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I always wanted an NES R.O.B. as a kid but it was a weird and expensive toy. So getting deep into my nostalgia I picked one up off of eBay a year ago, but it didn’t work as expected, the left / right turning mechanism was broken. I got a few extra minutes last night and found the issue. A loose gear from the 30 year old glue decaying and falling off. A quick application of super glue and R.O.B. is up and running again. The NES control on these these are pretty fascinating as it doesn’t directly connect with the Nintendo, it communicates via pulsed flashes from the TV. The TV sends command signals during the blanking time to tell R.O.B. how to move, similar to how optical isolators function. Ada Fruit did a great write up and I cloned the project to get the initial control working.
A few years ago three new bonsai came to the Cecchetti house hold, a forth was later gifted to me by a friend. As I’ve come to learn the care of bonsai is an endeavor of interwoven timescales and master class in asymmetric appreciation. To properly care for a bonsai you are keeping a plant in a somewhat unnaturally suspended growth state. The guiding of the growth comes slowly over many years of wiring, pruning, and watering. My understanding is that if done properly this slow growth can cause a bonsai to be well over 800 years old. As far as slow hobbies are concerned, it does not get much slower, unless you are willing to leave the biological for geological or astrological time scales. Interwoven with this slow growth the bonsai still need constant watering to stay alive. I found that ultra slow growth over the course of decades is compatible with all the other things going on in my life, but daily watering is not.
So like many things in my life I looked to automate the daily watering away. Initially this was so that my bonsai had some chance of survival while I travel. I’m not the first person to attempt to build a plant watering robot. A simple web search will list dozen of projects and a few kits that you can buy. One blog post I found claimed they spent two years and more time making the watering system than it could possibly save them in a lifetime of watering. I decided I’d keep this to a few weekends project and “good enough” would be ok here. I opted to build my own for a number of reasons. I haven’t worked with water pumps or tubing in the past and getting a feel for flow rates and valves seemed like a skill I’d end up using in the future. Second all of the kits I found feel into two categories, water 1 plant, or water an entire yard/garden. I’ve got 3 bonsai that all need love (4 now) and so I wanted to be able to easily dial the number of plants, pumps, and tubes up and down based on need. In the middle of all of this I was impressed by a fairly low tech solution that was a gravity drip system built from a water bottle turned upside down. However, I wanted to have one large basin that I’d refill not a half a dozen small bottles.
Every project has a few good dead ends and this one was no exception. One of the dead ends everyone seems to find is that the cheap moisture sensors you find online don’t accurately measure moisture levels. The “sensor” is just an electrical contract that when water touches closes the circuit letting you know the soil is moist but not a good indicator of by how much. When I stepped back and thought about it, measuring the actual moisture level across any area is a non-trivial problem. A quick search online reveals that dedicated devices are made to do this but that’s too expensive for my hobby project. I decided to forgo using a sensor and just put it on a timer. My then partner now wife Sarah recommended using a scale and reading when the soil dried up. I thought this was pretty clever, but haven’t upgraded the system to incorporate a scale yet. The downside is it requires a powered scale for each plant and some concept of measuring plant growth and adjusting weight over time. Perhaps I’ll add this in a later version.
For now here is the system and the bonsai.
If you wish to replicate the project here is the Bill of Materials.
1 Raspberry Pi
1 SD Card
1 12v DC Water Pump.
1 12v DC Power supply
1 5v DC Power supply
1 Relay Board
1 Coleman 5 gallon jug
1 PVC Tubing
1 Plastic container to store this all in.
Plans for version 2.
More pumps with watering spikes to directly deposit the water in the soil, I’d also like to build a misting system. However, that’s a project for another time.
Twenty Feet and One Inch
My entire childhood I had a mild fear of heights that I never quite understood. Having a fear of heights is not unique or interesting, about 1 of every 15 people shares this fear. For me this fear manifested in odd ways. Any time I attempted to climb a ladder it was inevitable that I begin to tremble. Just enough fear to freeze me in place, as I imagine all those other people who shared my fear did. I usually wasn’t scared of anything that could hurt me, a bit paranoid yes, but fear pain? No. Nor did I ever demonstrate an overly cautious approach to my physical well being. So this particular fear always bugged me.
I found it odd that my fear of heights never stopped me from doing things that involved heights. I’d happily go to the top of a 50 story building, step out of an airplane to sky dive, or dangle my feet off the edge of a mountain. However, five steps up a ladder and I’d get scared. My stomach would feel like it was a knot and my hands death gripped into cold aluminum, time would halt. Then after what felt like years, I’d relax and continue. Slowly those next 5 steps up the ladder would pass and I would not stop until I had reached the top. I could not help but feel silly, it was just a few more steps, why get so worked up 6 feet off the ground? People would tell me. “Don’t look down or don’t look around, pull your stomach in a bit. Maybe you’re just scared of heights.” None of this felt right, I loved looking around no matter the height. I loved climbing even more. The view was never the problem, the view or the top were the reasons I climbed.
It took me until my early 30s to figure out that I wasn’t afraid of heights. I wasn’t afraid of climbing, high spaces, or falling from 10000 feet up. I was terrified of falling from 6 to 20 feet off the ground. Just high enough to get hurt, but not high enough to kill me. High enough that I’d just gotten started and most likely suffering an injury just bad enough to keep me from getting back on the ladder and making it to the top. My fear wasn’t death, or pain, or heights, it is was incapacitation. I was afraid of not being able to continue, to never get to see the view that I started climbing for, and maybe even feeling embarrassed that I started climbing in the first place.
It has been my experience that my own revelations about fear seldom eliminates the fear. Still to this day I get between 6 to 20 feet up and that familiar knot in my stomach returns, like an old friend reminding me of how scared I once was. However, now the voice in the back of my head starts quietly whispering “Don’t stop; one inch past the fear is the view.”
Frequency Based UI
I’ve always been confused by this User Interface decision.
This sparked an idea for frequency based resizing of UI widgets. I put together this proof of concept to adjust the User Interface element size based upon the frequency of user interaction. The idea being to increase the area that is mapped to muscle memory as a user’s workflow is repeated.
As additional interactions occur the UI element is increased slightly based upon the most frequent usage. A friend suggested perhaps touch screens in PoS terminals, appliances, or vehicles might be a good use case where the operator is frequently using just muscle memory. I’ve increased the rate of the UI element at 2x what I’d expect a real UI would increase at to demonstrate the effect with an upper bound on the sizes that can increase. In a non proof of concept the UI element wouldn’t move at all from where the expected center is simply expand. A demo goes a long way, Click on Eject, Format, Cut, or Copy to see the basis of the idea.
A moment of pause.
I’ve recently finished “What If” by Randel Munroe a collection and expansion of the posts here https://what-if.xkcd.com/ The book applies a engineering and scientific approach to absurd questions with a dose of humor mixed in. Mostly I enjoyed the explanation of the approaches in a light hearted but not mocking the question manner, it reminded me of a few of my best professors over the years I spent in school. A few of my favorites included the search algorithm he describes in Soul Mates https://what-if.xkcd.com/9/ (which now that I look isn’t in this online post), “What would be the last light left on Earth if all the humans disappeared” (also not online), and a “Mole of Moles” https://what-if.xkcd.com/4/
Part of me wants the a board meeting to have gone something like this…
“How do we start to undo 100 years of portraying women as princesses, maintain all of our current franchises, increase appeal across our entire demographic, and make a fuck load of money at the same time?”
“Get me Lucas on the phone and a check that has 9 zeros pre-written, an idea I has.”
Really looking forward to the Rogue One movie.
A master of Tang Soo Do told a very young me that it took them 30 years to learn to throw a single kind of punch. I remember thinking “Why so long it’s such a simple and easy punch? I can do it right now.” Staring at the heavy bag 27 years later I think how did they learn to do it so fast?
Love and Math
A few chapters into Love and Math and it has been an engaging read painting a picture of various higher order math concepts in every day understandable language. The author’s ability to write and communicate reminds me of the professor that I had in undergrad that caused me to have my passion for math in the first place.
2015 was a bit of a whirl wind year. Deja and Peach split in half to become even more awesome! I’ve learned a lot this last year about the nature of both the products and services businesses. I had the pleasure to continue to lead and be part of a team of some incredibly talented and passionate people. Personally, I had some amazing adventures in Tanzania and over the year laid the ground work for a lot of awesome projects to get published and pushed out the door this coming year.
Reflecting on my goals from 2015 a lot of them were hit and I had a few failures. Most notable is the reading list took a bit of a dip, fitness didn’t even come close, both are easy enough to adjust for 2016. Looking forward to 2016 I plan to continue to be a media sponge, sharing more of the awesome we’ve got going on at Deja and Peach, and building the hell out of as much as we can.
I’ve decided to share some of the raw data but it is a bit filtered. There are a few Deja/Peach related things that I’m planning on posting in the near future.
As a key to this list X = Completed and F = Fail
[X] Travel/Photography : Produce [X] Tanzania - camera skills brush up [X] Practice Weekend 1: Woodland Park Zoo - search images (Feb) [X] Practice Weekend 2: Camera - settings in various env (Mar) [X] Practice Weekend 3: Reflexes (April) [X] Practice Weekend 4: People/Things (May) [X] Pack / prep (May)
[X] Build : Produce [X] Build Plug Proxy add on [X] Build CoffeeShopShield [X] Research Project 1 [X] Research Project 2 [X] Research Project 3 [X] Research Project 4 [X] Code Combinitorial Indexer [X] Layout Breakout boards [X] Write ACTD iPhone Viewer App
[X] 4/4 Talks : Produce [X] AMW [X] UW [X] Industrial Control Systems Joint Working Group [X] Federal Reserve
[X] Blog Posts : Produce 12/12 [XXXXXXXXXX] Personal [XXXXXX] Deja [F] 12/15 Books : Consume [X] The Master Algorithm [X] Creativity, Inc [X] Brave New War [X] Spell or High Water [X] Body language [X] Pretotyping (sic) [X] Introduction to GSM [X] The Big Con [X] Against the Gods [X] How to Cheat at Everything [X] Meditations [F] Marketing [F] F#
[F] Fitness : Consume [F] Lift 20/100 [F] Chuck 25/50 [F] Down 20 lbs Convert 10 lbs [F] 10k 0/1 [F] 1/2 Marathon 0/1
[X] Podcasts : Consume [X] Hardcore History [X] Wrath of the Khans [X] Blueprint for Armageddon [X] Prophets of Doom [X] The American Peril
[X] Games : Consume [F] Chess 10/40 [X] Monument Valley [X] Fallout shelter [X] Hearthstone [X] FLT [X] Destiny [X] Destiny The Fallen King [X] EP Sorcery
[X] TV : Consume [X] Vikings Season 3 [X] The Wire Season 1-5 [X] Archer Season 7 [X] Mr Robot Season 1
[X] Comics : Consume [X] Atomic Robo Vol 1-10 [X] Saga Vol 1-5 [X] Trees Vol 1 [X] Velvet Vol 1-2 [X] The Activity Vol 1-3 [X] Batman Arkham Asylum [X] Alex + Ada Vol 1-3 [X] Alien vs Predator