Hamming it up

In the late 80s/Early 90s I bought my first shortwave radio. I don’t remember what got me into it, probably just an extension of the CB Obsession at the time. This was of course before the internet, facebook, world wide web, and in some places, cable TV. So people would get on the radio and talk to other people. Mostly it was so-called “rednecks” in their pickups, hunters, and over the road truckers, but it was something to do. I had my own radio of course, but I enjoyed talking to places far away more so than trying to talk to the locals. I had a map on the wall and I would stick a pin in it when I made a contact in another state.

Shortwave was different. I could listen to stations from all over the world, and hear Amateurs (or Hams) talking about stuff. Mostly what it seemed like they talked about was what radios they were using. Amateur radio in the time was an elite group, people that studied hard and learned morse code, in addition to everything else.

It turns out that several years ago, the FCC dropped the Morse Code requirement. There’s still a use for it, but for whatever reason they dropped the code test. I’m guessing it was to keep Ham Radio alive, under pressure from radio manufacturers. Radios are expensive and good for the economy.

I like listening to shortwave, and I even bought a little receiver to use for hiking. Hearing that they dropped the code test inspired me to look into getting my own license. There are lots of books and apps to use to study, even some online study guides sponsored by Icom, a rather well-known radio manufacturer.

I dug out my old DX440 recently, because it has the best collection of receive modes, and I strung up a long wire antenna I can put up and take down quickly. The radio still has a cheat sheet for ham frequencies on the bottom that I made 25 years ago. I’ve listened to a lot of stations lately doing emergency check-ins from Florida and Puerto Rico. It has been rather interesting and fun, and I look forward to being on the air myself, provided I pass the test.


The SuperPi for YouTube

I’m totally jazzed about something simple…

Normally I use my Windows machine to download YouTube videos with YouTube Downloader, and then convert them to MP3s if I want free music. But sometimes I keep the videos. They come in handy at work (theres nothing as much fun as watching “Sovereign Citizens” get their asses kicked and TASERed) in a class full of people that all want to see the same thing.

You may have tried relying on internet videos for work, yourself. There’s a YouTube video you want to show, but when you get to your location and you’re in the middle of your demonstration, no one knows the wifi password, the network is wonky, or the video has been pulled by YouTube. There’s nothing more frustrating. Wouldn’t it be nicer to have the video as an MP4 right there on your machine, to keep forever?

I’ve tried loading a few videos on the Rasberry Pi, but it apparently doesn’t handle video well, and doesnt like full size 1080p video. People have made Media Centers out of them, so I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong.

I’ve noticed If I convert the youtube videos to a smaller size it plays them fine (say 480 instead of 1080p). But then I have to download the video on my Windows machine, convert it, and then upload it to the pi, which is a complicated process since I STILL cant get the damn pi to open it’s storage section to Windows. It’s fine with MAC, but it hates Windows 10. So, I wind up copying crap from Windows to the Mac, and from the Mac to the RasPi, all over WiFi.
The thing I’m excited about, is I just found out Linux comes with a native youtube downloader. It’s run off the command line, but it is simple: you type in the command and then the youtube video address and BOOM, it saves the smaller resolution copy RIGHT TO THE RasPi. Of course, YouTube doesnt LIKE you downloading. They’d rather serve you up ads and crap, and pull videos they dont like. So, they update their system all the time to block the downloader programs. Thankfully the good people behind YTDLer keep up with the changes.

Even more interesting, the command line accepts input from a text file. So you can make a simple text file by copying and pasting YouTube web addresses, and download the videos all at once. 

For some reason people get really mad at this. The main reason I download YouTube is so I can watch stuff later without having to find it again, and without having to rely on the internet. It’s nice having hiking videos on the phone in the hammock in the woods. I explained this whole thing on a hiking board one time. One of the people spoke up and said, “I don’t want my videos downloaded!” Apparently he makes money every time someone watches the video. There’s an old adage – if you don’t want something downloaded, don’t put it on the internet. So, while I understand his distress, it’s not going to stop me downloading his video.


The Internet – all the Piracy with none of the Scurvy.

The Super Pi Case is done


Today I finished my RaspBuild. The first thing I did was add a few components to the PI itself. Storage is at a premium of course, so I went ahead and added to USB drives to the ports. To keep them small and unobtrusive I pulled the plastic covers off of the two PNY drives, and just left them sticking out. Since the plast circuit boards were a little loose in the metal sleeves, I dabbed a slight bit of hot glue on the ends. Hot glue played a major part in the finishing of the SuperPi case.

So after getting the Pi positioned, the next thing was to mount the power supplies. I replaced the cords I had cut with yellow and black for the 120v inputs. The Pi voltage goes through the yellow and white wire by the power supply with the big 5V on top. The fan supply on the left used its own cable, which I left on.

After getting the wires in place, I used globs of hot glue as strain relief on the newly soldered areas, and then flipped the supplies over and glued little plastic standoff feet under them. When everything was good and cool, I positioned the 5 volt supply, made a little mark on the base of the case, and quickly squirted hot glue on the bottoms of the little feet, flipped the board over and stuck it down. I did the same with the fan board, and then soldered the yellow and black wires to the 120 volt side.

This is a closeup of the switch detail. The red switch is the fan on/off switch, and the 0/1 switch was from the original power supply. Once the Pi has shut down, this switch cuts off both power supplies and the fan.

A closeup of the business end of the Pi inside the case. Even with two USB drives and a Keyboard transmitter, I have a free slot.

Finally complete and testing. The pi is powered by the internal supply, although the external supply works just fine. I added the blue and black wire in the middle of the picture to the blue light on the rear of the case. In line with the ground side is a 330ohm resistor to keep the light from drawing too much current, and I encapsulated the whole thing in… hot glue. You can also the a dab of it on the power leads to the pi, holding them out of the way on the bottom of the case. In the bottom right corner of the photo you can see a white plug with two prongs, which in the fan cord jack. It lets me pull the top completely off and get it out of the way.

Below I have the rear panel blue light running. I’m not sure what I might do with the other lights, but blue seemed appropriate sense the fan on top runs blue. One thing I noticed that was interesting – in a normal Pi case, the red onboard power light and the green Activity light don’t show up. They are quite hard to see unless you look just right. In the SuperPi case, they really show up well with all the reflections, and there is a side port right next to them where you can look inside and see them shining.

The finished SuperPi. Sure, its like putting 30inch rims, a spoiler, and undercar lighting on a Yugo, but its all in good fun. The BEST thing about all this was it cost me NOTHING.

I had the power supplies in a box from old projects, the metal case was free because it was a PC pull, the wires all came from old PC cables or the RasPi experimenter’s kit leftover parts, and we already had the hot glue gun. The plastic standoff feet were left over as part of a kit I bought for building the LightshowPi system. The only thing it cost me was a few hours work over two days.

BadAss Raspberry Pi Case

In keeping with the “It’s too damn hot to hike but I need to type something” theme:

I started thinking of some new raspberry pi projects, since my lightshow is about done. One of the things I kept seeing online was people making their own custom cases. For the most part, they were variations of the standard black or clear mini case, the ones just big enough to fit the Pi inside. Someone had constructed a really cool wooden one, but again it was just a variation on a theme – a very small case for a very small computer. I was thinking about that, but then started going in the opposite direction. What about something over-the-top crazy? Like something big and beefy and over-engineered… Extra lights, a big fan (since I already installed a little 40mm fan in one of my Pi cases), and maybe some weird options that didn’t make sense.

But what could I put it in?

Then I ran across this:

“This” was an old 650watt power supply case from before I did some computer upgrades. It had all the standard cords sticking out, and was crammed with internal guts. I was taking the cool lighted fan out to save it, but decided to keep the box and just chuck the guts in the trash. The box is actually quite nice looking, the photo doesn’t do it justice. Its a nicely smooth polished metal, probably stainless steel, definitely not aluminum. It cleaned up nicely; I carefully scraped off stickers and used Goo Gone on the glue, and the box looks pristine and unblemished.

The first thing I did after cleaning it, was to open it up and gut the insides. I left two parts:

The first was the aforementioned fan. Its about 6 inches wide, or 140mm. It is clear blue plastic, with four corner blue LED lights that glow while it’s running.

The second thing I kept was the cluster of wire bits directly soldered to the outlet where you plug in the wall cord. There is a switch attached to it, and what looks like an inductor and a few other bits. But, whatever its function, you put 120v in, and you get 120v out. There are two brown wires in the top of the picture, part of a separate switch. Normally it is part of the selector for switching the power supply from 120 to 240 volts for European use. This switch will eventually be the fan controller instead. There might be times when I don’t want a hurricane force wind blowing across the desktop, and I can switch it off.

After gutting, I started trying to decide how to lay stuff out. Initially my goal was to have the ports sticking out the back, just like they are on every other RasPi case, everywhere, and the HDMI and headphone plug on the side. That’s when I realized it would take a heck of a lot of complex metal cutting, and with the tools I have and my skills, I knew I just just screw it up big time. Plus, the damn HDMI monitor cables are a pain in the ass to deal with, and either I would have to cut more matching holes in the side of the case, Or have a cable sticking out all the time.

Also, I needed room for two small power supplies. The first provides 12 volts to run the fan, since most computer fans run off the 12 volt rail. The second provides 5 volts for the RasPi, since it runs off 5 volts.

It was soon evident I would have to take a new approach. Instead of having to open the case every time I wanted to plug or unplug the RasPi from a monitor or headphones, I would put the HDMI and Audio port on the back, and leave the others inside the case. The RasPi has WiFi capabilities, so although it has an ethernet port, I don’t use it that often. It also has 4 USB ports, one which I plug the remote keyboard/mouse thing into, and the others largely go unused. I did add a flash drive to it, but that’s about it. So after gouging at it like a drunken caveman with a stick, I was able to cut to small port holes and drill out the headphone jack area.

Wait, you say. The Raspberry Pi needs power, and I have the power jack sticking out the back of the box next to the HDMI port. How is that going to help? Two things: In the event I just want to run the pi without all the excess stuff, I can just plug in a USB battery pack. The second thing is, the RasPi comes with a lot of “test pads” and solder points on the bottom of the board. Two of them let you power the board without plugging anything into it. So the white and yellow wires under the board below will connect to the power supply next to the Pi.

WAIT! you say. Everything’s going to short out and blow up! Okay, right now the Raspberry Pi is on little plastic standoff feet. Although it looks like it’s on the metal, its not. Tow of the feet even go all the way through the bottom of the case, and lock it into place. Thanks to the headphone jack, you can’t lift the other side of the Pi up, so it is pretty solid. Unfortunately, those are all the mounting holes I have.

The power supplies, which are the insides of those oversized wall plugs, have no mounting points. Since they were just slotted into plastic housings, they had no need for mounting holes. BUT – I can glue the standoff feet to the bottom of them, and then hot glue the plastic feet to the case. They are close to their final positions now, but I have to do some rewiring first.

If you look really carefully you can see where I cut off the brown wires in the top right, and replaced it with the fan’s jack. This jack will let me completely remove the top of the box to work on the insides.


One thing I’m not sure what to do with yet. The power supply had a pushbutton switch on the back with 3 LEDs in a column, and its purpose was to let you select three fan speeds. Blue was auto-controlled, the power supply decided if it needed the fan at all, and would shut it off if it was cool enough. Green was a low speed continuous running, unless it decided it needed more. Red was a bypass mode, the fan ran on high all the time.

So I have a pushbutton switch, which is just a momentary contact switch (much like the “pulse” mode on a blender or coffee grinder), and three LED lights. I’m not sure what to do with them, but I’m thinking about wiring up one of the LEDs as a on/off power indicator.

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:

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!

Mr. Data, make it Sew!

Way back when I was in college and most of the monitors were either amber or green text on a plain background (we’re talking windows 3.0 was new and the world wide web wasn’t invented yet), there were Bulletin Board Systems you could sign onto if you had the right phone number for your 4800baud modem. This was one of the first pictures I ever downloaded, and it took probably 30 minutes to get it.

Okay, that was a little off tangent, but true, and leads into what I really came to talk about. Seeing as how this is sort of my “off season” and I won’t be hiking much because:

  1. Heat
  2. Itching and stinging plants
  3. stinging and biting insects
  4. heat
  5. thru-hikers

I have decided to turn my attention to other pursuits that may involve hiking later on. We are going to the beach in a few weeks, and one of the problems with the beach is the sun. It is relentless and hot, and so we take a pop-up tent, of the kind usually reserved for tailgating and the like, and which Myrtle Beach banned because they’d rather you rent their umbrellas. That’s one reason why Florida is better than Myrtle Beach. Also thong bikinis are legal in Florida and not at Myrtle Beach… but that’s off topic again.

Anyhow, the problem with the tent is: The SUN MOVES. It is unfortunate, but whether you’re a round-earther or a flat-earther, the incontrovertible truth is, the Sun moves around quite a bit. Thus you’re all the time having to adjust where you’re sitting under the tent. SO – I decided to make a zip-on set of walls for the tent, which should cover two sides. I’m never out there long enough to need to cover three sides, and if you need to cover FOUR sides, well then you might as well stay inside, right?

As Captain Picard would say: There. Are. Four. Sides!

No Captain, there are only two.

So I’m zipping along sewing my zipper to the tent top and my piece of fabric and thinking, “Jeez it would sure be nice to be making something to hike with!” And I got to thinking about my ultimate project, something that would require all my skills with needle, thread, and construction, and started musing about making my own backpack.

My first backpack was way too large and heavy, see. I got into the whole hiking thing rather uninformed. When I started shopping around for a second one, I almost bought this one: 

The videos made it look really nice, with easy-to-use pockets and all that. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure if I could fit all my crap into it, and I went with the 65 Liter Deuter ACT Lite. It’s a great pack, and it’s taken me on great journeys and has a LOT of life left in it. BUT! It suffers from an issue that the Gregory above looks to have solved.

It appears to have side pockets that are actually useful. See, most backpacks have side pockets, but they’re pretty useless. By the time you fill the pack and put it on, getting a water bottle out and back in becomes a struggle, so you either don’t’ drink enough OR you resort to a bladder, and the side pockets are only used when you stop for some reason. So why have them at all, other than for additional space?

The pack above was only sold for a short while, and it must not have worked out well for Gregory, because it was discontinued. Strange, because I looked up why it was discontinued and saw nothing but positives about it.

So, in addition to side pockets that are actually useful, and plenty of space, what am I seeking from a backpack?

  1. A challenge. I’ve made hammock chairs, hammocks, even a complete hammock and bug net. I made a rain fly (which we will NOT discuss). I’ve yet to try to make clothes other than a rain kilt.
  2. A lighter pack. By making it myself I may be able to shave some weight here and there, by leaving off some things.
  3. A pack that fits my particular set of needs.

What are my particular needs?

  1. Pockets that work, damn it! My Deuter has hip belt pockets that are too small for most anything. Sure you can store a wadded map, a bottle of eye drops and a 2 inch knife in there, but that’s about all. Forget an iphone 6 or a point and shoot camera. As for water bottles, forget that, too. The mesh pockets are nice but they are too far back and too high to be useful for water bottles.
  2. A built in holster. Right now if I carry my gun it’s over my head in the top section. I have to reach way over my head and hope I can get the zipper open and the gun hasn’t shifted all the way to the back. How about a nice space between the padded back and the interior of the pack for a small automatic? pull the zipper down, reach in and there it is.
  3. Built in raincover holder. My first pack had that, a little double layer of fabric on the bottom with a slot for holding the raincover. Pull it out to use it and stuff it back when you’re done. It made life simple.
  4. Tie-Dye. Let’s face it, everything else I make is Tie-Dyed, why shouldn’t my pack be that way? I’m thinking red and black, but a purple and black mix might be nice too.
  5. Expansion and shrinkage areas that really work. On my deuter pack pulling in the side straps to change the shape of the pack don’t really seem to do anything. So whether you are carrying a full load or a light summer load, the pack seems to always be the same shape.
  6. Drain holes under the bladder area. Why has no one thought of this? My pack has a separate sleeve area inside for the water bladder. Its all good until the bladder breaks, then where is the water going? Yeah, into your pack. What about a water bag sleeve area made of water repellant fabric, with a series of narrow slots at the bottom of the pack. If the bladder breaks, sure your ass is wet, but you know it immediately and your sleeping bag stays dry.
  7. Loops, loops everywhere. Deuter had a great series of daisy chains on the ACT pack. They don’t have them on the ACT lite but they have a few paracord loops in strategic places. I’m thinking if they had a few more of those, the pack would be even more useful for holding stuff on the outside. Say, a rainfly that got soaked and you don’t want it inside the pack.

And that’s about all of that for now. Incidentally I priced a few backpack parts like fabric and tubing, and it seems you can buy a pack cheaper than you can buy parts. I guess that’s why all the companies shifted production to Asia: Buying in bulk saves lots of money, and 12 year olds sew pretty cheaply.