’d take a break from major projects for a few months and just enjoy things. I should have known better. I got antsy, what with not having anything to do, so I started working on small things here and there, then I started in on a homebrew brew stand. It’s not really “home” improvement, so I’ll leave those details for somewhere else, but then I decided to go ahead and get granite countertops put in. After all, the cabinets were done, and the countertops were next…

2015-06-20 08.48.16 2015-06-20 08.48.23This is what things looked like at the start. Old, ugly pressboard countertops that badly needed replacing. I took the top drawers out because I was told to for the installation of the granite. The first step they took was to remove the old countertops, and that went fairly quickly.

2015-06-20 09.45.48 2015-06-20 09.45.56I was honestly surprised just how little support there seemed to be – but it works. After measuring a third time, trimming a bit in one or two odd places, and measuring a fourth time, they brought in the granite slabs and placed them on top of the cabinets.

2015-06-20 10.10.49 2015-06-20 10.11.11Even without gluing anything, these countertops pretty much aren’t going anywhere. It took three men to lift it into place, and I could tell it was a struggle at that. After that, the backsplash seemed easy by comparison, and gluing the sink up was just a matter of putting clamps into the drain holes and putting a 2×4 across the sink hole in the granite.

2015-06-20 12.25.16 2015-06-20 12.25.22 2015-06-20 14.12.53The only seam in the entire countertop is at the corner where the dishwasher meets the bigger countertop, and they had this magic putty / glue stuff that not only fastened the two pieces together, but made the seam the next best thing to invisible.

Of course, once the countertops were in, I realized just how nasty the walls looked. I had previously decided I would put a tile backsplash in all the way from the rear granite ledge to the bottom of the upper cabinets, but when I measured things, there ws a variance of more than 3/4 of an inch between different spots. Could I still have put the tile in? Sure – the variance would be visible only at the very bottom of the cabinets where you would have to bend down to really see it, but it would have bugged the hell out of me constantly to have done so and to know that the top of the tile isn’t colinear with the bottom of the cabinet. Yes, I have OCD issuses about things like that. So, I punted and went with a new coat of paint. It took about 4 weeks for me to actually get off my diff and get the paint – and I bought two gallons when I needed less than half a gallon (damn me and my lack of paint coverage estimation skills), but this weekend I finally got everything painted. I’m still reorganizing the kitchen a bit, but here’s what it looks like currently:

2015-08-01 17.48.18 2015-08-01 18.52.19 2015-08-01 18.52.43I need to redo the top border piece of the cabinets – I thought it would give a nice contrast if it were the wall color, but instead it just blends on to the wall and looks like crap. I’ve also got a few areas where I want to touch the cabinets up as a result of the tape peeling off paint flecks, and all of that will (should) happen today. Otherwise, I’m very happy with my new kitchen. Not completely new, as I still have to paint the bay window wall, but I want that a different color than the kitchen walls and I’ve not decided what color to do it yet.

Fireplace reset

February 28th, 2015

So after finishing the kitchen cabinets, I decided my next project would be a redo of the fireplace and the wall it’s in. It hadn’t been updated since the house was built, and it desperately needed… something. I wasn’t quite sure I would get what it really needed, but I had to do something.

Step one was to remove the old mantle and posts – which turned out to be one large decorative piece. After it was gone, it was quite evident that the still-completely-useless power switch had initially been placed too low:

image-02So far, though, no major issues – the bottom of the drywall seemed a little strange having an obviously patched hole, but whatever. Next, let’s take off the slate slabs that surround the firebox:

image-03As a friend who has done plenty of construction told me, the philosophy is “Don’t waste all that mud! Just a little bit will do the job!” Okay, whatever – it did the job, I can’t really argue with that, but my OCD went haywire. Finally, remove the slate hearth so we can put down some nice new tile:

image-05The metal bit there? I was pleasantly surprised to find it, though I probably shouldn’t have been. It’s not all that thick, but it protected the plywood subfloor from excess heat should any burning things have spilled out of the fireplace quite well. After cutting the carpet so the new tile would stretch the length of that wall, I started putting down hardiboard for a tile substrate. I used two layers of overlapped 1/4″ hardiboard so that there wasn’t an inflection point at the seam:

image-07 image-08 image-09Ok, so now that the substrate is down, we can mix up some thinset and start setting tiles. If you ever use thinset, take whatever amount of water you think you’ll need and halve it. Seriously, it doesn’t take much water at all to get it to the right consistency, and if you start with too much water, you’re gonna make way more mud than you need.

image-12Give the tiles about 48 hours before doing anything else – the thinset has to fully cure or you’re going to be really upset at yourself for screwing up a great tiling job. I know from previous experience. Seriously. 48 hours. Minimum. Once that’s done, go buy some grout, and follow the instructions to grout the tile, being careful not to slop any grout all over the carpet:

image-13Once the grout has set (another 48 hours), use caulk of the same color to finish out to the carpet. I had initially wanted to do the floor last, since mess from the wall would fall down to the floor and possibly mess up my beautiful new tile job, but I realized I had to have the tile in place in order to get the right height on the first course of stone on the wall, or there would possibly be not enough space or way too much space along the bottom. Oh well, tile’s done, let’s start putting stone on the wall.

It’s actually fake stone, very lightweight and almost insanely easy to put up. The biggest pain was making sure the layers were even across the firebox opening. Fortunately, I have a 4-foot level and the opening is somewhat less than 3 1/2 feet wide. So, here we go:

image-14 image-15 image-16 image-17Hang on a moment here – we need to get some wall anchors in place and leave space for attachment bolts for the ledger board for the new mantle. Once we do that, keep going up, and up, and up:

image-18 image-20The most awesome thing about this? There is no gap between the top layer of stone and the ceiling. I had thought there would be about 1/4″ gap, which is easily hideable with that grout caulk I spoke of earlier, but it turns out I didn’t need it. The height worked out to be exact to within 1/64″, which is, in my opinion, freaking amazing.

So now we have the finished wall and the ledger board in place. Well, I realized I should have a 6 inch ledger board, not a 4 inch, so I replaced it, which was very easy to do at this point, then I started building out the mantle:

image-21 image-23 image-24The leaves sticking out are secured with pocket-hole screws, they’re used to attach the bottom and front panels. the side panels will attach to the ledger and bottom panel, with the front panel extending over the sides. It’s nothing but placing and gluing/screwing/nailing at this point, so here’s the finished product:

image-25 image-26Sorry about the crookedness – I had a bit of trouble holding the iPhone straight to take these two pictures.

Oh, and the best part (IMHO) of the new mantle? I debated keeping this to myself, but decided I’d go ahead and show it off.

It’s got three secret compartments for hidden storage!image-27

Kitchen cabinets

February 1st, 2015

Last November, I was in the middle of redoing my kitchen cabinets. Well, about two weeks ago, I finally finished them – and I have to say, I’m quite impressed with how they turned out. I started with the upper cabinets, since mistakes in painting drip down (thank you to gravity for being so consistent that way). I started by simply removing the doors and cleaning out the cabinets.

The old:

1Still functional, it’s actually in great shape as far as not having any major assembly problems, it just looks ugly. Here’s the same cabinet in process:

7Although it blends with the generic kitchen walls a bit too well, we can already see massive improvement. Yes, the walls will be changed up in the near future. Here’s the same cabinet with most stuff put back:

8And the “final” state of that corner after cleaning up the plastic sheet and redoing the small cabinet next to it:

9They look pretty much brand new. I’m leaving the top cabinets open (no doors) for now, though that may change in the future. Next, lets look at the bottom cabinets after I painted and put on new doors and new hardware:

10Can we say brand-new kitchen? I am really happy about how it all turned out – even though I’m nowhere near finished with the kitchen.

Latest update

November 15th, 2014

I’ve been off the air for a while, it would seem. Truth be told, I’d sort of forgotten about this corner of my web world. After I finished the basement, I started on the railroad table/shelf, then quickly stalled out on it when work got busy. Wanted to refinance the house after getting the basement done, get some cash out so I could get some professionals in to help with the kitchen, but it seems a basement remodel isn’t really worth anything. So, I started in on the kitchen myself. I’ve been moving slowly on it, but so far I like what’s happening.

What has been happening, you ask? Well, so far I’ve painted the entire set of upper cabinets.

Wait, “painted”?

Yes, I know, I should have re-stained them. Wood > paint and all that. Unfortunately, I tried that route and discovered the cabinets aren’t actually wood. The rails and stiles and sides are pressboard covered in a particularly well-done sticker – it’s all fake wood. Sanding just takes off the painted layer of the top sticker, and there’s no wood grain to be seen for miles.

So, I painted. All in all, I think it turned out nicely, though I will admit even now I would prefer a wood look. I left the doors off, so I have completely open upper cabinets at present. I’ll most likely put new doors back on, but I want to get the bottom cabinets done first. Those will absolutely require new doors and drawer fronts, which will probably take up my December discretionary funds. Come the new year, I intend to put in new countertops, tile the backsplash, and put in a new tile floor instead of that ugly linoleum currently in there. A bit different order than I’d intended even as recently as last week, but it’s my project so I reserve the right to change up the task order where I feel it makes sense to do so.

I’m on call this weekend, which basically means I’m stuck at home all weekend, so I’m going to start working on the bottom cabinets. Door/drawer lead time is probably 2-3 weeks, so I’ll try to put in an order early this coming week and with luck I’ll be ready to paint the new stuff and install it as soon as it comes in. Then again, maybe I’ll wait to put in the order until December. I’m not sure yet. That’s the beauty of DIY projects – I can work on my schedule.

If I remember, I’ll post a few pictures of the new upper cabinets tomorrow or next week.

Server fully operational

June 6th, 2014

I did it. I finally got my home server fully operational – there is now nothing further for me to do in the wiring closet. I put a 24″ panel on the wall and mounted a shelf for the keyboard right below it – check it out:


Wow there’s already a lot of dust collected in the fan intake on the front… I may need to upgrade the cooling intake and add a particulate filter.

Another shot, same perspective, different zoom:

monitor2Why yes, that is a Model M! The greatest keyboard ever invented – built like a freaking tank! This one was manufactured in 1987 – not only is it old enough to drink, it can rent a freaking car by itself, and it still works just as well today as it did the day it rolled of the manufacturing line. I wish I had 5 more of these beautiful things!

Some finishing touches

May 31st, 2014

The major work in the basement is done, as I’ve probably mentioned before, it’s now all just fiddly bits with furniture and stuff. Today I finished wiring the network switch, so all my network ports throughout the house are live. I’ve still got some work to do on the software side, but I can plug a computer into any network port I have and if there’s a problem, it’s with the port I’m plugging in to, not with the switch or wiring cabinet. Here’s what it looks like:

switchThe next addition ot the wiring closet will be a wall-mounted LCD panel for the house server.

I picked up an entertainment center from Rooms To Go as well – it was delivered last Thursday. I’m not at all impressed with the quality – it’s not even, it has alignment problems, and the end blocks aren’t right, but if you look away quickly enough it looks good. Here it is in place where it will live, and eventually be populated with A/V components and gaming consoles:

entcenterI’m pretty sure the next time I get a new entertainment center, I will build the damn thing myself so that I know it’s built right. This doesn’t look too bad, but I’m very disappointed in the quality given that I deliberately avoided the low-end mass market stores like Wal-Mart, Target, or Best Buy. On to the next bits!

Going from house to home

May 17th, 2014

So the basement is finished, and has been for a few weeks now. I just need to add furniture and make into an actual living space, not just an empty (if updated) basement. The problem with that lies in the furniture selection available to me, which is – to be quite blunt – complete crap. I found an entertainment center that I somewhat like at Rooms To Go yesterday and bought it. It is to be delivered a week from this coming Thursday. I found a computer desk I’m willing to live with at Office Max today and bought it – it’s assembled and in place now. I’m not entirely happy with it – actually, I’m really not happy at all – but I’m willing to live with it short-term. I had intended to immediately start working on my railroad table, but I think I’ll have to start working on a computer desk at the same time. There are some features I need in it (for my workflow) that just aren’t available commercially.

I had intended to start at least the railroad bracing today, but I woke up with more sinus and coughing issues, so I’ve been dosing myself up on DayQuil most of the day. Heck, I was luck to have enough energy to actually assemble the computer desk after I got it home.

My greater plan is to start the railroad shelf, the computer desk, and find a second house to rehab more or less simultaneously. The first is for my enjoyment, the second for being able to work from home, the third as an investment. Oh yes, there’s a fourth item that is also for my enjoyment – the suspended railroad in the living room.

On a side note, I will probably be getting rid of my aquariums soon. I have a 75g with canister filter, a 29g with a power head filter, and a 10g with power head filter, all with appropriately sized stands. If you want one, or know of anyone who does, make me an offer. You might be surprised how much I’m willing to accept for them. I have to empty and clean them, but if they aren’t gone by the time that’s done, they’ll go up on craigslist.