Friday, July 22, 2022

That Youtube Thing, Videos, Action and Stuff Like That

 After I put up a couple videos on youtube, I reviewed them. They were BORING ! Watching someone run an excavator is not nearly as much fun as actually running one. The videos took so much time to watch me flail around the bucket, grab the wrong lever, drop a rock, and dump the bucket in the wrong place, even I stopped them and sighed in disgust.

How the heck do other people get those things to be interesting?

I started looking at heavy equipment videos and tried to get a hint, and one thing stood out glaringly SPEED. See, if you speed up the video, it isn't nearly as visible when you grab the wrong lever and go the wrong way. Speed hides the imperfect and the mistake. Most of the time it even makes it look intentional. Also, putting in stills to show close-ups and examples makes it more interesting because it distracts a bit. 

It seems the key to keeping people awake while watching a video is either cleavage or distractions. People can only watch something for a little while without some change up or excitement. At least it seems that way.

That's why the video I put up in the last post had music and was sped way up. It didn't have stills in it, or other tricks I want to try out. 

I just put up another one to try out some more ideas. This one switches subjects, shows mistakes, and has lots of on-screen text. Voices don't work well when you speed it up, so you have to use that in some way to create interest; I tried that as well.

Can you believe it? I took the chance and bought a new piece of equipment, spent some time learning how to use it a little bit, and then started filming it. What a mess to take on. It's fun learning new things, but this many at once is quite the strain.



Take a look when you have the chance, this is all new to me. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1eznz2KKoL4&t=120s

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

A Guy I Know Suggested using Youtube

 The title pretty much says it all. I took a camera and recorded using the excavator to do some work on the yard. It took hours and  I encountered the problems we all have with cameras. Soft focus, knocking over the tripod, pointing it the wrong way... You know the drill. 

After hours of recording, I started to respect those Youtube creators even more.

You have to go through the recording, pick the stuff out that makes sense and was actually worth a crap, compose it into something that might be interesting, and then go through the process of putting it online. A whole lot of trouble to convey an idea, but it turned out to be fun.

I see an opportunity here to expand the blog by including other media.

Here's my first effort at this. It's short but represents a heck of a lot of work.



What do you think, is it worth the effort? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

So, Have I Actually Done Anything With That Expensive Toy?

Well, yes, but not as much as I would have liked. The 2022 heat wave hit here in Arizona and it was over 110F every day until today. However, today I had to repair my chainsaw instead of working with the excavator.

Sigh....

But I have managed to do some things around the house. I moved a whole lot of rocks out of the way, Built a little road to get around, dug out some brush, and that kind of thing. I know that I'm preaching to the choir here, but tools are great to have. I think I mentioned that I bought it because I was tired of renting equipment and having a multi-hundred dollar bill when I returned it. You can't get good with it only spending a few hours under pressure, and you never quite get the entire job done.

I wanted my own, and indulged myself and bought the darn thing. I don't regret that decision. 

I may be working on this rock for a while. It is stuck in caliche and won't budge.

If you consider following my path, I have a few recommendations:

1. Don't get too big a machine. My Ford tractor is huge and very powerful, but it doesn't fit anywhere. I have to jockey that thing around a LOT to position it for work. Then, when I have to move it, I have to be careful not to take out a fence or something.

2. Excavators are fun and they can pick up heavy things. However, you have to have a thumb to do it easily. You can drag a bucket across the ground and a rock will just slide along avoiding the bucket like it suddenly became sentient and decided not to cooperate. A thumb solves that problem. Thumbs are also really good for picking up brush and moving it. 

There's cactus and thorny mesquite in that bundle !

3. Avoid all the fancy electronic bells and whistles. Sure little short joysticks are fun and cool looking, but the damn things break leaving you with a machine to fix. The electronics on these machines have to be able to take the heat, cold, rain, mud, etc and cost a lot. 

Simple hydraulics are the best for people like me. I want to use the machine, not order parts for hundreds of dollars and wait forever for them to arrive. Hydraulic parts are simple and available all over the place. 

4. Get an older machine. One from the '80s won't have a mess of equipment to lower emissions. A friend of mine had his brand new tractor in the shop for a month to get the emissions equipment working correctly. Avoid that dilemma if at all possible.

Do you really want a DEF reservoir and smog pump ?

5. Diesel may be expensive right now, but it stores well and doesn't explode. Get a diesel engine on your new tool. They run cooler, last a long time, and are already fuel injected. Great little motors that don't plug up with gum from ethanol additives that dissolve gaskets. Remember above where I mentioned having to fix my chainsaw? Yep, the ethanol dissolved the gaskets in the carburetor.

Ethanol is miscible in water. That means it absorbs water
Water damages carburetors. I stole this picture of a really bad one, 
but this CAN happen to you.

6. Educate yourself about the common problems. This is something that you can't get from youtube. People let their machines set outside in the weather and the hoses rot. Hydraulic hoses are not cheap and most of them are custom-made. These things will drive you nuts on a machine that hasn't been used in a long time. If you check back on this blog you'll find where I rebuilt cylinders on the garage floor. It can be done, but that means you're fixing it instead of using it.

For most people, a 4000-pound machine will do everything they want to do with it. It can lift several hundred pounds and move it around. Trailers are cheaper for them. I picked up a used tandem trailer that will carry it just fine locally without any trouble. 

Unfortunately, they can be a black hole for money. There are attachments that can make everything easier, but they cost big bucks. A grooming bucket that lets the dirt go through while the bigger rocks get stuck is great for clearing rocks, but they cost hundreds. Consider digging a hole and scraping the rocks into it with the claws instead. A quick-connect so you can change the buckets easily is great to have, but have you looked at how much they cost? You can pound a different bucket in place for a lot less money. A smaller or larger bucket is great to have, but unless you find one abandoned in an empty field, it's gonna cost you a bunch. Sure you can build one and that would be fun, but have you looked at the price of quarter-inch steel lately? Welders are getting cheaper, but steel isn't. 

I love my excavator and it has made things possible that simply weren't before, but I must discipline myself constantly to keep the urge for a new item for it under control. 

For me, being able to climb up on it anytime I want to and tear out a cactus is exhilarating. Not having to reserve it at an equipment rental place and picking it up at 7:00 AM from a clerk that hasn't had enough coffee is worth a lot. Let's not talk about getting it back on time. That really sucks.

Of course, my yard is starting to look like a used farm equipment lot !


I think it looks great though !



Tuesday, April 5, 2022

My New Excavator

 Yes, I bit the bullet and bought a Mini Excavator. 


I looked at what was available locally for a couple of months, and what I found just didn't cut it. The hoses had rotted from the sun, There was significant damage to some areas, they were way, way overpriced; at least in my opinion. So, I bit the bullet and expanded my search online to nationwide.

There were a lot of them out there, but buying something this expensive sight unseen was scary. Sure, people do it every day at online auctions and such, but they know what they're doing, ... I don't.

So, I went to ebay and looked at their guarantee for construction equipment. They insure the purchase up to $100,000, and that gave me enough courage to contact a seller. The rest was easy. The excavator arrived in port in Long Beach, CA; was inspected; loaded on a truck, and showed up at my house in just a few days total time. I was lucky in that respect, but I did choose a machine that was available instead of looking for exactly the right thing.

If you want to know the specs, the model number is right on the side and google can pop up a spec sheet in one search. What I like most about it is there ARE NO ELECTRONICS; it's old school hydraulics with valves and such. It can be worked on without a laptop plugged into a data port. Less failures to some component getting wet and less expensive control components.

I can fix it if I need to. (or should I say 'when')

Now the bad stuff: When I got on it, having exactly zero experience on an excavator, I couldn't get it to go. Meaning, how the heck do you run this thing? I fiddled around and found the two forward controls for the tracks and managed to move it down the drive a ways. Then I looked at the control layout decal and managed to work it a bit. I got it from the road to my house in a few minutes and then started to play with it where no one could see me make a fool of myself.

After an hour of trying levers, looking at the instructions (shudder) and messing around I managed to make it do things. Then, I went nuts. Spinning around using zero turn, swiveling it around and around, banging the bucket on the ground. Basically playing with my new toy. 

It is so exciting to pick up a bucket of dirt, swivel around and dump it behind you. That is probably the most exciting thing about an excavator I've tried yet. It can really dig!! I can make a hole in no time, even with the incredibly rocky ground I live on. Just wiggle the bucket back and forth a little and it will bite in. Really large rocks give it trouble, and I have to plan better to roll them out of the hole, but so far, I haven't hit one that I can't move. I know I will at some point (it is a mini machine), but then I'll just go around the rock if necessary. 

And, it has a THUMB. In case you don't know what that is, here's a picture of mine.


This allows me to pick up rocks, grab a bunch of prunings, pick up a limb to chainsaw, etc. It gives me a hand to manipulate things with. This increases the versatility of the machine to a level that we, as homeowners, can really appreciate.

There is one annoying thing about it though. The left hand control is set up counter-intuitively. Left hand left is stick away and left hand right is stick close. Left hand forward is swing right and left hand back is swing left. There are two control standards in the US, ISO and SAE; they differ in the positions of the controls, however both of them have the swivel control on the left hand side to side.  That is driving me nuts. I keep swinging the excavator when I try to move the stick. It just makes sense to my brain that swivel left should be push left, not pull back.

Yes, it can be changed by moving the hydraulic lines. However, the lines are plumbed, not hoses. Take a look:



Those two pipes are the stick controls, and I didn't want to spend a week creating new ones to fit the application. Note that steel plumbing is a good thing, it protects the hydraulics and makes for a really good connection, They are just really hard to move around. I may come back to this after a while and change it, but reprogramming my brain is easier at this point and it keeps the machine on the dirt doing what I need instead of sitting in the garage waiting for parts.

What's also awesome about this machine is how well it is set up. I can get to the controls really easily, the gas gauge is a clear tube instead of a float in the tank that fails, the horn is not where you'll hit it every time you use the machine. It even has a light that I plan on using very, very little. 

For example, the horn used to be on the right hand control where you manipulate the bucket and bang your knee. It's now on the right hand side where the other electrical controls are:



I may grind that mount off at some point, but want to have a can of Komatsu blue paint on hand when I do to keep it pretty.

Wanna see the extremely high tech fuel gauge? I guarantee this will not fail due to a rat eating the wiring or some connection coming loose.


Yes, it's just a clear tube that shows the level of fuel in the tank. No electronics, no silly idiot light, just something that you can easily see that won't fail as soon as you need it.

Now for a blatant recommendation of the seller I used for this transaction, NGO Company. I called them about the excavator I found both on the web and ebay. I talked to a guy named Ray, and he was totally honest. He described the machine, the process of buying it and when he expected it to show up in port. I waited a day, and called him back to start the purchase process. I paid a deposit, then waited until the machine was in his shop. He sent me pictures of it and I paid the rest by wire transfer. 

As soon as the wire showed up as pending for transfer, he called the shipper and they came and loaded it up. I got it the next day. 

Totally seamless transaction; nothing went wrong and the machine started on the first try. How good can it get?

Ray will probably read this blog post and snicker a bit because I literally drove him nuts with questions about the dates, how wire transfers worked, etc. All the stuff a naive purchasers comes up with. I was basically a total dweeb, and he put up with it.

If you're interested in something like this, visit his web site at https://www.ngollc.com/ and tell him Dave sent you. You won't get a discount, large equipment doesn't work that way, but he'll recognize the name.

I'll be posting about my exploits with this machine in the future. It's too much fun not to spend time on it. 





Tuesday, November 2, 2021

My Experiences With the Hubitat

 I mentioned last post how I got talked into trying the Hubitat. To be honest, it didn't take too much convincing because the hub works with the old Iris switches and I have several of them. We home automation freaks loved those switches. I hacked into them and made them work without the Lowe's hub and hooked them into my house to measure power and control several things.

Then Lowes dropped support for the devices and closed down their cloud offering leaving everyone that depended on that service in the lurch. See why I don't like to rely on cloud services? We've seen this over and over again for the last two decades. You sucker into a service and then they raise the price, lower the capabilities and finally shut it down. That's happening right now with the ring devices. I have one I got simply as a way to watch my driveway for deliveries. Then I got another for a replacement doorbell. They're fun, but require a subscription and an app. 

Ring just announced that they're dropping the Windows 10 App and going to a web site instead. I wonder what they will drop next because they already raised the price on their subscription earlier this year. I really feel sorry for the huge number of people that are subscribing to these services without knowing what will eventually happen. I went in with my eyes open because I wanted to play with the devices, but I fully expect them to be an eventual waste of money.

Back to the Hubitat. This thing worked for the Iris switches I have on the very first try. It was really easy to set up and get going, but it didn't fulfill my needs for monitoring things and storing data long term. No, I didn't hack into it and write code, I didn't need to. The developers made this thing easy to hack into and extend the basic capabilities. They actually encourage this. Yes, you can add source to it and customize the heck out of it, but that will have to wait until I have more time to play with the various nuances of the device. 

I started off simply with an Iris switch I controlled, added a clock because it was cool and then my power usage from my fridge in the kitchen.

I happened to catch the fridge when it was doing nothing, so the low power level. The two switches at the bottom are very inexpensive Zigbee outlet switches that I picked up just to test this out. Here's that device:


Don't let anyone tell you these can't be any good; both of these worked first try and have been working reliably for a few months now. When I first hooked them up, I called them CS1 and CS2 for "Cheap Switch" 1 and 2. They are available all over the web and serve as Zigbee endpoints. They don't route, so they can't extend a network, but there are other ways to do that.

I'm really impressed by the progress home automation has made in the last couple of years. 

I wasn't done though; there was a heck of a lot more to look into and implement. For people that have followed my meandering through various ways of controlling my house you might remember that I measure, present, record and chart things like total house power usage, temperature of each room and major appliance, etc. I don't just turn on a few lights and brag about it, I actually use this data to control power usage and control costs. All that stuff would have to move to the new hub from the raspberry pi network I've implemented over the years.

Darn, this was going to be a huge hunk of work. 




Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hard to believe it's been over a YEAR

Since my last post. Did anyone notice?

I've been heavily involved in local politics in my area for over three years now and it finally came to an end. My side lost.... 

During this time the home automation field exploded. There are things available now for less than $20 that I had to build from whatever was available. Maybey it's time for me to catch up with the world again. So, following the advice of a friend, I bought a Hubitat. "Why that particular hub." you ask? Well, it doesn't require the internet to work; it isn't dependent on some cloud service; and just might fill the bill for home automation out in the sticks where the internet goes away and runs slow. Besides, I don't like the idea of some cloud service having my house data at their disposal.

And, since a subscription isn't needed, it's cheap.

When it arrived from Amazon, it was in a box about 6" square. This thing was tiny. Roughly 2" by 2" and less than an inch tall, it was smaller than a Raspberry Pi and would fit anywhere I wanted to put it. Cool. In the picure below, it's the little thing with the green light.



I stuck it under the TV so I could see the little light from my recliner. 

Now to follow the directions printed in 2 point type on a folded business card to see if the thing worked. It did on the first try. This is the device that took over where Lowe's left off when they dumped the home automation business and I have a few of those early Zigbee devices around the house working (another reason to pick this hub). So, I paired one of them up with the hub, and that also worked first try.At that point I dug into their documentation, created a 'Dashboard', and stuck a 'Tile' on it and tried to turn the Iris switch on remotely. That worked first try!! 

Oh my goodness, I didn't have to hack into it by searching through a hundred pages of documentation and prowling the web for any hint of how to make it work. It just worked. This was going to be fun. 

I hooked the rest of my Iris devices into it and moved much of my lighting controls over to it immediately. This is where the fun begins ....

I had to learn a little about apps, drivers, odd interfaces and an editor that is both brilliant and clumsy at the same time. A "Rule Machine" that (to me) defies logic and menus that go on, literally, for pages and pages. 

But, the device works, it does the job.

Of course, this made my internet (one of the banes of living semi rural) really look bad. The very best I can get with Century Link DSL in my area is 5MB. Yes city dwellers that are hooked to fiber that easily goes a full GB, there are still people suffering along at that speed. Fortunately, we have (finally) other providers now. I chose one called Teknet that uses radios scattered around the area and powered antennas on the roof as my new provider. A bit more expensive, but I could get 30MB out here and that is a darn sight better than the 5 I've been putting up with for well over a decade and a half.

Thus, a new internet provider, a new device, a house that has been running on outdated, but extremely reliable equipment for a very long time would lead me into new adventures that might be fun.

More, and greater details in the days, weeks to come. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Temperature adventures with (RaspPI) ESP32 and MQTT.

 Guest speaker today. Glenn has a farm and has contributed before. Farm automation is especially useful for keeping the work down somewhat and getting information. Here is Glenn's latest project:
---------------------------------------------- 
A while back I began looking at convenient, inexpensive temperature measuring devices. Now the reason behind this is very simple. Going out the back door of our place we have what we call the boot room. We live on a ranch, so needless to say we separate our ‘barn’ clothes from our ‘house’ clothes. The barn clothes hang in the boot room. Well before changing into our barn clothes we would like to know what the exterior temperature is. We don’t have an exterior temperature display near the boot room. Soooo… this is where the ESP32 comes in.

I first started this project as a raspberry pi based project. You see I have a raspberry pi 3 B+ in the horse barn and it measures the temperature of both my workshop and the stall area using DS18B20s. Now just about any of the raspberry pi’s from the 2B on up, or the zero would have worked. The raspberry pi zero W would not have worked in my case here as the device is housed inside a Leviton Structured Wiring panel and there is no wifi within the barn. If you are doing this in a location that has Wifi available then the Pi zero W could certainly fit the bill.

I had adapted code from Dave’s other posts to fulfill the need but that code was originally base on Sqlite and wasn’t feeding to my new MQTT docker container. Time for a change but thanks Dave for the original code!!

This project really contains three parts:
1. Temperature measurement
2. MQTT testing and coding
3. ESP32 implementation.

Temperature measurement.


The DS18B20 is probably the best contribution to the temperature measurement in the history of IoT and home automation. I’m not going to go into depth on this as Dave has several posting on it and they are a wealth of knowledge. These are connected to the raspberry pi as shown in this drawing:
Note: I am only using two Sensors at the moment not the three shown.
Full disclosure here. I am a big fan of Python and Python modules. Have been for a long time. So, when I start a new project I go on a search to see what new modules are out there. I’m an engineer, not a developer. I’m not the guy that writes a lot of code day in and day out.

In this case I came across a module that has really captured my imagination. It is called:
rpi-temperature-mqtt.

It was originally written by a fellow who calls himself HackerCowboy. Here is his Git repository link, https://github.com/hackercowboy/rpi-temperature-mqtt.

I grabbed the code and started playing with it.

First you must install the module onto you device (raspberry pi or ESP32).
pip install rpi-temperature-mqtt

All of the configuration is done in a file you create called config.json. Here is my config.json from the barn:
{
    "mqtt_client_id": "barn",
    "mqtt_host": "10.10.XX.XX",
    "mqtt_port": "1883",
    "wait_update": "60",
    "verbose": "true",
    "sources": [
        {
          "serial": "28-0000055aae0e",
          "topic": "workshop"
        },
         {
           “serial”: “28-0000054de0b5”,
           “topic”: “boxstalls”
          }
      ]
}

As you can see I have two DS18B20s that I am sampling. The code supports multiple devices. The other item of note is that the code provides its own scheduler capability. You set the time period between sampling of the collection of devices with the line:

“wait_update”: “60”,

This says to wait 60 seconds between sampling another set.
It also provides a delay between devices. That line is:

“wait_process”: “10”,

In this case it will wait 10 seconds between samples from the two DS18S20s.
Now to the section labelled “sources”. For each device you will need to add two lines.

“serial”: “your device serial number”,
“topic”: “what you call it in MQTT”

Note that each section must end in a comma after the topic statement. That is except for the last section where the comma is left off.

The other item I use in the config.json file is the verbose option. It lets me see exactly what the module is sending and shows me when the connection is made:

NOTE:

Before you start using rpi-temperature-mqtt you MUST initialize the Device Templates. This is a new change in the later versions of Raspian, etc. If you do not do this rpi-temperature-mqtt WILL NOT WORK. So you must add the following instructions to boot/config.txt

# Add the device tree to initialize w1-gpio.
dtoverlay=w1-gpio

Save it and reboot. If you forget you can manually start it by issuing the command:

sudo dtoverlay w1-gpio

Remember if you don’t do one of these the rpi-thermostat-mqtt code will error and say  it can’t find w1-master…..

MQTTfx:

I use a Ubuntu desktop machine in my lab. As well I have a separate server that runs all my docker containers. So for testing purposes I log into my test device (be they raspiberry pi or ESP320) via SSH and control them.
I found that in order to really see what is going on an MQTT broker monitor is really useful. Enter MQTTfx. This piece of code will run on a variety of platforms and gives you the ability to subscribe to a broker (local or remote) and then publish or subscribe to the topic of interest.

The first thing we need to do is create a connection profile. Select the Broker Status tab. Then from the top Extras tab, edit the connection profile:
  

  
· Enter your new Profile name at the top.
· Enter the ip address of your Broker.
· Enter the port number of your Broker.
· Leave the rest as presented.
· Click Apply, then OK.



You will be returned to the main screen. Now make sure Broker status is selected. From the profile pull down window select your newly created profile and then click on CONNECT:


Once you connect you should see this screen which connects you to the Mosquitto Broker:



Now click on Subscribe.

At this point you need to start the rpi-temperature-mqtt software running on your device by issuing this command:

rpi-temperature-mqtt config.json

Make sure that you do this from the subdirectory that contains config.json.

Now when you switch back to the MQTTfx screen and you select your topic(s) you should see something like this:


Note I’ve selected to view the workshop topic from the pull down. The lower right window displays the last reported value.

Ok, so this post is getting a little long so I’ll end it here. Next we’ll move to the ESP32 and talk about micopython, rpi-temperature-mqtt, and Hazzuh32 (ESP 32) from Adafruit.

Cheers.
Glenn.