Saturday, March 17, 2018

Project Pi3Desk: Building an awesome Pi3 desktop with btrfs, USB SSD, zswap, and $30!

Some might wonder why on earth I was doing kernel builds with a Raspberry Pi 3, such that I looked the temperature and throttling behavior.  This week, I explain!  I'm trying to make the Raspberry Pi 3 into the best little desktop I can - without breaking the bank in the process.

I have a few Raspberry Pi 3s in my office, and while they work well for very light utility use (as well as for light data logging and IRC connectivity), they fall down if you ask them to work as a desktop - and they don't really fall down gracefully.  Chrome with a complex tab or two will freeze up a Pi so badly you have to power cycle it, and that's just annoying.  So I've set out to fix it, without spending so much that I'd be better off with a more expensive system to start with.

Interested in how to make a far better desktop out of a Raspberry Pi 3 for an extra $30?  Of course you are!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Raspberry Pi 3 Thermal Throttling Analysis: The $8 "Moster" Heatsink

This week and next week, I'm talking about the Raspberry Pi 3.  This week, my focus is the thermal throttling behavior - and how different heatsinks impact that.

I'm a big fan of the Raspberry Pi platform - especially the 3rd generation ("Pi3" at many places in this post).  They make great little "light utility" desktops, and great little utility servers.  They're cheap, they're "fast enough," and they're "good enough" to make them fit a whole bunch of roles fairly well.  Plus, they draw basically no power when idle - which matters, a lot, to me, since my office is solar powered and overnight power draw is a thing I'm concerned about - says the guy with the 30W idle draw beast of an inverter...

One downside to the Raspberry Pi 3, at least, is that it runs hot.  It's not a big deal if the system sits mostly idle - the little ARM chip is efficient enough that temperatures aren't an issue.  Load it up, though, and you'll almost certainly see the little thermometer icon on the right side of the screen before long.  On the Raspberry Pi 3, that means it's already thermally throttling back performance - and on stock Pi cooling (none or a dinky little heatsink), it's not at all hard to get that icon to light up.

There are some standard small heatsinks that are sold with a lot of the Raspberry Pi boards - and they're only barely better than nothing in terms of throttling.  But, fear not!  I've found a pretty good solutionA cheap, $8 solution (shipped from eBay).  And it solves another problem in the process - this case and heatsink combo just looks incredibly cool!

Is it any good?  Does the heatsink really work?  How do you detect Raspberry Pi 3 throttling?  Read on!

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Building a Robust Stone Cutting Bench

One particularly warm February morning, I decided that a useful thing for me to have would be a hefty bench I could use for stone cutting.

Why stone cutting?  I have a lot of basalt on my property, and I'd like to learn to do something useful with it - such as turn it into building blocks I can use to make structures.  The raw lumps of basalt aren't terribly useful for that (they have lots of points and are generally oddly shaped), so I'd like to work with them - standing up.  To do this, I built a workbench!  A very, very beefy workbench.

How?  Is it any good?  Should you build one?

Carefully but with plans, yes, it is, and probably not.  Read on!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Project Midnight Calm: How to quiet a MidNite Classic Charge Controller for $9

For the most part, I've been very, very happy with the solar power system I set up for my off-grid office.  Functionally, does exactly what I hoped (and rather exceeds expectations most of the time).  But I have one complaint about it: The MidNite Classic 200 is really, really noisy.  And this noise comes in a fairly distracting form at times.

I've substantially improved it, though.  And learned a few things in the process.  And made a really, really goofy looking attachment.

There are several pieces of this post, so dive on in and let's reduce some noise!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

40 Days of No Casual Internet or Smartphone

I've decided to try an experiment.

Our church has a 40 Days of Prayer period coming up, leading into Easter, more or less lined up with the traditional Lent period.  It's intended to be a time to focus, to pray, and to grow closer to God.

Lent is also, traditionally, a time people give up something to help with this process.  Sometimes it's meat, sometimes it's alcohol, sometimes it's social media, sometimes it's other things.  The point is to give up something you engage in, such that when you want to do it, you're reminded to pray instead.

This year, I've decided to try the experiment of giving up on what I call "Casual Internet Use" for 40 days - which includes "casual smartphone use."

Am I crazy?  Probably, though I'd argue not for this particular reason.  But if you're curious, see what I'm planning, and consider joining me!  If you have no interest in giving up anything for 40 days or so, well, this post probably won't be worth much to you.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Building a 37V/1kWh Lithium Solar Power Toolbox for $300

If you were living under a rock, you may have missed that there was an eclipse in 2017.  And, predictions for traffic were that it would be awful.  So, for a long duration camping trip, I decided to build myself a "Power Toolbox" out of some scrap batteries I had laying around, a few components, a solar panel, and an afternoon.

My goals: Charge phones & tablets, charge a Mavic Pro, provide limited 120V on demand, and charge off a solar panel.  Did I succeed?  Of course!  And it didn't even cost me that much!  Now, that's mostly because the battery packs I used are free scrap I had laying around... but, still.  The point stands, this was not a particularly expensive build for what it offers me.  For $300, I've made something that has a good amount of the capabilities of a much, much more expensive unit.

In addition to being useful for camping, this serves as a convenient way to carry power from my office to the house in the event of a longer term power outage.  It probably won't run my freezers (my little generator will), but it will certainly run some other hotel loads around the house, charge phones, and it can even run a my little under desk heater.

Anyway, interested in what went into this build?  Read on!

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Proclaim MIDI to DMX Converter Programmer and User's Manual

Last week, I covered how to build a little MIDI to DMX converter to use with the Proclaim software for church multimedia.  This week, I'm documenting how to actually use it in production by adding scenes to Proclaim, adding them to slides, and using the system.

There are two levels of "use" for this gizmo - programming new lighting scenes in Proclaim, and reprogramming the device to add new scenes/fixtures/etc.  I'll cover the first at the beginning, because this is the most common use case, but I'll touch on the device programming as well at the end (since someone will have to set it up for your church).