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Ben's blog

  • Bigger, Stronger, Faster

    I bought another chainsaw and promptly went after a big tree.

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    My forearms burn as they did 5 years ago when I got the smaller saw and had no idea what I was doing. This saw is a serious upgrade and makes the job both easier and harder at the same time. It take much more strength to wield but much less work to go through the tree.

    Robin climbed on top of the tree, in pieces.

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    The new saw has more metal components and is made in Germany. I’ll keep the small one for smaller jobs.

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  • At the junction of I.T. & homesteading

    I started acquiring multiple Raspberry Pi Zeros for the purpose of starting to figure out a consistent deployment scheme for the various automation related projects I envision for our homestead.

    For now I’ve simply deployed 2 DS18b20 temperature sensors. One on the existing Pi in the Solar shed which serves this blog, and another on a Pi Zero in the house. Only sensing for now which complements the data I’m gathering from the solar array.

    The Pi Zero consumes between 0.1 and 0.2 AmpsIMG_7476

    Sample data being gatheredScreen Shot 2016-12-10 at 10.25.03 PM

    Here are my current install notes for the Pi Zero.

    To limit power consumption, add this to /etc/rc.local to turn off HDMI output

    /usr/bin/tvservice -o

    To be able to read from the temperature probe, add the following line to /boot/config.txt

    dtoverlay=w1-gpio:3

    Get the python-w1thermsensor package

    sudo apt-get install python-w1thermsensor

    Reboot & make sure devices are listed in /sys/bus/w1/devices

    The python code necessary to read the probe is:

    from w1thermsensor import W1ThermSensor
    # assuming only 1 sensor
    sensor = W1ThermSensor.get_available_sensors( [W1ThermSensor.THERM_SENSOR_DS18B20] )[0]
    temperature = sensor.get_temperature()
    if temperature is not None:
        print '%.1f' % (temperature)
    else:
        print "failed to get reading."
  • Finally a decent buffer

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    We just upgraded our batteries from 3 * 35Ah lead acid (right) to 3 * 155Ah deep cycle AGM (left). The difference is like night and day; pun very much intended. These bears weight 90 lb each. We added lights in the house and are able to make it through several overcast days without loosing power. I still need to wire in another charge controller and clean up the mess of wires in the solar shed. The old system will get re-purposed for raspberry pi instrumentation around the homestead.

  • Interesting Nature Finds

    The “toupet” tree

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    Ice growing out of the groundIMG_7390

    The tree that decided to fruit out of nowhere

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    The wtf tree limb

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  • Understanding culture & tradition through Off-grid / Vermont living

    Since we moved to Vermont and adopted to live off-grid, often times in ways similar to life 100 years ago, I’ve been fascinated to see how many cultural artifacts from yesteryear are still used today by our generation . We are no longer cognizant of what their purpose is within today’s culture, yet we still use them as our own, sometimes sprinkled with inconsistencies. It’s been a very interesting yet tiny glimpse into how culture finds it way through the ages.

    Through the years I’ve compiled a list of observations, some may be obvious yet I was oblivious to them, some pertain to rural life Vs city life, all I’ve observed since we moved to Vermont.

    The scene of Christmas stockings by the fireplace came to be as folks hung their socks to dry by the fireplace. It never occurred to me until I actually looked at the Christmas perfect picture of all our socks lined up by the fireplace while snow was coming down outside. The only difference being that our socks were in fact stinky & soggy.

    All the state fairs are in the Fall following the main harvests. They are a time to come together and rejoice about the fruits of a long Summer’s worth of work. Having been born and raised in cities, the relevance of this timing was completely lost on me.

    Yule logs are a Christmas desert because of how incredibly important wood was to keep warm during the cold months. There is a lot of meaning to the imagery of a Yule log, I used to think “neat, it looks like wood” and took it as a feat of cooking rather than the reverence to an essential resource that it is.

    I’ve come to feel a lot more connected to old tales happening in the woods. It is amusing that new stories (video games) are created today which emulate the feeling of being in the woods from the experience of these tales rather than the actual experience of the woods. This is true of many other “visuals” we get from these tales, from wood stoves to other artifacts present in old cabins. We don’t have to have experienced them to know that they belong there. How many times have I seen woodstoves represented without chimneys, or other inconsistencies. Scenes are painted from previous painted scenes, and some details get lot in the game of telephone.

    Having experienced all of the following in the dark: fog, glowing eyes, owl movements, animal noises, wind noises, creaking trees; I now know where ghosts and other unsavory monsters came from. Ghosts is clearly fog and the many shapes it takes especially with a light source in your hand. The image of the ghostly figure is present in so much of our culture (Harry Potter) it was a good “aha” moment to see where it came from one dark night outside. Equally as spooky and “aha” inducing was, and this is just a supposition on my part, the origin of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland. One night I was outside taking a leak and I saw eyes moving through the woods in exactly the same swigging motion. The image of the well known cat jumped at me, and I can’t help but think that Lewis Carroll has had a similar experience. In my case however, it turned out to be a not-so-magical deer.

    The expression “breaking ground” actually literally translate to the action of breaking ground because well, that’s the first thing you do when building something. Again, some of this stuff may be obvious to some already :)

    Crockpot cooking was invented to cater to recipes requiring extended periods of cooking; but the recipes in question were made to cater to having a wood fire going all day. In fact many recipes and even basic ingredients find their origin in wood fire. Today, a recipe is simply of a goal to achieve, “Here’s how you make X”. I’ve come to realize most recipes which are corner stones of a culture find their roots in what is going on at the time. For example, It’s cold, you have a fire going all day, one too many roosters the meat of which isn’t exactly tender, it’s mushroom season and wine isn’t a issue where you live: shazam! coq au vin is born. The funny part as I’ve said before is that while the recipe made a lot of practical sense in times previous, now most people don’t have a constant source of cooking heat, don’t have one too many roosters, and don’t have mushrooms growing nearby. So we build crockpots, we breed roosters, and grow mushrooms, ship this shit left and right and get ourselves a mid-summer coq au vin. It’s a bit absurd to think of a cultural corner stone being artificially induced of the sort, yet understandable that one would go through such absurd lengths to recreate something delicious. I just wonder if some of the culture is getting lost as the recipe translate from something rooted in the people’s life experience in a particular place and time, to something that can be recreated at will with no further meaning than the taste.

    That’s all I have for now, I might find more :)

  • From one day to the next

    One day you’re finishing up the wall under a gorgeous skyIMG_7309

    the next day Winter shows up and makes nice days seem so far awayneigeIMG_7320

  • Nosy Monster

    Robin & I have been working on a rover for the land since his toy RC car broke. I opened it up to see if I could fix it, and as with many things, I quickly came to the conclusion that “I’ll just throw a Pi in there and do it myself”.

    Here’s the supposedly amphibian piece of shit that broke withing 1 hour of use.

    Screen Shot 2016-10-16 at 6.04.40 PMThe engines still worked so I bought a Raspberry Pi Zero with a Pi cam, some super cheap Sunfounder Relays

    From the ground up

    Before anything else, we introduced the notion of a relay. In the past we used Lego motors and batteries to apply power directly to actuators and create little robots. I just snipped one of the wires and had Robin create contact manually so he could make the correlation between a closed circuit and the motor going.

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    With this “manual relay” in mind, we added a Pi controlled relay to make him realize that what the new gizmos do, is what he was doing by hand.IMG_7013

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    Ok we have a web controlled Lego motor going. Let’s see if we can replicate with the RC car’s motors.

    IMG_7020IMG_7021First the manual relay

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    Then with the Pi controlled relaysIMG_7024nosy_monster_04Our first iteration looked like this and had a few issues. I separated the circuit powering the DC motors and each were powered by only 1 AA battery. I also had many adjustments to make in the logic.

    IMG_7064Eventually, by adding a DROK voltage regulator, I was able to power everything from a single USB charger and prevent the motors from affecting the rest of the circuits.

    IMG_7127But the extra hardware is hard to fit in the Nosy Monster so it’s unlikely that I will be able to fit the solar panel that would turn it into a completely autonomous robot. So I started googling for other potential frames and OH GOD I JUST STUMBLED INTO THE WORLD OF RC ROBOTICS. Oops…

    In any case, I broke down the control into a step by step process. Instead of pressing “Go” and “Stop”, pressing “Go” will make it go for 1 second. There is 2 reasons for this. First, web based control introduces delays which make for a shitty live driving experience. Second, I would like this to behave like an actual rover on another planet. It reports back its sensors status and human decide on the next steps to follow. Heck I’m even thinking the next steps could be something that is voted on online. This would not be possible with “live” control.

     

  • Cool Duplo Project #38 – The Tallest Duplo Tower in the World – Reaching for new heights!

    For the occasion of the First Lego League competition at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, I decided to beat my previous record for the highest Duplo tower in the World.

    With an awesome venue and a lot of eyeballs on the project, it was time to do something big… Except that I barely went over my previous 17 feet. I thought I had much better chances with an improved design but I only made it to 20.5 feet. In part because I was risk averse given the project had visibility. But also because my design didn’t deliver what I thought it would in terms of resistance to wobbliness. I’ve learned a few lessons and will bring a laser level to my next attempt.

    Deploying safety netting, we’re as much worried about one of the many kids attending the First Lego League knocking the tower down as we are about the tower crashing on the crowd.baea98da931cda1d-blob

    Your shipment of Duplos has arrivedIMG_7262

    Peter and the ready-to-assemble towerIMG_7265

    Here is it in all of it glory, all 1082 pieces of itIMG_3502IMG_3507IMG_3528

    Here is how it met its demisedemise

    And a timelapse of its build

    Thank you to the wife & kiddo, Jared, Oliver, Dan, Crystal, Peter, Sarie & the Thayer School of Engineering for all the help in making this possible 😀

  • A greenhouse to cover the well head

    With a hand pump being our only access to water, we’re taking extra precautions to ensure it will survive the tough winters we get. While technically not necessary for the pump we got, it can only help and should also improve the chore of gathering water. And we get a greenhouse out of it :)

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    I like the idea of combining under one roof, 2 functions where freezing is non-desirable, water and growing plants. Our dream is to build a bigger greenhouse down the road and maybe even heat it. Water for the plants would be right where it’s needed and benefit from the higher temperatures. Our only worry right now is whether it will survive the freak wind gusts we get.

  • Triple the Garlic – update

    The garlic is in, a bit later than should be; oh well.IMG_3419