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Archive for December, 2013

17
Dec

iPowerCentral

Seems the wife and go through the same thing this time of year. You know, decorating for Christmas. One feature includes all the indoor lights. I put some around the main entrance into the living room, the tree, around the dinning room hutch, and over the living room window.

Last year I got smart and went to Home Depot and picked up a remote power switch so we could at least control the tree lights without crawling around under it looking for the outlet or the “handy” switch on the power cord.

I happened to be sleuthing through eBay and found a listing for these something called: ALEKO® RLS3 WIRELESS REMOTE CONTROL AC POWER OUTLET 110V PLUG SWITCH OUTLET

In a three pack for less than I paid for the one last year. BIG WIN! I immediately ordered them (buy it now), and had them within five days. Turns out they weren’t shipped from HK, USA or Europe, they came from Alberta (I’m in BC) so, 15 hours away. If the crow has a car to drive.

ALEKO

Notice there are buttons labeled 1-4 and then ALL OFF, ALL ON. But you only receive THREE remote outlets. Made in China. Some ting wong…

No idea why they don’t sell the whole thing in a pack of four, but they don’t.

Any way, they work perfect and the remote works throughout the entire house from furthest points. I even put on on a lamp behind the sofa since it’s an awkward place to get to. So all was well. Til the mind started working…

See, it’s, “Where I’d leave that remote?” or I’m in bed and “Did I turn off all the lights?” or something equally earth shaking. I remember reading something in the Arduino forum about 433mHz control so I decided to see what frequency I was dealing with. I’d bought one of these from eBay so I tried it out:

Freq

Turns out the one I got last year from Home Depot uses 305Mhz, but the NEW ALEKO one uses…433mHz. Ah ha! Maybe, just maybe.

I surfed around and came across an Arduino library for Remote Control Switches. I’m using the 2.5.1 library. I have some of these 433Mhz transmitter and receiver modules from eBay:

433Mhz

So I connected up the receiver, uploaded a receiver sniffer sketch in the examples folder to an Arduino UNO and pressed the remote. The sound of my jaw hitting the floor was deafening. Son of a gun, it worked. I wrote down the number, disconnected the receiver and connected the transmitter, used the sample sketch to “send” an ON and OFF code to one or my remotes. Nothing. And then it occurred to me. Wonder what the range was on these things?

I connected the receiver back up, ran the sniffer sketch again. Did a range check. 30 feet. Max. No walls, no floors. Wait a second, there is no antenna in these things. Hum.

Antenna

I quickly found two antenna’s, soldered them onto the boards. Did the receive test again, easily captured the signal within the house. So I switched to the transmitter and easily controlled all of the outlets from a simple test sketch.

With the brain running at mach 6, I decided that I’d put an ethernet shield on the UNO, write in a web server sketch and that way I could control the remote outlets from anywhere on my LAN. So I did. I hard coded the IP so I wouldn’t have to go looking for it. But it worked well.

As I glanced over at my spare parts box, I could see a DS3231 RTC and unused LCD display.

DS3231

Both running off the I2C interface. I added them to the project. No, I didn’t need a clock or LCD display, but my project was expanding so…

IMG 4328

I re-purposed a project box from a prior experiment (used to be my GarbageMate), and although I don’t use the LED lights, well, it looks pretty. The LCD display is different than most you’ll see. It’s actually GREEN letters on a black background. Whereas most are the other way around. These are from an eBay seller called “WideHK” but the library they provide is so old it won’t compile on Arduino 1.0 or newer.

For those who have a WIDE.HK LCD display, you can download my Arduino Library from here:

LCDI2C4Bit MCP23008 Library

Next up, I decided that I should put in scheduling for the switches. I downloaded the Arduino AlarmTime library. Evidently I’m challenged because after a lot of attempts to get it to work, it wouldn’t. No way. The examples worked, but when I added them to my own sketch, no soap.

Of course I could have sat there and tried to figure out why, but I’ve been programming for 30+ years so rolling my own would be easier in the long run. I wrote the time checks, web interface, handled the input from the browsers, parsed to extract the info I wanted and it works.

IPowerCentral

There are the buttons to turn on and off the remote outlets, plus ALL on or off and, yep, three schedules for the switches. The Disabled means that schedule is OFF not that the switch is disabled.

To set a schedule, just typing in the data and pressing the Submit button. The time does have to be in 24Hr format but that’s not a big deal. My sketch deals with Daylight Savings Time so even that is taken care of.

IPCsetting

I can also set the clock using this method (custom switch number). Once the data is submitted, the screen will refresh and you can see the schedules I’ve programmed in.

IPCresult

For the astute, you may notice that I have slightly different start and end times for the schedules. What I found in testing was that if I sent out too many codes in a short period of time, the remote outlets tended to miss the second or third one. But adding a minute (could have been seconds probably) took care of this completely.

Since the remote outlets lack any ability to report back to the main control to indicate if they are on or off, the Arduino has no way of knowing the state of any outlet.

At this point, it works pretty slick. The only future addition would be writing the schedule settings to EEPROM. That way even with the power outage, the schedules will remain intact. So that’s about the only thing left for another day.

Yea, Arduinos. What a hoot.

10
Dec

Anniversary

Today marks our 44th anniversary. I have trouble remembering the day after yesterday and yet, we both remember that day from 44 years ago. When you’re married at 18 (Carol was 16), you have NO IDEA what life is about, nor what you’ll face over the years.

We’ve had ups, downs, circles and bliss. Still found time to have a family, and we get together with the “kids” quite often and enjoy those times immensely. Thus, long marriages can work but you both have to be willing to work on them.

Since we’re both retired, we’re sort of in that “nesting” phase where you make things around you as comfy as you can. Because in reality you’re at that time of life where you can enjoy it. You know, if it snows outside, who cares. You don’t have to go anywhere and drive in it. If you have a sleepless night, who cares, not like you have to be somewhere at 6am in the morning.

Our family room has been our media room for 20+ years in the house and we’ve gone through a couple of furniture changes to make it more comfy. Last go round we put in a rocker, two stylish leather chairs. Yeah. Not so bright. But it worked for a few years.

We went shopping for “what would work”. We started with those theatre seats. Ones with power reclines built in, massage rollers in the backs, and hidden storage compartments. I’ll say right now, those things are BIG, HEAVY and PUFFY. A few thousand bucks a seat and really, the majority not something you’d want to sit in for more than a couple of hours. We have 12 feet and I could fit “maybe” three of them (narrow ones) in. Doesn’t work if you have the family over…

Then it was off to look at sofas. Nope, sofas don’t work. Hey, lets check out sectionals!

Off to Norwalk, Urban Barn, etc. About seventeen different places. Norwalk had one that would basically fit wall to wall in the area we have:

Before Sectional

Norwalk had one of those more luxurious ones, at three times the cost of any one else (and it was on sale; $10K). Nice but not $10K nice.

Being the smart cookies we are, we came home with the measurements and laid out the size with painters tape on the floor. I figure we had about 16 square feet of floor that we’d have to vacuum. The remainder would be covered by sectional. Good thing the Norwalk one was too big…

Ah ha! There’s the key. Find something that looks good, feels comfy, and doesn’t dwarf the room with it’s size. And there’s the rub. These things are made by places that use the cookie cutter approach. As in they make 15 different styles all exactly. The. Same. Size.

We found ones with lousy construction (no hardwood just MDF or something), poor padding, seat cushion zippers you could see from the front of the sectional (hello Sears, who designed that blunder), cheap fabric, and on it goes.

Finally ending up at Urban Barn (thanks to our daughter for that suggestion!). We found one we really liked, and went back to see it a couple of times. It was a little hard on my back. But we found another one we’d overlooked prior. Perfect. Course you can’t buy it because it’s a custom built one. That’s right. A local furniture maker, Stylus in Vancouver, makes them for you. You pick the fabric, pieces, foam, and so on. They make it for you, deliver it, and set it up.

An excellent warranty, local company, local store. Really, doesn’t get any better than that for us.

We’d ordered at the “cut off” date to ensure we had it by Christmas, so when they delivered it today, it was a bonus for us!

So what did I get Carol for our anniversary? Chocolates, flowers, dinner out? Nah, got her a sectional so she can snuggle in the corner and play Airport City on her iPad in comfort!

After Sectional

9
Dec

Not the baker…

As I did last year, I’ve signed up for golf lessons through the fall and winter at the local academy (NorthView Golf & Country). Andrew & Rosie have as well.

And like last year, because the sessions are drop-ins on each Saturday, we all take turns making dinner. So Andrew, Rosie, me, Carol and new to our sessions one of my golfing buddies, Dan.

Of the “cooks”, Andrew and I are the least talented. Which, of course, can make for some interesting dinners. The undeniable talent in our “group” is Rosie and surprisingly, Dan (being a confirmed bachelor may have something to do with that).

Although I can make meals, what I do enjoy doing from time to time is baking. I remember growing up as a kid, it was the baking that always fascinated me. Probably because it always had something to do with sugar. Yum.

Regarding nutrition and baking, when I was kid, we had meals from the five basic food groups: boxed, canned, frozen, instant and take out. Baking wins with me.

Rosie makes some buns (we call them Rosie buns) that are to die for and so, well, I remember making some dinner rolls. Yeah, a long friggin’ time ago but since when would that deter me. I decided to try making some. I got out my recipe books, noticed that although the ingredients were basically the same, completely different ways of making the sweet dough. Doh! Of course, I took the easy one.

I didn’t add as much flour as suggested and even at that I think I might have added a little too much. It’s a texture thing. I don’t have the feel for it because I haven’t done enough of it. And kneading the dough was awkward until Carol showed me how because it was obvious I remembered eating better than I remembered making.

Waiting on the DOH! to rise took, well, a couple hours. Note to self, fast rising yeast next time. And then forming them into buns and waiting another hour for them to rise and finally, into the oven at 375 for 20 minutes.

Not The Baker

According to the recipe it was supposed to make 24 rolls. I got 17. Which is about what I expected. I remember when I was making cinnamon buns it was supposed to make a dozen, I got a nice big six. Yes, because my idea of size and the book is evidently quite different! They’re thinking something the size of a small tart, I’m thinking something the size of a softball. Different.

In my haste, providing you can actually make DOH! in haste, I neglected to put in the salt. Didn’t seem to make any difference one way or the other. So. Whatever.

The next thing I decided to do is make an old family tradition. We call it a “Trinkle” cake. Basically a white cake base with a brown sugar, butter, coconut icing you put under the broiler to render. The “trinkle” I came from the long grain coconut when I was a kid.

I made the cake and then made the icing and darned if the whole thing didn’t turn out very tasty!

Trinkle Cake

Lastly, about 25 years ago, when I was actively working for a living, “Capt’n Billy”, one of guys I was working with brought in a meatloaf to share with us. This may seem funny, but I was 35 at the time and I’d never tasted meatloaf in my life. My mom NEVER made it. So this was a new experience for me. I got his recipe and we’ve made it numerous times over the years. It’s a little different than most recipes I’ve seen in that it uses saltine crackers.

The other day at the grocery store we spotted some ground buffalo. Buffalo is one of those meats that I’d take any day of the week over beef. The trick with buffalo is that since it’s a very dense but low fat meat, a little goes a long way and you can overcook it because it doesn’t have a lot of fat. Doing a buffalo roast is very challenging to do if you’re feeling adventurous.

We bought a pound of buffalo and I made a small meatloaf with it. I did add some extra oil to the mix because the buffalo doesn’t have a lot of fat. Apparently the buffalo we bought was a couch potato because we actually got some fat off it. Not anywhere near what comes off beef, but more than I expected.

For the recipe I kind of followed my eyes and nose when I was adding stuff. Little of this, little of that. Dr. Fronkenstien sort of mixing. I’d made enough meat loafs I know what goes and what doesn’t.

And the whole thing shrunk down in the pan just as much as a beef one does. Which was quite surprising as well.

BUT it was fabulous tasting. Oh my goodness. Loved it. Something I will make again!

Now there are those who can find six jars of something in the cupboard and turn them into a gourmet meal. My hats off to those few. I don’t aspire to do that but just to get comfy working around in the kitchen. You know, without poisoning myself or setting off the smoke alarm.