Thursday, April 30, 2009

Wii Game Hardware - Wiimote Mount and IR Finger

So, we've been working on Wii-projects for the computer for a while now. Here's what we've been doing lately: a tripod mount for a WiiMote, and a IR Finger light to let the WiiMote software track our fingerz. And, because we are FRUGAL, we are making them! Its not that we are cheap, its just that we want to be able to LAUGH when something falls out of the boat as it invariably does!
Here is a simple block of wood we drilled and embedded a 1/4" nut into - for mounting to our tripod. Easy, cheap, and ugly - just the way we like it.
Here is the wood mounted to the tripod, and our WiiMote "mounted" to the wood block with a high-tech fastener. Very quickly adjusted, I might add... too bad its pink.

Here is the final assembly - now we can use it as a Whiteboard and various other tracking for any Infrared (IR) lightsource.

On to the finger-tracker. I bought a pile of these little LED things on ebay - again, VERY cheap - and the kids LOVE them for goofing around on campouts.
Simply a LED, a switch, and batteries. Popped open here to replace the white LED with an IR LED for the WiiMote to track!

Here's the final assembly - popped the old LED out, the new IR LED in, and just touch the switch to turn it on/off. Nice elastic on it, too for "hands free" hand tracking ;-)
The tripod mount and finger-LED cost a total of $0.51... well within our requirements. Except we can only track 4 at a timeusing the Wii, so no thumbs can play... bummer.

Auto Repair Adventure #19 - New Ball Joints for MeanGreen Van

The steering was getting very SHAKEY on the giant green van (MEANGREEN as adjacent drivers often are heard shouting) and since the payload is usually MY kids, I had it checked out.

Turns out it needed all ball joints replaced, and a new tie-rod. Ouch! Spendy, but not nearly as bad as the original quote of $1500. I guess we can afford some gas for this summer...

I did videotape the bearings in action - kinda fun in the rain with an underwater camera. Not fun enough to post, though...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Have Boat Will Travel

The weekend was our anniversary, and with the nice weather we decided to take the boat out to dinner. Always fun - but this time we stopped to do some fishing on the way! Yeah - how many guys get to go fishing on their wedding anniversary!

We put the boat in at Scappoose Bay ( and motored about 15 minutes from St. Helens down to Scappoose to Mark's - a restaraunt on the Multnomah Channel. Good food and great atmosphere. Live music started at 7pm. Alot of boat parking - DEFINITELY the way to go!

We stopped at the "birdhouse" hole and caught a couple of shaker sturgeon. Noone else had caught a keeper. There were quite a few people fishing for salmon - and a few said they had caught some, too. There were alot of boats moored at Coon's Island, too. Oh yeah, my wife had a great time and said we should do it again!

The location of Mark's is at 45*43'45.51"N 122*51'35.33"W.

Garden-time in the Garden of Eden

The Pacific NorthWest is truly the Garden of Eden - our flowering Camas is delicious, and even our weeds (blackberries) are a treat! Its time to plow the garden and get it ready for serious food production... and the kids need something to do ;-)

Here is our garden (recently expanded by some 10-yr old backhow operators...) before tilling.

Here is the garden after being tilled up this weekend. Monday we'll get the kids out there to help plant. Planting is best done barefoot!

This year we're also going to plant a "three sisters" garden of corn-beans-squash like the Native Americans did - word is that the three all assist eachother in growth, etc. We'll see...

I always over-plant the corn, so i can pull up the extra stalks for when we get a beef-cow for butchering in the fall. The "beefers" live cornstalks better than COB feed mix.

Josey, our yellow lab, loves the garden already! There are 'beds' all over the soft, warm dirt.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Searching for Simple Video Overlay...

I've been trying to find the simplest, easiest, and cheapest video overlay (NTSC) using a PIC to allow me to overlay GPS coordinates and speed on-top of my underwater video camera stream. So as we 'survey' the Columbia riverbottom during Fall Chinook Salmon fishing we can track our path with GPS and the bottom. For when we find one of those GIANT Toyota ships lying at the bottom of the river we can find it again ;-)

Anywho - I've been trying to modify J.A.Sanchez's "Video Stamp" design and software (see April 2007) to overlay my GPS strings. As you can see, the design is simple - a 18F2520 uController, 3 resistors, and the connectors. It works great
for basic debug and text output to the video screen, but when overlay'ed on another video signal, the sync's and raster seem to be out-a-wack. So... more work on this one. Thought I'd at least post it 'cause it is cool and worked the 1st time!

Next steps are to try to sense and adjust the timer interupts, or to role-my-own from scratch... but that is not as fun.

Cheap -n- Easy Button Pushing!

I found some inexpensive (~$5) automotive door lock actuators on Ebay, and had to try them out for various robotic/automation needs. I'm always needing some way to get my PIC uControllers to do actual real-world work. Here I simply have an IC Relay chip controlling the 12V to the doorlock piston. The IC is PVN012 ($3.25 at

It worked great - in fact, using only 5V the actuator would move almost the full 0.75inches.

So... because it is SPRING, and time for Airsoft battles, I had to hook one up to an airsoft gun. Its usually me against the rabid mob of kids, so I need something to help 'even the odds'.

You can see it easily mounted to the grip of my MP-5 automatic, and even is out-of-the-way enough to still use the weapon by hand.

Now... I can quickly put this at one end of the house, and chase kids around the other way right into the sights - then with the push of a button, wirelessly catch them in the cross-fire!

Here's the video - its even better. Best of all, it is all less than $10.

Backhoe Rodeo!

One last stump for the spring to dig up, and two 10 year old boys needing something to do...

At first they were very nervous, but it didn't take them long to get into it! They were hooping and hollering and having a ball. I kept the throttle down lower so they couldn't do too much damage!

Finally, with a little help and a lotta time, they got it up! They worked more sweat up posing for this picture than they did uprooting the stump!
You can check out some of the video here - its even better.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

NWPodcast #107 - Camas Consumption like a Native

We've been looking for wild Blue Camas here in Oregon for years... we had it all around us up in Washington, but until last week had not seen any here in Oregon!

We sure found a bunch of it - Boy Howdy!

They are a beautiful flower - usually first appearing in April. Very pretty, and a good one to paint. It is sad to dig them up too early, so we only sampled a few this time. In May, when the flower is about withered away, is the best time to dig up their bulbs for eating.

As you can see, the bulbs this early in the year are small - about the size of a dime before cleaning. These were about 4" deep.

After cleaning them off, they are even smaller. I found some interesting quotes from here:

When eaten raw or only partially cooked, the plants can produce substantial amounts of intestinal gas, as Captain Lewis eloquently noted: “…when in the Indian hut I was almost blown out by the strength of the wind.”

They taste great when roasted - like a very good baked potatoe. The kids really like them. BE CAREFUL, though, because there is a similar flower - the Death Camas, with white flowers that can kill!

Some more interesting info from the i-verse - David Douglas, a famous early botanical explorer in the Pacific Northwest, reported on this roasting process. First, a large fire was built in the pit, heating the stones thoroughly. Then the fire was removed, and up to a hundred pounds (45 kilograms) or more of bulbs were piled in its place. Sometimes other plants, including red alder (Alnus rubra) or madrone (Arbutus menziesii) bark, were added to give the cooked product a reddish colour, and black lichens (Bryoria spp.) could be added to raise its value for trade. The bulbs were then covered and a fire was built again on top. Baking may have extended for up to two days. Cooked and dried bulbs were second in importance only to smoked salmon as a trade item.

Though the bulbs were traditionally gathered after the flowers had withered, weeding was done during flowering. The primary objective was to remove death camas (Zygadenus venenosus), which often grows mixed with blue camas. With much smaller, white flowers, death camas is easy to distinguish from blue camas when the plants are flowering, but at the time of harvest the two species appear identical. Death camas is well-named: fatalities were not rare. Full-grown cattle have died from eating it, and even mortality of bees visiting the plants has been reported. The poison involved is an alkaloid neurotoxin called zygacine. This provided strong motivation to weed camas beds in preparation for the time of harvest, and anyone eating these plants was well-advised to pay attention to taxonomy.

So, get out and look for blue flowers! Here's out podcast when we went out digging some and then cooked em.

The filesize is 8Mbytes, and the podcast runs about 15 minutes.

Tis the Season for Burning

All winter long we've been cutting trees - opening up the forest to expand our garden. That makes for some BIG burn piles! Now that we've had a few days of hot, dry weather, its time to light-em-up!

The biggest pile (and the last one) went up and out FAST - much faster than the others. It sure is good to see them gone. The pasture is nice and open again with new grass.

... and the other good thing about burning? SMORES!

Trojan Pond Trout

All of the lakes and ponds throughout Oregon are being stocked with trout. Trojan Pond - where the old nuclear power plant used to be between St Helens and Rainier, Oregon on the Columbia River - was just stocked with a bunch. Careful - there are alot of people parked along the highway, and some hungry herons that will try to steal your catch!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Book Recommendation - Winter Brothers

The winter reading season is about over - spring is all over the NorthWest, so not many more recommendations to pass along. This book is best for reading in December or January - when its cold and dark outside as you sit by a fire.

Mr Doig mixes his own musings and insites into his quotes of an old NW Pioneer - James G. Swan, while living in Port Townsend on Puget Sound. While he makes interesting conversation and introspection, Mr Doig is eclipsed by Mr Swan's journal entries. Swan lived among the Makah Indians and has some very interesting observations and tales. These stories and notes are facinating and the best part of the whole book. A good read and a great starting-point for exploring and understanding the effect the NW has on her children.

Convert Old Cassette Tapes into MP3 Files

A few years ago I started transferring all of my old audio tapes into MP3 files for my player and PC. Really easy and simple to do... and of course CHEAP!

I have a stereo player I plug into my microphone (stereo) input on my PC. My player has auto-reverse, so it will continuously play the entire tape, both sides, automatically.

Next, all I have to do is start up the free sound editing application "Audacity" ( and begin recording off the player. The nice part is that I can capture the entire tape at one time, then later on go in and easily cut out each individual song and save them as individual MP3 files. The quality is pretty good - better than 'good enough', and I then got rid of all my old Mary's Danish and REM tapes on Ebay. About 5 minutes of effort per cassette.

Simple AC Power Control

With an old solid-state relay, an outlet, box, and powercord I rigged up a simple AC-power control box. Very simple and easy - this is a great way to debug controller projects and enable them to power-on or off AC devices.

Wiring is simple - 2 wires into the DC connections (1 and 2) for the control. Then, wire up the white (common) and green (ground) wires from the AC power cord into the outlet socket as normal. Finally, wire the black (hot) wire from the cord into one of the relay's AC connectors (#4) and another piece of wire from the other relay connection (#3) into the hot-lead for the AC socket. Now stuff it into the box to be more tidy.

Here is the final box. I've used it to remotely power-on a PC, a lamp, and soon it will control the door lock and lights in my daughter's room. I'm rigging up a musically controlled electronic lock - when Hanna play's a sequence of notes on her Clairinette it will automatically unlock the door and turn on the light. Should help to entertain while keeping little-sister Abi out of her room! More on that design later...

Pinewood Derby Failure

Usually our Pinewood Derby failures don't happen until the night of the race! This is our 9th derby car to build, and we tried to make it too small, too light, and too fast this time. Cracko - the wood split several times when driving the wheel's nails into place. I even drilled them out first. We just flew too close to the sun...

I think we have another week or 2 to come up with a new car - that or else polish up one of the other 8 around here underfoot... I think the car turned out pretty good, considering it was cut out with a hand saw, hammer, flat-head screwdriver, and razor!

Simple Drop-in Microcontroller

I took a 8-pin 12F683 PIC (PDIP) and wire-wrapped small, grasping clamps to each pin and then dipped the PIC into Plast-i-dip to waterproof it. This makes a great controller to drop into an existing electronic device or even to use underwater ;-)

Simple to reprogram by clamping to the USB programmer, then drop it into where you need it. An SOIC package would be even smaller!

Here is an old modem I dropped one into - it monitors what phone #s are dialled out, and if a busy signal is received, it automatically redials. Just had to find +5V, GND, and use the DB-25 connector pins out the back.

Another idea for this would be to open the case on a 'friend's PC, clamp this onto the keyboard or mouse connector, then periodically have the PIC wakeup, type random keystrokes or a funny message, then go back to sleep. They would toss out several keyboards before thinking to look inside the box!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Recommendation - This Mortal Coil

Sunday's are the biggest reading day of the week. Annie Dillard's book, Teaching a Stone to Talk is one of my favorites to pickup and thumb-through the underlined passages when I'm not in the mood to tackle a new text. The insite and quiet-moment adventure is classic Dillard.

After first reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek on assignment in college, I've since been a big fan. Dillard's pilgrim was like spending a summer in Walnut Grove - lazy warm afternoon days of exploration and watching the clouds
drift by.

Teaching a Stone to Talk, however, is more like being part of a group of alien abductees - all of us feeling sore, unnerved, and in shock, trying to sort out what has just happened to us in a group theripy session. it is fantastic. The world isn't the same after piecing together her cutting accounts of what she has seen.
I can see more influence of Decker's "The Denial of Death" in Mrs. Dillard's writing... but she has more sense of 'who' and 'how' than Decker did. He only saw the 'what'. The reader is left to sort out the 'why'.

"The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. the mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God. The mind's sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy. The dear, stupid body is as easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the prowd, metaphysically ambitious, clamoring mind will hush if you give it an egg. Further: while the mind reels in deep space, while the mind grieves or fears or exults, the workaday senses, in ignorance or idiocy, like so many computer terminals printing out market prices while the world blows up, still transcribe their little data
and transmit them to the warehouse in the skull. Later, under the tranquilizing influence of fried eggs, the mind can sort through this data. The restaurant was a halfway house, a decompression chamber."

Another great insite by Dillard for our day is her statement: "You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it."

This book is a great chance to sit out in the cold dark of night, and begin looking at the stars...

Home Repair # 38 - Refrigerator water valve

Few months ago we had a leak in the water dispenser tubing on our old Amana Refrigerator. I tried to splice it and thought it was fixed, but then the ice maker's tubing also began to leak. So... as I tried to disconnect it from the water valve, the valve itself broke above the tubing threads. Why is this stuff always made out of cheap plastic???

I found a replacement at for $45 and they shipped it FAST. Installation was pretty easy, and its working great - except that the ice maker's water tubing froze up from being empty for months. Oh, and my original splice on the water dispenser is leaking - BAD. I'm going to have to find a brass joiner to finish this one...

Another brass joiner finished the leak. Let the kids at it!

Springer Fishing - Part 2

Word on the river Thursday was that the fishing is "stinkin' red hot". The kids had Friday off, so i took the day off and we sat on anchor all day with little-to-nothing going on. Only saw 5-6 fish caught, and alot of boats. Still it was fun to be out and get the boat fired up. Ran like a champ.

Weather was alittle cold and rainy, but the top was up and the tide was running. Seemed to be alot of fish under neath us, but I think they were suspended... next time I'm going to try fishing mid-water and not on the bottom. Even with Kwikfish. I'm crazy like that.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Hacking My Camera - Using the CHDK

We take alot of pictures each year. A whole lotta them. I bought some new cameras a year or so ago - and I have to say I LOVE the Canon SD1000. It does great, and the best part of it is that someone hacked its firmware - yeah! There is a modified firmware for this (and other Canon) cameras called "CHDK" - here's the Wiki:

Its easy to use, and when you turn off the camera, its gone, so there is no physical modification to your camera. Tons of new features and access to the hardware. And... the ability to run custom scripts and programs! Alot of users have published scripts to detect lightning, motion detection, and even games.

I like the ability to take pictures at night - low light, etc. The first pic is one of the kids with lightsticks. This picture is one from fish-camp on the Columbia River - Rainier Oregon is the small town shown across the river.

Here's a picture of lightning - we were sleeping on the porch at Grandma's house and a HUGE lightning storm hit. Pretty unusual for the NorthWest. Kept me up all night - at least until the camera's battery ran down ;-) You can see the lightning bolt across the left...
...and then BAM! This lightning bolt hit CLOSE! It was awesome! Look how bright it is! This CHDK made it easy to capture low-light and trigger on the lightning strike.

This picture of the house during the Blizzard of December 2008 turned out pretty good.
I will NEVER buy another digital camera that isn't supported by the CHDK!