Stop with all the unnecessary lights!

Constellations Everything is turned off but… My fridge glows, my Stove glows, my TV glows, my hard drive glows, my bathroom outlet glows.  Everything glows.  This bombardment of light, from all the different things in my house, I’ve started to call it a constellation – my personal constellation.  It is light pollution people!  These products suck.  When they are OFF they should be invisible and silent in every way.  Sony thank you but a red led light on my TV or PS3 does nothing for me when your devices are supposed to be OFF.  The only godsend I’ve encountered is Tivo’s ability to select how annoying or not you want the LEDs to be (and very much OFF is an option).  All off THANK YOU!  The basic hard drive green flashing light is ill conceived when you can’t turn it OFF!  Who cares if the hard drive on a computer is doing stuff.  Really.  YOU don’t.

Yes I have a significant investment in BLACK tape to cover these things up.  I question this however from the simple perspective of perfection.  WWSJD!  What Would Steve Jobs Do!

Do you GET IT NOW!  We are subjected to these ever increasing constellations of light and they are all 100% unnecessary in our lives.  Unless I install a night light in a room – when the lights are off and the Sun is down – it should be DARK.

Do something like post this to FaceBook and ask all your friends to re-post it.  Personal constellations are not the where we need to be headed.

ConstallationsMr. McYork.

Your kids will love you this summer

There is a program in place that can help you and I get kids excited about Making.  Buy your kids a subscription to Make Magazine, via our link, and this summer there will be great projects you’ll find they are inspired by.  If you use our link here to buy your 1 year subscription 50% of that will be available to McYork to spend on electronic bits and bytes. These will ALL be given to kids and people who show an interest in electronics or projects that will incorporate them.  Use it or lose it rules apply – so the recipients of the parts will need to express what they plan to do with the various parts and show us the project working by summer’s end (we love youtube for that part).  If you and your kids build the fun projets in Make Magazine we’d also love to hear from you and or watch your youtube video of the fun you had.

https://readerservices.makezine.com/MK/Subscribe.aspx?PC=MK&PK=2B79Z82

The keyboard helper

I was talking with a friend who has a big problem.  His son can’t use a keyboard but loves to play computer games.  He can only use a mouse and only with his right hand.  He has very limited abilities in his left.  It became clear after our conversation that if we put our heads together we could make something that might enable him to play the different computer games with more ease and enjoyment.

New video link added at the end of this posting.

We imagined a joy stick that could be used to maybe send different keystrokes to the keyboard via some device.  I took this problem home and below is what became “the keyboard helper”.

KeyHelper1

The Leonardo has a great capability; It can emulate a keyboard and mouse.  Using this as the core of the new device I tested a number of code snippets   I was able to send words and keystrokes to Notepad, what fun!  The next thing was to read analog ports connected to a joystick.  There are a ton of examples on the web, I got this running quickly.  To wire up the joystick I needed to tie in some resistors.  I’ll try to explain why they are in the circuit later.  The last part was to add an LCD display for some visual feedback.  I thought it would be important and we found out after the fact that it ended up having a very different function than what I had first envisioned.  LCD displays can be hooked up in a few different ways the most common are parallel (all pins) or via some type of intermediate device that you to talk to via a serial or i2c interface.  I had an i2c to LCD kit from an old project and decided to re-use this (the link is to a more recent iteration).  The LCD display itself was pulled out of an old PBX phone, it had some odd pinouts but normal LCDs you find on the web will be simple to wire up.

On a 2 hr flight I crafted most of my notes on how I felt the “system” would work.

KeyHelper5

I’d present a grid on the 2 line display of the characters Q W E R.

________Q__W______

________E__R_______

Something like the above. When you tell the LCD to use a blinking cursor and then move to a position over top of a letter – it looks selected.  By moving the cursor over each letter as the joy stick moves – you can see what letter is available to be typed to the computer.  Great visual feedback.  In the above diagram suppose Q is high lighted.  The movement UP or LEFT on the joy stick would then send the letter Q to the keyboard.  A movement DOWN would select E but not send E.  Once on E a movement LEFT or DOWN would send E to the keyboard.  Scroll to the letter needed then move -off- the screen to send it to the computer.

KeyHelper6

That’s how the 1.0 version functioned. There was some immediate feedback as the game being played changed.  It would be preferred to hold the key down and not just type one letter.  Selecting the letters became less critical as now it was a matter of just holding down the key and there were only 4 to send.  Here is the resulting logic main loop of the program that shows this modified approach.

void loop()
{
 center = 1; 
 up = map(analogRead(0),0,1023,0,1);    // Q MoveTo(0,9); 
 left = map(analogRead(1),0,1023,0,1);  // E MoveTo(1,9); 
 down = map(analogRead(2),0,1023,0,1);  // R MoveTo(1,11);
 right = map(analogRead(3),0,1023,0,1); // W MoveTo(0,11);

 if (up) {
 Keyboard.press('q');
 MoveTo(0,9);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (left) {
 Keyboard.press('e');
 MoveTo(1,9); 
 center = 0;
 }
 if (down) {
 Keyboard.press('r');
 MoveTo(1,11);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (right) {
 Keyboard.press('w');
 MoveTo(0,11);
 center = 0;
 }
 if (center) {
 Keyboard.releaseAll();
 MoveTo(0,0);
 }
}

The letters are now being sent as lower case. What’s nice about this approach is the MAP function.  It has a lot of uses.  Here it converts the range 0 to 1023 into the range 0 to 1.  This enables the code to read both momentary switch type joysticks or analog potentiometer joy sticks (we’ve used both in our prototypes).

Mental Note: if two states are on at the same time does the keyboard function send both or does the last one sent win?  Think moving on a diagonal in a game and how the code above may or may not enable this.

I am working on a wiring diagram it is going to be a while until I either build a second version or I can borrow back the one I’ve built for a day to recall the exact details.  Like I said above - examples for each element of this are easy to find on the web – you should not have much trouble.

A working version of the code (assuming you use the right pins with your LCD and such) is here.  As my LCD and I2C are probably different from yours – there will need to be some adjustments in the commands sent to the LCD (maybe).

I liked this project for a number of reasons.

  1. Jerry is a much happier camper now. UPDATE BELOW
  2. I had no idea how great that would make me feel.
  3. Game control is vastly improved.
  4. The project was small in scope and I was clear on the goal.

Thank you for reading.  There is not too much more to say about this project at this time.  It will be a while but the circuit will be doodled up some day.

Go make stuff.

The LCD took on an unexpected use:  It happens that the joystick needs to be positioned just right.  Exactly right.  Such that the limited motion of the left hand can move in the 4 directions.  It takes some time to get this center point just right.  The LCD will be highlighting the direction of the “problem” and my friend can use this as visual feedback until he gets both the joystick and hand centered.

UPDATE. The fine film crew at work put together this video of the project’s impact.

 

 

 

Chip programmer with a twist

I am working on 1000 projects all the time.  You may already know that of me.  This one will be a fun adventure.  I’ve started by shrimping.it this is a site where they show you how to build a bare bones Arduino.  I went and ordered the part for 4 kits via the electronics seller http://www.taydaelectronics.com/ it was under $30 for all the parts I needed.  I did not get boards as I plan to design my own at a later phase. Shrimp + SPI to 8 pin chip  Here’s the shrimp built with an 8 pin chip holder where it can be used to program the little chip.  This is an Atmel ATTiny 85 ready to be programed.

Now the hard part.  Let’s say I want to program a lot of these little chips.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the Arduino held in memory all the code and capabilities to program the chip without an attached USB link to a computer?  That’s goal #2.

random blickers

Here is an ATTiny 85 running code that was pushed through the Arduino in the traditional manner (Goal #1).  What I like about the Tiny line of chips is there is little to no supporting hardware required to have them run.  This makes them a lot of fun for all kinds of little builds.  They will even run off three or 4 AAA batteries and for quite some time.

I’ll tell you the future – it’s a no brainer

Today I thought of EvRA; “Electric Vehicle Range Anxiety”.  I made this up (maybe someone else has already). Honestly I had this on day one.  The very first day.  It did continue to linger for a while but it never seems to really enter my thoughts now.  What was it like way back in the day when there was no such thing as a Gas station.  I guess you could always get a tow from a horse right?  Those crazy horseless carriages! Well it’s not so crazy anymore.  We have electricity in more places than we have cell phone service.  Think about it.  We have electricity in many more places than we have gas stations.

Ok allright – you still need to plan your day or your trip if you will be exceeding your range. Charging an EV takes time [but maybe not - keep reading].  Some are not yet suitable for long trips at all.  We know this, it’s not a surprise to anyone.  If you only drive on a road trip once in a while you can borrow or rent a vehicle with a greater range – someday a larger electric and for now probably a gas or hybrid vehicle.  I don’t see the big deal.  If your driving habits don’t fit within the range or time paramaters that an electric vehicle can offer then you are not in a position to find them very practical at this time.  That’s a no brainer choice today.

What about a two car family  Here the second car could easily be a gas, hybrid or some longer range variation.  I am not a huge fan of this suggestion but it will help increase the EV population and there was probably two cars in the driveway already anyhow (in such situations).  [full disclosure - no I did not sell my other car when I bought the EV and we don't have a hybrid either.  Three cars, with the two gas ones mostly unused - I can sleep at night.]

Charge iT!

Tesla is building a future.  The one where the time to charge is very much a practical rest stop on a long trip.  They’ve produced a car that does not really need a charge up durring the day (for most people’s habits).  The supercharger stations take care of the long haul trips.  If they execute on plan the entire populated region of the US will probably be available to you without EvRA.  Others are trying to take EvRA completely out of the equation too.  I just can’t get enough of this company and how it is executing on an amazing promise – unlimited range: http://www.betterplace.com/How-it-Works/switchable-batteries.  My only wish is that an American car company would step up to the plate here (Ford are you listening?).  It looks in the pictures like the battery _may_ be or I hope becomes swappable.  These are non conflicting ideas – fast charging and battery swapping.

Some day, in the future, you will find it more and more difficult to find a gas station.  At some point long distance trips in a gas car will require a significant amount of planning.

Some day, in the future, the same EV I have today will get a new battery with 4x the range it has today.

Someday in the future you will find this blog posting and sigh “those were the days of gas cars kids”.

Kabam Acquires Exploding Barrel Games, Build Outs Presence In Vancouver

Exploding Barrel Games1778

Kabam, a midcore mobile and social developer that ended last year with about $160 million in revenue, just bought Exploding Barrel Games and is expanding its presence out in the Vancouver area. The terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

via [TechCrunch](http://techcrunch.com/2013/01/15/kabam-exploding-barrel-games/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+Techcrunch+%28TechCrunch%29)

Current electric highway

(puns are fun) This is a google map showing the current super charging stations. From this alone you should be able to get to any destination within 100 Miles of any of these locations and do so without any range anxiety. If your final destination has charging options then you can be comfortable within 200 miles of any of these locations. If you look into public charging stations you can probably cross the country in any direction. By 2015 the Tesla stations should enable cross country trips with ease. I am going to get to know california then the country.

If you are listening Tesla – Phoenix next; I have travel plans and a place to stay all ready to execute.

View Larger Map

http://www.teslamotors.com/supercharger

The Tesla Model S charge port, juice er up fella!

Charge It!A mini fact:  So far the average charge time for the car has been about 2 hours for a normal day to work and back.  If I drive more conservatively some day perhaps that time will come down (unlikely any time soon).  In the photo the surface that looks like a button is indeed one.  When you push this the little flap, that is part of the running lights, pops open.  Push the plug into the car and the green ring will light up.  Pulsing slowly or quickly depending upon the current battery level.  Press the button again to pull out the plug.  All of that will only work if you have the key fob with you.  I tried to remove the plug when the key fob was in the house and it would not unlock / come out.  Also the car can detect the plug is in and will not let you drive off.  Good thing for those (not yet fully) caffeinated early morning departures.  I am not keen to look at the PG&E bill but will do so shortly to see how we are doing in that regard.

On a slightly different note today all driving about has been electric.  A gas free day today.  I’ll maybe start tracking the car and bike usage (all cars and bikes).  When the cars are used to do anything that counts and if the bikes are used to do anything useful other than exercise that will count.  In a gas free world I’d take my electric bike to work while the rest of the day’s outings would be in the Tesla.  A fully electric day.  Half and half would be we use 1 gas and one electric.  Full gas would be we used no electric.  There will be the odd day we don’t go any place at all.  I should probably track this in a Google sheet.

Lastly will be doing the daily cash costs of gas vs electric from the simple fueling only perspective.  I am certain if I use all the gas items from the CC bills over the last year and the electric bills there should be some way to see how much money shifted to electric and if there is any savings at this level.  That’s data collection so some day soon again.

Tesla Model S is here.

The Tesla Model S is a thrill to drive.  I love speed and acceleration so it is a good fit.  To say it has all the features of an electric car sells it short.  It has all the features of any car you’d ever really want.  It just happens to be electric.  A few posts will be here over time about the car and when there is interesting developments but otherwise expect the hardware and geekery that’s considered normal.

Today I drive the car to work for the first time.  My impression of the car, dark in the garage, fully charged, was one of latent power.  For an odd reason I perceive it as asleep and not off.  Odd that I perceived anything of this nature in fact.

First hours of ownership, why not drive the coast for a while.

First hours of ownership, why not drive the coast for a while.

Hi ho hi ho.

Blinking LEDs with a 556 timer chip (beyond the basics)

This is not a how to. I am learning in broad daylight how to do this.  You are welcome to watch. Not sure how this will go but using Upverter to design this simple circuit seemed like one way to go about it. The goal is to use a 556 timer and a limited number of additional parts. Learning electronics and the tool both at the same time may be a mistake – I am aiming for a wonderful mistake :)