Last week I finally received my two new shiny blink(1) mk2 USB RGB "things"; these were rewards for helping fund the KickStarter project from ThingM. The mk2 is the second generation and even cooler version of thier RGB blink(1) devices. They are hackable USB powered indicators and I had a project in mind for one my mine which I jumped on right away. I wanted a way to indicate to cube mates when I was on the phone and shouldn't be disturbed (folks are always interrupting as they can't tell I'm on the phone before they barge in asking questions, awkward for all involved really). These blink(1) devices are the perfect fit for such a problem. I taped one up on my monitor, fired up Visual Studio and build myself a quick system tray applcation that will allow me to change the indicator color with a single click. The application also automatically switches the indicator when it detects I'm idle for 5 minutes. As soon as I interact with my computer again, the indicator automatically switches the indicator back. Super quick project and couldn't have been possible without the .Net library for the blink(1) by Jean-Francois Talbot and the great hardware from ThingM. As always source code is below and I've even recorded a quick video of the system working. Now to find a project for the other blink(1).....
In my last post I talked about an issue my company had. We couldn't monitor our paging infrastructure from end-to-end and we couldn't find anybody selling anything that could. Before folks start yapping about pagers, you will see them in the healthcare sector for many more years to come when it comes to contacting a doctor for a life safety issue (cardiac arrest, etc) there is nothing currently sold that is as reliable and timely in the crowded RF world of a hospital.
I had built a prototype monitoring system using one of our pagers and an Arduino paired with a Windows Service. Well, it works and it works wonderfully so I was asked to build three more. Using multiple devices ensures we don't get false positives regarding a system outage due to the device or computer failing.
I've long been a fan of Adafruit and they were my first choice when I had my company order the parts needed to build out the rest of the monitoring devices. I leveraged the Arduino enclosure and the protoshield they sell and everything worked out wonderfully. I must say for a home-built gadget, they look pretty darn good and they perform wonderfully.
My apologizes for the quality of the pictures, had to use the cell....
I've slowly been able to expand my home lab to include the type of equipment that allows me to continually improve my technical skills as well as experiment with home automation and DIY electronics. As my home lab has grown so has the need to ensure it's kept healthy. One way to ensure it stays healthy is to make sure it's got a nice comfortable habitat in which to work and live.
My first feeble attempt to monitor the environment where I keep my server rack was to buy a cheap-o temp and humidity meter from eBay. It worked in so much as I could tell what the temperature and humidity was if I bothered to go down to the basement and look. I'm lazy, heck I have IP KVMs so I don't have to go downstairs to reboot a server, I'm not going to go down there to check the environmental conditions. Something better had to be implemented....
I started looking for environmental monitors/sensors on eBay thinking I could pick something up cheap from one of the numerous companies that sell used computer equipment. Data centers are always upgrading such things and I was confident I'd get something to meet my needs for less than $100USD. Wow, I was ever so wrong. I found some things around the $100USD range but they typically required other pieces or sensors that costs as much or more. This was starting to suck.
Not sure why it took so long, but I finally remembered I had purchased a temperature and humidity sensor from AdaFruit.com many months back for a project I hadn't completed. I also remembered I had an Ethernet shield and I always have a few Arduinos on hand. I had struck gold, I'll build my on networked environmental sensor and I can do it for FREE (as I already owned all the pieces).
Thanks to AdaFruit.com's learning site, I was able to get my DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor working in just a few minutes but I needed some way to get to the data remotely over the network. I hooked up my Ethernet shield and started messing about with building a HTTP client and after a bit realized there had to be someone who had done this already. I found this article which leveraged the Ethernet shield to log the data to a cloud service which had a nice user interface for making sense of the data points I was capturing. Exosite was going to be a great, no fantastic solution! I downloaded the Arduino library for Exosite and I was done in about 30 minutes.
This is why I love Arduinos and the community of Arduino users. I was able to build an environmental sensor that was networked, captured historical data points and even has alerting features (via email) in about an hour and for about $75USD in parts.
Check out my Exosite portal here.
Now I've just got find a nice way to mount this in my rack and add a display for local viewing of the temperature and humidity for those times I actually am standing in front of the rack. But I'll save that for another post....
My example code and high resolution pictures can be downloaded below.
I've had many a project lately that needed to use batteries rather than being powered from the mains. I've been reading lots lately about saving power in AVR chips and general concepts for power conservation in my projects. It's made me a better engineer in general and I think all my future projects will benefit from the knowledge regardless of their power source. During all my research I did stumble upon this article that I thought would be useful to the masses and thought I'd share it with everyone.
I finally got my shipment of Raspberry Pis today and I am stoked! I didn't pay the crazy prices on eBay and so I now have a $36 computer. I've allocated both of my PIs as XBMC boxes to power my basement and living room TVs. I had been running a BoxeeBox and while I initially loved it, I've grown to HATE it. They should rename it "FlakeyBox"; a $200 box of crap.
Anyhow, I spent about 30 minutes working on it and I have my first Pi up and running and streaming 1080 video to my TV without issue. If you are in the market for a Pi allow me to suggest Adafruit. If you want information on how you too can use a Raspberry Pi as a media center, check this site out. There are several different firmwares available for XBMC but I've settled on Raspbmc for now, it's fast enough for daily use and seems very stable.
Make sure you use a powered USB hub and pick up one of these power supplies for your PI, otherwise it'll be very unstable. I learned this the hard way. These power supplies from AdaFruit supply 5.25V to the PI which helps with it's rather shoddy power design which will allow the board to become under powered and reset.
I've recently redesigned my Retro WiFi Radio project to include some "extra" functionality and the design requirements required some tiny spacing of the components in addition to some tiny SMD parts. While I'm all for hand soldering SMD when needed, I wasn't looking forward to attempting this board build by hand...I really needed to look for a better, faster and more reliable way to solder SMD boards. I'd read articles from Adafruit and some other sites about utilizing electric skillets to re-flow boards but I've also read plenty that say it's not the ideal way to re-flow. I even went as far as to "Watch" some eBay listings for a few cheap Chinese re-flow ovens. I knew folks had been having lots of luck using a PID controller and a toaster oven and after reading reviews about those cheap Chinese re-flow ovens, I figured my $50 investment in a toaster oven from wally world would be the safest gamble. I knew I wanted a toaster with no digital controls (easier to hack up, I suspected) and dual top and bottom heating elements. I also had read some good reports using toaster ovens with a fan which supposedly prevented hot/cold spots in the oven. I found a Black and Decker at Wal-Mart for about $40 that fit the bill perfectly so I made the plunge, I sure hope it would reach high enough temps fast enough to hold a good re-flow profile.... The first test for the toaster before tearing it apart was to ensure it'd get hot enough without any modifications.
My particular oven has both a "Baking" and "Toasting" settings with the difference being the "Baking" setting enables the convection fan. I tested the oven in both settings to ensure it'd easily exceed the required 250C my lead-free profile would require for re-flow. It didn't take any time at all for the toaster to exceed my temperature requirements in both settings. Looks like I got myself a champ here folks! Given the fact that I had already purchased an appropriate solid state relay for a different project and I had a spare Arduino laying around, I knew I could quickly throw together a PID controller and test the toaster's ability to hold a profile. I used a sketch from these great folks (which they use for their Arduino re-flow shield) and an LCD display I had laying about. I had a working PID controller in about 45 minutes. So far, this project was looking like it was going to be super easy! Why hadn't I done this before? Using my Fluke meter (with temp probe), I manually charted the temperatures of 3 re-flow runs and while not as accurate as an industrial re-flow oven, I think it'll do just fine. My first few boards worked perfectly and I must say, it's WAY faster and easier than soldering by hand! Bring on those 0603 resistors now!
Not one to leave good enough alone, I decided there were a few easy things I could do to improve the responsiveness of the toaster and help it follow my profile more accurately. Here's what I did to the toaster to "improve" it and the results. 1. Added reflective "flue tape" to the inside of the toaster's internal metal walls (back wall and bottom with ceramic fill inside cavity) as well as the glass front door (minus the "peep" window). 2. Filled internal voids with ceramic fiber insulation wool. Got some cheap from eBay
Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 3:41.3 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 6:46.9
Time to 250C (Toast Setting): 2:25.8 Time to 250C (Bake Setting): 3:53.6