Archive for category The Home Front

Using the Pi as an aquarium pump controller

Just a short post to follow up on the how-to Raspberry Pi post. I went into detail on how to get one going, but I never really said what I was doing with the thing. So, in case anyone is curious:

First I installed all the software I wanted. I set the Pi up as a headless (no monitor, keyboard or mouse) network-controlled computer. I installed a wifi dongle so it became a headless, wireless network-controlled computer. And then…
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Review: E-Flite Blade 350 QX Quadcopter

The Blade 350 QX quadcopter is an almost-perfect example of its class. Three flight modes provide almost the perfect range from well behaved and safe to crazily agreeable to any insane set of control inputs you supply.

Blade 350 QX

Blade 350 QX

It is light, provides a reasonable flight time with the supplied battery, and you’re pretty well guaranteed to have more fun than you expect fooling around with it.

But that’s not all. The 350 is powerful enough, and stable enough, to carry a Go Pro camera and take awesome HD movies and stills from the air. You can spin the quadcopter in place and create a fabulous pan, or fly right up to something you otherwise can’t get to and take a closeup. Or just fly around and take a look at the countryside.

Everything you need is supplied in the package; the quadcopter, the hand controller, batteries, a charger (12 vdc… meant to hook to your car’s electrical system so you can recharge in the field), and you even get a set of extra blades. Which you are unlikely to need if you are even just a little bit careful. The manual is a little dense, and because of that you’ll have to read it carefully, but everything you need to know is actually in there within twelve pages.
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But mom…


When I was a young fellow, I lived in a fine house on a gentle hillside in Pennsylvania. We had a barn, about a hundred feet away, which had an upstairs, where we parked the car; a loft, where we kept some ducks; and on the reverse side of the barn, downhill, an entrance to its basement, as it were, where we kept various things such as the lawnmower, the odd length of lumber and so forth. In between the house and the barn was gentle hillside, carefully mowed, bordered with forsythia and pussy-willow, which flattened out into a 3/4 acre lawn. Altogether a lovely and pastoral place to grow up.

One summer evening, my mother asked me to fetch something from the bottom of the barn. It may have been a gallon of paint; I vaguely remember something like that. Anyway, I shook my head emphatically, no! I was young enough, or she was gentle-hearted enough, so that the response wasn’t getting boxed about the ears (which, IMHO, would have been the right response) but instead, an inquiry as to why not.

I told her, earnestly: “I might get struck by lightning bugs!”

She laughed, and to tell the truth, I don’t know if she made me complete that errand, or not. What I do know is that it cemented my memory of those little flashers — and her merry laugh — permanently.

That house — and the yard, and the hillside — is still (barely) under my family’s control. The federal government took it in a land grab for the Tock’s Island dam project, a project they failed to complete, although they certainly ruined a lot of people’s lives and homes in the process. But my mother, being pretty darned sharp, negotiated a deal with the feds that she could stay there, and the house around her, until or unless the water actually was going to rise. She guessed right, and that never happened.

So I have occasion to visit the place. One of the things that saddens me when I visit is that the fireflies (lightning bugs) are gone. Where once they turned the yard into an amazing display that looked like a thousand fairies dancing, now there is just darkness.

The town (Milford, Pennsylvania) has grown into an over-crowded, over-taxed, over-illuminated tourist trap. I suspect that has something to do with it. Perhaps the overuse of insecticides played a part as well. All I know for sure, though, is that place is significantly diminished by the lack of fireflies.

At least I have my memories. Not so much for kids who grow up in the area now.

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Python, TkInter, OSX (OS X) and making it all behave

I use Python a lot. Python 2.5.1 to be specific. And inside Python is TkInter, which, with a little work, will give you a handy way to put a GUI together. But there are problems. To say that TkInter is poorly supported and poorly documented under OSX is to understate the case rather dramatically. So you’re left to Google for answers, and mostly, they aren’t to be found — or if they are, they aren’t obvious or easily found. So I’m going to provide some answers here that have taken me quite some time to collect, and hopefully keyword and title them so that a Google search will actually get you to the solution you need sooner rather than as much later as it did me!
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Starting Out – priorities and pratfalls

It occurred to me in a moment of introspection that I, probably like many others, had my priorities set entirely wrong when I populated my very first apartment with… well, with stuff. And later on, my first home. If I knew then, what I know now. Sigh. Well, can’t fix that, but I can sure issue some good advice that others can benefit from if they so choose.
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September Surprises

modemYesterday began with a nice surprise — it snowed here. Outside temp was 35 degrees, and it melted (here) when it hit the ground, but snow it was.

Even The Media Noticed

Then, at about 5pm Friday afternoon, our DSL modem flaked; indicators looked good, and it was in pass-through so normally it doesn’t really do much, but oh man, was the network hammered.
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The iPad – Not perfect. Here’s why.

In and amongst the fevered pro-iPad ravings today, I thought I’d throw a bit of a wrench in the works, as I’m not of the opinion that the thing is all it could have been. Mind you, I’m definitely pro-iPad, I think it’s a great device, I just think it could have been a lot better.

With that in mind, here are some things I really think can be done better:
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Looking for some good TV?

Broadcast television is, in my opinion, kind of like the badlands of North Dakota. Occasionally pretty to look at, absolutely treacherous to wander around in, and the source of nothing of concrete value whatsoever.

Having said that, I have found the following efforts, uniformly produced by non-broadcast concerns, to be well worth the watching. In no particular order:

  • The Sopranos
  • Firefly (sadly, an incomplete series)
  • Weeds
  • Dexter
  • The Daily Show
  • Six Feet Under
  • Enterprise

That’s pretty much it. Just thought I’d drop this as heads-up for anyone who wasn’t aware of one or more of those shows; I’ve really enjoyed them, and so has Deb.

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