So we went to Saskatoon for a week, to visit my sister and brother-in-law. It was a really lovely time—wonderful to relax and visit, outside the hustle and bustle of Christmas or other big family gatherings.
It was also neat coming home and seeing what a week had done to Ontario, to the garden, and to the indoor seedlings (which a friendly kindly agreed to come by and water a few times). Our whole street had been bare trees, which were laden down with brilliant green upon our return.
Curiously, the wooden frame I constructed had gone missing. There was no other damage or signs of vandalism—it appears that a passerby saw it at the curb, misunderstood the purpose, and helped himself to what he believed to be garbage. Clara and I immediately set to work building a replacement, this time putting shallow stakes in the ground to make clear the intention that it be fixed. It was a simple matter to re-enclose the dirt, dirt which you can see actually included the beginnings of sprouting spinach, lettuce, and snow peas, all of which I had put in the ground before we left.
The seedlings had also done very well in our absence, all looking very lively and healthy in their cereal box accommodations. Cucumbers in the foreground, tomatoes in the background:
Here’s everything successfully transplanted on May 14-15th:
And here we are a week later, with some stakes up for the tomatoes, peas, and cucumbers, as well as wire mesh to deter rabbits, and an adorable sign to deter potential vandals:
What’s been learned so far?
- I should have started my tomato plants at least two weeks sooner, and probably waited another week or two to transplant them. They look quite stunted now compared to how they were when they went in, and nothing like the lovely ones I bought from Fertile Ground Farm to supplement.
- I should have put the spinach and snow pea seeds in the ground even earlier, probably by several weeks. I didn’t realise until I did more reading that they’re not only both frost tolerant, they don’t handle the summer heat well—we’ll have to wait and see if they even have enough time to mature to harvest before the summer gets them. Depending on the harvest size this year, I might try doing multiple seedings to stage the harvest across a longer period.
- I should have put the peas and spinach through the middle of the garden (or intermingled) instead of on edges. If I’d done that, then it would have been more possible for the mature tomato and pepper plants to grow into the freed-up space, rather than… well, I don’t really have a plan for what will go in those spots once the peas and spinach are done.
- I’ve had at least two instances of Random Plant Death, where with little or no warning, a plant just wilts over dead. I’m sure there is a logical explanation for this, or advance signs which missed, but it was definitely a surprise to see one of my cucumber plants healthy one day and flat on the ground the next.
Anyhow, overall it’s been a really fun and encouraging project. I’m excited to see what gets produced this year, and also to be seeing what to change for next year.Filed under: General | Leave a comment »
When we moved last fall, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do was try growing some vegetables at the new house. So a few weeks ago, Clara and I stopped by our local garden store and picked up a bunch of seed packets and a bag of seedling soil.
That weekend, I started tomato and pepper seedlings in egg cartons. I tied them down to a piece of spare wood, and suspended them from string in our front window—where they’d get lots of sun, but not be accessible to the little one. Within a few days, the tomato plants had started coming up:
The following weekend, I also started some basil and cucumber plants, in a similar manner. Last week, the tomato plants were starting to look a little droopy and discoloured—seems like they were probably outgrowing the egg cups, but may also have been over-watered. In any case, before we left on vacation, I transplanted everything to more spacious accommodations:
I also put together my garden box, where this stuff is getting moved to. The soil mix suggested by the square foot gardening method is equal parts compost, peat moss, and vermiculite. I had hoped that my backyard compost would be ready in time for this, but I wasn’t satisfied with it, so I ended up purchasing composted manure from the garden store. They also had peat moss, and were able to order in the 4 cubic foot bag of vermiculite I required.
It’s too bad about all the plastic packaging involved here. If you have a pickup truck, there are some garden stores which will dump bulk soil components directly into the truck bed. Our store doesn’t do that, and it wouldn’t have been an option anyway with the little Yaris.
In the future, I might try to go more natural, perhaps trying to use more of the existing soil, but given all the other unknowns in this project, I wanted to maximize my chances of success by keeping it simple and eliminating unknowns.
I ended up deciding to place the box on the boulevard strip right by the curb. I think this is technically municipal property, so I’m prepared to move it if necessary, though there were others in our old neighbourhood who did exactly this. In any case, it’s where the best sun is, so I’m going to stick it out as long as possible. Our landlord is very easy-going about this project, and obviously I’ve agreed to repair the grass once I’m done (or we move, whichever comes first).
This is not strictly square-foot. Because I’m doing tomatoes and peas, which will need something to climb, I think it’s more reasonable for those at least to be row-style.
I’m not certain my seedlings will work out. A friend has graciously agreed to water them while we are away—if they end up looking good when we’re back, they’ll go in the ground; otherwise, I’ll purchase new ones from Little City Farm.Filed under: House, Projects | 1 Comment »
My bike’s had a flat since November. It was the end of riding season anyway, so I’d been letting it rest in the garage, figuring I would take care of it when the weather was favourable again.
Well, the weather is now favourable, and I’ve taken care of it. But the longer story is fun too.
I bought my road bike in Ottawa when I was there on co-op, summer of 2009. I’ve changed a couple flats, replaced a broken pedal, had the rear rack on and off a few times, but never really done any serious work on it. I bought it second hand, but it was from someone who really cared about it—he gave me two spare tires and a bottle of red nail polish for touching up the paint. It’s a handsome machine; it deserves better than to just be driven into the ground.
So I’ve been feeling for a while that an overhaul was in order.
Whenever I’d inquired about this at normal bike shops, I got a lot of vagueness and uncertainty about costs, especially when it became clear the scope of work I had in mind. What could be done for $100? $200? What would it take to get all the bearings changed, the joints cleaned out and lubricated, the cassette fully degreased, a new chain, etc? Maybe it was just the ones I went to, but it felt like everyone wanted to get the bike apart first, and then hold it hostage while they talked me into a bunch of overpriced replacement parts.
So it languished.
Then in January, I discovered Recycle Cycles in downtown Kitchener. I’d never heard of this concept before, but Recycle Cycles is a community bike shop—a well-stocked, supervised shop where anyone can go—for free—to work on a bike. They have all the special single-purpose tools needed to get a modern bike apart, and smart, knowledgeable volunteers on duty to help out with the task. I was walked through taking apart, cleaning, and rebuilding my entire drivetrain. At their suggestion, I bought a new chain and chainring from MEC and some replacement bearings online, and installed them myself.
All of this occurred over four Saturday mornings during which Clara and I went there—the timing dovetailed nicely with some sewing projects Tara needed focused time to work on. C and I were able to take the city bus there and back, and had a great time hanging out together. Clara definitely has her moments of acting out, being impatient, silly, etc, but she also recognizes when she’s being extended an unusually adult privilege, and behaves accordingly—sitting nicely on the bus, walking close on the sidewalk, and being patient while I was working.
So, the community bike shop is a thing, and there are many worldwide built on the same model as Recycle Cycles. Some sustain themselves by charging a membership fee or an hourly rate. Recycle Cycles does neither; it depends on volunteers and donors (of which I am only a very minimal one for now, limited more by means than desire).
My experience with Recycle has renewed my excitement for the Region and all of the awesome stuff which goes on here. It’s been a neat experience rediscovering my University town after graduating and leaving the bubble of school to settle more permanently. The awesome community projects going on here give me hope for the enormously ambitious Central Transit Corridor, that it is not attempting to create transit-centered communities from whole cloth, but is channeling and nurturing an already present community energy.Filed under: Community, Projects | 3 Comments »
Clara received the Disney Little People Princess Castle as a Christmas gift. She’s really enjoyed it—she’s the perfect age to understand that the different buttons around it make different sounds. Despite that we have Cinderella, Snow White, and all seven dwarves, she knows that Snow White and Cinderella are the ones who trigger special sounds when pressed on the pedestal. Not only that, but she presses them repeatedly, cycling through spoken slogans to find the little songs, which have come to be her preference.
It’s really adorable.
It was also really loud: the toy being played with in the living room could be clearly heard through the entire house. For ourselves, and other parents in the position of having a noisy electronic toy, a number of options exist:
1. Disable all electronic behaviours by removing batteries (the “nuclear option”).
2. Disable audio by disconnecting speaker (for toys with lights, motion, etc).
3. Muffle audio by adding tape, foam, or some other physical barrier to the speaker.
4. Attenuate the audio by modifying electronic circuit.
Of course, for me, it had to be that last option. Some months ago, I had performed a similar modification on a noisy activity table, so I was pretty confident I’d be following the same basic path. Here’s the bottom of the castle with the screws removed:
Here’s the main circuit board. Whatever the brains of it are, they’re potted under that black blob—the only external components are a few capacitors, so that’s everything in there—the logic, the memory, and the amplifier:
Unfortunately, I had assumed the speaker would be an 8 ohm one, but it was clearly marked as being 32 ohm. Both are standard impedance values for speakers, but I think of 32 as being more typical for headphones. Anyhow, the idea of the modification is to add two extra resistors like so:
The resistance in parallel with the speaker (6.8 ohms) is about 1/5 of the value of the speaker itself. Whatever current flows through the overall system, 4/5ths of it will go through my new bypass resistor, and only 1/5 of it will go through the speaker itself. The series resistance (27 ohms) is there to maintain the overall resistance of about 32 ohms—it’s best not to stress the amplifier with a load drastically different from what it was designed for.
I hadn’t wanted to open up the castle twice, so the resistors I specially ordered for this were assuming it would be an 8 ohm load. When it turned out to be 32, I had to improvise with some junk drawer stuff, which made the whole thing a bit messier than I was hoping for:
The castle now plays its sounds clearly to those in its immediate vicinity, but no longer beyond. Success!Filed under: Projects | Leave a comment »
We constructed a family gingerbread house over the past week. Structural gingerbread is certainly still yummy food, but it’s interesting baking something where the principal focus is on attributes other than flavour and texture.
Clara’s been helping us a lot in the kitchen recently—she’s a pro-star at licking things, and dumping things into other things (vegetable peels in the compost bin is always a hit).
One of the keys to successful house construction is to trim the pieces straight out of the oven, so that despite spreading, you get them exactly as the plan calls for:
Beginning laying the foundation, with some scaffolding to hold it all up.
Using my pattern pieces to check the angles of the roof segments. This approach of pre-fabbing the roof didn’t end up working as well as I’d hoped; the edges of the pieces were crumbly enough that the icing pulled away despite being rock solid.
We had been planning to get candy at the grocery store, but then ended up stopping in at our new local mymark to use the CandyWorks section. We didn’t get a ton of stuff, but it turned out very nicely:
Filed under: General | Leave a comment »
A house project for next year is going to be to maintain a vegetable garden using the square foot method. In preparation for that, I wanted to see if I could build up an active compost bin over the fall and perhaps through winter.
Even just at our local building supply stores, there are dozens of options for purchasable composting systems, many of them in the hundreds of dollars. I was hoping to avoid a big upfront investment (at least at this stage), and I also knew that my dad built his own bins decades ago, which continue to serve well to this day.
It turns out, we discard a lot of shipping pallets at work, and as something which would never be used in the house, this seemed like a great chance to try repurposing some of the material:
Skids are made from the worst of the worst in terms of wood, but free is an attractive price—having paid nothing for this unit basically absolves me of any concern for treating, painting, or otherwise preserving it. If I get even a year or two out of it, it will have served its purpose as a proving ground for a larger and more ambitious future system.
So how’s it going so far? I’ve been dumping all of our non-meat kitchen scraps into the bin for the past several weeks, and gone out to turn/aerate it a bunch of times. Last week, I grabbed a third skid and used it to make a nice hinged lid.
We have large leafy trees in both our front and back yard, so I read with interest some tips on how to compost leaves. It turns out that leaves are great for composting, especially if one is able to shred them up. I did a few garbage-bin-fulls with a weed whacker, and it seemed to work quite well.
Along with the leaves, last week it got fed the cut up pieces of four jack-o-lanterns.
The most frequent advice I’ve seen about winter composting is to locate the bins by a heat source to keep them warm—the dryer vent or high-efficiency furnace exhaust are typically suggested. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible on this property, so I’m not sure how long we’ll make it before everything freezes. For now, at any rate, it seems to be chugging along—definitely smells more like earthy goodness than it does like a pile of rotting garbage.Filed under: General | 3 Comments »
It’s a time of change for us.
Some changes are constant—the seasons, our daughter growing and learning, my work. Some are abrupt, though, and one of those is coming at the end of September: We’re moving.
Tara and I moved into our little one-bedroom basement apartment in July 2010, the month we were married. She lived in it for a week, then I lived in it for two weeks, and then we got married and went on our honeymoon. Then we came back, and have lived in it together ever since. It’s a beautiful space—it’s not perfect, but we’ve made it a lovely home.
It has an unusually large family room, which we initially split to be half dining room and half living room. We found a big eight-seat table, and have broken bread with friends and family alike. We hung our pots over the stove, to maximize limited cupboard space. I built us an eat-in table in the kitchen, which lets Tara use the big table for sewing projects when we’re not entertaining.
Clara grew, and we made the bedroom into a dedicated nursery. We moved our bed out into the large room, compacting the dining and living areas, and splitting off the end 30% of it with a semi-sheen curtain to make a small studio-style bedroom. I fashioned us a simple open wardrobe to allow hanging clothes storage in the limited space.
Clara began to move, first rolling, then crawling, and now walking and running. As she did, we made efforts to baby-proof the large room, and installed a baby gate at its entrance. Eventually, we also sort-of baby-proofed the nursery, and moved the gate, so that she had the run of that room as well. We replaced side tables with floating shelves, and carefully packed non-essential items away in boxes where she would be less able to get into them. We gave up trying to screen our bookshelves, and Tara instead packed the items as tightly as possible—a measure which has been very successful against little fingers until just the last few days.
It’s been a terrific adventure here. We’ve done a marvellous job of working creatively with an odd space to meet our shifting needs. But it’s definitely time and has been time for a while. We’re looking forward to having a bedroom that is not a playroom, to chatting with our guests as we prepare them food, to storing things where they are truly out of sight, to having a dishwasher and our own laundry machines.
Most of all, I think, we’re looking forward to being out of a basement. Tara and I both lived in basements for the two years prior to getting married, so we’re pretty basemented out. We’re looking forward to more air and light, and fewer stairs and insects.
We’re also looking forward to autumn and leaves and pumpkin pie and hot chocolate. The familiar comforts in the midst of new, exciting things.Filed under: House, Reflections | 3 Comments »
As I’ve been working on the schematic for my amplifier refurb project, I’ve realised how much stuff I am depending on to “just work”. Hardware and electronics are not like software—a mistake on a printed circuit board means cutting traces and soldering flywires, or even money spent getting a corrected PCB made.
We were on vacation this past week with some other families from our church. I had hoped to have a PCB finished so that I could build it up and be working on software for it. I didn’t get it done in time (not even close), but I did order in a few key parts from Digi-Key anyway, to prove out some stuff I was unsure of, and begin building up the software. I took some breadboard, an Arduino, my laptop, and a soldering iron borrowed from work.
The first item I wanted to play with in advance was the IR receiver. I decided to use the TSOP382, a convenient through-hole package which includes the necessary filter and demodulation circuitry onboard. The internal processing circuit gives an output of VS (the supply voltage) when there’s nothing, and GND (zero voltage) when the 38kHz IR tone from the remote control is detected—very simple and easy for reading from a microcontroller.
The TSOP382 datasheet recommends a simple lowpass filter on the power supply to the device, for ESD protection. So I built up that circuit on a piece of breadboard, and plugged it into the Arduino:
Now, there’s lots of existing code out there for interfacing Arduino with remote controls, but I’ve had mixed results with libraries for Arduino, and I was interested see how far I could get just figuring it out from the cottage we were at—with no internet access, no scope, and not even a multimeter.
Turns out it wasn’t too hard.
I wrote a simple program to capture the rising and falling edges on the INT0 pin, and then set up the high-speed 16-bit timer to time the gaps between them. I then dumped the captured timing information to the PC over the serial port, and plotted it in python using matplotlib. This is the pulse sequence sent by our Sony Blu-Ray player’s remote when the power button is pressed:
Logic low is the tone, logic high is a gap. It looked at first like it might be some weird binary thing, but it’s nothing so devious as that—the gaps are simply pulses, grouped by their digit in the sequence. In the example above, the coded command is 1224212411. Once I had this figured out, I changed my logic to only need half as many interrupts: I fire an initial one on the low level of INT0, and then reconfigure it to fire on rising edges. After a timeout with no more rising edges, I process the received command and restore the original low level triggering to await the next command.
Timing between edges like this may seem more complex than just polling, but it’s very robust to variations in the clock between the remote control and receiver. It also allows the AVR microcontroller to idle in its lowest-possible power consumption mode, as a low signal on INT0 is capable of waking the chip up from that state.
Another item I wanted to play with was my selected display. I was tempted to go with a fancy dot-matrix device (like the adafruit negative LCD). Ultimately, though, all I really need is to display the audio source (out of four), and the volume level. The most significant criteria is actually just that the display be legible from across the room. Thus, I ended up selecting a simple seven-segment LED display, the LDD-A812. I will show a number from 0..64 for the volume level, and C1, C2, C3, C4 for which channel is active.
I wanted to try this device in advance for a couple reasons. The big one was brightness. The manufacturer’s figure of 3.9mcd means nothing to me; I want to be able to put it—illuminated—behind the smoked plexiglas that will be the final new front to the amp, and make sure that it’s bright enough to be visible. Second, I wanted to prove to myself that I could PWM the voltage supply to this device and avoid having to use current-limiting resistors. Finally, I want to use a MOSFET as the switching device for the supply to the common anode, and I wanted to check that I wasn’t completely off my rocker about how that was going to work. Here’s the prototype I mocked up:
I haven’t got a picture of it in operation, but I lit up a few segments, and it did indeed seem to work as intended. It would be a lot of unnecessary work to hook up all the segments to the Arduino board, so I probably won’t bother with that, but I was glad to confirm the basic operation.
The final item I was curious about was the hardware knob that will provide physical interface to the device as an alternative to the remote control. I’ve pretty much decided on the PEC11-series encoder from Bourns, but I was less sure about what knob I’d use, and whether I wanted the encoder with detents or smooth operation.
All but a very few of the knobs on Digi-key and Mouser are oriented toward use with potentiometers—that is, they have a position indicator on them, which makes no sense when the position is displayed on the screen, and the rotational input is purely relative. They’re also really expensive.
In the picture is a heavy steel knob I ordered in from McMaster-Carr (on a potentiometer I had lying around from a previous project), and a knock-off Telecaster guitar knob from an sketchy eBay vendor (on the PEC11 encoder I ordered). I still haven’t fully decided which knob I like best, but I think I would like the encoder without the detents—if it’s anything like the pot, it will feel more like a weighty hifi device, and less like a cheap car stereo.Filed under: Projects | 1 Comment »