Archive for October, 2007

1 out of 6

Posted by Nate in Beer, Friends, Projects.
Thursday, October 25th, 2007 at 10:45 pm


1753050100_da87f898d8_b.jpgThat’s how I did in the beer identification last night at Town Hall’s Beerlympics: 1 correct answer out of 6 beers.  What.  The.  Hell.  I don’t know, I’m still trying to come up with an excuse.  Terrible.  The winner got just three, and I think he got the two I was pretty sure about but got the name wrong on one and sort of got mislead by the Belgian 1752233207_c893d2934e_o.jpgyeast in the other.  Talking to the brewer afterwards he said it was the same yeast as the one I guessed, and hell, it tasted the same to me.  Then there’s one I really have no excuse for, should have nailed it, which would have given me 4!  But did I get 4?  No.  Guess I’ll just have to go to Town Hall more this year to "practice".  :)

1753081206_81ef634ffd_o.jpgWe got third place overall, though!  Cody was DQed in the chugging cause he has a leaky mouth – they thought he dribbled too much, even though it was just a few drops.  Boo.  He had the fastest time, too…  Scott was amazing in the quarter bounce – he found his rhythm and I think had 10 in a row at one point!

1752310521_1cf0212e93_o.jpgBut I have to find a new word to describe the awe in which I now hold the eating machine named Peter: 5 brats in 5 minutes.  I’m talking big, greasy brats and buns, none of this little hot dog stuff.  Unreal.  I’m wishing someone had a video phone and I could go find a clip on Youtube of him tearing his shirt off after brat #3.  Oh, my.  First place in the brat eating contest!!

In other news:

  • The wakeup system is moving along nicely.  I found a way to remove the optical sensor piece and am instead monitoring the voltage directly, which gives me a much more reliable (and faster) way to sense when the alarm is going off.  We’ve had it in our room this last week with just a few LED lights instead of the final fixture (the kit for that dimmer just arrived yesterday), and it’s been working pretty well.  I think it will be better once it’s generating more light, and once I stop waking up early every morning wondering if it’s going off soon.  Should be fully operational by next week when I’ll try to document it better!
  • This is probably officially the latest in the year I’ve been continuously biking to work, and it rules.  There were a ton of birds singing yesterday along the Greenway, the weather’s been chilly gorgeous, and I even saw a deer last week!  I’m feeling more and more confident that if the route is ridable the cold is something I can handle with good gear.  And my definition of "ridable" is getting broader, so here’s hoping for a good winter of bike commuting!

1753155212_db8bb5ebd6_o.jpg That’s all for now!  Karen and Cody and I are heading to Chicago this weekend for a halloween party, should be a blast!

(sorry, I don’t know what sort of gang sign I was going for there, but it just looks like I’m hugging myself…)

[All photos courtesy of Peter's Flickr page]

Wake Up! (prototype)

Posted by Nate in Projects.
Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 2:42 pm


Argh!  So close!  Last night was the first night I tried to test the new wakeup system (it feels weird to call it an alarm, but wakeup system is too long..?) and it went pretty well – until morning, that is.  Then, as planned, there were birds twittering nicely, but the room remained sadly dark.  And, totally ruining the intended effect, I was thinking about it all night and kept waking up to see what time it was and when it was supposed to go off!

bpict0002.JPGSo, clearly not working yet.  Let’s back up…  I ended up with a Sony ICF-CD815 Dream Machine CD / radio alarm clock, a nice looking unit with dual alarms.  I can imagine a scenario where one of us has to get up at some terrible hour, and can use one built-in alarm, leaving the second one to trigger the system later for a gentle wakeup.

pict0001.JPGSpeaking of "trigger the system", that’s where my troubles began:  I needed a way to tell the Arduino that the alarm was going off.  I had toyed with the idea of watching voltage across the CD motor, etc, but ruled this out because we’d never be able to play CDs in the room without starting up the light dimmer!  After pulling apart and testing everything I could think to test with just bpict0003.JPGa multimeter (if I keep doing this I’m getting an oscilloscope), I decided to tie into the LED for Alarm A.  By attaching my own light here, I could create a signal outside the clock that I hoped I could detect with the Arduino.

It wasn’t that easy.  The light can be either solid on or solid off depending on if the alarm is set or not, and it goes to a "flashing" state when the alarm is actually going off.  Hmm.  I wrote and tested numerous versions of code to watch for resistance changes in a light-sensitive resistor, and went to bed believing I had it nailed.

blinking.jpg

The complication lies in the poor sampling ability of the resistor (that pulse line above is actually pretty wavy) and the timing issue of the blinks: no matter what I tried, the code would sometimes miss a blink, and decide the alarm was over.  What I ended up doing was keeping track of the last 8 samples and counting state changes.  If I could say that the light "changed" (beyond a certain threshold) at least 3 times out of 8, it was "blinking".  This leads to a little bit of lag – 8 samples takes about 5 seconds – but it seems to be working.

bpict0008.JPG… of course, I didn’t get that sample size right until too late.  This morning some combination of being in the dark and possibly a loose connector left the whole thing inoperable.  Dag.  Always tomorrow morning, I guess!

At right: the little guy making it all happen.  (The Arduino board is actually under the piece you can see.)  The three clear LEDs are for temporary lighting, the red one represents the furnace until I run that wire, and the buzzer is for the backup alarm.  That blue-tape-wrapped thingy on the top is the Alarm A LED glued to a photoresistor for sample the alarm light.  Once I get it finalized I’ll put it all on a new circuit board and in a nice box.  Also still waiting for the final dimmer kit to arrive…  Fun!

(oh, and there’s an output pin standing by to fire the coffee pot in version 2…  :)

Party at Town Hall, Raffle fundraiser!

Posted by Nate in Friends, Wedding.
Friday, October 19th, 2007 at 1:45 pm


img_5916.jpgFirst, Eric posted some wedding pictures to his flickr page, including what might be the best dance picture ever.  Also here’s a link to Freddie’s pictures from the weekend, check them out if you haven’t already.

Second, time for a long-overdue post about the party and fundraiser at Town Hall!  Karen had this img_5940.jpggreat idea about wanting to be able to wear her wedding dress for other occasions, and after a little dye-job by yours truly, it ended up being absolutely gorgeous!  Most importantly, it matched the dress that Ophelia was wearing…

We had decided to have a rafflimg_5929.jpge for fabulous prizes and send the money via SMA to help our friend Alfreda with her schooling in Ghana.  Steve helped get some pictures for the poster, and Alfreda had time to email us a nice letter that we incorporated.  It came out very slick looking and the raffle was a great success!

img_5930.jpgWe posed for a picture for Alfreda and Samuel: lookin’ good…

pict0095.JPGFabulous prizes!

img_5984.jpgYou can see how excited everyone was with their winnings – and for a great cause!

img_5980.jpgMadeline can’t believe their luck – or was it rigged??

pict0098.JPG… after all, that’s their baby picking the winning tickets!!  Hmm…

(Official disclaimer: Baby Francis was an unwitting participant in the alleged "rigging".  As in most child cases, the blame lies with the parents.)

img_5966.jpgNate and Joe compare beards.  I think he’s winning, but it’s close.

All told, a great party!  It was wonderful to see so many friends we weren’t able to squeeze in on the North Shore, and celebrate in a more informal environment.

Stay tuned for more Town Hall pics next week as Nate, Cody, Peter, and Scott prepare to enter the Beerlympics!!

Time for a project!

Posted by Nate in Ideas, Projects.
Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 at 6:06 pm


I’m sure you’ve all experienced this: waking a half-hour before your alarm, alert and ready, but decided to sleep the extra half hour.  When the alarm goes off you find yourself back in REM sleep and can barely open your eyes.  Or, like this morning for me, the heat comes on and the temperature change causes you to wake up too early.

Ever since moving north, I’ve been looking for an answer to waking up in the dark and trying to convince my body it’s actually time to get up.  Last fall I researched a number of products, include the DayBreak Duo Sunrise Simulator, the Soleil Sun Alarm, and the Progression Wake Up Clock.  They all look intriguing but are either pricey, ugly, or both, and none offer the full set of features I’m dreaming of.  Recently my coworker pointed me to an article about a guy using an Arduino to control the temperature in his kegerator, and it got me thinking…

The human body responds to light and heat to come out of deep sleep and into an alert waking state.  Surely there’s a way to combine all of these into a cohesive and natural wakeup system??

Wish List

  • must be easy to set the alarm, no tricky knobs or interface
  • has to fade a light on over an adjustable period of time
  • must have an option for external lights
  • play birdsong and morning sounds, also faded in
  • have an actual "alarm" sound if not deactivated
  • flash lights if not deactivated
  • tie into the thermostat to bring the heat on
    • must be separate from the programmable thermostat so we can adjust the wakeup time without reprogramming
  • has to make me coffee!

wakeup_system.jpgMy current plan is to find a cheapish CD player alarm clock, and hack the guts of it to find a way to tell the controller the alarm is "on", or going off.  This may end up being the hardest part of the project, but I’m hoping that with the CD circuitry there will be a pretty obvious change I can monitor, maybe voltage across the motor?

Once the controller goes into an alarm state and the CD starts playing, it will start looping:

  1. The CD player will be playing either a blank CD or birdsongs or whatever
  2. Arduino loop:
    1. fade the light up a bit
    2. check the room temperature and fire the furnace if needed
      1. some timer here to make sure we don’t call for heat too often
    3. exit the loop if the alarm is turned off or times out
  3. If the alarm is still on after X minutes (we’re not awake)
    1. flash the lights
    2. the CD will switch to an actual loud alarm sound or song

I put the coffee maker in there as a joke, but it’s totally possible – who knows, maybe I’ll include it!

Watch this space for updates – I’ve ordered the Arduino and a dimmer kit, with any luck I’ll have something hacked together by next week!