Built Myself a Footstool

2015-01-26 22:09 - Making

My final plans, based on the material available.

This weekend I made myself a footstool. I started from these plans I found online, though I couldn't find any attribution for them. I especially like that it looks nice enough, but leaves the feet right out by the outer edge, making it quite sturdy. Then I customized based on the material available. There was a nice wide board in my Mom's scrap pile, but it was covered in some old blotchy white paint. More on that later.

The legs The legs cut out. Traced a bucket for the cutout on the legs. Cut the legs

I started by marking out the three pieces. The top was just a rectangle, and the two legs each were trapezoids. With them marked out correctly they were both cut on the table saw. One of them had a bit of a flaw, but that area was soon to come out. I marked the round cutout with a bucket, and then cut it out with a jigsaw.

The top has rounded corners, a convenient bottle was traced for the radius. All three pieces after routing a roundover on all the outer edges. It took some careful planning to get the angles for the joint correct. When I cut them by hand they fit great!

The next step was a lot of sanding to strip the paint off. It didn't all come off: the knots grabbed the paint tight, and some low spots had extra paint that sanding couldn't remove. Close enough, and much better, though. I don't plan for it to be very visible under my desk. The corners of the top were rounded off with the jigsaw, a handy can on the workbench was a nice size to trace. With that done they all got a pass on the router for a round over of the outer edges.

Then I had to cut the joining slots in the legs. At just the right angle. After some sketching and practice aligning scrap pieces, I realized that the cuts had to be complementary parallelograms. And if I crossed the opposite corners of those, I get the center point, which should line up with the center point of the leg pieces. Easy peasy! I had to cut those slots by hand so they came out just a tad rough, but worked just great after a little filing to clean up the edges.

Laying out the legs, on the top upside down. No fasteners, just glue, clamped overnight. The final product.

With the legs lined up they were laid out to be even on the top, upside down. Then I used glue, no nails, no screws, and clamped it overnight. Voila! Some spots of paint remain, but it's going to live under my desk so that's not a big deal. It turned out almost exactly as I planned, but a bit too tall perhaps. I basically just used the board available as it was, but I probably should have cut it down by an inch or so. Either way it serves its purpose well enough!

nesRF Working End-to-End

2015-01-17 17:51 - Making

Tada! It works. Almost the only thing left to do is manufacture the PCBs, then assemble!

The Final (?) nesRF Prototype

2015-01-14 19:51 - Making

Adding SMD chips into my nesRF breadboard prototype.

Today the second, and hopefully last, batch of components arrived from DigiKey. I combined some of those with the SMD breakout boards I ordered earlier. I'm pointing at one of them there, mostly for scale. You can clearly see the board that I'm pointing at. You'll have to squint, and probably open the full size image, to see the chip on that board. On the left there is the 2.5 volt regulator, and the other on the right is the battery charging chip.

It was medium-good experience soldering them on there, which I did completely by hand. And not perfectly, but I already learned a bit that will make handling the final board better. Now that I've got the exact chips I plan to use set up here, I can test that they really do what I want them to. And now that I'm set up this far, I realize I didn't leave any room on the board to arrange the buttons! I need those to do the next test! If it's not one thing it's another, but the light at the end of the tunnel is definitely coming into view.


nesRF PCB Prototype

2015-01-08 21:31 - Making

The first laser-cut plastic PCB prototype.

Today I made a simple prototype for the physical layout of the PCBs for my nesRF project. Just plastic, laser cut. Here's a picture of the one that goes in the controller, with a couple components also resting in their place. This was a great exercise. The receiver board was just fine, but this one had a few adjustments to make to it which were so much more obvious when in place like this. The button needs to move a bit to avoid the mounting post just next to it (in the other side of the case). And a cut-out of the PCB where the button cap goes will make it more likely to operate smoothly. A couple of the mounting holes were very tight, so they've been expanded. And I was able to check again that all the buttons line up with their openings.

nesRF Receiver Prototype A

2015-01-03 12:36 - Making

One sacrificial (already broken) controller was used to break out the connector pins.

I took a break over the holidays, traveling to my Mom's place without any of my nesRF project work with me. This weekend I'm back home, and working on it again. The first step was breaking out the controller pins so I could hook up to them. I had an existing sacrificial SNES controller. It arrived pretty damaged already when I bought it, used. It's been open for some time to do measurements, and now its connector is also proving useful. I attached breadboard-suitable wires to each and prepared to hook it up.

An Arduino Uno board hooked up as a virtual SNES controller.

And here it is, hooked up. The good news is that it's basically working. Interrupts completely drive the output data pin from the input latch and clock pins. And I can successfully send button presses to the console. Right now, I am using the Arduino's serial port to send the data in, rather than the wireless input which will finally be used. I've got a confusing off-by-one error to solve(when I try to send a Down I get an Up, and so on) but the concept has been proven to generally be sound!


Early Designs: Wireless Retrofit for NES and SNES controllers

2014-12-07 19:46 - Making

I learned about a fancy chip called the nRF24L01 a while back. It packages up all the hard work involved in wireless data transmission into one simple chip. And it's available online for quite cheap. I've also got a great collection of video game consoles. Most of them either came with wireless controllers by default, or it's easy to find aftermarket controllers that add wireless support. Not so for the original Nintendo console. Which set me down a bit of a path.

My first proof-of-concept, with two nRF24L01 chips each hooked up to an Arduino. I got some of those chips and hooked them up. Actually, I got what turned out to be some cheap knockoffs, which didn't work, first. But the second set I tried (ten for $5!) worked great. They were only sitting a couple inches apart, but I could reliably send data from one to the other, and observe the acknowledgement sent in reply. Overall, that was the easy part. I have to decide exactly how to read which buttons are pressed, plus when and how to transmit that data wirelessly to the receiver half, but there's plenty of good options to choose from, and software is easy to fix. What I really want is a good wireless controller that will work for the original NES. One for the Super Nintendo wouldn't be bad either. Turns out the controllers are almost identical (besides of course the extra buttons), so if I want I can make one SNES controller that will work (with the right receiver) on either console. So that's my goal.


The schematic for my design, so far. The PCB for my design, so far.

This weekend I've been working on the more complicated bit: the circuit. I've used Eagle once before. I put a few hours into the schematic before I tried to turn it into a PCB layout and realized that I want to make something about 13x5 centimeters, but the free version of that paid program is limited to 10x8. Too small! So this time I tried KiCad a similar, but open source and thus not limited, program. The picture above left is the schematic. The giant yellow box is the Atmel ATMega328 micro controller, above it two connectors (one for the nRF chip, the other a programming header), to the right all the buttons of the controller, and the rest is the power circuitry including an illuminated pushbutton switch to control power and display status. On the right is the PCB holding all of those. Credits to Andy Goetz who did the hard work of getting the outside cut edge to lay out the correct way for a very similar project. (Though I had to post-process his work a bit to import it, plus that's his most recent post and it's over two years old, so I wonder if he finished?)

I've still got a ton of work ahead. I want to be really sure that all this is right before I send it out to be made. It will cost in the range of $50 to make the PCBs, which I don't want to waste. Not to mention triple checking that all the parts really fit where I've put them, I especially need to double check the battery charging circuitry. Don't want to blow up a battery and ruin all this hard work!

Resolving hostid mismatch with ZFS

2014-11-29 18:59 - Linux

All of my ZFS-using Linux machines have recently started spewing ZFS status errors:

$ sudo zpool status
  pool: rpool
 state: ONLINE
status: Mismatch between pool hostid and system hostid on imported pool.
        This pool was previously imported into a system with a different hostid,
        and then was verbatim imported into this system.
action: Export this pool on all systems on which it is imported.
        Then import it to correct the mismatch.
   see: http://zfsonlinux.org/msg/ZFS-8000-EY
  scan: scrub repaired 0 in 0h30m with 0 errors on Sat Nov 29 04:51:59 2014
config:
...

Critically, it causes various cron jobs to send mail (with this error) which were previously silent. So what's going on? What I know for certain is I can:

# dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/stdout bs=1 count=4 > /etc/hostid
# hexdump /etc/hostid
0000000 9872 1823
0000004
# hostid
18239872

This is running booted into a fully operational system. Notice the byte ordering! The contents of the file are in network (big endian) order. If I regenerate the initramfs after filling this file:

# xzcat /boot/initramfs | cpio -id
# hexdump ./etc/hostid
0000000 2318 7298
0000004

The hostid file in the initramfs does not match the input file from /etc/, due to genkernel's mangling of the hostid value. So you can't generate a host ID that way. Unless you work around that problem by copying the hostid file out of the initramfs into your live system! Once the files match, zpool status will no longer complain.

My Hand Made Video Game Frame

2014-10-26 19:32 - Making

The huge lot of Japanese Super Famicom games that I started with. A while back I got a giant lot of one hundred cartridges for the Japanese game console Super Famicom. I wanted quite a few of them, some for collecting, some to play. (They work in a standard Super Nintendo, with just some small modification to make them fit.) But the rest had less of a purpose. But I noticed that the labels were colorful and fanciful, especially the ones with little to no English on them. I decided to treat them like art.

The router table was an invaluable tool. A router with table, $50 from CraigsList, was necessary to make this project work. The plan was for a lot of long dado grooves for the cartridges to fit in.

The first test to verify that the groove idea worked. The first step, with some scrap wood, proved the idea. I put some grooves in the scrap pieces (cut to size) and clamped them down at the proper spacing. It worked!

Clamping the rails together to sand them to identical length. So next I cut out all the horizontal rails to the proper length. By hand, so they weren't perfect. Next, clamp them together and sand the ends to make them exactly the same length.

The first step done, the rails have their grooves routed in. Then the rails were routed. Pro tip: set the proper depth of material to keep, then route the same piece from both sides. The groove ends up perfectly centered.

Here's the trick: grooves of different depths, shallow on bottom, hold the cartridges in, but lifting into the top groove leaves enough space to tilt them in/out. Here's the routed rails again, from their ends. Notice that each rail has one shallow groove, and one deep groove. Again, the shallow groove goes on the bottom. The deep groove goes on top, spaced to leave just more empty space than the bottom groove. When the cartridge is lifted, it's now out of the bottom groove and can tilt out.

Next step: dry fit. The sides were cut with dados to accept the horizontal rails. (This was hard, I screwed up the first one, but thankfully had enough spare material left.) Time to do a dry fit.

The dry fit showed a tiny gap around one rail that didn't fit.  Rearranging the rails made things perfect. The first dry fit works quite well. There's a little gap where one rail doesn't fit in, but rearranging which rails go into which slots made everything line up perfectly.

So of course, glue and clamp. Next step: put on some glue, then with the clamps! It sat like this overnight to make absolutely sure the glue was set.

After the glue dried, sand all the joints smooth.  Especially the very ends were left a bit proud on purpose, expecting this. Next morning, remove the clamps and give the joints a light sanding, so they are all smooth. Especially the ends of the vertical parts, they started a bit proud on purpose, because it was much easier to just sand afterwards than to get them exactly right!

All finished, cartridges inserted and on display! And there it is! A nice wooden frame to display some quirky Japanese video games!


It's 2014 and I Have a Huge New TV

2014-10-08 21:04 - General

Look at my new TV!  I

In December 2008 I bought a 60 inch DLP television and I've been using it happily for the intervening (nearly) six years. I use my television nearly every day, so it's one of the things I'm comfortable splurging on now and again. Some time ago as I was assembling my video game and console collection, I got a receiver that was not only capable of hooking them all up (with help), but displaying all the outputs through a single HDMI cable. Specifically to leave this option open: some of those consoles' best output is S-Video, but new TVs don't have S-Video inputs.

I've been keeping an eye on the market for some time, but didn't jump. I've got an array of cabinets around the TV, which you can see behind me in the picture, storing all my A/V components, game consoles, and games. It leaves 40 inches of vertical space between the two horizontal parts. The 60 inch DLP TV consumed most of that space, with a large bezel along the bottom. Newer flat panel TVs have small bezels on all edges, so a bigger TV will fit. The biggest size that will fit is 75 inches, and that's what I've just bought. It's 38 inches top-to-bottom, filling just about all of those 40 available. (Ok, there are some rare 77 inch TVs, but those are crazy expensive, they don't count.)

Setting it up was a whole story to itself. It arrived on Monday. The delivery guy called only that morning to announce that he'd arrive between 2PM and 4PM. Lucky I've got a workplace that will let me just skip out on the afternoon and work from home a bit. Then, of course, he was late and didn't arrive until nearly 6PM. I spent the next several hours installing the wall mount (it's 41 inches with the stand, so I can't use that!) and then hanging the TV onto the mount. Which was quite a challenge on my own. Then my stomach sank as I pushed the articulating mount back towards the wall and the TV bumped into the lower set of cabinets. I measured something wrong. I was instantly convinced I had to drill new holes in the wall, which I dreaded.

As I started to fall into despair, I realized that I was in fact not lost. The wall mount is flexible, designed to work with several sizes of TV. I can remove the bracket from the TV, slide it a bit, and re-mount the TV at a different height! I gave that a shot on my own, but it was a bad idea. I managed, barely, to get it further up just enough to fit in the space originally intended, but hard down against the cabinets, and very precariously mounted at best. The cherry on top: The mounting bracket blocks the power cable, which was not plugged in! Even if I had positioned it perfectly, I still needed to take it back down to get the power cable in, then the mount reattached over the plug. (Which was a 90 degree connector, seemingly predicting this problem.)

I begged for help and the following day my friend Zack visited. With a second pair of hands it was straightforward to remove the TV, without letting it fall. Then adjust the mount and ... I don't have nearly the play I hoped I would. The choices are limited by the position of the structural parts of the mounting plate, plus a rear bezel that flares out. I can move it only a bit, then I have to go so far to jump over the structural parts of the mount that it hits the flare and doesn't fit anymore. Oh no!

I think for a minute but see no way out, so I re-install the mount, in a position that will put the TV as high as possible, while still attaching securely. We hang it back in place and it just fits! I'd greatly prefer it to be centered vertically, which is around only half an inch higher. But it is in place now and it fits. Hurrah!

The two of us grab dinner and sit down to a movie to celebrate. By dumb luck, I pick a movie that was not saved properly. The whole thing is terribly dark and I worry for almost two hours that something about the TV is broken. Eventually I find out that the problem is really the movie that we happened to pick. Such a roller coaster!

But that's not all! I've got a "smart" power strip. I plug the TV into its control outlet, then the rest of the outlets switch automatically on (and off!) with the TV. This means all the power bricks and other bits of my game console collection are not wasting power all day and night long, when I couldn't possibly be using them (because the TV isn't even on). The new TV is too power efficient! Each time the display fades to black (or even simply some dark scenes) the power consumption drops too low and the strip is convinced the TV is off and powers everything down. Then right back on with a brighter scene. The resulting power ripple causes the receiver to lose sync, and the picture and audio flicker. Augh!

But finally, skipping that "smart" strip, picking well formatted content to display, and setting all kinds of settings, the TV is installed, and working great. It's been quite a ride these past couple days.