Ike’s Lights Part 2 – The sensors and computer hardware

A brief update; my first time making use of CEID!

Good evening, good people.

A brief update on this project to give Ike very accurate lighting and heating conditions.  I spent a good set of hours in the CEID hacker space tonight, working with the fantastic student worker on duty, Stephan.  The mission was multifaceted: 1) get the Raspberry Pi computer connected to the Prototyping Pi Plate (a little shield that sits on top of it and makes accessing the General Purpose Input Output, or GPIO pins, much easier); 2) get a simple LED program working to see if the RasPi could control lights; 3) modify the sensors to have hangers of some sort (with the edge of the vivarium in mind); and 4) depart CEID with an idea of how to properly control the lights’ intensities.

To go in order:

#0: as you will see in the photos, I had started prepping a hacked Kindle to serve as monitor + keyboard for the RasPi, but got stuck most of the way into the process and am unsure why.  Something to get working in the future, for sure, as a self-contained and -powered monitor/keyboard combo like the Kindle will be a boon for developing projects in different places.

#1: with Stephan’s pointers, got all of the pins on the Plate soldered properly in short order.

#2: a simple enough circuit, we found a short guide online to making an LED blink once every second from the terminal in Linux (which is what my RasPi can do).  It works, and Stephan wisely sent me home with additional LEDs for one reason: if I can get the code monitoring the power to the lights working with simple LEDs, I can easily transfer that pattern to the actual heat lamps.

#3: Adafruit turns out to be an awesome company which knows how much people are loving the RasPi development board, and so have all manner of helpful tutorials to get your sensors from them up and running in no time at all – as you’ll see in the photo section, I am currently able to tell it when to monitor for the current temperature and relative humidity (which it does quite accurately).  As with the LEDs –> heat lamps, getting the sensor working one time will be the majority of the difficulties in getting it working multiple times as needed and pushing the data to my website!

#4: finally, though my initial hopes were high (namely, to have the voltages of each light stepped up and down as it got too hot or too cold), I spoke at length with Stephen and realized it would be FAR safer and a great deal easier to just buy a premade device for turning an appliance on or off based on temperature than to try and hack something of my own together.  When 150 watt bulbs are involved, it simply becomes a bit too much of a fire hazard to fiddle around with.  That said, it will be a great deal easier to get this to run properly and debug when it is as simple as “if too hot, turn off” and “if too cold, turn on.”

All told, an extremely successful evening spent at CEID.  Sometime later this week or perhaps next week, I hope to have the whole thing working properly, with data pushed to my website and all!


And of course, what would a project posted here be without the requisite gallery of associated build photos:

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Surviving the Cancer Star’s assault via The Basement

The Old Foe

There comes a time in each person’s life when they must face the difficult facts.  Specifically, that although the sun warms our planet and makes life possible, it is actually the Oldest Foe we have; even its title of “sun” is merely malignant trickery, as it was originally called the “Cancer Star” by those it oppressed.

When one lives in an old house like mine, where the insulation isn’t done properly and 95% of the windows don’t open (far too old, and mostly painted over multiple times… not that they have any screens in them, anyways), it can be rather hot and unpleasant.  As means of evidence, this past week had daytime temperature highs of 95 and 96 degrees; at 7:30am, it was 86 degrees on the first floor of my house.  As such, it is often not especially pleasant to sit and melt in the heat, and so we escape to the basement.  Thus we have determined a series of tricks to make living in a non-central-AC household in the summer livable, shared here for your enjoyment and improved-cooling purposes:

Tricks for escaping the heat

1) work in an air-conditioned office 40 hours a week, like me
2) if you walk home from work like I do, consider investing in a synthetic towel for your neck; not only does it protect you from sunburn, the material is designed to seriously ramp up the effects of evaporative cooling so that the walk is rather pleasant!
3) if you have a basement [and particularly if it is decked-out for gaming like ours is], bring a fan downstairs to start the air circulating and run a dehumidifier during the day; seeing as air conditioners partially function anyways due to being dehumidifiers, you’ll reduce mustiness and mildew in your basement while essentially making it 10-15 degrees cooler than the air outside.  This summer has been, and will be, the Season of the Basement Socializing for our household.
4) the back of your neck is actually one of the primary places that your body uses to determine the ambient temperature; this means that having an ice pack on your neck for ~10 minutes can seriously trick your body into feeling cooled off for a good set of hours
5) another hack for your body’s physiology in the summer is to eat really spicy food; just as eating ice cream in the winter lowers your body temperature and makes you feel less cold, spicing up your diet will render you feeling less warm in the heat (ever wonder why the hot-as-hell Vietnam has such spicy food?)
6) consider investing in a window AC unit and a cheap timer for your bedroom, so it starts cooling slightly before your arrival; you won’t have to pay to cool the room all day long and yet still have a survivable environment on those killer hot days

There are many more tricks out there, but these are some of the most effective for us.  As per ever, enjoy the photos of random (yet related) things:


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Many Bothans died to bring us this billiards table.

After many, many moons of waiting, hinting, and hoping, I am extremely pleased to report that my basement now features a custom-modified and -repaired billiards table, complete with cues, pool balls, chalk, &c.  I am very excited to say that the basement WILL be finished further over the course of June and July (drywall, actual ceilings, redoing the heat ducts), but for now we have essentially reached critical mass.

As some of you may want to know, there is a story behind this now-glorious billiards delight-engine:

The Situation as it came unto us

As this blog has previously chronicled, I have put a great deal of work into my current house to improve it and repair it, which is a pastime I enjoy.  The landlord, Whitney, was so pleased A few weeks ago, I walked downstairs to check out the dehumidifier we run constantly; lo and behold, as Whitney had generally mentioned but never gave a specific date for, there was a pool table leaning against the back wall of the basement.  As we had examined it more closely, we realized that 1) there were no legs attached; and 2) the places where legs WERE once attached were actually rather damaged.  As a matter of fact, there was a noticeable drought of billiards table legs in the whole of our basement.  We were a bit baffled, but figured there was some sort of story, and were simply excited to have the pool table in the house!

Catching up with Whitney later, I found out that the pool table was at his folks place, and they told the moving guys “oh, we’re not taking this with us” meaning to imply “so put it upstairs but off to the side.”  Unfortunately, the moving guys took that to mean “the pool table is trash” and so instead of checking to see if the pool table had easily-detachable legs (which it did), they tore the legs right off and put the table out in the yard.  Thankfully, they didn’t scratch the felt or anything.  At first, Whitney was extremely mad when it looked like they junked it entirely; luckily, it was still in a repairable condition.

Planning and effecting repairs

Thusly armed with a billiards table of high levels of joy-production but dangerously low levels of legs and usability, I had to figure out how to go about making legs.  My initial plan was to do simple 4×4 wooden posts as legs, with a crossbeam between each pair.  Each crossbeam would then be braced with an angled piece up to the middle of the bottom of the table itself.  Ryan’s dad visited last week, and he had an excellent idea – it would be a lot easier, if not more expensive slightly, to try and buy replacement metal folding legs for a table and attach them to the table.   This would also have the benefit of allowing us to store the table out of the way when we needed more basement space!

We bought the parts we would need for the plan (we thought), and then put the project aside until last night.  At that point, I started measuring components and quickly realized a couple of vital details: the initial plan hadn’t figured on the offset nature of the folding legs (so we didn’t have enough 2×4’s); the particle board table that was damaged by the prior leg-removal needed a lot more shoring-up than we initially realized; and the screws initially purchased wouldn’t be the right length to account for the additional structural bracing I would put together.  As such, we made a second run to Loews, and got the parts we needed.  Basically, the new legs were atop 1) small blocks shoring up the particle board; into which 2) we screwed the two long 2×4’s which run the length of the table; these provided the support for 3) the 4 2×4’s that would be the bases for the metal folding legs; and 5) the metal folding legs themselves went on last.

Come on by and shoot some pool, folks.  I almost forgot how much I love playing.

The written story is through; enjoy the brief photo gallery, compliments of Ryan’s phone:


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FINISHED the basement (until this summer’s Ceiling Installation Adventure!)

As the parenthetical aspect of this post’s title admits, there will be a follow-up post in several months, when the landlord and I put in a full ceiling and thus actually have a fully-finished (and gorgeous, I might add) basement.  That said, I am too excited at this moment to NOT post this, and consider it a major milestone in the process of making the space from a health hazard into a mental-health-bolstering (as my landlord excitedly put it) gamer’s heaven.  Yes, you read that correctly: the (not so) secret objective all along has been to have a large space in the house dedicated to relaxing and enjoying one’s self, and to be able to entertain guests.  What kind(s) of game(s), you might ask?  The beauty of a such a large space is that we will have all kinds.  The board games I have posted about before are the root cause of the basement; one quarter of it is dedicated for board and card games (be they a specific game, or poker!).  Towards this end, you’ll see a broken table our landlord got for us turn into a repaired and rejuvenated gaming table in the photo section.  We are also going to put up a dart board on one side of the basement.  There will be a couple of futons (both a place to sit and talk, as well as guest sleeping options), and some chairs.  My mini-fridge will provide cold drinks/snacks without having to venture upstairs.  There are even strong rumors of something very, very big making its way into the other larger open space of the basement.  My roommate Ryan and I have a plan about naming and theming the basement along the lines of its intended purpose as well as based on our home improvement’ing experiences, but that will be for the upcoming ‘Furnishing the Basement’ post to reveal.  All said and done, I am extremely pleased to have had the chance to do this project over the past several months: given that I paid $0 (the landlord payed for all of it, in lieu of getting a rent reduction), I got a whole bunch of extra exercise and the satisfaction of making such large positive changes to the house, and the fact that we’re getting 25% more useable house for the same amount of rent, methinks this investment of time and time (a good portion of which was spent getting to know and befriend Ryan, one of my best friends in New Haven at this point) was very well worth it!

Be forewarned that there are a large number of photographs in this section, but it is due to the final basement push including a LOT of different tasks!  It is fantastic to be at such a late stage in the project that each and every task shows noticeable improvement.  I hope you enjoy these as much as I do!


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2012, Anno Basement Finishi (almost)

A much-anticipated, VERY noticeable set of changes to the Basement, Chez Mike/Ryan/Shawn

To the folks who have been keeping up with the (mis-)adventures of Mission: ‘Turn this house’s basement into something useable that ISN’T a health risk’, this post will basically showcase a completely unrecognizable room from the start.  To the folks checking this out for the first time, I suggest taking a look at previous entries in the Home Improvement category I do on this blog, to have a comparative look.  Hell, I don’t even believe its the same room myself, and I have done a lot of the work.

Prior to showing you the money, as they say (though I don’t know who “they” are, nor how they distribute their ideas so anonymously), a quick written explanation.  The past two days of work centered around a few major goals.  First, finishing the upgrades/improvements to the heating system downstairs (replace ancient uninsulated metal pipes that hung low and bashed heads with me a lot with well-insulated flexible tubing); second, fixing the ceiling in the stairwell down from the first floor so it is paintable and presentable; third, painting the entire floor in 2 portions, as well as the stone staircase to the cellar doors; fourth, paint most of the new internal wooden door to the stairs out the back; and finally prep as much as possible for the remaining painting (the metal exterior cellar doors, the interior wooden staircase, and the stairwell after the spackle dries).  A whirlwind pair of workdays means that all of those goals were accomplished, and the prep work is done so that the remaining areas needing painting can be done in one fell swoop.  Though the idealized goal was to completely finish this basement before classes begin (on Monday), it looks like the basement-finishing will be done by the end of the week, and hopefully the basement-furnishing (a game table suitable for poker, board and card games with several chairs; another futon and maybe an easy chair for the sitting area) will be done before the month is out.  Ryan and I are excited to be able to show the place off, so stop by if you’re in the area.

I also just scored 3 extra Mike Points for using the word “spackle.”


As insinuated above, but for added emphasis: this post is basically a testament to the awe-inspiring power of a simple coat of new paint.

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Finishing the basement #3: THE WALL-PAINTING IS DONE!

Short and Sweet

As this section header suggests, the written potion of this blog post is going to pull off both a short and sweet flavor in the same scrumptious bite. This is mostly due to my feeling sick (and progressively more so since this past Thursday), and also due to a nasty (but entirely predicted) confluence of deadlines and work-expectations this coming week.  In short, after a series of work days (many more than 3; the titles of these basement-related posts often compress several days of effort together), we have finally finished all of the water-sealing of the walls for the basement in our home.  Next up: after we discuss the specifics with the owners of the house, we are going to also paint the floor of the basement (as well as continue to repair the wholes and divots in it).  All told, a busy month, but a HIGHLY productive one on the Winchester House improvement front.

VITALLY IMPORTANT STATISTIC: it took 16 gallons of Drylok to water-seal the walls of our house’s basement (The More You Know!).

SPOILER ALERT: Ryan and I have pretty much settled on a theme for our basement.  Stay tuned to learn and (eventually) see more!


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Finishing the Basement, Round 2

The day’s work

After several days of rain here in New Haven, yesterday ended up be a sunny, nice, Saturday.  This had one major side effect: it was now possible to open the cellar doors to the basement in order to let some air in, and also enabled us to move the remainder of the garbage, tools, and furniture out of the basement at my house to one of two locations: for storage in the unused basement of another house Whitney the landlord owns, or to the junk pile in our yard, due to the furniture being ruined by mold and water damage.  We spent a good set of hours slowly but surely moving the majority of the crap to the junk pile, and while it was great to not have rain, it was also very warm down in the basement.  Though we have fans down there, the outlet had been blown last Saturday when Tom attempted to saw in half that metal oil tank, so we had to replace that too (and also added an outlet to the other side of the basement, which is quite useful).  Additionally, we added another light fixture to that back and newly-cleared corner of the basement; in essence, all of the work done was to enable Ryan and I to be able to go down there at any time to water seal the walls in the coming days.  All in all, a very successful (albeit tiring) day!

Photos of the build

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