Recent Articles

Scratch That!

As soon as I say everything is working, something blows up.
Today I hooked up a soil moisture probe to test. When I went to adjust it, I found the pump would not run. I know it ran last night because the water level went down in the barrel. (unless I have another leak.)
One of the MOSFETs’s that drives the pump died. I am hoping that when the pump died it damaged it and it finally failed. Replaced it and tested and everything works. Apparently in the process it killed the battery, again. So it is getting another quick charge from the wall charger. Back to the big SLA for now, will switch back tomorrow.
The ground is nice and wet right now from the rain yesterday so it gave me a nice level to adjust to. “This wet, don’t run” There is chance for rain the next two days, so it should not run until the ground drys out. Better weather later in the week so it should dry out in one or two nice days, and I can check the operation again.

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Got Rain!

Finally got some rain, well rain AND snow!
The good thing is the collection system seem to be working. The leak has stopped. The pump is running OK. The battery seems to be keeping a charge. Most of the major components are working.
The last thing to test is the soil moisture probe. I will need some days of alternating wet and dry to give it a test. Oh, yeah, I have to make the probe first! The circuitry is all there and should work, so I just need to finish it up and let it run for a while.
This all means that I am just about ready to start posting some plans on how it is made. Got to go back and clean up drawings and get them into a postable form and do some work on the associated web pages.
I still want to work on the look of it some and make it prettier and easier to build, but all the function is there now.
Looks like it will all be working in time for the growing season. If it ever gets here! Man, look the the size of those snow flakes!!

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Pump Died

The pump did not last very long. Squealed bad then locked up. Drew lots of current and heated up the controller. Did not seem to do any damage.
The good news is this pump can be dismantled so I oiled the bearings and back in business!
The trash can was still leaking so I put a heavy duty liner in it.
Also hooked up a soaker hose to my roses so I would not have to drain the buckets each day.
Still no more rain, so still waiting on that!

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Rain Barrel Progress

I have finally made some progress on the rain barrel. I thought I was going backwards for a while. I have made a new down spout diverter system and it did not seem to be working. Had rain and it was not filling. I have also been testing the new control system, and like wise, it kept failing.
The battery kept going dead and the pump not running long enough. I solved the run time problem, but was starting to think the additional circuitry was draining the battery. I went back to using a SLA that is many times bigger than what is needed and even it slowly went dead. It turns out the solar cell has lost some of its efficiency and was providing enough power for control, but not for charging. It is not designed to be “used outdoors” and I think that it has been damaged by moisture. I replaced it with a slightly better one from Menards that while still not intended for outdoor use, is much better sealed. I will see how long it lasts, I got 3 years out of the original and this one is actually cheaper.
In addition to getting the pump to run longer, I started using a slightly larger pump, also from Harbor Freight. This may be a good thing since they no longer seem to be selling the smaller one. the pump has went form 500 gph to 1000 gph and only draws slightly more current. The only problem is this one is a few years old and the bearings are squealing. Again, I will see how long it lasts. By going to the larger pump, it can fill the buckets much faster, about 2 minutes or less compared to 10+ for the smaller one since it was struggling to push the water high enough. This, in turn is a pretty good trade off on battery life – slightly higher draw, but substantially reduced run time, lowering the amp hour capacity needed. The question will be if the solar panel can make up the draw used and recharge each day.
The filling problem turned out to just be stupid bad luck! I was adding water using the garden hose to time the buckets filling all the way and heard water trickling along side the house! Turns out the barrel got a crack in it! I am not sure when, but with a little duck tape, all is now well. We had a shower last night and added about 4 inches of water in the barrel!
Now to let it run again for a few days to see if my luck holds.

Number of View :24054

Fun with LIRC

I have successfully updated my bedroom MythTV frontend part way.
I did an upgrade using YUM and now running Fedora 14. I did not update MythTV yet since the server is running v.23 and have to update it first. All went well except having to fiddle with updating the NVIDIA driver by hand.
While I was tinkering, I set up LIRC to control the TV and Cable box as well as MythTV. The TV did not have a remote with it and it turns out Olivia’s codes are a bit weird. The remote that came with the Comcast STB worked, but not well. The universal remote I was using with Myth had the same issues but did not work with the STB. I wanted to have only one remote control everything, so what I did was set the universal remote to a code that nothing was using (RCA I think) and had LIRC send commands to the TV and STB using irexec and some irsend scripts. I use a home brew transmitter and old Packard Bell receiver.. I was having a lot of issues with errors that seemed to be coming from problems with the serial port. I ended up switching to the earlier mentioned test machine and that seemed to clear most of it up.
Now what I have is:
MythTv – STB – TV
Ex. when I send Volume Up, LIRC receives it then sends the proper codes out to the TV.
A bit of a hassle, and a slight delay in each action, but the function is so much better with only one remote!

By the way, I was able to pull the hard drive and simply switch machines, even though one was Intel and one AMD. Ever try and do this with WinXP??????? (big pain!!)

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Computers Everywhere!

I am planning to do an upgrade of MythTV soon and playing with the latest Fedora 14 before I break every thing. I have a spare computer at the moment to play with, but thought I would take a moment to list the computers running around here now for reference. I will be referring to several of them in the next few posts. They aren’t all that special, but I will detail the highlights.
Starting where internet comes in:

  • Smoothwall Box

Old Compaq DeskPro P2 POS (not “point of sale!!”)
Not sure what is in it, but it keeps on working, so I don’t want to touch it!
Running SmoothWall 3 with DSL modem in passive mode.

  • Shop Box

P4 2.66GHz Win XP (yes, I still need XP for stuff)
MB HP? salvaged from trash.

  • CNC Box

AMD ?? Unbuntu and EMC a few versions old.
Again, not broke, don’t want to mess with it!
Also dual boots Puppy Linux 4.31
It has pull out drives, so there is also one with XP and an older demo of MACH 3

  • Main Box

P4 2.66GHz Fedora 11
Another dumpster find now with 160G and 500G HD’s
General use machine and stores videos.

Read More..

Number of View :2652

Rain Barrel control

I think I now have a working control for the rain barrel, with a moisture probe. This will prevent watering if the ground is already wet. I have a new PC board made and tested and just waiting for the weather to break a bit to get the barrel hooked up to test it. If all goes well I will add the design info to the rain barrel page soon. The whole control is pretty basic with only one adjustment for the probe so it should be cheap and reliable. Just don’t expect any bells and whistles.

Number of View :2652

Comcast, Schedules Direct, and MythTV

My MythTV is set up with 2 tuner cards, one is connected to my main cable box, and the other was connected straight to the basic cable. I have LIRC control the cable box. Not long ago, Comcast issued digital set top boxes (STB) for all its services, even basic cable. I then had to add the STB and have LIRC control it as well.
On Schedules Direct I had 2 listing, basic, and digital. Comcast has now added more channels on the STB that are above and beyond Basic (like SyFi and Sprout, but not BBC or movie channels if you have a digital package) so I wanted to be able to tune them as well on MythTV. I set both inputs to use the digital listing since Schedules Direct only lets you have each linup once, and deleted the unavailable channels from the STB input. On the next run of mythfilldatabase, the channels were added back. Since I don’t want Myth to try to record on a tuner / channel that doesn’t exist, I wanted a way to automaticly clear the channels. I read in a forum where somone ran a cron job to do this for over the air channels they could not receive, but I am trying something different. I found that when mythfilldatabase ran, the “finetune” field was set to “NULL” on the new channels. All I needed to do is delete any channels that matched this. In mythtv-setup there is a setting for “mythfilldatabase program” that I set to a batch file “” which contains:



mysql -u XXXX -pXXXX -e"delete from where finetune is NULL;"

XXXX are username and password
This way every time MythTV automaticly runs the command, it will clear the new channels on it’s own.
Of course, I will not have new channels that I may want added, but I can check for them on my own and run mythfilldatabase manually.

NOTE: if you use MythWeb, finetune will show as a blank (NULL) the first time making the new channels easy to find, but if you save changes, it will set it to “0″

I am going to let this run a few days and see how it goes!
One side benefit is since there is only on listing to download, mythfilldatabase runs in less time using cached data for the second tuner.

Number of View :2653

Automatic Rain Barrel

We have a small garden out by our shed. It is not very big, sort of a “Square Foot Garden”. Just enough for some tomatoes, a cucumber and a few other plants. Of course one big key to a good garden is consistent watering, and of course I am a bit lazy and not very consistent. I wanted something to do it for me automatically.
The shed is about 50′ from the house, not far, but far enough to have to drag out a big hose. Living in a cold climate, the obvious solution do not work well here. I could not simply bury a hose without worrying about draining it so it will not freeze. I also did not want to bury any wire for automation either. I needed something that would stand alone, self power and supply water.

I decided on a rain barrel to attach to my shed. I simply used a 50 gallon trash can. I am not using the water for direct consumption, only irrigation. The first one was a heavy duty one some one had thrown away. (You can only use 35 gallon max for garbage here, so I could not use it for that) I lined it with a heavy 55 gallon “contractors” bag to keep the water clean and so it could be replace for easy cleaning. To hook it up to the gutter on the shed I made my own diverter/screen. (More on that later) The roof is about 10′x15′ and can fill the barrel with a moderate rain fall.

Read More..

Number of View :4128

Been even longer!

I finally added some information about my rain barrel system to the main page. It is only the beginning.
Automatic Rain Barrel
Have had a lot going on. Had a big job. Installed new floor. Remodelling kitchen. Wife threw the timing chain on her car. Big snow storm. And of course, Zoe!
Big job was building enclosures for 6 large LCD projectors used in the Sachs 5th Ave. Christmas display. They sat on a 5th floor roof and projected onto the whole side of Sachs store on 5th Ave. in New York. They not only had to protect the $100,000+ each projectors, but had to keep them between 50 and 100 degrees in the middle of winter, AND fit through a 30″x30″ window. Oh yeah, the 3 aluminium cases had to be done and tested in 4 weeks.
Finished installing new flooring in the kitchen to match the rest of the house before starting to replace all the cabinets. I am completely redesigning the kitchen as well.
The wife’s Saturn’s timing chain slipped about 6 teeth so it is torn down waiting to get the head checked and order new parts. Aside from new timing set, ($140) it will need head gasket set ($120) and new torque to yield head bolts.($80)
Then there was the great storm of 2011 with 18″ of snow to bring everything to a halt. I am scared to dig out and open the Saturn’s hood to see what blew in.
Zoe is doing great. Got 4 teeth and going to walk and talk any day.

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