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OK… This project isn’t Super Secret from anyone but my kids. My last project “Project CORHAKADA” was such a hit with my kids I absolutely had to start another one before they forget how fun they are. I think the reason it was such a big success with them is that they helped me build the Christmas light show project and got all the way to the end without knowing exactly what it was.

Before I get started we need a back story:

I have been saving up for over a year to purchase a quad copter (drone). I wanted a really good one that me and the kids could play with in the yard. Now I am a responsible person and can’t just spend 500 dollars on a toy. So I had to create some “rules” for myself to actually get it. The rules go like this:

  1. Start a savings account in an old mayonnaise jar.
  2. Any coins left in car, around the house or that look generally unwanted can go into the jar.
  3. Any money that is given to me as a “gift” for Christmas, birthday, etc. can go into the jar.
  4. Any other money that comes in that is NOT from my labor or a reimbursement of any kind can be put into the jar.

Here is a picture of that jar today:


Yeah.. There is money in there… But not as much as I thought. I asked my wife where, “All the bills went” and she said, “I spent them on violin lessons”.

Grrr… It made me so mad that it got all into our family business and I had to explain to my kids that me and mommy actually “can’t steal from each other” because all the money, cars, house, and any other  stuff we own, we own together.  And technically neither of us actually has “our own stuff” until one of us is dead (Yeah… It was a whole thing). I am still a little irritated. I have since moved my “savings jar” out of the family safe (Irony!) and put it in a safer place in my office drawer (My wife will never know as she doesn’t think my blog is interesting).

So anyway… I had all of these rules for saving money for my quad copter. For Christmas my beautiful wife bought me one, so I had all this money (or so I thought) just sitting there in a jar in the family safe.

Yesterday (1/8/2016) I was at a customer site and while there the customer, whose name is Charlie told me about his 3D printer. He told me about his printer before but it didn’t hit that nerve. It was before “Project CORHAKIDA“…. Before I knew my kids could actually be interested in anything I do for fun. When he told me again about it today… I went a little nuts.

To make a long story short. I have a legitimate business need for a 3D printer. So I just had my company buy one. Done and done; no mayonnaise jar, not thieving fingers, no safe, just order it up and call it done. Did I break the “rules”? Nope… I didn’t even bend them. It has to be done…. So… I went a little nuts….

I ordered one of these kits (We will have to build it):

That was going to be more money than I had in my toy fund so I got a little squeamish and sent the following to the website contact us page”

I have a customer that told me about your 3D printer that needs assembly and would like some help choosing the correct one. I am a homeschooling parent and want to build one with my kids. I have never used a 3D printer before but am in IT and familiar with hardware/software, etc. I would just like some guidance on what to purchase. I am thinking of the 12″ model and need some help picking out nozzles, extruders, etc. Oh… and of course filament. Is there someone there that I can talk to on the phone so I can explain what my situation is. I like the prices that I see on the website so I just want to get what will work the best for a beginner. I don’t have a hard limit on what I would spend on the entire unit, but keeping it around 1000.00 would be good.

Thanks in advance.


I literally got this response back from a guy named “Colin” 5 minutes later:

Hi Joe,

I don’t have a phone, but can answer any questions you have via email or on google hangouts.

As a general rule of thumb I prefer the 1.75mm e3d hot end and the standard Gregs accessible extruder, that gives you the widest variety of print materials, Great print quality and reliability.  For the electronics they perform the same and unless you plan on hacking your printer in the future you won’t notice any difference between the two other then the rumba supports the graphical lcd which does look cool.

Let me know



Um… Yes! That was really great… I bought the 12″ 3D printer kit last night… Then every color of filament they had in a 1.75mm diameter today and everything I would need to start printing out stuff. I can’t wait to start this project with my girls.

Here is the next post, I have to build a computer to run this printer, so me and the girls resurrect a broken one from my basement.

Project RAIN DROP – Post 2





So I worked from home today and had a ton of stuff to do, but was really quick on finishing everything; paying bills, calling customers, assisting in the technical miscellany that comes up in my normal job every day. As soon as I was finished I called the girls down to open everything up and at connect things so I can do the final test.


They pulled out the speakers and here is a quick video of us doing our sound test.

Now I never tested the actual daughter board. I have no idea if those outlets will work. So I start the program and test. This looks pretty good.

Well… I am very happy… Everything tested out OK and works the way I would expect.

I told the girls that we needed a “break from this project” as it was getting boring and we should go hang Christmas lights in our sun room. They were all excited and started plugging them into the outlets to turn them on. I told them I wanted to be the one to plug them in because it was too dangerous for them to plug them into the wall. That didn’t deter them at all and they started plugging them in and it was a whole thing.

2015-12-11 – 10:29PM

Well… Today the boot drive on my home computer went bad and at a very bad time. I was on site at a customer site and couldn’t connect to it to get to some important notes for a project, but even after my wife rebooted it she said it was giving an error… Something like, “Insert boot disk blah  blah blah”. After dinner at my parents house I checked it and sure enough… ”


Oh… Yeah… No. No. No. that wont work… that wont work at all. I checked it… The boot drive is dead. The problem is all my latest notes on on that system, not on the boot drive, but on another set of disks that are attached to it… Oh well… When life gives you lemons…

There are a few things that are good about that. I will list them in order of importance for this project:

  1. I can’t work on my PC. That means I have to finish hanging Christmas lights tonight (I don’t like hanging Christmas lights).
  2. I wanted to get a cheaper PC to use for my desktop anyway. I am not a gamer or power user, I just need it to configure stuff for customers and document. I built that PC for a lab system originally with lots and lots of power to get things built out and tested for customers quickly… The only reason I use it for a workstation was when I was doing video editing for a web commercial. That has been done this past April… It is overkill for me now.
  3. I want to use parts from that computer, specifically the camera you see on the top. I want to make a video of Project CORHAKADA and put it on youtube. The iPhone 5 camera on my phone wont be as nice as that.

With all that being said… I am off to plug in Christmas lights. I don’t know why I have such an aversion to hanging Christmas lights. I like looking at them. I love Christmas. My shrink thinks I don’t like it because when I was a little kid my father died on Christmas Eve climbing down our chimney and got stuck.. Oh… Wait  a minute that wasn’t my father… he is still alive. Oh yeah… That was from that silly girl from Gremlins… WORST CHRISTMAS STORY EVER! I am not sure what Chris Columbus the screen writer for this movie was thinking.


Anyway who cares if I don’t like hanging Christmas lights. It has to be done so I do it. Here is a picture of me hard at work.


I know what you are thinking. You are thinking, “Joe has gone off the rails and now he is just showing us everything he has to do because he is bored and his wife is making him do things he doesn’t like”. To that I say, “PISH POSH!!!” There is a reason for this madness. And here it is:

  1. I have 120VAC outlets on my project CORHAKADA.
  2. In my sun room I have 8 strands of Christmas lights placed strategically on the tree, around windows and even on the furniture.
  3. I am going to connect all of these together and attempt something that will make my kids very happy… And make myself laugh and laugh.

Let’s get going…. Her is a picture of the room with all of the lights in place. Only the Christmas tree is on because my wife did that part a couple of weeks ago. Nothing else is plugged in.


I taped lights to the windows, chair, couch, table, etc. I first tried electrical tape… It all fell off the next day. Then I used blue painters tape. That worked much better.

Here is what I am going to do:

  1. I am going to take the power cord from our device and connect GPIO0 to the Christmas tree.
  2. I am going to use the spare extension cords we bought earlier and connect the rest of the lights in no particular order to the rest of the lights on the windows and furniture.
  3. I am going to connect our speaker system to the motherboard.
  4. Then I am going to experiment to see if I can get something going that my kids will think is just great.

Oh… One more thing… Remember me and Kasia carving out the case to make that extension for a USB port? Yeah… Well I had to stick a wireless adapter in there so my project can communicate to a notebook in the back of the sun room where I am sitting now. I need to configure this first… It is going to be tricky because all of my notes on how to do that are on my computer that won’t boot. Grrr…


OK.. That is done… Let’s do a test.

OK… That worked all eight channels. The rest of the stuff is just boring tedious things. Testing sound, etc.

2015-12-12 – 11:15PM

Happy Birthday Mom if you are reading this.

I know… I know… It is super late for most people… 11:15PM what am I doing writing? Well… I already went to Mass earlier, the wife and kids are all asleep. I don’t do actual “work” on Sundays… So I can do what I always wanted with this project. I can stay up until I am literally too tired to work on it.

My hard drive on my computer died yesterday… I went to Fry’s with the kids today… They didn’t even notice I bought them their Christmas presents while we were there! Too fun.


Soldering irons…Solder removers… Wire clippers…. Multimeters… Toolboxes… And most importantly… The Christmas morning project (if they want to put them together) little light up Christmas trees they have to solder together!!!….. Crap! I just realized I need to get a couple of 9 volt batteries to power those little Christmas trees up.

Anyway… I also bought a new hard drive at Fry’s and it took a while for me to get back on line. I know… Boring right? But… I did need that to get my computer back on line and continue project CORHAKADA. Here is where we are with that project. I figured out how to make one of those channels light up when the motherboard “talks”.

2015-12-13 – 1:13AM


That was pretty good. I don’t know why it sounded like someone was taking a bite out of an apple after, but it was OK by my standards.

Now there is probably a way better way to do this, but I am just going with what I know. I have a script that allows me to make any channel on our daughter board talk. My setup works like this:

  1. I have a text to speech synthesis program that will upload any text I type to a Microsoft cloud server. That server will spit back out a MP3 file that I can play and push through the program.
  2. I control which channel they go out to by a config file that says basically “Only use channel 0 or channel 1 or any channel I choose for the lights”.
  3. The outputs of our “daughter board are connected to lights that cover different areas of my sun room.

With all of that put together I can run a script that looks like this:

./ “I am a Christmas tree.”
./ “I am a big window.”
./ “I am a couch.”
./ “I am a table.”
./ “I am a chair.”
./ “I am a lower window.”
./ “I am just some extra lights daddy had lying around.”

That is pretty simple stuff… Here is what you get.

2015-12-13 – 2:33AM

Well… I got my wish… I am literally too exhausted to do anything more. Good night.

2015-12-13 – 9:22PM

It was another long day. I had to finish fixing my computer so I could do real work tomorrow. But once that was done it was right back on to project CORHAKADA.

I didn’t like that each window or piece of furniture sounded just like the Christmas tree, so I used that program called “espeak” to generate those. The Christmas tree sounds more “human” the rest of the furniture and windows are robotic, but with different voices (different pitch, frequency, etc.) it was a tiny bit of work to get that right.

I wrote out a script for the Christmas tree to talk to my kids. I was able to test it a couple of times before we left for Grandma’s birthday party. When we got back… I just decided. Time to finish this project. No explanation necessary. Here is what the project was all about.


OK… Let’s call this project done. I am looking forward to the next project that I come across to teach my girls. Can’t wait for them to open their Christmas presents. Go STEM!



OK… This morning before leaving to Mass I couldn’t believe it. Delivered at my door were these:


Those are my new daughterboards. I am very surprised. Mike ordered them at 3:44PM on Saturday… I got them delivered at my door at 10:00AM Sunday… I wasn’t expecting that. It put me in a really good mood all day.

I have been trying to teach my daughters that with any good project the most important part is “clean up”. Without cleanup you can’t start any new projects because everything is such a disaster. And with this particular project we will be working with some high voltage (not that high… but enough to really hurt someone) so making things clean and tidy is imporant. Here is the mess we have left after yesterdays fiasco.


It is a disaster… I have to work tomorrow and have a lot of work to do for customers before I can start back on the project. This entire mess has to be cleaned and organized.

Oh.. By the way… The first daughterboard is dead. I asked Hannah if we should throw it away or save it for spare parts. She said, “Save it for spare parts”. Smart kid. If we blow out one of those driver transistors for some reason, I think all 8 of those are still good on the broken daughterboard. I wouldn’t trust anything else on that board except maybe the connectors. I just have to remember to mark that sucker as “BAD” with permanent marker as visually we can’t tell the diference between a good board and a bad one and now that we have three of them floating around the office it could be a problem especially with a bunch of kids milling around through the whole thing.

Crap… I have to clean this up all by myself because the kids are in bed. Uuugh!!! Oh… and we used a hot glue gun to place the old broken daughter board in our case. I have to figure out how to remove that.


Now that is more like it… Ready for work tomorrow and now I know what to have the girls do next. Swap out the fried daughterboard for the new one.



I am thinking about what I can have the girls do tomorrow. I did notice that when working with the “hot glue gun” it isn’t really hot. I need them to remove the broken daughter board from the system. I thought about this a lot tonight and I do have one of these.


Now I don’t use that heat gun a lot, but I do remember that it can get so hot that the tip actually turns red. It seems dangerous. But we are talking about teaching my girls STEM! They may get a little burned but it is worth the risk. I am going to have them melt that “warm glue” gun glue right off that daughterboard and they are going to install a new one. Wired correctly (no high voltage though… I will do that part) so we can see those pretty red LEDs light up when we run the program from the motherboard.


I wanted to break from my normal writing to actually mention to anyone who doesn’t know that this project is actually dangerous for children. My kids are using power tools, soldering irons, and eventually this device will be able to output voltage that would shock and possibly kill any one of us in the wrong situation. With that said… Go ahead and definitely try this at home, but make sure you understand what you are doing and watch your kids when they are around the device and tools, especially when you put VAC120 into it. GO STEM!!!

2015-12-07 – 9:24pM

So I had to work all day and didn’t get back until late. I had the girls use the heat gun and swap out the broken daughter board. They rewired it and now we have this.


Based by what I saw on with the multimeter testing this is what I was expecting. Two flashes for each light sequentially. Basic stuff. Pretty boring, huh?

Well what if we spice things up??? Let’s make this sucker talk.

Now I know what you are thinking… You are thinking, “Oh by all means make it talk, but don’t make me read through a ton of troubleshooting you have to do to get that working!”. To that I say… Request granted. The girls won’t be needed for this part as it is too complicated and guess what else? I already have all the code necessary from another project I worked on this summer. As a matter of fact I have a system image for a talking network monitor I built this summer that I will just download into the flash card on the unit and we will run with it.

2015-12-07 – 11:45PM

OK… Going with the system image of my talking network monitor didn’t work. Apparently my temperature sensor, which we don’t need for this project, was on GPIO7 which made that last light not light up and was sending me emails with the subject line “** PROBLEM Service Alert: Computer Room/temperature-sensor-monitor is CRITICAL **”

It is a whole thing. Instead I have to integrate the text to speech system into the original system image we already saw work. I will mess with that now.

SPECIAL NOTE: I have been an IT guy for over 25 years and it appears to me if anything needs sound I will have a problem with it. I think nice sound is my curse as it always gives me the most trouble. I know audiophiles and they have no problem with sound. I would like to be an audiophile too, but when it comes to making something “sound right” I just haven’t had good luck with it.  As a secondary goal of this project I will be pushing the envelope on making this silly little beast sound good.

Now I boot back up with he image we were working with earlier and install a text to speech program called “espeak”.

Here is an example of very basic text to speech.

There are quite a few problems with that, the first thing I need to iron out is I want those lights to flash like the box is actually talking to me. Let’s figure that out first. I want at least a couple of those lights to blink when the device talks.

OK… Here is what you are seeing…

The lights here responding to the voice but there are several problems:

  1. I don’t want the voice to go through the 8 channels. The software I use to drive those has this HUGE delay.
  2. Also if you notice all 8 of those LEDs are lighting up depending on what is said. I don’t like that either. I want a dedicated channel for voice. Those 8 are going to be used for something else.
  3. I hate the voice. I don’t want a robot. I want it to sound more human.
  4. Oh… And it isn’t loud enough. I want the voice to be loud.

2015-12-08 – 9:00PM

That is quite a list. Lets attack the volume first because it is easiest. I want to make sure I have a lot of control over the range of volume this produces. I also don’t mind it being obnoxious, so after mass tonight (Holy Day today… Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Yay!”) I went to the store and picked out the loudest most heavy sounding speaker system for a computer they had.



Next I am going to attack the voice quality because I have done that before. It will take me a while and I won’t bore you with the details, but it has to do with uploading the text to a specialized translation site from Microsoft. It is a very crazy thing where I can actually have the text translated into a few different languages before being output. For now I will just use English.

For this I didn’t attach the new speaker system to it because it is so late and I want the bigger girls to help unbox and connect it and they are asleep. I had the computer say this because my 1 year old (Kasia) was demanding that she hang out with me. This ended up freaking her out and she was happy to go upstairs to mommy.

That is pretty good. Better than the robot voice for sure. I didn’t put it through the program to light those LEDs because I don’t want to have the text to speech work that way.


So here is what is left for me to figure out before I wrap this project up and play a video of the final project:

  1. I want a separate channel… Or better no “channel”, just an output just for when this system talks using the text to speech synthesis.
  2. I need to wire up the 8 channels so they can control 8 – 120 volt devices that I will be connecting to it.

2015-12-09 – 10:32PM

I am out of time and don’t have the luxury of giving too much detail (I know… I know… Everyone is sad because they love the play-by-play… Just kidding… I know no one is sad). I have two very important customer projects to work on and it is way more important for me to be obsessed over someone else’s project than my own because well… I can’t do any of my projects unless I have money… Motherboards, daugherboards and speaker systems don’t grown on trees. So let’s wrap this puppy up and call it done.

So I had to drop the 9th channel idea for the voice and handle that the way with all of the channels like we saw earlier. I will have to live with the delay (I tried to resurrect a component off of our fried daughterboard, but there is nothing on there that is good anymore… I planned to write about it too, but it is a no go so we will have to throw that in the garbage… no spare parts from it).

The other day I had to go to Menards and while I was there there were super cheap (like under 2 bucks) extension cords. I bought a bunch of them.


That picture is deceiving… I bought way more than that, but you get the idea.

I drilled holes in the side of our case (9 of them because I was hoping to figure out that voice channel back then) and marked them for each  channel. I chopped the plugs that go into the wall off so I only have the outlets. I stripped, measured and tinned each end.

I grabbed a power supply for a Raspberry PI and busted it open and took out the power supply inside it. I used the hot glue gun to fasten it to the case.

I bought a couple of these so I could connect all of the 120VAC inside the case.


I also grabbed an extension cable I had for audio to bring audio out of the box (I had to carve out the back of the case a bit so the plug would fit. I also chiseled out a place to use a USB extension to bring a USB output on the case itself. I don’t want to have to open it to connect anything and it will have a USB wireless adapter connected to it at some point (Maybe not today… but at some point). Here is a picture of Kasia helping me chisel stuff to make the box (that was poorly measured) have everything fit.


The girls were totally much more interested in playing with the leftover boxes from the Christmas presents I bought for customers than anything having to do with top secret CORHAKADA They did this when I wasn’t looking. I am not sure what is going on there, but they seemed happy.


Anyway… lots of drilling, a little carving, lots of soldering by me (I did a huge amount after the girls went to bed)… We have this.


This is how it is connected: On the right are all of the neutral. On the left is the power that is fed to each of those eight channels. The idea is that as each GPIO is told to turn on… They will turn on.

Now there is HOT HOT HOT power going through this system when it is plugged in. I know it is a fire hazard because it is made of wood, but I don’t have time to mess with any of that. I just don’t want my kids to get shocked so I have to put a cover on it.

When I was at Menards I bought some plexiglass. I want to be able to see all of our hard work after this thing is done. I did keep the girls busy with decorating the top. Which would you choose for the top? Clear plexiglass or their decorated top?



I chose clear plexiglass. I am sure the girls wont mind that I used that. I carefully cut the plexiglass and drilled holes in the top to fit on our case. The end result is this.


Now I peeled off the back that is going towards the case and left the top to be peeled off for the girls tomorrow. I want them to be able to peel that back themselves (even the baby can help because it is safe) and see what we all did together. It will be HUGE!

I did a quick cleanup. VERY IMPORTANT if you try anything like this. Don’t leave cut power cords lying around the house. These go in the garbage in the garage, not the garbage can in the house (I just know the baby will figure out how to plug that into the wall and I just know she would stick the other end into her mouth… CLEANUP! most important part of a any project, but especially a project like this).



So here is where we are… I was in a rush… After frying the first daughterboard I did my best to really figure out how to get everything connected. I didn’t test this… I just assumed I knew what I was doing. I didn’t even plug it in after putting all the wires in. Tomorrow I will have the girls unbox the speaker system, pull off the protective layer on the cover and plug it all in. The next post will be the final post (I hope) if I don’t run into any problem that is worth writing about.


Finally… Did anyone figure out what this device does yet? I told my wife tonight and she was pleasantly surprised. That is a really good thing. She never is interested in any of my projects, but this one she likes. She doesn’t even read any of my blog posts. For example… I could say:

My wife is the neatest person I ever met and I am so happy I married her. I look forward to every day because she is so great. I brag about her all of the time with friends and family because she is so good at being a mom. I tell everyone that I “love being married” because I remember being single (I loved being single…. but being married is so much better). 

And she would never know.

To continue on to the next and final post on PROJECT CORHAKADA click here.


Top Secret Project: CORHAKADA

Wow… It has been over two years since I actually typed anything on my own blog. When I just logged into it, I forgot my password and was pretty amazed that is was actually still up.

OK… So let’s forget about my neglect for my lab site and get right to it.

About a year ago my wife said to me, “I am worried about our girls getting enough STEM education because I am just not good in that area.” For those of you that are not up on the term “STEM” it is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. When my wife said this to me I was totally perplexed. How could she think that the ball would be dropped when it comes to my FAVORITE stuff! Out of all education that is the only stuff I like. Literature… it is OK I guess, but I read Steinbeck and thought it lacking because… well… there were no gene edited dinosaurs, no robots, no laser weapons. Oh… And what crappy endings. Seriously? Literature? Who cares?

So… Back to my wife an kids… They need STEM. So… What better thing to do that a super secret project with a cool code name that has one of these!


That is a “SainSmart 8-Channel 5V Solid State Relay Module Board for Arduino Uno Duemilanove MEGA2560 MEGA1280 ARM DSP PIC”.

I know what you are thinking, “What the heck is that and why would something that looks simpler than than the inside of my toaster be interesting to me?”.

Here is why… If you look at the picture, you will see the green bar in the middle / bottom of the board. Those are electrical connections. If I can figure out how to put a little bit of voltage in there (at my command of course) the little green connections on the top will output lots of power to do something interesting for the project. “Interesting” is not always POWER… but for super secret project “CORHAKADA” it is necessary to have POWER!

From now on, instead of calling this the “SainSmart 8-Channel… blah… blah… blah…” we will call it the “Daughterboard”.

Yeah… I know what you are thinking. We live in the age of “fundamental transformation” where sex doesn’t mean anything and certainly shouldn’t be applied to inanimate objects nor to human beings, but we call it a daughter board around here despite what the culture thinks… I have three daughters and they like Cabbage Patch Kids, stuffed animals, tea parties and all sorts of crap that I don’t care about. But they also like “Daughter Boards”. Enough said except, “Go STEM!”

Now I know everyone is curios and wants to know what the project really is. Well… Eventually if you keep reading you are going to figure it out. But my goal is to keep my children in the dark about it until it is as close to finished as possible.

OK… The next step is to show the Motherboard. For that we will be using a Raspberry Pi 2. This is a cheap little computer board (35.00). It really is an entire computer on one little board. It has a video out, networking, USB ports. It is really versatile.



This is actually a broken Raspberry PI 2 that I have. The reason you see the c-clamp on it is that the clasp that holds the memory card in is broken. So that is one thing we need to figure out.

Another thing you will notice about it is this.



That is a GPIO header. We are going to connect some of the pins on that guy to our daughter board. The problem at this moment is that neither the mother board or the daughter board came with any schematics so I have to look it all up on the Internet. In my initial searches I kept coming up with this…


…which isn’t much better, as I would expect to see something like a map that will tell me which of those pins are the actual GPIO pins and what number they are associated with so I can command the daughterboard with software on the motherboard. More on this later. The girls are ansy to get started.

Even thought I don’t know what pins will go to what, I need a way to connect them. I never did find any cables on line that would work easily, but I have a ton of electronics junk lying around so I am sure I can find something. That GPIO header looks a lot like an IDE interface to me, let’s see if I can find something that will work in one of my bins. Here is a picture of my hard drive connector bin.


Yeah… I am pretty sure we can find something that will work in there. I rummage through it and after a few seconds I find an old hard drive cable. The problem with hard drive IDE connectors and this GPIO, although both 40 pins, IDE connectors are usually keyed. A lot of the time they have a filled in pin in the middle to keep people from putting them on the wrong way. Here is a picture of what an IDE interface looks like on a regular computer.


We wouldn’t want it to be keyed. We need all 40 pins. So I take a closer look at one of the connectors and it looks like we are good. All 40 are not blocked.


Next step I need to separate those individual wires on those ribbon cables. I know from experience you can’t just manually separate them because the wires will come right out of the insulation and it will be a disaster (I don’t remember why I know this, but clearly I have tried it before for some reason). So I need a razor blade. This will not be a job for a kid. So… I cut the ribbon cable and clamp it down to my work bench and use a razor and tediously separate all of the wires.


At this point I am almost ready to get the girls in to help me. But I do need to figure out those pins. I look for quite a while and I really have a lot of trouble finding out which pin is the first GPIO pin. I keep coming across different pin configurations and the setup.

After what seemed to be too long to figure out just came together rather quickly. First I found this clue from the software that I will be working with.

“assumes you are using the first 8 GPIO ports (GPIO0 – GPIO7) to control 8 channels”.

OK… That is a good read. Makes sense. I need to know GPIO0-GPIO7 pins. I read some more and am not quite frustrated yet, but am perplexed as to why it is so difficult to find something that it seems everyone who does projects with the GPIO would need.

Then I came across this command to run on the Raspberry PI.

“gpio readall”

I ran it and look what it spit out on the screen:


Now that is the EXACT thing I need to tie motherboard and daughter board together and make a nice “STEM family”. A fatherboardless family… but a family none-the-less.

So the next step is I have to finish preparing our ribbon cable for Hannah. She will be “tinning” the cables so they they don’t get freyed as we mess with them. I strip off 1/4 inch of the top of the following pins:

11,12, 13, 15,16,18, 22,7,39

Those pins matching in sequence:

CPIO0,1,2,3,4,5,6,7 and Ground.

I fold back the unused cables and use electrical tape to get them out of the way. I set them up with my “helping hands” mini holder and tell Hannah to tin the tips of each wire.


That will keep Hannah busy for a while now to get Cordie working on something. I tell her we are going to make a case for the secret project. I have her grab both the mother and daughter board. And bring them into the workshop.

I had eyed this wood earlier, it will work.


I have Cordie place the mother and daughter boards on the wood to get an idea of how wide the box will need to be.


Now to cut the parts of our box, Cordie who is 5 will have to use the table saw. No… Just kidding… She can’t use the table saw. She is too young. I will be doing that part, but she can use the power drill. The box is going to be about 10″ wide and I had built a block onto the guide of my table saw a few years back to work on my underwater camera, I don’t need that for this and need to remove it so I can cut 10″ of wood. Cordie can use a power drill so I get her started on removing that block of wood from the table saw.


While she is working on that I get back to Hannah and see that she is moving along well tinning our ribbon cable. I also check on Kasia… She is busy too. I will have to figure out a way for her to help with this project.


So the box will be simple. Just wooden. I don’t want to glue it because we will have to wait for it to dry and I hope to get this thing at least mounted inside the box today. I drill pilot holes using a pilot drill bit. This makes it really easy for Cordie to put it all together.


She did needed help some of the time keeping the drill steady especially at that last little bit where there is more tension.


Then after a little while she was doing most of the work herself.


It didn’t take too long and a few minutes later we had our box.


Here is a top view of it.


While Corie and I were building the box Hannah finished up the tinning of the ribbon cable and needed something more to do. The motherboard program will be sending out controls to devices that require 120v… Se we need to get some standard 120VAC into this project, so I had her cut in half a extension cord.


Then I told her to strip a 1/2 ” off each end and tin them. Here is a picture of the soldering mess, the tinned extension cord and our completed ribbon cable.




What a mess! We will have to clean all this up later.

When I was looking for a hot glue gun to fasten our mother board and daughter board to our case, I came across these little wooden spindles.


I think they would be good feet to support our mother and daughter boards. These will require glue, so I want to get this done sooner than later so it will be dry enough for us to put our boards in the box.

I have the girls setup both boards in our box and use a pen to mark where the holes are.


I am not sure how visible this is, but here is where the dots all landed on the bottom of our box.


I then took a 1/2″ spade bit for the drill.


And had the girls very carefully bore out 1/8″ depth footings for our spindles.



A little bit of glue and then a quick clean up of the baby because she got into the glue we have this:


OK… I can feel it now… Everything is coming together. I have the girls plug in the header ribbon cables into the daughter board.


Here is Cordie pitching in.


This is what it looks like after all the GPIO pins and ground are connected.


Well… We had our first dust up. While the girls were waiting for me to do something they got ansy and knocked the storage drive out of our mother board when it was on. I got upset with them as I was afraid it may be broken. I kicked them upstairs for a bit while I attempted the high voltage part.

So remember that the daughter board didn’t come with any instructions and the site that I was looking at for reference had a couple of key pictures missing from it, so getting the 120VAC to the outputs wasn’t clear. There is a program that I can run on the Raspberry PI that will toggle the GPIO pins 0 – 7 right in a row. I connect everything up except the 120 and see if I can get those LEDs to light.

Here is what the program looks like when it is running.


The problem is that it runs, but the LEDs don;t light up at all. I was expecting them to light up 1, 2, 3, 4….

I grabbed the girls and a multi-meter. I am pretty sure my output pins are correct as it was super straight forward after I figured out how things were numbered, but I had to prove it. I had them hold the multimeter on ground and the first input of our daughter board which should correspond to the first LED. After a bit as the program cycled through I could see the program sends 3.26 volts twice to each pin as the program cycled through. It was tough to get this picture, but I persevered and you can see clearly… We are getting voltage on those inputs.


So with that being figured out. I wanted to get those LEDs going. I am not sure what to do next and know I would risk blowing the daughterboard if I don’t connect it correctly. Putting 120 volts into the wrong place will for sure blow this thing.

I looked and looked and couldn’t find any details on wire it, so I am just going to try to put the 120VAC power here as it is the only thing that makes sense to me right now. I really want to see those LEDs get lit.


I plugged it in and I could see all the LEDs light up very slightly… Then one by one as the program hit each output I heard a sizzle, followed by another sizzle, followed by a faint crackle. It was really scary and I am really thinking I fried it. I feel terrible, I don’t think I will get lucky with this.

I need to figure out how I am supposed to connect this thing so I reach out to my buddy Mark who knows more about this device than I do as he did a similar project a few weeks ago (he is where I got this idea from).


So I called Mark and he confirmed it… I set it up all wrong. I am really sad now. But, at least now know how to connect it up properly.

I am going to connect the board properly and see what it looks like. I turned the lights off so you can see what I see in the picture.


I feel a little sick right now as I fried that daughterboard. I don’t think it is safe to even try to use now. I would expect all lights to be off right now, and there are several lit dimly.  I am a little scared too at this point because it is bringing home all sorts of things. I was thinking about the fact that my case is made of wood and just having this thing even if it is wired correctly around my wife and kids just makes me feel like it is all wrong.

I know I have to get another daughter board so I reached out to my sidekick Mike to order me two extras and some cabling so I can upgrade that ribbon cable to something a little nicer. He said I won’t get it until Tuesday. I am bummed right now and feel embarrassed stupid and mostly just sad because I have to stop. I was having so much fun I could work on this all night long until I can’t keep my eyes open.

It is hard to express how upsetting this is. A few weeks ago my daughters were crying a lot for stupid things and to try to get them to stop I would follow them around with a camera and try to get a good picture of the utter “sadness” to make them think it is strange to be crying all of the time. While I was writing this I came across one of those pictures that pretty much grasps how I am feeling.


Well… It is too late to do anything more… I am too tired to keep on writing. I will start another post once I get the new daugherboard and spare. Crap… I have to re-think the whole case too.


Quick… Post post edit. I did find one little thing to do… Me and the girls fixed data card issue in the motherboard and even though the case is wood mounted it in there just to get us setup for when we get the new daughterboards. I forgot that part earlier.

Continue to POST 2



Joe’s Lab – Grounding or Earthing Test

OK… For those of you that have not read some of my other posts I have to get something out right up front about me. I love electronics. I love it so much as a matter of fact, I am interested in it ALL. Not just the stuff I do for a living, but even useless things that will never make me any money. I like solar power and electric cars even though I am a huge unapologetic user of fossil fuels, I would love someday to have my home and car run on solar.

Now that that is out of the way, let me start by talking about “Grounding” or “Earthing”. I have never heard of such a thing until a couple of weeks ago. I was up really late one night watching a documentary. The site that carried this particular documentary was called “Underground Documentaries”. I browsed around some of their stuff and this particular video totally grabbed my attention. The video is no longer there, but is available at Amazon.

So what is “Grounding”? In a nutshell our human bodies have been built to be at the same electric potential as the earth. Believe it? I am not sure if I do, but it sure sounds neat. Here is more on it, since the invention of shoes with rubber soles and houses with floors that aren’t dirt, people have been suffering from a variety of different health problems that weren’t as prevalent in the past. To become “grounded” is simple. Just walk around in your bare feet on dirt all day… OK that wasn’t that simple. It is getting very cold outside and most of us won’t want to do that. So what do we do? Well… All we have to do is connect ourselves to “earth ground” in our homes. Easy enough!

Note: If you want to learned about earthing without paying for it, here is a pretty good video…

My first thought was to purchase a device that allows me to do this easily. I looked online for a grounded bed cover so I could start with being grounded at night. A quick search and I found this earthing pillowcase. But at 129.99 I thought it was a rip off for something so simple. My kid has a remote control boat I bought for her that costs 5th of the price and it has a million times more technology built into it. So NO WAY!

So.. The concept is really simple. All I have to do is bring my body’s electrical potential to the earths.

OK… I have seen some pictures and have an idea of what to do. I think the most comfortable and cheapest thing to do is an grounded ankle bracelet type thing. I know I have some really expensive high quality speaker wire. That would be perfect for this because it is really flexible. They have a ton of tiny hairlike copper and metal strands put together so it is very flexible. Here is a picture of the bit I found in one of my electronics bins.


OK.. That is a crappy picture. But it is basically two strands of insulated wire fused together to run from stereo equipment to speakers.  I also have this old multimeter plug. It will work perfectly to connect the gounding anklet thing to the earth ground on any outlet.


And I will need something to connect the anklet when finished. When looking for the plug in the picture above I found an old lanyard for a USB stick. The kind that you would just hang around your head like a necklace. I will use the clasp from this.


The speaker cable has two rubbery plastic coated wires. The first thing I do is separate the two of them. I keep the smoothest strip of wire for the cable that will lead up to my ankle. The other wire I strip back about 2 and 1/2 feet of it, so I have bare wire (I cut this wire in thirds, so I have three 10 inch bare wires). On the cable I want to use for the anklet I strip back 10 inches of insulation. What I end up with is a very flexible single insulated wire with 10 inches of bare wire ad the end. Then I attach and crimp the other three wires I made earlier. Here is what it looks like.


Now I have had a chance to think about this for a week or so and I know I want to braid those. I have four sisters and two daughters so I definitely know how to braid three strands, but not four. So, I run down the stairs and tell to my wife, “Hey, Rosie do you know how to braid four strands together?”, she replies quickly and kurtly, “No!”. I guess I am on my own. I look it up and low and behold I find this:

A few minutes later and I have this!


I think a girl could have done a much better job, but even though I live with three of them I was stuck doing it myself. I say it isn’t bad for a first time.

I run downstairs into the basement and find a cylinder to crimp wireless connections. I slide this down the wire and attach our lanyard clasp to the very end. Then I smash it flat with a hammer.


The next thing I do is attach the other end of the clasp to the base of the braid closest to the insulation. I secure it with blue electrical tape. Here is what it looks like.


Here is what it looks like on my 6 year olds ankle.


I think that looks relatively comfortable and would give a lot of surface area for passing electrons. I don’t think you would need much to keep your body in equilibrium with earth ground especially when using metal, but all the stuff I have heard about people seem to think more is better, so that should work pretty well. I tested it on my angle and it is snug, but not tight.

So I connect up everything. I attach a bunch of junky speaker wire so it is nice and long. I want it to work almost everywhere in case I turn into a nut like the rest of the people who get into grounding.  Here is what the whole shootin’ match looks like.


Here is a picture of the grounding plug, plugged into an outlet.


So that is it… Tomorrow will be my first day trying this out. I have an overnight to do for work tonight so this first test will probably be a really crappy one (Meaning I will probably feel like crap when I wake up no matter what). I don’t do too well on overnights. I will keep updating this post with dates and observations as I go down this “grounding” path.


My wife comments on Windows 8 – a true story

True story:

My wife and I just had this conversation 10 minutes ago. Here is word for word how it went.

Joe,  “It looks like I am going to have to buy you another PC because I have no idea when they will get the one I just bought you fixed. We can ask them if they have something with Windows 7 on it because that is what you like.”

Rosie, “Make sure it has good virus protection.”

Joe, “Oh… That is right! You had all that trouble with viruses, did you have any virus problems with Windows 8?”.

Rosie, “No.”

Joe, “Then maybe you  really should go with Windows 8”.

Rosie, “I would rather be on Windows 7 and have viruses on my PC then use Windows 8 again.”

There is your proof. Windows 8 is THAT BAD! I don’t even want to tell my horror stories with Windows 8, but I won’t because I would take too much time writing it (And I like to write).

My Silly Pondcam – Post 21

We had a pondcam scare earlier this evening. I was at my parents house and I couldn’t connect to it. I didn’t see an alert that it went down, so I assumed nothing was really wrong. If water got in it, I would receive an email from my monitor. that would simply say “pondcam is down”. Since I didn’t get one, I wasn’t too worried. When I got home I can see my whole network was down. We had a power surge and it knocked a cheap switch that connects my firewall offline. I rebooted it and checked pondcam. Still up… Still works. Tested the light… that works OK too.

I called my sister earlier today to tell her she needs to login to pondcam and take a look in case it gets water in the case again. She waited until 7PM and it looked like it was down. I get a one line email from her at 7:03PM, it reads “I can’t believe pondcam is down! Argh!”. I happily wrote her back… Pondcam was up… My network was down. I arrogantly smile and think to myself, “Pondcam and PONDNET could end up being the most reliable network around… If it doesn’t spring a leak”. Since I turned pondcam loose on Sunday night, I have been involved in probably 3 or 4 outages of some kind for customers and just tonight, myself. Pondcam however has remained stable and up. Even all night long… Which is really weird. All of those power problems we had in post 2 were because of batteries that were dead. It totally screws up my understanding of the power part and why it seems to be working so well.

Let’s get back to an actual problem for a moment. For those of you that have bothered to login to pondcam can see something right away… The water is very very cloudy. And we had a thunderstorm tonight, so I am sure the agricultural runoff I get wont help the clarity. I can’t do much about the water quality, but I can do something.

I have a windmill that connects to two diffusers (think of them as a big giant bubbler). The problem is two things…1) it isn’t windy in August. 2) There are trees around it and it really only works well in the middle of winter.

One of the reasons the water is cloudy is because of plankton. I don’t know this off of the top of my head, I know a guy that knows a heck of a lot more about ponds than I do that I called today. If I can aerate the pond, I am hoping to fill it with so much oxygen that no plankton, algae, or any other plant that clouds the water will not survive.

I take some hose, some pliers and some electrical tape out to the aerator for my septic tank. I fit the hose on so it looks like this.


I then connect hose after hose, then another hose, then about 75 ft of tubing that I bought three years ago. I finally reach the windmill and plug it into the two difussers. Here is what the connection looks like at the base of the windmill.


Now let’s see what that looks like.


I have no idea how long that will have to go before it starts to clear the water. I can only leave that there for a week or so because I don’t want to risk the septic tank having a problem. I do think of another thing I can do to clear things up. Last summer we had a terrible drought and I worried that the fish would die because the water was getting really low (Kind of like it is now). I basically started running water into it from my house. My well pump for the house is really good. I left the host running for two weeks straight last year and it didn’t do anything to the water pressure in my house, but it did seem to contribute to clearer water. So… I do that. I just stick a hose into a drain on the other side of my driveway that leads to the pond. I will have to let all of this run for a few days to see if it makes a difference.

For now I am having fun with pondcam. I can’t get the video recording to work for some reason, but the motion detection where it sends a copy of a picture when it sees motion has been really interesting. It sent 6500 pictures to a network drive for me to review. I looked at a bunch of them and here is the best one I could find (Yes… 6500 pictures is a lot… And this is the best I could find).


That gives you an idea of how cloudy the water is. I want to fix that. Pondcam wants that too.

My Silly Pondcam – Post 20 – Let’s Sink it again….

OK… Pondcam has been up there on that far berm across the pond for long it enough. It isn’t seeing anything because it was probably the most uninteresting place to point the camera on my whole property. My excuse is… How in the world was I supposed to know that? It looked like a nice place for some weirdo animal to hang out and just have a party. If there were teenagers around, I am sure they would have been drinking beer there all night long, but there are no teenagers in my neighborhood. Only little kids. I have unofficially named that path the “Dead Zone” because nothing is there. Apparently animals don’t go through it at all. Maybe it is cursed. My kids don’t like it, it looks really scary to them and they don’t want to go there as are pretty convinced monsters live there. Now they haven’t seen what we have seen. I am pretty confident there isn’t a monster that lives there.

It is 9:30PM on Thursday as I start this post. I put pondcam out on the far berm staring at the dead zone 4 days and 5 hours ago. That is 101 hours of pondcam being on. In the morning it still acts up. I can see it is having trouble communicating, then as the day progresses it fixes itself. I don’t know why it does that. I suspect it is dew collecting on the connections, but I don’t know for sure. I hope this problem goes away as we sink it because it will be closer to PONDNET.

Before I can move Pondcam, its mount, it’s battery and it’s solar panels I have to see what our dock looks like in the water.

I go to the workshop and drag out the dock. I put it in the water. The dock doesn’t weigh very much, but it is really hot today. Like 96 degrees and HUMID! I hate working in this weather. It makes me very cranky. Here is what it looks like.


That is what I was expecting. After all, our whole front end of that thing is where the bottles are. I am hoping that when I put the antenna and mount on the front it will even it out a bit. I can move the battery around too to make it more level if I need to.

So I drag all of pondcam and its parts back to the path I cut with the manual weed whacker. I put the dock in the water and wingnut the mount for pondcam in place. I tie a couple of ropes on each side of pondcam so I can anchor it to shore so it doesn’t float away. I lower the camera down, connect the batteries and solar panels.

Now doing this was a really crappy job. All around the edge of the pond, even at the beach is clay. The pond is so low this late in the summer, to get really close to the water you have to stand in wet clay. Clay is so much worse than dirt and mud to work in. It really has some weird properties. When my pond was dug they used a 4ft wide shovel and when the guy would lift an entire load it would come out of it looking like gelatin. As he would dump each shovel full it would kind of land like jello and shake a little. That year, like every year, it got really dry in the summer and all of that clay gets really hard like stone. Clay is nothing like dirt. It is super sticky when it gets wet. When you step in it your shoes come off and if you are lucky enough not to step in a really wet spot it still clumps onto your shoes so you are picking up grass and junk every time you walk. I hate working at the edge of the pond. But… pondcam is worth it.

Here is the result of my effort. One thought that comes to mind as I write this is how small the dock looks. In my workshop it looks big. Even with the pond this low were the surface area is half of what it should be, the dock and camera look really small to me.


It isn’t level, but I don’t care. It should be on and sending pictures to my email right now. I don’t check right away. I first sit down by the PONDNET access point and take a look to see if the antenna is visible. I take a blurry picture because it is getting dark and the camera exposure is much slower. Then I grab a stick and start scraping all of the clay and grass off of my feet from my little expedition near the pond (It would take me a whole post to explain the trouble I had with the fresh cut long grasses that were sticking to the bottom of my clay encrusted shoes. I really hated doing that part).


I am happy. I throw some fish food all over and around the camera, here is a quick pic of what that looks like in the pond.


You can see the fish all over the place. My plan is to tell my kids they need to feed the fish by throwing food around pondcam instead of the beach. The fish in the pond are strange. My whole life I have always loved ponds and lakes and mine is different than any I have been too. All of the fish in there are totally used to people. I am sure they were hand fed in the hatchery. And every year I buy about 50 lbs of floating fish food and just throw a bunch in there every once and a while. This completely messed up the natural behavior of all of the fish. If a person walks around the pond, the fish will follow you. If they see the top of my head over the grass when I am walking around it, I can see fish swimming up to the edge where I am. It is totally unnatural. If I can change their behavior and teach them that only Pondcam feeds them… Then they will always be hanging around pondcam. And I will always be able to see them from my desk. It will be so fun.

So I run upstairs and it is getting dark. The email setup where it emails me isn’t working very well because it sent about 100 emails and just sorting through them to find any one picture that is worth anything is taking a really long time. Here is the best I have.


It is clear to me now that fish are not going to pose in front of this camera for me to take a picture. They swim. They will move fast past the camera. It will never get a clean shot of them. The video of them is where it is at…. That is what I want to see. If you want to see anything you will need to login to it and look for yourself. After logging in, click the view video button at the top right. And one last thing…. VERY IMPORTANT… If you see an albino catfish send me and email or write a post. It’s name is “Old Whitey” and I haven’t seen it since early last year… I am afraid he is dead.

If you forgot… Here is how you view the video… Remember… It may not be up tomorrow when you read this. If water gets in the camera again… It may be dead for good.

User: pondcam
Password: pondcam

Oh… One last thing… I stopped the way it sends me pictures of what it sees, instead of emailing me it now sends a picture to a directory on one of my computers. Tomorrow morning I can quickly scan it for anything interesting because I won’t have to open an email, but just scan a bunch of picture files. I am so looking forward to it.

My Silly Pondcam – Post 19 – Can we wrap this thing up already?

Now I don’t know if we will actually be able to wrap this project up in this single post, but I will try. Several of my posts have spanned a few days because I wasn’t able to get back to the project because of other things. I always want them to end in a way that at least completes an effort on my part.

An interesting thing that you may not have thought of, I actually didn’t know anything about how this camera worked when we started. I did turn it on to see if it worked, about 6 months ago. I played with the software for like 10 minutes. The only reason I used it was because it was  basically just sitting in a box… doing nothing.

Several days ago I setup the camera, battery and solar panels out at the farthest point of my property on the other side of the pond. I could connect to it and I was happy. The biggest part was to leave it there, so I will know what to expect when it is in the pond.

I have no idea what it will do. It is connected to the solar panels. It has a battery to make it run at night. It should just work like this without me messing with it. Right? We did all of the math, I tried really hard to make sure it would be able to be its own little autonomous device that was pretty much built to look at fish… or anything else that swims in a pond.

Since I have set it up Sunday night (it is now Tuesday night). I haven’t seen it go down. I feel really good about this because it was what I was expecting as soon as I realized I had solar panels to power it. It is on right now… I can see that it is and connect to it. All I see is black and when I turn on the light I see this.


That is basically a really bright LED light shining down a path with nothing in front of it for about 50 feet.

One feature of this camera that I didn’t know about when I first decided to use it was that it will send an email of what it is looking at if it detects motion. So with it being up for the last two days I was hoping to see something out there… Anything would have been great… Bigfoot would have been nice (But I think he lives in southern Illinois somewhere), how about a coyote? Nope! I hear them all of the time, but none of them go in front of the camera. How about a squirrel? Nope… Not even a squirrel, because they like to chew on my log house at 6AM and wake up my wife… Oh… they would so much rather wake up my wife than bury an acorn (which are really plentiful around here) in front of the view of my pondcam. How about a big giant heron? Nope… Not one of those either, I see them every once and a while looking for fish.  So…. This is the picture you get to see that motion detection on the  camera actually works.


Yes… That is my back. I am on a tractor mowing the lawn. Oh… I know you are disappointed and want to see something more. Me too! But all the other email pictures from pondcam are really really boring. I have a picture of my arm… And about 300 pictures of the wind moving the trees in the background when I was trying to adjust the motion sensitivity.

So… to sum up for tonight. Pondcam is actually up right now. It is 12:30AM at night on Tuesday. It has been on as far as I know since I stuck it out there. I suspect that it does go down at night at some point. Out of curiosity, I stick a network monitor on it that will email me if it goes down. Now I will know what time pondcam goes to sleep (If it is up all night long I will be amazed).


OK… It is the next day. I didn’t get an alert that Pondcam went down all night, but I can see that it is having trouble this morning. From what I can tell it has been up since Sunday at 4:00PM or so. It doesn’t seem to actually go down at night. I am happy about this, but also confused. It must be going down at some point. It was overcast this morning and I could see that Pondcam was having some troubles communicating, but it was, in fact on. If I understand what I am seeing correctly. Pondcam is up right now at 10:30PM and has been up for 78 and a half hours straight… on it’s own… out in the middle of no mans land.

I also learned something else. Apparently animals of all types hate the path behind my pond that I pointed it at. I thought for sure I would see some raccoon or coyote go through there. The only way I know that motion sensing works is that when the sun goes down it creates a hue in the plexiglass that makes the camera think something is moving. I have three pictures exactly like this that were emailed to me.


The sun is almost directly to the left of the camera and as soon as that happens it sends me an email with that picture. That is all I get…. no bigfoot… no raccoons, no nuthin’, just the sun going down to let me know that soon I will see black from the camera.

I am thinking now that maybe it is a good thing that animals hate that path because if we all saw something really cool it would derail the real goal of the project which is to see fish!

We are close… We are really close; Pondcam’s water proof case is just fine… All the power issues we had way long ago (yes it was a month ago or more) are solved. How about wireless? check! we have wireless triple the distance of where I want Pondcam to go… In all of those areas we seem to be fine, or over-engineered! What is left? Oh… I need to cut a path through the tall grasses so I can place our dock.

I pull out my “manual weed whacker” and make a path for me to bring our dock to the pond.


That is right. One thing left. Let’s check on our dock. I go to the basement and line up all of the bottles. I start gluing them into place. It took about a half hour. When I am finished I am here.


Now that doesn’t look very filled and I am disappointed. But after I think about it for a bit, I am starting to convince myself that is enough bottles. The back area of the dock just needs to support the solar panels. The really heavy part is the roof mount for the antenna that holds pondcam under water. I am going to scrounge and find the rest of the bottles to fill that line and glue the last few bottles in place tonight so it is dry tomorrow.

Now I should mention, I know about as much about buoyancy as I do about water proofing. Unlike electricity I have no math in my brain I can just pull up (Probably many of you do, but I don’t) to calculate if I am even close. Because of that I will have to do a buoyancy test tomorrow. I can’t wait! It might just work, or the dock could be a total disaster like our first case…. I guess we all will have to wait and see.

Oh… I took a picture of how I glued it all in place… Basically I just globbed a bunch around the top area of the bottle and globed a little more on the cap, then placed each bottle. Boring work, but it seemed to do the job. Here is a close up of what the glue looks like.


So I go for my hunt for a few more bottles. I have three. I need seven. I grab four new bottles and pour them into a picture and put it right next to the coffee maker so no bottled water will be wasted. I glob glue on those last few bottles and finish up that line to make it uniform. I have a problem now. I want to put some wood in place to secure our entire empty water bottle dock underbelly. I can’t use my power tools. My wife and kids are sleeping and my wife and oldest are sick. If I turn on a saw now I will be dead meat. If I am dead meat, then no more pondcam. We want my wife to love pondcam. OK that is a stretch, my wife probably won’t ever love pondcam, but at least I can try to keep the status quo which is… she is indifferent to pondcam. So I take some quick measuerments, grab a 2×4 and a saw, take them to the garage and handsaw a piece of wood to hold all of our bottles in place. Here is where we are with pondcam’s dock.


So that is where we are. That will dry overnight. Pondcam will be on looking at nothing. It is still on right now at 12:15AM… I can see it with my monitor, it is just plugging away running on that battery charged by the sun. I almost don’t believe it is working that well with power. Will it stay on all night long again? Will our dock work tomorrow?

Oh… One more thing I am totally worried about. My pond is CLOUDY!!!! It will only show a few feet even with the light I am sure. The camera will end up in the pond soon, but I am wondering if it will be just like the path that I pointed it at for the last several days… A whole lot of nuthin’.

My Silly Pondcam – Post 18 – Not in the water yet… but really close

For this post we have to start again with a summary of where we are:

1) Pondcam has a new case. It is bigger. It is clear. It is homely, but not “ugly”. It has a bigger light. It has had way more thought and trouble that has gone into waterproofing. I need to test it to see if it is waterproof.
2) Pondcam has it’s own dedicated wireless network. It covers the entire acre of pond and the walkway around it. It is now an “unsecured” network. I like this, I always wanted an unsecured wireless network for guests, just like I setup for my customers. I am very happy about this network.
3) Pondcam has its own firewall to protect it from bad people on the Internet. I am sure some committed hacker may be able to figure out how to break into it, but in the end, if that is how pondcam dies (by a hacker) it will make for a much better post than if it got water in it. I wouldn’t mind documenting the “post mortem” on Pondcam that way.
4) The dock is still waiting for enough water bottles to make it float. I don’t know what to do about this. I keep finding water bottles in the garbage as my wife and kids don’t really think about pondcam and definitely take the easy route of throwing out the empties instead of saving them.

The beauty of Pondcam, in a nutshell, is Pondcam will be set on its own… In its own autonomous network, running on batteries and solar power. Armageddon can happen… My home can lose power. An explosion can knock out the power grid and people could be starving in the streets. Their could be total chaos, but in the morning… as the sun comes up. Pondcam will get it’s precious sunlight and as it hits the solar panels, it will start charging the batteries and Pondcam will start looking at fish. Sometime (hopefully after 10PM) at night it will burn through the charge of the batteries and quietly turn off waiting for that firsts mornings light to turn on once again and repeat the cycle, just to catch a glimpse of something interesting going on in my pond.

That last paragraph was some good day dreaming, but we aren’t their yet. Let’s get back to our case. I completed it the other day. It has been re-enforced and the back has been put on. Let’s do a waterproof test.

Now you have seen this picture before. But there are two things different. First, their is an air pump in this picture. Second I didn’t plug the tube the wires go through so I can pump air into pondcam as it sits in the tank.


It is all there, the battery, the netbook, the air pump (Already connected tot he tube that the wires go through) and the fish tank to submerge pondcam  with air pressure going to it to look for leaks.

Now there is no one to help me do this. Last time Paul was here, this time no one wants to help. My wife won’t help (She has a book she really likes that she is reading), my kids are playing with a frog and trying to stick it in the tank of water and I am crabbing at them. I tried to get Paul over, but he has his own stuff to deal with. I am on my own. So I just do it… I turn on the pump and dunk pondcam… and look for air bubbles.


I look at the front and don’t see anything. That pump is loud. I think it has got to be pumping about 5psi into it.  I look at the back.


No bubbles from the back. I check the top.


No bubbles.

OK.. So I know I can sink this camera now. I was able to sink it before, but after 48 hours it got water in it. Now I am wondering… It is water proof, but for how long in the actual water? I have no way of knowing until I just stick it in water and leave it there.

For fun, I connect the battery and turn the camera on. I turn on the netbook and connect to it. This is a really crappy picture, the camera is in the tank, the netbook is connected to it and you see my reflection taking the picture of the netbook screen connected to the camera, but the general idea is there. The camera is in fact on and working, under the water in the fish tank and can see my driveway and a little beyond it. I am happy.


Before I sink pondcam, I need to do a few things. The first thing that comes to mind is I don’t have enough water bottles… I don’t have enough of them at all. The dock can’t be finished until I figure out how to get the rest of them or just cheat and not fill the bottom (I may actually do that as I know it will float). The other thing is that I really want pondcam to be ON. And ON permanently or at least as much as it can be under its own power so I understand better how it will work on its own. I decide to set it up as far away as I can from the PONDNET  wireless access point (the house).

I grab everything; the table, the pondcam, the mutlimeter, the battery, load it all on the tractor and haul it out to the other side of the pond. When I was bringing the table out I got half way and the tractor ran out of gas…. I have to remember to get my tractor in the garage tomorrow. So I drag the table out the rest of the way and set it all up. Here is what it looks like.


It is way out there. The farthest away from “PONDNET” that I could get it. You can barely see it so I will zoom in, but first take a look at the fish tank filled with gross water to the lower left of the picture. Once I dumped the clean pondcam water out Hannah wanted me to set it up by the ornamental pond, it took her two seconds to fill the bottom with gross water and stick a frog in it.


That is better, you can kind of see the solar panels laying flat on the table, the battery, the camera. It is pointing right into a path that goes behind the pond between some trees. A place where I hope some weirdo animals would like to walk through early in the morning when the camera can see something. The strange looking white that looks like water coming out from the back of the table, behind the tree is my neighbors fountain that aerates his pond. His pond is like 50 feet beyond mine. If pondcam works… I will be talking to him about it (I have known him for a few years and I don’t think he understands exactly how much I love my pond).


That is a crappy picture too with my reflection, but it does show the idea. The camera is on and communicating to it’s  “PONDNET” network. I can see it and that is all that matters. It actually wasn’t as easy as this…. I had to mess with the antenna a lot being that far away. I also messed with the wireless settings, but in the end I did get it to work.

After getting the video straight, I configured the camera to email me a picture when it saw motion. I got 350 emails from then until it got dark all with the same picture, just the same view of the path. When I got home tonight, I set the sensitivity down so it would only email if something big is moving around in front of it. I will have to play with the software, but that is fine as it is a really interesting part of the project.

When you first clicked on this post, if you saw the “PONDCAM UP” fish to the right of the website, you are welcome to try to login:

User: pondcam
Password: pondcam

It isn’t in the water yet, but at least you will be able to see something. Again… It may be down by the time you read this. I have no idea what the batteries and solar panels will do… That part we are learning together. Oh and if it is night when you try… It will be black. I can’t give the credentials to turn on the light because it will give anyone who sees this on the internet the power to reset the camera. I will send out those credentials to anyone who wants it through email.