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).


Saturday, January 27, 2018

Building a Proclaim-compatible MIDI to DMX Adapter

One of my projects recently has been a helpful little lighting control gadget for our church.  We use Proclaim to run the announcements/lyrics/presentation, and FaithLife recently added MIDI support for lighting.  Well, our lighting laptop is a clanky old netbook, and we don't care for it (or having someone sitting there to run it), so I decided to see if I could build an interface from Proclaim's MIDI output to our DMX stream, with an Arduino.

It turns out, I can!  And this little gadget (in various iterations) has been doing a great job running church lights for a few months now!  Smooth fades, various scenes, and automatically changing lighting when countdown timers end.


What's in it?  What makes it tick?  How do you build one?  Keep reading to find out!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reverse Engineering the TEC-06 Serial Protocol

When I'm reviewing hardware, I always look around to see what I can find about it on the internet (beyond the 500 pages selling some version or another).  For the TEC-06 I reviewed last week, I came across a helpful hint on BangGood about how to make the non-serial version of the hardware a serial-enabled version - along with some links to the software that talks to it.  Given that (and the tools in my office), I set out to reverse engineer the serial protocol, because, well, it sounded fun.  And a serial enabled battery tester is a handy thing to have around, if you want to do some data analysis or logging.


With a New Year's Day afternoon, I sat down and started hammering on the problem.  A few hours later, it was solved.  I've got the serial protocol totally worked out, spent a bunch of time wrapping my head around some bizarre issues, and figured I'd share the process here, for those who want to undertake some similar proceedings in the future.  I even published the software to talk to it from Linux!

So, if you want to read about some serial protocol reverse engineering starting from not very much, read on!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

TEC-06 Serial Battery Tester Review & Analysis

A few months ago, someone commenting on my TEC-02 review asked what I thought of the TEC-06 tester - and I had nothing useful to offer, because I didn't have one in my office to play with.  But, I do enjoy reviewing small electronics, especially if they're related to batteries!  And this one looks like a nice unit, at least on paper.  It supports up to 15V/3.5A/16W, has two useful operating modes, and is rumored to have serial support, if you sniff about on the proper pins!  And I do enjoy new gizmos!

Well, about $15 on eBay later, I had a shiny new TEC-06 in my hands, ready to play with.


Is it any good?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Why?  Read on!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

2018 Resolutions

Ah, the New Year's Post.  Resolutions for the new year, because we happen to be at the overflow point in our day numbering around the sun.  By March, we'll remember to write 2018 on checks (other people still use those, right?), and statistically, most of us will have forgotten the resolutions.  But, it's still a tradition, and one I'm going to put to some good use.  I'll call this a bit more "public planning" than "resolutions," because I prefer the first term to the second, but the difference is probably splitting hairs.


I wrote up my thoughts on 2017 last week, and this week builds on those.  Much of what I tried in 2017 worked very well, and I intend to continue working on those things.  So keep reading to see what 2018 might bring!