A.D.D. has kicked in

I have been busy with 4 different projects, one done and the rest coming along. I seem to bounce back and forth as I ponder over some design flaws and possible solutions. Which usually leads to a “hey let’s do this too” moment, I like to call it my Shiny Penny Syndrome. It works for me. 

Click on the project title to to the that projects link if you wish. 

Bluetooth Speaker

We need a bluetooth speaker for the outside by the pool and I have also wanted one to use inside the house as well. This one is 90% complete. I still need to find what I am going to use for front and back grills. I may settle for some black material on a frame for the front and some aluminum grill for the back. In the meantime at least it is ready to go!

 

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Volumio Case

While the Volumio is up and working in the family room downstairs, I am still working on the case for the setup. I have the idea firmly in my head. I have the case hollowed out. I need to find a way to get down to the bottom and clean and smooth the bottom. it is too small to work it with any chisel I have. I was thinking of upping the RPMs on my drill press and using the drill bit to clean it out. We’ll see, I still have a little research to do on this one. 

  

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Arduino CNC experiment

My goal here is to have a larger CNC mill, a real one, that can handle wood and soft metal like Al and brass. While I usually like to jump into a project with both feet, I have learned and bit by over enthusiasm in the past. I have read quite a few builds using old DVD drives, the LM293, and an Arduino to make a simple X / Y potter (the Z axis raises and lowers the pencil). I have the X axis works, the Z axis servo works when it feels like it (so much for the cheap micro servos in the intro kit. Time to scavenge from an old RC car tonight). The Y axis just grinds at me, so I need to dig into it here tonight and get it moving, literally. 

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RetroPie

This is one that was downloaded, installed, configured, setup with 2 controllers, an old LCD monitor, and it has been hard to find to time to play with it myself. That is OK it is being well used. I have an audio DAC for the Pi 3 some old monitor speaks to mate with it. I have been searching for a case idea. The cases one can purchase are well – so so, do in a pinch, rather not spend money on one, will the HAT fit? As I pondered and searched, I stumbled upon an old Game Cube for sale on eBay (9 bucks right now, don’t bid on it please) and it looks like it will do the trick quite nicely. Integrated power supply, spaces for controllers / USB ports, and about the right size. I hesitated when I click on bidding for it, but as time goes and I read some, it should work quite nicely. Stay tuned for where this one ends up. 

Tempest Spinner

Since the RetroPie is up and going, I have been playing some Tempest, my ALL time favorite arcade game; but it just isn’t right playing it with a controller, keyboard, or mouse. One really must have a spinner for the real experience. I have looked for them online, but they are rather pricey (upwards of $70.00) so I have been looking into making my own. I have the box of parts and my notes in line. I will find some time one night when nothing else interests me 😉 I guess you will just have to check back on this one to see how it goes. 

 

 

 

Bluetooth Speaker

Bluetooth Speaker Project

We need a bluetooth speaker for the outside by the pool and I have also wanted one to use inside the house as well. This one is 90% complete. I still need to find what I am going to use for front and back grills. I may settle for some black material on a frame for the front and some aluminum grill for the back. In the meantime at least it is ready to go!

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Secure e-mail review

A while back when I was putting together my wrightmac.net domain I started looking at a better ways to secure my email. Free is fine, but free is letting google check out your email and figure out what to try and sell you while taking a peek at your cookies. I took a couple of evenings and started looking at what was out there. Lavabit was in limbo at the time (after shutting down over the Snowden incident) and had heard about Protonmail.com. 

I signed up for the free account at Protonmail. I used the account for awhile. I liked that there is an iOS app that works quite well. They don’t have or support a desktop app yet, but they do have a nicely done web interface for desktops/laptops. After giving it a good run I decided to sign up for the paid account, just the low-end one for now. I had just delved into the world of BitCoin and since they accepted them, I tired it out. I have to say while getting the Bitcoin was kind of a pain in the butt, using them is easy peasy. And since I purchased my original $90, I spent $40, and I still have $70 something left. This virtual currency is pretty cool. I was greenbacks would do the same thing. 

I like their authentication, their encryption mindset, no logging, end-to-end encryption (even outside of other ProtonMail users), and I just learned about this one self-destructing emails. The default is 28 days. Sending a secure email to a person outside of Protonmail is easy to do. When creating the message, just click on the Encrypt button on the bottom, enter in a password, and continue composing your email. When it is sent, the receiver sees an email stating they got an encrypted email and to click the button to view it. They are taken the the Protonmail server where the message is displayed. It is not ideal, but I do like that secure emails can be sent to all. All of their gear is stored in Switzerland and have very strict privacy laws where government fingers can’t peek at them. 

I kept an eye on the Lavabit web site. Around the first of the year I put in my $$ to reserve a first-in-line spot to get a Lavabit address as well. A few days ago I received the email that they were ready to start taking customers and it was time to pick out my address. Wooo-hooo. The process was easy peasy. Save now I HAVE to use Thunderbird as my email client. Lavabit does support Android, Linux, and Windoze, the Apple world is left a bit out in the cold. That is alright, I have one way in, mail is secure, and I am sure that some Mac developer will save the day. 

Lavabit also provides end-to-end encryption. They also encrypt all layers of the mail being sent, the transport, metadata, and the message itself. They look to provide the most secure email solution. They have developed their own email server, Magna which runs their DIME encryption service (I think I have that right). They are working on a client for iOS and other platforms called Volcano. Being a proprietary client, it will integrate tightly with their server architecture. 

So why two more email accounts. My rationale is that I, I, ok I wanted them. I wanted to try out both services and wean myself off of the “free” mails services of personal information sucking giants. My Protonmail, wrightmac will be for my projects, wrightMac Studio, and the such. I will put the Lavabit account, peterhein to use as my professional address. 

I commend the developers of both software packages and ecosystems on their focus on security and making it accessible to us, but it would be great to have one secure email standard everyone could depend on. I have been around this internet and computer stuff too long to think that it will get there anytime soon. In the meantime I will keep on seeing what is here and what is next. 

Raspberry Pi Arcade Project

Next on the project list is a Raspberry Pi arcade system. Once again we are starting small with as much stuff as we could from around the Studio. I already had a Pi 3, monitor, keyboard, no controllers (ordered those), and for kicks I got another of the Pi Zero Audio DACs for sound. I will have a speaker leftover from the pool-USB-Streaming-Audio project so it works out well. 

We loaded it up with RetroPie and I have to say I am quite impressed. The software works quite well and while it is easy to setup there are quite a few options to check out later on. Right now the most imperative thing to my son was getting it up and playing on the screen today. 

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Someone has donated some Xbox controllers for the system. We are still going to make some kind of case for it. At this point I am not sure if it will be an all-in-one or keep the console separate from the monitor. Once again I will have to let this one stew and see what comes of it. 

I want to start to put together a real arcade style box for the controls, joysticks and buttons for 2 players while keeping the USB controllers for other games. I doubt I will go the standup route, but I never know where projects take me after a while. My big must have for this phase of the project is a Tempest spinner controller. Tempest has to be one of my all time favorite games! And it really isn’t the same trying to play it with a keyboard or mouse, and most paddle are wheezy at best. I have started digging into them. 

So let me share with you the links and information I have found on making a spinner. I am looking forward to scrounging and finding the right pile of parts for this one. 

BREAKING NEWS – I just found this site today and it seems to have one great manual for making a spinner. 

There is one place I found where you can purchase one, theirs is called the SpinTrak, they are pricey. Maybe when I make my standalone Tempest game. 

I found this setup which is pretty cool. And making a controller was my original and still my preferred idea. 

Below are some of the other links I have found dealing with DIY spinners. 

Made from an old VCR head.

Another excellent example made from the what-the-lab-will-surrender category

A spinner made right inside the mouse. Pretty neat concept.

Divine Muse

I have been dragging around these chunks of cherry for more than I care to remember, but I have been keeping them for a project. I have bee stewing about a case for mi Pi Audio Streamer. 

I had the garage door open a few days ago and pulled these out and started to look at them. Huh, a cherry case would be nice, look classy, and with a custom volume knob and single power light. . . ideas started to flow. How thin to cut the sheets? Joint them? Glue them? 

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I ended up grabbing the skinner of the two. It has some interesting grain to it. 

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I cut three sections from the good end of the chunk. I still have the rest as there is some solid wood hidden in there and it might come in handy yet. Sorry the color is a little off but it was getting to be later in the afternoon. 

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I have my sections of wood and I have the inside of it drawn out. My plan is to hollow out a section for the Pi and knob, I will get the drawing posted up here soon, but until then. . . 

Seeking shelter

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We are all looking for a little shelter from the rain the past couple of days, even some of God’s littlest helpers.

And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the daytime from the heat,

and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain.

– Isaiah 4:6

Amazing what trips your eye when you stop and take a moment to look around, even during some rain. This little guy was under one of the pumpkin flowers by our front porch. I didn’t notice till now, but the pumpkin leaves don’t have any rain drops on them. I wonder why?  

Vintage computing strikes again

I was talking with my parents a while back and my mom mentioned my old Atari 400 (http://www.oldcomputers.net/atari400.html for the low down on the specs). That 6502 at 1.8Mhz, geeeeeeshe Louise! And 16k of RAM to boot!

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We both wondered if it was still around Or had gone by the way side. Guess what? The computer that started my computing journey!!!

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Well, heavens to Betsy if a package didn’t arrive yesterday. And yes, that is the way the box was found, open and the lid wouldn’t close, but I was surprised at that it all survived. It even had the fancy keyboard, not the that awful plastic sheet of plastic with bubble switch keys. My friend Phil had the Atari 800 with floppy drives. Well, la’ dee da’! Another friend Nick had an 800 with all the bells and whistles and ran a local BBS from his. Every Saturday morning there was a group that hung out at the local computer shop trading tips, tricks, and software. 

And with most people from this era, we could send hours busily typing in programs from whatever magazine you could buy, find, trade, or borrow. And the magic of trying to save it and retrieve it from tape. I think I lost as much as was saved in the end. 

I remember when I got it, it was for Christmas. Of course being the young, excited lad I was, one afternoon when my parents were out, I pulled it from the closet, ever so carefully pealed back the tape, unboxed it, set it up, and had fun for a couple of hours. They were surprised at how quick I had it setup. I didn’t let them in on the secret until on so many, many moons later. 

I am playing around with a new gallery plugin, so check out the pictures of the unveiling. Much like the NeXT Cube, I am going to see if I can get this one up and running as well. I was really hoping that Xaxon was going to be in the cassette player, but I wasn’t lucky on that note. I am going to have to track down some pieces and parts to get it displaying something once I get it put back together again. Westley was poking around the box and getting curious, so maybe I can get him to help me with this let-me-put-it-in-the-queue project list – LOL. 

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And there was a bonus!! All of the screws for the case were still in the box. They are laying inside the bottom of the case. 

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Pi Update

Hold the presses! There has been a change of plans. After playing around with OSMC and some more thinking and drawing, I am going to change course with my Raspberry Pi project. Instead of a fancy pants media center, I am working towards a very nice audio system for the basement living room. My last real stereo was too many years too count and was a very nice Yahmaha system. Tuner, amp, CD, and booming speakers. It has long since gone and have been stuck with my laptop or iPhone with headphones to listen. 

So I have moved in that direction. While working with OSMC I found an inexpensive audio DAC (Digital Audio Converter) HAT, (pizereoaudio.com) for the RPi. 

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When it showed up I heated up the iron and with help of a little hot glue to hold the headers in place was able to solder it in place. 

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Don’t be harsh on some of the joints. While above beginner I am still in amateur phase. 

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I downloaded Volumio2 as the streaming distro. After doing some reading and comparing it seemed like a good package to do with. It supports audio streaming (of course) from local media and network devices. It also supports AirPlay but my first couple of attempts with it haven’t really gone so well. 

The DAC setup was quite easy. In Volumio2, under the menu is the Playback options menu. In there it was as easy as selecting the HiFiBerry DAC. And before I knew it my RPi was singing to me. The Pi Zero Audio DAC is based on the NXP 1334A. A low-power, low-priced DAC. The card was cheap compared to some of the other HATs out there. There is only line out installed on the card, but there are pads on the board is one is so inclined to add RCA jacks. Their documentation is sparse to proceed with caution if take this route. 

Since the pieces and parts are hanging together I whipped up a quick stand for it. 

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It is a piece of sheet metal from something and I superglued 4 standoffs to it. Simple and works for its purpose.

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Here is my proof-of-concept for my streaming player. I tossed on an old set of Altec speakers I had in the Studio. I have to say it really doesn’t sound hateful. Nothing high-end, but working well for what it is. 

Now that I am moving in this direction, I am starting to pick up some parts for the goal of this project, something which has gelled up nicely over the past few days. The end product is to be a single speaker streaming device. The pictures will work better than my words. I will share the drafts of how I want the case for it to look. 

I order the Pi Zero W that will be used for the end product. It came it quickly and I was pretty jazzed to get the headers soldered on and start to set it up as the main streamer.

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Pretty cool huh? And hands to Adafruit for getting it here so quickly. Help me here though, what is wrong with my picture? Where are the headers you ask? Someone forgot to order them. I remember the mini HDMI connector, and the rotary encoder I am going to use for the volume knob, but no headers! DOH! Well, off to eBay and now I am waiting for them to show up. Which is fine, I am still working the my Volumio installation. Songs needs sorted in various directories and playlists, AirPlay needs to be debugged, and I am learning how to add streams for my local radio stations. 

I have found a couple of nice speakers on Amazon from Viston and Dayton. I need to check them out a little more and pick one of them. From Adafruit I have my eye on the 20W amp for the speaker. I am still working on how I want/will power it all. I still have some time for thinking on that one. 

Stay tuned, I will be back to write up on what I have found about the DAC scene for the RPi and a little more about Volumio2. 

macOS 13 beta and (a couple) maker tools – A quickie review

A proud Old School Apple Mac Fanboy since 1986!

I like to keep up on the new OSes when they are released. For many years I had a developer subscription to make sure I could get a hold of the beta releases for software compatibility testing in our environment. Jobs change, but fortunately so did Apple’s policy to providing public betas. I like to test them out when I can to see what new features abound and how compatible my current tool chains are. 

I had a couple hours of down time at work the other night so I decided my spare MacPro 6,1 (12-core/16GB/1TB) would be my High Sierra (10.13) guinea pig. It used to have 10.12 installed along with my work apps; so it seems like a good baseline. I proceeded to the App Store and downloaded it. 

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My finger was a bit twitchy as the cursor hung over the Install button. “Go for it” I hear in my head. Click. It was going to take some time so I wandered away to get a couple of actions items done. 

I headed back over about 45 minutes later and it was ready for me. I didn’t have a lot of time so this is the quick review part plus I wanted some time left to install the toolchains and apps I used for my maker/hacker projects. I was surprised at how quick it went considering the new filesystem is being used. 

The new filesystem, AFS, conversion went just fine and to date I have not noticed any missing or corrupt files. It is wicked fast compared to the HFS+ it replaces. This alone gives this aging machine a nice boost. It is good to see Apple finally addressing this issue. I was a little jealous of the linux systems running ext4 and ZFS. The new Safari seems nice. I have not played with the Technology Previews that Apple has posted. The block autoplay is a nice feature and one that seems like it should have been there before now. I will keep poking around and post new tidbits as I find them. 

As for the maker tools I wanted to see how the Arduino IDE, esptool.py, and KiCAD would fare. I took things one by one. I grabbed a copy of the Arduino IDE and it fired right up without argument. I had my traveling Arduino Mini clone with me, so I opened one of the example scripts and uploaded it with no problems. Alright, step two. I get esptool.py and install it. As of this post, 10.13 has Python 2.7.1 installed. Again I was able to install it without issue. Since I was working on my ESP8266 + OLED + NTP clock (and had it with me) I brought it out and hooked it up. After updating the Arduino IDE preferences and boards and was able to successfully upload the code to the ESP8266 NodeMCU clone. 

 

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Lastly with time running out, I launched KiCAD (I already had it installed). With just a quick look I was able to open my current project and make a couple of quick edits and save the project. 

I have not stirred the puddin’ with the above apps, but on first run there seems to be great promise for an easy transition to High Sierra this fall. I will keep on adding more tools and beating up on ones I already have installed and then reporting back here. 

OSMC part 2

During my downtime I have been reading up on the OSMC (Open Source Media Center) package for my media center project. It seems to be a nice, well put together, distro that does/is what its’ name says. I checked out some reviews online and this was the version pointed to if you wanted a clean, easy to use, well-supported solution. Checking out their web site definitely gives you the feeling they may have something going on. 

Installation was really easy, I must say the easiest of all distros (about 3) I have dealt with so far. When you head to their downloads page, you click on your OS and it downloads an installer package.

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Have your SD card ready for the next part. 

Note I was using a SD card that had Raspbian on it. I used SD formatter to format the card before trying to use the OSMC installer. Don’t use SD Formatter. In my case, it would not mount the card properly. I had to use Disk Utility to format the card using FAT. 

Double-click on the installer. You can see the installer icon to the left of the Welcome to OSMC screen. 

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Pick your language and hardware platform. Once you click on the next arrow it will guide you through a couple of other steps such as if you want to configure networking. Both wired and wireless are supported. It will then ask you if you want to use a local repo or download a copy from the net. Since I didn’t download it yet, I let the app do the work for me. 

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The speeds finally did increase as I was tempted to head upstairs and grab a snack if it was going to take this long. 

Once it was complete I ejected the card from my MacBook and popped it in the Pi. Once the Pi gets booted up and begins the real installation of OSMC to the card. 

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This doesn’t take long, about 5 minutes. 

When it reboots it comes up with the OSMC interface and it is ready for configuring. At this point it is 1:30am and time for a little rest. Tomorrow night will come with AirPlay test. This is one feature I am really looking for. Not so much for the video but most defiantly for the audio. I am also on the hunt for the available options for listening to radio. We don’t have a home stereo any more. After years, moves, and kids, parts were either worn down, lost, or broken. Part of this project is to try and create an updated home media/audio center. I miss just turning something on and having it play int he background or for active listening. 

So if you are interested, stay tuned and I will keep posting about progress, pitfalls, and ideas.