snow-blower-01

Let me tell you about my history with snowblowers… Around 2000 I got a used snowblower from a rummage sale. It was corded, but I had extension cords, so I wasn’t too worried. The seller let me plug it in and test it. It worked! and it was like $15 so I got it.

The first time I tried to use it I went out to the garage, tried to fire it up, and it wouldn’t run. Dead. I took it in the house to work on it in the basement, and no luck. I let it sit in the basement, went outside and shoveled for hours, and tried it later in the day (still in the basement) and it worked fine! After much investigation I discovered it didn’t work well in cold weather. Yeah, a snowblower that didn’t like the cold. I kept it in the basement and used it occasionally but to be honest it was small and under-powered, and I got sick of extension cords.

Fast forward to 2013, new house, new places to blow snow away from, including the section between the garage and the alley, and part of the alley. My family has a way of saving old things, even when they get a new one, so someone got a new snowblower and gave me the old one, which was a monster of a blower that my grandfather used to own. This one too, sucked instead of blowed. It was gas powered, but had an electric start, and despite being a large metal beast, seemed to die a lot in heavy snowfall. It also didn’t like to start. And worst of all, I had to pull my car out of the garage just to get it out of the garage. I gave it away last year…

snow-blower-02

So instead of using a 20 or 30 year old snowblower that uses gas, and oil, and filters, and all the things I hate, I got an electric snowblower that uses a 40 volt Lithium battery. Battery technology has improved tremendously over the past decades and if I can avoid gas engines and extension cords, I’m all for it.

We now have a G-MAX 40V 20-Inch Cordless Brushless Snow Thrower. I got to use it today and it worked. Cutting the first path took a bit of time, but with a 20 to 40 percent step-over, it did a good job with 15 centimeters of snow. The 4 amp-hour batter was enough to do the sidewalk and most of my two neighbor’s sidewalks, but it ran out of juice before I could do the alley, so I went in the house, charged it to about half-charge while I had breakfast, then did the alley.

I should note that I specifically wanted a “small” blower, and the 20″ model allows me to maneuver it around the cars in the garage with ease. This means I don’t have to move a car into the snow covered alley to clean the alley. It’s a win in my book. It’s also mostly plastic so it’s easy to lift if I do have to carry it, which came in handy getting down the steps to the sidewalk.

This is not a blower that will have you powering through deep snow at a fast walking pace, you’re going slow, or your knocking your step-over rate down quite a bit after the first path, but for the size of it, that’s understandable. I don’t have a 50 foot driveway or the space for a large monster blower, so I’m happy with what we’ve got now… it’s better than shoveling, because to be honest, I’m gettin’ too old for that shit.

I’ll probably get another 4 amp-hour battery, just so I don’t have to recharge mid-job, and with two spare 40 volt batteries in the summer, I may see if I can run my 36 volt Neuton lawn mower with them as well.

eeepc-raspbian

Back in 2007 I got an Asus Eee PC, one of the fist netbooks, which were tiny laptops that (typically) ran Linux. It served me well for quite a while and I eventually turned it into the controller for my RepRap.

After I had it for a year or so my wife’s old laptop died and we were looking for a (cheap) replacement, and by that time you could get netbooks that ran Windows. Granted, it was Windows XP, but hey, it was over a decade ago. She used it for a few years until I got her a (used/cheap) MacBook Air and her old Eee PC 901 sat in my office doing nothing.

In the most recent cleaning fit I found it and was about to drop a lightweight Linux onto it (probably
Lubuntu or Xubuntu, which I’ve used in the past) but then I remembered there was a Raspbian Pixel distro for Intel machines (aka “Mac and Windows” computers) so I burned a disk, booted it up, and it was like the old days of install Linux on dodgy hardware! Manual disk partitioning, errors, multiple tries, but in the end, it worked!

So I’ve now got a laptop running Raspbian Linux. And since it’s old hardware it probably runs at a speed close to a modern-day Raspberry Pi, but has a built-in screen, keyboard, trackpad, speakers, etc. It’s like a portable Pi. (Sort of.) The one tricky thing is that when installing software you need to grab the Intel version, not the ARM version… but other than that, it’s like a Pi without the GPIO stuff. I can see it being useful for developing and testing things in a Pi-like environment with Raspbian. Maybe I’ll use it for something.

I decided that in 2019 I would dive into Python. I’ve used Python before, but I’m not at the level I want to be with it. I’ve developed a comfort with Perl over the last 20+ years, and it’s lived up to the name of “Swiss army knife” or “Swiss army chainsaw” of scripting languages. I’m sure I’ve written hundreds (thousands?) of Perl scripts to get things done over the years.

Python has been a bit different. I nearly jumped into Python in my former career when we were about to embrace Zope, but that didn’t happen, so I didn’t really get into Python. I started using Python a lot more seriously when I realized that support for Python on the Raspberry Pi was pushing way ahead of Perl on the platform. Add to that the stuff happening with CircuitPython and it’s the direction I want to go.

So let’s get started! First of all, I had to get Python3 installed, as Mac OS X ships with an older version. This is similar to how things worked with Perl, so I got Homebrew running, got Python3 and PIP working, and started writing some Python.

I also found Mu, a simple Python editor for beginner programmers (probably through Adafruit) and it seemed like a nice little editor to experiment with, and worked with CircuitPython.

python-001

I should note that learning a new (computer) language is probably easier now than it was 25 years ago. I remember printing out documentation and reading through it, highlighting things to try when I got in front of a computer. Twenty-five years ago I didn’t have a laptop or an always-on Internet connection, and the resources were not quite as abundant. Anyway. I wrote some code!

Above is a simple Python script to list every file in a folder. This is (or should be) dead simple and is needed in many scripts. When I ran it in Mu, it showed some output, but not all of the output I expected. I ran it again, and it showed something different. I ran it again, and got output I did not expect.

python-002

So I did what anyone who knows the command line would do, and ran the script there. It worked as expected. Perhaps it’s a bug in Mu? I searched the issues in github, and did some Google searches, and didn’t find anything. Weird. I liked Mu and didn’t want to abandon it, as I want to use it with CircuitPython, but is there some weird buffering bug?

I remembered that one of the most amazing things about when I first started using Perl was how fast it was. At least compared to AppleScript or UserTalk at the time. Maybe I’m going to fast…

python-003

I added one line to slow things down. I know that in other Python scripts I’ve used or written in the past few years that time.sleep was often used. Adding in a slight delay made the expected output get outputted. Weird. Whatever. Now I know… I guess?

When I started with Perl I wrote a bunch of simple scripts to learn the language. (I’ve done this with Processing, Arduino, and other languages/environments.) When I learned how arrays worked in Perl I wrote a script named “array.pl” and kept it around as an example. Same with “hash.pl” and “time.pl” and so on. As I was learning things I’d reference these files to get a quick look at how a function worked.

python-004

I wrote a script named “random.py” and it was dead simple, with just 3 lines, and the first line didn’t really do anything but I’m in the habit of using shebang lines because I’ve been around the *nix block a few dozen times. So really, two lines, and import and a print.

python-005

When I tried to run a Python script just slightly more complex than “Hello World” I got an error… Python nerds may have figured out what went wrong at this point.

python-006

Just for fun I dropped the code into Mu and tried to run it… of course you have to save your script before you can run it so… Ahhh, I guess I cannot name my script after an internal function/file that Python uses. At this point I’m just angry, and disappointed that now I have to somehow know what is and is not an acceptable filename for a Python script. I’m sure in the future I’ll name one wrong and it won’t work and I’ll spend more time than I should trying to remember this. (Hopefully I’ll find this blog post.)

python-007

I changed the name to random-test.py and it worked fine. Damn you, Python! But I remain undeterred, and I plan to continue on with Python. In fact, all of the stuff above is part of replacing an old Perl script I had running on Raspbian to be written in Python. So… progress! Welcome to 2019, Python.

mms-collateral-4934

Billy, one of the new Board Members at Milwaukee Makerspace, was interested in having some letterhead made up so he could solicit donations in a more professional manner, so I designed a letterhead and also made up new cards while I was at it.

mms-collateral-4923

In case you didn’t know, I actually have a degree in Graphic Design. I don’t do a lot of “classic” graphic design for print, and most of my design work nowadays is in developing products and projects and physical things. Still, it was fun to do a little design work.

card-generic

Here’s the front of our “generic” card which we hand out to anyone, at events, etc. Basic info about the space. I brought back our old “Conceive, Collaborate, Create!” motto. (Weird spacing at the top is due to issues.)

card-back

On the back I added the part about being open on Tuesdays. Telling people to come on a Tuesday at 7pm is the most common thing I say.

card-pete

Each member of the Board of Directors also got a card designed. They could choose if they wanted their phone number on it. (Not all members wanted cards.)

letterhead

The letterhead itself has a clean look, and a line that says “Milwaukee’s Hackerspace and Fabrication Lab” which is also found on the web site and a call back to the early years of describing ourselves.

Since this is a makerspace (or hackerspace) at least one member had to argue about the cost of having letterhead made. We pointed out that the cost of letterhead was a fraction of the amount of money Billy had already saved us by soliciting donations and getting us cheaper services from our waste collection company and Internet service provider. (Some people just like to argue.)

mms-collateral-4931

We got the printing done using one of those “cheap” online services where you upload your files and then show you a preview and you hope it’ll all work out. Things are not 100% perfect. The cut lines and bleed were not totally right, but they’re good enough for our purposes. (Spacing on the letterhead is much better than the cards, but again, we’ll survive.)

mms-collateral-4904

Big thanks to Billy for pushing me to get this done, so he can do more awesome things for Milwaukee Makerspace.

Noisemaker from the 1980s4938

I came across a treasure in one of the (many) boxes of “old things” in the basement. What you see is a Radio Shack project box with a speaker and a switch on it. Yeah, it’s a noisemaker, and I built it in the mid-1980s.

Fun fact, I used to do electronics in high school, and while I’m not sure this was a project we did in class, I’m guessing I may have built it around the time I was in school. It was probably around 1985 or so, if I had to guess. (I think I took two years of electronics classes.)

Noisemaker from the 1980s4939

The speaker has a “grill” that appears to be made from a metal screen, maybe from an old scrap window screen? I do know it would have been built with whatever stuff was around the house. I think I used Elmer’s glue to attach the screen to the speaker. It seems to have held up! The lettering for the “ON” label was most likely done using Liquid Paper and there’s a bit of clear Scotch Tape covering it as a protective layer. This also held up well!

Noisemaker from the 1980s4940

There’s a hole in the case. I’m not sure why. If I had to guess, I probably burned it with my soldering iron. I should say “Solder Gun” because at home we had one of these, and I don’t know if it belonged to my dad and I used it, or he bought it for me, but I do remember it wasn’t easy to solder with. At the time I didn’t realize this wasn’t the preferred tool for delicate electronics work…

Noisemaker from the 1980s4942

It looks like the soldering joints on the speaker held up fine… not so much for the masking tape, which dried up and lost its “stick”. I guess I just taped the speaker down, and used the tape as an insulator for the speaker contacts. (I did not know about hot glue yet.)

Noisemaker from the 1980s4945

Let’s pop this sucker open! Solid core wire and a 9 volt battery connector are visible. There’s also a piece of paper that I assumed was to insulate the metal battery housing from the electronics. And then…

Noisemaker from the 1980s4946

I took out the piece of paper and… oh my gawd, I actually documented this thing. There’s a circuit diagram and a Bill of Materials! This explains so much about my life, and honestly, I’m sort of proud of teenage me. Good Job, Petey!

And no, it’s not a proper schematic, but it’s approximately how I document most of my work/projects nowadays, using circuit diagrams, like you might create with Fritzing.

Noisemaker from the 1980s4947

Finally! We’ve got a perf board inside with a few components soldered onto it, and and rudimentary strain relief by running the wires through the mounting holes of the perf board. Well done, Petey!

Noisemaker from the 1980s4949

Let’s flip it over and… oh my gawd, the soldering! Sheesh! Now I am embarrassed! But this does lead me to believe I did this project at home, since that’s where I was using a giant soldering gun and giant solder not quite suitable for delicate electronics. Oh well, at least my soldering skills have improved since the mid-1980s!

Oh, in case you’re wondering how it works, look at the diagram for a clue. You touched the metal bolt sticking through the enclosure and the top metal piece of the enclosure, and you completed the circuit, and could get weird tones based on how much you touched and how hard you pressed. I was really hoping to include a video but sadly, it did not work after 30 years of sitting in a box. Drat!

(And yes, I’m really tempted to build a new version of this to see what it sounds like!)

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