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Where my imagination runs wild!

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The other Raspberry Pi

After much consideration, and because Lorraine would not let me rip apart Jacob’s Roboquad, I decided to use my other Raspberry Pi to build a tester for a product at work. I am not going to get into what that product is or how it is tested but I will say that I needed 3 serial ports, some relays, and some 5V tolerant Inputs and outputs. To do this I designed and built an expansion board that connects to the RPI GPIO connector.

For the serial ports I used the MAX3387 which offer 3 transmit and 3 receive buffers to RS232 voltage levels from a 3.3V supply.  I routed the RPI’s default serial port from the GPIO connector to this chip for my main serial port. On this port I can communicate bi-directionally at any normal baud rate and used the default python serial module. For the other two serial ports, and for that matter the port expanders, I chose to use an SPI interface to these chips. However, I could not find a module that used the inherent SPI system in the RPI (Raspberry PI) so I created a module that would bit bang an SPI interface and could be configured to use any of the port pins. This came in handy later.

For the two other serial ports I used the MAX3100 UART chip which is a 3.3V SPI chip. This chip has a receive interrupt line and an optional internal receive buffer. Because all my chips are off of the same SPI bus I hit some limitations. I found that while I could transmit at any baud rate I was only able to receive reliably at 300 baud. This turned out to be ok for my purposes as I only needed to talk to one device at 9600 and the device I needed to get data from I was able to set to 300 baud.  With a direct SPI connection to the chip, using the interrupt line, and enabling the internal receive buffer I believe you could get better reception rates however my design was set by that point and it did what I needed. I created an interface module to work with this chip in python.

The port expander I used was the MAX7317. This chip is a 3.3V SPI chip with 5V tolerant open drain IO pins so by using pull ups to a 5V supply you can do 5V IO safely. The problem I ran into with this chip that I did not notice when I did my board design is that these is a note in the data sheet that says it is not exactly SPI compliant because it was designed to be daisy chained together so the MISO line does not tri-state when the chip is disabled! This interferes with the SPI bus. So if you choose to use this chip in a design be sure to put a tri-state buffer on the MISO line; or you can do what I did which was to move the MISO line to its own unique port pin.  This worked for me since my SPI module allows you to specify which port pins to use for the CS, CLK, MISO, and MOSI lines.

I then used some of these 5V output lines from the MAX7317 to a ULN2003A relay driver chip which would activate the coils on 12V relays. I used an external 12V supply because I did not want to use 5V relays and put too much of a draw on the 5V supply from the RPI.

In an effort to give back a little to the RPI community I am including a link to the generic python modules I crated for the SPI and IC interfaces such as they are. I am sure they could be improved and you are welcome to use and modify it as needed.


Tivo Salvation

Back in 2011 I bought a new Tivo Premiere with lifetime service. That means the unit has service for as long as it lasts.  A month later I had the big flood, the shelf collapsed and part of the Tivo was submerged in the river. Warranties don't cover flood so I opened it up and found the hard drive was never submerged just the power supply and a corner of the motherboard.  I cleaned the board with alcohol and put the motherboard into a drying oven for a few days. When I put it back together it just kept rebooting.  Because it had the expensive lifetime service I couldn't bring myself to throw it out so I put it up on a shelf for a few years.

Recently, I brought it down for another look.  This time it did not reboot but just sat at the loading screen.  The internet says this happens due to either a bad power supply or a bad hard drive.  Since the power supply was under water I ordered a replacement online and while waiting for that to come in I ran a test on the hard drive which it failed miserably.

What to do now... I decided to buy another Tivo premiere on eBay and used its 350gig hard drive to create a 1Tb Tivo Hard drive and moved the power supply over.  My Tivo has now come back from the dead!

I then made another 1Tb Tivo hard drive copy and put it into the Tivo I bought on eBay and when the new power supply comes in I will be able to sell that unit and recoup some of my repair costs.

Anyone want to buy a Tivo with a large hard drive?

New Egg Hunt Video

I made a new video. This one is for the Egg Hunt that Emergence is having on March 30th at 11am. I don't know if they will use it but it is now available if they want to.

I did the animation for the video in Anime Studio Pro 7 then brought it into Vegas Pro 11 to do the final video and audio mix. I masked out the background in the animated clip so you can see the video background which is from my copy of Adobe Ultra CS3.  I then added on top a lower third video I bought online for this project and added the text with the Vegas titler tool.

The main sound I recorded on my iPhone with the recorder app and then emailed the files to myself. The News intro music I found onlne with a CC attribution to Maximilien and the background music was CC attribution to I put these name here and in the description area on youtube.





Techno weekend Pi and NAS play.


This has been a big technology weekend for me. My new Thecus NAS and two Raspberry Pi boards came in all at once on Friday so I was very busy getting everything up and running. One of the raspberry pi boards I'm using as an XBMC media center to play my video files from the NAS. I had this up and running with a keyboard interface within an hour. I put it in the black case I bought because it looks more like a device that way but I may change that in the future as only the black case has an opening to bring out the expansion connector which is what I will want to do eventually with my other Pi board. Saturday the USB remote control came in so with a quick swap of the keyboard for the IR receiver and a reboot the XBMC media center hardware set up was complete. I velcro'd the receiver to the top of my TV.


Of course that meant I now had to get the my new NAS up and running. My old one is on its last leg and I don't trust it with my data any more. This involved moving my RAID 5 drive set from the old unit to the new unit and even though the two Thecus NAS units were running slightly different firmware versions. My old one was 5.02.02 and the new one is 5.03.01. I was able to move the drives from the Old NAS to the new NAS without any trouble.


The other Raspberry Pi unit I set up as a normal programming system for playing around with. It is running the Wheezy distro and it took me a day to figure out how to get it to display properly on my big screen TV as the video extended a little off the screen. To fix this I had to edit the /boot/config.txt file to set the overscan_left and overscan_right settings to 60.  I have both Pi units set up with a HDMI switch to the TV set so it will switch (automatically and manually) between the two units. I also have it connected to a keyboard and mini optical mouse.


I guess the next steps for the technology is to figure out how to backup the NAS to the internet. Figure out how to get the XBMC Pi to access Netflix and Hulu. I already have it working with my apple devices for airplay streaming but I am finding that there may be some trouble with the Hulu add-on and that Netflix doesn't support Linux so this might be an interesting challenge.


Adapteva Parallela Board

Last year I donated to the Kickstarter project for Adapteva to develop a parallel processing chip and as a reward I would get a Parrallela board computer that they are developing which will use the chip. The chip itself is nice with 16 networked floating point processor cores but the main board which they will also be offering for sale uses the Xilinx ZYNQ-7020 as the main system. This chip has two 800mhz A9 Cores a programmable FPGA section, and some analog interface. This in conjunction with their new chip makes it a hundred dollar credit card sized supercomputer that has HDMI video and audio, USB, Networking, Lots of interface connectors, etc. 

So in the next couple months I am expecting to receive this bad boy and I am trying to figure out what to do with it? Since I am in the daydreaming stage, what I would really like to do is turn it into a wearable 3d VR system but there are a lot of design hurdles to work out with that but it doesn’t hurt to give it some thought and imagination.

To do this I would use the IO Glasses $300 from as the audio/video output device. There are some good voice recognition engines out there for voice input but the missing puzzle piece is the body position inputs. There are some new camera based gesture interfaces but that would not be wearable. I think the motion tracking sensors are coming of age for this type of application. I know there are Pens that track the movements when you’re writing to record what you write so I should be able to develop small motion boards to track extremity motion and orientation.



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" To Error is human. To really screw things up takes a computer. "


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