Saturday, March 17, 2018


If you have been thinking about building a tiny home for a while you have probably also been thinking that it would be easy to live off the grid with such a home.

We love to hear people's stories about how they sized their solar panels, assembled all the parts and talk about how it all goes together.  Knowing what to look for, and what worked and did not work for other people is a big help on our own projects.

What makes this project interesting is how far North it is, and that the project was built on the ground instead of mounting the panels on the roof.  This is important in Canada because of the snow loads. 

We have covered many different sized solar projects before. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Google home mini

So, this December, I bought a Chromecast, 2 Home Minis, a cardboard voice aiy kit, and voice controlled light bulbs and outlets.  I first set up the Chromecast on a 29" TV. Because this is what came first in the mail.  I had to install Google Home app on a phone to configure the Chromecast.

I used bubble upnp on a pad computer to cast movies from my osmc raspi3 media player.  I figured out that I had to scan the files on the player before they would show up in upnp.

Once the Coral Home Mini showed up I used the Home app to configure it and it automatically configured the Home Mini to tie to the Chromecast.  As soon as I did that I was able to tell the home mini to play videos from youtube onto the chromecast.

The next step was adding the home automation light bulb and powered outlets. I had to install another app to make that work.  Once those were working I was able to add them to google home mini, confirming them with the cloud server.

The disappointing thing is that a couple of projects to tie into local home automation hubs, so people could build their own diy hardware, were killed by google so that the hubs now check with a cloud server before they will show up to google home.

I was also able to configure my cell phone number into google home, and that lets me use the google home mini to call out to regular phones, for free.


The Google  Voice AIY kit was easy to set up.  Just add a raspberry pi zero and a power supply and follow the directions.  I set it up to run as a service and it allowed the device to restart when it crashed.  Which it does a lot.  

One thing I couldn't figure out is why it didn't start up when I took it to work and plugged the box in.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Upgrading Makerbot Replicator 2 Build Platform to Glass

I recently had to repair my acrylic build platform after I broke it trying to fix a wild curve to the material that had grown worse with time.  Even with the extra couple of mm of material I printed to the center of the acrylic sheet, there was still a noticeable bow. 

I got it working just well enough that I was able to print a glass frame for my Replicator 2 that I found here.   Here it is, clipped in place.  It lost about a mm front and back from the bow in my old build plate.

Unfortunately they didn't have 3/16 glass in town, so I went with thicker instead of thinner, and got a 6.5 x 11.25 x 1/4" glass plate.  They took the edges off and only charged me $10.   There it is sitting on my desk at work.  I got it done at lunch time and it was killing me to wait the rest of the day to get home and try it out.

There it is in all it's glory.  I used some Sugru to affix the platform to the next frame I built.  

You can see how it sits a little high.  Unfortunately I only took off 1mm when I scaled it, instead of about 1.5mm.  Going to print it one more time and try to get it right.  May go ahead and mod it for the missing little bit of space.  Once I get it done I will upload it to thingiverse with a nod towards the creator.

The prints this machine makes now are amazing. I had just figured out how to get a glossy print by printing on packing tape with my old build platform and also using diluted, dried glue stick on the surface. Now I just need the glue stick and a good bed leveling before a big build.

Here is what it looks like before and after.  It is a night and day difference, and remember, just a few days before this not one of my prints ever came off the machine with a gloss finish.

Here is another.

One side effect that I did not expect, is that the inside of the print is twice as smooth using glass rather than the plastic build plate.

I am calling this a win and wish I had upgraded years ago. It is a little upsetting that the glass plate was not the default on an expensive printer.

I am not going to recommend this upgrade for everyone, but if you want to give it a try, what harm is there in printing one part and spending 10 or 20 bucks for a plate of glass?  Especially when the results are like having a much newer, and much better 3D printing machine.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Octoprint on Raspberry Pi works for Makerbot Replicator2 now.

Could not get Makerware to work on the latest Debian installation.  I installed windows and the Makerware software onto a tiny computer I had. I used NoMachine on this computer and a couple of other computers and pad computers to run the Makerware software.

The next weekend I saw that someone had made a plugin to translate between g-code and whatever it is that my Replicator uses.

Installed Octoprint on a micro SD card and put it in a Raspberry Pi 2 B+.
Plugged the card, USB cable, power, and network cable into the PI.
Once the lights stopped flashing, I found out the IP address using my router.
Typed the IP address into a router.
It took longer to come up the first time because on first boot it expanded the hard drive partition to fill up the SD card.

I had to add the GPX plug in and set it up for my model printer.

Then I had to install Cura on my Debian box, configure Cura for my printer, set up a profile for printing with 2 brims.  I tried printing with a raft, but couldn't get the raft off my prints no matter how I set it up.  Saved this profile, went into the setup for the Cura slicer on the Octopi, and uploaded this profile into the Cura module.

Only once this profile is uploaded can you begin to slice and print. When you upload an STL file you get an option to select this profile (or other profiles you also upload) and then you can do nothing, select it, or select it and print it.

Second step was adding a camera.  Found out that the raspberry pi cameras have to have the lenses unscrewed to focus that close, which involves breaking loose some glue holding the lens in place.  I broke one camera, so be careful.  Important note, unplug the tiny little connector before you try this, and then carefully plug it back in afterwards.  Thinking of making a jig so that this process is fool proof.   This is some good info on the whole process of modding raspberry pi cameras.  Found a spanner to make this easy, if you own a 3D printer, or know someone with one. Print two of them.

Just plugging in the camera and booting the raspberry pi I got a good picture under the control tab.  I clipped a lens adapter onto the lens and got a better picture, had to unscrew the lens to get a good focus.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fixing makerbot replicator 2 acrylic build plate.

Having problems getting a good print out of your old makerbot replicator?  If yours is like mine the build plate is so warped that anything you print will stick too hard in places and not stick at all in other places.
A disclaimer, this fix worked for me, have no idea if it will work for anyone else. For all I know it might break your build plate in half or do something equally awful. I had to fix a jam during this process because my warpage was so amazingly great that it wrapped about a foot of filament all around the inside of my extruder. You have been warned!
My acrylic build plate had warped over the years. So I tried standing on it to straiten it out and snapped it in half. With the makerware software I could make a good print using a raft. But when I switched to cura on octopi the raft was stuck hard to the prints. I tried putting packing tape down on top of the raft and that did work.
Then I had a thought. Why not print a raft just once covering the entire build plate, permanently attached to the surface of my broken build plate? Then I could print anything and it would come right off. And it worked!
Just clean your build plate and level it as well as you can. Then print the thin8.stl onto the plate with no raft. If your warpage is really bad you might want to try printing a few smaller shapes in the center or around the outside edge depending on your warpage to get the plate in the ballpark so that this will even work. Try to get it to stick as well as you can because ideally it will be the level surface you print on here on out. The first few layers might not evenly cover, because of build plate warpage. And I had to clear out a filament jam in the extruder motor section because of how much my plate was warped up on each corner.
Once the build of the new surface was complete, I covered the surface with packing tape, overlapping it slightly. I put glue stick down on this, lightly, mixed it with a few drops of water and made sure it covered the area where I am going to print. You also have to move the bed down a bit because this new surface is higher than the old surface, by loosening the thumb screws under the bed, and then just move the head around and use the thumb screws and your eyeball to get the tip of the nozzle just to the surface of the bed. Turning the thumb screws left lowers the bed, turning right raises the bed.

I print with a couple of brims and manually adjust the thumb screws as the brim is being laid down making sure that the filament is flat, not round, but not too flat. The brim should be even clear around the print.
My prints now come out with a shiny surface where it was against the packing tape and they just pull off by hand with just a bit of effort.
When I was able to just pull the print off by hand with just a little tug, I almost cried because of the trauma I have endured over the years stabbing myself with razors and putty knives trying to remove prints.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

USB raspberry pi zero computer

I built a pi zero with a male usb end attached. It looks like a giant thumb drive. It is like a parasite, in that it uses the keyboard, mouse, monitor and network connection of the attached host, all through the usb connection. This gives me a full UNIX environment even when I am on window Boxen. 

I initially read about it on thingiverse, but the write up for it is here:

I put a cover on the other side too, to protect the chips and connectors. 

Using RDP the screen updates very slowly, and the desktop is slow just because the pi zero only has 512MB of RAM.  But the ssh command line using putty is perfect.  

I had to do a few more things on the windows side than is given in the above write up, I found another website that talked about how to get it running on windows here:

Basically I loaded bonjour print services from apple, set an ip address into the interface, and bridged the ethernet gadget with the interface that had an internet connection. 

Once ping raspberrypi.local starts working then you can get an ssh connection with putty, log in as pi, and I had to

sudo apt-get install xrpd

then after each time the device boots I have to restart the xrdp service for some reason, and when I kept getting a grey screen I killed another instance of X on the pi zero and could then get the desktop to load in windows remote client. 

I am interested in trying to load something like OWN cloud onto the drive and seeing how good the device will act as a cloud server.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

A new way to look at small project building.

When I got the 37 sensor kit a few years ago I figured out what was wrong with how normal arduinos are used to built circuits. Using these little sensors and devices mounted on tiny break out boards with connectors already in place, it was easy to connect them back to a breadboard for power and ground and wire up the data line to an Arduino data pin.  

The normal pinouts on an Arduino are difficult. You can't even mount a normal Arduino board on a breadboard (and visa versa), because one set of the pins are wrong.  Every model is lacking all the 5v and ground connections a normal project needs. The normal board is too big and the small boards have strange pinouts as well.

What we need is a board that will have rows of dozens of connections that accept a clip in connector.  And then have sensors be on tiny boards that accept the other end of that connector. I can see a 5 pin connector being used. ground, +5v, +3v, digital, and analog on the first 7 connections, or however many the built in chip supports . After that just have 4 pin connectors without the analog.   If an Arduino Mega was used for this kit you could have 16 analogs inputs. A Raspberry pi with an 8 or 16 port analog to digital converter could work too.

Have various length cables with the clip in connectors on both ends for building various projects.  This is similar to the tinker kit connectors, but with every option in every connector so you literally cannot hook it up wrong.

Come with a few simple devices already wired to the boards, just like the 37 sensor kit did, but make these connectors ones that clip in and are all wired identically, ready to go.  Have extra blank protoboards in the kit to let people build their own devices and connect the same way that the standard pins connected. Release the eagle files to let people build their own protoboards and designs as well. 

I would have the device and boards sit in a plastic carrier that is compatible with Lego, letting you build your projects on the Lego base plates.  As you get more advanced with your projects you could still wire up all the individual digital and analog pins up to a breadboard (also in Lego compatible bases.) Additional kits could be sold beyond the base kit to explore different technologies.  You could even have spi connectors with boards that let you daisy chain the boards together, but that used the same connectors and pins, but were wired a little differently. 

As for the software, I am picturing an extra program that you just say what you have connected up, and which connector you have it attached to, and then you push a button, it creates an Arduino project with the right libraries installed and names attached to the correct pins, and everything already initialized for you, and starts Arduino software loading that package to let you go from there.  

Think of this project as "Arduino For Everyone."