Deutsch Lieber auf Deutsch? Hier lang.

Math lessons in the fifth grade cover — amongst other things, I hope — the binary system.

My favourite fifth-grader asked me for help. Explaining the number-systems is one thing, but you can do more if you’re a geek with a laser cutter. So I built her a binary counter:

Binary counter, laser in wood

The idea for this came from Twitter, I remembered seeing the video a while ago. I couldn’t find any files for this, so I called FreeCAD to the rescue.

I really like the result. And it looks as if the physical model really did help understanding the numbers.

If anybody is interested in building their own version of this: here are the files (planned for 4mm material):

Deutsch Lieber auf Deutsch? Hier lang.

BBQ temperatures in Zabbix

BBQ temperatures in Zabbix

Unfortunately, this project is still work in progress. But I want to tell of the first test run anyways. The electronics didn’t do exactly as it was supposed, but you see where this is going.

About two years ago, I built a prototype of a BBQ thermometer, which I showed here (german only, sorry). It really was just a quick hack, not really intended for repeated usage. I have learned a lot since then, and now I want to build something like that, but this time as a ‘real project’.

Being able to measure core temperatures of multiple pieces of meat, I didn’t have to think about the project’s name for long: Multimeater! :-D

The Hardware

The Hardware

Like some of my last projects, this is based on an ESP8266-module, with software developed in the Arduino IDE. So it already runs WiFi. My firmware is — as in some of my other recent projects — based on the Homie-framework. It sends collected values via MQTT to my broker, from there they are delivered to Zabbix. Values are measured with two high temperature sensors each connected to a MAX6675, and four common meat thermometers on a MCP3208.

Six temperatures? Yes. The plan is, to acquire the inner temperature of the pit on two positions. Under certain circumstances, these temperatures can be too high for the meat sensors. So I take two separate sensors for this, one on each end of the pit (which is a bit lengthy on a smoker, so there really is a relevant bit of a temperature drop in between). And with four meat thermometers I can monitor core temperatures of — you guessed it — up to four pieces of meat.

Zabbix is usually used as a monitoring software for server systems. But it doesn’t just work in enterprise environments, I am collecting some… let’s say unusual values at home. ;-)

In this case, I just used it to see graphs of the temperatures. But if I’m really starting to smoke me a pulled pork over night, I can tell Zabbix to wake me up if temperatures are out of a predefined range.

As mentioned, today’s run was just a test. And of course, several things didn’t work out as they were planned. I had a problem with the high temperature measurements in the pit. Those values turned out to be completely useless. But since I just bought three pieces of meat for today, I was able to use the fourth meat sensor for the pit temperature. Then I misplaced the sensor in my piece of ham, so the graph looks a bit strange. And to top all this off, heavy rain poured down during the test. Currently, there is no roof over the smoker, so that didn’t make it easier, either.

All in all, everything looked quite promising. I keep bringing this forward, and as soon as I really get it to work I’m going to publish it here, of course with circuit and firmware.

Oh, and since I’m sure that I’ll get that question: technical problems aside, I had some awesome pieces of meat from this test. Everybody really enjoyed it. :-D

What's wrong with this?

What’s wrong with this?

This is another old project, dating back to about 2004. I had it covered on the old Schatenseite, and I want to give a short presentation on the blog to preserve it.

I was given an old Commodore C64 that somebody decided to dispose of. The first version, in germany this case is dubbed ‘Brotkiste’ (bread box). It didn’t turn on anymore, and lacking any personal Commodore history I didn’t hesitate long before taking it apart.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know about microcontrollers at that time, otherwise I would have been able to save the functionality of the keyboard. I wasn’t able to, so parts of the underside of the keyboard had to go, to make space for CPU cooler and RAM. :-(

I inserted a VIA EPIA M10000b, so the C64 ran at 1GHz. The system was completed by 256MB RAM, a 2,5″-20GB-harddisk, a CD-ROM from a notebook and an external power brick.

The C64-PC

The C64-PC

Built like this I could attach the unit to my TV set, mainly for playing some games on it. But to be honest: this was one of the projects that made more fun during the build than afterwards…

Nowadays I would build this in a different way. A Raspberry would look great in the case. Needing much less space it would even be possible to keep the keyboard in a working condition. And running the Retropie distribution you could even have this certain 80’s feeling… :-D

See also…

I mentioned this project in an article (german only) on this blog, it dates back from November 2012. Somehow I never showed it, I don’t really know why.

Those who read this blog for a while know that I have a deep faible for computer keyboards. You don’t get the full picture from my english language articles, but in german you can find many keyboard related articles on this site.

Amongst others, my collection contains two vintage Apple keyboards. There’s a — really not too shabby — Apple Extended Keyboard II, which was built between 1990 and 1994. Many enthusiasts claim that this is the best keyboard ever produced by Apple, partly of course because of it’s mechanical nature with the Alps switches.

Even more original — and in my eyes it’s a typical Apple product — is the Apple Adjustable Keyboard, 1993 vintage. Typical Apple? As I said, in my eyes: it was expensive for its time, and above all the visual appearance of the product is more important than functionality. Even though there are arrow-keys on the main keyboard, I personally wouldn’t want to miss function- and navigation-keys (Home, End, PgUp, PgDown). And if you connect the additional keypad, you really have to have long arms to reach your mouse… :-/

However, I wanted to give both a try. And since I don’t have access to a computer with ADB interface — Apple killed it in 1999 — I needed a converter. You can buy this stuff, but you don’t have to.

On geekhack.org, there’s a japanese developer called hasu, who is tmk on Github. He created and published the TMK Keyboard Firmware Collection. That’s a firmware that can be run on several AVR-based platforms, notably the Teensy 2.0 which is well known in keyboard communities. The firmware is able to ‘talk’ several different keyboard protocols. Of course, USB in one direction, to be connected to any modern computer. In the other direction there are protocols like PS/2, Sun or Apple Desktop Bus. The custom firmware is loaded with features even expensive modern high end boards fail to deliver. It’s possible to program macros, use media keys or control the mouse pointer with the keyboard.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a Teensy at home. But I had all the parts to build something compatible, and all the tools to etch a fitting PCB. So I fired up KiCad and designed a minimal circuit, from that it wasn’t too difficult to create a PCB layout:

(The KiCad files need a bit of a workover, so I won’t publish them here. But it should be easy to recreate the circuit following the two screenshots.)

ADB USB Converter

ADB USB Converter

The finished converter measures in at 2x5cm, that’s really tiny. But the important thing is: it works!

I could probably use the ADB mouse with an off-the-shelf converter. But honestly: even a hardcore fanboy would prefer a modern pointing device without the ball in it. That is: a while ago I had the opportunity to play a bit with System 7.5 (the Apple operating system from the same era as the two keyboards), and I have to confess that the Adjustable Keyboard did its part for the authentic user experience… :-D