Saturday, June 29, 2013

How to use the SteelSeries Gauges with the Xively API

Over the last months I've gotten compliments and questions on how I created the SteelSeries gauges and how I hooked them to the Xively (pachube -> cosm -> Xively) API.  First, let me give credit where credit is due.  I didn't create the SteelSeries gauges, Gerrit Grunwald did.  He has a great blog here <link> where he describes the various displays he's created.  I stumbled across them a while back and hooked them into my Xively data feed to display the last updates so I would have a nice display of current power usage and temperature.  They worked really well and look great.

It took a little work to get them going, but it was well worth it.  Basically, I query Xively for the last value, then give it to the gauge to display.  Here's the current (a minute ago) temperature at my house in the Arizona, USA desert.

Edit: This used to be a live gauge, but I replaced it with a picture.

So, the source to do this looks like this:

<title>Dave Testing</title>
<body onload=init()>
<canvas id=gaugeCanvas width=200 height=200>No canvas in your browser...sorry...</canvas>
function init()
// Initialzing gauge
    tempGauge = new steelseries.Radial('gaugeCanvas', {
             gaugeType: steelseries.GaugeType.TYPE4,
                  size: 200,
                  frameDesign: steelseries.FrameDesign.BRASS,
 knobStyle: steelseries.KnobStyle.BRASS,
         pointerType: steelseries.PointerType.TYPE6,
         lcdDecimals: 0,
                  section: null,
                  area: null,
                  titleString: 'Outside Temp',
                  unitString: '°F',
                  threshold: 100,
                  lcdVisible: true

  // Start the gauge update
            var site = "";
//alert('going for ' + site);
    type: 'GET',
    url: site,
    dataType: 'json',
cache: false,
data: {},
processData: true,
    async: false, // you have to have this so the data will arrive before display
    success: function(data_archive) {
  //alert("the url returned success");
//alert("got back " + data_archive.datastreams[0].current_value);
error: function(a){
//alert("here I am in the error routine");
//alert('after the get');
}, 10000);

<script type="text/javascript" src=""></script>
<script type=text/javascript src=></script>
<script type=text/javascript src=></script>

There's too much up there to try and explain each item; this blog post would go on forever.  However, there's lots of documentation on the web that can explain what I did and the SteelSeries library has enough in it to get you started there.

Good luck and have fun with it.  I'll be showing how I use the Google Graph API in an upcoming post as well.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Back to the Swimming Pool Acid Pump

A couple of folk have sent me notes pointing out that I have spent more money and time on the Acid Pump <link> than is justified.  They're right.  Totally, absolutely right.  That doesn't change the fact that I'm going to continue this project until I finally get a nice working device that maintains the Ph of my pool with minimal human intervention.  Yes, it's cost me more time than just pouring acid from a jug into the pool every few days and more money than many, many gallon jugs of acid.  But that's not the point to automating a house.

The latest problem is a failed check valve.  Originally, I had a problem finding a check valve that was acid resistant and had a pipe fitting on one end and a tubing barb on the other.  I finally got one from the people that supply the pump I'm currently using.  It has been in service for the last year and did a good job.  However, when I replaced the tubing as part of my twice yearly maintenance, the valve stuck and wouldn't open.  I had a spare and installed it to get things going but I wanted to know what went wrong.  This is the valve I'm talking about:

 Notice that the two ends seem to be removable.  Turns out they are.  That's how this manufacturer designed maximum versatility into the device.  You can specify the end pieces to any configuration you need (within reason).  That way special purpose valves can easily be created.  So, being the curious monkey I am, I took it apart to see what was wrong:
Notice it's a basic ball valve complete with a spring that is a simple effective design.  What happened in this case was the black seal failed in the acid and the black debris in the picture is parts of it that plugged up the ball mechanism.  The material is Viton, which has a high resistance to acid, but apparently, not enough for prolonged exposure in the hot desert sun.  Not a big problem, just keep a couple on hand and replace them each year to be sure they hold up over time. I can live with that since every other valve I tried died in less than a month.

The problem came when I tried to get a replacement.  There were lots of them out there in the marketplace, but suppliers wanted between $17 and $50 for these little plastic parts.  Frankly, that ridiculous.  I called the manufacturer and asked for advice.  A nice lady there found me the industrial number of the same device and a supplier of their valves in Colorado that I could call.  I called him and ordered six of them because that's all he had in stock.  The cost was $8.60 each, and the shipping was around $10.  Quite a savings going the industrial part route instead of a swimming pool repair part.  Especially since the swimming pool suppliers wanted from $15 to $18 for shipping and handling to get them to me.

Basically, I got six of the valves for the price of one of them as a swimming pool repair part.  That makes treating it as an expendable part reasonable.  So, now each year I replace the tubing with tubing I get from Home Depot, a piece of Tygon tubing that I order in five foot lengths, and a check valve I buy from this supplier.  Sure, that's a bunch of stuff to remember, but just write down in a book somewhere the part numbers and suppliers and there shouldn't be any problem, and I won't have to pay more than twice what it's worth.

When I get the new ones in I may sacrifice one of them to see what the Viton seal looks like and how it fits in place.  It may be possible to get a Viton seal and just replace it as a maintenance part.  There are places out there that make Viton and even Teflon seals and washers; it could be possible to build up a replacement that will last even longer, or be easily repaired.

I'm starting to understand why so many people buy from Chinese suppliers.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Power Washer - Frustration in Action

I've talked to my various neighbors and some other folks around my parts about power washers and they all agree, unless you get an expensive commercial or prosumer version, they fall apart too easily.  All but one of my neighbors have trouble with the basic consumer models for a number of reasons.  1. the stupid bayonet fittings wear out and start to leak.  2. hose connection to the washer leaks.  3. leave them out in the desert sun and the plastic lances get brittle and break.  4. the plastic nozzles wear out in a few months.  5. Hoses are stiff and hard to use.  We all like the electric models because of the small engine problems.  If you don't use a gasoline engine often, they develop problems and won't work when you need them.  Electric washers just work and give little trouble with the motor and pump.

Even with all the disadvantages, the $100 price tag (on sale) makes them too attractive to turn down if you need one, and in the desert with limited water, you need one.  For the past years I've bought one every two years because of the various problems.  Then I decided to just replace the various parts as they broke to see if it would save money.  It didn't.

The replacement lances don't fit well and fall apart faster than the factory original.  Even if you change brands, they are pure junk and work until you get about half way through a job then fall apart.  I had one turbo nozzle replacement blow apart the first time I turned the washer on.  Basically, the various manufacturers supply shoddy devices.

Notice how I keep running into this?  I know I'm not alone, but many people just put up with it or give up and hunt for some other solution to whatever device fails them.

I decided to see if I could overcome this problem.  Since most of the problems are with the lances and nozzles, suppose I got a good lance and put it on the washer?  The good lances are metal (brass and stainless), cost about the same as the factory replacement plastic, and are tough as nails.  So, after much research, I discovered that most power washers have a common fitting: an M22 female.  That means I can get a hose, pressure trigger (the gun part), extension and nozzle to replace the junk the manufacturers provide.  Since the lance and hose will last essentially forever, I should be able to move it from one washer to another as I wear the motors and pumps out.  The motors and pumps are too expensive to replace, cheaper to buy a new washer on sale and toss the old one; along with the junk plastic bayonet connected lances.  Here's the lance that blew apart the first time I tried it:
There are screw fittings on each end of the extension that you screw one of the various adapters on to match your existing pressure trigger and the turbo nozzle (big thing in the picture) screws into the other end.  In my experience, each connection leaked.  Yes, all of them.  The threads are plastic and not cast well so they leak a small amount, and the bayonet fittings almost match the device, but the small difference causes leaks.  When I put it together and attached it to my washer, the entire front of the turbo nozzle blew off across the yard.  Clearly, this device is not made to be used, just sold to unsuspecting folk like me.  And, no, it isn't because my power washer is to strong for this tool; I currently have a Powerwasher Weekender (google it) that I picked up for less than $100 at Home Depot on sale and it only gets up to around 1800 pounds on a good day.  Its one of those low pressure machines for consumer use.  Ever notice how they call us consumers?  It's like we don't contribute to society at all; we're just here to buy their somewhat inferior devices.  

A little searching on line and talking to a guy that has a huge commercial power washer, I thought I had a solution.  I'd buy a mid grade setup for everything from the connection on the washer to the nozzle on the end.  Then over time I may change the washer several times, but the hose, lance, and nozzle would work for many years.
This is the hose, pressure trigger, and extension.  Notice that the extension is stainless and has brass fittings on each end; they won't die in the sun or break if you drop them.  The pressure trigger (gun looking thing) is stainless and brass inside with a heavy plastic covering to keep hot water from burning you.  The hose has M22 fittings on both ends that mate to both the pressure trigger and the washer.  The really cool thing is that the extension has a 1/4 inch quick connect fitting on one end so nozzles can be changed easily.  That means I can get something like this:
These have various spray widths, from a stream (the red one) up to a nice wide fan.  No, I didn't have something like this before; isn't it great that now I can?  These have 1/4 quick connect fittings so they can be changed easily depending on what I want to do and can handle exceptionally heavy use.  Now, all I need is a good turbo nozzle for those hard to wash things like wheels and muddy bumpers on Jeeps.
This is the turbo nozzle I chose.  It is brass with a tough plastic covering to protect whatever you bump it into when working with it.  Notice the 1/4 inch quick connect?  Easy to change like the other nozzles.  Now, just because it would be really cool, I wanted some way to inject detergent into the high pressure spray so I could actually clean something.  It would also be good for bleach mixtures to clean off the mold from fences and maybe some other chemicals that might be useful.

This is a soap injector nozzle.  You drop one end in a soap bucket and put the other one on the end of the extension (yes, it has 1/4 inch quick connect fittings).  Using this you can wash away grease from your tractor transmission to find that stupid oil leak that's been bugging you for years.

So, everything except the turbo nozzle and the soap injector came in and I couldn't wait to try it out.  I assembled the hose, pressure trigger, and a fan nozzle and hooked it up to the little Powerwasher Weekender I have and away I went.


Right where the M22 fitting entered the power washer, there was a constant stream of water that caused the washer to cycle.  This was really annoying, so I put the old hose back and it didn't leak.  Fine, what the heck is different?  It seems that the Powerwasher output fitting is .05 bigger than the specs for an M22 fitting.  This means that the thing will leak just enough to drive you nuts over time.  Since the M22 fitting has an o-ring to seal it, maybe if I changed the o-ring?  Nope, that didn't work, it was just too small, it would take a special o-ring that had a larger outside diameter while maintaining the internal size.  I could spend a month trying to find one and probably order a dozen wrong ones first or figure out something else.

I tried wrapping the male M22 fitting with teflon tape, but that was a waste of time because it just leaked around the tape.  I though about dragging out the epoxy and stuffing it full to seal it, but that would defeat the purpose I set out for.  I finally beat it a few minutes ago with a really simple trick.  The M22 fitting looks like this:
Notice the o-ring around the center?  That's the o-ring that I thought about changing to make it work, but I wanted to try something.  I took the o-ring out and wrapped teflon tape around the slot where the o-ring sets making it a little larger.  The idea is to stretch the o-ring out and  make it seal the fitting that is too large on the  Powerwasher Weekender that I have.  When I put the o-ring back on and greased it with a little o-ring lube that I keep around for the pool and acid pump, it was definitely larger.  I wiggled it a bit and made it fit into the fitting and tightened down the plastic covered nut.  It worked.  Full pressure and no leaks at all; I can drag it around the yard and bang it and it does fine.  You folks reading this, try this the next time you need a new o-ring but don't want to go to the store right now to get one; this little trick could hold you for several days until you can get a new one.  Obviously, some engineer decided that he would design a fitting that was almost to spec, but enough off to force us to buy a new washer because we couldn't make it work.  This kind of crap is what industry standards are designed to prevent.  But, we're just 'consumers' we don't count.

So, now I have a hose and lance assembly that I can change tips on easily, inject detergent, and turbo wash to my heart's content.  Even after the Powerwasher company put a non-standard fitting on their product just to mess up people that want to do what I did.

Take THAT Powerwasher.