A return to Panthertown

This weekend I returned to Panthertown, a place I haven’t been in about 2 years. Between AT hikes and work, I haven’t been able to get back. But this weekend I agreed to help out with my friend’s Backpacking 101 trip. There were 11 of us signed up for a nice easy hike over two days, with temperatures  in the 60s and 50s. There was a chance of rain, but nothing terrible.

We met in the parking lot where we usually carpool from, and there were only 9 at the time. By 7:15 we needed to go, and headed out. After a wrong turn or two we found the trailhead and got the packs on, and tromped off into the woods. Our first stop was Schoolhouse falls, a nice low falls about 20 feet off the water, with a hollowed out section that you can walk on, behind the falls. It’s always a fun trip, especially when there’s a bit of ice on the rocks. The water was quite high this time, but thankfully there was no ice.

We left the falls and headed up. There is only about 600 feet of elevation gain for the whole hike, but its all at once, 300 feet the first day and 300 feet the second day, in one swoop. It really lets you know how far out of shape you are. We reached the top of the hill and looked out over the valley. By now it was time for a snack, so we sat on the rocks in the sun and talked about things. About the time we were about to leave, a woman walked out of the woods. She asked if we were a meetup group.

It turns out she was one of our group members that missed the carpool group, and tried to keep up with us after a traffic light caught her. She took an entirely different direction and was able to find us based on the map she picked up in class. We were very impressed with both her road navigation and her map-reading ability, as Panthertown is a tough place to navigate if you’ve never been to it.

With our new hiker, we headed down the hill and found the next set of falls at Granny Burrell. The water was high enough there wasn’t much rock to stand on without getting wet, and the beach was totally washed out. We headed on up to the shelter to set up camp. When we arrived, we found the camping area mostly deserted except for a single tent and bear bag, with a fire smoldering in the fire ring. No one was home. The camping area has grown up a lot since I last stayed there, the briars have taken over several good tent sites. Someone needs to come in with a machete and clean it out a bit.

It was short work for everyone to pick a site and set up. About the time most of the tents went up a group of about 20 hikers came through and looked forlornly at the shelter, as it had started to rain. They kept on walking north, which was a good direction to go since across the creek there is a great open camping site, just without the tin-roofed building. We ate snacks, sat around and talked, and then some went ahead and cooked dinner. At first it looked like the night hike was going to be a no-go, but the rain quit before sunset and I asked if anyone wanted to night-hike.

Five of us headed down the trail, with one giving up before we reached the turn to go up the cliff face. She turned back and the rest of us made the 200 foot switchbacking trail hike up to the top of Big Green, where we watched the last of the sun’s rays dip behind the mountain. A cold mist rolled in and we headed back down about 10 minutes later. By the time we got back to the twisting, turning, wet path leading off the top of the outcropping, it was fully dark. Coming off a mountain in the dark is always a fun challenge, especially with mud and standing water in spots. We walked into camp, talked a little while, and then headed off to our tents.

Overnight was no big deal. The temperatures never got very bad, and the rain didn’t return in force. It either misted or condensed on leaves, to be shaken loose by the wind, but either way it was just enough to let you know it was wet outside, and to disguise the noise of anything wandering through the woods. The next day everyone was alive and no food had been molested by critters, so all in all it was a good night.

After breakfast, we slowly packed up in the morning wetness, made breakfast, and then a group of us faster camp-breakers yet slower walkers decided to head out and up. The slower-packers yet faster walkers stayed behind. About 5 of us headed down the trail and up the now much more challenging Big Green trek. At the top we debated sticking around and waiting on the slower packing people, but knowing the the other guide probably knew the way out, we laid out an arrow in limbs and kept walking. After a ridge line hike the rest of the trip was downhill to two water crossings. The last stop before the end of the day was a little campsite at Greenland Creek Falls trail.

While we were putting on our shoes after a water crossing, the second group showed up at the campsite. All but three of us headed off to see Greenland Creek Falls, which is quite impressive. Three  of us stayed behind to watch the packs and rest. When the group was reunited (with one being slightly wet after falling in the creek), we headed up the gentle climb out to the parking lot. The weather the second day stayed overcast and just cool enough to hike in and be comfortable, without freezing us when we stopped.

All in all, a very fine hike.





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 two 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 plastic 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 see 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!