Lightshow Pi outdoor test!

Friday my daughter and I lugged all the raspberry pi lightshow stuff outside and plugged in 8 strands of christmas lights. Since I didn’t want the neighbors wondering why I was putting up lights in July, even before WalMart, I just laid them on the ground, stretched out in a cone pattern so I could tell the individual strands apart.

The first thing I had to do was dig out my old radio transmitter. I built an FM transmitter from a kit many years ago, before all cars came with AUX plugs and you were stuck with crappy little in-car transmitters for ipods, or worse, the tape deck connector. It’s capable of pushing out a full watt of power, but since I don’t like FCC fines I run it into a dummy load which restricts it to a hundred yards or so. I had to tune it a little and then fix my power supply (which I left outside in the rain after charging my dead lawnmower battery).

Everything worked fine in the house, so we took it all outside and plugged it in and waited for darkness. The transmitter came on and the pi powered up, so I logged into it through my phone and gave it the command to start the show.

The first thing that happens is the pi switches all the lights on for 20 seconds. When the lights all came on, there was a click and everything went dark. I knew I didn’t pop a circuit breaker, because the math didn’t add up. I checked them, I was right, no blown breaker. Then I realized all the outside outlets are wired through a Ground Fault plug in the kitchen. I don’t know why, I guess in case you take a toaster outside in the rain. Evidently they were pulling too much and the GFI plug didn’t like it. So I bypassed it by plugging the extension cord into the den outlet, inside the house.

When everything rebooted, we went outside, logged in, and entered the command. Lights on, then darkness, and the music started. It was awesome. Several neighbors drove in, since I live at the entrance to my neighborhood, I know they had to be thinking, “Vurt da Furk?”

Its okay, you guys will know after Thanksgiving…

In the meantime, you can enjoy my preview video. Yes, I know, the 1812 overture has nothing to do with the annual celebration of pagan tree festivals, BUT – it sounded good and the lights responded well.

Here is a little preview:

The: It’s (Censored) hot Summer Hike.

I finally plugged a hole in my AT Journeys this weekend. It was long, arduous, and somewhat painful, but I did it.

My original goal was Sam’s Gap (off I-26 at the TN/NC border) to Spivey Gap, which was only 13.5 miles. But that left 11 miles from Spivey Gap to Erwin, TN. So either I would have to come back for a long day hike or two short days to finish the other half. Then there was the shuttle – paying for two shuttles and using two weekends. The Hobbit said we could probably do the whole thing in two long days.

I usually shun summer hikes for a good reason: I hate bugs and heat. But – I figured the bugs could be dealt with permethrin and when I looked up the shelter weather it was supposed to be high in the 70s and overcast with possible thunderstorms.

I set off at 4am to go hiking, met with 2 others and we all headed to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel in Erwin, TN. The shuttle drivers are nice people, but the staff at the place rubs me the wrong way. After this trip, I was glad to put Uncle Johnny’s behind me.

The shuttle driver arrived and took us over to Sam’s Gap. It was the work of a few minutes to get suited up and ready to go. We had a heck of a thing ahead of us.

Our hike was to be 24.5 miles, total Ascents of 5374 feet, and total Descents of 7373 feet.

Right out of Sam’s Gap there are a series of upward climbs that really make you reconsider your pack weight and whether you brought too much stuff. From 3700 feet all the way to 5500 feet, there are several up and down stairsteps. But finally you reach Big Bald, which has some great views and wild blueberries.

Big Bald – Lunchtime

By the time we reached Big Bald, my hiking friends were out in front of me. About the time I reached the post in the picture above, I was starving and out of gas. I plopped my pack down against the pole, leaned back and ate lunch. I was exhausted and hot, and couldn’t eat much. A woman and a much younger man came through, I assume mother and son. She asked me “Where does this trail go?”, pointing north. Confused, I replied, “Maine.”

I know it sounded like I was being a smartass, but it was true. I didn’t know what she meant. Who puts on a day pack and just wanders onto a trail? She then asked, “No, I mean, where does it go short term? Like, what’s that way?” So I pulled out my map and said there was another bald and then some woods, and eventually Erwin, TN. They walked off to the North. I finished what “lunch” I could eat – half a Bagel with some Nutella on it, and a few pieces of Jerky, along with a propel drink powder in water.

The rest of the afternoon I was on my own. It was some steep downs punctuated by steep ups, with more downs than ups. I have said it before – but down isn’t always better. Give me a gentle uphill slope over a steep downhill slope. Steep downs are hell on the knees and leave your thighs shaking and burning.

Striking out barefoot, the Hobbit moves on.

The last steep up of the day was High Rocks. It was a steep 250 foot route to a little peak with a side trail and some clifftop views. I skipped it. No, I don’t hate myself, despite what the graffiti on the sign said. I was hot, tired, and at the peak I was sucking on my water tube when I hit air bubbles. Oh crap.

Over the course of the day I thought I consumed plenty of water. I started the day with 2.5 liters in my pack. At each water source we came to, I drank some water and added to my pack. But, after Big Bald there were no more water sources, except for one which was a mosquito-laden patch of stagnant water. So now I had nothing, and I remember the shuttle lady saying that there might not be anything at Spivey  Gap. I was hurting, out of water, with a mile to go.

After high rocks, I started down a steep place, and seeing the lush green vegetation in the valley, I started getting hopeful I would see a creek. I kept hearing what I thought was water but it was only the wind in the trees and the sloshing of my fuel bottle. The ATHiker App showed a water source ahead, and the first place was dry, a small place crossing the trail about 2 feet wide. The next spot farther down was dry as well, although I looked good in the stream bed for anything. The third spot was damp, but no running water. Finally I heard something for real, and found a place where a little trickling stream crossed the trail. It was about 5 feet wide but only 1/2″ deep across most of the trail, and it merged together on the downhill side. I sat on a wet rock on the uphill side of the trail, mouth dry and heart pounding.

It was all I could do not to put the first bowl directly into my mouth, but I knew I would have to wait just a few minutes. I use my dinner bowl, a squishy silicone bowl, to dip water out of a tiny pool about the size of a salad bowl, and poured it in my water bag. When I had about half a liter, I screwed the filter on and squeezed/sucked the water through. It tasted so good. I leaned back against my pack and let the water settle, because I felt nauseous. After a few minutes, I repeated the procedure. The water was flowing good enough that any sediment I stirred up was washed out of the way, so I had a nice clear pool to dip from. I did collect what looked like a shrimp, but I poured him out.

After I had two liters in my pack, filtered, and had filled myself up to as much as I could without puking, I walked on. I had to pee not long after, and what little there was, was orange. Definitely underhydrated. I started thinking I missed the campsite, as I was almost to the road crossing at Spivey Gap and hadn’t seen my friends. I started thinking about catching a ride to town. Screw this whole hiking thing. I was thirsty and nauseous, exhausted and smelled like roadkill. I could catch a ride, find a hotel, take a bath, order a pizza, maybe have a drink, and get a ride or even walk to Uncle Johnny’s tomorrow, and meet my friends there. Just when I had the plan in mind and could hear a car going by on the road ahead, I saw a familiar hat and bandanna on a tree next to the trail.

Damn. Hotel plans, ruined. No shower and pizza delivery for me.

I panted and huffed into camp, and waved at Praveen. I staggered around and found two good trees, and strung up the hammock. After laying in it for several minutes resting, I got up and finished setting up the tarp in porch mode, my underquilt to one side, and stripped most of my clothes off. I carry a “sleeping shirt” so I don’t stink myself out of the hammock, but I still smelled like a yak. My face was greasy and I was covered in dirt and leaf litter from sitting on the ground. I thought about eating, but it turned my stomach. I knew I would throw up if I ate, so I kept drinking water. I figured I would lay down and rest, and maybe eat later. It was 8:30 after all. It would cool off soon. The last thing I heard was the Hobbit saying, “I’m getting worried about Taco, I wonder where he is?” and Praveen saying, “He showed up, his hammock is over there.”

I woke up at midnight. Great, its pitch dark, I have to pee, and I haven’t even hung my bear bag. Getting out and hanging the bag was easy, and I was relieved I had to pee. It meant I wasn’t still bad off, although my mouth seemed always dry. I fell back asleep, intending on getting up at 6.

At 5:00 I woke up with a slight chill on my butt, reached under me and pulled the underquilt into place. I was almost instantly warm. The summer underquilt was a good choice for this trip, as was my fleece bag liner. I didn’t even bring a sleeping bag, just the liner and an emergency Costco down throw, in case it did get abnormally cold. The down throw wasn’t needed. I turned my alarm on for 7 and went back to sleep.

Day 2:

Sunday we woke up with 11 miles to go before getting a shower and food. As I was putting away stuff, we started hearing rumbles of thunder in the distance. I had just put my cappucino on when it started raining, of course AFTER i put my rainfly away. I threw the rainfly back up, and then my hiking partners were spontaneously ready to leave. I tossed most of my cappucino into the woods, chewed and swallowed half my bagel and jammed everything into the pack. 

At that point, it began raining in earnest. It was okay, because we had an 800 foot climb in front of us, and the rain helped cool everything off. It rained for a good hour, soaking everything. A few miles on, it slowed and then finally stopped. Thankfully for the most part it stayed overcast, so the humidity wasn’t bad. Our last hill of the day was a 400 foot drop into Temple Hill Gap, then 400 feet right back up As we reached the bottom of the steep descent, Praveen and I stopped to check the map and have a snack. Hobbit had wandered off ahead, and we wouldn’t see him until the end of the day.

Praveen headed up while I finished my snacks, and then I started out. About 100 yards up the hill It started thundering and got windy again. within half a mile the rain started coming down HARD and blowing sideways. I didn’t care, it was washing the grime and grease off of me, and keeping me cool. There were a few more ups and downs, with a final push to the top, 100 feet up a steep grade. The rain stopped right around there, before I started down the other side.

Surprisingly, I caught up with Praveen on the down slope. He hates downs as much as I hate ups, and is even more cautious than I am. We had 1800 feet to go down before hitting the road. About 1/3 of the way down everything seemed to dry out, like the rain didn’t even hit that side of the mountain. A view opened up on the side, with a gorgeous post-rain view of Erwin.

Looking towards the Nolichucky.

I had to stop and get the phone out for a picture. Unfortunately this trip I didn’t get many pictures. at the last minute I ditched absolutely everything I didn’t think I would need. This included my waterproof camera and GPS. I saved over a pound, but when the rains came I had no camera, and the phone is sort of inconvenient anyway. So, there were nowhere near enough pictures for a video.

Once back at the Hostel, I paid for the second best $5 shower  I’ve ever had. My legs were shaking so much I could barely stand up, after pounding down 1800 feet. I didn’t dare sit in the shower, and wind up with athlete’s ass, so I struggled through it and put on clothes that were fresh and dry. The staff at Johnny’s redeemed themselves, being friendly to grimy hikers buying showers.

I was still feeling sick when we reached Los Jalapenos, but I tried to eat the fajitas I ordered. I ate about half the meat, some of the chips and a little rice, and drank both sweet teas I asked for. I was really hoping for a pitcher and a straw.

What I learned on this hike:

Summer hiking is still not my favorite. Did I have a good time overall? Yes. I saw some nice stuff and had a good time with friends, but it was a bipolar trip. Either I was really enjoying it, or it sucked ass. There wasn’t much in between. On the good side, I slept in the hammock almost as well as the time I ended the night with a half percocet and a shot of rum. Exhaustion is great for sleep.

Lighter, lighter, lighter. I was 27 pounds out the door this time. Praveen was 19. I don’t know what 8 pounds I was carrying more than him, but I need to lighten my stuff. I could have gone stoveless. After all, I only heated up cappucino in the morning. I was too sick to eat anything else. I could have left my fleece shirt at home, it wasn’t cold enough and I had my down thing. I didn’t use my Grizz Beak because it wasn’t raining at night. So, I probably could have saved a pound or so.

Oh- I did pour out my stove fuel in the morning. It evaporates really fast, so I wasn’t concerned about it. I also poured out the 2 ounces of coconut rum I brought, since I didn’t drink it the night before, and every little bit helps when you’re trudging up a mountain dehydrated with no breakfast to speak of.

But that was my trip. 23.5 miles in two days was tough, but I’m glad I closed up that hole in my trail trips. Onward to Georgia and Virginia.

 

Don’t forget – I’m on amazon now.

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I beat Wal-Mart to Xmas by a month.

I finally finished and tested my Raspberry Pi Christmas lightshow box. Its a little wonky, but I was never the great woodworker. It’s also a little bigger than it needs to be, simply because I like to have plenty of space. I’m going to be using LED light strings, which are low enough wattage that I can use all eight plugs without overloading the circuit.

From top to bottom:

Black box with the old style grey ribbon cable coming out is the computer controller, the Raspberry Pi. Its powered by the 5 volt phone charger in the plug to the right. The charger also supplies 5 volts to the relay board.

Below the plug mounted to the board is a clear/black terminal bus for the hot side of the 120v supply. It splits the hot voltage from the extension cord so that each relay gets its own source wire. The fat white wires are neutral and the fat greens are grounds.

 

r pi lightshow

On the left side, the multicolored wire spaghetti soup on the beige platform is the eight channel divider board. It’s more complex than it needed to be, because I wanted to keep all the LED lights from the prototype. The LED lights help diagnose problems with the relay board. There are eight channels of music, from Bass to Treble. Basically it is like an old school stereo Spectrum Analyzer (the display with the jumping lights on full size stereos and high end car stereos).

Bottom left is the relay board. It’s job it to turn the information from the LED board into mechanical switching motions. They turn the lights on and off based on the signals from the LED board. The black wires go to the plugs.

What you can’t see inside the big blue plug box is a daisy chain of wires. The plugs share grounds and neutrals. Each plug has its own hot wire from the relays. Although there are only 4 double outlets, I’ve broken the jumper on each set so I have 8 individually controlled outlets. You may have a similar setup in your own house, where the bottom outlet is always hot, but the top outlet is controlled by a light switch on the other side of the room.

Here’s the really cool thing:

The raspberry Pi is a neat little single board computer, capable of being used just like any desktop or laptop. You plug a monitor into the side of it, plug in a wireless mouse and keyboard (I like the combo keyboard from logitech with a keyboard and touchpad in one). BUT – if this box of stuff is on the front porch, how do you tell it to start the lightshow?

Raspberry uses Linux, and you can remote into it using SSH (on a mac) or PuTTY (windows). I’ve never used them until now, but basically you get a command line interface to the Pi, through a terminal window on another computer. So I can plug in the lightshow box, wait about 10 seconds for the Pi to boot, and then log into it through my Mac and tell it what to do.

The only thing this whole trainwreck is missing right now is a little amplifier and speaker for the music, but I’m thinking of doing one of two things: Using a cable output to my stereo speakers, OR using low power AM to transmit the signal to anyone driving by a few hundred yards. That way only the lights will disturb people, and not the music.

I painted the whole box red to protect it from the weather, and plan on screwing it down directly to the porch to keep someone from stealing it. There’s probably $100 worth of parts in it, but I’d hate to lose the Raspberry. I’m going to image the whole disc before putting it out there. For $35 I could get a new one and make it a dedicated Pi for the lightshow. Thats the nice thing about these, they are cheap!