ESPixelStick Programming

As part of the mission to build out some hardware for sound & light shows at Halloween (yes, I know it is only a few days away; my kids keep reminding me), and Christmas, I picked up an ESPixelStick from Amazon. These come fully assembled, but unprogrammed. How hard can that be I thought?

I will comment that it would have been nice to have some documentation, or at least a pointer to an up to date website in the bag with the board…

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Skull Eyes Project

A couple of years ago I picked up two plastic skull decorations in the post-halloween sales. Once I got them home, it occurred to me that they could become an interesting project. Adding some lights to their eyes with some fun effects was the plan. It has taken me a while to get time to do this, but I finally pulled all the parts together and modified the basic plastic skull with some LED eyes.

The parts, in addition to the skull of course, are as follows:

The circuit is very simple:

Power comes from the USB, which also acts as the data connection to the computer for programming the board.

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Infinity Magnetic USB-C

My magnetic USB-C cable finally arrived at the end of last week, and I have the tip installed on the right side of my MBP, taking up one of the precious USB-C ports.

First impressions? The cable itself seems to be a good quality braided cable. The magnetic tip protrudes from the laptop a little more than I’d like (oh, Apple, why did you not embed this in the laptop and do MagSafe over USB-C?).

The magnet itself, while sold as using the “world’s strongest magnets” do not appear overly strong, My old MBP’s MagSafe connector was held better (although I think the recess into the case helped with that a bit too). This holds well enough, and there is a nice blue LED in the end of it to tell me when it is connected. It doesn’t have the orange/green color change that the Apple cables had, but I assume that is lack of a signal back from the battery. The blue light is better than the standard Apple USB-C cable though which had no visual indication that it was connected and power was flowing.

Conclusion? Not as good as MagSafe, but definitely good enough and it restores my confidence that if one of the kids trips over my power cord, the expensive MBP won’t go flying onto the floor.

CircuitPython & MacOS Catalina 10.15.6

A while ago now I bought an ItsyBitsy M4 Express, and two of their NeoPixel Jewel LED boards from AdaFruit to create eyes for a plastic skull halloween decoration. Until this last weekend, I haven’t had time to play with it much though. Beyond soldering the headers on the board (the two sides, not the end one), and adding some patch wiring to the NeoPixel boards too so I could build up the electronics part on a breadboard to experiment with.

Looking on the AdaFruit site I discovered two things about this board that are going to make the project easier:

  1. The board runs CircuitPython out of the box (although an older version the I needed to upgrade)
  2. There is a CircuitPython for Jupyter Notebooks, which is a very powerful way of prototyping Python code straight from a browser.
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Shelter-in-Place

Lots of the world is currently dealing with “shelter-in-place” or other names for keeping people at home to try to avoid the spread of the Coronavirus aka COVID19. Here in Alameda, we have completed a week of working from home, and school-from-home too for our two elementary school age kids. For me, WFH is my norm, so the only real change I’ve noticed has been the increased noise in the house! For the kids, it has been a big change though, and I thought I’d capture some of the ideas we’ve come up with in case they’re useful for others, and also some things I’m looking at for the coming weeks.

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Upcycling Mac Minis (Part 1)

I have a couple of old Mac Mini systems, in mostly working condition. By old though, I mean 2006 and 2007 era. The older one has a single core 32 bit CPU clocking in at a blistering 1.83 GHz, and a whole gigabyte of RAM. All of that backed with a 60GB HDD. The 2007 is a little better, boasting a 64 bit dual core CPU clocked at 2 GHz, 2GB of RAM and a 1 TB HDD (it also has a defective optical drive, which is more of a problem than it ought to be – thanks Apple). Neither are going to set any records, and, of course, neither are supported by Apple any longer – the 2006 can run Mac OS 10.6 (aka Snow Leopard), and the 2007 gets up to 10.7 (aka Lion).

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Halloween Fix

Last year I bought a second one of these hanging flaming baskets from Spirit Halloween. This year, I put them out again and a couple of hours into the first night the newer one failed, completely.

Unimpressed, I brought it back down and took it apart. Inside was a very cheap 120 Vac to 12 Vac board, slightly modified from the standard part with the same part number to add a 12 Vdc output to drive the fan that blows the material up to emulate flames.

Given that I couldn’t get an exact matching part to replace the one that died, and that these are only about $25 to buy new, I decided that instead of fixing it, I would improve it.

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Bayport HOA: Too Militant?

I will admit, from the very early days the concept of an HOA has always concerned me. Not because they are inherently bad, but because their boards tend to attract people who want to control their neighbors lives. To dictate what people can and cannot do with their own homes. For the first 10 years we were in the house, the HOA was, for the most part, not acting unreasonably. Their main focus was on improving the landscaping to make it more economical to maintain, especially in light of water shortages and the rapidly increasing cost of water. Then came the parking disputes and the more militant board members.

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AirPods: Buy Again?

I have had a set of Apple AirPods for over a year now, and used them heavily for conference calls, listening to podcasts and occasionally for music too. Having had them for a while though, and noticing that the battery life on them was dropping (especially the left one), I started wondering whether I would choose to replace them with AirPods again when they do finally fail.

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BenefitWallet: Customer Service At Its Worst

The HR service my new employer uses, JustWorks, does not, it seems, partner with the best service companies. Our health insurance is with Aetna, and is awful by comparison with other plans. The dental and vision benefits are also through Aetna, and worse than the more common plans I’ve had previously.

All of that is nothing compared to BenefitsWallet though. JustWorks are using BenefitsWallet to provide the FSA and HSA options. They sent me information to sign up in the middle of June, and again on July 1. I was traveling however, and only got around to it trying to sign up this evening.

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