Aug 04

Ramble update

Hello, no real purpose to this update, just wanted to get some things that I’ve been thinking “down on paper,” I guess. WARNING ALL TEXT!

For those of you out there that know me personally, you probably know that I moved not-too-long-ago (back) to Seattle. I’ve been here roughly three months, now. To preemptively answer the FAQ about my move: I’m working at a “software” company in the capacity of a hardware engineer. My work is a lot about working in lab, doing electrical measurements. I’m currently focusing on electrical (signal integrity) compliance measurements, and overall I’m liking my group and the company is relatively laid back in general. My hours are more fixed than before at my previous company, but I wouldn’t say I hated my previous company by any means. I have an interesting opportunity here in Seattle, and hopefully it results in some career growth, we’ll see. I’m riding ‘the bus’ to work, and living on the west side of Lake Washington in “Seattle Proper” (I hate that name, I think it’s pretty snooty). I have the suspicion that my personality and preference isn’t to live in the city, but I figured I’d take a year lease and experience/take advantage of the benefits of “real” city living. My long term goal is to “settle down” and find a sense of permanence in living. I haven’t felt like I’ve had a real ‘home’ since I started college, and I think it’s been taking an impact on my psyche and/or style/mentality of living. It’s kind of been a constant weight on me for roughly a decade now, and I’m not sure if it’s real or not.

With the big picture out of the way, in terms of personal growth, I picked up a Solidoodle 3 (8″x8″ build area) 3D printer. I’ve been doing little projects here or there, and I’ve been improving on my methodology and production quality of circuits, etc. I’ve never been able to build anything exciting/fun/interesting, though, a lot of my time has been spent on the process and/or reproducing stuff that has already been conceived and/or developed to the point where at the end of the day, I’m more of an assembly/technician rather than an engineer/developer. I’ve got some ideas bouncing around in my head, some that I think will take off in a (relatively) big way, so I figured it was time to get a tool that would help me (with a limited-scope skillset) produce more interesting things. One of the things always holding me back from creating things I’d be interested in sharing with others is the that the final product was always so hacked together. This could be anything from enclosures to hardware and mounting. With a 3D printer, the idea is that I’ll be able to build custom enclosures to really showcase and give my projects a more complete/polished feel. If I feel like taking anything a step further than “finalized prototype” (i.e. production), I’ll figure out a way to do that when the time comes.

Currently I’m working on a DIY ping pong ball “robot” with my buddy Vinh. We’re developing on the Arduino platform, I’m using this project more as a learning experience so I can get up and running with the bigger projects that I’m looking to do. I’ve felt kind of stifled with my personal development, so I’m hoping to be making a little progress on that front. I think microcontroller development is a really slick area to be personally interested in. Even moreso, I think the FPGA area is fascinating, but it’s so difficult to be using an FPGA for personal projects. I just have no need for the speed and configurability of an FPGA. Maybe I’ll chuckle at this post in a few years, who knows. In any event, I’m trying to tie a lot of interests together with my next project, I’ll post details on that later on. I don’t want to make false promises here and feel sad about it later.

Big picture goals (where I see myself headed) are: Microcontroller development (and as a result, coding), electromechanical knowledge (i.e. robotics, stepper motors, solenoids, servos, the basics), CAD and 3D development (enclosures, custom parts, etc), 3D printing as an appliance rather than a discrete hobby (although it may be a hobby just because it’s interesting). After that, I’d be pretty happy, but learning more about workshop tools to the level of CNC machining, laser cutters, etc would be pretty rad as well. After that, an “icing on the cake” type learning experience would be something like mobile app development. YEAH I’M PUTTING MY STAKE IN THE GROUND, WHAT ABOUT IT?

OK that’s enough for now. I’ll update when I feel guilty about it, or something interesting comes up.

Mar 11

Bleach Shirts.

Yo dawg, what does Snoop Dogg use to wash his laundry?

Blee-otch!

I found a really fun sub-reddit: /r/bleachshirts. I’ve been dabbling in the technique(s), and I made a few shirts so far. So far, I’ve made a ruined test shirt (before getting the correct materials), one x-mas present shirt for my pal Narumi, Valentines day shirt for Mel (will show below), and finally… the greatest shirt of all time.

Process:

As a quick primer, a bleach shirt is basically taking a (darkly) colored shirt and using a stencil to mask off a pattern, and then abusing bleach to make a pattern. The Stencil is generally created with Freezer paper, which is sort of like a one-sided wax paper. Except the wax is kind of like plastic.

Results:

My first “legit” attempt at a bleach shirt. This one didn’t bleach very evenly or brightly. I suspect it was due to the dye of the shirt. Pro Tip: Wash and dry the shirt at least once before bleaching. A virgin shirt doesn’t tend to take bleach very well, as there may be coating or lots of loose dye on un-washed threads. It also improves absorption.

Design explanation: Narumi is Japanese (if you couldn’t guess by the name), and in Japanese culture, you add suffixes to the names of people you talk to depending on their social status relative to yours. Narumi is younger than me, so she gets the -chan suffix. Equals (age, status) get the -kun suffix, -sama/-san for older/respected individuals. Thus: Naru-chan.

Narumi is also notorious among the group of friends which I know her from to partake in another Japanese pastime… The Kanchou pastime. If you’re too lazy to click the link, it’s basically a game primarily played by children (from what I understand) where the objective is to jab each other in the butt. It’s not pleasant. An example of Kanchou in popular japanese media.

Keeping all the above in mind, I always thought it was funny how Naru-chan was so similar to “Maruchan,” a popular brand of instant noodles. Thus, the idea was born for a very personalized (albeit sub-standardly executed) Christmas gift. I did a minor modification to the Maruchan logo, and added in a pair of Mickey Mouse style hands in the position of a “Kanchou” giver.

Yeah, that’s my story. Cool story, bro.

 Second Attempt Results (and Overall Process Example):

After looking up resources and “debugging” my methods, I set out to make a very ambitious shirt. Valentine’s day was coming up, and I decided to make Mel a Corgi themed T-shirt Valentine. I made her a Corgi card last year, so I decided to stick with a proven formula for success. Enter: The Corgi.

Methods/Procedures:

Step 1: Select a “stencil.” I selected the below picture after looking for “Corgi Butts” on Google Images. I proceeded to chug eight beers, and fought a bear to reassure my ego with regards to manliness. I know Mel loves Corgi Butts, and she (now) prefers Tri-color Corgis, so I had to make some on-the-fly modifications to the below image.

The pup was standing in the grass, so I had to improvise paws. I “mapped out” color zones in the image after figuring out what common color patterns were on Tri-color pups. This wasn’t easy, but it turned out OK. See below image (repeated later) for an idea of how I mapped out XYZ portions w.r.t. color.

I knew I wanted the T-shirt to be a Valentine’s gift specifically, but I didn’t want to limit how useful/wearable it was. I decided it would be best if the Corgi had something heart related instead of Valentines specific. The above was a mock-up of the speech bubble concept I ended with.

Mockup #1 Above

Mockup #2 Above, which is the one I ended up with. This was actually the concept I originally had in my mind, but when I cut out the speech bubble (as seen in option #1), I actually thought it looked really nice. After some consultation and an informal poll, I went with my original plan, Option #2.

Above is the original (black) shirt with the stencil ironed on. This was the basis of my design.

I applied one layer of bleach to lighten the background of the shirt. I was actually planning to do something more like a diffused oval shaped frame around the cutout, but since the design was so big, I just applied a light layer to the shirt.

This is the color-mapped stencil that I used to lighten specific portions of the Corgi Pup’s body. I don’t have a picture of the white portion, but the above shows the areas that were supposed to be brown. I added some curves to the butt/behind the front leg portion to indicate/give the sense of curves.

 

Final product of the Corgi Shirt. I’m happy with the way it turned out, since I had NO IDEA from the beginning if it was going to be presentable.

Blog Post on Corgi Addict.

Result 3:

Finally, my favorite shirt to date. I ordered a (ok, actually two, one girls, one guys) 3-pack of random (color), Blank, American Apparel T’s on shirt.woot.com. Due to a shipping error, I only received a single guy’s Small. Disappointed, I e-mailed customer service, and explained the issue. They shipped me two more pronto. Thanks Woot! On the negative side, they sent me two of the same color… Come on. It was a maroonish red, which I rarely wear. I actually bought the shirt packs to bleach, so I started thinking what I could do with them. Due to some other related image searches, the answer became clear to me.

I concluded that the only thing I COULD do in this case was make the most stupendous shirt ever seen by mankind.

Cutting this stencil out was extremely tedious. It took me roughly two hours of work… partially because I wasn’t really focused. I’m pretty happy with how clear it turned out, though. Above shows the final stencil minus the lettering. I masked off the entirety of the rest of the shirt and focused on lightening this area first. Once that was done, I peeled back (and moved back) the masking freezer paper, and then added a faint border around the strip’s panel.

The final result: The greatest shirt ever. I’m wearing this to work tomorrow. Luckily, Engineers have a pretty casual dress code.

Anyways, that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Cheers,

JD

Feb 13

ITA National Indoors – Stringing

Yo,

This weekend (2013/02/13-18) I will be in Seattle stringing tennis racquets for the ITA National Indoor Division I Men’s tennis tournament. I’m going to attempt to share the event from a stringing perspective this year.

http://tt.tennis-warehouse.com/showthread.php?t=454295

Here’s a Tennis Warehouse discussion thread for my stream.

http://twitch.tv/diredesire

Here’s a link to my stream.

This is how I prepare for the event. I may or may not be a little over enthusiastic when it comes to having good tools around. You’ll notice duplicates of just about everything I could need 😉

Cheers,
JD

Feb 05

Car PC “Completion” and Installation notes

In atypical fashion, I have completed a project to a certain extent! I have my CarPC installed in my VW TDi MK4 Golf, and these are notes about the assembly, trouble shooting, bench testing, etc portion of the project. This may be my last post on the project, unless I feel that enough work goes into perfecting the usability of the system to warrant an update…

I’ll just let the pictures do the talking:

In the middle of my project, I saw this on my way in to work. Whilst my VW was gettin’ pimped, these two unfortunate brothers of mein (see what I did there?) were getting wrecked. As you can tell from the salt on the ground, the floor was slick. My suspicion is car three (which is not pictured here) turned into the spot going way too fast, and drifted into the jetta. How careless. I took a moment of silence, don’t worry.

The hardware on the bench. I used quick crimp connectors as they seem to be preferred in car installations, for whatever reason. Probably because a soldering iron isn’t easy to power from a cabin.

Internals of the Carnetix P1900. I ended up desoldering the input for the power supply, as the space got really tight. I think If I did this again, I’d desolder both sides so the install is as low profile as is possible.

I tweeted or instagrammed this picture because I thought it was funny. Apple products are said to be magical, but I’m pretty sure this takes the cake.

4″ exactly. Impressive hardware and technology density in the Intel NUC (I’m biased).

 

The HDMI cable provided with my monitor was about 5.5 feet too long (it’s a ~6foot cable). Since the HDMI cable also had a breakout for USB over HDMI (for the touch screen interface), I had to end up hacking together one of my own. This wasn’t a breeze, but I’m pretty handy with a soldering iron. Above is the desoldering of the existing solution. Looks to be a plastic, or injected glue strain relief.

Comparison of what I have to solder with what I have to solder to.

Testing the “final” product. I added hot glue for strain relief, but will probably use a product like “Sugru” next time, which is moldable rubbery clay-ish material. It’s commonly used to repair electronics. I would also like to try a right angle connector, but the base material is already pretty high profile, so I didn’t bother. I could get away with something as short as 3-5″ for this custom cable, but didn’t want to do it twice.

For anyone curious, the USB connection is as follows:

USB side [1,2,3,4] = [VCC,D-,D+,GND]

D- –> HDMI PIN17 (DDC/CEC GND)D+ –> HDMI PIN8 (TDMS SHIELD D0)

When I assembled my cable, the twisted pairs seemed to be mismatched with what I “ohmed out” with my multimeter, just a heads up to check your connections when you’re done. You can find pictoral pinouts on pinouts.ru or a google search…

Testing touch screen functionality.

Test benching the hardware. I connected to a power supply and “pulse started” by touching the Carnetix Pulse start (blue wire) momentarily with a +5V supply. In car I use the “IGNITION” line attached to my ignition switch key sense (key in, power supply on). In the MK4 2003 golf, this line is only accessible via the ignition switch bundle. You can see this on the LEFT side of the steering wheel (right above). There’s a bundle of cabling on the top of the steering wheel opposite of the ignition/keyhole. The wire is BROWN with a red stripe (NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND). Some guides I found online said that the IGN signal was routed to the stereo wiring harness, but I found this to not be the case, and I suspect this is only true with the earliest 99.5 MK4s (the ones without the double DIN monsoon).

Side by side shot of the PSU and NUC. I used screwed together stand-offs as a stopgap solution for spacers and prototyping.

Took a flash shot to show how much “additional” room can be had by cutting out the back side of the radio cage. I have a spare cage for test fitting indoors, but I didn’t end up needing the extra space. Attached is a METRA wiring harness adapter, so I don’t have to cut/splice into the original harness. I ended up removing all non-audio cables from this harness and wiring up RCA cables to the harness. Right Front/Rear are hooked up and tied together, same with the left. This implies there’s no fader control. I’m willing to sacrifice it at the moment so I don’t have to purchase a separate amp.

GPS USB module out of case. Honestly, I don’t know why I removed this from the case… I think I just have an unexplainable fascination with voiding warranties… IIRC this is a SiRFIII chipset. If the reception sucks (behind the fuse panel), I’ll probably just end up using a bluetooth module.

ABS case taking shape. I chose ABS because it’s easy to machine/drill, and it melts together with MEK “glue.” This is extremely friendly for apartment prototyping. The down side is that I have ABS flakes all over my carpet… not sure how easy that’s going to be to get out…

Size comparison to the enclosure I’m building in. Even with a reference picture, it’s hard to tell how small my project enclosure actually is. I had a LOT of time sunk into fitting…

I ran out of ABS, as I purchased a 12″x12″x12″ piece of ABS from Amazon (raw plastic sheets are hard to find, and they aren’t cheap. If anyone knows where to source some, just let me know). Since I was working on my project mostly during nights, I didn’t have an opportunity to go out and buy material. I found a really old graphics card in my spare parts bin, and used hot air to remove all the parts I wasn’t interested in. After sawing it down, and drilling some holes, I had a spare “PCB separating” shelf.

Finished shelf.

Shelf in between the NUC and PSU. This is required because the mounting holes overlap a little bit.

Burned myself with my soldering iron while working. Still trying to figure out how the hell I did this… my track record is very good…

After test fitting, I quickly found out that using regular cables was going to be impossible due to the bulk. As I didn’t want to lose any precious real estate, I made my own right angle connector (good ones are surprisingly hard to find).

Burned myself AGAIN. This time with Hot Glue. I never imagined that hot glue guns got hot enough to instantaneously burn you, but there’s a first for everything, I guess.

Checking my screen again after everything was crammed together and test fitted.

Another shot before removing the PSU input. You can see the PCB is tilted significantly. I can’t fit the PSU cable next to the 60mm fan I shoehorned in. You’ll also notice the heat sinks on the PSU changed. I removed the outer case due to space limitations and added on my own heatsinks. Since I’m drawing (hopefully) ~<1/3 of the maximum current rating, I don’t expect anything to get too hot. I removed the Ground Loop Isolator that is required when coupling sound to the Monsoon amp. My Sound card is wedged under the PSU.

Another twitter joke: I never regret paying good money for a really excellent pair of strippers. The stripmaster is truly a godsend for anyone who works a lot with electronics. I almost impulse bought a 22-30g stripmaster to complement this one, as I generally work with much thinner gauge wires than I do in this project, but I’ll just wait.

Test fitting into the car. Cables in the back were a pain in the ass.

Shot #2, it boots!

This is just a shot to give an idea of how close quarters everything is. The 60mm fan was used because there’s a USB cable directly under it, and there is just barely enough space for the 60mm fan thickness. If I had opted for an 80mm fan, I would have lost (an extremely valuable) USB port, and I would ahve had to move everything away from the wall of the case, and that would have encroached upon the other side.

You can see where I removed the input cabling. This allowed me to avoid the PCB bending of the previous solutionThis shot shows the cabling nightmare. There’s a ton squished down into the case that you can’t really see, either. I spent many hours just starting at everything, trying to picture how it would all fit in.

Assembled shot, ready to drop into the car.

Cabling mess.

I bought a hole saw, but forgot the mandrel, so I ended up just drilling a circle outline with my hand drill. After punching it out, I was OK with the results.

Same thing happened here, except it was much sloppier.

RCA out to go to the stereo adapter wiring harness. All the cable ran to the back is not even needed at this moment in time.

Free space shot.

Another top down shot.

 

Hope you enjoyed the picture dumb, I’m propbably going to sell off a lot of junk, simplify my life, and then move on to microcontroller projects!

 

Cheers,
JD

Jan 11

Car PC – Cabling

Quick progress report and a picture dump. Nothing really interesting here.

For any CarPC, there are a few main subsystems:

  1. LCD/Monitor and bezel (molding)
  2. Core Computer Hardware
  3. Peripherals (sound cards, cams, GPS, etc)
  4. Audio (including car speakers, amps, etc)

This dump is mostly related to the audio (and peripherals, i guess). I was putting the “lay cable” to do list item off a little bit due to the pain-in-the-ass process of tearing down my car interior. Generally this means removing seats, floor liner, sometimes the head liner, etc etc etc. It can turn into a full day project for custom installs. I found a solid teardown guide on VW Vortex and got to work. I quickly realized that I wasn’t going to HAVE to tear down much at all. I ended up removing rear seats, and the floor trim near my driver side doors, and that was about all I needed to do.

For my PC, there are a few goals in mind (introduced in the… introduction). I decided to lay all the cables I could possibly nead, even though I am probably not going to use them all. I picked up a USB 3.0 extension, USB 2.0 extension, HDMI & VGA extensions, Audio extension, and Cat6 Ethernet. The USB2.0 (15ft) turned out to be too short, but since I had already zip tied all the cables together, the end is awkwardly tucked away near my door…

AS AN INTERESTING ASIDE: Since I purchased my car, there’s been this mystery AUX cable from the back of my car that was run to the front. I traced it to the rear driver’s side seat, but lost where the cable went… I never took the time to pull everything apart to see where it was going, but when I tore down the car for laying my own cable, I vowed to find it. Well… I did. Anyways… log time.

Easy access, this is what my golf looks like with all the doors open… but one.

Removal of the rear seats (pretty simple, a mallet and a screw driver was all I needed). The seat backs were significantly heavier than I thought they’d be.

Most of my trim and seats, as well as hatch floor cover piled up.

Removing the rest of my trim.

Driver’s door showing the bundle of cabling that I installed. I left out the video cables due to bulk. Zip tied and laid the Ethernet, Shielded Audio (3.5mm), and two USB cables (only one actually made it to the back). You can also see the trim removed near the foot well.

Lifting up carpeting to peek at the stock cables.

Stock/OEM cabling (lighting, etc).

The bastard/mystery cable that runs from my trunk to SOMEWHERE in the cabin.

AAAAAAAND… The mystery cable runs up the driver’s footwell and goes through a stupid coupler and runs into the area below the steering wheel. I believe it came out of the defroster vent originally. From what it looks like, the previous owner ran a cigarette adapter power converter for XM radio and added a charger. I stripped out the job, which was a tiny bit sloppy (but overall not too bad) and laid my own cable. It’s sitting behind my jutting-out-head unit.

Prototyping the radio cage and laying out the hardware in my next post, it may be more polished than this quick turd post. 🙂

Cheers

Jan 08

Car PC Worklog Update

I decided I’d probably just post incremental updates instead of long “post-mortem” work logs after everything’s done. I’m pretty bad about documenting the process as I go, so this might work, it might not…

For any CarPC, there are a few main subsystems:

  1. LCD/Monitor and bezel (molding)
  2. Core Computer Hardware
  3. Peripherals (sound cards, cams, GPS, etc)
  4. Audio (including car speakers, amps, etc)

This post is largely about the Monitor assembly (specific to my car). Back when I started researching Car PCs (>5 years ago), there weren’t many good commercial(ish) products dedicated to mobile computing (“Infotainment”). That’s all changed, though. I determined that the best use of my time would be investing in a Bybyte Double-Din LCD frame specifically designed for the Monitor I was using (Lilliput 669GL w/ HDMI). After receiving the unit, I quickly found out (by an eyeballed test fit) that my head unit was actually larger than a standard DoubleDin. I ended up buying a Metra dash-kit for my Golf, and assembled it (with some support by the wonderful folks of the Bybyte team). Some assembly notes follow:

I bought a DIY/disassembled Double-DIN kit on ebay via mo-co-so. After my first one came in with some imperfections/blemishes, mocoso support shipped me a new one free of charge. EXCELLENT customer service, I would not hesitate to recommend them to anyone looking for CarPC accessories. This photo shows my impromptu binder clip “clamps” while assembling the mounting tabs.

The disassembled Lilliput HB 669GL HDMI and assembled frame.

Assembly process, routing cables. Hiding the panel control buttons. Well designed kit by Bybyte, no risk of dangling cables that will eventually get broken off. Only slight here is that there is no physical access to the buttons. This isn’t really important as there’s a remote, but to enable “auto on” functionality upon powerup, you need access to the buttons at least once.

Assembled kit.

This is a shot demonstrating how the Metra dash trim kit fits over the Bybyte DoubleDIN enclosure.

 

How the kit looks when it is actually lined up. The step between the Bybyte and Metra is pretty ugly, but I’m not going to invest any time (at the moment) to clean it up and/or custom fab a better solution. Maybe if it bothers me in the future.

Splitting the enclosures up

This photo shows the modification required to get the Bybyte DDIN kit to fit with the Metra trim kit. Just cut off the bottom shelf.

This shows the one major issue I had during assembly. The DDIN kit mounting holes do NOT line up with the Metra dash kit when they’re centered. I recommend removing the bottom shelf, inserting the LCD frame, and THEN mounting and gluing the mounting arms. They will NOT be centered. I ended up removing some material with a dremel to get the mounting screws to go in.

A quick test fit of my NUC behind the mounted display. My initial thought is to remove the NUC from the enclosure and build a fan system for it as well as the PSU.

Showing the minimal clearance.

That’s it for now. Stay tuned for the next phase, which is cabling my car. Fabrication for PC/Audio/PSU mounting will probably come shortly after that. Once that’s through, it’ll be the test run/test fit.

Nov 26

Car PC – Quick Introduction

Before things get too interesting, I wanted to make a quick note about my next “major” project. I’ll be building a Car PC in the next few weeks/months —  Most of the worklog posts on the blog will be Car PC related. For those of you unfamiliar with Car Computing in general, the forums at mp3car.com is an excellent resource. “Back in the day,” Car PCs were hacked together with various PC components, and interfaced to the car via the stereo. User input is generally done through a 7-8″ touch screen and maybe a small handheld wireless keyboard. The shape and size of these PCs were extremely variable, but in more recent history, the form factor that’s most commonly adopted is miniITX. This is a motherboard roughly the size of a common kitchen napkin. Pretty small, right? Well, the CarPC I am looking to design ideally will fit entirely inside the dash/center console, so it’s actually too big. In a very recent development, my project (that I’ve been putting off for a few years now) has become a lot more simple.

Former Challenges

One of the reasons I’ve put off this project for so long is the complexity of the build. I’ve got a spare radio cage for my 2003 VW Golf TDi, and I’ve been doing some very loose test-fitting of the hardware I’ve got on hand set aside for this build. It is EXTREMELY tight, and to do this project right would leave me with only millimeters to spare. Most people locate their PCs in the trunk of their vehicles, but I wanted to have everything in the dash as one of my design goals. The Power Supply Unit (PSU) was the other major design consideration I had to make — while my motherboard is plenty powerful for a car PC, it is low profile and low power consuming, but confined in the dash of a PC, it’s likely I’d run into heat issues after a long drive. Enter the Intel NUC.

Other Design Considerations

Before discussing the NUC too much, I want to touch on the goals of my build, and why/how the NUC simplifies my life. In a sentence, the NUC is a modern/powerful PC with hardware competitive with a MacBook Air in a smaller form factor than a Mini ITX motherboard.

Things that I plan to do with my Car PC

  • Needs to be self contained in a Double DIN shelf
  • Needs to be easily removed for servicing and/or adding media
  • Bluetooth Capability – Data sharing, calls through the car stereo, etc
  • GPS navigation
  • Optical drive input (optional)
  • Dash/Backup Cams
  • USB hub/input (ease of media transfer, charging, etc)
  • Mobile Internet
  • Mobile Internet Radio

The Intel NUC – Fixing my Car PC design issues

The biggest challenge I faced with my miniITX build was simply size limitations. A mini ITX motherboard will BARELY fit in a Double DIN radio cage. Once you add in the touch screen (even stripped down), you’ll run out of space in a jiffy. The way I would have had to get around this would have been to expand the cage, but the only space that was spare in the cage was the cavity for the old-style VW cupholders. This wasn’t a viable option, as I was planning to mount a slot-load slimline DVD drive in that slot for optical media. While the optical drive will only be used on rare occasions, it’s one of those things that I’m not really willing to sacrifice on. Maybe I’ll change my mind about that in the future.

When I initially read about the Intel NUC, I thought “that’s a cool device, but I’m not sure what I could possibly do with it…” After coming back and deciding that my Car PC was going to be my next major item to focus my attention on, it quickly became apparent to me that the NUC was going to be my next major purchase. The only downside to this is that the NUC has a fairly limited (but awesome) I/O available to it. The NUC has a few USB ports, and depending on the model, 2 HDMI ports w/ GbEthernet, OR 1 HDMI, 1 Thunderbolt, and a few USB ports. Coupled with a low-voltage Ivy Bridge i3 with reasonably good integrated graphics, the NUC already crushes the hardware I had set aside for my build (A Dothan style Pentium M). The NUC also has mSATA and mPCIe slots on it for an integrated SSD and wifi module, and all this incredible hardware is in a 10cm^2 (4″x4″) package.  Since the IO (specifically video) is all digital, I am forced to buy a new screen. The touch screen monitor I already had set aside for this project was a standard VGA input. SUCKS.

While there’s a little bit of growing pains with shifting directions on this project, I think the actual build and test time for the NUC based Car PC will be extremely simplified and shortened. I think what was once an enormous project became an extremely doable project. The cost easily tripled, but I’d rather spend less time to get a usable product and move onto something else. After the Car PC, I think I’ll be posting a lot more microcontroller based work 🙂

Until next time (with hardware pictures!), JD

Nov 20

Holiday Shopping and Consumerism, Part II of II

The holiday season is coming back around faster than ever, and I find gift giving a particularly interesting phenomenon. Gifts are a funny thing, and the holidays are a time of year that is both inspiring, and one that tends to leave a foul taste in my mouth. This isn’t a fruitcake joke – the consumerism mentality and heavy advertising leaves much to be desired when I look at the true “spirit” of the holidays. Conscious or not, the consume mindset plays a big part in the way I end up spending for the holidays.

Putting all the connotations of “consumerism” aside for a moment, I want to touch on why and how I justify opening up my wallet and spending money on people that I care about during the holidays. In a simple sentence: I like buying gifts for people, but I don’t like receiving gifts. This particular blog entry touches on the personal finance approach towards gift giving.

Gifts, to me, to a certain extent –  are a financial investment (with non-financial returns).  A poignant financial cliché is the statement: “Money can’t buy happiness.” While in a wishy washy sense, this is true; this doesn’t imply that money isn’t useful in achieving happiness. My investment strategy during the holidays is a little bit of the opposite of this overused mantra.

Investing to me is the act of putting in an initial sum of value, and betting that the returns when you “cash out” on the initial investment is larger than the original sum. Gift giving – to me, is a similar idea. I have no problem “investing” X amount of dollars in the people I care about, assuming I get that value plus interest in return. This is a bit of a silly comparison, since returns on friendship are difficult to valuate, but this is a (the?) portion of my personal finances that I’m OK not tracking down to the cent.

This leads to an oddity in my “investment strategy” during the holidays. I tend to buy things for people who aren’t necessarily (on an absolute scale) my closest friends, but perhaps people I’ve taken a particular interest in, or friends which I see exceptional potential in. This is why (generally speaking) each year, I’ll get a gift for someone that probably wouldn’t have expected one from me. I think this pseudo-spontaneous gift giving is probably the most “fun” aspect of the holiday season for me. If you’re reading this, and you happen to receive one of these unexpected gifts – don’t feel guilty. Read the caveat from Part I of II. With that said, though, I generally limit my gift “budget” to a relatively select number of people. However, I actually find a sense of dissatisfaction with the people in my life which I’m more or less “obligated” to get gifts for. This is one of the “foul tastes” I described above. I get an added boost of enthusiasm when I’m able to find a thoughtful, or inspired gift for someone, but when I’m not in the mood or inspired to shop for someone, I find this more dampening to the holiday spirit than anything else.  I’m not going to dwell too much on this point, though – It’s the negative portion of the consumerism mentality where we should be focusing on compassion and charity instead.

Nov 20

Holiday Shopping and Consumerism, Part I of II

The people closest to me (and/OR the people who happen to want to buy me gifts, for whatever reason) often tell me that I’m a difficult person to shop for. I have a feeling this is due to my extremely broad interest set(s), and the fact that I’ll just buy things I need if I need them.  This year, I’m going to make it easy. I keep a running list of things that would be “nice to have” relative to my hobbies, and I’m just going to post it. While this sounds pretty conceited, this is being posted more as a necessity in my life than anything else. I’ve got too much “stuff” in my life, and a lot of it is stuff I carry around with me for sentimental (or more mundane) reasons. I’d prefer to receive useful things that are worth moving around with me from/to different stages in my life.

Note: In general, I like buying gifts for others*, but in general, I don’t like receiving them. If you use the list below, please note that I’m not requesting anything below. This is an if-you-insist reference list.

Hobby Related/Nice To Have List [price/reality check in brackets]

  • Wort chiller (plate OR copper tubing – 25-50’ + hose fittings) [homebrewfinds.com]
  • March Pump – Homebrewing related for DIY microcontroller system [homebrewfinds.com]
  • Counter flow Bottle Filler – Homebrew device for filling bottles out of kegs – If you like alcohol, this is a good one to get me… you’ll get plenty of bottles in return J [http://goo.gl/x0r9E]
  • Storage Racks – Extremely low priority, I wouldn’t get this if I were you [http://goo.gl/fYx6m]
  • Easel Pads – Used for engineering and “thinking on paper” [http://goo.gl/yv0Co]
  • Easel – Low priority, I’d probably just screw the pads to a wall.
  • White Board (in lieu of the above.) – Would need to be a pretty big size [uwsurplus?!?!]
  • Food Vacuum Sealer – Smoked Salmon, etc. [homebrewfinds.com]
  • Wrist Rest for keyboard and mouse – Needs to be pretty thick, and pretty wide.
  • “Natural” alarm clock – I’m pretty sure I’m depressed. Hope this helps. [http://goo.gl/5YzbM]
  • “Are you smart enough to work at Google” – Book [http://goo.gl/kr34I]
  • “This is a book” – Book [http://goo.gl/5GEpv]
  • Other books that would appeal to me – requires some insight into my personality/mind
    • Arduino/Microcontroller books
    • Hardware/robotics/mechanical components in electrical systems books
    • Momofuku – Book [http://goo.gl/fAsAj]
    • Momofuku – Milk Bar – Book [http://goo.gl/l050s]
    • Mission Street CB – Book [http://goo.gl/LcWbU]
    • Two Dudes, One Pan – Book [http://goo.gl/663Bv]
  • Metcal Soldering iron tip (fine chisel)

This is the portion of my list that I can actually find – I’ll update as necessary.

Rules: Like I said above, I sort of hate receiving gifts, and most gifts above are pretty cost prohibitive. If you’re going to get something for me, I’d prefer it if you didn’t spend more than the $15-40 range (depending on how close to me you are). If it costs significantly more than that, I’d be very happy if you were to team-up with people and split a gift. If you DO plan on getting anything on this list, please leave your name in the comments so others can contact you (outside of the comments, please). I imagine if you’re posting here, you’re facebook friends with me (and possibly each other). Coordinate that way so I don’t get 20 copies of the same book… I recommend against posting the item you picked, since I have to moderate all the comments…

I Sort of Hate Gifts/Caveat

Like I said above, the list is more for reference. I’d actually prefer if you didn’t get me a gift. Non-material options that I would actually value extremely highly: Write me a letter! Call me on Skype. Tell me how your life is going, what challenges you’re facing. Tell me something you’re struggling with, I’ll give you my two cents. If you see something I can improve on in my own life, tell me. I’m in the mood to make changes lately. I like this approach because it puts you on my mind and in my thoughts. I added my address on facebook, and it’s visible for friends. One thing I’m weak at is keeping in touch/keeping up with friends/people in general. The above is an investment in me* AND you’re helping me address my shortcomings. I love getting in touch with people who aren’t interacting with me on a day to day basis. Seriously.

*See Part II of II for more detail on this